Juxtaposition

April 8, 2013

From Gideon’s Trumpet, a book describing Clarence Earl Gideon’s ultimately successful quest, half a century ago, to have the Supreme Court declare that state courts must provide attorneys for indigent criminal defendants:

The prison officials did not mind Gideon’s legal activities—indeed they seemed to regard them as therapy. One said: “Usually when they’re trying to get out legally, you know they walk on their toes around here.” They knew all about his case in the Supreme Court, but even the possible effect of a victory for Gideon on other prisoners who had been tried without counsel did not seem to bother them as it did some prosecutors. An assistant warden said: “Our feeling is: Boys, if you can get out of here legal, we’re with you.”

From USA Today last year:

At a time when states are struggling to reduce bloated prison populations and tight budgets, a private prison management company is offering to buy prisons in exchange for various considerations, including a controversial guarantee that the governments maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. . . . The proposal seeks to build upon a deal reached last fall in which the company purchased the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution from the state of Ohio for $72.7 million. . . . Ohio’s deal requires the state to maintain a 90% occupancy rate, but Janes said that provision remains in effect for 18 months — not 20 years — before it can be renegotiated.

Once more, with feeling

March 28, 2013

I’ve seen or heard a number of people expressing the wish that they could hear a favorite album (or song) again for the first time, and admitting some jealousy towards those who have never heard it before, and thus will hear it with the freshest of ears, experiencing every twist and turn as a genuine novelty.[1]

I suppose I understand that desire,[2] but there’s also something to be said for putting on an album that you haven’t listened to in years, and just being reminded why you liked it.

Which, I suppose, is just a roundabout way of saying that I made the recent discovery that Dark Side of the Moon remains a phenomenal album.

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[1] This is obviously disregarding the possibility that the virgin-eared listener might perceive a particular album, song, chord change, lyric, or whatever as unbearably trite and not novel or surprising at all.

[2] On the other hand, a pretty damn uniform characteristic of my favorite musical works is that my first listen was the one I liked the least. The stuff I really like in the end is what grows on me. Even something that blows you away on the first listen has room to get even better. I can think of some arguable counterexamples to this general rule among my own favorite-musics list, but they tend to be songs that are particularly strongly associated with a particular time, place, or event—songs that function more as time machines, aids to memory, or madeleines than as musical works per se.

Juxtaposition

March 10, 2013

“Heavy users” as the cornerstone of the junk food business:

In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day. In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

“Heavy users” as the cornerstone of the firearms business?

The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s, according to the survey data, analyzed by The New York Times. . . .

The findings contrast with the impression left by a flurry of news reports about people rushing to buy guns and clearing shop shelves of assault rifles after the massacre last year at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

“There are all these claims that gun ownership is going through the roof,” said Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “But I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to current gun owners. The most reputable surveys show a decline over time in the share of households with guns.”

(h/t Digby)

Bookstores and Libraries

September 19, 2010

Sometimes I daydream about what I’ll do when (not if, obviously) I become wealthy enough to retire early and don’t have to do anything anymore. My fantasy of choice involves starting a business, specifically a bar. I know I’m not alone there; opening a bar seems to a fairly common pipe-dream for middle-class white males, if sitcoms are anything to go by.

But there’s more to my harebrained scheme than just some ordinary bar, or some ordinary theme bar, or some ordinary dive bar, or some ordinary bar with shitty loud music and overpriced drinks. No, my bar will be a little special (I think): a combination bar and lending library. I can see it now: walls lined with bookshelves, a bar lined with all sorts of whiskey and whisky, and a shitload of lamps and leather armchairs. Come in for a drink, and feel free to pick up a book and start reading. And if you’re a member, you can even check out a book and take it home with you when you leave.

The biggest complication I can think of[1] is that I’m not a big fan of James Joyce.[3] Since my target audience, one would think, would be “literate drunks”—which, I assume, means a lot of demand for, and discussion of, Hemingway and Joyce. Hemingway I’m fine with, but Joyce not as much.

So that’s my plan. It occurred to me ther other day that there are already a number of businesses following this exact business model. Not places like Busboys and Poets, where the drinks and the books are segregated pretty completely, and there isn’t even a reading room, as I recall. No, I’m talking about Borders and Barnes & Noble. Every one of their stores I’ve been to in the past few years has, to a great extent, felt like a Starbucks[5] with a huge magazine rack and even huger assortment of books for people to read while they sip their coffee. (A café-cum-reading-room isn’t precisely the same thing as a bar-cum-lending-library, but I think they’re still pretty close.)

As it turns out, this might not be the most sustainable business model. Obviously there are huge differences between a 50,000 square-foot retail space and a bar, in terms of staffing, inventory, and I don’t know how many other factors. But, since this is a fantasy after all, I’m perfectly happy with it being a money-losing venture.

* * *

[1] Of course, I’m only thinking of bullshit complications that presuppose I’ll be able to get everything off the ground in the first place. Practical considerations like money, location, taxes, getting a liquor license, employees,[2] and so on are entirely beside the point. This is a damn fantasy, after all.

[2] Having recently been to Church Key in San Francisco, I’ve had my eyes opened to what a bar can be when it’s operated by someone who’s doing it purely for the pleasure. The ability to pick the music that plays and the drinks that are served, and the freedom to close up early when you feel like going home, quite honestly seem really nice.

[3] To be fair, it’s been over ten years since I gave Joyce a chance—since I was a high school senior taking AP British Literature.[4] I gave Joyce a chance then, but it wasn’t exactly a fair chance, because I couldn’t stand my teacher, and I was happy to spite Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, James Joyce, and Shakespeare if it also meant spiting her. Time having passed, I’ve forgotten most of my grievances against her, except for one: she didn’t say “probably,” she said “parably.” (“Parably,” of course, isn’t a word.)

[4] I’ve been out of high school ten years? Apparently I’m getting old. In other news, either nobody arranged a ten-year reunion, or they did and nobody told me. So it goes.

[5] Barnes and Noble stores feature Starbucks, while Borders features “Seattle’s Best Coffee”. But of course, Starbucks owns SBC, so it amounts to the same thing.Идея за подаръкикониикониПравославни иконииконописikoniподаръци

There is a town in north Ontario

September 11, 2010

The past month has been the longest and hardest to endure that I can remember. That said, my lungs are busy ventilating and exchanging gases; my heart is busy circulating blood; and my GI tract is, as usual, uncomplainingly going about its business. I am enduring; I will endure. I have it pretty good. My limbic system doesn’t always agree, but so it goes. I’m not here to write about that right now.

What I am here to do is issue my obligatory periodic apology for neglecting this space again, make a good-faith effort to un-neglect this space a little, show off some pictures, and put off applying tung oil to the raw parts of my desk—my desk, which has prominently featured raw pine for over a year now, and which it only recently occurred to me to apply any kind of finishing treatment to. When I finally cleared it off, so I could transport it half a mile down the road, I noticed some discoloration in parts. So, after procrastinating some other tasks by reading about wood, I decided on tung oil. After further procrastination in the form of further reading, I decided on actual tung oil, rather than one of the easy-to-find “tung oil finishes” that contain about as much tung oil as lemon-lime Gatorade contains actual lemon or lime juice. So, after tracking down a local store that actually carried tung oil, a task in itself, I stopped by only to discover that they were fresh out and their weekly merchandise shipment was delayed by the Labor Day holiday. I’ve since been back, and acquired some tung oil, as well as some thinner with which to thin the first couple of coats.[1] Now that I have all my equipment assembled, the next course of action was, obviously, to take my car in for an oil change, then sip coffee in a bookstore all afternoon while reading, and subsequently purchasing, a couple of books I’ve been intending to read for a while.[2] The desk can wait.

Last night, in a welcome diversion, was movie night at a friend’s apartment.[3] One of the movies I’d seen before (The Maltese Falcon); and one I hadn’t, though I’d seen a few very similar films (Blade Runner)[4]. Both are classics, based on equally classic books. Seeing the movies back-to-back, and wanting to procrastinate today, inspired me to finally get the books. Not that I’ve read either one of them through yet, but here are some of my early impressions.

The Maltese Falcon. Two things I know for sure. One, Dashiell Hammett can write. I really should’ve checked out his work sooner. And two, Humphrey Bogart sure as shit isn’t a barrel-chested six-foot blond with a body “like a shaved bear’s”. Yet I can’t stop picturing him as Sam Spade. Obviously my judgment is clouded by the fact that I’ve seen the movie half a dozen times and have come to associate Bogart with Spade, but so far I really do feel that Spade works better as a short guy with a lisp than as some kind of gleaming god of masculinity.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I’ve just been reading and rereading the first chapter. Not only is it great to have an actual context for Deckard’s character, but (as has been pointed out to me) it’s a fantastic example of how to do sci-fi right: the futuristic aspects that Philip K. Dick explores are introduced intelligibly and painlessly—and with a sense of humor to boot. It’s the polar opposite of Frank Herbert, for example, who drowns you in deadly-serious gibberish before you can even turn the page. (And, I have to say, the line “My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression” is pure brilliance.)

* * *

[1] Having to thin the oil for the first few coats, and indeed having to apply several coats in the first place, are only a few of the benefits of using 100% pure tung oil.

[2] I fucking swear, I’m not going to buy myself any more books until I read at least, say, six of the ones I’ve already acquired with the honest but yet-unrealized intention of reading. Goddamnit.

[3] If there’s one thing I learned yesterday, it’s that it’s good to have a friend with Blu-Ray player and a 1080p projector pointed at a wall that happens to be roughly 16:9. Very good.

[4] I’ve actually seen three or four different films named Blade Runner over the years, none of them more than once. There are enough different cuts of the movie out there that this is pretty easy to do, and they’re generally different enough from one another that they really do seem like completely different movies. For what it’s worth, the version I saw last night was probably my favorite so far—it told the most coherent story, without having to rely on voiceover narration, and without tacking on an unnecessary, shitty happy ending.

On Recent History

September 30, 2009

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Again. Sorry. Anyway, what follows here is a pictoral account of what I’ve been up to lately.

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On Tobacco

June 22, 2009

Kretek (clove) cigarettes are illegal in the United States of America, or at least they will be three months from today. Earlier today, the President signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law.

Some of the Act’s provisions, like requiring disclosure of all the ingredients in a pack of cigarettes, seem sound.

Others seem harmless. European smokers migrated from Marlboro “Light” and “Ultra Light” to “Gold” and “Silver” without a hitch. I don’t imagine banning terms like “Light” and “Mild” in the US will have much of a different result. And as for graphic warning labels, everyone already knows cigarettes are bad for them. I guess maybe a label might, somehow, keep a 14-year-old who was on the fence about smoking from starting. But it sure as shit isn’t going to get anybody to quit.

Still other provisions, though, seem somewhat ominous despite their ostensibly good intentions. Section 907(a)(1)(A) of the Act provides that (emphasis added):

Beginning 3 months after the date of enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a cigarette or any of its component parts (including the tobacco, filter, or paper) shall not contain, as a constituent (including a smoke constituent) or additive, an artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke.

I note that menthol is specifically exempted from the ban on flavors. I also note that Philip Morris, one of the largest tobacco producers, sells an awful lot of menthol cigarettes, has donated lavishly to the election campaigns of many Congresspersons, and apparently was a supporter of the Act. I also note that some smaller, foreign-owned tobacco companies, like Djarum, exclusively sell clove cigarettes. RJ Reynolds sells some flavored tobacco, notably in the Camel line, but none of the major domestic tobacco companies are anywhere near as deeply invested in flavored cigarettes as some of their foreign competition. I can’t help thinking that, maybe, the big US tobacco companies, well aware that there is no political will for an outright and total ban on tobacco in general, lobbied for and magnanimously agreed to what amounts to an outright and total ban on some of their niche competitors.

Section 906(d)(4)(A) provides that:

The Secretary shall—

(i) within 18 months after the date of enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, promulgate regulations regarding the sale and distribution of tobacco products that occur through means other than a direct, face-to-face exchange between a retailer and a consumer in order to prevent the sale and distribution of tobacco products to individuals who have not attained the minimum age established by applicable law for the purchase of such products, including requirements for age verification; and

(ii) within 2 years after such date of enactment, issue regulations to address the promotion and marketing of tobacco products that are sold or distributed through means other than a direct, face-to-face exchange between a retailer and a consumer in order to protect individuals who have not attained the minimum age established by applicable law for the purchase of such products.

I respect and applaud the desire to keep cigarettes out of kids’ hands. But I can’t help thinking that, maybe, the real reason to regulate remote sales of cigarettes has to do with tax revenue. New York State, for example, levies a fairly high tax on each pack of cigarettes sold. New York City adds another tax on top of that. The net result of those taxes is that smokers who can afford to do so tend to order cigarettes a few cartons at a time over the internet from vendors in different jurisdictions where smokes are cheaper. Banning non-face-to-face sales would “protect the children” while, conveniently, raising some states’ tax revenues.

Speaking of which. Does it bug anybody else that a lot of states are now rather heavily dependent on the revenue they make from taxing cigarettes? If everyone magically stopped smoking, in addition to the huge job loss that would result many states would instantly lose income streams they’ve come to rely on. Just as the tobacco companies’ own halfhearted stop-smoking campaigns ring hollow, so too do statements by many state actors.

Note that I’m not even a smoker. But I did used to enjoy a clove every now and again, and I will be rather sad to see them go. And I think it’s hypocritical for anyone to bemoan smoking while simultaneously exploiting people’s nicotine addictions to help out with a budget.

On music

April 13, 2009

Nearly five years ago, I saw a Finnish movie used a particular song as background music at one point. I have no memory of the movie other than a brief snippet of that song. When the movie ended, hummed the song for somebody and asked what it was; turns out it had been a reasonably popular recording by a reasonably popular Finnish recording artist. I was told, and promptly forgot, the names of both the song and the artist.

For years, that was the end of the story. Actually, the story, as it were, didn’t even exist, because I had no recollection of any part of it. Until the other day, when I somehow managed to get that long-forgotten snippet stuck in my head again.

After racking my brain for a while, I was able to pin the snippet down chronologically — I knew, more or less, where I was and what I was doing when I’d heard it originally. From that, I remembered the Finnish connection. I read every name listed on Wikipedia’s “Category:Finnish singers“, to no avail — though some of the names were quite familiar, none of them was the right guy. I didn’t know who the right guy was, but none of the names on that list sparked an ‘aha!’. For one thing, I knew the guy had a one-word moniker of some sort, and I was sure it wasn’t on that list.

So I tried again, with another Wikipedia list: “Finnish rock artists and bands“, which includes the name Rauli ‘Badding’ Somerjoki. Badding! That’s the guy. And the song, I was pretty sure, was “Tähdet, tähdet”. A quick YouTube search later, and I finally heard the song again, and got it out of my head. Thank god for the internet.

Song of the Moment: «Tähdet, tähdet» — Badding

Computadoras

April 9, 2009

What a time to be alive:

This computer has been on its last legs for years, and I daresay those last legs just got a good deal longer, now that it has, among other new features, a SATA card and more free space than I know what to do with.

In other news, there’s nothing quite as fun (and as productive) as having several beers and then tinkering with your computer. For example, those beers make it much easier to justify plugging a 6-pin PCI-E power connector . . .

. . . into the socket on your brand-new (yet already obsolete! Hooray for AGP) video card, a socket designed for an 8-pin connector . . .

. . . simply because, hey, you happen to have a 6-pin connector available, but your power supply doesn’t have an 8-pin connector, and you’re far too lazy to use a molex-to-8-pin adapter . . .

. . . like some kind of chump. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen from plugging a connector into a socket it’s physically compatible with, but doesn’t have the right number of pins for? And anyway, the inside of your case is already enough of a rat’s nest as it is, without adding even more cables and adapters. Plus, since you only have one free molex connector, so to use the adapter, you’d have to either (a) only plug in half the connectors it wants, which seems even worse than plugging in a cable that provides 6/8 of them, or (b) unplug something else and go through even more trouble. The lazy way dictated plugging in what was available and seeing what happened.

As it turns out, the video card is working just fine with the 6-pin cable. Had I done a little research beforehand, I’d have learned that it’s entirely unsurprising for the card to be working fine with an incomplete power connection. But that would have been less fun — because, after all, brash confidence with no rational basis is more fun than careful consideration. Not that I’d really know.

Anyway, the above-mentioned upgrades were paid for by my 2008 federal tax refund. (My state tax refund paid for a refurbished TomTom that I’m rather satisfied with.) Despite (because of?) working only 7 months last year, I got a decent chunk of change back. Part of it is earmarked for next month’s rent, and the remainder is earmarked for gadgets and other useless crap. I’m thinking of buying a netbook of some sort with the remainder, because (a) god knows I don’t have enough computers and laptops lying around, and (b) my current primary laptop is just a bit too big and bulky and heavy to keep schlepping back and forth every day.

On anniversaries

April 1, 2009

Futurama turned 10 years old on Saturday, and there was much rejoicing.

delicious beverages

In addition to the Slurm, LöBrau, Olde Fortran, and robot oil, there were Popplers and a cake. The cake, appropriately enough, bore the message: “Good news, everyone!”

In other news, a happy birthday to those of you whose birthday it is today.

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