Friday, February 04, 2005

Messing With Pell Grants

The Bush Administration wants to raise typical Pell Grants - a noble sentiment - but save money in the process. How can that be done? The idea, apparently, is to make the banks take a bigger risk, with college loans:
But at least one idea, he [John E. Dean, special counsel for the Consumer Bankers Association] said, may be a tougher sell -- a plan to make banks assume a higher risk that students will default on loans, lowering the financial exposure for the government. That could prompt some banks to reduce loans to high-risk students, such as community-college students whose post-graduation income is less certain, Dean said.
Now, wasn't it in the final Presidential debate with Kerry last fall that Bush stressed education's role in keeping the work force employable in the face of technological change, and in particular, community-college education? Wasn't it? Well? And now they seem to be backing off from fulfilling that fine sentiment? What can one say?

Nice about the Pell Grant increases, which benefits the poorest students most of all, but at the direct expense of lower middle class students. In the last analysis, likely a bad development for poor college students in general! Get that class envy going, get the cultural wars stoked, where it hurts the most!

One of my favorite tales from the power crisis was the abuse of the sad turbines at the Etiwanda power plant, near Ontario, east of LA. Turbines aren't made to be ramped up and down like that, but what the hell did Texas traders care when there was money to be made in the Golden State?

Enron Tapes

Some more Enron tapes transcripts have been released, and they continue to show Enron, among others, helped precipitate the 2000-2001 electricity crisis. Still, electricity deregulation was badly handled in 1996, and created the weaknesses that Enron was able to exploit.

Kevin Drum expresses some well-grounded outrage, but also reveals unfortunate naivete, with his opinion:
I hope there's no one left who still thinks California's problems were caused by too little power plant construction, or overly restrictive environmental regulations, or a badly constructed power grid, or mismanagement by Gray Davis.
Well, Kevin's hopes are dashed! All these other factors that Drum discounts nevertheless contributed to the crisis. Blaming Enron and the power traders alone is foolish. The traders helped set up the regulatory situation, but public officials like Steve Peace, who masterminded the 1996 deregulatory reform, went willingly to their own slaughter. The traders exploited regulatory and infrastructure weaknesses in order to bring the crisis into existence.

Power traders understood (and state officials didn't) that relying upon markets to set prices of commodities like electricity, which can't be effectively stored, REQUIRES a cushion of excess power supply to be readily available PLUS the capacity to make long-term contracts, in order to avoid price spikes. Governor Gray Davis was extremely reluctant to allow the making of long-term power contracts, and he displayed a near-pathological inability to make tough decisions in general, which just helped seal Californians' fate.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) largely discouraged the construction of new power facilities in California throughout most of the electricity-consuming dot-com boom of the 90's, until prompted to relax by the 1996 electricity market deregulation (and, in practice, really not until 1998, with the effort to license the Metcalf power plant near San Jose.) Thus, in 2000, California didn't have that much of a power supply buffer to work with.

Electricity was regulated in a piecemeal fashion that aggravated the California power crisis. Public officials were not acting in concert to prevent power outages. A significant fraction of California's power plants were required by air pollution districts around the state to be off-line at various times in 2000/2001, primarily for NOx retrofits. This forseeable reduction in supply apparently wasn't as well-coordinated as it might have been with the California Independent Service Operator. Better coordination from the top (namely Governor Gray Davis), and the emergency suspension of NOx retrofits, might have helped.

Problems with the power grid and the utility infrastructure aggravated the crisis: too few power lines to readily transfer power between Northern and Southern California, and inadequate natural gas storage capacity in the San Diego area.

The bright spot in the power crisis was how well PUBLIC power utility districts functioned, despite severe shocks: e.g., LA Water and Power, and Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Their long-term contracts saved them almost completely from blackouts. Elevators in Sacramento high-rises continued to operate when elevators in San Francisco (PG&E territory) came to a halt.

It wouldn't surprise me if the motivation of the traders was as much ideological arrogance as greed. Aggressive Republican free-marketers, exploiting a flawed market, against stupid California Democrats, symbolized by hapless "Aunt Millie."

We are already setting up Phase II of the California power crisis. After 2000, following the decline of the stock market, investment in new power facility construction slowed. Continued population growth guarantees increased power consumption, despite the fact that the salubrious climate and general energy-consciousness makes Californians the most electrically-thrifty people in the USA. Despite all that has happened, it really wouldn't take much to put us in crisis again.

Here is more of that story from the LA Times:
According to the newly released transcript, Enron traders on Jan. 16, 2001, hatched a plan to take an Enron-controlled power plant in Las Vegas off-line the following day. In a phone call, "Bill of Enron" informed "Rich," a Las Vegas power plant employee, that "we want you guys to get a little creative … and come up with a reason to go down."

The shutdown, he added, was "supposed to be, ah, you know, kinda one of those things."

In an effort to cooperate, Rich responded: "OK, so we're just comin' down for some maintenance, like a forced outage type thing?"

"I think that's a good plan, Rich," Bill said. "… I knew I could count on you."

The 52-megawatt plant was out of operation for several hours the next day, when rolling blackouts plagued Northern and Central California and about half a million homes and businesses lost power. At that same time, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson had ordered suppliers to make power available in the West.

Some observers viewed the taped conversation as a window into Enron's broader strategic approach.

Through contracts with more than a dozen power plant owners, including municipal utilities in Glendale and elsewhere in California, Enron controlled 3,500 megawatts of electricity as of August 2000, according to documents uncovered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in its investigation of Enron. That was enough electricity to serve more than 2.6 million homes."

The fact that Enron would jeopardize the health and safety of Western citizens to chase profits in the energy market is disgraceful," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Thursday. "But it's not just disgraceful on a human level — it's also illegal."

...Suggestions that Enron's plans to exploit the energy marketplace as much as three years before the 2000-01 energy crisis jarred some officials, who recalled how Enron executives were traveling the country about the same time making a case to deregulate the marketplace."Enron put out the most polished presentations, the glossy materials, the things they put out to every policymaker in the West," said Eric Saltmarsh, executive director of California's Electricity Oversight Board."

To know that it was basically a scam as far back as that says it wasn't just a fraud on the marketplace in 2000 and 2001, it was really a fraudulent ambition in creating what became of the California marketplace," Saltmarsh said. "In that sense, the [marketplace deregulation] was in some respects set up to fail."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Edging Away

I was always skeptical of the claim that Titan’s atmosphere might be rather similar to Earth’s early air, and thus might yield clues regarding the evolution of life. The claim had that desperate, please-save-our-budget-from-ignorant-Congressmen edge to it that NASA has perfected into an art. Now others are more open in their skepticism:
Well, you can forget that, says Bruce Jakosky, of the University of Colorado. "The reasons we originally looked to Titan are long gone. The putative reducing atmosphere of the early Earth -- one that was oxygen poor and hydrogen rich -- is no longer in fashion." Titan is its own world, and not a time capsule of our own.

Pithy Quote

In the latest issue of Esquire Magazine, R. James Woolsey, former CIA Director, makes the following observation regarding 'The War on Terror':
Terrorism is just the weapon. The war is not against terrorism any more than World War II was a war against kamikaze-ism.

Beinart Cashes In

Peter Beinart's flawed essay regarding the future of liberalism's foreign policy is going to be expanded into a book: a $600,000 cash advance! Wow! Not a promising start, though: Beinart wants to scapegoat fellow Democrats first.

Like Lenin (Bush) said, the capitalists (Democrats) will bid to provide the rope for which they will be hung. Republicans must be salivating over the intraparty squabble likely to follow:
[Beinart's Editor Adam] Bellow said that Mr. Beinart’s work will likely be the most anticipated of the navel-gazing—uh, soul-searching—genre. "The reception of Peter’s book, when it’s published, is going to be fascinating for those of us who follow cultural politics," he said. "It will reveal whether there remains any serious constituency in the Democratic Party for a traditional liberal approach to foreign policy."

Bad Air Day... the Midwest. The air doesn't look that good around here either today.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


I knew that "Fahrenheit 9/11" would have some impact in the world, but it wasn't until last night I heard first-hand of the film's effect.

The son of friends was considering joining the Army. Everything was on-track: the paperwork was done, and enlistment was imminent. The fellow saw the movie. The fellow changed his mind and is going to school instead.
Judith Miller's B-a-a-a-ck!

Just when things had started to settle down, this. (In honor of her glory, from Elton John's "Caribou" album):
I can bitch, I can bitch
`Cause I'm better than you
It's the way that I move
The things that I do

I entertain by picking brains
Sell my soul by dropping names
I don't like those, my God, what's that
Oh it's full of nasty habits when the bitch gets back

Impressive Animations

For a twisted world (I'm not sure if you need to sign in though).
Tax-Evader Thompson

Goes to the big house, on the taxpayer's dime, no less.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Physics Humor

Feb. 1, 1976: Heisenberg may have died today.
Bart Simpson and the West Sacramento Police Department

OK, 100 times on the blackboard:

  • The accelerator is not a plaything

Not good enough? OK, how about these:

  • The speed limit is a cap, not a floor
  • Interstate-80 is not Satan's "Speed-Demon Highway"
  • "80" is an Interstate number, not a speed limit
  • Yolo County Police are not pawns for Aztec sacrifices
  • DMTC rehearsal is not a life-threatening emergency
  • "'cause" is a weak answer, even on the "Yolo Causeway"
  • Other drivers are not "Fly-Over People"
  • Flashing red lights don't mean fake a seizure

As you can probably tell, I ran afoul of the law this evening. Should have mouthed back to the cop Homer Simpson's famous utterance?:

Oh, yeah, what are you gonna do? Release the dogs? Or the bees? Or the dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark, they shoot bees at you?

It's time to reproduce a 1997 chain E-Mail. The opening credits of "The Simpsons" shows Bart Simpson writing the same sentence over and over again on a chalkboard - reminiscent of the whole "write it 100 times" punishment - which establishes him as a troublemaker. Each episode is usually different. Someone (not me) apparently went through the trouble of taping all the Simpsons, watching them all and noting what Bart is writing on the board. These are the collected writings of Bart's chalkboard exercises shown during the opening credits.

  • I will not carve gods.
  • I will not spank others.
  • I will not aim for the head.
  • I will not barf unless I'm sick
  • I will not expose the ignorance of the faculty.
  • I saw nothing unusual in the teacher's lounge.
  • I will not conduct my own fire drills.
  • Funny noises are not funny.
  • I will not snap bras.
  • I will not fake seizures.
  • This punishment is not boring and pointless.
  • My name is not Dr. Death.
  • I will not defame New Orleans.
  • I will not prescribe medication.
  • I will not bury the new kid.
  • I will not teach others to fly.
  • I will not bring sheep to class.
  • A burp is not an answer.
  • Teacher is not a leper.
  • Coffee is not for kids.
  • I will not eat things for money.
  • I will not yell "She's Dead" at roll call.
  • The principal's toupee is not a Frisbee.
  • I will not call the principal "spud head".
  • Goldfish don't bounce.
  • Mud is not one of the 4 food groups.
  • No one is interested in my underpants.
  • I will not sell miracle cures.
  • I will return the seeing eye dog.
  • I do not have diplomatic immunity.
  • I will not charge admission to the bathroom.
  • I will never win an Emmy.
  • The cafeteria deep fryer is not a toy.
  • All work and no play makes Bart a dull boy.
  • I will not say "Springfield" just to get applause.
  • I am not authorized to fire substitute teachers.
  • My homework was not stolen by a one armed man.
  • I will not go near the kindergarten turtle.
  • I am not deliciously saucy.
  • Organ transplants are best left to professionals.
  • The Pledge of Allegiance does not end with "Hail Satan."
  • I will not celebrate meaningless milestones.
  • There are plenty of businesses like show business.
  • Five days is not too long to wait for a gun.
  • I will not waste chalk.
  • I will not skateboard in the halls.
  • I will not instigate revolution.
  • I will not draw naked ladies in class.
  • I did not see Elvis.
  • I will not call my teacher "Hot Cakes."
  • Garlic gum is not funny.
  • They are laughing at me, not with me.
  • I will not yell "Fire" in a crowded classroom.
  • I will not encourage others to fly.
  • I will not fake my way through life.
  • Tar is not a plaything.
  • I will not Xerox my butt.
  • It's potato, not potatoe.
  • I will not trade pants with others.
  • I am not a 32 year old woman.
  • I will not do that thing with my tongue.
  • I will not drive the principal's car.
  • I will not pledge allegiance to Bart.
  • I will not sell school property.
  • I will not burp in class.
  • I will not cut corners.
  • I will not get very far with this attitude.
  • I will not belch the National Anthem.
  • I will not sell land in Florida.
  • I will not grease the monkey bars.
  • I will not hide behind the Fifth Amendment.
  • I will not do anything bad ever again.
  • I will not show off.
  • I will not sleep through my education.
  • I am not a dentist.
  • Spitwads are not free speech.
  • Nobody likes sunburn slappers.
  • High explosives and school don't mix.
  • I will not bribe Principal Skinner.
  • I will not squeak chalk.
  • I will finish what I sta
  • "Bart Bucks" are not legal tender.
  • Underwear should be worn on the inside.
  • The Christmas Pageant does not stink.
  • I will not torment the emotionally frail.
Isn't It Funny?

How we don't get color-coded terror alerts, now that the election is over?
Andrew Sullivan Eases Back

Sullivan was essential reading after September 11th: no one better caught the Zeitgeist. My argument with him has been his needy yearning to drop to his knees before George W. Bush. If a break can help cure him of his hero-worship, so much the better. The world needs good commentators. He was a good one once: he can be so again.

It's funny how gonzo on-line medical literature can sound so authoritative at first, but slowly undermines its entire authority by just talking too much:
Hypoadrenia more commonly manifests itself within a broad spectrum of less serious, yet often debilitating, disorders that are only too familiar to many people. This spectrum has been known by many names throughout the past century, such as non-Addison’s hypoadrenia, sub clinical hypoadrenia, neuroasthenia, adrenal apathy and adrenal fatigue.
OK, sounds like a good start.
Non-Adison’s hypoadrenia (adrenal fatigue) is not usually severe enough to be featured on TV or to be considered a medical emergency. In fact, modern medicine does not recognize it as a distinct syndrome.
Really? Not even on TV? Then maybe, just maybe, it doesn't exist?
...In the more serious cases of adrenal fatigue, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that the person may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive.
No! Not the sex drive!
...Although fatigue is a universal symptom of low adrenal function, it is such a common complaint and occurs in so may other conditions, that today’s medical doctors rarely consider pursuing an adrenal-related diagnosis when someone complaints of fatigue. In fact, fifty years ago, physicians were far more likely than their modern counterparts to correctly diagnose this ailment.
Maybe this is progress?
...Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms, known as a “syndrome.” It is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger. People with adrenal fatigue often look and act relatively normal. They may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet they are not well and live with a general sense of unwellness or “gray” feelings. They often use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.
Maybe supernatural rodents live in their abdomens (like the large, eerie possum that Sparky menaced last night on our walk). Feed your rodent: have that cup of java! Swill that Nutrasweet!
They have intervals of confusion, increased difficulties in concentrating and less acute memory recall. They often have less tolerance than they normally would and are more easily frustrated. When the adrenals are not secreting the proper amount of hormones, insomnia is also one of the likely outcomes.
Wow! Maybe they do theater too!
As their condition worsens, it lays the foundation for other seemingly unrelated conditions such as frequent respiratory infections, allergies, rhinitis, asthma, frequent colds and a number of other health problems such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypoglycemia, adult onset diabetes, auto-immune disorders and alcoholism.
Diabetes? Alcoholism?
These people may appear to friends and family to be lazy and unmotivated, or to have lost their ambition, when in reality quite the opposite is true; they are forced to drive themselves much harder than people with healthy adrenal function merely to accomplish life’s everyday tasks.
R - I - G - H - T!
Will my doctor treat adrenal fatigue?
Hell, your doctor is too busy coping with his own forgetfulness and alcoholism to bother treating you! Having misplaced his keys, your doctor can't even leave his house!
Generally, people’s understanding of hypoadrenia is vague. You might have heard someone sigh and say something like, “My adrenals are shot.”
I've never heard anyone say anything like that in my entire life!
These people do, indeed, have some inkling of why they are suffering from fatigue, but if pressed for an explanation, they know very few actual details about how adrenal function is directly related to their feelings of being “dragged out.”
Most people I know can't explain how a traffic light functions, much less their adrenal glands.

After reading this, I still have no idea if "hypoadrenia" actually exists! Did I learn anything at all? Wait: "intervals of confusion, increased difficulties in concentrating and less acute memory recall...less tolerance than they normally would." Damn, those are symptoms! I'm sick! REAL sick! Too bad about the sex drive, but break out the wine!

Monday, January 31, 2005

Bush Antichrist

(Bush Antichrist - credit: Keith Wise)

Hook 'em Horns! I tend to be secular in outlook: Keith at Subway tends to be religious. Nevertheless, we both agree Keith's creation here is - how shall I say - inspired!

[UPDATE: Keith Wise, who created the Bush Antichrist image I posted two years ago, now has a Web Site, where he offers talismans, tarot readings, and other items on the occult side of life.]
You Say "Bick" and I Say "Bike", Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

(Reference above to Sam Bicke). Courtesy of Gabe, from the movie, Conspiracy Theory:

Jerry: David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Richard Speck...

Alice: What about them?

Jerry: Serial killers. Serial killers only have two names. You ever notice that? But lone gunmen assassins, they always have three names. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman...

Alice: John Hinckley. He shot Reagan. He only has two names.

Jerry: Yeah, but he only just shot Reagan. Reagan didn't die. If Reagan had died, I'm pretty sure we probably would all know what John Hinckley's middle name was.

Jerry: I just thought of another one: James Earl Ray, the guy who got Luther King. Then of course, there's Sirhan Sirhan. I still haven't figured that one out. Maybe it's Sirhan Sirhan Sirhan, I don't know.

See Arnold Run

I was curious about the A&E television film, to see if any reference was made to the other gubernatorial candidates. No references, of course: it was all Arnold worship, all the time. I was most surprised how little mention was made of Tom McClintock and Cruz Bustamante (but, of course, both remain in state government, and I'm sure out of prudence, the filmmakers kept references to these important figures to a bare minimum).

One scene caught my eye, though. The (uncredited) photographer taking pictures of Bodybuilder Arnold with three lovelies on the beach sure looked like David Hume Kennerly, a photojournalist who helped start a Web Site called Candidate Camera. Gateway, Inc., passed out digital cameras to the candidates and encouraged them to take photos of their individual campaigns. A handful of the images are still on-line.

(Here is my essentially-identical comment at imdb, with any feedback.)
Inconvenient, Off-Message, Recent Iraqi History Lesson

From the inimitable and essential Juan Cole, who doesn't have the luxury of caving in to Bush Administration cheerleading lies:
Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.

So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.

With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election." Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.

The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. (This is the part of the process that I called a "joke," and I stand by that.)

This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.

Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Evita Closes

Large closing audience! Augurs well for for the future. Strike went better than I expected (it's those well-designed modular sets, plus the many hands).

Liked the fact we now store the stricken sets at the New Theater (helps empty out the storage units that way, plus we lay a firmer claim to the property). It was eerie driving into the New Theater after dark (it's large!) Good pizza (just too much).

We need Andee to take more roles in more shows (Andee as Annie, Andee as Aldonza, Andee as Judd...well, maybe there are limits). Michael shaved immediately after the close (I like a scruffy Michael - evidently he disagrees).