Saturday, August 06, 2005

Pig Fat

Things were pleasant Friday night at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4647 in North Highlands (the largest VFW post in California and the sixth largest in the country, according to Vice-Commander Joe!). Where else can you find lovingly-detailed maps about 'Operation Just Cause' (December 20, 1989 - January 31, 1990: the U.S. effort to overthrow Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega), posted on the plaque-and-picture-covered walls?

Nevertheless, there was something ever, ever so subtly different. Where was that inflammatory and provocative tale about General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, who had commanded troops in Moros province during the Philippines Insurrection, around 1910? About how the best way to deal with Muslim terrorists was to execute a few with bullets greased in pig fat?

The framed but yellowing passage had vanished from its accustomed place on the wall. Was it removed because it was yellowing? Or was it removed because its bellicosity no longer served the times? Or was there another reason? I pointed out the absence of the passage to Vice-Commander Joe, and he said someone else had noticed the passage's absence too and had asked the same question: he'd look into it.

According to, General Pershing apparently never did the things attributed to him: another Colonel named Alexander Rodgers instead may have done the deed. Perhaps someone had finally checked the inflammatory tale and removed it from the wall because it was false. Makes you wonder why it took so long, since General Pershing is the leading inspiration of VFW Post 4647!

Or maybe it was something else - the passage of time since 9/11, the current stalemate in Iraq, the hard grind of the troops' service there, Bush's declining popularity, the cooling of passions. A comment on one of the liberal blogs three days ago suggested the zeitgeist in America was changing again, but somehow I doubted that could be the case. Nevertheless, the commenter may be right: maybe the zeitgeist in America IS changing again, in a more-sober, less-simplistic, more-peaceable direction. One can hope! It would certainly be appropriate if war veterans led the way!

Friday, August 05, 2005

TNR Embarrassment

Kevin Drum is just way too polite:
I don't get it. The numbers don't seem to add up, the sales tax idea is unworkable, there's no indication of how any of this reins in spending, and it doesn't seem to solve any problems that our current system couldn't solve. I'm all for universal healthcare, but I hardly see why we need this squirrelly plan in order to get it. What's dorm room bull session stuff like this doing on the cover of the New Republic?
Just so sad - more evidence of advanced decay. Peretz has decided to make his peace with the Bush Administration, and the hell with the rest of us.

It broke my heart to cancel my TNR subscription, but what can one do? These guys have joined the Dark Side, body and soul. First, we must abandon them, and second, condemn them as liberal traitors. Hound them. Destroy the brand.
Big Hurricanes

Make surprisingly big waves!
Take A Powder

We are so easy to panic these days:
AN envelope leaking a strange pinkish powder sparked an alert in a Paris suburban post office, but tests revealed the substance to be nothing more than dessicated elephant dung, police said.

With France on high terrorism alert following the London bombings last month, postal workers in a sorting centre in the northwestern suburb of Bonneuil-en-France took no chance when they noticed the strange envelope from Sri Lanka with the powder inside.

After police were called in, six employees who had been exposed to the powder were subjected to medical examinations.

...Police said the envelope was addressed to a Paris-based immigrant from Sri Lanka who apparently used the pachydermal poo for traditional religious rites
Bones From The Past

I must have been a budding urban planner or statesman as a kid. From ages 6 to 12 (1962 - 1968), growing up in Corrales, NM, the next-door neighbor kids and I divided our corresponding properties, and the properties in the immediate vicinity, into countries, which we named as we wished (as I recall, I think I called my acre Great Britain; Spain was up the road, The Desert was out back, etc.) We made maps of our empires and improvised national anthems.

We frequently made small cities (from lumber cuttings and and bricks and toy cars - the most glorious I named Merckensernf) or sometimes large cities, hoeing roads from the dirt and building cabins made of scrap lumber. We furnished and decorated these cabins, and created libraries and rock collections. We also cooked toast within the cabins, over open flames that vented out smokeholes in the daytime (the cabins were short-lived: there were inexplicable fires at night).

Anyway, the cow pasture next-door I named Holt, in honor of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who disappeared while swimming at the beach one day in 1966.

Lo and behold, Harold Holt had some secrets....

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Youth Workshop Recital

Thursday evening, the Beginning and Advanced Students of the DMTC Summer Youth Workshop had a recital at the DMTC Rehearsal Space in Davis, CA. The students (aged 7-18) performed monologues, scenes, and musical numbers.

Students and audience applaud instructors Jan Isaacson and Helen Spangler at the end of the workshop.

Afterwards, Steve Isaacson made a plea for financial assistance for finishing construction of DMTC's New Theater. Interestingly, there may have been some progress on this front. More information will be available at a meeting AT the New Theater this Sunday, August 7, 2005 at 7:30 p.m. (607 Pena Drive in Davis). Various short-term funding solutions will be discussed and DMTC's funding guarantor will also be present to answer questions.

Reminds me of that scene in the movie "Ruthless People," when Helen Slater runs around the house shouting 'I've got to get out of here!':
A Florida woman accused of trying to open a United Airlines jet exit door as the flight descended into Seattle was arrested when the plane landed safely, Port of Seattle police said.

Flight 1195, en route from Denver, was reportedly at an altitude of about 4,000 feet Wednesday when Jeanne Dempsey, 52, sitting at the rear of the Boeing 737, left her seat and tried to open an exit door.

Dempsey, who is from Dania Beach, failed but "she did manage to turn the handle far enough that a warning light went on in the cockpit," Seattle-Tacoma International Airport spokesman Bob Parker told KING-TV.

"Ultimately, at the urging of the flight attendant, she went and sat back down," he said.

Those on board said no one tried to physically restrain the woman. Parker said those who saw her at the door made a "conscious choice" to stay securely belted in their seats just in case she did manage to open the door.
Robert Novak

Goes ballistic!
Karl, Who?

From the Onion:
WASHINGTON, DC—The White House denied rumors of wrongdoing by anyone named Karl Rove Monday, saying the alleged deputy chief of staff does not exist.

"To my knowledge, no one by the name of Karl Rove works for this president, his staff, or for that matter, anyone on earth, since he is not a real person," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Monday.

... "None of these allegations are supported by the facts," McClellan said. "The opponents of this administration have created a mythical figure in order to discredit the president. All they have done is divert attention from the important work at hand—the war in Iraq and the war on terror. In doing so, they have dishonored the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform."

"This time," he added, "the Democrats have gone too far."

... McClellan reiterated his denial of Karl Rove's existence 33 times during the press conference. When pressed, he distributed a list of "real, actual political figures about whom I'd be happy to comment." The list included only President George W. Bush and Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.

... Initially demanding that the alleged Rove be fired, Democrats say they are now focusing their efforts on proving the figure's existence.

"I believe this deputy White House chief of staff is real, despite White House claims to the contrary," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. "But to disprove this wild ghost story, we must begin an exhaustive fact-finding mission, for which I pledge all the time and resources of the entire Democratic party."
Uranium Boom

Glad to see that federalism is alive and well in Australia:
THE HOWARD Government has seized control of uranium mining in the Northern Territory to give "certainty" to the industry and ensure the expansion of exports to meet growing demands for nuclear energy worldwide.

In a move defying an election pledge by Clare Martin's Labor Government to block new mines, federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane declared in Darwin the Territory was "open for business."
And what about the American market in enriched uranium?:
A provision tucked into the 1,724-page energy bill that Congress is poised to enact today would ease export restrictions on bomb-grade uranium, a lucrative victory for a Canadian medical manufacturer and its well-wired Washington lobbyists.

More Iraqi dead. And it won't stop, because the torturers take their orders from the top, and honest soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Michael Pratt just get in the way (from Digby):
Later, when he learned that unqualified soldiers were conducting interrogations, Pratt again logged a compliant. In response, he testified, he was investigated - and told by other soldiers it was for blackmail purposes.
Respect The Bear

Werner Herzog discusses Paul Treadwell:
Q: Do you think that his time with the bears gave him a false sense that the borderline was different for him?

A: I do not want to harp on his mistakes, but you are mentioning something startling. Sometimes in the footage that I saw, I felt as if he was the one privileged to step close, as if he was adopting the nature of the bear, huffing like a bear, going on all fours, trying to adopt the nature of the wild beast, like crossing over. One of the ecologists, a friend of Timothy's, speaks about an almost religious experience, to leave your humanness, like in a religious ecstasy, and step into another form, another existence — in Treadwell's case, into the existence of the bear.

I was struck by the cunning of Yasser Arafat and compatriots in devising the Arabic acronym for the Palestian Liberation Organization (from 'In A Ruined Country: How Yasir Arafat Destroyed Palestine,' by David Samuels, Atlantic Monthly, September 2005):
Arafat was also the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the head of Fatah, the PLO's central faction, which he founded in Kuwait in the late 1950s. The title that came first on his personal stationery was head of Fatah, which means "conquest"—a backward acronym for Harakat al-Tahrir al-Falistiniya, the Palestinian Liberation Movement. Spelled forward the acronym yields "Hataf," which means "death."
Flippin' Off

President Bush, the Anti-Christ, flips off the press. What an arrogant ass!

And what about that Texas Longhorn "Hook 'Em Horns" salute that so startled Satan-conscious Norwegians last year?

Yes, it's time to display that picture Keith made earlier this year once again:

Bush Anti-Christ (credit: Keith Wise)

[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.]
Pilates Pain

Hoped to get more accomplished tonight, but after trying to whip myself into shape to kick some Tai Chi ass, the only one whipped tonight is me!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Out And About

Kylie's things-to-do list:
In the first public sighting in Europe of the mega-star since she started a gruelling regime of chemotherapy, a beaming Minogue proved she's determined to beat the disease.

The 37-year-old singer is just as determined to become a mother one day and has undergone a procedure to have slivers of her ovaries extracted and frozen.

A couple of hours' shopping in the Chloe store in Paris this week with her Mum Carol appeared to be just what the doctor ordered.

The pair ventured out for a relaxing afternoon exploring the streets of the French capital.

... The afternoon out ended with a quiet meal at a bistro.

... A lumpectomy to remove the cancer was successful, but she required two further operations. Chemotherapy is now needed to ensure no traces of cancer remain.
Next on the list???
...Kylie's postponed Showgirl tour is yet to be rescheduled.
The Moon, Earth's Dusty Attic

Yeah, when DID the Earth's strong magnetic field start?:
Minoru Ozima of University of Tokyo and colleagues put forth an intriguing alternative.

The new scenario is based on the possibility that Earth's magnetic field was not born with the planet 4.5 billion years ago, but developed sometime thereafter when the molten iron core took on a "differential rotation," meaning the outer and inner parts of the core rotate at different rates. Nobody knows exactly how or when all that developed.

... Before the magnetic field formed, nitrogen molecules in Earth's atmosphere broke down into nitrogen ions, and ions in the outer atmosphere escaped freely to the Moon, Ozima's team figures.

Back then, Earth and the Moon were much closer than they are today, so it would have been easier for the satellite's gravity to lure the ions in.

If that's the case, then scientists should be able to find out when the magnetic field turned on by checking if the amount of nitrogen is significantly higher in lunar soil of a particular age.
Sun Dagger

I wonder how the Chaco Canyon Sun Dagger is doing these days?

I visited this interesting archaeoastronomical site in 1980, just before Chaco Canyon National Monument Park officials closed it to public visits (following Anna Sofaer's realization of the site's importance in 1977, the Sun Dagger was becoming increasingly popular, and the officials worried they couldn't control the escalating number of visitors). The Anasazi (ancestors to the Pueblo Indians) had considerable interest in astronomy, evidenced, among other things, by their record of the Crab Nebula Supernova in A.D. 1054.

Part of of this interest might be part of a larger, general interest in ancient America in astronomy. Even though there was certainly a large cultural difference between the Anasazi, and the civilizations of Mexico far, far to the south (evidence: ball courts, ubiquitous in Mexican Indian pueblos, are found no farther north than the Hohokam pueblos of southern Arizona), there certainly were trade networks throughout the Americas: Cerrillos, NM turquoise has been found in central Mexico, and sea shells and macaw bones have been found in Chaco Canyon. Macaw bones! Amazing! Macaws live in Panama! People had to carry the large birds, presumably in cages (but if their wings were clipped, maybe not) thousands of miles over the most rugged country on their backs (since the Indians didn't have pack animals larger than dogs).

Anyway, in the summer of 1980, Ira G., Steve M. and his brother, the brothers Otii, and myself clambered up Fajada Butte, using ropes for protection, since the slopes are steep. When we got up to the higher levels, we were befuddled: we didn't know exactly where the Sun Dagger was located, or what it looked like. All we could do was look for - something, anything, out-of-the ordinary, and presumably on an exposure the sun could reach.

La Fajada Butte: from Anna Sofaer's 1979 paper in Science.

Desert regions are amazing. Vegetation is so sparse and rainfall so low, that, once disturbed by human use, the surface can reliably hold a record of disturbance for hundreds of years, if not longer. Walt and I used to laugh about it when we lived in Socorro, NM: being raised in NM, I could sense where the ancient dwellings had been in the little Piro pueblitos east of town, out towards Bursum Springs. Even as I easily located pottery shards and pulled them from the ground, Walt argued, tongue-in-cheek, that the location was perfectly natural. After a while, Walt's East-Coast-bred senses became similarly attuned to the nuances of desert vegetation and the orientation of rocks.

So, when we saw the rock slabs leaning against the rock wall, behind which the Sun Dagger was located, it was blindingly and immediately obvious, even from a distance, that it was manufactured. THAT was where the Sun Dagger had to be located! Rock slabs don't just prop themselves against rock walls! And, indeed, it was so! But since we had missed the solstice by about a month, and it was the middle of the day besides and were inexpert in use of the Sun Dagger, there was nothing really for us to see, except to admire the handiwork, and wonder how many people it had required to shuffle the rock slabs around - a good dozen strong people, for sure, maybe more!

Several years later, as a young graduate student, I saw a talk at the University of Arizona by another young graduate student, who was working on a theory that the Anasazi hadn't propped the rock slabs against the wall, but had instead exploited a natural location for their solstice marker. The rock slabs had fallen from above and been tilted into place by erosion from below. Presumably there weren't enough Indians available to move the rock slabs around (Chaco Canyon's central villages likely never had more than a couple of thousand or so inhabitants at any one time, although more lived in small outlying pueblitos, and religious pilgrims and traders could swell the population at times).

The rock slabs: from Anna Sofaer's 1979 paper in Science.

I was a polite student, so I remained silent, but what I needed to say to her then - what I yearn to say now - was: what complete rubbish! Rock slabs, especially fragile sandstone rock slabs, generally shatter when they fall from a height: they don't remain propped against the wall, unless the fall distance is small. And if it was a small fall distance, the location where they came from should be obvious. And it isn't! And where else in Chaco Canyon do you find rock slabs propped up against walls? Nowhere! And how could erosion easily occur behind and below the rock slabs? It doesn't rain that much, and so, unless there was a gully directly behind the slabs, you just won't have the erosive power required. And there is no gully there!

People in the modern age often make two errors when estimating the abilities of ancient peoples. First, they underestimate the determination and ability of ancient peoples in building structures. The Sun Dagger is but a modest example. Other examples abound: Stonehenge, The Pyramids.

The second error is more complicated. People derive inappropriate moral lessons from the past. In the modern environmental age, people use the shopworn storyline that ancient peoples strip the natural resources, leveling forests as they go, and are forced to move out when they exhaust what nature can provide. I'm not saying that can't happen (or will happen, say, to our civilization, like it apparently did at Easter Island), but the evidence needs to be there to make the claim. Not every situation is like that.

At Chaco Canyon, some people have said that the area was once forested, presumably in pinon-juniper forest, or - God forbid! - even in tall ponderosa pine forest! - and that the Indians systematically burned or cut the trees over the generations, until the droughts of the 1200's finally made the location unlivable, forcing the Anasazi to move to more-reliably watered locations like the Rio Grande Valley, and elsewhere.

I'm more than skeptical. Chaco Canyon's elevation just seems too low, when compared to other locations in the Southwest, for either ponderosa pines or dense pinon-juniper forest. The location is far from the mountains, and the large surface streams that flow from them, and so I doubt whether that much food was ever raised there - pocket farms in favorable locations, like the Navajo and Hopi do today, and some wild game hunting. Even in its heyday, I bet food was imported into the area. Life is tough up there on those cold plateaus! Always has been - always will be!

So the errors we need to avoid are:
  • ancient peoples were incompetent; and,
  • ancient peoples lived their lives to provide us with moral examples, and could single-handedly cause widespread environmental devastation.

Like us, ancient peoples were capable of amazing things, but they couldn't do everything. They were subject to the same frailties we suffer and had to obey the same laws of physics.

Here is a short list of research papers on the subject. Here is an interesting excerpt from Anna Sofaer's 1997 paper, reflecting current thinking:

Scholars have puzzled for decades over why the Chacoan culture flourished in the center of the desolate environment of the San Juan Basin. Earlier models proposed that Chaco Canyon was a political and economic center where the Chacoans administered a widespread trade and redistribution system (Judge 1989; Sebastian 1992). Recent archaeological investigations show that major buildings in Chaco Canyon were not built or used primarily for household occupation (Lekson et al. 1988). This evidence, along with the dearth of burials found in the canyon, suggests that, even at the peak of the Chacoan development, there was a low resident population. (The most recent estimates of this population range from 1,500 to 2,700 (Lekson 1991; Windes 1987). Evidence of periodic largescale breakage of vessels at key central buildings indicates, however, that Chaco Canyon may have served as a center for seasonal ceremonial visitations by great numbers of residents of the outlying communities (Judge 1984; Toll 1991).
Animals, And The People Who Love Them

There's a natural attraction:
JOHANNESBURG, July 29 (Reuters) - A man was eaten by lions after running past guards into the Kruger National Park at dusk just as the gates were closing, park officials said on Friday.

Park spokesman Raymond Travers said guards and rangers searched for the unidentified man in the dark after he ran into the park on Thursday, but failed to find him. He was found after dawn on Friday as the lions feasted on his corpse.

...Mentally ill people had occasionally broken into the park and been eaten in the past, he said, but it was highly unusual.
Then Gabe pointed this out to me also:
"GRIZZLY MAN" - A documentary from director Werner Herzog ("Fitzcarraldo," "Aguirre, Wrath of God") that chronicles the life and violent death of bear researcher enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, who was killed and eaten by the creatures he so adored. Released by Lions Gate Films. This movie is not yet rated.
Herzog makes great movies, so this is bound to be an excellent film! But what makes us think we feeble humans can escape the fate of lesser creatures when confronted by large predators?

I remember visiting the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas in August, 2001, when the Siberian Tigers were there. The large white, striped predators were the highlight and focus of Siegfried and Roy's magic show, which ran for many years there. You could see the animals lounging in their enclosure through glass windows.

A teenaged girl passed between me and the glass window, outside the walkway railing, and despite the bright sunlight outside and the smoked glass, one tiger caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, and quickly shot an icy predator stare - directly at her (and at me, behind her). I won't forget that! These animals can, and will kill, given the opportunity! It's magical thinking to think you can escape (although Roy escaped for many years, so he might be excused for thinking his luck would hold). But, hey!, we are human, and we think we can avoid fate through magic, or science, or diet, or runes, or the many other ways we have for refusing to face reality, and those nasty, sharp teeth!
"Traditional" Romeo and Juliet

Once ballet companies get south of the equator, something seems to happen. Travelling Russian troupes never do this when they visit California:
During Monday night's performance of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet by the Russian National Ballet Theatre, in Hobart, lead dancers Maxim Romanov and Ekaterina Shalyapina disrobed.

Artistic director Vladimir Moiseyev said the performance was "traditional", apart from a couple of scenes, and a natural part of the classic famous love story.

"We bring our traditional version, old costumes, old style, very traditional, with backdrops from a famous painter," he said.

He added he would prefer to let the dancers' performances express their feelings rather than elaborate on the nudity.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Toronto Accident

Lots of suspects for the cause in this accident, with weather leading the pack:
"One minute before we crashed completely there was no more light in the plane and then we could feel we were off road," Olivier Dubos, who was returning to Toronto from a vacation in France, told CTV. "Then it was really, really scary; very, very scary."
Troubled Sleep

My dream last night: I was costarring with Brooke Shields in a slapstick sitcom. Our sponsor was Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee, and the show featured prominent product placement. Jimmy Durante was our guest star. And we were all housed in the 'Animal House' frat house.

I think there is a vague DMTC connection to all this, but beats me what all the links mean.
Break Like The Wind

Assuredly this argument will get worse with time. San Joaquin Valley air quality is pretty atrocious, and not improving much, if at all, especially when compared to coastal California:
California's San Joaquin Valley for some time has had the dirtiest air in the country. Monday, officials said gases from ruminating dairy cows, not exhaust from cars, are the region's biggest single source of a chief smog-forming pollutant.

Every year, the average dairy cow produces 19.3 pounds of gases, called volatile organic compounds, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District said. Those gases react with other pollutants to form ground-level ozone, or smog.

With 2.5 million dairy cows — roughly one of every five in the country — emissions of almost 20 pounds per cow mean that cattle in the San Joaquin Valley produce more organic compounds than are generated by either cars or trucks or pesticides, the air district said. The finding will serve as the basis for strict air-quality regulations on the region's booming dairy industry.

The San Joaquin Valley, Houston and Los Angeles have the three worst air-pollution problems in America. Their relative rank varies from year to year depending in part on weather conditions.

... The dairy industry will be forced to invest millions of dollars in expensive pollution-control technology in feedlots and waste lagoons, and may even have to consider altering animals' diets to meet the region's planned air-quality regulations.

... Five members of Congress and 12 state legislators had demanded that the district reconsider a similar draft estimate, calling it absurdly high. Environmentalists and some community groups, meanwhile, called the same figure too low.

The entire exercise of estimating cow emissions has been lampooned on talk radio as "fart science" run amok —although most gas actually comes from the front end of the cow.

... "This is not some arcane dispute about cow gases," said Brent Newell, an attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. "We are talking about a public health crisis. It's not funny to joke about cow burps and farts when one in six children in Fresno schools is carrying an inhaler."

The dairy industry is growing fast in the San Joaquin Valley as farms driven out of the Chino area in Southern California by urbanization move into the Central Valley. Government officials estimate that over the next several years, the number of cows in the San Joaquin air basin will increase from 2.5 million to about 2.9 million.

... "We need immediate regulation now. We know the pollutants are coming off these dairies," said Tom Frantz, a native of Shafter, Calif., who heads a group called the Assn. of Irritated Residents. He says that he developed asthma in the last five years as factory dairy farms moved into the region. "Ag hasn't been regulated in the past, but times are changing. Our lungs will not become an agricultural subsidy."
More Weekly World Fun

Fortunately, Step One is a Pilates kind of health club, so we don't see these conflicts:
CHICAGO, Ill. - A gang-related street brawl erupted in the heart of the business district last week. But it was not conventional gangs. Rival exercise groups clashed in Daly Plaza during their lunch breaks.

"They've been cutting through our territory on the way to their lame pilates, disrespecting our Tai Chi class," office worker Vanessa Paige told Weekly World News. "We like the open space in the plaza to do our movements.

"Pilates spokeswoman Gloria Fryer said, "How much room does someone really need to wave their arms around? Tai Chi isn't even real exercise. It's like really slow charades. 'This is a bird,' 'This is a grasshopper.' Pilates rocks. Feel my abs."
Other notable headlines:
The Legend of Brigadoom: Colonial Town Reappears Every Hundred Years in the Wilds of New England

Scientists Invent the Ultimate Cuss Word

Lightning Rods You Can Wear

OK, this is more like it! From the August 1st Weekly World News:
Last week, what the Chinese government is secretly describing as "a super-monster tornado the size of a mountain" ripped through the Hunan Province in China.

... "Suddenly, a violent thunderstorm then erupted over the Wuling Mountains. Lightning crashed against the peaks. And then I saw it -- a gigantic swirling vortex, a monster tornado the size of a mountain! The funnel was 10 kilometers wide and it was heading right at me!"

... It was finally stopped when it reached the Convergence of Four Rivers at Lake Dongting, the largest body of water in the province. "It sucked up kilo-liters of lakewater," said Thompson. "Overwhelmed by the weight of the liquid, the tornado collapsed and then dissipated as fast as it had been created."

But the damage had already been done. More than 10,000 people died in 20 minutes. The Chinese government declared a state of emergency and sent a global SOS for relief. The International Red Cross and UN were soon on the scene, though all of the agencies agreed to keep news of the storm quiet.

"The reason is simple," Dr. Thompson said. "Due to global warming, the El Nino effect -- the heating of the world's oceans -- will grow more powerful. As it does, warm air from the seas and frigid air from the poles will produce more and more of these super-twisters. Computer models suggest that similar unstable weather patterns will strike parts of Spain, Mexico -- and the American Midwest, sometime this August.

"I suggest we begin preparing for the unthinkable now," Dr. Thompson concluded. "Underground shelters need to be dug deeper and heavily reinforced, and a satellite-triggered early warning system needs to be put into place.

"Most of all," he added, "we have to cut back on the burning of fossil fuels and stop global warming. Otherwise, our society may well be gone with the wind!"
Tucson "Tornado"

Well, it certainly looks like a tornado to me!

Photo by JIM BABER/for the Tucson Citizen. (Caption by Tucson Citizen) Some residents thought this column of air, seen near Interstate 10 and Wilmot Road at about 4:20 p.m. yesterday, looked like a tornado. Weather officials say it was a dust devil.

Hey, some dust-devils can convert into tornadoes if they get captured by a thunderstorm. If it looks like a tornado, to me, it's a tornado! Yet the Weather Service apparently disagrees - we'll have to break out the meteorological dictionary to get our definitions in order:
The funnel-shaped column of air rising on the Southeast Side was a dust devil, (National Weather Service meteorologist Gary) Zell said.

Zell said the dust devil got caught up in a passing thunderstorm, which is why it looked larger than a usual dust devil, extending from the ground to the clouds
July has been hot, and not as wet as normal (the monsoon got off to a late start):
However, last month's total rainfall at Tucson International Airport was 0.72 of an inch, 1.35 inches below normal.

The average high in July was 104.2, said meteorologist Gary Zell of the National Weather Service. That's 4.6 degrees higher than normal.

... The warm month started in the middle of a tie-breaking streak of 39 days exceeding 100 degrees, which ended July 22. Tucson has not been higher than 100 degrees since.
Cabaret Read-Through

I guess I'll bus tables and fuss with anchors and stuff.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Dog Video

Coming back from the nightly walk last night, Sparky suddenly dove into the hedge. I heard snuffling and way too many feet, and knew what was up. The baby possum clambered on top of the chain link fence and hissed at his nemesis. I picked up Sparky and held him to the fence top so he could get a closer look - a real close look - at this strange creature (it's the dog days of summer, after all).

Sunday, July 31, 2005

What Kylie Means To Me - Reflections on the Book "Kylie: La, La, La", by William Baker and Kylie Minogue

I've been reading an autobiography of Kylie Minogue (Kylie: La, La, La; Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2002), ghostwritten by her stylist (and now creative director) William Baker, with extensive commentary by Kylie herself (available at Kylieshop). The book has lots of photographs and is helpful in satisfying curiosity regarding details that only an insider can provide about her career, particularly after 1994 (when William Baker first met Kylie), and especially in regard to costumes. Nevertheless, Baker reveals little about certain aspects of her career, particularly in regards to those things he wasn't personally involved with, such as how her family life affected her ambition. His discussion of her larger place in pop culture is welcome, but a bit sketchy.

Baker summarizes the important role pop artists provide in culture:

Pop stars should entertain, inspire, educate, and provide escape. Their influence as role models is a vital function of their work.
In the book's preface, Baker cites pop guru Andy Warhol regarding the definition of pop culture, and discusses his own pop culture heroes and references:

It was Andy Warhol who defined popular culture as the result of the elements of branding that pervade modern culture, logos and symbols that are everywhere and familiar, with celebrities representing the ultimate commodity; and escapist culture built like a house of cards on its own fickle foundations.

... Pop icons and the images they produce had always captivated me. I grew up with Madonna and Boy George, two champions of the philosophy of self-reinvention, their own chameleon instincts inherited from the pop generation that worshipped at the platform shoes of David Bowie. Their image changes are not just superficial, they are deep-set revolutions of identity, achieved through the manipulation of clothing and make-up. Kylie is such an artist, a manipulator of image and audience.
I live in the U.S., well outside the established arc of Kylie's Australian and European audience, but within her newer, larger community of fans. I've never lived in or visited Melbourne or London, or seen the soap opera 'Neighbours,' or spent that much time in the club scene, and there is an entire universe of experience someone such as myself can never fully appreciate. Baker's book is helpful, but it has a lot of very-specific UK pop culture references, and it focuses much attention on costumes I haven't yet seen, or can't recall. Perhaps that's just the nature of learning a little bit about a fascinating person: there is always the hunger for more. From my great remove, of location (Sacramento, CA, USA), age (48), and experience (participant in local, amateur musical theater, but no professional experience), I nevertheless feel moved to comment on Baker's book.

When was the first time I heard of Kylie Minogue? I have hazy recollections of 'The Locomotion,' Kylie's 1980's cover of Little Eva's hit. I also remember seeing a picture of Madonna wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with Kylie's name, which apparently caused a stir in the early 90's. But it wasn't until U.S. radio stations put 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' on their playlists in early 2002 that I even heard the name being bandied about. Sadly, the U.S. is a backwater in regard to certain musical trends, particularly those concerning European dance hits.

In March, 2002, I traveled to Mesa, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, for a family reunion. In my motel room, I had the TV turned on either MTV or VH1. They don't play many music videos these days on either cable channel, but I was in luck, as they started playing Kylie's video of 'Can't Get You Out of My Head.'

Who WAS this person, this Kylie Minogue? Despite following the dance scene over the years, a legacy of my days as a disco fan, I couldn't recall her. The video was certainly captivating, though, and allowed me to connect face and name with the tune. The fantasy cityscapes reminded me of the alien cities that refugees from Planet Earth discovered in Philip Wylie's book from the 1930's, 'After Worlds Collide': exotic, strange, and very, very appealing.

Shortly afterwards, I saw the "Fever" CD on sale at Tower Records. Recollecting my favorable impression of the video, and having caught a few more bits on the video on MTV, I decided to pick up the CD and found her music to be reasonably good. Then, the following week, I saw her "Live in Sydney" DVD. It was costly ($30), but I had already noticed that Kylie's video was, if anything, more entrancing than the music. The DVD's cover promised dancing, however, so I went ahead with the purchase, and was instantly carried away with the magic of her performance, as well as the performances of her Italian backup dancers. It was a revelation! I quickly became a fan, but because of my late start, there are still many things about her that seem perplexing, or strange.

What needs does Kylie fulfill in someone like me? Dance music gained prominence in the 70's partly as a reaction to the narcissistic excesses of rock-and-roll. The musical star's ego was downgraded, and the personal theater of the dance floor was correspondingly raised. Nevertheless, there was, and continues to be, a serious vacuum at the top in dance culture. We all hunger for someone to lead us through the loud and garish wilderness. The cult of the DJ expanded to fill the gap, but the DJ just relays and assembles the musical product - the DJ creates the evening, but doesn't create the product. Hunger for the star remained. Something like a 1950's MGM Studios musical theater powerhouse treatment was required: a complete product of music, song, and dance, but aimed primarily at the dance audience. By the happy coincidence of training, opportunity, and ambition, Kylie divined the need and she moved to fill it. The star had returned!

In attempting to integrate the disparate aspects of dance pop culture under one banner, it was required that the audience leave their cares behind and move into an alternate universe: one had to come into Kylie's world ('Come Into My World' - "Fever", 2002):

Come, come, come into my world
Won't you lift me up, up, high upon your love

Take these arms that were made for lovin'
And this heart that will beat for two
Take these eyes that were meant for watching over you
And I've been such a long time waiting
For someone I can call my own
I've been chasing the life I'm dreaming
Now I'm home

I need your love
Like night needs morning

So won't you...Come, come, come into my world
Won't you lift me up, up, high upon your love
Oh baby come, come into my world
Won't you lift me up, up, high upon your love

Take these lips that were made for kissing
And this heart that will see you through
And these hands that were made to touch and feel you

So free your love
Hear me I'm calling
Better than any pop star before, Kylie fused the worlds of current high fashion and dance pop culture, in a highly-stylized form. The final product, witnessed best in the 'Chocolate' video from her album "Body Language", really inspires!

Kylie's work is well grounded in the world of musical theater and movies. Unlike other pop stars (e.g., Britney Spears), Kylie could, and frequently did, use historical references to ground her efforts. I find it refreshing when she refers to "Singing In The Rain," or "The Sound of Music." To Kylie, the past is alive, and highly-relevant.

Most importantly, Kylie is moving to ameliorate the various, bruising discontinuous breaks in the history of pop culture - jazz vs. rock and roll, dance vs. rock, movies vs. television. These breaks thrashed or destroyed the careers of musicians in the past - survivors like Tony Bennett, for example. To Kylie, all the past forms of pop music are important, and can inform and inspire the present. If she lived long enough, Kylie might try to unite the entire world of pop music, using her songs as examples.

The disco culture of my own youth (and her childhood) is but one inspiring form of pop culture that she uses ('Step Back In Time', "Greatest Hits", 1992):

Non stop dancing the bus stop
To the funky music
Hustle, pumpin the muscle
Blame it on the boogie

Remember the old days
Remember the O'Jays
Walkin' in rhythm, life was for livin'

When you can't find the music
To get down and boogie
All you can do is step back in time
Ball of confusion
When nothing is new, and
There's nothing doin', step back in time

Keep on truckin' along
Riding on a love train
And then we can float on
You'll never go wrong

Step back in time
Step back
I wanna step back, step back
How was it that Kylie moved into pop music, after her early start in the Australian 'Neighbours' soap opera television series (which was also a hit in the UK)? Baker discusses pop music in the 80's, and how young Kylie found her Stock, Aitken, and Waterman (SAW) niche:

Whilst the infant Kylie was snagging her nails on her violin strings, a musical genre that had been defined as 'Boystown', after one of its early ambassadors, had become the dominant sound in gay clubs all over England. Ian Levine, record producer and resident DJ at Heaven, London's biggest gay club, had rechristened the new trashy disco sound 'Hi-NRG'. It was a fusion of white and black vocals, formulaic metronomic beats and synthesized electronica inspired by such dance music luminaries as Georgio Moroder ('I Feel Love'), Patrick Cowley, the producer behind the West Coast gay dance masters Boystown Gang, Bobby O, a producer who went on to perfect the sound of The Pet Shop Boys and Ian Levine himself, who also produced Hi-NRG in the UK under the Record Shop label. The sound gave birth to a new generation of disco divas who could often be found miming or singing along to a backing track on the makeshift stages of underground gay haunts.

Producers Stock, Aitken, and Waterman realized early on the potential of the pink pound and the power of the gay scene in breaking new artists. The transformed and diluted the Hi-NRG sound and mixed it with elements of Italian dance pop, creating a formula that was deemed more appealing to the masses and, soon, the charts. The Hit Factory, as they became known, effectively marketed and created gay music for mass consumption.
There was no certainty that pop artist Kylie would ultimately move into dance music, or incorporate it into her own pop style: she could well have veered into jazz instead. What was the determining factor in her direction?

The Summer of Love in 1988 was the 'official' advent of house music, and eclectic fusion of electronic disco beats and funk, often using breakbeats. The hitherto exclusive doors of clubland blew open and the underground became mainstream and club culture became public property. Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan presented The Hit Man and Her, a late night TV show that attempted to bring clubbing into our living rooms. Suddenly the technology to create a 'loop' of beats was available and affordable, a four-track mixing desk, decks and samplers were being sold down the high street.

The lack of understanding of any laws governing copyright of covering sampled tracks made it easy to produce home-made dance tracks: DIY disco. It also marked the official birth of the E generation, as legions of teenagers all put on their hooded tops and smiley badges and headed for Ibiza. The boundaries between pop and dance blurred, house music beginning its onslaught of the top ten. Pop became synonymous with dance, but all this marked a trend towards anonymity: the faceless diva hollering over a synthetic dance beat. The charts became overrun with dance one-hit wonders, thus auguring the decline of the pop star as we knew it.

Record bosses swiftly recognized the changes and poured copious amounts of money into 'remixes' wherein you could have a purpose-built pop song of any genre crossing into clubland. DJs and the producers became the pioneers of the dance era and were brought in to increase the sales and maximize potential. With her move to deconstruction, Kylie began working with names from the dance world, combining a pop sensibility with the innovations of the dance underground.

Brothers in Rhythm were well aware of the crossover and its appeal and realized that Kylie was the perfect vehicle for their own dance/pop hybrids. Her vocal range and willingness to experiment musically meant that Anderson and Seaman could push the envelope further.
Given the energy of the times, Kylie apparently never really considered NOT moving into the world of dance. She was tailor made for the new sound, and she was going to make her mark!

Since last year, when I started listening to the strange clashing collision of styles known as Goth music, I always thought that Kylie would have made a fine Goth artist. Apparently she did venture onto that terrain, as Baker explains:

Prince of Darkness and Gothic guru Nick Cave metaphorically killed off deconstruction Kylie mark one with a sharp blow to the head with a rock in his October 1995 murder ballad 'Where the Wild Roses Grow.'
Coincidentally, listening to my new "Ultimate Kylie" album just last weekend, I first heard 'Where the Wild Roses Grow.' My initial emotional reaction was that it was the worst pop song I had ever heard, particularly Nick Cave's amateurish singing. But as with all Kylie's work, the best effort is usually focused on the video, and so I have to reserve full judgment until I see the complete work.

Baker discusses some of the framing problems a diminuitive star can experience when discussing the "On a Night Like This" tour:

Some of the dancers got so carried away towards the end of the tour that it was sometimes difficult to hear or so Kylie over their waving and whooping. Each had become a mini celebrity and their personalities quickly became overpowering on a stage that was meant for one star, a band, and backing dancers. Everything seemed to distract from rather than frame the woman around whom the show was built.
Actually, what Baker sees as a problem, was, for me, the special charm of the "Live in Sydney" DVD. Maybe that's my bias: coming from amateur musical theater, I appreciate a lead player who can share the spotlight, letting others flourish in the glow of her sphere of influence. In addition, the competition for the limelight forces the lead player to perform at her best.

As creative director, William Baker was apparently in the position of booking dancers for the various videos associated with the "Fever" tour. His account speaks of a greater responsibility for the final product, and not just with the costumes.

To solve the framing problem, a vast gulf was created between Kylie as queen, and her backing dancers, portrayed as faceless droids (or Kyborgs). Baker emerges as, depending on one's point of view, either a colossal ass, or a hard-working artist driven to perfection (or both - you decide - the two incarnations can co-exist, of course):
The dehumanizing of the dancers and the choreography were driving forces integral to the imagery in Kylie's next two videos.

... Michael Rooney, unfortunately for us, lived in LA, so it was difficult to establish a continuous working relationship. I now had a forthcoming tour to choreograph. I knew what it was I was looking for, but lack of choreographic jargon meant that I found it hard to express in words. We had worked with various choreographers, all remarkable in their own way but failing to give a pop routine the depth and integrity that we desired.

The answer to my prayers came in the form of movement junkie Rafael Bonachela.

...The man/machine hybrid we'd been experimenting with was pushed to its limits when we created the Kyborgs for the performance piece which opened the ceremony. Based on a faceless, lithe robot which had featured in a Doctor Who episode, jeweler Johnny Rocket and I created a whole race of robotic drones. Johnny created a 'helmet' that completely covered the face, based upon my drawings which consisted of elements of Marvel superhero Silver Surfer, Star Trek's Borg character Seven of Nine and a cyclist's helmet. The helmets were metallic silver and under the light they took the form of liquid mercury, distorting the shape of the head. The sculpted silver bodysuits, made again by Stevie Stewart and Sandy Gordon, were skin-tight, creating the perfect silhouette to display and enhance Rafael's choreography.

... Some of the dancers were miffed that I was covering up their faces and denying them their three-minute fix of fame, which slightly annoyed me. If they couldn't take pleasure in movement itself and the visual effect that they were generating, then they were welcome to pack their bags and audition for Steps. Removed from a human backdrop of dancers, Minogue's clone army framed her well, and she stood out as immediately iconic as the only human form.
Baker misunderstands his colleagues. The dancers were miffed at being effaced, and thus degraded, not at losing their place in the spotlight. No 'pleasure in movement itself' can replace one's dignity. The subjection of hard-working performers is not the proper object of musical theater: otherwise, our role models would be the Nuremburg Rallies, and Kim Jong-Il's marvelous but appalling sports stadium extravaganzas.

It is rare in dance when the dancer is masked, but when that is done, the dancer generally wears a variegated costume (e.g., at a costume ball): a good example within the same show comes later, when the alien dancers are masked again, but not as Kyborgs exactly: they wear differentiated, colorful spandex suits. No complaints there! Backing dancers are degraded when they lose all face: not even Busby Berkeley attempted that. And, curiously, despite the better framing Baker was aiming for, the opening ceremony of "Fever" loses punch, because both Kylie and her encasing shell are rather static. One problem (framing) was solved, but two more were created. Not only do the dancers have a proper complaint concerning their direction, but the marvelously large and sophisticated set itself overawes Kylie: she is dwarfed by the lights and machinery.

Unlike most popular musical stars, Kylie seems captivated by the idea of perfection: the perfect look, the best dancers and musicians. Visual aesthetics dominate. There is a word for this, of course: classicism. Kylie seems to be reaching out for a kind of sensual classicism, or classical sensualism, in her performance. There is a sense of perfect, almost yogic, stillness - perhaps that's a legacy of her work with Stephane Sednaoui and Towa Tei in the mid-to-late 90's.

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to the classical impulse in music, but it's a bit strange to see it in pop music. I remember last year, flipping channels on Cable TV, I saw the movie "Xanadu" again, and I was struck at how this musical's style (Gene Kelly's last full-length movie) seemed so akin to Kylie's style. She would have been about 11 or 12 years old when the movie came out - just the right age to make a tremendous impression. I wonder if she was influenced by "Xanadu"? The plot description is very suggestive:
The Greek muses incarnate themselves on Earth to inspire men to achieve. One of them, incarnated as a girl named Kira, encounters a musician/artist named Sonny Malone. With the help of Danny McGuire, a man Kira had inspired forty years earlier, Sonny builds a huge disco roller rink.
Fellow Australian Olivia Newton-John played Kira, of course, but maybe she was a false prophet. Kylie's (aka Kira's) disco roller rink now encircles the entire Earth, and Gene Kelly himself would no doubt be pleased!

As noted before, one reflection of the classical urge in both 'Body Language' and 'Fever' is the anomie of the dancing corps. On the 'On a Night Like This' DVD, a few men in the dancing corps had remarkable impish personalities that they were able to express on stage. The more-effacing women, however, had sensed Kylie's true direction. On 2002's 'Fever' DVD, the dancing corps had nearly been stripped of personality foibles. The effort relaxed somewhat with 2003's 'Body Language', but it's definitely still there. Not that the dancers are metronomes, exactly, but the demands of perfection necessarily squelch individual expression. For the dancing corps (their many successes notwithstanding) I yearn for the imps of 'Light Years', and a greater equality with 'Venus de Melbourne'. So unusual, and so refreshing!

On the older CD's, sometimes you heard a different Kylie, a more rebellious, troubled, even lazy Kylie. That Kylie is gone now: years of discipline have exiled that bad girl, but she may still be in need of her own version of a Romantic revolt. Her recent bout with breast cancer may set the stage for a different kind of comeback.

Kylie could now be a better 'Satine' than Nicole Kidman was in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" (and not just have a cameo role as The Green Fairy). Maybe there will be a new synthesis, after the postponed "Showgirl" tour eventually finishes (and I can hardly wait, with my Australian plane tickets already reserved, to see that 'Greatest Hits' exhibition). Triumph in tragedy!

William Baker and Kylie Minogue are to be commended for an interesting work: it would be too much fun to be in their place! Let's hear it for Kylie, and the team that have made her the best pop star to have ever lived!