June 30, 2008

Black Robe Blues

What's weirder?

A) That the chief justice of the Supreme Court is citing Bob Dylan lyrics as the rationale for his legal arguments; or
B) That with all of his Supreme Court resources at his disposal, he couldn't get the words right*; or
C) That a Washington & Lee law professor took the time to study which rock musicians are most quoted in judicial decisions, and published the results?

For what it's worth, the professor found that Bob Dylan has been quoted almost as many times (26) as Simon & Garfunkel (12), Bruce Springsteen (5), Rolling Stones (4), the Beatles (3), Grateful Dead (2) and Joni Mitchell (1) combined.

* The New York Times reports that Chief Rocker, er, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose," but the lyric actually is "When you ain't got nothing...."

June 27, 2008


(* What would Will Ferrell do?)

Not sure exactly where I'm headed with this post, but here goes nothing. It's about an obit for a newscaster I'd never heard of until today, but as I dug in, some of the links ended up being kind of interesting, tragicomic or just comic, so I thought I'd share.

Looking at the Chicago Tribune's site this morning, I noticed a headline for a story on the death of Ron Hunter (as it turns out, a stage name he chose to sound more middle-American), a former Windy City TV news anchor, who in the 70s shared a desk with Maury Povich and Jane Pauley. Journalism doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Anyway, the obit also had a link to a 12-year-old story from the Tribune archives about Hunter's rapid and stunning fall from grace -- from earning six figures in Chicago in the late 70s (which should have bought him unlimited steaks at Gene & Georgetti, or just about anything else) to getting fired from jobs in smaller markets, having his wife commit suicide and having to steal $3 worth of food from his neighbor. The gist of the story seemed to be that all of this happened because he was such an arrogant blowhard that nobody could stand working with him, despite his fabulous head of hair.

A Google search led me to a site called Forgotten Buffalo -- wait, isn't that redundant? -- which had this, um, interesting remembrance and photo gallery on Hunter. The classy 70s photos alone are worth the price you've paid by reading this entire post. You'll note that the site references Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell's character in Anchorman, and after reading all of this stuff, I suspect Ron Hunter may actually have been the inspiration for that movie.


Bright green

Years ago, someone got me a car-emergency kit as a gift. It came in a cheap yellow plastic container that never stayed shut. It had some jumper cables, the most poorly constructed flashlight ever made, some flares and a can of some substance -- perhaps air -- that was supposed to come in handy in the case of a flat tire.

I think the air can is highly pressurized and, as such, has a warning on the package instructing me not to throw it away ever -- or something like that. So for close to a decade, during which I've had two cars and moved four times, I keep taking this rusted can of tire air with me. I don't want to toss it in a dumpster and have it blow up in someone's garbage truck. And given the effort it would take to find the nearest hazmat dump site, it has always seemed easier to just keep packing it and moving it.

Any thoughts?

Aside from soliciting your advice, I mention that fascinating information because today comes good news that those orange-apron wearing do-gooders at The Home Depot -- or Home Despot, as I like to call it -- finally announced that they'd allow their stores to collect used compact fluorescent light bulbs for recycling. Unbeknownst to me, this had been an issue until now because the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, which is an environmental hazard, although it's apparently OK to eat in seafood.

We just bought a few packs of cfls there, so I thought it was good to know. Of course, I think these bulbs are supposed to last until about 2035, by which time we'll probably be beaming them into space or something.

June 26, 2008


I realize there might be something horribly wrong with me, but I think FontStruct might be the coolest web site ever invented in the history of the universe. You can create and share your own fonts or browse and download typefaces created by other users. Yippee! Or maybe, YIPPEE!

There's some background about it in a New York Times article, which also reminded me that I really want to watch Helvetica, the documentary about fonts. (Anyone seen it yet?)

Oh, I also like the NYT article because there's a prominent mention of Baltimore that doesn't have anything to do with urban blight or crack dens.

We know why you suck

OK, I'm back. Great vacation. Thanks for asking. One of the highlights was canoeing on the crystal-clear waters of Vermont's Echo Lake. Want more? Click here.

As for a lowlight: Try getting to the airport 50 minutes before your flight -- and, yes, we would've been there about 90 minutes early if not for the suck-ass traffic getting to JFK. Sorry, but traffic around NYC is definitely worse than in L.A. -- going to self check-in and learning from a touchscreen computer that you're too late to check in.

Now, I know it's not the good old days, when I could get to the airport nine minutes before a flight, smoke a Lucky and still have time to jog to the gate with time to spare before they closed the jetway.

(No, I never smoked Luckys. Not at the airport, anyway. But I just read an article about James Frey and felt inspired to add a little more color to that sentence.)

But 50 minutes should really do the trick. Of course, it probably doesn't do the trick anymore because Asshat Airlines -- I mean American -- needs more time to run your credit card for every piece of luggage you're taking with you. And this probably takes extra long because of the geniuses they have working the self-check-in-baggage-fee-collection posts at JFK.

I was annoyed, but still figured we'd be able to get on our flight until we approached a surly American Airlines employee, who I wrongly assumed was there to help American Airlines passengers. I soon realized she was only there to mock American Airlines passengers.

"We were here 50 minutes before the flight," we told her. "But the computer said we're too late to check in."

Before pivoting 90 degrees to berate another customer, she glared at us and spit out two words: "You are."

I'm beginning to wonder if American is sort of kidding when they say "we know why you fly." Unless they mistakenly think that I fly because I enjoy getting verbally bitch-slapped by evil employees, spending $3 for a bag of chips on a six-hour flight and having the option of watching "Penelope" -- possibly the second-worst movie ever -- as in-flight entertainment.

Oh, and by the way: We weren't too late for our plane. Although the system forced us to book ourselves standby on a later flight (which is the flight our luggage took), we sprinted to the gate for our original flight and got on it anyway. Oh, and of course, once we got there and took our seats, we got to wait on the runway for 30 minutes because of "some electrical situation" in the control tower.

Flying is fun.

End note

One highlight of my vacation was canoeing across beautiful Echo Lake in northern Vermont. In the spot where we "put in" (did I get that right?) there's no beach -- just a small grassy hill with big rocks on either side, and more rocks where the grassy hill meets the water. When we were getting started the other day, the grass was dewy and the footing seemed a little tenuous, especially for someone (in this case, me) wearing flip flops and for someone (again, me) carrying one end of a canoe.

I figured that if I slipped, my head would have been this close to banging into any number of the aforementioned rocks.

"No problem," I said. "Seems perfectly safe."

Then I added, "Famous last words."

Which made me wonder if anyone has ever died immediately after saying, "Famous last words."

June 18, 2008

Strength in numbers

I called my accountant today to ask why the Golden State wants me to pay more taxes. Before hanging up, I asked if I should leave my cell phone digits for her.

"You better," my accountant said. "I'm not too good with numbers."

Wish I were making that up.

With that, SFTC is probably going quiet for the next week, as I'll be on the road. But please check back next week for more.

Thanks for reading.

June 13, 2008

Airway robbery

Wonder if anyone at USAirways considered whether, by deciding to charge passengers for water and sodabeverages, they'll actually lose $679 per passenger -- that's the sound of me booking my next flight on JetBlue or Southwest or Virgin or one of those airlines that doesn't suck rocks -- instead of making the $2 they want people to pay.

Guess not. This kind of thinking should definitely help them stay in the black. And having to pay an additional $25 booking fee (in addition to existing charges) for domestic rewards reservations? Hmm. It's almost like you're not getting a free flight anymore. By the time you pay your booking fees, $15 for checking a bag (or $40 if you're checking two bags), buy your bloody Mary and a bottle of water, you've gotta be shelling approximately what a full-fare flight used to cost.

See you on Amtrak.

June 12, 2008

Weighting at the airport

This would be fun.

Smarter Travel today considers the possibility of airlines charging passengers based on how much they weigh. Don't worry, not happening yet.

If I had an extra $601 million

I'd spend the first mil on a Bugatti Veyron, just because it goes from 0 to 60 in 2.46 seconds and because, let's face it, I'm not going to have an extra $601 million any time soon.

But, again, if... I'd spend the rest on this magic $600 million traffic system that UPS uses to plan delivery routes for its truck drivers. You can get the full details on the L.A. Times' site (holla for the L.A.!) but here are the key goodies: "To design the most efficient routes, the computer program avoids hills, dead-end streets and railroad tracks. It weeds out busy thoroughfares and streets with many signals. [The user feeds the info] into a hand-held computer [which maps a route, including] where to park and the most convenient entrances to buildings."

The article also says UPS plans routes so drivers can avoid left turns. Brill-freaking-iant. (Sorry, that doesn't really work, does it?)

A frivolous purchase? Not if I need open roads for driving my Veyron.

P.S. I bet UPS is pleased with the coverage, but maybe not so happy that the photo accompanying the story on the Times web site is of a bus that crashed into a Dunkin' Donuts.

Lactoids rejoice

I realize this won't be interesting to anyone other than Bugs, but (good) humor me.

Got an email from the mad scientists at Turtle Mountain this morning letting me know about some new flavors of lactose-free (and in some cases, gluten-free) fake ice creams. They're made with coconut milk and sweetened with agave, so even Jenny's trainer would give me the thumbs-up, I think. Hey, no trans fats either, so... I don't know what that means, but I'm guessing it's good.

If they sold ice cream by subscription, I'd totally do it for this stuff. Who knew cookie dough fake ice cream could be good for you?! I'm kind of kidding. Nah, it's probably good for you.

June 11, 2008

Iraq so far away

Heard a very interesting talk last night by Richard Engel, NBC News' chief foreign correspondent. He was in town promoting his new book, War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq, and I guess he did it successfully -- I picked up a copy for my own self.

He's the reporter whose recent interview with W. included a question about the possible implications of appeasement toward Iran. When the edited piece aired, the White House was, eh, a little touchy about it. (A little ironic when the Bush White House feels compelled to issue a news release with "Setting the Record Straight" in the header.) The Bushies, as you may have read, said it was "deceptively edited" even though, as Engel pointed out last night, the entire interview was posted online from the get-go (and still is), which would kind of negate NBC's evil plan to deceive the American public.

Engel says that the conflict in Iraq has actually been five wars, each with a very different dynamic defined by the combatants and what's at issue.

One of the most interesting tidbits was his recounting of his recent private one-on-one with W. Engel was summoned to the White House, but wasn't told who he'd be meeting with until he arrived. With no cameras running, Engel says he found Bush to be very well "read in" on all of the details of what's going on over there -- he clearly knew the names, players, events and places (apparently without benefit of cue cards) -- and the president we assume to have a teeny weeny attention span was really engaged throughout the 90-minute discussion.

Still, Engel said, he came away thinking Bush doesn't quite understand how to deal with Arab people -- how to approach them, how to negotiate in their style. That seems about right. Although you'd think maybe an advisor could give him a few pointers. And, while they're at it, tell him how to pronounce "nuclear" properly.

Engel, by the way, has been in the Middle East since shortly after getting his bachelor's degree from Stanford in '96. He went there on his own, set himself up as a freelance reporter, and has been there covering the entire mess ever since. Hm. After I graduated from college, I went to j-school to learn how to write about village board meetings. Well, almost the same thing.

June 10, 2008

Murder by numbers?

The Australian court system is so strict.

Personally, I'd have been doing crossword puzzles. As my high school and college career proved, I can't sit still listening to people talk for hours on end.

June 6, 2008

Blown away

Some moron in an airplane (well, you probably would've figured out the airplane part) was skywriting over campus this afternoon. I think he was spelling out "Tori & Dean," which I hope is a reference to ubertalented actrix Tori Spelling and her hunky and utterly underexposed husband -- I assume they're on some awesome reality TV show. I hope it was about that and not some student named Dean hiring a skywriter to impress his unfortunately named girlfriend.

Anyway, I only think that's what pilot dude was spelling out because it took about 20 minutes for "Tori & De" and part of an "a" to appear, by which time I had to go back inside. Also by that time, the part that orginally said "Tori" had begun to look like this:

And, no, I wasn't standing still, staring at the sky for 20 minutes -- I was walking back from my lunch break. (This sentence included to prevent rude comments from one reader in particular. You know who you are.)

Interesting, huh?

Come to think of it, nobody on campus really seemed to care, either.

I will say, however, that whatever it costs, skywriting seems like a pretty moronic marketing investment.

Now we're getting somewhere ... YEAH!

From today's New York Times:

"As Mrs. Clinton prepared to formally endorse his candidacy on Saturday, Mr. Obama said the Democratic National Committee would no longer accept donations from federal lobbyists or political action committees. He said he would keep Howard Dean as the national chairman, but was deploying his own advisers to oversee party operations."

Just thought the italicized portion was very cool news and a step in the right direction. That's all. Since this is my 79th post, I really have nothing funny to add. Except that every time I read about Howard Dean, I pause to recall that he was, just four years ago, thought to be a legit presidential candidate. And then I smile and remind myself: "Oh yeah, he did this."

June 5, 2008

Timing is everything

June 5 is only half over -- at least here on the left coast -- but unless Phil Jackson comes up with a zenmaster zinger during the Lakers-Celts game tonight, I'm pretty sure I've found a winner for best quote of the day.

It comes to us via the New York Times, from Geoff Garin, a Clinton campaign strategist. Explaining why, in the end, Hillary couldn't wrap up the support she had counted on from superdelegates, he offered, "Hillary was seen as inevitable when it didn’t matter and Obama was seen as inevitable when it did."

Sense of humor, Dry

Here's a first for me: Apparently, I'm living in a drought. If not for that gloomy fact, this photo would be kind of funny.

On the plus side, the drought has made it safe to dive from this particular bridge.

Perhaps I'll do my part -- be a part of the solution, as they say -- by drinking root beer-flavored vodka instead of water. That'll work, right?

Another thing that California might want to look into is outlawing the use of hoses to clean sidewalks. For those of you in the drought-free parts of the country: You can't go anywhere in L.A. without seeing morons standing out in front of their homes or businesses hosing down their walkways. Might have something to do with the water shortage.

Drought. It's just one letter away from draught.

June 4, 2008

Speaking of intelligent design

Could it be that this is what the phrase was referring to all along?

As most SFTC readers know, six drinks a year is about as lush-y as I get. (Twenty-first birthday: two Diet Cokes.) But I'm wondering if root beer-flavored vodka could put an end to that. Yes, it's a real product. You can check out the other wacky flavors, including -- is this right? -- triple shot espresso vodka, at threeolives.com.

Ah, maybe I'll just have an A&W next time I get a root beer craving. Yeah, that's probably what I'll do. Never mind.

Design: maybe. Intelligent: not so much.

It must be fun to be a science teacher in Texas, where you might have to start instructing your students on the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory.

It must be fun to have the chairman of your state's education board tell the New York Times that he doesn't believe in evolution, and that, he believes the Earth is -- and I swear to Cal Ripken, he actually said this to the New York Times -- thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion. He backed up this well-researched scientific assertion by telling the paper: “I believe a lot of incredible things. The most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe.”

I think it would be perfectly fine for this dude to be the chairman of your local church board, but couldn't he come up with another job besides chairman of the goddamn state board of education?

Loree, are you sure you don't want to move back?

June 2, 2008

Moment of silence...

... for the late, great Bo Diddley.

I thought this obituary in the Times was really well done, particularly the passage that explains the so-called Diddley Beat, which became one of the most influential licks in rock music. As the piece describes, it's the foundation of hundreds of songs, from Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" to Bruce Springsteen's "She's the One" to U2's "Desire" -- all pretty excellent tunes.

It's tough to describe in print -- something like dum-dum-dum (breath) dum-dum -- but the Times also has a neat audio slide show from a 2003 interview where you can hear the beat and Diddley describing its genesis. Just go here and then select the "Signature Beat" item.

I'd venture that most people who are my age, myself included, remember Bo best for his appearance in Nike's "Bo Knows" ads in the late 80s and early 90s. (One of the best ad campaigns ever, by the way, and definitely worth watching -- although you non-sports fans would need to know that the ads star Bo Jackson, who made a huge splash at the time by being an all-star performer in both pro baseball and the NFL.) But knowing more about Diddley and his influence, I'll have to check out some of those old recordings.

Move ease

For the first post of June, I'm introducing a new feature to SFTC. I'd like to call it a recurring feature but who knows if I'll do it again. (Hasn't worked out so well for Stuff I'm Starting to Like / Stuff I Still Don't Get, which I inaugurated back in January and have yet to bring back.)

The new idea: Six-word movie reviews! First up are two current releases. The theme here is brevity, so let's get right to 'em.

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Jones still cool. Story mostly disappointing.
2. Sex and the City: Didn't see it. Seems very pink.

Clearly I'll need to see some more theatrical releases if SWMR is going to last. But -- anyone else agree with this? -- there are approximately no movies out right now that I give a rat's ass about. I've seen Iron Man and Sarah Marshall (both great), and I would have gone to a show on Saturday night but couldn't find anything remotely interesting in the papers. Now might be a good time for Buck Henry to get going on that Graduate sequel.

Hey, how 'bout another SFTC complimentary free download gift giveaway!?!? First person to identify the movie that featured Buck discussing that very idea wins a free iTunes download. And you pick the song. What could be better?