Socks and Barney launches

My friend Steve from the coffee shop — purveyor of this bit o’ wisdom — has launched a new comic strip. Starring first animals Socks and Barney and running through the next election, the strip “will take a look at the primary and election processes through the most appropriate lens available: butt-sniffing, dumb animals.” Check it out here.


Prior art?

Debi points my attention to the SnūzNLūz, an April Fools’ Day alarm clock from ThinkGeek:

The SnūzNLūz uses the very complex psychological phenomemon known as ‘HATRED’. Basically it’s human nature to wish harm upon your enemies. Similarly, it’s human nature not to give your enemies gobs of cash so that they can grow big and dominate the world with their totally wrong, stupid and invalid point of view. ThinkGeek realized that. That’s why everytime you hit the snooze button, the SnūzNLūz will donate a specified amount of your real money to a non-profit you hate. The problem of sleeping in is solved.

Sound familiar? I like the new wrinkle about donating money to a hated enemy instead of to a beloved charity or wasting it in a paper shredder, but I think I had them beat on this one.

And yes, I’d definitely buy one if it were a real product.


Sexter to become a reality?

Back in 2003, one of my satire articles in The Slant was about a Friendster spin-off called Sexter, a kind of sexual social networking site. A bit later, a Worcester, MA nightlife site came up with the amusing So far these sites have just been parodies, but BoingBoing reports that the domain has been purchased for $14 million dollars by a Web development company promising to put a social networking service there, among other things.

The actual news reports make it sound less like a social networking site along the lines of Friendster and more like an adult content portal that includes a personals feature, so the Sexter idea will probably remain pure fiction. But the story behind the contested ownership of is really very interesting, as described in this 2003 article from Wired.

On a more serious note, this weekend I joined the social networking site LinkedIn. It’s oriented toward business contacts, keeping the emphasis on professional information and forgoing user photographs or relationship status. Unlike other networking sites, it seems capable of providing useful information for jobs and business deals once you’re connected. I like to think I’m ahead of the curve on these things, but I was surprised to find lots of people I know were already members.

The site is easy to navigate, but the need to know the email address a person signed up with in order to connect with them can make finding all of one’s initial contacts a little clunky. When you don’t know this information, you have to go through a more time consuming introduction process through an already established mutual contact or upgrade to a paid account to send a message directly. But this is a small complaint about a site that otherwise looks very good so far. If you join, find me there with the address


Sidebar deceptions

Like most geeky libertarian policy guys, I had big plans for this Valentine’s Day: curling up on the couch with a cheap bottle of wine, a big bag full of Oreos, and the archives of the Libertarian Girl weblog. Alas, Catallarchy’s Micha Ghertner has ruined my night by revealing that LG’s photo was lifted from a Ukrainian mail order bride page. I’ve been officially had.

I’m not angry though. It was an excellent hoax and, as my flatmate and I discussed, taking model photos from Eastern European personal ads and posting them on one’s sidebar to increase traffic is an established practice in the blogging world. In fact, even one of D.C.’s most respected bloggers has resorted to this underhanded maneuver. I have uncovered incontrovertible proof that the supposed “Will Wilkinson” is none other than Vanko, a Ukrainian acrobat who’s looking for a little love (and a kidney):

Will Wilkinson, blogger

Vanko, Ukrainian mail order husband

Need further proof? Just examine Vanko’s complete profile:

I rest my case.


Edge answers you won’t hear anywhere else

Each year the Edge Foundation asks leading “third culture” scientists a different provocative question. This year it was, “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” Some of the answers may surprise you:

“That I am the world’s greatest lover.” — Stephen Hawking

“That I am the next Isaac Newton. I actually could prove that, but peer review is for suckas.” — Stephen Wolfram

“That my head of hair is one incredibly long Mbius strip.” — Steven Pinker

“That all the scientists Jacob knows are named Stephen or Steven. — Stephen Kosslyn

OK, I made those up. Read the real ones here. Link via Marginal Revolution, where Tyler Cowen picks his favorites.


Whatever happened to Grandfather Twilight?

Earlier this year, the great wizard Grandfather Twilight broke twenty years of silence to endorse presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. That, of course, turned out to be a losing proposition. With the conventions over, the debates halfway through, and the election just weeks away, tonight I began to wonder what old man Twilight has been up to. What do you say we venture into the enchanted forest and find out?
Continue reading “Whatever happened to Grandfather Twilight?”


In the True Spirit of the Games

Lots of bloggers are making fun of this: the 2004 Olympics’ ridiculous “Hyperlink Policy.” The Olympic Internet Department (I can’t type that without giggling) apparently thinks it can control precisely who links to their webpage and how exactly they do it. “For your protection and ours” they require potential linkers to follow three simple rules.

a) Use the term ATHENS 2004 only, and no other term as the text referent

So, for example, linking with the word “wombat” would be strictly off-limits.

b) Not associate the link with any image, esp. the ATHENS 2004 Emblem

This one’s a little trickier since they later on say that you can use the officially sanctioned banner images. Linking with a picture of George Wendt, on the other hand, would be very bad form.


c) Send a request letter to the Internet Department stating:
Short description of site
Reason for linking
Unique URL containing the link (if no unique URL than just the main URL)
Publishing period
Contact point (e-mail address)

Once the request has been mailed, interested parties can proceed to include the link and will only receive a response if ATHENS 2004 does not accept the link.

This last rule is very important and absolutely must be followed. The Olympic Internet Department does not take kindly to excuses like, “My request to link with the word “wombat” and a picture of George Wendt must have gotten lost in the Greek mail system.” Nope, not kindly at all.

Please keep these simple rules in mind as you blog about this year’s exciting Olympic games.


Eternal Recurrence: Elementary School Edition


“However, no matter how hungry I get, I won’t be peeing on my food anytime soon.” — Court

Considering that that quote comes from the woman I share eating utensils with, I suppose that should make me happy. My epicurean flatmate broaches the subject in light of new dehydrated foods for soldiers that can be prepared with the addition of very dirty water or, indeed, their own urine. As Richard Riordan says, “That’s nifty.” This is one dining innovation that thankfully won’t be rated on the Court-wishes-she-was-a-food-critic scale.

Conversation about the food’s possibilities led naturally to talk of a related subject: the phenomenon known as “asparagus pee.” Some readers will have no idea what I’m talking about. Others will know exactly what I mean. All of you probably want to stop reading right now. Read on, for the topic turns out to have a rich and fragrant history.

A little research — consisting of Googling the phrase “asparagus urine gene” — reveals that the first known reference to it is in a 1731 book by Queen Anne’s physician in which he notes that “asparagus… affects the urine with a foetid smell (especially if cut when they are white) and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys; when they are older, and begin to ramify, they lose this quality; but then they are not so agreeable.” By 1866 the Grand Dictionnaire Universel could declare that “tout le monde connaît l’odeur fétide qu’elle communique à l’urine.”

However, publicity in the United States had to wait for Babe Ruth to turn down an offered plate of asparagus at a dinner party with le bon mot, “…asparagus makes my urine smell funny.” Yet only half the guests laughed at his remark. Was the Babe too subtle for them or were they simply unable to understand his reference?

Scientific studies have since revealed that significant parts of the population lack the ability to detect the odor, no matter how extreme (myself included, in case you were wondering, you little freak). This “anosmia” may be genetic and vary across cultures, reaching as high as about ninety percent in an Israeli sample.

Less clear is whether or not the production of the odor is universal. One study found that only half of Brits produce it, whereas nearly eighty-percent of Americans do. People still on the France-bashing kick will be glad to know that the odor appears universally present among French asparagus eaters. Additional studies (and the subjective nature of urine evaluations) raise the possibility that the early studies were flawed and that the trait exists in all humans.

The chemistry behind all of this remains somewhat in doubt. However, it is suggestive that the first reports of the odor occur at roughly the same time as fertilizers containing sulfur were used on asparagus plants. In fact, the substance asparagusic acid — which contains sulfur — has been shown in laboratory tests to have the same effect as eating asparagus. It may be the causal agent, but further studies must be done to show this conclusively.

That is probably more than you ever wanted to know about asparagus pee. If it’s not, you should read this excellent article by Dr. S. C. Mitchell. It’s is the source for almost all of the facts cited in this entry.

Finally, my research into this lovely topic also turned up this, yet another example of the state’s heavy hand putting a creative entrepreneur out of business.


Indispensably useful stuff

Today’s my twenty-second birthday. Or, as is more fitting for the likely means of celebration, the first anniversary of my turning twenty-one.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh dear. It’s my favorite blogger’s birthday and I didn’t get him anything. For shame.” Relieve your conscience with one of these great products that I just can’t live without:

Because my flatmates decorating is a bit too cheery…

Because Im lousy at ironing…

Because nobody likes painful nipple abrasion…

Because I cant shower in coffee (no matter how much I want to)…

Because theres nothing like a tasteful magic effect for picking up the ladies…

Because I already miss the days of Aerobie on the Lawn…

Because Im tired of the same old burger…

Because I want to make an ironic statement with my lemonade…

Because I have a wicked slice…

Because sometimes I feel a little too big for my britches…

Of course, this is what would really make me happy…


Storm battles Fire on Staten Island

No, it’s not the plot of X-Men III. It was the sporting event of the summer and it happened two weeks ago when professional cricket arrived in the United States: the New York Fire was extinguished by the New Jersey Storm in the 20-over pre-season match.

Alas, the crowds were sparse at this historic event. Just over 150 fans attended, despite free admission. Add to that the lack of recognition from the ICC, the excessive organ music, and the loss of right-hand batsman Darren Ganga and it’s apparent that America Pro Cricket, LLC didn’t bat a sixer here.

Yet with the pitch cleared, the final wicket fallen, and the trombley officially jogged, I can’t help but feel that the event was not, as they say, “an utter croft.” After all, we did get to see star Indian one-dayer Ajay Jadeja before he puts down his bat, pads, flannels, and droms for the last time. And watching Nikhil Chopra step back from the crease to score eighteen was a treat even for the uninitiated.

While I am happy that this great sport is finally making its way into the U. S., as a purist I’m a bit worried about some of the alterations (no, corruptions!) the APC has made to render the game acceptable to American tastes. Twenty overs limits matches to a mere three hours, while a change equivalent to baseball’s designated hitter provision lets one bowler from each side avoid going to bat. What next, eliminating leg-before-wicket, the off-corners rule, and flying the binge? What would Henry Blofeld say to that?

So I guess one can’t have everything. At least my city has its own team, the D. C. Forward, so I may be able to catch a few matches in person.

Thanks to Tim Boyd (of course!) for sending me the update. If you, too, would like to become a learned cricket devotee, check out Tim’s lucid guide from The Slant. You’ll be out of the corridor of uncertainty faster than a whistling seamer. Heck, you may even be able to write about the sport as if you had some idea what it was about, without having to make up half the words like I just did.


Sometimes, one gig just isn’t enough

Courtesy of my wonderful flatmate, I’m now enjoying my very own Gmail account. If you want to send me a big file for some reason, (take that, spambots!) is the place to send it.

I like Gmail. I’m going to use it. But I promise, this Hemingway Star story isn’t going to be the least bit autobiographical.

[Correction 4/26/04: Chad, who I believe enjoys spotting my mistakes entirely too much, informed me that “Kevin Phillips” mysteriously began the above story as “Kevin Fleming.” That’s what happens when I try to edit immediately after drinking a Long Island. It’s corrected now.]


Of tacos, couches, beds, and Thomas Friedman

Its been five days since I last posted and Im running out of lame excuses for my unprolificity. But I havent run out yet, so heres one more: tomorrow morning I head to Brown University to work the IHS Globalization and Poverty Summer Seminar. Thats the one I went to as a participant last year. We have a very smart, very well dressed faculty lined up, so I know the lectures will be good. Supposedly well also have Net access, so I may update from the road.

I have about two weeks of couch hopping behind me, the highlight of which was the Giant Chalupa Couch in my housemates old living room. I call it that because the places other occupants have a habit of dining on Taco Bell there late at night, letting copious amounts of cheese, tomato, and occasionally entire gorditas fall between its cushions. Thus, if one is desperately hungry in the night, one need only reach into its depths to emerge with a well-preserved (if dusty) midnight snack. I was never that hungry, but it was nice to have the option. Im sure Taco Boy would have loved it.

Fortunately, Im now in my own room with my own bed. I bought it at Ikea. Up to now, all I knew of the company was its blatant abuse of eminent domain law. They were defeated in that venture, and now I can say I like their store. They have exactly the business model they should for modern consumers who are looking to buy inexpensive furniture: online catalogue, their stock of items networked and connected to a database, and most of their pieces ready to take home right away.

This is in stark contrast to my attempt to buy a mattress at a local chain. This place had no idea what they had in stock, having to go into the backroom and check for every little thing. They had to call each of their other stores individually to see if any of them carried an item that was out of stock. And if one mattress wasnt available, the wait was about a week to get it delivered. The manager was an ass, too. I left thinking that if I were Thomas Friedman, or even if Id just had a fake bushy mustache handy, I would have put him in his place.

Sir, youre still trying to sell mattresses like its 1989, Id have said. Thats when all the walls came down. I know youre the biggest discount mattress company in Virginia, but you have to learn to adapt. Youd better put on the Golden Straightjacket, or youre going to wake up one day and find yourself asleep in the Duvet of Despair. You dont believe me? I was eating lunch with Prince Hassan of Jordan the other day, and he said that the American mattress salesman is a thing of the past. Theres an Electronic Herd out there, and its ready to trample your precious box springs and lay down on a Sultan Fngebo. Id have kept that going till closing time, even if no one were listening. Not really. But I do think that mattress company needs to get with the times.

Now that Ive wasted the last minute of your life (last indicating previous, not final, I hope), I will bring this post to an end. With any luck a week at an IHS contest will inspire something more profound for the next one.


The Post-Reductio Challenge

The Hemingway Star returns with this exclusive report on the growing nanny state, “Congress passes USA LOWFAT Act of 2004.” Satire? Of course. Made up? Not entirely.

Back in November of ’03 Radley Balko published an op-ed called “Post Reductio America.” He argued that we’re in a time where what would have been a reductio ad absurdum a few years ago is a commonplace today. For instance, back when the class action lawsuits against tobacco companies first got started, asking why we didn’t sue fast food companies for making us fat seemed like a good reductio argument. Now it’s really happening.

To see how much reductio creep we’ve suffered, I decided to try writing this fake article with as many real quotes as possible. Read it first, then come back here and continue reading to see what’s made up and what’s real. It’s not always easy to tell them apart.
Continue reading “The Post-Reductio Challenge”