Monday, December 26, 2005

New Year's Hiatus

I will be driving to New Mexico later tonight, or early tomorrow. I hope to stop in Las Vegas for Ira's birthday party tomorrow night. I also plan to swing through southern Arizona: Tucson, where relatives have relatives stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and Phoenix as well. As appropriate for a meteorologist, exact departure and arrival times hinge on weather. I may attempt blogging on-the-road, or I may not, but I hope to see and do interesting things.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nice Cities

Markos Moulitsas (founder of Daily Kos) asked for suggestions on nice places to live. My suggestion:
I'm an Albuquerque native, but I'm quite fond of Salt Lake City. The place has what you want (except warm winters) and is more diverse than people imagine. The Mormons travel overseas on missions, so there is a better-travelled populace than you can find almost anywhere else that is interested in foreign affairs. The leftish crowd has more to work against in SLC, right in the middle of the belly of the conservative beast, than you'd find in most of the country (even the South) so there is a real vitality to the work: it MEANS so much more! Small industry and industrial arts are better-respected there than in the Sunbelt (after all, Mormon culture is a derivative of the culture of northern New York State, where Yankee ingenuity means something). Crime rate is very low, and the people are nice. They believe strange things, but there are no nicer people anywhere!
"Memoirs of a Geisha"

Photo caption: Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li in Columbia Pictures' "Memoirs of a Geisha" - 2005

Saw "Memoirs of a Geisha" tonight (first day of release). I liked the movie: the claustrophobic sense of reserve, the hidden secrets, the lash of sudden emotions, long silences. And the rain: so much rain!

The actors and actresses did well. There is apparently a controversy about using so many Chinese players in a movie about a quintessentially-Japanese subject, but my philosophy is that one shouldn't cast by nationality, but rather by appropriateness for the role. If the Chinese actors were the best at auditions, then they should play the parts. As Roger Ebert notes:
Even in Japan, Zhang and Li outgross any Japanese actress.

Nevertheless, without a lot of education, it's hard to tell how authentic the movie is. There is an entire universe of hard work and specialized high culture involved with the Geisha, and I suspect only Japanese cultural authorities can say with assurance how well the movie approximated the real world of the Geisha. I wonder what the Japanese will think?

I like this comment on imdb:
"Geisha" is essentially a soap opera wrapped tightly in the robes of a holiday prestige picture, representing the finest in production quality and acting talent that normally comes along with this level of flagrant Oscar-baiting. The scope of craftsmanship on display in the film is largely impressive; it's clear that Marshall knows how to photograph a pretty picture and set a specific mood. Production designer John Myher has worked miracles to encapsulate the insular pre-war atmosphere of Japan, using the narrow walkways and claustrophobic native paper-and-wood construction to set the right tempo in Sayuri's escapeless surroundings. Marshall continues the general theme of oppression through the use of continuous rain and secretive nightfall to accompany the actors almost anywhere they go.
One Japanese reviewer liked the acting (everyone seems to like the acting), but hated the set, the overpowering and disrespectful Hollywood glitz, and the orientalist clap-trap. I do have to agree that the solo dance number, although really cool to watch, was over-the-top: someone, somewhere described the music as 'John Cage on a mandolin' (and as interesting as that might sound, it's noticeably inauthentic even for an uneducated American boob like myself).

Nevertheless, in a world where everyone seems to either love or despise this movie, I fall somewhere in the middle, and think it's an interesting movie, and certainly worth a view!
Albuquerque No Go Boom

Arrests made:
Four men were arrested Friday in connection with the theft of 400 pounds of explosives from a storage depot, federal officials said.

All the explosives, which authorities had said was enough to flatten a large building, were recovered.

...A tip led to the arrests, but authorities gave few details.

The brothers, Leslie Brown, 44, of Ignacio, Colo., and David Brown, 49, of Bloomfield, face federal charges including possession of stolen explosives and felons in possession of stolen explosives, Dixie said.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Debtor Nation

Courtesy of Old Hippie's Groovy Blog, is this mind-numbing statistic:
President Bush and the current administration have borrowed more money from foreign governments and banks than the previous 42 presidents combined, a group of conservative to moderate Democrats said Friday.

Blue Dog Coalition, which describes itself as a group "focused on fiscal responsibility," called the administration's borrowing practices "astounding."
Ola Na Iwi: The Trans-Atlantic Story

Alistair Cooke's cancer-ridden bones were stolen and sold on the black market for healthy bone implants! What a bizarre fate for the famed television host and commentator! The only question I have is: were they British bones, or American bones?
More Tales of Sacramento at Night: Tumbleweed Snowman

Caption, left: The AMAFCA tumbleweed snowman, in Albuquerque.

I was walking my dog last night about 3 a.m., several blocks from my Curtis Park home, when I came across a toppled tumbleweed snowman in a yard on Third Avenue, not far west of the Sierra II Community Center. It looked like the recent storms and rain had gotten to it, or else they were going for a tumbleweed-snowman-lounging-on-a-divan look that didn't work very well at three in the morning.

Interesting thing is, you don't find tumbleweeds around here: someone went through a lot of trouble to make this snowman. They probably drove to Nevada and sacrificed lots of perfectly-good vehicle storage space for the project. These folks are to be commended for their holiday gusto!

Municipal employees in Albuquerque, NM, assemble a tumbleweed snowman every Christmas in the I-40 freeway median.

The nation needs more tumbleweed snowmen!
Asking The Obvious, Cynical Question

As if we don't know why there haven't been any alerts lately!:
When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaida was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since election day.
Christmas Spirit

Nice photo, from Slate.
VATICAN CITY — Pope John XXIII enjoys the snow, 1958.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Aerobics With Pepper Von

I hurt tonight: I think my electrolytes are out-of-whack. Nevertheless, you've got to hand it to Pepper - few people can lead an aerobics class quite like him, and make the hurting feel good ('Step One', Tuesdays & Thursdays). Cardio pumpin'; new school jumpin'; syncopate, five-six-seven-eight!

And an unusually youthful and comely class it is too: all that effort pays off! But it makes you wonder... Are the beautiful people attracted to the class because other beautiful people are there, or is it the class that makes them beautiful in the first place? A chicken-and-egg dilemma that can't be solved. I tried to solve the mystery on Tuesday. I was dazzled by how *alive* everyone looked, and wondered how that could be, but all that the wonderment did was make me lose my place in the blistering hot routine.

You can't argue with the results, though: Kelly D. came into class briefly in the summer, got whipped into shape by Pepper (with the help of Pam and others), and now off she goes to headline in Vegas in February! Heather B. ('Cassie', DMTC's "A Chorus Line" 2003) lets step aerobics on Tuesdays keep her reflexes sharp. And others with that fetching model look are plentiful. What do they know that others don't?
Astonishing Journeys of Frigate Birds

Wide-ranging birds (2,500 miles for treats)!
Lydia's trip started Oct. 18 from Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean about 310 miles south of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, and 1,600 miles northwest of Perth, in western Australia.

Leaving a baby chick in the care of her partner, Lydia headed south over open waters -- probably to steal fish from other seabirds, a common habit among frigate birds.

She then circled back on Oct. 26 and flew between Indonesia's Java and Sumatra islands. From there, she headed across Borneo island on Nov. 9 before flying back over Java and returning on Nov. 14 to her nesting site, where she likely regurgitated a meal for her chick.
"Memoirs of a Geisha": Sacramento-Area Connection

I didn't realize that significant portions of this movie were filmed right around here.
Old Sacramento train station was transformed to the Kyoto train station where Young Chiyo and her sister Satsu were taken to.
Trusting The NY Times

Can't be done, these days:
But the Times has yet to answer a key question: Did it actually have the wiretapping story before the '04 election, as several people at the paper have indicated to reporters is the case? And if it did have the news more than a year ago, why did the story indicate that that publication had been delayed for only "a year"? It would be "pretty bad," says Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor and the proprietor of the PressThink blog, "if the Times had the wiretapping story before the '04 election but tried to tell us it didn't when finally it decided to publish in 2005. That would be deceiving your readers. So I'm worried about that."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Chronic of Narnia Rap

I need to watch more television! Like user 'johnslob' says:
Man! I cannot stop watching this, nor can I stop laughing...Was the rest of the show this funny?
Nostalgia Fads

Every decade it rolls around, for a time period twenty years past!

Sometimes the time period is a little elastic. By watching as much 'I Love Lucy' as I have, you can tell in the 50's they were having a nostalgia fad for the 20's. It's a bit of a stretch, but you can understand: by universal agreement, everyone hated the 30's.

Nothing disheartened me more in the 70's than the nostagia fad for the 50's. What's the matter: no originality anywhere? Building on the popularity of 1973's "American Graffiti", television shows like "Happy Days" exploited warm memories for all they were worth.

Mysteriously, there was no discernable 60's nostalgia in the 80's. That is one of the great mysteries of all time (along with where socks disappear to, leaving all those unmatched orphan socks). The only equivalent mystery is the absence of a 40's nostalgia in the 60's (or maybe they called it 'The Lawrence Welk' show).

There was a kind of cheesy nostalgia for the 70's in the 90's (dang!: and just after I sold my great pair of tight Angel Flight bell bottom pants to a thrift store!), but since dance music had really gone underground for only two years (1981-82), there was no particular reason to have 70's nostalgia.

But these days, it's 80's nostalgia, which the radio stations are exploiting for all the warm memories they can possibly strip mine from people's heads. One advantage of 80's nostagia, of course, is listening again to 80's tunes on the radio! I heard Dire Strait's 'Industrial Disease' the other day, and it's just as pertinent today as then.

In a decade, I look forward to 90's nostalgia. Did any toy manufacturer ever make a Courtney Love Barbie doll? A Nancy Kerrigan baton? Time to buy all that rubbish, and (unlike my premature bell-bottom pant sale) hold on to it for the inevitable price escalation.

'Industrial Disease' (Dire Straits' album 'Love Over Gold' - 1982)

Now warning lights are flashing down in Quality Control,
Somebody threw a spanner, they threw him in the hole.
There's rumors in the loading bay and anger in the town,
Somebody blew the whistle and the walls came down.

There's a meeting in the boardroom, they're trying to trace a smell,
There's leaking in the washroom, there's a sneak in personnel.
Somewhere in the corridor someone was heard to sneeze,
"Goodness me could this be Industrial Disease ?"

Caretaker was crucified for sleeping at his post,
Refusing to be pacified, it's him they blame the most.
Watchdog's got rabies, the foreman's got the fleas,
Everyone concerned about Industrial Disease.

There's panic on the switchboard, tongues in knots,
Some come out in sympathy, some come out in spots.
Some blame the management, some the employees,
Everybody knows it's the Industrial Disease.

Yeah now the work force is disgusted, downs tools walks,
Innocence is injured, experience just talks.
Everyone seeks damages, everyone agrees that,
These are "classic symptoms of a monetary squeeze".

On ITV and BBC they talk about the curse,
Philosophy is useless, Theology is worse.
History boils over there's an economics freeze,
Sociologists invent words that mean "Industrial Disease"

Doctor Parkinson declared - "I'm not surprised to see you here
You've got smoker's cough from smoking, Brewer's droop from drinking beer.
I don't know how you came to get the Bette Davis knees,
But worst of all young man you've got Industrial Disease."

He wrote me a prescription, he said "You are depressed,
I'm glad you came to see me to get this off your chest.
Come back and see me later *ding* next patient please,
Send in another victim of Industrial Disease"


I go down to Speaker's Corner I'm a thunderstruck,
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks.
Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong,
There's a protest singer, he's singing a protest song.

He says "They wanna have a war, keep their factories,
They wanna have a war, keep us on our knees,
They wanna have a war to stop us buying Japanese,
They wanna have a war to stop Industrial Disease.

They're pointing out the enemy to keep you deaf and blind,
They wanna sap you energy, incarcerate your mind.
Give you Rule Brittania, gassy beer, page three,
Two weeks in Espana and Sunday striptease."

Meanwhile, first Jesus says - "I'd cure it soon
Abolish Monday mornings and Friday afternoons"
The other's out on hunger strike, he's dying by degrees.
How come Jesus gets Industrial Disease?
What's Up With Persia?

Persia has apparently been possessed by the spirit of an elk.

This reminds me of when my sister took up big-game hunting. Except there, she was trying to possess the spirits of turkeys and deer and elk. She chased those critters up and down the mountains with determination. With Persia, it's apparently the opposite.

Persia's approach is better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kylie Has A Plan

For a new album:
She has already met with record bosses and told them she wants to start recording next summer - and even hopes to headline the Glastonbury Festival the following year.
She's been totally out of commission, and she'd better do something fast to remain active.
In The Desert Southwest....

September 11th or not, when it comes to high explosives, some things never change:
In the post-Sept. 11, 2001, era, one might assume bomb-making materials would be under the tightest possible security.

In fact, they sit unattended in the New Mexico desert, guarded by little more than lock and key.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White says he doesn't understand it.

"You have to question the logic behind federal regulations that prohibited you from carrying nail clippers onto an airplane, but allow you to store high-grade explosives in a poorly protected site in the middle of nowhere," White said.

On Sunday afternoon, 400 pounds of military-grade plastic explosives, 20,000 feet of explosive detonation cord and 2,500 blasting caps - enough material to flatten a large building, experts say - were found to be missing from a storage facility about nine miles southwest of Albuquerque, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced Monday.

The private storage facility ... was in compliance with ATF regulations, said Wayne Dixie, special agent in charge of the agency's Albuquerque office.

The facility was also in compliance in December 2003 when, under a different owner, 350 pounds of explosive ammonium nitrate pellets were stolen from the site. That material ... was later recovered abandoned on a deserted roadside.

...Dixie said the missing material is not explosive until attached to a detonator, adding that he hopes the person who stole it doesn't have that knowledge. But the thief knew enough to travel deserted roads to reach the storage lot, get over or through its padlocked gate and break into two metal trailers.

Monday, December 19, 2005

N-Dimensional Thinking

There was a very interesting hour on NPR's 'This American Life' regarding Tulsa preacher, Reverend Carlton Pearson.

If ambition to extend his ministry was what was driving Pearson's embrace of what appears to be heresy, then he is sure going about things in a strange way. No, agree with it or not, this is a kind of revelation at work. In general, ambition eschews pain.
Going Ape

Stalin sure had some strange ideas:
THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."

The Albuquerque press finally realizes something is up.
Can't Obey Even The Most Elastic Law Imaginable?

Time to impeach him:
No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law.
Afghan Disco

Break a move, break my will:
New York-based Human Rights Watch has issued a report saying the United States operated a secret prison in Afghanistan and tortured detainees. The report quoted an Ethiopian-born detainee as saying he was kept in a pitch-black prison and forced to listen to Eminem and Dr. Dre’s rap music for 20 days before the music was replaced by "horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds."

Interestingly, there is almost nothing on the Web regarding the Cherry Engineering explosives theft, and nothing in the Albuquerque press either.


Tragic hero of the August 14th Helios Airways flight, of course, but at least he tried:
Aviation experts said after re-enacting the doomed Boeing 737-300 flight from Larnaca in Cyprus to Prague, that the steward -- who had some flight training and used an emergency oxygen kit -- actually flew the plane for 10-12 minutes.
Oceans 1

Gee, this is funny! Referring to Liza Minnelli:
Yet here on Earth, she's a big star. Why, you ask, and rightly so? I'll tell you why. Because her mother, who always looked like she was two seconds from jumping off a high ledge, knew an incredible secret--a secret so dark and twisted that it has never been spoken aloud--a secret any Rosicrucian would give his left nut to possess--forbidden knowledge older than the pyramids unveiled here for the first time--a secret guarded by the rich and powerful for centuries yet I reveal it to you for the price of a rock'n'roll magazine--a dreadful secret that Judy, lying on her death bed, with seconds to live, leaned over and whispered into her daughter's ear:

When I went to NM Tech, and lived on-campus in West Hall, my next-door-neighbor was a secretive explosives hobbyist with Confederate leanings. "Rebel Yell" always made sure to ground his door key when he unlocked his room, so there would be no stray sparks. Late at night, I would stare at the cinder-block wall, and wonder when I would find that wall in my face.

Anyway, I was reminded of those days by this story:
About 400 pounds of explosive material was stolen from a research facility in New Mexico, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed today.

The theft was discovered Sunday night by local authorities.

ATF agents are investigating the large theft from Cherry Enginering, a company owned by Chris Cherry, for decades the senior explosives scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

Also, 2,500 detonators were missing from a storage explosive container, or magazine, in the name of Cherry Engineering.

...A special agent at ATF said the incident was unusual because such high-powered material was targeted.

One hundred and fifty pounds of the plastic explosive compound C-4 and 250 pounds of undetectable "sheet explosives" — a DuPont flexible explosive material that can be hidden in books and letters — were stolen in the burglary, which also included the theft of blasting caps.

Burglars used a torch bar to break into the explosives containers and remove the material.

The missing material could potentially make numerous bombs.
Postscript - I sent an E-Mail with a link regarding this theft to "Old Techie", speculating that "Rebel Yell" might have been involved, and "Old Techie" responds:
Nah, ("Rebel Yell") had enough honor not to STEAL stuff. Even psychopaths have some standards...
Impressions of Oklahoma Weirdness

John in Oklahoma City speculates about some of the latest theories regarding the Kingfisher County mystery:
(T)he mysterious gas bubbling out of the ground in central Oklahoma continues and nobody can seem to figure out where it is coming from. Chesapeake Energy is taking responsibility though the evidence that the gas is coming from their well is open to question. They recently drilled a well about 12 miles from the location of the first surface gas leak and attention speculation turned to that well since it is the first well in that area in quite some time that has significant subsurface pressure. The area has been drilled extensively since the 1920's but all of those earlier wells have long since lost pressure.

Tying the gas leaks to the Chesapeake well has numerous problems. First, when a well is drilled and the casing is set the borehole is pretty well sealed from leakage. Chesapeake claims they fractured the producing zone but that is probably several thousand feet deep (they don't want to give specifics about that producing zone because they stand to make a bundle off of offset wells). It is highly unlikely that there would be a zone that deep which would allow migration on gases. There is the possibility that the frac procedure contacted an older, forgotten borehole which was not sealed properly when abandoned and the gas is migrating through that.

Near the surface in that area is the Blaine Formation, a gypsum unit which has extensive karst through western Oklahoma. In fact the largest gypsum caves in North America are found in that formation. That might explain how that gas could migrate along a zone which appears to be in the range of 17 miles long on a SW-NE trending line. But again, how does the gas get into that formation?

Most people are baffled about the whole situation--nothing of the sort has ever before occurred previously here or anywhere else that I've been able to find. The director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey allegedly speculated that it's coming from west Texas (blame Texas.. a proud Oklahoma tradition!) which is 150 MILES AWAY! Somehow that doesn't seem likely to me. But all is well since according to the local sheriff the gas poses no risk of explosion "because it's bubbling up through water." Well, I'm not going to light up any cigars out there!!! Nothing like a good mystery to produce bizarre statements to the media... I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Ballets Russes" - The Movie

Look who was at the 4:00 p.m. Saturday screening of "Ballets Russes" at the Opera Cinema in San Francisco: Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, the filmmakers who made the documentary film! What a treat! The audience was able to express its great appreciation to them with immediate directness! (There is a good user comment at

After the screening, Goldfine and Geller hosted a Question-and-Answer session regarding the movie. Even though the audience was small (15 or 20), the audience was unusually well-informed and enthusiastic about what they had just seen.

I was curious what had initiated this project. Goldfine described an event put together by ballet fans in New Orleans in the late 90's (whose own ballet company had just expired), to bring together the veterans of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, some of whom hadn't seen each other in nearly forty years. A colleague named Mark Hawk alerted Geller and Goldfine that this was going to be a unique event, and that someone with their filmmaking talents HAD to be there to film it (they had won an award at the Sundance Festival for "Isadora Duncan: Movement of the Soul" in 1988). Starting there, with all the revived personal contacts and refreshed memories, the project began moving forward, but there was still the time element to consider, since many of the dancers were already in their eighties and nineties. (Still, it begs the question of how Mark Hawk heard of the New Orleans meeting).

Goldfine described a worry she had at the start of the project regarding whether the dance veterans would be able to carry the burden of the documentary. Sure, in their heyday, the dancers had been major stars, but today, they were in advanced age. Would the dancers prove to be too feeble, or too dull, or too unfocused to be - interesting?

This worry proved to be completely unfounded. They might be octogenarians, sure, but the dancers of the Ballet Russe were some of the most dramatic, self-possessed, fierce performers the world had ever seen, and that fire still burned!

Reading some initial reviews of the film, I had formed the erroneous impression that the narrative thrust of the film would be something like: 'plucky group of Russian expatriates in Paris get ambitious, and conquer the world'. That approach couldn't work, though, because there were so many different dancers, who joined in different places and at different times, sometimes under radically-different circumstances. Also, most of the dancers didn't join as principals or directors. Instead, they were chosen at a young age (sometimes shockingly young, like 14-year-old Yvonne Chouteau). The dancers were swept up in a grand adventure: like joining the circus that arrived in town.

Some of the stories are amazing. To me, the most touching story was by Miguel Terekhov. Terekhov informed his father that he he wanted to join de Basil's company (which had been performing in Terekhov's hometown of Montevideo, Uruguay), but his father did NOT approve (and NOT for any of the obvious reasons!)

Plus, all the beautiful, beautiful dancing!

Editing the film proved a major headache. They had twenty, or so, major characters who could not be ignored: the voluble and indefatigable Frederic Franklin, the amiable Mark Platt, the strong-willed Mia Slavenska, the unapproachable Dame Alicia Markova, the alert Nini Theilade, etc., etc. It was almost impossible to weave a workable storyline for use in a film with such a large number of interesting personalities, particularly when there was also a complicated story; a story that starts with the de Basil/Blum partnership in 1931, the big split, the best of Massine's work, the war years in North and South Americas, the return of Balanchine, the temptations of Hollywood, and the agony of what amounted to senescence in the late 1950's and early 60's.

The approach Goldfine and Geller settled on was to place the burden of the complicated narrative onto a female narrator, who told the story almost as a fairytale. The dancers then told their individual stories within that framework. In that way, when a complicated event had to be explained, the narrator could do it, with maps and other visual aids, just as efficiently as possible.

It was so much fun seeing George Zoritch on film. There were touching scenes of Zoritch talking and dancing with former partner and famous ballerina Nathalie Krassovska. Very charming!

The women dancers of the Ballet Russe, some of the most discerning and beautiful women in the world, were unanimous in their opinion of Zoritch. Their testimony:
Maria Tallchief:
George Zoritch. Oh, oh, oh, he was so good looking! He was the best-looking man I ever saw in my life! Tall and thin; planes of his face, and his beautiful figure. Thin waist, wide shoulders, long legs. Well, he was just - perfection!

Irina Baronova(?):
He was very handsome, with the most wonderful body.

Tamara Tchinerova Finch:
I think he was really born to be a dancer.

Nathalie Krassovska:
I think he was wonderful line, wonderful style. We danced it at the theater.
And they were right of course! When you look at the pictures of Zoritch when he was in his prime, the only comparison that comes to mind is Classical Greek sculpture.

I took my first, clumsy ballet classes with Zoritch in 1982 at the University of Arizona. Under his good-humored tutelage, even as a neophyte, you came immediately to love dance, and to respect dance tradition. I knew that Zoritch must have some very interesting stories, as also must his fellow dancers. We must all be deeply grateful that Goldfine and Geller, and their colleagues, also saw the possibilities here.

I was very, very pleased with the film! See it if you can, and by all means, support the theaters that take a risk on this film! Goldfine and Geller said that the DVD of the documentary will be coming out around September/October 2006, and will feature much unused footage.
San Francisco Daytrip

Went with several of the DMTC folks to overcast, rainy San Francisco today (first time I've been down there in two years). We ate twice: at the Emeryville Public Market (pictured at left), and also at Pier 39, in the vicinity of Fisherman's Wharf.

The others went to Union Square for shopping, but I instead asked to be dropped off at the Opera Cinema. A fountain in a courtyard at the cinema is pictured at left. I was eager to see "Ballets Russes": San Francisco is one of just a handful of cities nationwide to host the documentary.

Pier 39: I don't get out much!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Deborah Sends Holiday Greetings!

Interesting, symbolically. Kind of cryptic. A DMTC metaphor can be imagined, somehow, but thinking about it too hard makes my head hurt.
Pepper, RIP

December 15, 1966: the day Walt Disney died. My dog, Pepper, also died on this date.

It's 39 years later, but I miss Pepper.....
Mainstream Media Bias

Franklin Foer at The New Republic warns liberal bloggers to go easy on the mainstream media (MSM):
(T)hey don't deserve the savage treatment that they routinely receive in the blogosphere. The problem isn't just that they have been flogged by bloggers desperate for material. It's that the blogosphere nurses an ideological disdain for "Mainstream Media"--or MSM, as it has derisively (and somewhat adolescently) come to be known.

...You would expect this kind of populism from the right, which long ago pioneered the trashing of the MSM, or, as Spiro Agnew famously called its practitioners, "nattering nabobs of negativism." ...(The Right wants) to weaken the press so it will stop obstructing their agenda, a motive that liberal bloggers seem to have forgotten. By repeating conservative criticisms about the allegedly elitist, sycophantic, biased MSM, liberal bloggers have played straight into conservative hands. These bloggers have begun unwittingly doing conservatives' dirty work.

What they're attacking is the MSM's Progressive-era ethos of public-minded disinterestedness. By embracing the idea of objectivity, newspapers took a radical turn from the raw partisanship that guided them in the nineteenth century. "Without fear or favor" was Times owner Adolph Ochs's famous phrase. That "objective" style worked well for many years, because, in the postwar period, political elites shared broad assumptions about policy with one another--and the media. But the Bush administration has violently rejected that consensus. And, instead of playing by the old rules that governed the relationship between reporters and the White House, it has exploited them.

...But, after examining the news media's failings, many liberal bloggers still conclude that the system is beyond repair. They have begun to dismiss the MSM as doomed avatars of the ancien régime. Atrios, one of the most popular of the liberal bloggers, recently threw up his arms: "If idiots destroy institutions there's no reason to continue to respect them." (Their derisive attitude resembles nothing more than the New Left, which charged journalism with dulling the sense and sensibility of the masses, preventing them from seeing the horrors of the capitalist order.)

The mainstream blogosphere (MSB) is only too happy to bury the old media regime, because it has an implicit vision for a new order, one that would largely consist of ... bloggers.

...This model stinks for countless reasons. But its most fundamental flaw is that bloggers will always be dismissed by their opponents as biased.

...There's another reason that liberals shouldn't be so quick to help conservatives crush old media. Because of the right's alliance with business, it simply has more resources to shovel at its institutions--and it has been doing exactly that for the last 40 years. And, unlike liberals, conservatives have already proved themselves masters of partisan media, where they reduce their political program into highly saleable, entertaining populism. If the battle of ideas doesn't have credible, neutral arbiters like the so-called MSM--and liberals jump into an ideological shoving match with bigger, badder, conservative outlets--there's no question which side will prevail.
That pushed me over the edge:
"For starters, there was the 2000 campaign, in which the press presented Bush as essentially the heir to Clintonian centrism...." That was the MSM's work, Mr. Foer: a pretty piece of absolute pro-Bush bias. So why blame the bloggers for complaining about it?

Bloggers don't want to replace the MSM: we want the MSM to do its job. If the MSM wants to cater to power, so be it, but then don't expect us to read your rags anymore. Sure, big business can throw resources into media, but until they drug the populace, they can't force us to consume their crap. I've given up Cable, TNR, and this week, the NY Times, because, as a literate person, I'm tired of your games. If I have to, I will run my own press. I'm not alone! The hell with the MSM (and that includes TNR too!)
Todd Gitlin gets it, though. Referring to The New York Times' Judith Miller:
"WMD --I got it totally wrong," Miller told the Times’ Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak, and Clifford J. Levy, who wrote the paper’s long overdue self-study on October 16, 2005. "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong."

These sentences deserve the closest of parsing. "The analysts, the experts" were not all wrong -- David Albright wasn’t, for one, nor were various State Department and Energy Department officials mentioned in passing by Miller and Gordon without citing any reasons for their dissent. "The journalists who covered them"? Knight Ridder’s Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel were right. The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick was right, though his important piece, under the headline "Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question If Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program," ran on page A18 on September 19, 2002.

The key to Judy Miller’s cri de coeur lies in her repeated alibi that the journalist is only as good as her sources. But sources, like WMDs, do not grow on trees ... A journalist chooses them. Miller -- and her superiors -- fail to consider that her sources opened up to her precisely because they found her sufficiently reliable, meaning credulous. "My job," she said in a 2004 radio debate with Massing, "was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of The New York Times, as best as I could ?gure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction." No wonder Massing told me: "From her stories, it seems clear to me that she had an ideological agenda and went out to ?nd information that would support it."

...(W)hat lessons have the nation’s news proprietors learned?

Not many. Our top newspapers seem to think that, in an age when they are under 24-7 blogger scrutiny, they can still purify themselves with ease, if embarrassed ease, by banishing Miller and slapping Woodward on the wrist. But top managers at the Times and the Post are clueless about how much respect they’ve lost. How did they miss ?rst the WMD hoax, then the White House’s Wilson-baiting and CIA-baiting cover-up? How come Knight Ridder didn’t miss those stories? What does their team know about covering Washington that the huge Times bureau doesn’t?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hey, Girlie Man!

Over in Austria, people are annoyed with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
The Arnold Schwarzenegger Football Stadium in Austria's second-largest city Graz is to be renamed as a sign of displeasure with the city's most famous son.

A majority of members on Graz City Council voted to rename the stadium after the Austrian-born governor of California approved the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, according to newspaper Kleine Zeitung.
Meanwhile, Earl notes that the Phil Angelides campaign is making fun of Arnold - with animation - and he wonders if this is the future of political campaigning.

It's the future all right, but I just wish the cast of bad guys wasn't quite so stereotyped. Effective satire needs an element of surprise to make it memorable.

Well, it's a good first effort. Maybe Phil will have more cartoons as the election approaches!
Andee Thorpe Says Listen!

Do as Andee says!
On Friday 12/16, listen to Y92.5. I am entered into a "Christmas Idol" Contest for Y92.5, you can hear me sing LIVE on the air just after the traffic and news at 9AM.
Welcome DMTC News

In order to stabilize short-term debts incurred in the last, frantic autumn rush to finish construction of the new Hoblit Performing Arts Center, DMTC relied upon the promised sale of a home. We had hoped the home sale would be finished by last month, but things took longer than expected, and we were all beginning to anxiously eye the calendar, since most of the short-term loans were scheduled to be paid back by the end of this year.

Today, Our Fearless Leader, Ryan Adame, reports the sale of the home:
Mr. Isaacson just reported that (the) house ... has been sold.... Everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief, as we are now able to finish paying ... all of the short term loans, and the remaining projects at the new theater. Congratulations to everyone, especially Mr. Isaacson for his extraordinary efforts....
Boy, no one is more relieved than I! Broken promises are excruciating, particularly those involving money, and must be avoided at all costs. It now looks like we will end this turbulent, tumultuous year of 2005 on a very happy note! Happy endings are often preferred, after all, in Musical Theater!
Damn, That Branson Is Yanking On My Chain!

Tribune caption: Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson stands with elementary students from Las Cruces as they launch model rockets near the site of a proposed spaceport in Upham. Branson, owner of the British company Virgin Galactic, said Wednesday he hopes to start launching tourists, satellites and scientific experiments from the site within four years. (Associated Press)

Fourteen-year-olds Marc Valdez (right) and Jonathan Amsbary launch a model rocket from behind Marc's childhood home in Corrales, NM, with the Sandia Mountains in the background. The model rocket smoke trail splits the photo in half. Photo by Jonathan’s father, and provided courtesy of Jonathan Amsbary.

There is actually a lot of information in this (fuzzy) photograph. The view is from a slight elevation, indicating Mr. Amsbary was standing on the deck of the swimming pool the Lewis family (the previous owners) had built. The footpaths, which had once run straight along the divisions of the irrigated alfalfa fields that had predated construction of the house (one runs from the red door on right to the camera) were now running at diverse angles: we kids, having grown older, were no longer running along them quite so much as we had in childhood, and the dogs that now ran the paths preferred shortcuts (my dog “Prince” is visible near the snow patch). The date of the photo is probably about February 1971 (although it might be late 1970).

We, The Animals

So this is where the threat to our way of life comes from? Pardon me, it's time to prey:
Evolutionists claim that their battle against creation-science is primarily a "scientific" issue, not a constitutional question. But our treasured U. S. Constitution is written by persons and for persons. If man is an animal, the Constitution was written by animals and for animals. This preposterous conclusion destroys the Constitution. The Aguillard Humanists leave us with no Constitution and no constitutional rights of any kind if they allow us to teach only that man is an animal.
Oy Vey! Broadway!

Lenore Sebastian just stopped by to chat! As an aside, she says that both her and Gil will be reviving a favorite show of theirs over at Chautauqua Playhouse, running from mid-May to the end of June, 2006, called "Oy Vey! Broadway!" The show is apparently a revue of Broadway musical tunes created by Jewish composers. (Isn't that just about everyone, maybe excluding Cole Porter???) In any event, this sounds like something nice to look forward to in the coming year!
Skyrocket In Flight, Afternoon Delight!

MSNBC caption: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, left, receives a model of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft as a gift from Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson during Wednesday's news conference in Santa Fe.

Gene passed along this Bill Richardson razzle-dazzle from New Mexico:
"What we are calling the second space age will open up a wide range of commercial opportunities, including point-to-point cargo delivery, with personal and business travel," Richardson said, during a Santa Fe news briefing that provided New Mexico's perspective on the ambitious spaceport plan.

...The "anchor tenant" of the 27-square-mile facility is to be Virgin Galactic, which intends to offer suborbital spaceflights starting in late 2008 or early 2009. The very first flights will take off from Mojave Airport in the California desert, but Virgin will move its base of operations to New Mexico after the new Southwest Regional Spaceport is finished, in late 2009 or early 2010.
If Virgin can't even sell compact disks at a profit, what makes them think they can run a spaceport? And they are trying to rope in the chic Hollywood/Santa Fe crowd too? (gag!) The Roswell/Flying Saucer crowd won't be far behind either.... Science guys probably won't even be able to stick a thermometer outside either - insurance regulations, you know.....

I'd very much would like to be on one of these flights, but it would be much more fun if I could leave the crystals-and-pyramids and UFO crowds behind. And the crazed millionaires. I'd also like to pay for it with other people's money (which is an advantage of the U.S. Space Program for the few, lucky astronauts). Everyone is going to have their hands out to get paid here. And the ultimate goal of people like Richardson is to make sure the sidewalks in Alamogordo and Tularosa get paved and everyone has a good time.

Well, what are you going to do? The Space Shuttle is becoming more and more of a White Elephant as the years go by, and there's a lot of Federal investment in the Space Program (all that *stuff*) rusting away under-used out there at White Sands. I figure Richardson is thinking that someone has to be pro-active, or the place will become some kind of eccentric Space Slum. And if you could make it cheap enough, maybe some sub-millionaires would like to join in on the action. But the personal travel portion just killed me: "Quick! I've got to travel from Tehachapi, CA to Carrizozo, NM, today, and I can spare no more than an hour to do it!"

Bread and circuses; circuses and bread.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dude, Where's My Car?

Oh, here it is!
Idle Speculation About Acid Deposition & Mercury

Walt, who lives in South Carolina, asked some air chemistry questions about California, and got me going....
I note from acid rain data that California doesn't seem to have any acid rain. Why is that? Aren't there any power plants in CA?

Also: Why is mercury deposition by rainfall concentrated in south Florida and the gulf coast? Is it from TX/LA oil refineries, or does it come from tropical ocean air?
These are really-interesting, thought-provoking, isopleth maps that Walt pointed out! I answered:
These inorganic ions do not correlate precisely with acid rain: rain acidity depends on anions like carbonate as well. In general, the West doesn't get much acid rain because of the buffering presence of alkaine dust in the rain. There is much less of that dust in the Northeast, and so acid rain is more of a problem there.

The sulfur comes mostly from coal combustion (which has a lot of sulfur - much more than most petroleum), and so sulfate deposition closely-tracks the power-plant region of the Ohio Valley (particularly around Wheeling, WV), but also noticeable around Price, Utah, a coal-mining area in the Green River Valley. The mystery, in my mind, is why there isn't more deposition in the Tennessee River Valley, where there are also large power plants. Is the coal cleaner there? Or does the sulfur come down far enough downwind to obscure the source location? But then why does Price, Utah stand out (unless the source is actually from farther south, like the Navajo Power Plant?)

Nitrate deposition is more erratic, and depends, in part, on whether an area is ammonia-rich, or not. Ammonia emissions closely track soil fecundity and seasonality. There are two, common, depositable forms of nitrate: nitric acid and ammonium nitrate. Nitric acid can deposit directly to surfaces as a gas, or dissolve directly into rain, and deposit that way. Ammonium nitrate is very volatile, and small changes in temperature and humidity can strongly affect how much of it is present. Deposition of ammonium nitrate occurs as particles.

Ammonia-rich means nothing more than total ammonia (TA) molar concentration is more than twice the total sulfur (TS) molar concentration: [TA] > 2*[TS] (ref.: Seinfeld & Pandis, p.538). Under ammonia-rich conditions, rather large amounts of nitrates are sometimes formed, particularly if its humid and sunny. A runaway heterogeneous reaction occurs whereby ammonia dissolves into aerosol water, more than neutralizing the sulfate present, raising the pH and drawing nitric acid in. At times, you see huge spikes in ammonium nitrate concentrations, expressed as Extremely Hazy Days and Nights (the kind of nights that disoriented novice pilot JFK, Jr. and caused him to crash near Martha's Vineyard), but it's a finicky process, and easily derailed. The process is also affected by the presence of sea-salt aerosol. Ammonium nitrate (particulate) concentrations are low to non-existent under ammonia-poor conditions.

So, nitrate and ammonium deposition tends to track:
  • humid areas
  • fertile areas
  • urban areas, where there are more nitrogen emissions
The West sees less deposition of nitrates as a whole than the East, but there are exceptions, like the Central Valley, where there's lots of ammonia, lots of nitrogen emissions, and where it's humid and fecund enough in the winter.

I haven't followed mercury issues. My understanding is that there is a significant marine source of that volatile metal, but I also understand that people are puzzled why Florida and the Gulf Coast get so much deposition. The area is not downwind of a lot of the coal combustion, and so it's a mystery. But there's a reason, I'm sure.
    Walt then asked:
    OK. Referring to the sulfate isopleths, I notice that California has very little. Being a populous state, I would expect coal plants there to put sulfate into the air; but I don't see that. Whats up?

    Nitrate: Is this mostly from combustion or from agriculture?

    Ammonium: Is this released by plants, or is it particulate fertilizer?

    Haze: Is ammonium nitrate a major cause of haze?
    I answered:
    Actually, there is very little coal combustion in California (very little coal in California at all). The comparatively small, but numerous power plants here are powered mostly by natural gas, most of which is derived from either Alberta, or Texas (with some exceptions, like dual gas/oil in at least one of San Diego's power plants). In a broad sense, no coal combustion means little sulfur in the air (with the notable exception of petroleum extraction and refining in the SF Bay, LA area, Kern Co., and Santa Barbara Co.)

    It's not an iron-clad rule, though. There are some exceptions, of course: they burn nasty sulfur-rich petroleum-based fuels from Indonesia and elsewhere in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands (mostly out of necessity, given the remote locations). The air isn't that bad, though, because the islands are compact.

    The nitrate derives principally from transportation emissions, but with an agricultural component. Oxidized nitrogen can deposit anytime as nitric acid, but it can sometimes, erratically, deposit as ammonium nitrate. Ammonia can deposit anytime as ammonia (but only sometimes as ammonium nitrate).

    The ammonia can come from either plants, or from fertilizer, or both. It would be interesting to have a tracer study and see which dominates in a place like the Central Valley (my guess would be fertilizer, but I could be wrong).

    Haze is hydrated aerosol deriving from numerous sources: elemental carbon, organic carbon, sea-salt aerosol, sulfates and nitrates. Sometimes you see huge spikes in particulate concentrations, however. In California, these spikes occur in the winter, when it's humid, and can prevent you from seeing even short distances. These haze spikes are principally, sometimes almost exclusively, ammonium nitrate.

    Two more points occur to me....

    Deposition is dependent on available surface area, particularly inviting leaf surface area, with its numerous, intricate stomata. Because the East is lusher and has a lot more leaf surface area than the West, all else being equal, it will receive higher deposition.

    Also, these wintertime haze spikes of which I speak are different than California's famous summertime smog. Smog aerosol is generally ammonia-poor and tends to be more acidic than ammonium-nitrate aerosol. Smog aerosol contains a lot of nasty oxidants that accumulate due to rapid, solar-powered reactions of nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon precursors.

    Plus, there's plain, old wildfire smoke.

    So, no matter what the season, California can generate a visibility-robbing aerosol to soot (sorry, suit).
    Then, I started looking harder at the mercury question. It's actually pretty interesting, and has contradictory aspects that make me think the chemists don't have a strong handle on it yet.

    The deposition map for mercury tends to mirror the U.S. annual rainfall map. That's interesting: unlike mercury, inorganic ions get rained out, so the deposition isn't proportional. Tripling rainfall will increase inorganic ion wet deposition by a lesser factor, say 1.5, because the cleansing effect of the rain strips out the available ions. In a single rainstorm, the last bit of rainfall is much cleaner than the first bit of rainfall.

    With mercury, that seems to be less true - perhaps not true at all. Perhaps there is a larger reservoir of mercury in the air, so that no matter how much it rains, there is still much more mercury around. Now, I wonder about the chemistry of mercury! Are there multiple species??

    Checking further, the reservoir species is probably elemental mercury (~ 0.5 ppb), and the removable species is either mercuric oxide or mercuric chloride, or both. Oxidation seems to be rapid when water is around (like in a rainstorm - otherwise the depositable mercury would rain out), but the apparent long residence time of mercury in the atmosphere (several months) suggests either the natural or anthropogenic source emissions for mercury have been underestimated (meaning the residence time is actually shorter), or oxidation just about ceases in the absence of water. In any event, the information looks kind of contradictory to me. Strange stuff!

    Anyway, like Mark Twain says, this is the value of science: investing a little knowledge yields a huge dividend of idle speculation!
    False Comfort

    Another sham success in the U.S. Missile Defense system. This time, the attacking warhead didn't even exist: it was computer-generated:
    A ground-based interceptor missile was launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands against a simulated target, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said late on Tuesday night.

    The simulation was based on a hypothetical missile launch from Kodiak, Alaska, using data from previous launches, said the agency, known as MDA.

    In full-fledged interceptor tests of the so-called Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System, the system has successfully shot down five live targets in 10 tries.

    The last successful intercept took place in October 2002. The interceptor failed to launch in the two tests that preceded the latest one, in February 2005 and December 2004.

    The latest test was designed chiefly to evaluate the performance of the interceptor missile's rocket motor system and Raytheon Co.-built "exoatmospheric kill vehicle," the bit designed to smash into the target warhead and pulverize it in space, MDA said.

    It also successfully tested, among other things, silo support equipment, the agency said.

    Last February, a ground support arm in the silo malfunctioned because of hinge corrosion caused by what MDA later said had been "salt air fog" that entered the underground silo.
    Twenty-five years ago, physicists like Freeman Dyson showed how easy it is to overwhelm a missile defense system. Attacking missiles are cheap, compared to defensive missiles. So, instead of attacking a target with one missile, attack it with two. Or ten. Or twenty. Eventually, one makes it through, and the target is wiped out. Imagine playing sudden-death defensive basketball, against a team where everyone has a basketball!

    To test an effective missile defense, divide the Air Force team into two: a Red Team in Alaska and a Blue Team at Kwajalein Atoll. Red Team gets to attack whenever and however they feel like (just like in reality!) Then, let's see how well the Blue Team does!
    Down With The Uncle Toms!

    Four church burnings in the Sydney suburbs, apparently as the result of intra-Arab violence, in order to force people to choose sides, in anticipation of more extensive rioting this coming weekend.
    Audience Reaction

    Jon Carroll, over at the San Francisco Chronicle, went to go see "Ballet Russes", and he liked what he saw:
    So, now, is there anyone more fabulous than a Russian ballerina, particularly a Russian ballerina willing to tell stories? As it happens: no. That's why the film spends so much time in the room of fabulous people. There are many, many "moments" in the film, partly because these folks are no dummies and know how to create crowd-pleasing moments, even though (or especially because) they're mostly in their 80s.

    But wait, there's more: Amazing archival footage, most of it shot by amateurs using wind-up 16mm cameras. The quality of the film is not wonderful, but the quality of the dance is astonishing. Even the bad dances -- and there's some pretty over-the-top stuff, and not in a good way -- are exhilarating in their ambition. If some of the numbers seemed to be based on the "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" school of aesthetics, that is always to be preferred to the "let's not throw anything against the wall and hope no one notices" school of polite, cautious performance.
    The Purchase Is Off

    The Louisiana Purchase, that is. A disgruntled New Orleans evacuee wants to sell the place back to France.
    Programs Progress

    Progress continues on updating the computerized Master Cast List for DMTC. This cast list, currently in Excel, will be converted in a couple of months into a database that can be accessed via the Web on DMTC's Web Site. It will have the name and function of every participant in a DMTC show (with the exception of Summer Workshops and occasional fundraisers). Currently, the list has about 14,000 entries, representing the activities of roughly 2,700 people over a 21-year time span.

    There are a few holes in the Master Cast List, particularly in the YPT in the early 90's. Here is the current list of YPT programs needed to complete the DMTC Master Cast List:

    NARNIA.................. JUN 92-JUL 92
    SLEEPING BEAUTY......... SEP 93-OCT 93
    MUSIC MAN............... MAR 94 (Missing program altogether)
    WIZARD OF OZ............ SEP 94
    PETER PAN............... MAR 96 (Missing program altogether)

    In addition, the Main Stage program for 1997 Secret Garden (Director, Valerie Cogdill) lists no orchestra (likely an oversight), and so we need to remember who those folks were, if possible.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Ghost Story

    There is a fascinating story in today's Wall Street Journal regarding the dreadful practice of medical research ghostwriting (the article is available on-line only for subscribers, but there is a helpful, free pop-up feature illustrating the problem). This story reveals what happens when you define deviancy downwards: what once were vices, or even crimes, become common habits.

    Scientific ethics have traditionally insisted that the writers of an article be intimately associated with the research for that article: otherwise, slipshod work can go undetected. Scientific ethics have also traditionally insisted that possible conflicts-of-interest be fully revealed, at the very least, and certainly avoided if possible, to preserve one's all-important reputation for good work. Traditionally, scientific ghostwriting has been absolutely, unequivocally unethical.

    Nevertheless, there is a temptation to engage ghostwriters, because writing is so time-consuming. Squeaky wheels get the grease, as they say! Pressed for time? Poor researcher! Let *us* at Smith/Merck/Glaxo/Kline do the work!

    The practice of medical research ghostwriting is going to allow a series of avoidable disasters to happen. Ghostwriters, in the pay of drug companies, can write up medical research on behalf of harried medical researchers, who then check off on the work, in order to catapult (what can amount to inflated) drug company propaganda into the top-tier medical journals. The researcher gets another paper to pad their curriculum vitae, and the drug companies move the onerous drug approval process that much further along, for an eventual payoff when the drug enters the market.

    I always wondered how the top medical researchers got so many papers published: their output is much higher than most scientific research fields. I thought it was because they had labs full of post-docs and graduate students hard at work, but apparently it isn't even that anymore. There is an entire group of poorly-acknowledged ghostwriters hard at work as well.

    Merck's trouble with Vioxx is a perfect illustration. Someone at Merck withheld late-arriving information from the rent-a-doc at the University of Arizona whose name they were using to help promote Vioxx in the medical literature. The researcher may not have even known his reputation was in the process of being tarnished, but he should have been more wary! (The researcher says he actually had very little to do with the article - AT ALL!!!)

    The Merck folks did not misconstrue data so much as they omitted data. That should still count as unethical. After all, if you were hastily trying to cross the street, and I *forgot* to tell you about the approaching traffic you failed to see (but that I did), I should share blame for the ensuing accident.

    The entire enterprise of medical research has become a house of cards!
    Those Who Live In Glass Houses...

    Interesting point on Daily Kos regarding silly 'War On Christmas' stuff, that even though O'Reilley on Fox News has been at war with use of the term 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas', one of Fox's own Web Pages had eleven uses of the term 'Holidays' and none of the term 'Christmas', until the lapse was pointed out and hastily changed.
    The Thunder Down Under

    A few related, violent incidents reported in Perth, Adelaide, and the Gold Coast. Sydney and Cronulla Beach quiets down, but uneasily.

    It's interesting that the Lebanese immigrants are taking the brunt of the reaction. I had thought that Indonesians might be targeted instead, what, with all the recent tension regarding Schapelle Corby and terrorism, but maybe there aren't enough of them around for a mob to zero in on.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Oklahoma Weirdness

    An outbreak of geysers spewing mud and gas into the air in rural Kingfisher County is puzzling state and local officials.

    ...The geysers have appeared throughout the countryside of rural Kingfisher, with stretches of up to 12 miles between spots, and some as short as a quarter of a mile.

    Crawford says the threat of the gas igniting is unlikely, but he says there is a concern the gas could begin coming up through water-well lines.

    He says sheriff's deputies were dispatched to inform residents of the possibility of gas coming through wells and water systems.
    Who Is A Boomer? Not I!

    Gabe and I have had a friendly, long-running debate about whether I (born 1956) belong to the Baby Boom, or not. Gabe follows the conventional time-line that anyone born in the 19-year span of time (1946 - 1964), when birth rates were statistically-higher than usual, belongs to the Baby Boom. By that logic, of course, I belong to the Baby Boom.

    Since Gabe was born in 1968 (a Gen X-er), he has an (unstated, of course) moral superiority that goes with not belonging to a supposedly morally-compromised generation (Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion). Indeed, Gabe tends to attribute the end of the Baby Boom with the widespread introduction of birth control, so even in birth, Boomers are somehow compromised.

    Age notwithstanding, however, I don't feel I belong to the Baby Boom. I suppose one could say I also want to have the moral superiority that goes with not belonging to a supposedly morally-compromised generation, but actually it's because I more-narrowly define the Boomer generation birth years to be from 1946, to about 1954 (nine years, rather than an unwieldy 19).

    I attribute the start of the Baby Boom to a generation of hyper-normal people, people who were eager to start families seeing how the disruptions of the Great Depression and World War II had ravaged the prospects of their parents and older brothers and sisters. Also, I think birth control had nothing to do with the Boom's end: it was simply the end of the child-bearing years of this particular generation.

    So what do I think defines Boomers? I think it's the common experiences people have. Two touchstones define the Boomers: the last generation of Americans not to have television strongly-affecting their earliest childhood years, and the generation most affected by the Vietnam War military draft. I can remember television right back into nursery school days. Older Boomers can remember a time when many people didn't have television at all. There's a difference there.

    More important is the military draft, however. I remember burning my draft card in 1975, when such an exercise, fraught with the threat of prison in prior years, had become totally meaningless. I posted the fragments of the burnt card (with portions still legible) on a bulletin board at the New Mexico Tech canteen. A janitor removed the fragments within half-an-hour. Big deal! Not so to Boomers!

    Even at Baby Boomer HeadQuarters, there is the recognition that not everyone is on the same page:
    The 1960s is the decade that defined the boomers. The music, events, and the social changes made a permanent impression on us. Those of us born during the "peak" boomer years, '52-'57, were in our formative years during the sixties. There were so many changes in the sixties that how old you were during the decade greatly affected how you turned out. 1961 was a whole lot different from 1969!

    Those born at the early end of the spectrum were in our early 20s by 1970. The deaths of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King; the Vietnam war and related protests; and the Watergate scandal... all made deep impressions on us.

    At the other end, those born after 1959 have no direct recollection of the assassination of President Kennedy; they were not yet listening to rock music by the time the Beatles broke up. They were much more likely to use illegal drugs.... often to a great and disturbing excess. And they were never subjected to the military draft. So any attempt to lump us all together probably won't work. We can tell, by the e-mail we receive here at BBHQ, that there is much that ties us together, but also much that separates us.
    So, what generation do I belong to? Who's to say, but I like to think I'm at the leading edge of the Disco Generation. Get down, get down, tonight!
    CYA Over At NEJM Regarding Vioxx

    The weekend Wall Street Journal reports (sorry, no link; I just have the hard copy) that editor Gregory Curfman is strongly defending the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) for its handling of the revelation that Merck & Co. omitted data regarding three heart attacks from its article submitted to NEJM regarding the drug Vioxx. Apparently Dr. Curfman was *surprised* at his deposition last month:
    The discovery of the deleted heart attacks was prompted by information contained in internal Merck documents and provided to Dr. Curfman during the deposition last month. The documents indicated to Dr. Curfman that Merck researchers on the study knew of the three heart attacks in July 2000, more than four months before the journal published the Vigor paper - plenty of time to have included them in the report.
    Yet, how is this possible? Hasn't NEJM been paying attention? Earth to NEJM! I mean, it's been clear that Merck & Co. completely corrupted the scientific review process of Vioxx: I blogged myself about it in May and August of this year, after reading open-press articles in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. If the problem was obvious then, why isn't Dr. Curfman, who has a stake in the process, better informed? Or is it precisely because he has a stake in the process that he can't handle dissonant information? This a CYA process gone awry!

    Apparently the third Vioxx trial ended in a mistrial today: it'll be fun to read the details!
    Cool Recent Satellite Pictures

    Caption: London is completely blanketed by the black plume of smoke from Europe's worst peacetime fire in this Envisat image, taken within five hours of the blaze beginning.

    This image was acquired at 10:45 GMT on Sunday morning by the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS), one of ten instruments aboard Envisat, Europe's largest satellite for environmental monitoring. This Reduced Resolution mode image has a spatial resolution of 1200 metres, and shows the cloud spread across a span of around 140 km.

    The pall of smoke comes from a fire at Buncefield oil depot on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead. Buncefield is the fifth largest fuel storage depot in the UK, distributing millions of tonnes of petrol and other oil products per year, including aviation fuel to nearby Luton and Heathrow Airports.

    Dust storms along the Mexico-Texas border
    Date: Sunday, November 27, 2005.

    Nothing like a massive dust storm in the desert! The stuff gets everywhere. The barren Northern Mexico desert playas are unusually vulnerable to high winds, as is evident in the picture.
    American Conservatives

    Getting excited by the Sydney riots.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    Sydney Violence

    The U.S. and Australia share a lot of common characteristics, including an insular mindset that can lead to violence towards foreigners. Lots of trouble today in Sydney:
    CRONULLA'S day of shame began like any normal Sunday.Families enjoyed a morning swim and early cloud gave way to brilliant December sunshine.

    ...By midday the beachfront concourse at North Cronulla resembled a summer cricket match with thousands of bare-chested locals chanting and drinking.

    A group of mates ran a sausage sizzle from the back of their ute, blasting out favourites by AC/DC and Cold Chisel.

    But as the beer flowed the day began to turn ugly. Cries of "f... off Leb" goaded the crowd.

    Surfers young and old, bikies, white supremacists, and even families with young children joined in the chants.

    Just after 1pm (AEDT) the throng descended on Northies Hotel where a Middle Eastern man was rumoured to be hiding.

    The mob screamed for him to show himself, chanting "string him up".

    ...Two girls of Middle Eastern descent were the next victims. As they walked along the street another group of teenage girls pushed them to the ground and assaulted them.

    The baying crowd erupted again, this time with calls of "cat fight" and "kill the Leb b......".

    ...With the PolAir helicopter overhead, the crowd swarmed towards Cronulla station with talk of catching a train to Bankstown to "bash Lebs".

    ..."This has been coming. It's not about race, it's about respect and pride," said local volunteer lifesaver Luke O'Brien.

    The mob nearby sang "I am, you are, we are Australian".
    Did You See That VW Pass By?

    They're nuts over there at VW:
    A superlative on four wheels, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is not only the world's fastest production car but also the most expensive: $1.25 million before taxes and richly deserved gas-guzzler penalties. Also, the most powerful: Its 8.0-liter 16-cylinder quad-turbo engine produces about 1,000 horsepower and churns it through a high-tech all-wheel-drive system and gob-smacking foot-wide tires. Also, the quickest: The Veyron accelerates to 60 mph in 2.1 seconds, faster than a Formula 1 car, but then it's just getting started. In 20 seconds — about the time it takes a fast reader to get through this paragraph — it reaches 200 mph. In 53 mind-blowing seconds, the Veyron reaches its marquee speed: 253 mph.At that speed, the tires would begin to soften in about half an hour.

    Fortunately, at top speed, it runs out of gas in 12 minutes. "It's a safety feature," Wolfgang Schreiber, the Veyron's chief engineer, says with a smile.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    No Dragons Were Harmed In The Making Of This Film

    Friday evening, I went with the DMTC crew to the Natomas Regal Cinema multiplex to see "Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire." My mistake was drinking three glasses of Gewurtztraminer at the annual company Christmas party, just prior to sitting in a warm, dark room in a comfy chair. I dozed a bit, and lost some of the busy plot.

    Plot loss wasn't as bad as when I saw Austin Powers III, however, and actually fainted, because I started laughing uncontrollably at the shadow play featured in every Austin Powers movie (the Mini-Me getting 'born' bit just slays me) , and I couldn't get my breath for more than 30 seconds, since I was folded up in a seat with a belly full of popcorn and diet soda, and my wheezing and snorting laugh cramped up my diaphragm's style, and Michael Myers just wouldn't stop being funny, and the inevitable result was a few moments of unconsciousness. But, that was then. This is now. Where was I?

    Oh yes, plot loss. Anyway, the Harry Potter movie was interesting visually, but a bit hard for me to follow, since I haven't read the books, and couldn't properly place the wizards, and the dragons, and the potions, and the special effects. Steve apparently had similar difficulties, even though he was wide awake. But I think we all enjoyed the film nonetheless. Just don't spring Harry Potter charades on either of us, though.

    Outside, KCRA Channel 3 was preparing to go live to catch the 11 p.m. premiere crowd for "Narnia." I leaned into the TV van and said "It's bad to watch so much TV!" The fellow in a suit sitting inside the van smiled and said, "Yeah, unless you are paid to do it!"
    Cool Album Cover Ideas From The Mid-70's...

    That somehow didn't go anywhere. Maybe if we had taken the photo BEFORE sunset, and worn swim suits, and maybe played in a band, it would have helped! (Courtesy of Dyer Lytle: seated, left, Walt Kubilius; right, John Shortess. Skidding, left, Marc Valdez; center, Joel Weinfeld.)
    Many Happy Tidings!

    To Lauren and Mike Mac, on the occasion of their wedding - tomorrow!
    A View From A Bridge

    There is an unusually-detailed review by Corky Templeman in the December 1st East Sacramento News (unfortunately no link yet available) regarding Natomas' Charter School's "A View From A Bridge." Wish I had seen the production, but the review is written in a breathless 'you are there' perspective that is very helpful in - putting you there!

    I thought it was interesting how rapidly Chloe Condon's characters are evolving - from an orphan in Annie, to Zaneeta in Music Man, to a maiden in Pirates, to a politically-embroiled lover (Catherine) in Bridge:
    The energy of Catherine and Rodolpho's ebullient liaison spilled into the audience just as Eddie's dark and insane rage would inevitably submerge it. The audience held its breath as they began to witness the peeling back of the outer layer of this family.
    Ouch! At this blistering pace, by next year, Chloe will burn through adulthood, and start playing retirees!

    Over at B3ta, drama student 'La Rousse' discusses her five-year journey in search of a drama degree:

    • played a prostitute;
    • played an old lady (same production);
    • been beaten up twice;
    • learned to waltz;
    • fallen on my arse more than once;
    • played a body piercer;
    • played a chav;
    • rapped parts of midsummernights dream;
    • been blindfolded and poked;
    • run around the woods in the dark with a firey torch;
    • played a STD , and;
    • played Mary Tudor and a horse;
    Women tend to have more complicated dramatic journeys than men do. No matter what happens, I'm the cop, or the drunk (except in "Victor/Victoria", when I was the bartender).

    I also thought it interesting in "A View from A Bridge" how Colin Sphar apparently composed the jazz accompaniment. Cool! Times change. It was only as far back as 2001, in DMTC's "Oliver!", that Steve would mutter during intermissions, in a jaundiced 'I Hate Kids' mind set, that young Colin should go play on the Interstate (Steve was just teasing, but he's such a good actor, sometimes it's hard to tell). If Colin did venture onto the busy asphalt, it apparently only helped with the music!

    It will be interesting to see what these talented folks do next!

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    Makeshift Swing

    I've known people who would have done exactly this. I got out of rock-climbing when I realized my double-jointedness was a recipe for disaster:
    An experienced rock climber died early Tuesday after he climbed to the tip of a 10-story crane on the University of Colorado campus and then used rock climbing gear to create what amounted to a giant swing.

    Ryan Young, 22, may have been blown off course by a gust of wind, sending him crashing into a building across the street, CU police Lt. Tim McGraw said.

    "As we all know, the winds were blowing last night, and as we also know, crane arms aren't tied down," McGraw said. "They're somewhat akin to a large weather vane. A little movement on the end of the crane could have a huge impact."
    Melody on Tour

    Nice story regarding Melody Davi in the Sacramento Bee today. Sounds like she's becoming a good judge of audiences too:
    Davi said she discovered that the most appreciative audiences are in out-of-the-way places.

    "The crazy thing is that when we get to smaller venues, we have the best reaction," she said.

    She described the sold-out Stockton audience, for instance, as "a great house."

    Following the brief break, "42nd Street" left this week for a six-day trip to Anchorage, Alaska.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    A Breed Apart

    One nice thing about attending New Mexico Tech, in Socorro, for two years in the mid-70's, was being a Techie: a breed apart among college students.

    The hallmark of being a Techie was an independence of thought and manner. All college students are susceptible to herd-think, but the awkward placement of NM Tech far from major cities removed the herd, and served to provoke original thinking and adventurousness, whether that meant plunging into caves and abandoned mines on weekends, or scouting for Indian ruins, or hiking through the mountains and badlands of central NM (there were plenty of 'chemical' adventures as well, but I steered away from most of that).

    Dyer just sent this scanned photo from one of several trips we took to the vicinity of San Antonio/San Marcial, NM, around 1975. Hanging from the sign is John Shortess: I'm there in the checked shirt, with Joel Weinfeld (with his beta version of photogray glasses) and Walt Kubilius (leaning on the pole). I'm not sure if this is the trip where we found the dessicated cow or not. It looks pretty chilly in this photo.

    As I recall, the grand challenge of the location was trying to screw up the courage to cross the Santa Fe railway trestle on foot from San Marcial, over the Rio Grande river, to the remote, desolate east side. The trestle crossed the Rio Grande at an shallow angle, and thus was a couple of miles long. Had a train come down the tracks there would have been no alternative but to jump 30 feet into the shallow Rio Grande, or into the neighboring brush, miles from help. It would have been difficult, at best, to try to outrun the train over such a long distance on foot. Alternatively, we could have hung off the end of railroad ties as the train passed by a few feet away. Very scary. I don't think any of us ever attempted the grand challenge. A pity, really. Maybe we were more susceptible to herd-think than I thought! Maybe I can still do it! ("Confused Man, No Doubt On A Chemical Adventure, Swan-Dives Into Muddy Oblivion" will read the headline).

    The world is a small place. The only time I've ever seen a Broadway play ('Dracula' in 1978), Walt and I bumped into John Shortess in the lobby of the Broadway theater, quite by accident, 2000 miles from Socorro. How strange!
    Mel Gibson, Republican For Governor?

    Ha ha! California voters would never vote for an actor for Governor, would they?

    (Oh yeah, I guess there's a track record there, isn't there?)
    Happy, er... Holidays

    It's just plain amusing that the Bush White House is in so much trouble with the xenophobic right wing for its "Happy Holidays" cards. Like The Carpetbagger notes:
    Laura Bush's press secretary defended the holiday card saying the First Family "included best wishes for a holiday season, rather than Christmas wishes, because they are sent to people of all faiths." But that's only likely to make things worse — conservative whiners don't care about non-Christian faiths and they don't want the White House to care either.

    It's pretty cold along the Front Range of the Rockies right now - temperatures in and around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Lows dipped to 45 below at West Yellowstone. Deborah in Ahwatukee (just outside Phoenix), reported 34 degrees yesterday (Sky Harbor airport reported 37 degrees), which is pretty darn cold for that place. Doug went camping at the Grand Canyon, and it was three degrees Fahrenheit there (thank goodness for down).

    FNMOC forecasts suggest this weather pattern will continue for awhile, with an extreme ridge in the west and an extreme trough in the east, and given the long Rossby wavelength, it won't be moving very far, very fast. Continued arctic intrusions into the Plains....brr!
    It's Official...

    The best Woodland tradition is/was:
    Chili Cook-off (5) 24%
    Yolo County Fair (2) 10%
    Stroll Through History (7) 33%
    Hot August Cruise Night (3) 14%
    Christmas Parade (4) 19%
    I like the Hot August Night myself. Low-riders with bouncy hydraulics and sharp bicycles with great paint jobs shimmering in mirror shards on black velvet.

    Laurie T, And The Trick

    A fine band - lots of 70's covers: 'Hotel California' by the Eagles, KC & The Sunshine Band, some newer stuff that sounded like Shania Twain. I didn't hear them play Sheryl Crow, but she would have fit right in.

    At one point, a delicate diplomatic moment arose. An enthusiastic patron called out for a DJ. For most bands, that might be quite insulting. Seeing the patron's enthusiasm, though, and the possibility that her English skills were quite limited, the appropriate interpretation of the remark was that she wanted more dance tunes. So everyone clap your hands!

    At one point, the band offered to play Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' but then changed their minds. I took this to be a good omen. 'Free Bird' has been overworked all these years.

    When I graduated from West Mesa High School in 1974, a student committee chose two songs to best represent our class: one by Cat Stevens (was it 'Oh Very Young'?), and another by Seals and Crofts. These were excellent, youthful, optimistic songs from our golden year of 1974.

    When the Cibola High School class of 1980 (my youngest sister's class) chose their class song, they chose 'Free Bird,' even though it actually came from 1974. In the intervening six years, the song had become something of an anthem of southern rock-and-roll, and had achieved an enduring second popularity that escapes most pop songs. I took the mismatch of year to be a bad omen, however, indicating a nostalgic, conservative bent-of-mind of the graduating class. Then that fall, Reagan was elected, and it's been downhill ever since.

    When most of the band members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were wiped out in a plane crash, I heard about it on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Cronkite pronounced the band's name with a jolly Swedish lilt that knocked me on the floor with laughter. It was clear that Cronkite had never seen or heard the name until it popped up on his teleprompter, and he gave it a good, robust sight-read attempt. I suppose if you tried to plot out social circles with a Venn Diagram, and put Charlie Daniels and the Allman Brothers Band in one bubble, and the '60 Minutes' crew in another bubble, you'd end up with two separate, isolated bubbles. It was the funniest plane crash I ever heard about, which reminds me of Don Henley's song, 'Dirty Laundry' (which Laurie T and the Trick also covered), which was inspired by the 1977 movie "Network," and cynically discusses a TV anchor:
    We got the bubbleheaded bleach-blonde, comes on at 5
    She can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
    It's interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry
    We need new anthems to replace the old ones like 'Free Bird'. How about 'Beat It' by Michael Jackson? (Bad idea - forget I ever mentioned it) How about that incredibly windy Celine Dion Titanic hit 'I Will Always Remember You?' (Too cold!) How about the 'Macarena'? (I can hear the call for a DJ now).

    We'll think of something, I'm sure.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    All That Glitters Is Not Gold....

    But better to have loved glitter and lost glitter than not to have loved glitter at all.
    Orchestral Din

    And "Sleeping Beauty" no less. Who'd have thought it would be so - noisy?:
    To stick within the law, some musicians will have to wear ear plugs and some will have to be replaced at the interval, costing Australian Ballet up to $100,000 extra for the production. WorkCover told the orchestra's managers, Opera Australia, the musicians could not be subjected to noise greater than 85 decibels averaged over a working day, which it believes Sleeping Beauty will exceed.

    Opera Australia has agreed to shorten the length of time some musicians spend in the pit and hire casuals - at an average cost of $140 a shift - to fill the 750 extra spots it now needs to cover.

    Australian Ballet has to foot the bill, but the upheaval has also given Opera Australia a headache. Finding replacement musicians two weeks before Sleeping Beauty opens on December 2 is proving difficult. Vernon Winley, Opera Australia's human resources director and executive in charge of the AOBO, said Opera Australia would have to look at bringing musicians in from other states. "We're having to look very hard," he said.

    ... Musicians complain of damage to their hearing, and at least three have refused to play in Sleeping Beauty.

    Those that remain are worried the quality of the music will suffer and are considering writing a disclaimer for the audience.

    "It's going to be really awful," said Will Farmer, a trombonist. "Nobody knows, for example, how it's going to sound when the whole brass section have got their ear plugs [in].