Saturday, March 19, 2005

Deborah Goudreault in the Valley of the Sun

Deborah McMillion-Nering and friends in Ahwatukee, on the fringe of Phoenix, AZ, have recently been hosting Deborah Goudreault, occasional lead singer for the Charles Lewis Jazz Quintet. Fabulous Deborah G. lives in Boston now, but Wednesday night, March 16th, she graced the stage, in concert, at the Kerr Center with the Quintet.

In 1988/89, the two Deborahs, James Bucanek, and myself, all took ballet together at Mary Adams' School of Ballet in Tempe. Mary Adams' school (now in Mesa) is excellent, featuring RAD instruction. Mary Adams has instructed numerous important alumni (e.g., Bonnie Moore). James and Deborah M. still attend class there.

Deborah M. often used Deborah G. as a model for her paintings, including one that hangs near my bed (the one featuring a fish leaping from a fountain, while balancing a bubble on its nose).

The Ahwatukee household is the most civilized I know. Talent finds expression, and knows few limits. Their willingness to try new out new things is refreshing. Oddly enough, they were the first to introduce me to step aerobics (they sprung it as a surprise one New Year's Day at the local Joe Weider gym). They also introduced me to other oddities, chief among them, America On-line and the Weather Channel.

Few people possess James B.'s abilities in the kitchen. Here, James presents Deborah G. with a fabulous Gazpacho Salad Stack:

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cows and Air Quality

From last month's Sacramento Bee (Edie Lau, Feb. 27th: no link available), a new study shows cows generate less smog-producing gases than previously estimated:
[Measurements by Frank Mitloehner, UCD animal scientist and air-quality specialist,] show a cow produces about 6.4 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year. VOCs are ingredients in the development of ground-level ozone, a scourge of Central Valley air.

In their estimates, California air board staff have figured that a cow produces 12.8 pounds of VOCs a year - a flawed figure that was based upon a misinterpretation of a study done in 1938.
This study reminds me of the mid-80's, when my Air Chemistry professor at University of Arizona in Tucson, George Dawson, was trying to get a sample of pure biogenic methane to do some Carbon-14 analyses. They have these cows at the University's Campbell Farms with portals leading into the cows' gut. The portals are sealed with rubber flaps. By his telling, to get pure biogenic methane, you sidle up to a cow, open the rubber flap, reach deep inside, and tank up! Continuing with the recent study, though:
...Mitloehner said the most surprising finding so far is that when the cows are removed, and their manure left behind, VOC levels drop to near background levels.

"At the time that the animals were chewing their cud, when they were belching, we saw the peaks (in gas emissions)," he said. "That indicates the gases...are released when the animal ruminates."

The rumination "is going to be very tough to mitigate," said Michael Marsh, head of the trade association Western United Dairymen.

"I don't know what kind of device you might come up with," he said with a wry laugh. "Maybe some antacids."
Over at B3ta, contributor "Kris Fucking Kristofferson" takes liberties with recent song lyrics to express sympathy for the Central Valley's cow-control air pollution dilemma. Kris' message is more poignant given the recent demise of Hunter Thompson:

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of chloroplast, five sheets of high powered blotter granum, a saltshaker half-full of mesophyll, and a whole galaxy of carbons, fibres, vitamins, proteins... Also, a quart of chlorphyll, a quart of thylakoid, a case of oxygen, a pint of raw carbon dioxide, and two dozen stomates. The only thing that really worried me was the Oxygen. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a cow in the depths of a photosynthesis binge.
Mars and Venus

Surprisingly-large genetic differences between men and women: apparently greater than between humankind and chimpanzeekind:
"The important question becomes how men and women actually vary and how much variability there is in females," Carrel said. "We now might have new candidate genes that could explain differences between men and women."

All told, men and women may differ by as much as 2% of their entire genetic inheritance, greater than the hereditary gap between humankind and its closest relative - the chimpanzee.
Bring It On

Making friends and influencing people:
The deputy commander of the Iraqi army in western Al-Anbar province was shot dead by US troops at a checkpoint Tuesday night, a police officer said.

"The US forces opened fire at 8:00 pm on Brigadier General Ismail Swayed al-Obeid, who had left his base in Baghdadi to head home," police Captain Amin al-Hitti said.
Why Wolfowitz?

Why is our favorite neo-con going to be nominated to lead the World Bank?
"I have looked for evidence of Mr. Wolfowitz having development goals -- I have tried to find it in his speeches, and I have not been able to," says Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist ....
My theory? I think it's like the case of LBJ's nomination of Richard McNamara to lead the World Bank in 1968. The World Bank is a nice, quiet place to put Wolfowitz to pasture for a decade or two. Paul can relax, learn a little French, get a tan, and decompress after his Pentagon hitch. Only one problem, really: the World Bank is an increasingly high-profile pasture, of crucial importance to the world economy. Paul may be disappointed if he expects 2-hour drinking lunches on the golf course every day.

The Europeans are vastly annoyed about the nomination, however, so maybe it will be hard to keep Wolfowitz there for long.
Private Idaho

A new species of fairy shrimp have been discovered in Idaho vernal pools. Hooray!

Of course, my favorite endangered species is the ridiculously-endangered Socorro Isopod, which used to live only in a pipe between a hot spring and a pool, just outside Socorro, NM, where I once went to school (at NM Tech). The pipe was laid in ignorance of the existence of the Isopod. It's a miracle that the species wasn't inadvertently wiped out. The water was too hot at one end of the pipe, and too cool at the other end, so the end point of millions of years of evolution was that the Socorro Isopod was basically trapped in this pipe.

In the early 80's, people became aware of the existence of the Socorro Isopod. I even had a "Save the Socorro Isopod" T-Shirt at one point, when I was attending the Univ. of AZ, in Tucson. I once met an Isopod expert while getting on an elevator there, because he saw my T-Shirt. Surprisingly, the expert hadn't yet heard of the Socorro species!

In 1988, roots blocked the hot springs, wiping the Socorro Isopod out in the wild. Fortunately, a captive breeding program saved the Isopod from annihilation. For a while, anyway.... The Socorro Isopod is apparently cannibalistic - a real problem in a captive breeding program - so just keeping the Socorro Isopod alive on this Earth is a real challenge. If accidents of nature or mankind aren't at hand, the Socorro Isopod is fully capable of generating its own brink-of-disaster drama.

Habitat for endangered species has to be maintained, and expanded, if possible. There's the recent example of the Baker's larkspur, which lives in just one place in Marin County, and which was backhoed out of existence - maybe completely - in an effort to clear a clogged drain.

Hope the Idaho fairy shrimp have an easier time propagating the species!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wittman (and Chait) Smackdown

Love this attack, but it makes me worry. Chait is one of the "good guys" at TNR, but even he may have trouble distinguishing ideological purity from partisanship. Why? It's probably all that bad company. TNR may be more of a rotten den of evil than I realized....
ANWR To Be Pillaged

In some sense, the Senate's vote was inevitable. Modern society is addicted to petroleum, and will pull all the addict's tricks to keep a steady supply of the oily stuff going, no matter what the cost to wildlife, or to law, or to morality. I only wish they had postponed the evil deed for a few decades, when we might really need it. Right now, all the caribou will be sacrificed to keep SUVs running at 80 mph. What a waste!
Fire Above Swanberg's

As I backed out of my driveway this morning, I looked down the alley, and there were all these City of Sacramento fire trucks! It appears there was a fire in the apartment immediately above Swanberg's, at 21st Street and 2nd Avenue. I hate that! These buildings are made of wood and are susceptible to fire! I remember several years ago, when the lint in the clothes dryer exit caught fire next door, and all the fire trucks came to my vicinity. Go away! No smoking! No flames! Just go away!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Cluster Analysis of the Blog Universe

Or two galaxies collide in cyberspace. Or the Unabomber interferes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's science experiment. Or what I see when looking out at the Varsity Theater audience through my FDR spectacles and against Dannette's lights. It's, it's: a Rorschach test!

The Worm Turns

Listening tonight to Talk Radio KFBK's Mark Williams, I was surprised to learn that the the wingnuts seem to be rebelling against Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold's crime? Being even more of a special-interest money hog than Gray Davis! Why now? This problem was evident even during the Recall campaign. Whatever the reason, I like it: Republicans at each other's throat! Here's the Web Site to watch the evolution of this particular tempest in a tea cup: ArnoldWatch.
A "Progressive" Solution for Social Security

In today's Wall Street Journal, Robert C. Pozen offers an interesting approach to easing America into personal retirement accounts. One of the big political dilemmas conservatives have is finding a way to minimize the Social-Security 'carve-out': the amount of money diverted from Social Security into personal accounts. The bigger the carve-out, of course, the more money has to be borrowed to continue paying current benefits and the greater the trouble Social Security has of remaining solvent. Pozen's idea is called 'progressive indexing':
Under the current Social Security system, the annualized career earnings of all workers are increased by the amount wages in the whole U.S. economy have risen over their careers. Under progressive indexing, by contrast, the average career earnings of all workers with over $113,000 per year would be increased by the amount that prices have generally risen over their careers.
In recent years, on average, wage increases have tended to exceed price increases, by about 1% per year. Under progressive indexing, high-earners would feel a strong push out of traditional Social Security, and into private accounts, since their benefits would increase only as rapidly as prices. Medium and small earners wouldn't feel that pressure, however, since their benefits would increase as rapidly as wages do, which would tend to minimize the carve-out.

Of course, if the U.S. ever hit a period of stagflation, wage increases could lag price increases. The pressure would then be in the opposite direction: people in personal accounts would clamor to be let back into traditional Social Security (like they are doing today in societies that have such a dual system: e.g., Chile and Britain).

But people couldn't get back into traditional Social Security: Pozen's idea is a one-way ratchet: skim the rich out of the current system, not only to weaken the current system but also in order to be free to label Social Security as a welfare program, weakening it yet more by removing public support, and leave the rich to their own devices when the market goes bad.

Perhaps Pozen's idea would merit consideration if people were free to move back and forth between Social Security and private accounts. That would certainly be more in harmony with Bush's slogan of an 'ownership society:' competition between government and the private sector over retirees' money, and free choices for all! But it's all a moot point anyway. Pozen's idea, as well as all other options suggested by conservatives, have only one one real aim: damage, and ultimately destroy, traditional Social Security!

Until conservatives get serious with the ideas they suggest for national consideration, there will be no negotiation: liberals have nothing to offer except contempt for such offerings.
Sour Grapes

David Brooks presumptive obituary for Social Security Reform made me laugh! The only way to get through to these rock-headed ideological Republicans is with a baseball bat, it seems. But at least the Democratic message is beginning to filter through: Strengthen, don't "reform," Social Security!
Having skimmed decades of private-account proposals, Republicans did not appreciate how unfamiliar this idea would seem to many people. They didn't appreciate how beloved Social Security is, and how much they would have to show they love it, too, before voters would trust them to reform it. In their efforts to create a risk-taking, dynamic society, they didn't appreciate how many people, including conservatives, value security and safety.
If you wanted to see a real risk-taking, dynamic society, Gilded-Age America (1867 - 1901) was that very society: formaldehyde in canned meat, industrial accidents, bank panics, industrial monopolies, trade wars - name the hazard, we had it in abundance! People don't want to go back to all that! But I digress.....
Furthermore, Republicans didn't really have a strategy to get their proposals through Congress. They seemed to think that if the president held enough town hall meetings around the country, they could somehow bulldoze the Democrats.
Bulldozing worked for the Iraqi war, where so much of the critical information was secret, but it can't here, where the critical information is widely-available. Republicans will HAVE to negotiate, in good faith, with real-live Democrats, some of them LIBERAL Democrats, to accomplish anything. This is the high-water mark of bulldozing!
But Republican leaders have never really developed the skills required for cross-party horse-trading. Today's Republicans emerged in response to the ideological politics of the 1960's and were forged in the anti-political populism of the 1994 revolution. These anti-political creatures of conviction find sticking to orthodoxy easier than the art of compromise.
No shit!
The Democrats are still traumatized by their own losses. They are focused on past defeats, not future opportunities, and interested in revenge, not governing and accomplishment.
Not traumatized, just smarter. Democrats have decided to stop playing Charlie Brown, to stop believing Lucy's repeated story about letting us kick the football for once, and stomp on her instead.
When Social Security reform was broached, the party leaders went to the F.D.R. Memorial, as if the glory days of the 1930's were the guideposts for the 21st century.
If times change, Democrats will change with them. Regarding Social Security, times haven't changed. So we won't!
Meanwhile, the party base has grown militant with rage. The Howard Dean hotheads declare that they hate the evil Republicans, making compromise seem like collaborating with Satan. The militants, bloggers and polemicists have waged a relentless pressure campaign on any moderates who might even be thinking of offering constructive ideas.
The party base has good reason to get militant with rage. We are tired of being sold down river by some of our erstwhile friends (Lieberman, Lieberman, Lieberman!) As Truman used to say, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
Sensing the inadequacy of the first Bush approach, many Republicans have floated brave concessions. Several leading Republicans proposed a big payroll tax increase for the upper class and upper-middle class. Senator Robert Bennett suggested progressively indexing benefits to protect the poor and working class from cost-saving steps.
Oh so brave, these "concessions!" Remember, FDR bomb-proofed Social Security by removing ANY aspect of means-testing for Social Security. Means-testing would weaken the program, because then it could be characterized as a WELFARE program (no doubt favored by drug-addicted, ghetto-livin', mulatto drag-queens in Cadillacs), and open it to further conservative attack. FDR wasn't going to have any of it. Thank God!
These offers are more progressive than any Republicans have made before or are likely to make again. But the Democrats played the Yasir Arafat role at Camp David. They made no counteroffers. They offered no plan. They just said no.
Applaud the progressive Republicans! But remember, Democrats don't HAVE to offer a plan! AT ALL! The ADMINISTRATION is in charge! It is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to offer a plan! Which they have yet to do!
Instead, many made demagogic speeches about Republican benefit cuts, as if it is possible to fix the system without benefit cuts. Many ginned up the familiar scare tactics designed to frighten the elderly.
Modest tax increases, even decades from now, will be adequate to safeguard the program. And there is no sign the elderly are frightened. They are taking at face value Bush's vow that their benefits will be unaffected. They are worried about their kids, though, and their benefits, and that's why they are increasingly fighting Bush's proposals.
If Social Security reform fails - and obviously I hope this obit becomes obsolete - it will be many years before any sort of big entitlement reform will come up again. The parties will keep playing chicken, and we will soon find ourselves catastrophically buried under our own debt.
Big entitlement reform will come up again and again in the years ahead, because Medicare and Medicaid are in major crisis (unlike Social Security), and those problems, at a minimum, will have to be addressed. But why place the responsibility for society's debt at the feet of Social Security alone? There were those big Bush tax cuts for zillionaires, after all!
Oh, yes, there's one more group to be criticized: the American voters. For the past 30 years, Americans have wanted high entitlement spending and low taxes. From the looks of things today, they - or more precisely their children - are going to live with the consequences.
Losers always blame the voters! But, hell, it's their government, after all! That's what a democracy is all about!

The long-range consequences are that if Social Security can't be cut (like Greenspan is counting on), something else will have to be cut (or taxes will have to be raised, preferably on those feckless zillionaires). Or else we'll have a currency crisis. Or perhaps all three (you can almost feel laconic Greenspan beginning to panic, just about now!) But through whatever chaos ensues, Social Security will be the Rock of Gibraltar, just as FDR designed it, for those supposedly-oh-so-obsolete 1930's!
Snow in NM

A ton of weather - they even closed UNM in Albuquerque? Wow! That brings back fond memories of the winter of 1977/1978, when an ice glaze coated the streets of Albuquerque, paralyzing the town, and forcing my college dorm roommate at UNM, Wilbur W., to drive his VW Bug on the sidewalks just to get around!

And another memory, of travelling to NM through a storm for Christmas, 1993, with my dog Stella, and how ice glazed Interstate-40 over around Grants, and how, as an idiot Californian, I nevertheless persevered through a wilderness of jackknifed tractor-trailer rigs (no one told me they closed the freeway) until I reached Albuquerque, late, but unscathed.

Wish I was there now!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"Annie" (3)

Another weekend of "Annie" finished. Sunday's show seemed like the best so far, even though Kaylynn was sniffling a little bit (allergies, bane of the Central Valley in springtime).

On Friday, we shifted standard procedure so as to start moving the Christmas Tree in the blackout following the Cabinet scene. On Friday and Sunday the move went fine, but on Saturday, the artificial tree came apart when we attempted to move it, and chaos ensued. Fortunately, other than a longer-than-usual blackout, and an awkward move behind the traveller curtain after the blackout, everything turned out OK.

It's interesting how each show seems to have a distinct personality, partly because of the day on which it falls. The Friday audience is usually quiet (people are generally tired after the work week). The Saturday audience has a partying edge to it (but not so much this week, for some reason - maybe we are pulling more of a family demographic than we did with "Evita"). The large Sunday audience is generally quiet but attentive (the post-church and senior-citizen crowd).

The Saturday show this week was like a "Show Boat" reunion: Amber and Laurent (with baby Juliette) were there, as was Tev & Erin and J.D. Diefenbacher.

Meanwhile, at Woodland Dance Academy, we are gearing up to redo "Coppelia" this May, which we last did in 1996. At that time, we had Rome Saladino from Sacramento Ballet play 'Franz.' Rome was a wonderful dancer with a fine spirit attuned to spirit of community ballet theater. This time, though, we will have to make do with my efforts, plus those of J.P. Villa. One nice perk is dancing with Leah Miller (CDF firefighter): Leah is just the best! Looking forward to it!