Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vegansexuals: Withholding Sex from Meat-Eaters

According to a recent survey of attitudes about vegetarianism in New Zealand, a subgroup of vegetarians and vegans reject carnivores as intimate partners because the kissing and sex is icky or immoral:
F3: My boyfriend is a vegetarian. I don’t think I could live with a significant other who isn’t . . . It would disgust me to see my boy tucking into a chicken. I probably couldn’t kiss him! [31, pescetarian (ovo), Wellington]

F91: I could not be in an intimate relationship with anyone who was eating animals. Our worlds would just be too far apart and the likelihood of the relationship succeeding would be very low . . . I couldn’t think of kissing lips that allow dead animal pieces to pass between them. [49, vegan, Auckland]

F50: I believe we are what we consume so I really struggle with bodily fluids, especially sexually. [34, vegan, Christchurch]

F100: I have tried a relationship with someone who was not a vegetarian and found that although he was attractive sexually, sex alone was not enough to combat the revulsion created by the smell of dead bodies being cooked, and the associated lack of concern about the welfare of animals. For me, an intimate relationship needs to be based on shared values and moral codes as well as sexual chemistry. [55, ovo-vegetarian, Auckland]

F78: I would not want to be intimate with someone whose body is literally made up from the bodies of others who have died for their sustenance. Non-vegetarian bodies smell different to me—they are, after all, literally sustained through carcasses—the murdered flesh of others. Even though I might find someone really attractive, I wouldn’t want to get close to them in a physical sense if their body was derived from meat. For me, this constitutes my very personal form of ethical sexuality. [41, vegan, Christchurch]

. . . .

M16: If a partner has been eating meat or fish, they would have to clean their teeth before I’d kiss them. [28, ovo-lacto vegetarian, Auckland]
Link (PDF; via Language Log). According to a news report about the study, its codirector coined the term vegansexual—naturally—to describe these feelings:
Many female respondents described being attracted to people who ate meat, but said they did not want to have sex with meat-eaters because their bodies were made up of animal carcasses.

. . . .

Christchurch vegan Nichola Kriek has been married to her vegan husband, Hans, for nine years.

She would not describe herself as vegansexual, but said it would definitely be a preference.

She could understand people not wanting to get too close to non-vegan or non-vegetarians.

"When you are vegan or vegetarian, you are very aware that when people eat a meaty diet, they are kind of a graveyard for animals," she said.
Link. So of course, even though there's no one who actually describes themselves as a vegansexual, and there were only a handful of people who even expressed the applicable sentiments, it's the latest trend.

It seems like those who avoid carnivore partners, be it out of an ethical stance or the ick factor, are doing it for personal reasons and not trying to coerce anybody to act in a certain way, which has historically been the raison d'être of withholding-sex movements. But I'm sure it will graduate to compulsion soon: forcing someone into the Hobson's choice between your lover and your bacon, with only one allowed to cross your lips—what an ultimatum.

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Image credits:
Iconismus IX Ponatur è regione, P. Gasparis Schotti, 1667, courtesy The Fantastic in Art and Fiction.

Profane TV Station Call Letters

A soon-to-operate Maui television station has petitioned the FCC for and received station-identifying call letters that misspell a four letter word I won't print. The call sign starts with the same letter as almost all stations West of the Mississippi, rhymes with affront, reminds me of Georgia O'Keefe paintings, and sounds like the word voted most obscene in Britain (PDF).
From Skokie, Ill., comes a sincere apology "to anyone that was offended," said Kevin Bae, vice president of KM Communications Inc., who requested and received [the call letters that sound like the word that is synonymous with berk in cockney rhyming slang] and KWTF. It is "extremely embarrassing for me and my company and we will file to change those call letters immediately."

. . . .

The call letter snafu was a source of great mirth for Bae's attorney.

"I can't tell you how long he laughed at me when he learned of my gaffe," Bae said.

Broadcasters for generations have joked among themselves about call letters resembling off-color words or acronyms knowing the FCC would never approve their assignment—but that was before computerization.

. . . .

However, assignment of call letters actually is an automated process, according to Mary Diamond of the FCC's Office of Media Relations. Broadcasters use the FCC Web site to request and receive call letters with no oversight from Beavis, his partner, or any FCC regulator.
Link (via News of the Weird Daily). Assuming the station keeps the call letters granted to it by the FCC, what will the regulators do if its on-air personalities utter them in a "fleeting and isolated" way?

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Image credits:
Waterfall-No. III—Iao Valley, Georgia O'Keefe, American, 1939, courtesy the Honolulu Academy of Arts, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mancatcher Voodoo Kit

Attention ladies:
Are you having trouble catching a man? Why resort to smarts, good looks, and a winning personality when you could just use African-Caribbean religion? In fact, why resort to the religion at all when you could with less effort employ a watered-down, novelty-shop approximation thereof?

California toy makers may not know much about catching men or voodoo, but they do have the vague sense that when you put them together it involves effigies and sticking pins through things.

In the spirit of red-blooded American ingenuity and the drive to always take the easy way out, here's the Mancatcher Voodoo Kit (via the Presurfer).

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Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

Your aluminum cans will be sorted and crushed by prisoners working for two dollars an hour.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Nursing Home Kills Off Cat's Favorite Patients

Oscar, a hospice cat at a Providence nursing home, has become an omen of impending death. Oscar seems to know when a patient is in her final hours, curling up next to her out of what optimistic doctors and nurses assume is genuine companionship:
"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.
Link (thanks, Melissa). Oscar the Death Cat has even inspired an episode of purported lolcat-meme ur-comic Laugh-Out-Loud Cats (a bit disconcerting since the strip was written in 1912).

In that essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Dosa passes off Oscar's behavior as old-fashioned, good-spirited death prediction, but years of absorbing the works of Stephen King tell us there is something much more sinister afoot. After all, Providence is only two-hundred miles from King's stomping grounds in Maine.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Let's Talk About Safe Sex

The Grave Digger

A survey of 1000 UK Girl Guides revealed What (young) Women Want: to be prepared for the 21st century.

Girls under the age of 15 want instruction in a broad spectrum of activities, from the more traditional cooking healthy meals and pitching tent, to standing up to boys and safely surfing the web. Girls over 15 requested instructions on assembling flat pack furniture, managing their budget, and safe sex.
The demands emerged in survey ... by Girlguiding UK, which is striving to keep itself relevant to the lives of young women. A spokeswoman said that the movement would act on the findings and make sure that the appeal for more information on sex and money was met.
Link (via BoingBoing*.) While the badge may be new to the Girl Guides, it seems that the demand for basic information about sex has been around for quite some time. Just ask Spiderman (BoingBoing again).

* I'd like to point out that last part of this url reads 'girls_want_bad' (short for girls want badges) which I had misread as girls_want_it_bad which is a completely different take on this story, and not an entirely fair one either.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

What American Pie Means

The song, not the movie. I wrote a report on "American Pie" freshman year of high school, and as I recall it came to conclusions pretty similar to those in this video.

(Via the Presurfer.)
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Saturday Morning Cartoon


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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chimps Hate You Because of What You Do, Not What You Have

A group of evolutionary biologists at the Max Planck Institute have demonstrated that chimpanzees are capable of taking revenge when they feel personally wronged but, unlike humans, won't act out of spite if they merely see that another chimp is better off:
The researchers explored how chimpanzees responded to loss and theft by putting them one at a time in a small room with access to food on a sliding table in a booth outside.

Each animal held a rope allowing it to collapse the table and send the food out of reach. Unsurprisingly, the chimpanzees chose not to collapse the table while eating, researchers said.

When the researchers made the food on the table viewable but out of reach to the first chimpanzee or when a second animal could eat in plain view of the first, the chimpanzees did not seem to care.

When the second animal was able to take the food away from the first, the chimpanzee without food often collapsed the table to take revenge, the researchers said.

"The final situation was punishment where theft was involved," [lead researcher Keith] Jensen said in a telephone interview. "The only option for the victim in this situation was to collapse the table and nobody eats."
Link (via Freakonomics Blog). So we probably can breathe a little easier knowing this chimp isn't motivated by spite for human global domination. And we finally have a major, scientifically demonstrable hole in the plausibility of this vision of the future.

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Image credits: "Project X," courtesy Reel Film, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Advice Column Mashup

Dear Ann Savage,
Our daughter is 10 years old, and very big for her age. "Evangeline" is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds. She still plays with dolls, and her interests are the same as any other 10-year-old girl.

Last Halloween, Evangeline came home in tears after 15 minutes of trick-or-treating. She had been told she was too old to be "doing that." When we would go to the movies or to a sports event and ask for a child's ticket, they invariably questioned her age. We solved that problem by bringing along a copy of her birth certificate.

I have never seen this situation addressed in your column, so I hope you will publish my letter. Surely other parents are experiencing this same challenging situation and are at a loss as to how to deal with it.

A New Orleans Reader

Dear Reader,
First off, you were born five foot two, 450 pounds? Did your mother burst like a seedpod?

Second, enough already! I am thoroughly annoyed at having my tame statements of fact—being heavy is a health risk; rolls of exposed flesh are unsightly—characterized as "hate speech." (Particularly by people who, like LARDASS, fill their letters complaining about my hate speech with juvenile taunts about my hunger for c**k.) Perhaps the problem here is that LARDASS and BW lack perspective. My comments only seem hateful to people who haven't read anything truly hateful about fat.


Dear Ann Savage,
I am 38 years old and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I am stuck in a job I hate and don't know what to do with my life. When I was in high school, I never gave my future a second thought. I didn't want to join the family business, so I went into the military. That was OK for a while, but I didn't want to make a career of it.

I married a great girl and we have two kids, but I lost my job, and now we are in rocky financial shape. My father offered me a job and I took it out of desperation, but it was not a good fit so I quit. I returned to college and got a degree after 10 years of evening classes, but it didn't train me to do anything worthwhile.

I went back to work for my father, but I am bored out of my mind. I know I am capable of more. I took some job-placement tests, but it seems I have no aptitude for what interests me, and no interest in what I am qualified for. How can I get out of this trap?

Totally Stuck in Minnesota

Dear Totally,
If you're serious about your motto—"the older the better"—then the club you should join is AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons. "AARP has 33 million members," said Tom Otwell, AARP's national spokesman, "with the median age being 67. We have members from age 50 to well over 100." Is AARP a good way for single people to meet mature partners? "We have 4,000 chapters, some are more social than others, some more politically active than others. But being active in a chapter certainly creates opportunities to mingle with like-minded folks." As almost 60 percent of AARP's members are female, and many of these women are widowed, odds and early male mortality rates would seem to favor you, Spike.

But, alas, at 38 you're too young to join AARP. "Fifty is the age of membership eligibility," Tom told me, "but if someone is married to another person who is 50 or older, then that person automatically becomes a member when their spouse joins." Did Tom have any advice for someone not yet old enough for AARP who wanted to meet, oh, women old enough to be long-time AARP members? "Um, I guess I would give the standard advice: Get involved in social activities, take some classes, do some volunteer work. A lot of volunteer organizations rely heavily on older folks to fill their ranks, and someone could meet any number of older people that way."

To join AARP, send $8 to The American Association of Retired Persons Membership Center, P.O. Box 199, Long Beach, CA 90848. Along with your membership card you'll receive a subscription to—are you sitting down?—Modern Maturity, AARP's membership magazine, and probably some good one-handed reading for you, Spike. You don't have to provide proof of age to join—just check the "I'm 50!" box—and Tom tells me the September/October issue of Modern Maturity had a cover story on "Great Sex: What's Age Got to Do with It?"

Anything in that issue about the pros and cons of younger men worshiping older women like Egyptian love slaves? "I don't think I'm going to comment on that," said Tom, who suddenly had to take another call.


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Missing Honeybee Update: Have You Checked Johnstown?


Those missing honeybees are at it again, this time swarming in the tens of thousands inside a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, house. But the owner won't exterminate them, because they are charismatic megafauna.

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Image credits: "Swarm1," Sillydog, courtesy
Flickr, acquired via Creative Commons license.

Thrill-Ride Chess

Fans of webcomic xkcd were inspired to act out one famous strip in real life. Bonus points for doing it at Dollywood. There are many more such tributes here.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Philadelphia Gas Works Is Optimistic in Amount Enclosed on Bill

This is what the monthly residential gas bills in Philadelphia look like. In particular, this is the portion Philadelphia Gas Works asks you to detach and return with your payment. Like most utility companies, they'd like you to fill out on the form how much money you are enclosing. But look at that Amount Enclosed field: they provide individual boxes for each digit in the number, including eight boxes to the left of the decimal point. This leads to a series of conclusions:
  • PGW thinks you might need eight boxes to fill in all the digits of the number of dollars you are sending them.
  • PGW thinks you might send them at least ten million dollars.
  • PGW thinks you might be using, if my calculations are correct, about 54 million cubic feet of gas each month, which is the amount of gas that all of Chevron's wells in China pumped out each day in 2006, and which is enough to fill all twelve of the warehouses of Nordic, a major regional cold-storage company.
I'm not saying there aren't customers that don't ring up ten-million-dollar gas bills each month in Philadelphia. I'm just wondering how many that do have to fill in the boxes on the little form before they mail in a check.

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Meanwhile, in Montrose . . .

The Garden Club is canvassing all ten gardens in the county.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why the Geek Squad Scandal Is Worse than Stealing Porn

Consumerist created a lot of buzz recently by setting up a sting operation to confirm reports that Geek Squad, the computer repair company, was taking the opportunity of temporarily possessing customers' computers to surreptitiously swipe media files. To catch a technician in the act, the watchdog blog "loaded a computer with porn and rigged it to make a video of itself." In the video, we see the cursor, representing where the technician is moving his mouse, open folders and copy files to a standard-issue Geek Squad thumb drive. According to Consumerist, this unauthorized copying is a pervasive problem throughout Geek Squad and at other computer repair places. Consumerist billed the problem as "Geek Squad Stealing Porn," and this same framing was used by blogs and the mainstream media as they picked up on the story.

Maybe that Geek Squad tech was copying porn that had been downloaded from the net. At one point in the video Consumerist posted documenting the sting, we see the tech looking over his spoils, and he appears to have copied what the narrator calls "pornographic videos." But what's much more disturbing is that he appears to copy personal photographs in the same way.

Look how Consumerist baited the tech. This is a screenshot of the desktop on the laptop the website set up specifically to attract an unauthorized porn grab. (In computing parlance, this type of computer trap is called a honeypot.) Here the desktop wallpaper is an image of three young, attractive women, wearing lots of makeup and dressed in a sexy but not entirely scandalous way. It's the kind of wallpaper the stereotypical sorority girl might have, and that's exactly the point. It's designed to show the tech in one quick glance that the owner of this computer is a sexy party girl, that she has sexy party girl friends, that they get dressed up sexy and go out to parties, and that they take pictures of themselves when they go.

Even the order form the store required its customer to fill out must have suggested that this computer would be a perfect target, loaded with personal photographs: Consumerist answered the standard survey, indicating the computer was personal (circled and underlined), that it would be used to burn music and movies and to print photographs, and that photography is the most desired capability, ranked with the highest score, followed by video and music ranked in the middle. This customer, the form implies, is going to load her computer with personal photos.

And photos are exactly what the tech looks for. He immediately scans the desktop folders whose names include the words pics or pictures and determines that they are the first quarry worth copying to his USB drive. In particular, he picks out folders with suggestive names—that is, names that suggest not pornography but personal, sexy pictures. Here the screenshot catches the Geek Squad tech copying a picture folder named "out clubbin!!!" It's a folder name that, directly and implicitly through style and punctuation, says, "Here's where I store pictures of myself and my hot friends wearing skimpy clothes, getting drunk, and doing stupid things."

The tech is presumably satisfied when he actually finds sexy personal photos. In one scene from Consumerist's video, when the tech is looking over what he found, he does find some porn. But before he even looks for porn itself, he opens a photo file. From eight planted photos depicting a beach vacation, the tech chooses one to open for a closer look: the one that depicts a woman, presumably the laptop's owner or a friend, standing in the surf wearing a bikini. This isn't porn, but to a horny male computer user (or a group thereof, if this file's destination is a communal server) it serves a similar purpose.

That's the darker side to what Geek Squad is doing here. This isn't just an image the customer looks at—it's an image of herself. If you own pornography, either on your hard drive or under your mattress, of course you want to keep it private. Whatever else pornography is, for most people its role in life is a private one. But how much more private are pictures of yourself wearing skimpy clothes, doing generally naughty things, or even appearing naked? We keep the sexy pictures we look at close, but we keep the sexy pictures we're in even closer.

The horror of what Geek Squad did isn't the idea that a stranger knows what you've been getting off to. It's that the stranger is getting off to you.

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Harnessing Nature to Fight Back against Minefields

One of the classic narrative conflicts is man versus nature. But how do you classify a story of man using nature to combat his own worst exploits? Throughout the twentieth century humans rendered landscapes throughout the world impassible through the use of land mines. Now, the always-fantastic Pruned reports, scientists are developing schemes to reclaim these areas by modifying living creatures.

In Denmark, a biotech company has developed a modified form of thale-cress, a common weed, that will turn red when in proximity to an old mine:
[I]ts leaves turn red when the plant comes in contact with nitrogen dioxide — a compound that naturally leaches into the soil from unexploded land mines made from plastic and held together by leaky rubber seals. Aresa is growing large patches of the stuff on old army shooting ranges that have been seeded with land mines.

. . . .

[Developer Jarne] Elleholm says Aresa's technique can cover five times as much ground in the same amount of time as other detection techniques.

Aresa uses a seeding hose known as a "hydroseeder" — groundskeepers use such a hose to grow green grass on golf courses — to cover about a football field of territory in a day. After four to five weeks the thale-cress will have sprouted and turned red if it encounters nitrogen dioxide. Normally, plants neutralize nitrogen dioxide, which they recognize as harmful. But Aresa scientists, led by founder [Carsten] Meier, have genetically engineered thale-cress, fusing its nitrogen dioxide neutralizer with an enzyme that creates red pigment (plants naturally produce red pigment, which isn't visible until the green disappears in autumn).
Link. Meanwhile, in Croatia, Professor Nikola Kezic is training honeybees to find the mines other detection methods cannot:
Training the bees to find mines takes place in a large net tent pitched on a lawn at the university's Faculty of Agriculture.

A hive of bees sits at one end, with several feeding points for the bees set up around the tent.

But only a few of the feeding points contain food, and the soil immediately around them has been impregnated with explosive chemicals.

The idea is that the bees' keen sense of smell soon associates the smell of explosives with food. So far this has proved successful.

Prof Kezic says that training the bees takes only three or four days.
Link. Of course, Kezic's method depends on there being any honeybees left. And what to do when you actually find the explosives still embedded in the ground? The answer might lie with yet a third kingdom of life:
When explosives are used for mining or demolition, some may fail to detonate and get lost in the rubble. [Robert] Riggs reckons the remedy could be to mix pellets of dormant fungal spores in with the explosive charge before inserting the wick into the explosive package.

The dry spores lie dormant while the explosives are in storage and, if the charge detonates as intended, will get blown to smithereens.

But if the explosive fails to detonate, water from the air should migrate down the wick and into the charge. The spores should then germinate and devour the charge, rendering it harmless.
Link. Why stop with fungi? Perhaps mold could be used to migrate beneath the mine casing, cutting off the detonator from the charge or the trigger. Perhaps archaea, which thrive in extreme environments like geysers and deep-sea vents, could feed off a mine's nitrogen compounds and eat the explosive from the inside out.

Or perhaps no living thing will be able to outmaneuver the destructive capacity of society itself.


Perhaps even higher-order animals can locate and avoid land mines. Biologist Michael Chase of Elephants Without Borders believes elephants migrating back into war-torn regions of Africa quickly learned to avoid, if not the land mines themselves, then at least the minefields:
Chase said that when the initial migration began a number of elephants had their trunks and legs blown off by mines, condemning the animals to agonizing deaths. But the elephants that followed since have avoided those areas.

. . . .

"Once I overlay the movements of our five satellite-collared elephants with the location of [the known] mine fields, it would appear that they were avoiding these areas."

. . . .

"We have not seen any evidence of elephants being blown up or injured by land mine explosions in the three years we have been working in this area," he said.
Link (via Zooillogix).

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Image credits: "The Gods Were Kind . . . perhaps," JFA-japan, courtesy Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Churches of Philadelphia's 38th Street

Philadelphia has 2393 miles of streets and 2169 churches, which means you would expect, in this city of one and a half million people, to drive, on average, 1.1 miles between churches on any given street. On 38th Street, you would drive 672 feet.

Running north-south through the University City, Powelton Village, and Mantua neighborhoods of West Philly, 38th Street covers a distance of 1.4 miles, but in that span is home to ten functioning places of worship and one former church. The churches range from Catholic to Episcopal to Baptist to A.M.E., from huge cathedrals to modest houses, from former synagogues to current apartment buildings. The earliest was built in the 1870s, the newest 2005. These are a sampling, of which more can be found at Flickr (and on this Google map).

St. Agatha–St. James Roman Catholic Church, at the corner of 38th and Chestnut in University City, is the southernmost of the group, and one of the oldest and largest. It was built in the Gothic style in 1887 by E.F. Durang, who designed many prominent, nineteenth-century Catholic churches in Philadelphia. Originally the Church of St. James, the building took on a new name when the St. Agatha parish merged in the 1980s, abandoning the sister church several blocks north. It now serves both the neighborhood and the community of the University of Pennsylvania, to which it is adjacent.

The Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral is just across Chestnut from St. Agatha–St. James. It was built by C.W. Burns in 1898 in the Italianate style, reflecting an architectural trend in the neighborhood during the period. It contains the seat of the Bishop of Pennsylvania. The original edifice was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1906. The interior was extensively renovated in the late 1990s and early years of the millennium to create an impressive but minimalist space. From the sidewalk, its most distinctive features are an imposing bell tower and doors with whimsical hinges.

North of Lancaster Avenue, 38th Street transforms from an arterial thoroughfare to a relatively quiet residential street, cutting across a corner of Powelton Village, the oldest neighborhood along the route. Powelton is correspondingly home to the oldest churches and the densest concentration thereof—it has four within a span of about five hundred feet. This church at the corner of Hamilton was built in a sort of medieval style in the early 1870s; its northern addition, shown here, was completed in 1885. It is now home to the Tyree African Methodist Episcopal congregation. Much of the building's original features are preserved with the addition of some necessary modern retrofits. The A.M.E. denomination, which began in Philadelphia, incorporates the roots of its founders, who were of African descent, Methodist theology, and an Episcopal government structure.

Originally St. Agatha's Roman Catholic Church, the building at the corner of Spring Garden is now part of an apartment complex called The Cloisters. Durang built St. Agatha's between 1874 and 1878, but a century later Powelton could no longer support it. The parish merged with St. James's to the south, and the building was abandoned for a decade. Between 1991 and 1993, Pennrose Properties gutted the church and adjacent parish buildings to build affordable apartments, managing to preserve much of the exterior. The renovations included new additions to the roof line, seen here.

Besides Tyree and The Cloisters, Bethel Community Baptist Church, which stands as a neighborhood landmark at the bend in 38th, and Mount Pleasant Primitive Baptist Church, which is possibly the oldest of the 38th Street churches, also serve Powelton.

North of Powelton, 38th Street crosses into Mantua, a working-class neighborhood served by four smaller churches, three of which are Baptist (as are nearly a quarter of the churches in the city). St. Jude Baptist Church stands at practically the dead center of Mantua, where Wallace crosses 38th. According to its cornerstone, this newest church building on 38th was constructed in 2005 under the leadership of its pastor, Cleveland M. Edwards Jr., the son of the man who founded the church in 1948. The younger Edwards is an active leader in the NAACP. First United Baptist Church, Transfiguration Baptist Church, and Church of Faith, Inc., (in a former synagogue building) also call Mantua home.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Advice Column Mashup

Dear Prudence,
One day at school I wore my light wash jeans. I went through the day like normal, but something felt weird on the back of my jeans, although I hadn't bothered to check it out. Finally, when I was getting off the bus at my stop, some people started laughing, and it got worse as I walked down the aisle. I had no idea why they were, I figured someone probably tripped or something, so I just kept walking.

Imagine my horror, then, when I got home and my mom began to laugh at me, too! I realized, way too late, that I had gotten my period and had a big red spot on the back of my jeans! I spent the whole afternoon walking around like that and had no clue. I was humiliated enough, but then later that night my friend (who was sitting next to me on the bus) called me, and he was really angry. When I got him to calm down he told me that people were laughing at him when he was getting off the bus, and when he got home he discovered he had a red spot on the back of his pants, too.

Let's just say he always checks the bus seat before he sits next to me, and I have vowed never to wear light jeans again!

Adrina, 15, West Palm Beach, FL

Dear Adrina,
These commentators are strangers? What's up with that? Prudie thinks a proper response would be nonverbal communication. Something along the lines of knitting your eyebrows together, narrowing your eyes, and making the slightest sneer, all while cocking your head to a 45 degree angle.

Prudie, huffily

Dear Prudence,
I have P.E. right after lunch and one day we were doing the presidential fitness test. My P.E. teacher just happened to pair me with my crush for the pushup section. My crush was going to be right behind me, counting. I was psyched, until I passed gas super loudly, right in his face! It was from the bean burrito I'd eaten right beforehand. It was horrible. Whenever he sees me in the hall, he holds his nose, and says "watch out, the stink bomb is coming!" Now I can't even look him in the eye.

Amanda, 15, Kentucky

Dear Amanda,
What should he call you, Stepmommy Dearest? It's good that you're trying to treat your stepson like family, because he is family. He may be a troubled, unpleasant part of your family, and it may be understandably difficult for you to have him underfoot, but it must also be painful for him to be treated with such obvious aversion. You can hardly prohibit one member of the household from addressing you with the pet name others are allowed to use. Maybe your stepson is ready to leave his rocky teenage years behind; think of how beneficial it would be for him to feel accepted by you. So, when he calls you calls you Mimsy or Bipsy or whatever it is, just cringe and bear it.


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Maybe He Was Too Intense. Maybe He Came On Too Strong.


(Via YesButNoButYes.)

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

International Patent Office Rejects Quomma


If you were wondering, whatever happened to that new punctuation mark, the quomma, that The Good Reverend's college roommate invented?, there have been new developments. Or rather, old ones: a US company filed an international patent application for the quomma (and exclamomma) back in 1992. The organization has failed to issue the patent, though, so for now we are all free to use them, I guess.

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Some Things Are Certain

Okay, I can follow the Raelians' belief that man is descended from extraterrestrials. It's when they claim a swastika intertwined with the Star of David won't be offensive that they lose me.

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And Now We Pause for Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' on the Theremin


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Friday, July 06, 2007

Boots Randolph Dies, "Yakety Sax" Lives On

When American country and jazz legend Boots Randolph passed away Tuesday a week after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, the Fark headline declared, "Funeral procession will take place at a comically rapid pace with scantily clad women and an English bobby." Randolph was a longtime Nashville headliner and session man, and he had played sax behind Elvis Presley on "Return to Sender," Roy Orbison on "Oh, Pretty Woman," and Brenda Lee on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." But it was clear long before his death that the 1961 instrumental "Yakety Sax" would be his legacy.

"Yakety Sax" charted in 1963 on a Monument Records rerelease, but it wasn't until The Benny Hill Show started airing in 1969 that the song truly took off. During the BBC sketch comedy's closing credits, star Hill would typically get into some kind of trouble and be chased by sexy birds and a policeman in an "undercranked," or fast-motion, video sequence. All the action was, of course, set to "Yakety Sax." In this 1988 edition, Hill spends much of the sequence alone on camera, but the near-stop-motion shots with a pursuing mob are representative.

It's a successful formula: cyclical, jaunty instrumental + slapstick humor + fast-motion video. It's been around in one form or another since the Keystone Kops, which is to say since basically the dawn of film. Benny Hill's use of "Yakety Sax" tweaked this recipe and made it iconic, yielding a sort of shorthand: set something to "Yakety Sax" and you're telling the audience that the action is comical in a slapstick kind of way and maybe even, on another level, winking and nodding to British comedy for those in the know.

The proliferation of YouTube has lead to countless imitations—some better than others. "Yakety Sax" is a fairly effective soundtrack for videos of fast-moving animals, especially ones that would be otherwise a little bit funny on their own, like these battling pets and this treadmill-running shrimp. It also works rather well reedited into classic movie scenes like the Darth Maul sword fight, the Shining climax, or any part of Jurassic Park. Clips importing "Yakety Sax" into sports, perhaps because they are stripped of their drama, or perhaps because blooper-reel comedy stands best on its own, are somewhat less successful. It might be that directors who attempt to bennyhillify sports don't quite have a grasp on the undercranking technique.

By far the most controversial use of "Yakety Sax" for attempted comic effect is as a soundtrack to real-life tragic events. Testing the theory that the song, properly deployed, can make anything funny, more than one YouTube user has set news footage from 9/11 to the tune. Woody Allen famously wrote that comedy is tragedy plus time. I'm not convinced that speeding up the tape makes up for that last element.

Boots Randolph was right when he called "Yakety Sax" "my trademark." For better or worse, it's what he'll be remembered for. That's what makes YouTube user JasonEdge's stripped-down tribute so moving. Have you ever seen "Yakety Sax" set to less action?

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The Revolution Encoded in Poetry

The following poem appeared in a revolutionary-era Philadelphia newspaper. Read straightforward, it condemns the brewing political sentiment against the crown:
Hark! Hark! the trumpet sounds, the din of war's alarms,
O'er seas and solid grounds, doth call us all to arms;
Who for King George doth stand, their honors soon shall shine;
Their ruin is at hand, who with the Congress join.
The acts of Parliament, in them I much delight,
I hate their cursed intent, who for the Congress fight;
The Tories of the day, they are my daily toast,
They soon will sneak away, who independence boast;
Who non-resistance hold, they have my hand and heart,
May they for slaves be sold, who act a Whiggish part;
On Mansfied, North and Bute, may daily blessings pour,
Confusion and dispute, on Congress evermore;
To North and British lord, may honors still be done,
I wish a block or cord, to General Washington.
Read another way, it is pro-Revolution. Can you find the code? Futility Closet has the answer.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Yaphet Kotto for President

Yaphet Kotto, the actor best known for being the first post-chest-explosion victim of the alien in Alien, and whom you might also remember from Midnight Run, Running Man, and 1996's Two If by Sea, is running for president as an independent candidate.

It could be a Homicide versus Law and Order match-up. Or maybe they could do one of those old crossover promotions like NBC did back in the day.

Bonus factoids: Kotto is the son of a Cameroonian Crown Prince. He would also be the first African American and first Jewish president.

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I Have It on Reliable Intelligence that This Scene Appears in the New Transformers Movie

The Perry Bible Fellowship.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hot Dogs and Independence

This Fourth, if you're not enjoying hot dogs, remember the men who gave America its freedom for their hotness.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cooking Terms and What They Mean (for Gender Roles)

Here's an instructional video from 1949. It teaches you how to cook, provided you are a young wife. Culinary arts and the proper place of a woman—two lessons in one! Thank you, Professor Edna A. Hill of the Department of Home Economics at the University of Kansas. (And note that, even though the advice comes from an educated woman and is directed at a young woman, it's narrated by an austere man.)

Favorite quotes:
  • "To stir is to mix food materials with a circular motion to secure a uniform consistency."
  • "Yes, the honeymoon is over for Tim now that he starts back to work. And it's over for Margie, too, as she enters her bright new kitchen to cook her first meal."
  • "But wait a minute! There's still time to bake another cake before Tim comes home to lunch."


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Tracking Down the Speedo Man: Epilogue

Part 9 in a series (previously)
Originally published in the Tucson Citizen, September 2000

In Memory of Bicycle Bob
Born ? – September 2000

He was the most well-known stranger in Tucson. Most of us knew him only as Bob. No last name, no other information. In fact, I'm sure you all knew him well. He was the tan, physically fit, bald man who rode his old bike in a Speedo all over town.

His death saddened me so much that I felt a need to write this little something for him. My way of saying goodbye to Bob. Acknowledging his life and his death and letting him known we'll miss him.

Your friend,

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Five Best American Boardwalks

Wednesday is the cruelest of all days for Independence Day to fall on, because it is hard to justify taking off Thursday and Friday (or Monday and Tuesday) and leave only a two-day work week. If you can finagle it, however, a Wednesday Fourth makes for the longest of long weekends. This gives you the perfect opportunity to head out of town for a few days.

If you are looking for a destination—a place to go to when all you really want to do is get away from home—may we suggest the coast? And more specifically, may we suggest a beach town with restaurants, shops, and amusements pressed right up against the ocean with a wooden walkway in between?

A boardwalk is perfect for Independence Day because it is fun, summery, and American to a fault. Here are five boardwalks within a day's drive of home for most Americans (sorry, Kansas).

5. Ocean City, Maryland

History: Not to be confused with the other boardwalked Ocean City eighty miles up the coast and across Delaware Bay, Maryland's OC has had a boardwalk in one form or another since 1902. The current incarnation, a replacement for a storm-leveled earlier version, dates to the early 1960s.

Carousel: The one at Trimper's Amusements has been continuously run since 1912, so Ocean City claims it as the nation's oldest carousel in continuous operation. The best part is that it has two floors.

People watching: Ocean City's boardwalk is about as far away from a major urban area as you will find, which inevitably leads to a high mullet quotient.

Food: Pizza, ice cream, typical boardwalk fare.

Live Boardwalk Cam: Yes.

Why it makes the list: Warm water, great sand, and that carousel.

See the top four . . .

4. Atlantic City, New Jersey

History: The nation's first boardwalk was built here in 1870 when hotel owners decided it would be a good way to keep guests from tracking in sand. It grew to seven miles long before being wiped out in a 1944 hurricane. The current boardwalk, which merges with the Ventnor boardwalk, is the longest in the world at 5.75 miles.

Carousel: I couldn't find one, but let me know if you do. It's too darn big to search everywhere.

People watching: The fading casino glory yields a lot of desperate individuals and blue-haired ladies who come in by the bus load, but they tend to stay behind the slot machines and out of the sun. There are plenty of Jersey girls to go around, and something about the combination of young guys still wearing muscle shirts and that scent of ocean mixed with garbage reminds you that this is the city the mob built.

Food: Typical of other boardwalks, plus soft pretzels, because you are, after all, only an hour's drive from Philly.

Live Boardwalk Cam: Apparently not.

Why it makes the list: Sure, it's the oldest and the biggest, but it's really Monopoly that takes it over the top. If someone lands on Boardwalk with a hotel, it's all over. Plus, the Boss says so.

3. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

History: The boardwalk was originally rolled out in 1873 as part of a summer retreat for the Methodist Church. God destroyed it in 1914, then again in 1962, and finally in 1992. The Rehobothite Methodists don't know how to take a hint.

Carousel: There's a smallish one indoors.

People watching: Tourists regularly pour in from Washington, Baltimore, and smaller towns as far away as Pennsylvania. Rehoboth has become the Mid Atlantic's gay capital, which probably has something to do with the crowd being more urbane and interesting than most.

Food: World famous saltwater taffy.

Live Boardwalk Cam: You bet.

Why it makes the list: Come for the people and the weather, stay for the taffy.

2. Coney Island, New York

History: The Riegelmann Boardwalk, built in 1923, sprang up because of the influx from the recently completed subway line. Amusement parks, which had come and gone in the area since the middle of the nineteenth century, took off thanks to the boardwalk.

Carousel: Sure, but wouldn't you rather ride the Cyclone?

People Watching: The location at the end of a subway line in a city of eight million interesting people makes for a fascinating boardwalk. As American boardwalks go, Coney Island feels both proto- and atypical. Every July 4 Coney Island hosts the Super Bowl of competitive eating.

Food: It's pretty much the same stuff you could get in 1940, and that's fine with me. The hot dogs are the clincher.

Live Boardwalk Cam: Nope.

Why it makes the list: It's as storied a beach resort as you are going to find, and it's the crowd that makes it so. Plus, the Drifters say so.

1. Santa Cruz, California

History: Dating to 1907, the boardwalk was inspired by the amusements of Coney Island but predates Coney's actual boardwalk. And unlike some other boardwalks, it hasn't had any storms (or even the occasional earthquake) knock it down since.

Carousel: The 1911 Looff Carousel is a national historic landmark, and it features the old brass ring game.

People Watching: It's California. People are just different here. Andby different I mean hotter.

Food: Gilroy garlic fries. And can you say Dippin' Dots?

Live Boardwalk Cam: Sort of.

Why it's number one: It's got all the history, rides, and arcade games of the East Coast boardwalks, along with a laid-back California feel and the nicest of all boardwalk beaches. Plus Kiefer Sutherland says so.

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Image credits: (a) "Dusk," wastrel; (b) "On the Boardwalk in Atlantic City," eqqman; (c) "The Boardwalk," Zsaj; (d) "47830001," dogseat; (e) "round up," astrocruzan. All images courtesy
Flickr. B and D are licensed through Creative Commons. A, C, and E are borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Tracking Down the Speedo Man: Close Encounter of the Third Kind

Part 8 in a series (previously, next)
Originally published in Unfiltered Magazine, Spring 2000, by Paul Schramski

A few days later, while driving home from school, I saw him. The Bikeman road his bicycle in irregular strides, passing the dangerous construction on Speedway. I pulled over and attempted to interview him, although I feared what type of person he might be. I introduced myself and began to ask him a few unprepared questions.

What is a typical day for you?
I generally get up and ride my bike all dy long. I ride eight thousand miles a year, a hundred and fifty miles a week, and sometimes fifty-five miles a day. I've lived in Tucson for more than twenty-five years, and this is what I like to do.

Do you worry about skin cancer?
I haven't died yet, have I? I'd rather ride around and get cancer than be a smelly old diaper-wearing senior citizen living in a home. It's a lot better than sitting down watching TV all day, anyway.

Why do you like riding your bike?
I am what you might call independently poverty stricken. I live in a shack and eat out of a trashcan. All I really have in this world is riding my bike.

So it's sort of spiritual for you then? Do you have any words of advice for teens who would be reading this magazine?
When I was your age, I wish I had driven a lot faster and paid less attention to authority. Regret nothing too wild! The only regret I have was that I was too conservative.

He rode off when he had finished this last sentence. I wondered if perhaps he was making up for his lack of wildness early in life by living loudly in the present. Before I had a chance to even has his real name, he disappeared. I didn't bother to chase him; he had served his purpose. Ambiguous and entertaining, the Bikeman remains a Tucson treasure.

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Lieutenant's Deathbed Confession: Roswell Wreckage Was a Flying Saucer, and There Were Bodies

The first week of July 1947, something fell out of the sky at Roswell, New Mexico. Initial reports from the military recoverers called it a flying disc, but the Army later officially declared it a downed weather balloon. Now a just-opened, signed and notarized statement from the late Lt. Walter Haut, a member of the team that recovered the wreckage, claims that the latter story was a cover and that it was truly a mysterious flying saucer the Army recovered—along with bodies:
(10) At approximately 9:30 a.m. Col. Blanchard phoned my office and dictated the press release of having in our possession a flying disc, coming from a ranch northwest of Roswell, and Marcel flying the material to higher headquarters. I was to deliver the news release to radio stations KGFL and KSWS, and newspapers the Daily Record and the Morning Dispatch.

(11) By the time the news release hit the wire services, my office was inundated with phone calls from around the world. Messages stacked up on my desk, and rather than deal with the media concern, Col Blanchard suggested that I go home and "hide out."

(12) Before leaving the base, Col. Blanchard took me personally to Building 84 [AKA Hangar P-3], a B-29 hangar located on the east side of the tarmac. Upon first approaching the building, I observed that it was under heavy guard both outside and inside. Once inside, I was permitted from a safe distance to first observe the object just recovered north of town. It was approx. 12 to 15 feet in length, not quite as wide, about 6 feet high, and more of an egg shape. Lighting was poor, but its surface did appear metallic. No windows, portholes, wings, tail section, or landing gear were visible.

(13) Also from a distance, I was able to see a couple of bodies under a canvas tarpaulin. Only the heads extended beyond the covering, and I was not able to make out any features. The heads did appear larger than normal and the contour of the canvas suggested the size of a 10 year old child. At a later date in Blanchard's office, he would extend his arm about 4 feet above the floor to indicate the height.

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Bizarre Model Poses


Threadbared has a field guide (via dérive).

This one's "the Menstrual Cramp."

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This Naked Mole Rat Wants to Lower Your Sex Drive

Stress can lower your libido and maybe even make you infertile. And nobody knows how to wield stress to that effect like the Queen of the African Naked Mole Rats (QANMR):
“The queen exerts her dominance over the colony by, literally, pushing the other members of the colony around. She shoves them to show who’s boss,” said Chris Faulkes, a zoologist at the University of London.

Faulkes explained that the stressful domination reduces fertility hormone levels—effectively suppressing puberty in young mole-rats, lowering sperm counts in males and even turning off the female ovulatory cycle.

“The queen also seems to exert control over the breeding males, so that concentrations of their testosterone are suppressed except when she is ready to mate,” he said.
Link. But could the QANMR tactic have an effect on non-mole-rat species? Indeed, what if it could affect other rodents?

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Streetcars: Terrible Investment for Transport, Great Investment for Development

Here in Philadelphia, the metropolitan transit company, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa), is extensive and fairly popular, but it's not the nicest system in America. For starters, the buses and trains come less frequently than is probably optimal, and even those times at which they do come are not entirely predictable, despite published timetables. It's also quite dirty, both on trains and in stations, compared to newer systems like Washington's or the Bay Area's and also older systems like the New York subway. But perhaps the biggest problem is that, if you leave out buses, which are not very speedy, and the regional trains, which are only good for going to suburban areas, and scrape beneath the surface to look at the heart of the system—the subway—it's not very extensive at all.

Septa has only two proper subway lines, each following a straight shot down the city's east-west and north-south divider streets (the Market Street route also continues as an elevated train into the more suburban, near northeastern part of the city, while the Broad Street line has one short spur that provides some variation to get to another part of Center City). There is a third line, operated by the port authority, that provides a few central stops and heads across the Delaware into New Jersey. And there are five trolley routes that run on above-ground tracks through West Philly before diving into a tunnel and running as small subways under Center City. But that's it: if you're going through the center of town in one of the cardinal directions, or if you are going to New Jersey or West Philly, you are set. If you are going anywhere else, it's going to be a schlep.

It would be nice to have more nonbus public transit routes. Tourist or occasional ridership—coveted because it alleviates the effect of inefficient peak rush-hour periods—would probably increase if visitors and consumers could get on the subway in Old City and get off at, say, the Art Museum, South Street, or the Italian Market. But it's hard to find the money for such projects in part because, evaluated in and of themselves, they are not cost effective at all.

No transit system in the country makes money. Even the New York system, which transports about half of the entire nation's journey-to-work riders, makes between seventy and eighty cents for every dollar it spends in operation. And that's not even counting capital outlays. It's expensive to build, say, a street-level trolley line, and fares alone will never make up for the cost. Fares won't even cover the cost of running the trolley that day.

So why do cities continue to invest in public vehicles that run on rails? The Wall Street Journal argues that their benefits to commercial landowners in dense urban centers, in particular those from streetcars, might justify the expense:
Like stadiums, convention centers and aquariums, streetcars have emerged as a popular tool in the effort to revitalize downtowns in the U.S. About a dozen cities, from Madison, Wis., to Miami, are planning lines. But while research shows that big-ticket projects such as ballparks largely fail to spawn economic development, evidence is mounting that streetcars are indeed a magnet.

Streetcar systems are slower, less expensive and smaller than light rail, with cars that carry a maximum of 125 people and the average line 2-3 miles long. The cars are powered by electricity and run on tracks, which developers tend to favor because they suggest a sense of permanence, unlike bus routes, which can be changed overnight.

In Kenosha, Wis., city officials say a two-mile line helped generate 400 new residential units and the redevelopment of a 69-acre industrial site into a waterfront park. The streetcar line in Little Rock, Ark., has sparked revitalization of the city's River Market and warehouse district. In Seattle, a new $52 million streetcar line is scheduled to open in December that will shuttle riders between downtown and South Lake Union, a formerly industrial area that is being redeveloped by Microsoft Corp. billionaire Paul Allen.

And in Portland, Ore., the poster child for such development, officials say the streetcar system has helped bring $2.7 billion in investment within two blocks of its 3.6 mile line, much of it in the 24-hour hub known as the Pearl District. "It's one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city," says Richard Brandman, deputy planning director for Metro, the Portland area's regional government.
Link. Philadelphia has considered plans to expand the New Jersey line further into the city and to build a light rail down Market Street. But Market is already the corridor most served by nonbus transit. If the city's willing to pay $350 million for a stadium surrounded by parking lots and other stadiums—in other words, with approximately zero chance of effect on neighborhood development—it should be willing to shoot a trolley line down one of the numbered streets into eastern South Philly or down the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum for a fifth of that price. Even if it never pays for itself at the fare box.

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Image credits: "Decay6," photosapience, courtesy Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.