Today talking dolls are powered by computer chips capable of storing and playing a large repertoir of phrases. Not so in the old days. The mechanism that reproduced the doll's voice was a small mechanical record player which spun a vinyl disk while a needle ran along grooves carved in the disk. Those grooves caused the needle to vibrate and those vibrations were turned into electrical impulses which were in turn converted into sounds, imitations of spoken words.

The record was only about three inches across, and depending on the starting point of the mecanism, the stylus might randomly follow one of a half dozen grooves, each of which would play a phrase. So your sister would hold the doll, pull the string that wound the spring that would power the mechanism for the two seconds to play through one phrase, and the doll would say something like, "I'm hungry," or "My tummy hurts," or "You're my best friend," or some similar phrase.

So I'm listening to NPR the other day, and as usual I'm bothered by the repitition of phrases used by pundits and experts and think-tankers. It suddenly occurs to me that I'm listening to living dolls who are giving about as much thought to their words as did the wind-up talking dolls of my childhood. The purpose of the wind-up doll's preprogrammed phrasebook was to give the appearance of communication where none existed. Something like that goes on with the discourse I hear on the public airwaves.

Here's a list of phrases. If you're talking to somebody and one of these phrases pops into the conversation every couple of minutes, consider that you might be talking to a Living Doll.


We used to call this stuff "hillbilly music" or "country music," but people from the north had always made fun of country people and their music. When it started to become fashionable to listen to the stuff, the Birkenstock Set wasn't going to admit that they'd been wrong about hillbilly music for fifty years, so they started calling it "roots music" and pretended they had liked it all along.

RTJ -- 5/8/2006


The word "fridge" is short for "refrigerator." So how come it's spelled with a "d" when there's no "d" in "refrigerator?"

RTJ -- 6/3/2006


All the top contenders for the tour were cut when a list of the names of their pets was found in the posession of a Spanish Doctor. The implication was that this doctor had been giving them performance enhancing drugs and this pet thing was some kind of code. The cyclists all denied it.

I believe the cyclists.

This phony cloak-and-dagger code with the names of the pets is silly. It's the invention of the mind of a child. A code meant to be easily broken. If the doctor wanted to keep the identities of his patients secret, he would have just given them numbered accounts or fake human names. A list of patients named "Spot" and "Fluffy" and "Mr. Whiskers" is meant to look suspicious and attract attention.

Another thing about this list smells punky. How come it implicates only the top fifteen teams -- consecutive? Are you telling me that ALL the top fifteen teams get drugs from ONE source and this guy doesn't sell to number 25 or 30 or 50?

I think the list is fake evidence planted in order to remove the top tier of athletes so some particular lower-rate cyclist can realistcally contend. In other words, this is the work of some cheerleader mom, perhaps of a cheerleading cycle club, commercial sponsor or even government. It sounds like an old cold war trick, doesn't it? If the Zoroastrian team is rated 20th in the world, the discovery of a list like this suddenly puts them right in contention.

If I'm right about this being manufactured evidence, the guilty party will likely have something in common with one of the top five present contenders -- nationality, religion, commercial sponsor, something like that.

RTJ 7/11/2006


About ten years ago, the liberal Hollywood intellectuals started taking aim at the Miss America Pageant. The substance of their criticism was that the pageant objectified the contestants, created not so much one winner but forty-nine losers, subjected the contestants to absurdly harsh scrutiny and criticism. In a word, demeaning. In another word, dehumanizing.

That same liberal quarter that champions womanhood by attacking Miss America is now giving us American Idol, Survivor, The Apprentice, Project Runway and a hundred other "reality" shows. It's the same thing without the high heels.

Actually I can argue that reality shows do worse. The criticism doled out on reality shows is very very harsh indeed. Often the contestants are turned against one another by the people who run the show, so their criticsm turn especially venomous in an effort to save their own skins. Instead of selecting finalists, leaving a large anonymous group of non-finalists, reality shows select one loser per episode and dissect his personality in excruciating detail to show America exactly why he's a big loser. The reality shows don't let the losers drift into the background, thanks for coming. No, they bear down on the losers, trying to make them cry because that's good TV. On The Apprentice they even have a camera on the cab to the airport.

All reality shows are pageants of bad behavior and bad examples and bad sportsmanship. According to Bluethink, this stuff is just fine, but a beauty pageant represents sexual oppression. If one of these very similar genres is more dehumanizing than the other, I think they named the wrong one.

RTJ 7/16/2006


I'm a home brewer, and I sometimes hear complaints from other home brewers that the chlorine smell in their water supply doesn't go away with boiling and doesn't diminish by just letting the water sit exposed to the air.

Here's my home remedy for removing that stuff, whatever it is.

First, set your hot water heater to 130 degrees or above. The default setting is 120 degrees. Draw your brewing water from the hot water tap first thing in the morning, after the water in the hot water heater has been cooking all night. Don't cap the jug. Let the vapors from the water escape into the air.

Optionally, you can "soften" the water at this point with a tablespoon of salt per five gallons of water. I use aquarium salt on the assumption that a wide range of dissolved minerals is better than pure sodium chloride. Your local hardware store sells bags of water softening salt tablets for exactly this purpose.

When the water cools, you should not notice any chlorine smell.

RTJ 7/18/2006

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