Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 9:06 pm

Really going mobile

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:06 pm

Dumb question: Could you install wifi in cars, and if so, how much would it cost?

Not-so-dumb answer: Yes, and it will cost $500 initially plus $30 a month. Now, you’d have to be a passenger to use it safely (which, if cell phones are any indication, wouldn’t stop some drivers), and you’d have to be a certain kind of passenger to have regular need for it (the kind that pops immediately to my mind is Harrison Ford’s character in the remake of “Sabrina”). But there it is.

A couple of thoughts on lexicography (no pun intended)

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:39 pm
Tags: ,

Thought the first: I guess I’m channeling either Steven Wright or George Carlin here, but what with “bailout” being designated Merriam-Webster’s 2008 Word of the Year and all, why do they call it a bailout when you’re bailing money in?

* * *

Thought the second: Although I detest the verbification of nouns — why in pluperfect hell are we treating “interface” as a verb when “meet,” “talk,” “speak” and any number of other real verbs work just fine? — I’m actually kind of loving me some nounification of adjectives.

The source of this metamorphosis is the Internet, and the mechanism, created by the scriptkiddies, is to take an adjective, capitalize it, and precede it with “Teh,” misspelling intentional, to create usages such as “California approved Proposition 8 because people were afraid of Teh Gay,” or “Angelina Jolie is Teh Hott” (“hott” being another intentionally misspelled word popular with the scriptkiddies).

Because this trend is a formulation rather than a word per se, I don’t see Merriam-Webster acknowledging it anytime soon. But if they did, that would be Teh Kewl.

Cut? They already did

I am not enough of an expert to know whether bailing out the Big Three automakers is, on balance, a good idea. I grok some of the arguments on both sides (doing so would preserve a boatload of jobs not only in those companies but also within their many suppliers — but would also reward decades of incredibly bad management, etc., etc.). But the argument for bankrupting them that I don’t agree with, simply because it — hello — ISN’T TRUE — is that the United Auto Workers are somehow the biggest part of the problem, or even a particularly significant part at all. Anti-union folks — for that’s what they are — say the union has to give up its lucrative contracts/benefits because they make the Big Three uncompetitive. This claim conveniently ignores the fact that they basically already did more than a year ago:

In 2007, the Big Three signed a breakthrough contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) designed, once and for all, to eliminate the compensation gap between domestic and foreign automakers in the U.S.

The agreement sought to do so, first, by creating a private trust for financing future retiree benefits–effectively removing that burden from the companies’ books. The auto companies agreed to deposit start-up money in the fund; after that, however, it would be up to the unions to manage the money. And it was widely understood that, given the realities of investment returns and health care economics, over time retiree health benefits would likely become less generous.

In addition, management and labor agreed to change health benefits for all workers, active or retired, so that the coverage looked more like the policies most people have today, complete with co-payments and deductibles. The new UAW agreement also changed the salary structure, by creating a two-tiered wage system. Under this new arrangement, the salary scale for newly hired workers would be lower than the salary scale for existing workers.

One can debate the propriety and wisdom of these steps; two-tiered wage structures, in particular, raise various ethical concerns. But one thing is certain: It was a radical change that promised to make Detroit far more competitive. If carried out as planned, by 2010–the final year of this existing contract–total compensation for the average UAW worker would actually be less than total compensation for the average non-unionized worker at a transplant factory. [Emphasis added]

We’re going to have to decide soon, and, again, I don’t know the right answer, if there is one. But can we please have a fact-based decision? Just askin’.

UPDATE: Shorter Republican Senators, in this quote of the day from dday: “If the unions would only play ball by disbanding, we could have the auto industry in the same top shape as non-union entities like the financial industry in no time!”

2ND UPDATE: Just askin’: What would the Big 3’s “health care burden” look like if, as is the case with automakers in other countries, health-care costs were borne by the government via taxes, without profit-making private insurers involved?

UPDATE THE 3RD: Still just askin’: Is there any possibility that the Senate Republicans’ opposition to the Big 3 bailout had anything to do with the fact that if the Big 3 go bankrupt, their debt becomes worthless and the people who hold the credit default swaps on that debt get rich(er)?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 9:15 pm

Cold autumn night

Filed under: Wildcats — Lex @ 9:15 pm

Bottle of Malbec: $12.99
Fire log: $3
Calmly and comfortably listening to the Wildcats audio on the laptop while watching closed-captioned TV: Priceless. Duh.

Feel the claws

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 8:49 pm
Tags: ,

I did not know this, but apparently the 2004 Super Bowl, involving the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, was filmed in 3-D. I’d like to see that someday. Except maybe the last little bit.

Lock ’em up

The deaths of two American soldiers? Tragic.

The deaths of two American soldiers because of an American tank rather than enemy fire? Horrific.

A cover-up of the case? Outrageous.

The shredding of documents to further the cover-up? Criminal.

Saturday, November 22, 2008 3:09 am

“The President’s been shot”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 3:09 am

Forty-five years ago today, when I was not yet 4, Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy to death in Dallas. Reporters’ Notebook has gathered the recollections of 12 journalists who covered that story or had other memories of the day. I haven’t read them all yet, but the first one, by then-CBS News correspondent Lew Wood, provides a chilling answer to the question of how it could have happened:

It was later determined that the shots were fired from the sixth floor window of the School Book Depository by Lee Harvey Oswald, who worked there. The sniper’s perch directly overlooked the motorcade route in Dealey Plaza, and Oswald who once was a Marine rifleman, had an easy shot. I know. I was an expert shot in the Marines.

So Dan Rather suggested I try to borrow a rifle at a pawn shop (easy to do then in Texas) and recreate the Oswald sniper’s perch. I actually rented a Mannlicher-Carcano .30 (or 7.62) caliber rifle in a pawn shop, (the same model weapon Oswald used) had it fixed with a four power telescopic sight, and waltzed into the School Book Depository with it slung on my shoulder, along with my crew.

We were not challenged. The Secret Service had not even sealed off the building, but had scoured it after the shooting, discovering the discarded rifle and empty cartridge casings.

The cartons of schoolbooks that Oswald arranged to provide a support were still in place. The window was still open wide. The target sight picture was a going-away target, not a crossing target, so, while moving, it remained in the sights. The range was no more than 100 yards. The President’s head (judging from other passenger cars that morning) must have appeared as big as a melon through the telescopic sight.

Some have questioned how Oswald could have fired three shots in such a few seconds. Remember, one round was already in the chamber of the bolt-action rifle. Once he squeezed off the first shot, he only had to work the bolt twice more. Take my word for it. It was an easy shot.

We are fortunate that the man who shot Ronald Reagan, and the two people who tried to kill Gerald Ford, were not expert shots in the Marines.


Filed under: Hooper — Lex @ 12:01 am
Tags: ,

We got a dusting of snow early this morning, just enough to make schools open 2 hours late. Hooper, during whose life Greensboro has only gotten one good snowstorm, enjoys the dusting before school.

Hooper in the snow, 11/21/2008

Friday, November 21, 2008 11:49 pm

Welcome to your columnist job at The Wall Street Journal. Please check your brain at the door.

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 11:49 pm

Gen. Tommy Franks famously called Bush administration official Doug Feith “the dumbest f—— guy on the planet.

Gen. Franks was wrong.

This Dr Pepper’s on … Dr Pepper

Guns N’ Roses, in its original incarnation, was one of the greatest live acts in rock ‘n’ roll history, and their 1987 debut, “Appetite for Destruction,” is one of the greatest rock records ever made. But their last studio album (a double-CD set, actually) was released in 1991.

Since 1994, lead singer Axl Rose has been working on a new album, “Chinese Democracy.” But as years passed and no “Chinese Democracy” was released, a lot of people began to bet it would never be finished, let alone released. (Background here.)

One of those, sort of, was Dr Pepper, which announced in March that if “Chinese Democracy” was released in 2008, it would give a free Dr Pepper to everybody in the country.

Well, “Chinese Democracy” goes on sale Sunday (one review here). And Dr Pepper is making good on its bet: On its Web site, beginning 12:01 a.m. Sunday and continuing for 24 hours, the soft drink maker will post a downloadable coupon good for one free 20-oz. Dr Pepper. The coupons are good through Feb. 28.

Drink up.

The upper-class twits ain’t gonna like this

At long last, Monty Python has its own YouTube channel! Now my children can be properly educated.

Apparently I’m not a total failure as a parent after all …

Filed under: Why, yes, I AM a bad parent. Why do you ask? — Lex @ 7:13 pm
Tags: ,

Sometimes he shouts, “I hate you!” And sometimes …

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 8:31 pm

“You are never going to have the guts to post a representative transcript on your website!”

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:31 pm

Actually, the interviewer did have the guts to post a representative transcript, and it’s pretty darned entertaining. (NSFW: language)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 11:10 pm

Unintended consequences

Filed under: Hooper,Victoria — Lex @ 11:10 pm
Tags: ,

Victoria: Daddy, Hooper was playing Minesweeper on Mommy’s laptop when he wasn’t supposed to be!

Hooper: Well! No massages for you!

Victoria: Massages? You’ve never given me a massage!

Hooper: No more!

Gift Theft of the Magi

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:05 pm
Tags: , , ,

For those who aren’t familiar with Greensboro, the famous short-story writer O. Henry grew up here. (There are a boulevard and a hotel named after him.) Perhaps the most famous Henry story is “Gift of the Magi,” in which (spoiler alert) a poor husband and wife exchange Christmas gifts: She cuts off and sells her long, beautiful hair to buy a fob for his watch, which he has sold to buy a set of combs for her hair.

The webcomic XKCD has a new take on the old story.

The second half of my career

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:01 pm

Friend: If you ever got out of newspapers, you could always run for office.

Me: Uh, no.

Friend: On second thought, I doubt you survive the vetting process.

Me: There’s that. And then there’s the fact that the older I get, well,
the less I like people.

Friend: That could be a mild handicap, yes.

Me: In fact, I think I’m well on the way to curmudgeonhood. But not a
bitter curmudgeon, a charming curmudgeon, I hope.

Friend: Lex, you were *born* a curmudgeon. When you entered the world,
you said, “*Well*??”

Me: (laughs)

Friend: “Is that all there is?”

Sunday, November 16, 2008 11:18 pm

Kitteh v. printer: Battle of the Century

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:18 pm
Tags: , ,

Things like this are almost enough to make me get another cat — almost.

Saturday, November 15, 2008 3:43 pm

Nine eight seven six five lives

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 3:43 pm

I have a cousin about my age who is lucky several times over to be alive. For reasons that will become clear in a minute, I’m not going to identify him. But he’s in the hospital recovering from his latest brush with death. I talked to him for about 40 minutes last night, and for someone who has been in the hospital for five weeks and is likely to stay there about five more, he was in remarkably good spirits. You can be in remarkably good spirits when you darned near died. I know; it once happened to me. But that’s a story for another time.

My cousin might have been involved in earlier death-defying incidents, but the first one I recall took place the summer I was 14 and he was 15, just before I came up for a monthlong visit. He was messing around with firecrackers and had a big one — a big one — that wouldn’t light and wouldn’t light and wouldn’t light … until it went off right in his face. Some of the packing found its way into his eye, and he also had some bad burns. They thought at first he might lose the sight in the eye, but he got it back.

My cousin was a fairly accomplished scuba diver. So accomplished, in fact, that he wanted to dive in the deepest part of a (small) lake. The deepest part, of course, is near the dam. So he went near the dam. So near that he got sucked through the outlet, scuba gear and all, and went butt over teakettle into the rocky stream below. Amazingly, he wasn’t injured. He could have gotten stuck and drowned.

Then there was the time he was at a ski slope and decided to drive his Subaru down the expert course late one night. I can’t remember whether he ever told me why. Maybe he just wanted to see if he could do it. Long story short, he hit a tree (even 4-wheel-drive Subarus can lose traction). Luckily, he wasn’t going quite fast enough to be seriously injured.

Then there’s the current incident. He was up on his roof blowing leaves out of the gutter, something he had done dozens of times before. He needed a little more slack on the cord, which had gotten kind of stuck around one of the corners of the roof. So he gave it a little whip to try to get it unstuck. It got unstuck, but the whip that came back up the cord caused him to lose his balance.

“I thought two things,” he told me last night. “The first thing was, ‘This is not good.’ And the second thing was, ‘This is gonna hurt.’ And that was before I’d even cleared the eaves.”

He fell two stories to his asphalt driveway, shattering both heels and breaking both legs, an arm and a rib. His cell phone undamaged, he called 911. The same volunteer fire department of which he has been a member for more than 30 years was dispatched to help him. After 14 hours in the ER, he went to a room, where he has been since. The heels are the big problem: He can’t put any weight on them at all until they mend. And they take longer to mend than other bones. So there he lies with his feet in the air. He has had several surgeries, including two to deal with postoperative infections. Amazingly, he’s expected to recover fully and resume his active lifestyle.

Meanwhile, friends and family have stopped by and called, his next-door neighbor is keeping an eye on his house, he has his computer and the hospital has wifi, and he has more books than he’ll ever get to before discharge. He still has to pee into a bedpan, but the way he sees it (and the way I see it), things could be a heck of a lot worse. As he put it, “I could have been paralyzed. Or an organ donor.”

His sister told me she wondered if he had a death wish. I pondered that question, too. I think the answer is no, particularly in light of this latest incident, which strikes me as purely accidental.

But his case reminds me in a way of my brother Frank, who had the lousiest luck as a kid. Fifteen of us would be sliding down a muddy bank, and it would be his butt that found the buried pitchfork. We and all our friends played sandlot football; Frank was the one who broke a collarbone twice in six weeks. That kind of thing.

But in terms of cheating death, my cousin has him way beat. So now I’m wondering 1) whether his number is finally up, or 2) I need to get him to buy me a lottery ticket.

Friday, November 14, 2008 9:48 pm

“Wall Street had built a doomsday machine”

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:48 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Michael Lewis, the author of the Wall Street classic “Liar’s Poker” (which was so entertaining I read it on my honeymoon), has written an article that ought to be required reading for anyone interested in knowing how the economy got to where it is today, i.e., in a helluva mess. It looks through the eyes of people who not only foresaw the disaster but also placed their financial bets accordingly. The money they’ve made on this will be legendary — they went way short on a bunch of stocks that, because of the mortgage fiasco, are gone or next to worthless today. But I get the feeling they’d trade most of it for a healthy economy:

FrontPoint was net short the market, so this total collapse should have given [Danny] Moses pleasure. He might have been forgiven if he stood up and cheered. After all, he’d been betting for two years that this sort of thing could happen, and now it was, more dramatically than he had ever imagined. Instead, he felt this terrifying shudder run through him. He had maybe 100 trades on, and he worked hard to keep a handle on them all. “I spent my morning trying to control all this energy and all this information,” he says, “and I lost control. I looked at the screens. I was staring into the abyss. The end. I felt this shooting pain in my head. I don’t get headaches. At first, I thought I was having an aneurysm.” …

“Look,” [Steve Eisman] said. “I’m short. I don’t want the country to go into a depression. I just want it to f—–g deleverage.”

The article also shows, among other things, that the problems went far worse than bad mortgages. The problem also included, essentially, imaginary ones:

That’s when Eisman finally got it. Here he’d been making these side bets with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank on the fate of the BBB tranche without fully understanding why those firms were so eager to make the bets. Now he saw. There weren’t enough Americans with s—-y credit taking out loans to satisfy investors’ appetite for the end product. The firms used Eisman’s bet to synthesize more of them. Here, then, was the difference between fantasy finance and fantasy football: When a fantasy player drafts Peyton Manning, he doesn’t create a second Peyton Manning to inflate the league’s stats. But when Eisman bought a credit-default swap, he enabled Deutsche Bank to create another bond identical in every respect but one to the original. The only difference was that there was no actual homebuyer or borrower. The only assets backing the bonds were the side bets Eisman and others made with firms like Goldman Sachs. Eisman, in effect, was paying to Goldman the interest on a subprime mortgage. In fact, there was no mortgage at all.

And the Masters of the Universe couldn’t figure out that these securities had nothing behind them.

One of the big lessons we take from this is one that the screenwriter William Goldman has often used about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

Either that, or a whole lot of people ought to be going to prison.

Maybe both.

Which is bad enough. What’s worse is that China, which holds the second biggest chunk of our debt behind Japan last I checked, sees an opportunity in our troubles that ought to have us shaking. One of its leading economists is saying, “Hey, trillion-dollar-deficit guy! You want me to keep buying your debt? Then we’re gonna go all IMF on your butt.” (That might not be a direct quote.)

Cemetery precincts

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:41 pm
Tags: , ,

For your consideration, a 9 1/2-minute zombie film written by Nancy Nall (see my blogroll). (Some language, and a lot of gore, NSFW)

Hey, *I* laughed. Because, you know, zombies.

But jokes never die

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 2:39 pm
Tags: , ,

My friend and fellow Davidsonian Andy Barron was fond of saying that the old jokes are the best jokes. Turns out there’s some probative evidence available: a Greek joke collection dating to the 4th Century, in which we learn that even the classic Monty Python dead-parrot skit has ancient antecedents.

Thursday, November 13, 2008 11:18 pm

Communication; or, How she stays one step ahead of us*

Filed under: Fun,Victoria — Lex @ 11:18 pm

Memie: I’m getting ready to teach a Sunday school class. It’s going to be on couples communication.

Victoria: Couples communication? Is that when a couple looks at each other and raises their eyebrows because they think that way the children won’t understand?

Memie: (Pause) Well, it can mean that. Are you onto your parents’ raised eyebrows?

Victoria: Yep.

Memie: Well, maybe they need to find another language to communicate stuff like that.

Victoria: I know a little French. And a lot of Spanish.

Memie: Maybe your mom and dad should learn German, then.

Victoria: *I* can learn German.

*Dialogue only approximately accurate.

Taking away their keys

For once, I’m with Thomas Friedman: If we’re going to bail out the market-blind, energy-blind, no-innovation-developing U.S. auto industry, we taxpayers need some brutal concessions in return. Indeed, we need some brutal concessions from everyone on the growing list of entities getting a federal bailout. And right now I don’t see anyone looking after the taxpayers’ interests in that regard. (There may be somebody, but I couldn’t tell you who it is.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 8:55 pm

RIP Melanie Mattson

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:55 pm

I was shocked to learn only today of the death of my friend, ex-co-worker and fellow blogger Melanie Mattson. Melanie wrote Just a Bump on the Beltway, which was at, although cybersquatters appear to have taken over that domain since her death. Some of her postings are here.

Melanie and I worked together at Davidson College’s classical-music station, WDAV-FM, in the early 1980s. We’d kept in touch sporadically in recent years. Among other things, she blogged tirelessly on the subject of possible bird-flu pandemics and the ability, or lack thereof, of our public-health infrastructure to respond. Some of that information has made its way into the mainstream media.

Melanie was bright, dedicated and generous. And I can’t believe she’s gone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 7:35 pm

“I have just returned from hell.”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 7:35 pm
Tags: , ,

So writes playwright Eve (“The Vagina Monologues”) Ensler of her experience interviewing victims of the most brutal kinds of sexual assault in the Congo, and the doctor who tries to heal them, insomuch as that is possible. And this piece is in Glamour, of all places.

Go read, but be warned: This will stay with you.

Friday, November 7, 2008 8:59 pm


Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:59 pm

According to this, my Unitarian Jihad name is The Sword of Moderation.

I kind of like it.

I feel like this sometimes

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 9:54 am
Tags: , , , , ,

“What the world needs is ‘antisocial media,’ sites where people who aren’t comfortable with others can get together and ignore each other.”

— Kevin Horrigan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Twittering.

I Twitter, although almost exclusively for work and not as often as I should. I update my Facebook status more often, but not necessarily every day. I’m on LinkedIn, again for work, and I’m on MySpace, although I haven’t logged in in weeks. (I’m not a big fan of MySpace — the search function is atrocious. Also, there’s another Lex Alexander there — a Christian rapper, apparently.)

I understand the importance of social media, but — and I know this is both heresy and completely uncharacteristic of how I’ve lived the last 14 years of my life — I’m not looking for more reasons/ways to spend time online. You may now commence hurling pixelated tomatoes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008 9:43 pm

How they think

Filed under: Hooper,Victoria — Lex @ 9:43 pm
Tags: ,

Victoria: Daddy, can I have some Halloween candy for dessert? In light of the economy?

* * *

Hooper (reading aloud from verb-tense homework): “‘The turtle will trick the spider.’ Well, that’s gotta be future, because turtles and spiders can’t talk yet.”

Mapping the election

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 7:55 pm
Tags: ,

Via Mike Stucka on the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting listserv (and it also was linked on comes this interesting collection of maps showing how states and counties voted in Tuesday’s presidential election. Some are colored according to acreage, some according to population. Some have a binary color scheme, simply showing which states or counties each candidate carried, and some are colored according to a range of voting percentages (those areas without a big spread are colored purple).

I like maps in general (thus the categorization of this post as “fun”), so I found this pretty cool. But it’s all I’m going to post about the election.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 12:46 pm

Friday Random 10, Election Day edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 12:46 pm

“Wavelength,” Van Morrison
“Jungle Boogie,” Kook and the Gang
“Cocaine,” Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon
“Moneytalks,” AC/DC
“What’s Going Ahn,” Big Star
“Sad Sad Sad,” Rolling Stones
“Baby It’s Love,” Flat Duo Jets
“The Fine Line,” Dreams So Real
“Tumbling Dice,” Rolling Stones
“Silent Legacy,” Melissa Ethridge

lagniappe: “Every Day is a Winding Road,” Sheryl Crow

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