Glenn Reynolds: The Paul Harvey of the Internet

Ladies and gentlemen, Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, is the Paul Harvey of the Internet.

Now, I realize that many of you who have all the answers have all those answers because you’re not old enough to have the answer to who Paul Harvey was. You can click to Wikipedia, but I’ll summarize it for you: Paul Harvey was a syndicated radio broadcaster whose little programs appeared on a pile of stations. Your grandparents probably trusted him more than each other. He carried quirky offbeat stories interspersed with commercial pitches for national products, and his “The Rest of the Story” segments told you interesting trivia, real or not, about celebrities and famous people.

This comparison occurred to me after I ordered something that Instapundit mentions a lot, and I thought it was a worthwhile purchase because of the good testimonials and endorsement I found there.

So how is Instapundit like Paul Harvey?

  • Paul Harvey was everywhere. When I traveled from Wisconsin to Missouri to visit family, the same voice that was on the radio in Milwaukee was on the radio in St. Louis at the same time each day. This was before the real rise of AM syndicated talkers, so it was a big deal. And Instapundit is everywhere there’s an Internet connection.
  • Paul Harvey aggregated news from various sources. He didn’t do original reporting; he just scoured the wire services for interesting tidbits and reported those. Like Instapundit does with the news and the blogosphere.
  • Paul Harvey came on several times a day. Of course, if you read Instapundit, you read it several times a day, too.
  • Paul Harvey had his trademarks. His voice and delivery were distinct, and he had a number of phrases he sprinkled into his broadcasts. Instapundit? Heh. Indeed.. ‘Nuff said.
  • Paul Harvey pitched products. During his broadcasts, Paul Harvey had a series of drop-in advertisements for a series of national advertisers, and he placed them smoothly before going on. Instapundit talks about various consumer goods, deals on Amazon, and books mailed to him. Although he’s not compensated by the people whose product he discusses, he does get some dinero from Amazon if people buy through his site. So he talks about what he likes and packs it with testimonials from other readers. And, crikey, if I’m not taken to purchase some of those things.

So he’s not exactly Paul Harvey, but even though it’s a similar set of wires and tubes, the Internet is not the radio.

But, as I said, the analogy came to me as I bought this book Instapundit was mentioning, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.

Other blogs mention things and have ads and stuff, but I ignore most of it. But if it’s on Instapundit with testimonials and it’s something I’m looking for, I remember it. Sometimes I remember it when it becomes something I need to look for (which explains the Midland WR300 weather radio in my bedroom).

(Unrelated, sort of: This post by Instapundit from almost 10 years ago.)

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers. If you’re in IT, you might like my blog QA Hates You. Don’t forget my novel John Donnelly’s Gold, about which Professor Reynolds said, “IN THE MAIL:”, is available for 99 cents on Kindle and in paperback.

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Charlie Dooley Thinks Those Who Disagree With Him Are Insane

A sidebar in the May 2012 St. Louis magazine profile of St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley includes a little snapshot that identifies a certain mindset amongst government officials and citizens who continually want to cede more power to the government and its officials: namely, that disagreement with policy is a sign of insanity.

Here’s what Dooley says regarding the relatively recent decision to have the government decide who hauls away the trash for people in unincorporated St. Louis County:

At the end of the day, it was the best thing that could happen to St. Louis County. Great prices, we got recycling… It was said, ‘You took away my choice.’ When somebody comes to the County Council and says, ‘I moved to unincorporated St. Louis County and built my own home because I wanted to pick my own trash collector’—why would you say that? Do you think anybody in their right mind would believe that?

The mindset he finds abnormal is the mindset that governments, even local governments, have proper limitations. That perhaps local governments can identify hazardous conditions and make them illegal, but that governments should not mandate solutions, particularly specific commercial solutions and vendors, to provide the solution to citizens under the penalty of law.

In the case of the trash collection issue, the government should have the power to come together and say, “Hey, no piles of rotting filth on your land.” And then leave the citizen to take care of making sure his behavior does not lead to violation. There are alternate solutions to the city selecting a vendor to provide a service the city mandates: The citizen can decide not to consume things that produce garbage, the citizen can haul the garbage to a collection point when the citizen gets enough, the citizen can hire someone to take it away, the citizen can pool his resources with neighbors to voluntarily hire someone to haul their garbage away, and such.

True story: In an affected part of unincorporated St. Louis County, namely Lemay, I know of some elderly women who lived near each other that together every week produced only a couple of bags of trash total. They got together and hired a waste hauler, and they all threw their bags in that garbage can. With the new mandate, every address needed to have a waste hauler, which burdened a number of the older people on fixed incomes with additional monthly expenses so the county’s preferred vendor could dump one bag per trash can.

Asking for a defining principle that identifies the limitations of government: Insanity! The government has chosen a trash hauler for you. The government selected, some long time ago, a cable television company for you (except in certain areas). What service can’t the government decide you need to purchase and from whom you purchase it? (Certainly not health insurance any more.)

A wireless provider? Why not? Think of how much more beautiful the county’s skyline would be if only one carrier had to build all those transmission towers. That will never happen! you might say, but why not? Because wireless data and phone is somehow different from garbage hauling or cable television? How? Please, if you have a good distinction, put it in the comments below. I’ll grant you that it requires less costly infrastructure than digging up the streets to drag a cable, but trash hauling does not require physical infrastructure. (Roads, they might say. Roads, though, are public infrastructure not for use by one user. I’ll play the devil’s counselor and say that the skyline is a public resource, too, littered up so everyone suffers. That’s just the sort of argument that some people make for fewer streetlights and other things.)

You’re right, though. The governments won’t single out a wireless company to protect the skyline because some municipalities tax those towers, and they wouldn’t allow the county to take tax money out of their pockets.

But I digress.

Any time you give the ability for the government the opportunity to award large contracts to individual companies, you increase the chances of corruption. Take, for example, Chicago:

A major federal investigation of corruption in Chicago`s government has turned up allegations of everything from payoffs by the nation`s biggest trash hauler to some old-fashioned shakedowns by a freshman alderman.

Aside from the actual potential corruption, compulsory use of a preferred government vendor leads to the whiff of impropriety that political opponents can carp about. Say that the vice president of the chosen waste hauler, a lifelong Democrat who thinks Charlie Dooley is doing an excellent job keeping the county’s fiscal house in order in turbulent economic times, gives Charlie Dooley some money for re-election. Suddenly, the punditry is all awash in the possibility of quid-pro-quo going on, and nobody bothers to explain why, as a principle, compelling people to use a garbageman under the penalty of fine, imprisonment, or death is wrong. Instead, we get celebrityesque dirty laundry.

Now, you have to take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt, because I’m a Dooley-diagnosed schizophrenic who moved from a heavily regulated municipality in St. Louis County to unincorporated Greene County. Did I move solely because I can let my grass grow to over 12″ high or some days, Heaven forfend!, mow my lawn and not run the weed trimmer around the fence posts until the next day? Did I move just so that I could choose my own waste hauler, settling upon the waste hauler whom my neighbors all use without careful analysis of the costs and the benefits and the alternative plans offered by other, smaller haulers? I moved for a variety of reasons, but the fact that I was moving from an area of higher regulation to lower regulation did have some consideration. I chose, after all, an unincorporated area rather than a city (which is what we call municipalities down here, at least until they grow together and small patches of subdivisions band together defensively to avoid annexation) because I did want more liberty.

But any of these arguments or argument stumps are mere examples of my being not in my right mind, according to Mr. Dooley and to others who have the right mind and, with the right will, will impose that right mind upon everyone.

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Now I’m Seeing Like A Painter

I like to think that I’m noticing the world around me more now that I live in the country. I notice the different locations on the horizon where the sun rises and sets in the different seasons, mostly because I can see the horizons. I can see the topography of the land quite a bit more now that I can see for miles and to larger hills over the tops of smaller hills. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve gotten to be more observant, but that I’m noticing different things now. Maybe in the city, I looked at architecture and at the people moving about.

At any rate, one of the things that has struck me recently is the windbreak at the southwest corner of my property. It looks very different in the morning light than in the afternoon light. I think I’m beginning to see it like a painter would. Continue reading “Now I’m Seeing Like A Painter”

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Book Report: Parkinson’s Law by C. Northcote Parkinson (1957)

Book coverThis book was a pretty fun little read for a British midcentury version of Dilbert with slightly less absurdity.

The author was a naval historian who also dabbled in the study of organizations, and this book collects some of his essays that examine elements of bureaucracy and poke some fun at them. The schtick is that of a very serious scientific study, but the tone is tongue in cheek. The author’s “law,” sometimes quoted, is that work expands to fill the time and effort available to do it, but Parkinson also takes a look at perfect buildings, hiring practices, the proper time and method of conferring retirement on the elderly, and other things.

As with Dilbert, a certain amount of truth rings through the humor, and it’s funny and educational because it’s true. And note that I brought up yesterday’s post because Parkinson also recommended checking out the bathrooms of places when considering a position there, but he did it fifty years before I did, when bathrooms were all steampunk by nature.

I got the book via ILL because of the Instapundit post linked above, ultimately, and I’m glad I did. Although I seem to have hit a bit of a library book period interspersed amongst my longer reads (I’m currently working on a couple of books over 1000 pages and a 700 page collection of short stories), so I’m not knocking off any of the books on my to-read shelves these days. In my defense, the accummulation has slowed quite a bit, too.

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Niche Work If You Can Get It, And You Can Get It If You Try

Some people want to be the lead singer for a rock band. Others want to write and play the licks and hooks that catch and reel you into the lyrics of the rock anthems. Still others want to play the drums because they like to bang things. But not me.

No, I want to play the careening cars for the band. Continue reading “Niche Work If You Can Get It, And You Can Get It If You Try”

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The Governor Only Does Good Things

Two headlines this morning jumped out at me:

Fascinating, isn’t it, how when laws are made, the Republicans in the legislature do the bad things about making cuts and balancing the budget against the valiant efforts of the Democratic governor, but when it’s time to sign the things that the media likes, the Democratic governor is responsible for the good things?

Well, not fascinating, but too typical.

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Another Retread

Given how many years of Web logging I have going on here, it’s only fair that I mine it for material now and then. That’s spread to, where I’ve reposted an essay called “Morale Spy” that first appeared on MfBJN five years ago.

I only mention this because it’s a good piece, and I know that even my “long time readers” only go back two years or so.

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Some City of St. Louis Smokers Are More Equal Than Others

When can you smoke in a public place in the city of St. Louis? When you’re a politician, attorney, or judge going to an invitation-only public venue, of course!

The 109-year-old downtown Missouri Athletic Club may wriggle free from the city’s smoking ban.

City officials have prepared an agreement which exempts the private, invitation-only establishment — long frequented by judges, attorneys and politicians — from the municipal no-smoking ordinance.

The club, known as the MAC, has flouted the law since it was enacted Jan. 1, 2011, openly leaving ashtrays in the lounge, hosting hazy boxing matches and allowing men in suits to gather weekly at the bar with tumblers in one hand, cigars in the other.

The city cited and fined the club twice. The citations ended up in municipal court, where attorneys began working out a deal.

On Thursday, city Health Director Pam Walker presented a draft agreement to her advisory commission, the Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals, arguing that the nonprofit MAC is a unique entity, governed neither by rules for private clubs nor by those for businesses.

Remember, public smoking bans are all about protecting the poor little children who are the employees from the health impact of working in a smoky environment, since those “adults” can’t rationally decide the personal risk versus the paycheck reward.

So the employees get to inhale the politicos smoke where the politicos can smoke, but:

If approved, the agreement would bar smoking in the employees’ lounge, but allow club members to continue to smoke in four locations: The Art Lounge, in the first floor lobby; The Jack Buck Grille, inside the club’s first-floor restaurant, after 2 p.m.; the private dining rooms next to the Sportsman’s Club, after 2 p.m.; and in the Missouri Room, three times a year for special events.

The employees can only have secondhand smoke on the job.

So, to recap:

  • The city of St. Louis has a smoking ban.
  • City “leaders” have flouted the ban, so now…
  • city leaders are exempting themselves from the ban.

But you, citizen, must obey the law, or the city leaders and their delegates will punish you.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Professor R.. Gentle reader, if you work in software development, you might like my blog QA Hates You. And don’t forget my IT heist novel John Donnelly’s Gold is available for the Kindle for 99 cents and also in paperback.

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Personal Relics: My Father’s Bat

You don’t hear much about my father on this blog, mostly because my parents divorced when I was a lad and I ended up in Missouri with my mother and her family instead of Wisconsin. I don’t have many mementos from my father, as he remarried, so when he passed away, I didn’t receive any of his effects.

But before he passed away, even before my parents divorced, when I was a boy, he gave me his childhood baseball bat.

Continue reading “Personal Relics: My Father’s Bat”

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A Man and Someone Else’s Music

Conversation this morning as I passed my beautiful wife’s office:

Me, hearing a snippet of music: Is that Phantom of the Opera?
My beautiful wife: No, that’s Aladdin.
Me: Good. No man should recognize Phantom of the Opera.
MBW: That’s not true.
Me: All right, Andrew Lloyd Weber should recognize Phantom of the Opera.

Make a hasty generalization, and there’s one exception to puncture the rule immediately.

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Quick Thoughts on Automobiles in the News

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To Some, It Would Be Something To Brag About

The elected city council of the city of Springfield are unpaid, and the mayor draws a token salary. Of course, this needs to change:

No Springfield City Council member has drawn a public paycheck for more than half a century, but one current member thinks the topic is due for a discussion.

“What I want to do with it is open up that discussion, is that something we need to consider? We are one of the largest cities in the country that doesn’t have a paid (council).”

At Bieker’s request, tonight’s City Council agenda includes an action item referring the issue to council’s Plans and Policies Committee for review.

The City Charter adopted by voters in 1953 grants the mayor a $200 monthly salary and up to $100 a month for expenses.

The charter specifically forbids a salary for council members, although it does allow them to be “reimbursed for any necessary specific expenses incurred in connection with their duties …”

Of course, they’re going to compare the council and mayor to other cities of the size. Cities whose fiscal house might be in terrible shape, but that’s neither here nor there.

Personally, I prefer a community where the leadership is unpaid and therefore doesn’t feel the need to put in a full forty hours a week in making and enforcing an ever-growing set of constricting laws and ordinances.

But Springfield wants to be a big city, dammit! So it’s ladling out tax incentives to big corporations and developers and everything else.

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Book Report: St. Louis 365 by Joe Sonderman (2002)

Book coverFirst of all, let’s log the defect. The book is called St. Louis 365, but it includes February 29, so it should be St. Louis 366.

That said, it take each day of the year and relates a set of things that happened on it in St. Louis history. Sonderman and his assistants scoured newspaper archives, apparently, to come up with this list. It includes a lot of one-off tidbits that give you neat little origins for street names and whatnot throughout the city and county, but also provide some narrative in identifying events in a series for larger stories, such as the Greenlease kidnapping and the World’s Fair in 1904.

It took me a while to get through it, since it’s not a book that drags you along. It is, however, a good book for stop and start, pick it up for a couple minutes in a doctor’s waiting room, sort of reading. I started reading it last year when I was going through browseable books during ballgames and only finished it in January.

But a good idea book and something that will give me odd bits of trivia to throw out randomly in conversations where the trivia don’t exactly fit and will meet a sort of stunned silence as people puzzle out the irrelevance. But that’s why I read.

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Those Responses That Could Put Me In The Hoosegow

I’ve got a package I’m going to mail, so I’m preparing myself for the inevitable question from the postal clerk:

– (BOOL)textFieldShouldReturn:(UITextField *)theTextField {
if (theTextField == self.textField) {
[theTextField resignFirstResponder];
return YES;

Oops, sorry, wrong thing on the clipboard. Silly Macintosh! CTRL+C means copy that text.

Nadine, the postal clerk in the little cinderblock post office that serves my zip code, will actually ask:

Does this parcel contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?

Of course, I spend mental clock cycles coming up with smart alec responses:

  • Potentially hazardous? If it’s caught in hurricane-force winds, it can go right through a tree.
  • Perishable? In a millenium, it will be reduced to its component molecules. All except the bubble-wrap.
  • Liquid? It’s $640,000,000 in negotiable bearer bonds!
  • Fragile? Depends on how hard you hit it.
  • It’s very flammable; it burns if you put it in a fire.

I’m lucky that Nadine has a good sense of humor. I’m also smart enough to never, ever joke with a government employee I’m not related to through blood and am on very good terms with. Because one quip could get you on a no-fly list or put on the ground, brotha.

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Book Report: A Children’s Garden of Misinformation harvested by Art Linkletter (1965)

Book coverThis book collects the same sort of thing that Art Linkletter made a living on: children saying or writing funny things. In the 1960s, he made a living pitching these things to our grandparents and great-grandparents. And they must have eaten it up. How wholesome were they? Very.

By now, of course, this sort of thing has been eclipsed, sadly, by some of us making light of the stupid, silly, and uninformed things teenagers and adults say. It was sort of cute when children said it. But a couple episodes of the Tonight Show’s Jaywalking segments, and suddenly it’s not funny any more.

I think the book made me smile once. So why did I read it? Because I finish books I start, mostly, and because it hearkens back to a more innocent time.

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Old 880

For a decade, from 1938 to 1948, the United States Secret Service conducted one of its most intensive searches for a counterfeiter. The elusive fraudster’s funny money appeared throughout New York City and across the United States but was concentrated on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a small area centered on Broadway and 96th Street. Although the counterfeiter passed off thousands of bills in a relatively small area over a long time frame, the authorities could not catch the unknown subject. To make matters more embarrassing for the feds, the secretive mastermind who kept them at bay—the man they called Old 880 after his case file number—was counterfeiting one dollar bills. Poorly. Continue reading “Old 880”

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