Friday, December 12, 2008

Gingerbread McMansion

I was going to tear down my modest old split level gingerbread house and build this monstrosity in its place but I couldn’t get the financing.

Williams-Sonoma is striking just the wrong chord this holiday season by offering an eatable metaphor for the financial crisis. I’m going to let mine sit vacant for a few months then I’ll burn it down.

The gingerbread McMansion retails for $250 which I would say is a bit steep for baked good. I think we can be pretty confident that this item will be a recognizable artifact of the antebellum period just as glittery winged rollerskates might symbolize the excesses of the disco era.

I hereby add the Williams-Sonoma Gingerbread McMansion to my “Oracles of the Apocalypse” collection.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Art of Speech

(via hugh atkin)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

If I Ran the Railroad

I’ve been riding a commuter train into New York City for more than a decade and have had plenty of time to consider the draconian improvements I would make if I had the dictatorial power necessary to change anything on MetroNorth.

First of all, the rolling stock is not just old, it’s huge. The carriages ride about six feet off the ground atop enormous steel wheels and the whole thing is pulled or pushed by a gigantic diesel engine designed for cross-country trips in the 1960s. My commuter train could easily withstand years of service on the trans-Siberian Railway. Stopping and starting that train every few minutes is a groaning, straining, gargantuan waste of energy.

Rather than big, slow, and infrequent trains, the model should be lighter, faster, and more frequent just as they are in parts of Europe.

Second of all, there should be service. My train if filled each morning with some of the highest paid symbol manipulators in the world. For an hour plus we’re a totally captive audience. Surely you could sell us something valuable. How difficult would it be to have a cart with newspapers, high-priced coffee, and freshly baked breakfasty items roll down the aisle in exchange for some disposable income? Inconceivably difficult apparently.

The notion of a captive demographic is totally lost on whomever or whatever runs the railway. The only advertising in the cars is an occasional cardboard poster for some TV show on the WB. Where the hell is Chris Whittle when we need him?

Imagine flat screen TVs in each seat back with free programming interspersed with highly targeted ads. Get Bloomberg to invest in it and a passive seat would become a profit center.

And this leads to the third improvement, intelligence. Instead of buying a paper ticket from a machine or a conductor carrying fists of cash and some antique hole puncher, how about a smart card that you swipe at your seat. Your monthly fare recalculates depending on how many trips you take. Perhaps the fare changes depending in the seat you take; less for the middle, and nothing if you stand.

You could even profile ridership patterns electronically rather than by having teams of slack jawed unionized drones counting passengers by hand as they crowd off the platform.

The smart card could be used for all services aboard the train including coffee in the morning, a stiff drink in the evening, a PPV movie on the way home, parking at the station. And all these transactions could be captured, analyzed, and used to improve service. Make money. Improve service. Totally foreign concepts at the moment.

The fourth, pride and expertise, costs nothing. On two occasions on a recent Amtrak trip to Philadelphia, passengers asked elementary questions which stumped the conductors. The first question was about arrival time. The conductor did not know when the train was scheduled to arrive. I knew and I don’t even work on the train for a living. The other question was about destination. The conductor drove the passenger to aneurysmic panic by claiming that the train did not stop in Stamford. Only after the intervention of other passengers did the conductor correct himself. Jeez, this is your job, man. Get the basics right at least. A little pride in a job well done might make your day more satisfying.

I suspect a Swiss train conductor earning a comparable salary would know a great deal more about railways than his American counterparts – but that’s an entirely another story.

My solution short of armed direct action? Maintain public control of the track and infrastructure and allow any private company to run rolling stock on them for a profit. Frankly, if you can run a profitable railway in the Northeastern Corridor, you just aren’t trying.

Until then, here is some lovely transit pornography from Newlands & Company:

The Door to Hell

While drilling for natural gas in Uzbekistan, geologists discovered an enormous cavern. The cavern was filled with poisonous gas and someone had the great idea to throw a match in there to burn off some of the fumes.

That was in 1973. It’s still burning.

(Via English Russia, your one source for all things miasmal)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Things to Like About Europe

Aside from an unreasonable fear of wind, Europeans are generally indifferent to the litigious possibilities of minor accidents and are not afraid of singing while walking on dangerous rain-slick mansard roofs high above the city.

See here as Francoise Hardy violates what would be dozens of American construction, public safety, and child labor codes as she nonchalantly lip syncs her 1963 pop hit, "Une Fille Comme Tant d'Autres" which she clearly is not.

I love the dreary weather. The post-war neon. The utter disregard for personal injury. I can almost smell the diesel fumes and potatoes boiling.

That's the Europe I love.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hunting Japanese For Research Purposes Only

A couple of Antediluvian television comedians recently tried to provoke a diplomatic incident with the Japanese ambassador to Australia regarding some obscure fishing dispute.

Fortunately, these days the Japanese are more interested in slaughtering whales than disrespectful foreign barbarians such as the mocking Aussies shown here.

A bit over the line, no?

(via JapanProbe)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

David Cameron Shows Why He Is the Master of small tv

Here is yet another update from WebCameron. Yes it's a formula but it's remarkably hard to do convincingly unless you recognize who your audience is and what they want to hear.

Cameron is masterful at this. He gives you the context, a sense of place, a behind the scenes look, and he reiterates his main points all in about four minutes. There's a lot of information here. Not just words. In fact, the words are the least of it.

And just to show you how execution makes all the difference, Ken Livingstone takes a starkly mediocre pass at the same simple communication approach. Same camera, same desktop editing package. One sucks. One doesn't.

Anything similar hapening back in God's Country? No, but for a variety of reasons. Obama can't do this. He's overexposed as it is. Hillary wouldn't dare. Too many variables. McCain though . . . McCain could pull it off. Imagine McCain vblogging from the Middle East this week. Bypassing the MSM and talking directly into the camera.

Trouble is, he probably won't do it. This as close as he's gotten so far, and he's not even the star of it:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Galloway

George Galloway who was a paid apologist for the Saddam Hussein thugocracy in Iraq is now a paid apologist for the medieval misogynist theocracy in Iran.

Trouble is, defending the mullahs requires a kind of ideological gymnastics that even a progressive anti-imperialist like Galloway is incapable of pulling off convincingly.

Watch now as Galloway appears to be calling for the deportation of a gay Iranian living in Britain even though the deportee's boyfriend back home, Mehdi Kazemi, was recently hung -- but not for being gay, mind you. No, that would be anti-Iranian propaganda.

And yet, he's also not for deporting him because he'd be hung anyway and Galloway is against capital punishment.

So let me get this straight. The enemy of my enemy is my friend even if that makes me friends with the enemy of my friends?

Stroppy Bird has a rather clear-eyed view of all this nonsense and has been a voice in the wilderness about Mehdi Kazemi.
Hillary in the House

This may be the most powerful political video I've ever seen. Unfortunately for Clinton, it's provocative and convincing in exactly the opposite way as it was intended.

"We need a woman to clean it up." Are you sure that's want you want to say?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hulu Is Here

I like the ability to find obscure clips. The commercials, not so much.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Things You Might Not Think Are Safe

Client 9: “I’d like you to handcuff me to the bed and tie a plastic bag over my head. Then just as I’m about to climax I want you to sell naked puts against the spot price of oil.”

Kristen: “Listen, dude, you really want the sex?”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Where’s the Beef?

The most notable thing about Hillary Clinton’s appearance last night? Bill Clinton’s disappearance.

Bubba was no where to be found at Hillary’s moment of victory. And that got me thinking. Who else is conspicuously absent from HillaryWorld 2008?

Haven’t seen a lot of Al Gore, that’s for sure. And whatever happened to James Carville? Not here.

But certainly the biggest absences have to be those loveable knuckleheads Roger Clinton . . .

. . . and Huge Rodham.

The first brothers are still alive I’m sure but they’re being kept in a safe undisclosed location until November.

My guess? They’re sedated and straightjacketed deep within the newly opened Arctic Seed Vault in remotest Norway.

BTW, here's a little stroll down the old memory hole:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Not Over Yet

Hillary is not going to give up. Anything less than an Obama landslide in Texas and Ohio will once again be presented as proof of a Clinton miracle. No matter what happens on Tuesday, Hillary will spin it as a win.

Why? Because the Clintons didn’t come this far to cash in their chips. The Clinton legacy is riding in this.

Plus, they know that Obamamania is made of the same ephemera as Deanmania and Hartmania. It’s taking longer to deflate this time around but it’s going to collapse eventually and Hillary want to be there when it does.

A partisan groundhog will observe this environment and prepare for six more weeks of bitter combat between Obama and Clinton including fights over arcane election rules, Michigan and Florida delegates, and opaque backroom dealing.

If Clinton emerges victorious after all that, a certain number of Democrats – including a heck of a lot of African-Americans – will be too bruised and disappointed to vote for the Return of the Clintons. And being the weaker candidate to begin with, Hillary will lose in November to McCain.

Longer term, you might even pinpoint the beginning of the long awaited black disillusionment with the Democrats to around 11pm ET on Tuesday, March 4, when Hillary delivers the Comeback Cackle. After all the euphoria, it’s going to be very hard to explain to Obama supporters that Hillary somehow won this fair and square.

I don’t think that’s the best outcome for the country and I would hope that Hillary was driven by something other than self-regard and naked ambition, but these are politicians we’re talking about. Hard to underestimate their motives.

Anyway, you heard it here first. And if in fact she does concede defeat, you never read this.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's the Authenticity, Stupid

The Obama story has been fascinating to watch unfold.

Remember, Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the unstoppable force, the inevitable candidate of the Democrats. Obama was the alternative, anyone-but-Hillary candidate. He was the candidate you supported if you didn’t like Hillary and although the party leaders were for her, lots of ordinary people don’t like Hillary. Bill they like but Hillary is not Bill. So Obama started with some powerful support just because he wasn’t her.

Obama is best known for having given a great speech at the Democratic convention in 2004 about there being one America – not a collection of factions and ethnicities. (It’s ironic that Bill Clinton was given the same sort of opportunity at the 1988 convention and was booed off the stage for talking too long – yet won the presidency four years later.)

Obama has delivered essentially the same speech about one America ever since and people love it because although he is vague, Obama seems to be promising a post-racial, post-partisan era. I can’t speak for all Americans but for me this is an extremely attractive promise after so many years of blind hatred of Bush, Clinton, Reagan, etc. And while race is endlessly talked about in the U.S. it’s never a productive debate. The divisions by race and by political party are now so deep that it’s easy to imagine two or more Americas separate and bitterly antagonistic. So when a black Democrat says we should be “one America,” that’s an exciting and refreshing change.

As for some background, everyone here remembers Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech when he said “I have a dream”, but few people could tell you what exactly his dream was even though he defined it clearly in the very next lines. “I have a dream that my daughters will live in a country where they are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of the character.” I think people want race and color to be inconsequential. Yet in the past 30 years, race has become the most important thing and that’s a denial of the civil rights movement’s goal of a “color-blind” society. Ironically, the people who have the most to gain from this emphasis on skin color are black politicians, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and hundreds more around the country.

Here’s Charles Barron of New York one of the most divisive politicians in the country:

These leaders, who are almost exclusively Democrat, have appealed to ethnic loyalty to keep themselves secure in their small districts. Few have attempted to appeal to a broader group of voters which is why there are very few black senators (senators are elected by an entire state of millions not just a district of 30,000 people). At the same time the Democrats need the vote of every African-American just to be competitive. In 2000, Al Gore got 95% of black votes and he still lost. To get 95% of any large and dissimilar group of voters spread across a continent you basically need to cultivate resentment and fear of the other party. So there has been a poisonous cycle of division, distrust, and race fixation at work that is very different than Dr. King’s dream.

Obama seems to be saying that by voting for him you will be voting for an end to that cycle.

On the cynical side, Obama needs to say this in order to not be seen as “the black candidate” which would limit his appeal to African-American voters who are only about 10% of the total. Even more troubling, his post-racial message is essentially an appeal to vote for him because of his skin color rather than his character.

But what makes this more palatable is that he radiates an enormous sense of character.

Much is made of his big speeches in huge arenas but his real strength is in small and unscripted moments. He answers questions and responds to situations with grace and intelligence. He is never flustered. He never loses his cool. And even when he disagrees with you, he pays respect to your views. This is the polar opposite of Hillary who is strident, combative, and heavily scripted by her consultants. My favorite line of hers is “We need sound solutions not sound bites,” which is itself a sound bite.

If Obama wins the nomination, he’ll face John McCain who is similarly cool and appealing in a non-partisan way. Clearly voters want candidates who are authentic and unscripted. It will make for a very refreshing campaign.

Obama’s vulnerability is that up until now he has made himself a blank wall on which you can project anything you like. If he wins the next state primaries on Tuesday, he will have defeated Hillary and will be nominated at the party convention in July. Between now and then it will be very difficult to maintain the same level of enthusiasm that he enjoys now. Of course, Hillary could refuse to quit and the then the convention would be an ugly fight where race will surely become an issue.

I’ve read about the enthusiasm for Obama in Germany and elsewhere and I think it is easy to say that this is a superficial understanding of the man. But as much as we like to think that national elections are about issues and policies, voters have no way of knowing what actual policies any new administration will successfully pursue. Therefore, what these elections come down to are the “superficial” qualities.

I actually don’t think style and eloquence are entirely superficial. The way a candidate answers unanticipated questions and expresses ideas is important. People communicate in many non-verbal ways and Obama is like Kennedy in the graceful way he communicates non-verbally. George W. Bush, (who I still support even though I may be the only one left), has never been able to articulate his ideas verbally or non-verbally and this has been his undoing.

My prediction, Obama wins the nomination but loses against McCain because the he’s just too inexperienced. Sure, Hillary tried to tag him with this charge but Hillary's experience is roughly the same as Lady Bird Johnson's. McCain, by contrast, has spent twice as much time in a Vietcong prison camp as Obama has spent in the Senate.

Obama will have to articulate and defend positions and policies that differ markedly from McCain's. He'll probably pivot to the right, but that will alarm the lefties who have bet the farm on Obama and will be the first to pop the mania bubble once they realize they're about to be betrayed yet again.

BTW, I'm always wrong.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Baby It's Still Cold Outside

In case you're worried about melting ice caps, torrid tenperatures and dire global warming forecasts.


The Canadian Ice Service (where i get all my Canadian ice data) says that the feared ice melt has reversed. In fact, the ice is 10cm thicker this year than last.

For those who prefer more tangible evidence, here's what Newfoundland looked like last week from an inbound European jetliner:

Photo via Virtual Memoirist.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Everyone On Earth Lied -- People Died

An "unholy axis"? That sounds familiar. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? That rings a bell too.

Let me get this straight. At around minute 5:20, Bubba says Saddam declared specific quantities of WMD and then failed to prove to UNSCOM that he destroyed them. So that means Saddam's WMD actually did exist and that Bush didn't just make all that stuff up.

Big Bill even says that Saddam was hiding his weapons from inspectors, perhaps stealing them away to Syria.

And get a load of Bill emoting big time at minute 9:00 when he forecasts what would happen if we ignored Saddam and the threat he poses.

"Some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too."

Man, that all sounds really familar too. This must be some sort of Karl Rove dirty trick. Or if not, then maybe George W. Bush was telling the truth based on the intelligence that existed at the time and made a courageous -- and as it turns out, lonely -- decision to act on that intel in the best interests of the United States.


Friday, February 08, 2008

Inexplicable Friday Video

I've always thought Brewer & Shipley were underappreaciated 1960s artifacts. But this video makes me think they were both more popular than I thought and more deeply misunderstood than I could ever imagine.

From the irreplacible 2 Blowhards via Boing Boing

Thursday, February 07, 2008

From the Jaws of Victory?

If General Petraeus is doing such a great job in Iraq, why does the Pentagon what to rotate him out? Who’s running our strategic national defense anyway, military strategists or the DoD human resources department?

That’s the question asked in a terrific article today in The Wall Street Journal by Dr. Nadia Schadlow, one of the sharpest observers of the military and one day a household name – already is in some households.

She makes a terrific point.

Yes, it makes sense to rotate soldiers out of battle theaters every 12 months or so, but not the commanders. And when a commander rotates out, he takes his entire staff with him.

This makes no sense and it’s at odds with the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency policy (COIN) and with past history. McArthur spend 11 years in Asia before he rotated back to the United States.

Fortunately Patraeus has declined the rotation so he could stay and finish the job. Hopefully this article will spark some debate around a very shortsighted policy.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Funny, when I tell my Democrat friends that I can see myself voting for Barack Obama they assume I’m trying to trick them into supporting the weaker of the two Democratic candidates for President.

Actually, my sense is that registered Republicans, neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, extreme-radical-ultra-conservatives, and true patriots everywhere would sooner vote for Obama than Hillary even under threat of waterboarding.

And it’s not just an understandable aversion to the Clintons. The real reasons for furtive right-wing Obamarama are difficult for Democrats to comprehend.

First, it’s about race. Or more specifically, it’s not about race. Because Obama has until now not claimed victim status, he holds out the tantalizing possibility that we can finally transcend the closed loop discussion of race and put the bigotry game behind us – that game being that bigotry is acceptable depending on what ethnic group you belong to. The Obama promise is that if he’s elected, race is no longer an issue in the United States.

And Obama is uncannily suited to deliver on this promise. He is, after all, literally an African-American. He can’t claim a legacy burden of slavery. His mom is from Kansas. He grew up in Hawaii. Culturally, the guy is whiter than I am. Yet he has a nearly pan-ethnic legitimacy.

To call him the “black candidate” is not only wrong, it’s insulting to me as a self-described educated, three button suit wearing, post-baby-boomer. But that’s why the Clintons want to classify him as black. Because the “black candidate” only appeals to 13% of the population. Divide and conquer is what multicultural identity politics is all about anyway.

The other thing Obama has going for him is that he’s not a Clinton and that he seems to unnerve them and force them to reveal their nefarious characters.

I love the following clip. Everyone has seen it by now. It's the trifecta of Obamaramarism.

It shows Bill Clinton as the thin-skinned, red-faced, sputtering, finger-wagging political hack wallowing in self-pity he is rather than the statesman philanthropist he’d like to be. It spookily reminds you of “that woman. Miss Lewinski.” And best of all, it makes Bill the candidate, not Hillary. She’s suddenly inconsequential. And if Obama can beat Bill, then he’s just slayed the biggest (most lovable) bear in the woods.
Anymore victories like this and the Clintons are screwed.

Sure, Obama scores big with But he’s still a cipher. He’s an empty vessel. He’s a blank wall that reflects anything you want to project onto it. And he can easily pivot to the right once he’s got the Democratic nomination.

I’m not particularly worried about his rote anti-war ranting. If that’s the price of neutralizing bigotry and discrediting the Clintons forever, I’ll pay it. Besides, if he’s elected, he’ll learn soon enough that all that crap about ending the occupation in Iraq so we can bolster the occupation in Afghanistan doesn’t exactly fly in the real world.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday Inexplicable Video

It's not just the Orgs.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The New York Times Endorses Rudy

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Religious Freedom Day

OK, going to Saudi Arabia and sucking up to our medieval overlords is one thing but declaring today Religious Freedom Day . . . from Riyadh . . . is a bit too much to take.

Here is President Bush sampling a local delicacy, "Testicles al Juif."

Well, the least we can do is get to know our friendly allies in the picturesque Gulf. What sort of things do they like? What are their customs? What does the man in the street think? Here's a first step toward greater understanding, a clip from Saudi television's Friday night line up, "Would You Shake Hands With a Jew?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Norman Foster Has No Clothes

Robert Campbell, the Boston Globe’s longtime architecture critic, takes another look at the much hullaballoed Hearst Tower by Sir Norman Foster on West 57th Street in Manhattan, and he’s still unimpressed.

In an article in Architectural Record, Campbell calmly disrobes the king: the tower is self-important, it’s rude to its neighbors, it’s inhumane, it could have been plopped down anywhere in the world and look just as inappropriate. But possibly most cutting of all, it’s an unimaginative prototype of an engineering solution in search of a problem.

I totally agree. I can’t stand the vacuousness of Foster’s bequest to New York. If his famous dildotic office building in London is called the Gherkin, then I'll just call this pile the TIE Fighter Storage Depot.

But I’ve always admired the original building, actually just the base for a grand beaux-arts tower, by theatrical designer Joseph Urban.

Hearst ran short of funds in the late 1920s and never completed the tower but the base tells you what he had in mind: a soaring, confident, stone-clad and wholly appropriate skyscraper in the New York vernacular.

We need more of these and fewer Fosters (although Australians would disagree). What we have instead is an instantly dated building that could just as easily be in Southeast Asia, or Dubai, or Atlanta.

But the ultimate irony is that Foster’s boastful “green” creation with it’s computerized awnings and apertures is nowhere near as energy efficient as the original design with thick walls and windows that open would have been had it actually been built. As I like to say with wild-eyed fury to anyone who’ll listen, a truly environmentally sustainable building cannot be a modernist glass box.

This is what proud buildings in a “green” city look like:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Shocking New Video From Iraq

Brutal occupiers terrorize suspected insurgents. This must be one of those interrogation tapes that didn't get destroyed. WARNING: Unspeakable barbaric cruelty ahead.

via Bill Whittle who has an awful lot of time on his hands.