Why the Internet Suddenly Became Interested in My Ramblings on Paraguay

This past Sunday night, I posted The Consensus Bureau’s top 101 tweets of 2012. On Monday, I checked the traffic, to see how many people had looked at the post. The traffic had spiked to 222 views! A bit more than we’re used to. Were people that interested in The Consensus Bureau’s tweets?


As it turned  out, no, they weren’t: they were actually interested in… a blog post I’d written about Paraguay a year ago???



When I checked again today, I saw that today’s traffic, while not as high, was again way higher than the average; and again, it was all to that post on Paraguay. So what gives? (Sidebar: “What gives?” can’t be conjugated in the past tense, can it? A shame. “What gave??”)

Fortunately, I could see that we were getting all this traffic from a particular article on Mental Floss,  which got republished on Yahoo!, and even ripped off on an Italian site. They all had a link to my Paraguayan blog post.



Turns out the article in question was about pairs of countries with similar names that get easily confused (although note that Oakland and Auckland were listed as “countries”). Somehow, the author had found my blog post and decided to link to it. This, despite the fact that my blog post doesn’t show up on the first page of hits for any of the searches I’ve now tried.

Nifty! But why the sudden interest in countries with easily confused names? Ah, yes: as the beginning of the article made clear, it was all due to the way Americans thought Chechnya was the same place as the Czech Republic; and of course Americans wouldn’t care at all about Chechnya if not for the incident at the Boston Marathon. OK, not so nifty after all, considering the tragic root cause of this spike in traffic.

In any event, I’m glad the world is finally noticing the printing goof on that Paraguay book. Maybe my copy will now increase in value, like those stamps that have the airplane upside-down…

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Twit and Twisdom of Twenty-Twelve

April 2013 is almost done, but we’ve just now getting around to rounding up our 101 best tweets from 2012.


1. Plato: music undermines the state. Nietzsche: life without music is a mistake. The CB: life without music undermining the state is a mistake

2. Breaking news: The latest from The Consensus Bureau’s Online Marketing and Biological Warfare Division has gone viral! Watch out!

3. The Consensus Bureau: if obscure bands are your thing, you’re in luck.

4. The Consensus Bureau: Old enough to know better. Young enough to do it anyway.

5. The Consensus Bureau combines the intellectual rigor of rock’n’roll with the fun-lovin’ rhythms of cogent policy analysis!

6. The Consensus Bureau: we shill our music, so you don’t have to.

7. The Consensus Bureau finds that some light reality often provides a much-needed break from the grueling monotony of escapism.

8. The Consensus Bureau is safe for work, but dangerous to play.

9. Filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court today just to see if they would amicus us back. We expect it’ll be a split decision.

10. This summer, The Consensus Bureau will be opening for Adele. Opening stubborn pickle jars for her, that is.

11. According to the #1940census, the Consensus Bureau’s great-great-grandparent corporation was a rapacious industrial conglomerate! Ah, family

12. The Consensus Bureau: You can’t spell “consensus” without a basic grammar school education.

13. Unlike other bands, The Consensus Bureau promises to never harvest its fans’ organs for cash. Again.

14. This joke is not being tweeted voluntarily: we are being held at pun-point.

15. Consensus Bureau side project: a band that makes hardcore covers of easy-listening songs. Name: The Doodletown Lifers.

16. The Consensus Bureau is NOT prone to making melodramatic statements, and if you ever say that about us again, we will HATE YOU FOREVER!!!

17. We at The Consensus Bureau DO give a damn about any trumpet-playin’ band. We happen to be one, for starters.

18. We make music using whatever objects we find lying around our basements – guitars, drums, synthesizers, absolutely anything.

19. Scientists analyzing all 8 million songs ever made confirm that the best is Yello’s “Oh Yeah”. Mozart’s Mass in C Minor was a close second.

20. When will Lands’ End finally realize that they’ve mispunctuated their name?

21. Mundane uses for a time machine: no more need for a snooze button, sleep as long as you like, and still get to work on time.

22. Mundane uses for a time machine, #2: Your overdue library books can be on time after all.

23. The Transit of Venus is all right, but we find that Mars’s subway system is more reliable.

24. Mundane uses for a time machine, #3: Follow your past self around to see where you last put your keys.

25. We propose that, henceforth, the people of Toronto be known as the Torontonii.

26. That moment when you wonder why everyone on Twitter starts their tweets with the phrase “That moment when”.

27. The Oxford comma is cool, but you haven’t lived until you’ve tried the Cambridge semicolon.

28. Remember the days before Facebook? You’d have to phone up each of your friends individually and ask them to fax you a photo of their dinner.

29. Pairwise, a pair o’ guys went to Paraguay to paraglide. #UtterNonsense

30. They only love you when you’re dead: if Madame Tussaud’s was a forgotten attraction, it would get wistful tributes from intellectuals.

31. Dear 20th century: your music is great, keep up the good work! — Oh, wait. Damn.

32. Viagra makes an old bookie more vigorish.

33. Thanks to the special mints I’ve developed, whose aroma is irresistibly alluring, I can now await people’s responses with *baited* breath.

34. Transindentalism: the belief that self-fulfillment can only be brought about through proper kerning.

35. They say bugs confuse porchlights with the Moon. Evidently, if bugs ever made it to the Moon, they’d bang themselves against it all night.

36. Enough about me, let’s talk about you. Originally used only in a formal or plural context, this pronoun began to replace “thou” circa 1500–

37. MacBook (n.) : A more stylish way of running Windows, Office, and many other Microsoft products.

38. For a band of philosopher-punks: “The Repugnant Conclusion”  #HypotheticalBandNames

39. help help i’m being mugged! i think he wants my iPh

40. Now, is it just me, or — Wait a minute. It is DEFINITELY just me. Never mind.

41. “OK, ma’am, try smelling his breath NOW and tell us what you think.” — Clinical trials for cat treats. Which I’m sure MUST exist.

42. It was the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that first taught me you could hate a font.

43. Any bar that can’t spell “Yuengling” right should lose their liquor license. Or at least give me a free one for pointing it out to them…

44. Required headwear by musical genre: house/space helmet; country/ cowboy hat; Lady Gaga/3-foot-wide papier mache lobster with sequins.

45. My sleep cycle is so out of whack these days that I now find myself getting tired when I ought to go to bed.

46. Anytime I say “I’m a huge fan”, a part of me wants to follow it up with, “Uh, but my body mass is appropriate for my height and weight.”

47. Introducing breakfast pastries with crunchy bits of sitar baked in. We call them… Raga-Muffins!

48. (Not to be confused with Reggae-Muffins. You can guess what the secret ingredient there is.)

49. Their Eyes Were Watching TV #LessAmbitiousNovels

50. This sentence is a perfect palindrome, reading the same forwards and backwards! #UtterLies

51. “There are only two jazz songs: the fast one and the slow one.” — Me as a teenager. I like jazz a whole lot more now, but I must admit…

52. “The Mildews”: their look would be Edward Gorey/Charles Addams. And of course they’d use a theremin. #HypotheticalBandNames

53. “Wit is truth to advantage dressed.” — Alexander Pope / “Advertising is useless stuff to advantage dressed.” — The Consensus Bureau

54. An unreliable rifle with a high chance of misfiring is probaballistic.

55. What did people do to look purposeful and poised while standing around in public waiting, before there were smartphones? My guess: smoke.

56. I can’t help wondering if the number that Rikki shouldn’t lose is 867-5309.

57. Basement, n.: 1. A device for collecting groundwater during a storm. Hence: 2. A place to destroy objects with plausible deniability. “I never did like Aunt Mabel’s throw rug, let’s put it in the basement.”

58. ‘Tis the season to use archaic contractions.

59. Coming soon, The Consensus Bureau’s must-read novel: FIFTY DAVINCI CODES OF VAMPIRE HUNGER THRONES. Something for everyone!!

60. Whenever people start a story with “Back in the day”, I assume they mean Saturday.

61. New proposed terminology: if you’re turning 20 years old this year, and your birthday is on the 20th, then this is your “birthday equinox”.

62. If Francis Ford and Sofia became architects, they could design a coupla Coppola cupolas.

63. Follow us on Tweetbook. Face us on InstaLike. Share us on TwitFace.

64. “Joining us for lunch?” “Nope. I just ate, myself.” #VERYImportantCommas

65. Generally, the people who know all the words to a given song also know better than to sing that song out loud on the subway. Conversely —

66. All software has bugs, except spambots. You never see a spam message saying, “DO **NOT** BUY V1AGRA CHEEEAP! READ A BOOK INSTEAD.”

67. Adventures in Over-literalism: saw an ad saying, “Your coffee break will never be the same.” I assume they’re promising infinite variety.

68. The only graceful past tense of “to troubleshoot” is “We did some troubleshooting”, as “troubleshooted” and “troubleshot” both sound dumb.

69. Who is this woman “Susan”, and why do people keep giving her black eyes and calling her lazy? People, she’s suffered enough!

70. At first the piranha frightened me; but soon enough, I had it eating the palm of my hand.

71. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. — Unless E. coli is involved, in which case that meat is every man’s poison.

72. When I said that one good turn deserves another, I meant I wanted you to do me TWO favors.

73. People say the phrase “It is what it is” has no meaning, but I’ve never heard anyone make a similar complaint of the song “Que Sera Sera”…

74. Acting aggrieved is how you get your way in life. And the great thing is, the older you get, the less of an act it is.

75. Musical pet peeve: songs about a musical instrument that don’t actually feature that instrument.

76. The Consensus Bureau: we make music. For your EARS.

77. Impossible dream #219: Collaborate with Bill Payne so we can release a song called “Happy Feet feat. Little Feat”.

78. Hey everyone, let’s all screw with marketers who do text-mining of social media content! “I LOVE TACO BELL & MY ROLLS-ROYCE & MY 9 KIDS!”

79. Coming soon from The Consensus Bureau: “Downtempo Grooves, Vol. 7: Music for the Stylishly Bored”

80.  fungible (adj.): able to be converted into fungi.

81. Producer (n.): someone who tells someone else to produce something.

82. I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony… and to not say “eck cetera”.

83. Human cloning is the best way to discover yourself.

84. Looking forward to publishing my new treatise, “The Futility of Human Communicxzfrk.”

85. Q. “What is the world coming to?” A. “A complete stop.”

86. The Beatles say all you need is love. But all I need is “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles. Those guys were dead wrong.

87. After several first-degree burns and a melted file cabinet, I’ve decided to use only acid-free paper from here on out.

88. The difference between “amateur” and “underground artist” is in the eye of the curator.

89. Corporate deathbed confession: “I never did learn… how to make… a pivot table.”

90. Forthcoming monograph to analyze classic court-room cinema: “Anatomy of ‘Anatomy of a Murder'”.

91. Even taxes aren’t inevitable — civilization could collapse. But hassles? Yes, always. So: Nothing is certain but death and hassles.

92. The Consensus Bureau: just a vertebra or two past the tip of the Long Tail.

93. Twitter is basically a slightly slower version of a live chatroom. That, and it allows you to spam celebrities and journalists.

94. “Maybe the wrinkles will fall out with wear.” #ThingsITellMyself

95. If you have your midlife crisis at age 25, does that mean you have to die at age 50?

96. When figures of speech break down: “Man, I’d give my right arm to play piano like that.”

97. When figures of speech break down, part 2: “He got to second base with Jenny, but then he struck out.”

98. Attn world: we do NOT need any further remakes, or “set in the world of” homages/rip-offs of “The Wizard of Oz”. Trust me on this one.

99. That rabbit that’s roaming around in Gene’s garden — it shan’t eat Shalit’s shallots, shall it?

100. I’ll be so glad when this Mayan calendar comes to an end, so we can finally start talking about the Aztec calendar.

101. Memo to Hollywood: an idea for a new movie is not the same thing as a new idea for a movie.

Posted in Absolute Nonsense, Tales of Twitter | 3 Comments

MJ in Munich


Happy new year! What better way to ring in 2013 than by sharing, in its entirety, a bizarrely earnest pamphlet praising Michael Jackson which I found in Munich last fall?

This pamphlet came from a jury-rigged shrine to the King of Pop that has been mysteriously established at the foot of a 19th-century statue of a local politician — see photo above. Why MJ fans chose to plaster over the pedestal of this particular statue is evidently explained by the nearby five-star hotel, where supposedly Michael Jackson stayed any time he came to Munich.

Anyway, if you’ve got time to spare and a deep curiosity in the various scandals from MJ’s life, look no further than the below. Enjoy!

mj_0001 mj_0002


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You’ve come a long way — in drag

My paternal grandmother was a heavy smoker all her life. One of the brands she smoked was Virginia Slims, whose slogan then was “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

I remember this well, because when I was a little kid, my grandmother gave me a pack of playing cards that was some kind of Virginia Slims freebie. The backs of the cards had the slogan printed on them in tiny type, over and over again, in close-set type.

This was the first deck of cards I can remember ever having, but they kind of repelled me. The backs were shiny gold, with crowded writing in navy, set at an angle, so that the text was crawling “uphill”. The fronts had rococo frou-frou all over them.

Most hideous and baffling of all were the face cards. To set the stage: first of all, I knew nothing about branding, or how Virginia Slims had positioned itself as a “women’s lib” cigarette. (Of course, I’m sure the company’s feminist angle was purely for show, and that the place was run by unreconstructed males.) And secondly, the idea of gender-bending was pretty foreign, if not utterly unknown, to me as a seven- or eight-year-old.

So, what exactly did these face cards have on them? Answer: photos of women in drag as kings and jacks. (There were also women dressing like women for the queen cards.)

Now, I knew that kings and jacks were supposed to be boys. But their hair… looked like girls’ hair. When I asked my parents about that, I was told, “Men used to wear curly wigs.” It wasn’t a fully convincing answer for two reasons:

1) The hairdos seemed pretty girly to me at the time. And, in retrospect, these hairdos look nothing like 18th-century perruques.

2) Wigs or no, there was the matter of these kings’ and jacks’ faces. They looked like… girls’ faces.

I actually brought these cards to school for use in playing war and “Go fish” with my friends, who were all quick to point out that those noblemen looked like women. I was in denial about it at first. “Kings used to wear wigs!!” was my heated rebuttal. After all, if it turned out that those noblemen really were women all along, then that could only mean I had cards that were for girls, not boys! The prospect was too horrifying to contemplate, so I publicly maintained that those clean-shaven monarchs were men. My first taste of cognitive dissonance, and of arguing against the facts!

Years later, thanks to the Internet and to people who never throw anything away, these cards can still be viewed in all their glory. Looking at them now, they don’t seem so ugly to me anymore. Actually, they’ve got a pretty awesome Belle Époque vibe to them.

In a way, these cards were even more educational for me than Safari Cards. And I’m left with a final mystery: is the joker a woman, too? Or would it have been more appropriate, somehow, as a satirical dig against masculinity, if the joker were actually a man?

Maybe I’ll find out in another couple decades.


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Best company tagline ever?

Spotted this bumper sticker on a magazine dispenser on 116th and Broadway. Love this slogan.

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Brutally Honest Truth in Advertising?

Spotted in Manhattan (more below the picture):

It’s unfortunate that there’s scaffolding in the way (such a feature of Manhattan life in itself), but hopefully you can see that the awning on this store says “15TH BEST CLEANERS”.

For the record, if you look closely enough, you’ll see the “15TH BEST” part is on a sort of patch covering up part of an older name: they used to be called “Union Cleaners”.

So, why would anyone call themselves the 15th-best dry cleaners? All I can assume is that it’s because the store is on 15th Street.

Focus groups, people. You gotta test these things. Maybe it’s not too late to peel that patch back off the awning…

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Pandora: “I want to stiff musicians, too!”

I’d read an article by a musician a few weeks ago about this issue, but this “Forbes” piece really crystallized the issue for me. In a nutshell:

Due to some vagaries in US law, Sirius XM is legally able to pay much lower royalties to musicians than Pandora. Pandora argues that this isn’t fair (I agree), and seems to have managed to get a US Senator to introduce a bill called “The Internet Radio Fairness Act” which, if passed, would lower the royalties they pay to the same level as Sirius.

Pandora has a lot to gain by this act: overnight, they would go from being unprofitable to profitable, since royalty payments to artists consume 63% of their revenues. Also, Spotify and other rivals notwithstanding, Pandora is far and away the only big beneficiary of this proposed legislation.

The key thing to note is that the law lowers Pandora’s royalty payments to make an even playing field, rather than raising Sirius et al.’s. So, if passed, this bill would represent yet another evaporation of revenue for artists, to the benefit of distributors.

It’s easy enough to see why the law is phrased the way it is. If Pandora had gone after raising everyone’s expenses, they would have faced the united opposition of a few well-heeled traditional and satellite radio companies. If, instead, they go after trying to get the same low rates the established guys do, they might still get some pushback from them, but it’s not going to be nearly as determined. Meanwhile, the mass of artists (the folks really losing out here) are too numerous to present a united front.

I’m a fan of Pandora as a music-discovery service, but I’m very disappointed by this move of theirs. They had an opportunity to show some “corporate social responsibility” and advocate for positive change, but instead looked only to their own bottom line.

Now, it must be admitted that without this law, they may very well go out of business in a few years. But then, they may go out of business even with the law; and in the meantime, all they’ll have done is permanently cripple musicians’ ability to earn a living from their work. “I don’t care who I have to kill in order to survive” may be a defensible agenda for running a business, but not for writing the nation’s laws.

Posted in Internetz | 2 Comments

Soft-Rock Sociolinguistics

The other day while I was in the grocery store, I heard the old Eighties song “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston.

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that I was already quite familiar with the song… Anyway, I’ve always been amused by this part:

How will I know if he really loves me 
I say a prayer with every heart beat 
I fall in love whenever we meet 
I’m asking you because you know about these things

It’s that last line of “I’m asking you because you know about these things” that always kills me. It just comes out of nowhere: a random grenade of prosaic observation thrown into a  stew of romantic emotion.

What makes it even funnier to me is that the person the singer is addressing doesn’t get mentioned anywhere else in the song, just in that one line. By contrast, in the very similar song from the Sixties “It’s in His Kiss”, you have a lead singer and a chorus addressing the same topic, but doing so in a clear back-and-forth dialogue — and all without resorting to such an oddly robotic statement as “I’m asking you because you know about these things”.

Still, as I was listening to this song in the produce section, I realized I had to give it some props for observing one of the Gricean maxims for rational, collaborative conversation. Whitney seems to be obeying the maxim of relevance by justifying to her unspecified interlocutor why she’s singing the song to that particular person.

Well done, Whitney.

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Safari Cards

I was recently reunited with my childhood collection of Safari Cards. I’d never known they even had a name, and have no memory of how I ever got them. According to this enthusiast’s website, they were available by “mail subscription” only — i.e. you couldn’t get them in retail locations. So who knows how I ever got any.

I still have vivid memories of being entranced by these cards as a kid when I was six or seven years old. The symbols at the top of the card, showing the creature’s geographic area, the habitat, and the — what? class and phylum? who knows — somehow seemed so profound to me. (Maybe because there was no key or legend to explain the symbols.) This was clearly science, bitches.


And the text on the back of the cards certainly felt like science. I don’t think I ever understood a single word on the backs of these cards. Who were they aimed at, anyway?? The distinguished zoologist who enjoys collecting photos of the world’s animal species on glossy cardstock? This is a direct quote from the back of the goat card shown above:

At first glance the Rocky Mountain goat looks like a compromise between a proper goat and a chamois. It is, as it happens, closely related to the latter but is a goat in name only. Nevertheless it and the chamois are sometimes referred to as ‘goat-antelopes’.


Interestingly, these cards were originally written in French, and came from Lausanne, Switzerland. I guess the Swiss have higher expectations for the reading levels of their nerdy kids.

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A Tale of Hurricane Sandy

And now, Hasty Ballpoint Comics presents:

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