Friday, December 29, 2006

Political Fashion

Dark, but funny dig from Talking Points:

In unexpected dig against Jeff Greenfield, entire Bush war cabinet adopts Ahmadinejad look.
LA Times Top-Ten Most Viewed Stories For 2006

We like schlock!
Annoyed Christian Goes Postal

Or at least starts issuing challenges to atheists:
By celebrating Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion, you show how out of touch you are with the overwhelming majority of the world's population.

... So much for tolerance and open-mindedness. In Dawkins' view, and presumably Singer's, religion is the source of all evil, while atheism is the path of enlightenment, brotherhood and liberation.

... And never mind that even non-religious academics, such as Prof Rodney Stark, have claimed with massive amounts of documentation that Christianity created Western civilisation.

Prof Stark points out that most of the benefits of the West, such as freedom, democracy and prosperity, are largely due to the Christian religion.

Another secular author says that for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger.

Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people.

God may not help amputees sprout new limbs, but churches do galvanise their members to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics that otherwise would not exist.

Religious constituencies have pushed for more action on AIDS, malaria, sex trafficking and genocide in Darfur.

Believers often give large proportions of their incomes to charities that are a lifeline to the neediest.

I am not aware of any hospitals or charitable works set up by atheists.

And never mind that many noted philosophers have pointed out that it was the Christian emphasis on reason that gave rise to modern science.

Singer and Dawkins are way out of their depth, showing their ignorance about the gospel accounts in particular and theology in general. They really should keep silent on subjects they clearly know so little about.

... Singer says we should all worship at the altar of reason.

That is just what the revolutionaries argued in the French Revolution when churches were ransacked and believers were sent to the guillotine.

The truth is, a lot of open minds need to be closed for repairs. The nasty diatribes launched by Dawkins and Singer are examples of secular fundamentalism and intolerance.

Indeed, they seek to make a sharp distinction between faith and reason, between religion and science. They claim that science gives us truth, but faith is simply myth.

But more sober minds on both sides of the debate recognise these to be false polarisations. Faith, at least in the Christian religion, is informed by reason. It may at times go beyond reason, but it does not run counter to it.

And the scientific enterprise is also characterised by faith commitment.

There are all kinds of unproven assumptions and presuppositions which may or may not be testable.

The myth of complete scientific neutrality and objectivity has been countered by many important thinkers.

Singer is free to engage in her simplistic thinking and crude materialism, in which only matter matters.

But for billions, non-material things such as truth, beauty, justice, love and even God are very meaningful realities, which the narrow world of atheism will never fully enjoy nor understand.
Toad War

I should have killed that toad at Mt. Glorious when I had a chance, but I had grown leery of killing things:
Environmentalists have asked Australia's military to wage war on cane toads, which have spread across the country's north in near-plague proportions.

The toads, introduced in a batch of 101 from Hawaii in 1935 in a failed bid to control native cane beetles, have spread 3,000 km (1,900 miles) from northeast Queensland to Darwin in Australia's tropical north. There are now more than 200 million.

"We need as many people on the ground as we can possibly get, and if the military can work out strategies for controlling toads on their ground, well that's fine with us," Frog Watch spokesman Ian Morris told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday.

Cane toads are one of Australia's worst environmental mistakes, ranking alongside the catastrophic introduction of rabbits.

The spread of the toads, whose skin is poisonous, has led to dramatic declines in populations of native snakes, goanna lizards and quolls. A quoll is a cat-sized marsupial.

Killing the hardy toads with anything from golf clubs to air rifles has become a northern Australian pastime, and their carcasses are turned into comic tourist ornaments and fertilizer.
Scientist Waxes Poetical About The Mars Rovers

Those rovers can inspire!:
Which is why these little rovers mean so much to me. They're MY eyes on Mars, my representatives there. I talked in that last poem about Spirit about "walking alongside" the rover, and that's really how I feel. Like many "Mars enthusiasts", I check rover-related websites (Exploratorium, UMSF etc) several times a day, looking for new pics, following the latest leg of the journey. Every time the rovers move and bring a new horizon into view I feel a genuine thrill of discovery, of exploration. That run-up to the edge of VC was UNBEARABLE! Every day so close, so close... then we were there, "Oppy" and I, on the edge, looking into and across it... well, Steve Squyres' long, tight-throated pause in his interview with Doug Ellison on the Unmanned Spaceflight forum (Google it, you won't regret it) described my own feelings superbly. It was like the very first time I saw Yosemite Valley, after emerging from that long tunnel into the sunlight to see The View, where giant hands had reached down from the heavens and wrenched the Earth apart. Look. At. That.
That Depends On What The Meaning Of The Word "Success" Is

Regarding the effort to capture Osama bin Laden. Brings back memories of what the meaning of the word "is" is:
HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.
Las Vegas School Board Meetings

Looks like I've been missing out! Maybe better than a Las Vegas show!:
NEAR THE END OF THE MOST RECENT school board meeting, Clark County Board of School Trustees President Ruth Johnson was wailing and begging for mercy.

"I'm not going to allow myself to be attacked! Please don't attack me personally anymore!" she wept.

Trustee Shirley Barber pounded angrily on a table with an I-will-bury-you force.

"I'm going to file an ethics complaint with the Attorney General! You do not control me! You do not control this board!" Barber bellowed back, pinning Johnson against the rhetorical ropes with blow after blow.

"We're violating laws here!" Barber continued. "We have not been honest in evaluating ourselves and our superintendent! This is not acceptable!"

Johnson shrank, punch-drunk, and babbled tearfully about false accusations and her family's honor. Yet that didn't stop Barber from pummeling her. There was no referee. Johnson screamed at the audio man to shut down the microphones. Barber howled at him to leave them on.

The few stragglers in the audience (it was late) were riveted to their seats, wide-eyed, mouths agape.

...But Barber is black. As is a large contingent of the area she represents. For years Barber has watched schools in her district struggle without basic necessities while schools in more affluent areas have flourished.

...This gruesome threesome that Barber consistently condemns as impediments to progress in the school district are Johnson and trustees Sheila Moulton and Mary Beth Scow. An unspoken implication of their cat-fighting is that the rumble is, sadly, really about race and religion.

"The past is not dead," William Faulkner said. "In fact, it's not even past."

... What finally stopped it? I did. In 20 years of teaching I've stopped hundreds of such fights. That's part of what I do. I'm a trained professional. I started applauding loudly while the women were going at it.

... "Thank you! That was excellent! I love performance art! You should be proud of yourselves! I'm sure 18,000 teachers in the district would appreciate the incompetence you have demonstrated here tonight as they slave for poverty-level wages in the trenches of our overcrowded classrooms! Bravo! Beautiful! Thank you!"
Adam Departs For The East Coast

I'm interpreting the sudden calm in the Sacramento noosphere to mean that Adam Taylor has departed for his family's home in North Carolina. This is for the good, since Sacramento can be quite harsh for dreamers, especially in the winter, and it's always better to be near family.

I will miss Adam a lot, although he often caused no small amount of chaos this year, starting at the end of January when he began working on various projects around my house. He meant well, but he just didn't have the resources necessary to make a satisfactory go at life out on the West Coast.

Dreamers frequently misread California. The entire chaotic history of the Gold Rush is one example. My own family's abortive move to San Diego in 1971, when I was a teenager, was a particularly-vivid, personal, second example. Adam's adventure is third.

Down, maybe, but not out. Adam intends to make another shot at California in two years or so. Maybe then he and E. will spar again. They both kept each other on their toes. Not always a bad thing....

Saki has a story called "The Unrest Cure". It should be dedicated to Adam....
A Dream About Time Management

Under various pressures ("Mame" letting out quite late; the normal, but early, Friday 8 a.m. staff meeting) I fell asleep last night at 1:30 a.m. (early for me), awoke at 5:30 a.m., but fell asleep again.

I dreamt I needed to take a train to the East Coast. Waiting with me at the train station were a number of local musical theater stalwarts (e.g., Michael Miiller, Scott Griffith).

I realized I was mildly hungry, so I left the station and walked six or eight miles to a country-style restaurant, where, after much shopping, I decided to purchase four convenience-store-size packets of Fig Newton bars. Then I walked two miles over to Steve and Jan's house, where there was much animated conversation. I unpacked and removed my shoes to get comfortable, and discovered a variety of unsuspected debris in the shoes, including sawdust, chunks of wood, and waffle fragments.

Realizing it was getting late, I repacked, but had trouble finding everything, including the Australian money. So I hurriedly tried to leave, but just then, a church group arrived. As I tried to slip out the door and down the sidewalk, a reed player in the DMTC orchestra waylaid me. She explained that a garish light-blue-and-purple oval painted on the side of Steve and Jan's house had the wrong combination of colors and glues, suitable only for releasing hazardous fumes. I politely listened, but in the distance, I could hear the train approaching....

I awoke at 7:36 a.m., and hurriedly scrambled for work, leaving by 7:55 a.m. for the two-mile drive. And when I arrived, I discovered the staff meeting had been cancelled (the E-Mail was sent out somewhat late last night).

I think I need a secretary....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Getting "Mame" Ready

Boy, I think we're all beginning to get a little ragged from putting together a show (DMTC's "Mame" previews New Year's Eve) at the same time we are Christmas shopping and attending to a myriad of year-end details! Rehearsals start earlier than ever, and end just as late as they ever did! If I get there by 6 p.m., I'm late! If I leave before 11 p.m., I'm early! Dang!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Strange Pairings

For those who don't like funerals of soulless Republican Presidents, there is always the consolation of funerals for soulful musicians: Ray Charles died about the same time as Ronald Reagan and James Brown died about the same time as Gerald Ford.
A Second Opinion About Australian Drought

A useful second opinion about Australia's drought.

The weather forecasts for the next week actually look pretty favorable, with lots of rain hitting drought-stricken SE Australia. Various cut-off lows from the jet stream are helping out, which seems counter to my understanding that tropical rains are supposed to be making the biggest dent right now. But from wherever it comes from, it's welcome. Hopefully they'll get enough rain to keep all the forests from burning down and all the rivers from drying up.:
THE drought gripping southeast Australia is due to natural variations in climate rather than the greenhouse effect.

... "It is very, very highly likely that what we are seeing at the moment is natural climatic variability," researcher Barrie Hunt told The Australian, saying the CSIRO's model of 10,000 years of natural climate variability put the current drought into perspective.

... Mr Hunt's research focused on three 500 sq km sites in Australia: one on the Queensland-NSW border, going down to the coast; southeast Australia, which included Melbourne, Sydney and much of the Murray River basin; and southwest Western Australia, including the Perth region.

He looked at the frequency of dry sequences lasting eight years or longer.

"In each of those places there are about 30 occasions over 10,000 years where you get one of these eight or more years sequences," he said.

"The longest sequence was 14 years in Queensland-NSW, 11 in the southeast and 10 in the southwest."

Mr Hunt said the Queensland-NSW area had had an 800-year period without an eight-year dry, "but there is another period of 462 years where you get five of these".

Mr Hunt said the onset, duration and termination of the long dries could not be predicted because they were due to random processes. He said the current drought was an example of a dry sequence that began with an El Nino weather system.

"It starts a drought and you get sea-surface temperatures flickering backwards and forwards a bit. The rainfall may go back to fairly near normal but it is still below average, and then you get another El Nino," he said.

"This can go on for a decade. Eventually it breaks. You don't know why, it is a random thing. This is just part of the beauty of the climatic system."

Most of Victoria is in a 10-year dry sequence, the Murray River is in its sixth year of drought, while Brisbane and much of NSW are also experiencing a six-year dry.

"It is important that people realise that natural variability says it will break. It may not break next year, because one of these things went on for 14 years, but it will break," Mr Hunt said.

... Mr Hunt said the dry sequence in the southwest was different, with a decline over 30 years, which included the odd year of above-average rainfall.

"It isn't violating what I am saying, but it is a very unusual sequence of events there," he said.
Gerald Ford, Do Not RIP

So, kind, genial Gerald Ford is dead. Kind, genial, and a fool - the one who let Richard Nixon escape in 1974 without paying for his Watergate crimes with hard prison time. Ford was desperate to rid himself of the Watergate monkey, but we all paid a price for his desperation. If Nixon had been tried and served time, Dick Cheney's ambitious program to resurrect the (supposedly) lost powers of the presidency would have been handicapped, and George Bush would have been much less able to embark on his current series of madcap criminal escapades, from Guatanamo to the Iraq War to spying on everyone. It was time then, and it is time now, for the Chief Executive to pay some kind of real penalty for using the Constitution as firewood kindling.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Disappearing Act

I'm skeptical about blaming the disappearance of a tropical island entirely on global warming. River delta islands are constantly being reworked by tides and river sedimentation, so some other cause may have had more to do with the island's disappearance than global warming.
Recovering Archimedes

From the pages of a palimpsest, or recycled book, using new technologies.
Self-Diagnosis

Really interesting article regarding Michael DeBakey's aneurysm. At age 98, DeBakey is, by far, the world's most-experienced heart surgeon, the fellow who has transplanted more hearts than anyone, so he was uniquely-qualified to advise his own treatment:
“It never occurred to me to call 911 or my physician,” Dr. DeBakey said, adding: “As foolish as it may appear, you are, in a sense, a prisoner of the pain, which was intolerable. You’re thinking, What could I do to relieve myself of it. If it becomes intense enough, you’re perfectly willing to accept cardiac arrest as a possible way of getting rid of the pain.”

But when his heart kept beating, Dr. DeBakey suspected that he was not having a heart attack. As he sat alone, he decided that a ballooning had probably weakened the aorta, the main artery leading from the heart, and that the inner lining of the artery had torn, known as a dissecting aortic aneurysm.

No one in the world was more qualified to make that diagnosis than Dr. DeBakey because, as a younger man, he devised the operation to repair such torn aortas, a condition virtually always fatal. The operation has been performed at least 10,000 times around the world and is among the most demanding for surgeons and patients.

...He refused to be admitted to a hospital until late January. As his health deteriorated and he became unresponsive in the hospital in early February, his surgical partner of 40 years, Dr. George P. Noon, decided an operation was the only way to save his life. But the hospital’s anesthesiologists refused to put Dr. DeBakey to sleep because such an operation had never been performed on someone his age and in his condition. Also, they said Dr. DeBakey had signed a directive that forbade surgery.

As the hospital’s ethics committee debated in a late-night emergency meeting on the 12th floor of Methodist Hospital, Dr. DeBakey’s wife, Katrin, barged in to demand that the operation begin immediately.

In the end, the ethics committee approved the operation; an anesthesiology colleague of Dr. DeBakey’s, who now works at a different hospital, agreed to put him to sleep; and the seven-hour operation began shortly before midnight on Feb. 9. “It is a miracle,” Dr. DeBakey said as he sat eating dinner in a Houston restaurant recently. “I really should not be here.”
Watching The Christmas Shoppers

Fun weekend doing amateur anthropology - watching the Christmas shoppers at the mall!

Saw one woman at Macy's downtown plowing through a Bin O' Purses. She had ten purses arrayed on her left arm as she furiously dug with her right hand, but the more she dug the more agitated she got. Don't know why - presumably that 'special' purse had stolen away in the night, taken by Santa for some other well-deserving lady.

In contrast, the mood at the Galleria in Roseville was calm - as relaxed a group of Christmas shoppers as I have ever seen. Everyone well-dressed and well-mannered, with the ladies arrayed in pastel sweaters. I saw one kid denied his immediate wants by his father, and the kid started blubbering, but since he was behind the glass of a storefront, he looked more like a museum exhibit than a real kid.

One thing that struck me was that the shoppers weren't carrying that many shopping bags. There were several possible reasons, including:
  • the majority of their shopping was already done, so they were there on Christmas Eve mostly to socialize with friends;
  • they were buying smaller objects that were easier to conceal; but also maybe,
  • despite all appearances, they didn't have that much money, and were socializing out of necessity than out of desire.

The last possibility might make sense if people are overextended on credit - the consumer economy of the last decade finally sailing into the coral reefs of debt. But you'd never guess on appearances alone!

There were other vignettes too:

  • saw an eight-year-old girl skating by with shoes that were unfamiliar to me - a cross between roller blades and tennis shoes, with wheels on the heels only;
  • saw a teenage girl with a hot pink cast on her right hand - ah, I bet there's a story there!;
  • saw a man walking into Macy's with several leaf rakes - seemed pretty random;
  • saw a woman with a SARS-type mask in the Food Court - wonder why?;
  • saw a woman in Macy's with her three-year-old son. The boy ran ahead, reached out and touched the leg of a female mannikin, and the mother said, with an eerie high-pitched voice and a plastic grimace that would have made film director David Lynch proud: "So, you like to touch the girls!"
Apocalypto II

Went to Thunder Valley Saturday night. Did very well for a time, up as far as $1,800, then slowly declined to $1,100 ahead, then lost money so abruptly it took my breath away. Total loss: $685.
"Apocalypto"

Mel Gibson does Central American adventure! It was especially interesting to see how how Gibson rendered the bloody ceremonial rituals (something rarely attempted by Hollywood, partly because the censorious Spanish Conquistadors, appalled by the bloodshed, did such a thorough job of erasing the historical record). All that turquoise, too (much of which, by the way, would have had to have been mined in Cerrillos, New Mexico, and traded south)! The movie works very well as thrilling adventure, with a message of defiance against all odds:
I am Jaguar Paw! This is my forest! My sons and their sons will hunt here after I am gone!
Nevertheless, there were plenty of cringe-inducing moments, like the whole locker-room, boys-will-be-boys opening, or the conflation of Mayans with Aztecs. Plus the fortuitous, unanticipated total eclipse of the sun (Central Americans knew their calendar, so the priests at the very least would have known long in advance of an eclipse).

But still, a fine, bloody, exciting adventure movie!
A Rorschach Test - Celine Dion Covers AC/DC

I suppose people's reactions depend partly on age and partly on whether one likes one's rock-and-roll "authentic." For myself, I like it. Celine Dion covers AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long"

Friday, December 22, 2006

On The Success Of "Hannah Montana"

Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal:
As a result, some of the biggest sellers of the year -- from Disney's "High School Musical" and "Cheetah Girls" soundtracks to the "Kidz Bop" series -- are those aimed at the grade-school set.

By contrast, longstanding industry staples like rock and even hip-hop have far less commercial potential. "When we sell 150,000 albums from a new rock group, we think we've set them up pretty well," says Bob Cavallo, chairman of Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Music Group. The "Hannah" soundtrack, meanwhile, sold nearly 274,000 copies last week alone.
Kylie Questions

Friend Walt sent a Christmas card with two questions regarding the Australian Kylie concerts:
  • Was I the oldest person there?
No, actually there were all ages present. The oldest people I spotted were about 60 years old. Many people treated the concerts as an occasion for an all-ages girl's night out. I saw lots of groups where one or two middle-aged women shepherded five or six teenage girls - mothers, their daughters, and their daughter's friends. Normally, one wouldn't expect such an age range at a rock concert, but Kylie's early start (she started appearing on Australian television by age 11 - 1979!) gave her an early, loyal cohort of fans - critical to success! It makes you appreciate the potential of youth-oriented media outlets, like the Disney Channel of today, in creating the stars of tomorrow!

(Interesting Wikipedia article - I didn't realize that INX's reference to 'Suicide Blonde' is a direct reference to Kylie.)

Even though I wasn't the oldest person there, as an American, I was clearly outside the normal demographic. I got two reactions from people in my immediate vicinity. At the first concert I attended, I talked to two girls, about 16. They were VERY impressed that I had made the trip to see their idol and I sensed nothing but the greatest warmth from them. At the second concert, I talked to two college students, about 20, and they also were surprised, but they were also curious about what I was doing there, in order to properly categorize my 3-sigma scatter point in the demographic distribution. They asked if I was one of these rabid fans who pursue their favorite pop star around the world, and I disappointed them by saying no, it was just that Kylie doesn't perform in the U.S., so, as a fan, I had little choice but to travel overseas.

After the concert, on the train, I talked to a couple, also about age 20, and I told them I suspected Kylie doesn't perform in the U.S. simply because of economics - her fans are too scattered to make renting an arena profitable. The girl found this explanation wholly unsatisfactory: surely she could pack an arena in San Francisco! Maybe - who knows? - but Kylie's entire career arc has relied on avoiding the U.S. as much as practicable. I'm not sure why, although I have a theory....

But first, question two:
  • Did Kylie's illness affect her performance?
I think that was the question lurking at the back of everyone's mind. Kylie's career as a Queen of Pop has meant celebrating some of the most evanescent elements in popular culture. Using math-speak, suffering breast cancer is completely orthogonal to that history, to say the least. How could it not affect her performance?

Kylie's team had to make several critical decisions. They didn't want to revamp the "Showgirl" concert tour, since large sums had been spent on costumes, but a year-and-a-half gap was too long to avoid doing so: they HAD to release the European "Showgirl" DVD, for cash-flow purposes, if nothing else. So, they had retool the show for Australia, taking into account Kylie's condition. Fortunately, the show was already a costume-heavy extravaganza, so hiding scars was fairly-easy, but that meant sinking new sums into costumes and rechoreographing the show. What made the whole project feasible was the loyalty of the work force - the dancers, musicians, techies, etc. - and the loyalty of the audience (apparently of the hundreds of thousands of tickets sold, only several hundred refunds were made).

I saw an edited version of the European "Showgirl" show on the flight across the Pacific, and I was trying to mentally compare what I saw (sometimes with binoculars) onstage with that broadcast. I suspect Kylie was a little less active in the Australian show, but not in a way that seriously-compromised the entertainment value of the show. For example, there is one scene in both shows, set (oddly enough) in a 50's-era American baseball team locker room. Kylie and a weightlifter/dancer interacted in the European show (if memory serves), whereas in the Australian show, Kylie sang while seated upon a pommel horse while a gymnast performed behind her - more restful. The Australian DVD will come out shortly, and I suspect more people than would admit to it will carefully compare and contrast the shows to see what has been lost (and maybe what has been gained).

But as far as singing by itself went, I detected no weakness - she is probably singing better than ever!

I suspect Kylie's illness has accelerated several trends that were already evident in her career - a classicist tendency you normally don't see in musical theater. She is relying more and more on fashion as time goes on, particularly her favorite, Italian fashion, in the mode of Dolce and Gabbana. Her videos are becoming increasingly "arty", even abstract. Her longtime collaborator, William Baker, had been rumored to have been exasperated with her for supposedly 'playing it safe', but it may simply be a difference in artistic vision - fortunately Baker reunited with her for this tour (she does better with him there).

(Actually, Baker has written that he tends to see clothes as direct representations of ideas, so the use of clothes to represent abstractions probably makes him uneasy.)

Oh yes, my theory (wholly original)! When you look at the movie "Xanadu" (1980), you see many elements that pre-figure Kylie's career: Gene Kelly's last major movie (the 'dying' tradition of Hollywood/Broadway), together with fashionable disco dancers (massed on rollerskates!), and with the ingenue Australian (Olivia Newton-John) as the reincarnation of Kira (sounds similar to Kylie), an ancient Greek goddess of music and dance (classical tradition). I just bet she went nuts when she saw that movie, as a precocious 12-year-old! She decided she would appropriate the entire tradition - the whole tamale! - and relocate it to its natural home, Melbourne, and she would reign as the Queen of Pop. And it would be FUN!

Interestingly, in Kylie's videos, you rarely see specifically American settings or references except as nostalgia - almost nothing after about 1980.

The vision suffered a little in the execution - she had to relocate to London, and America, particularly in the persona of Madonna, has proved to be not quite as dead as it might have looked from the distance. (She had the grace to cover Madonna's "Vogue" on this tour - the first time she has ever acknowledged the voracious American on stage, and very much very fashion-conscious). Still, considering everything, she has succeeded, as much as could have been done, in what looks like was originally a very ambitious plan. And there are other international female starlets out there too, using Kylie's experience as a guide. Imagine the swarms of ambitious starlets in Bollywood, or in Latin America, trying to make a difference! The American musical theater tradition moves offshore, and changes in unexpected ways!
All That Musty Polyester

Stockholm gearing up to build an ABBA museum.
More on John Derbyshire....

And his health insurance woes:
Christmas is a time to think of the neediest. Although I think that the free market is the best philanthropist, every year at this time I make a tax-deductible $20 charitable donation to some worthy cause against my better judgment. ... But who?

Then I stumbled over this tragic story on The Corner, which brought a tear to my eye. Conservative pundit and humanitarian John Derbyshire received some devastating news this Christmas: "My health insurer has just notified me, in a brief form letter, that my monthly premiums are to rise from $472.33 to $857.00 on January 1st....

My heart went out to Derbyshire....

You might expect liberal bloggers to feel some compassion for what he is going through, but instead they have reacted with shockingly uncharitable glee, gorging themselves on Schadenfreude pie. "Was he somehow unaware that his own principles leave him with no grounds for complaint when something like this happens?" sniffed Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings. "You see, John, there is this thing called the "'market,'" Brad DeLong explained with just a smidgen of condescension. A Washington Monthly reader wrote: "I've heard people say a conservative is just a liberal who's been mugged. Then maybe a liberal is just a conservative who suddenly got this in the mail."

Are liberals really living up to their principles when they seem to care so little about Derbyshire's tribulations? That is why I would like to challenge them to consider making John Derbyshire their charity this Christmas....

Although I haven't seen the movie It's a Wonderful Life in a long time, since I rented an edited version from Wal-Mart, the ending always makes me cry. If I remember correctly, at the end of the film irascible but good-hearted capitalist Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, discovers he is about to go bankrupt. So the people of Pottersville, remembering how he helped them build modest but affordable homes with loans whose interest was only a little above the market rate, rally around him. They scratch together what little money they have left after paying their mortgages to Potter's bank, and give it to the old man who is brought to tears by their generosity. So this Christmas let's think of John Derbyshire as our Mr. Potter. Let's show him that Americans really are a compassionate people.
Health care insurance issues may defy both conservative and liberal cures, because health care is often inefficient and error-ridden. Nevertheless, there is hope, particularly now, with the example that digital rectal probes can cure hiccups as well as diagnose enlarged prostate glands. The assembly-line brought us cheap cars: it can also bring us cheap health. With a regrettable loss of identity and dignity, of course, but what is that compared to saving money?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our Virgin Mother, Flora The Komodo Dragon

Parthenogenesis can be powerful!:
In an evolutionary twist, Flora has become pregnant all on her own - with no male help. The timing is auspicious: the seven baby komodo dragons are due this festive season.

"We were blown away when we realised what she'd done," said Kevin Buley, a reptile expert at Flora's home at the Chester Zoo in northern England. "But we certainly won't be naming any of the hatchlings Jesus.

... Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another komodo dragon this year at the London Zoo, are the first times documented in komodo dragons. The reptiles, renowned for their intelligence, are native to Indonesia. They are the largest lizards and have no natural predators, making them on par with sharks and lions at the top of the animal kingdom.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mt. Hood Rescue Efforts

Rosie O'Donnell, among others, think that the current Mt. Hood rescue effort is too costly. Probably so. Still, like the Sheriff says, there needs to be some capability to launch serious rescue efforts. That's one dangerous mountain!

I remember climbing that mountain in 1974. Nearly got killed. The body recovery would have been cheap, though, because tourists tend to get into trouble at the same point on the climb - just SW of the peak - and most falling bodies would tend to cluster at just a few points. They could just set up some big trampolines there and save the taxpayers a few dollars in helicopter and hospital expenses.

Don't know about these climbers, though: they were better-prepared than most. But it's so windy there this time of year! Brrr!
Land O' The Bizarre

Australian skiiers are looking at the cold front approaching Victoria's Australian Alps, and thinking it might be cold enough for some snow flurries on Christmas Eve. The height of summer no less!
Kylie Minogue Showgirl Homecoming - snippet only

Kylie Showgirl Homecoming version of "Shocked", as posted on YouTube by "suzyleigh."

It's funny, how I got into trouble for my non-functioning digital voice recorder, while these folks get away with much more, but in the end, like the Aussies say, "it's all good, no worries mate!"
Sticker-Shock Siren

John Derbyshire discovers the high cost of Health Insurance.
Snowstorm Hits NM

And the High Plains too.
Dead Deer Still Festering Over At Dick Cheney's Place

(Left: Previously-posted picture originally from Lucianne).


I wonder why there's a dead deer over at the official VP residence (the Naval Observatory)? Maybe one of those bonding rituals, or something.
Emergency Responders ... Hesitate

Small plane apparently vanishes into huge Gilroy sewage tank.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bush, And That ISG Report

Interesting commentary over at Obsidian Wings regarding Bush's dismissal of the results of the Iraq Study Group.

My take?
L'etat c'est moi!

Bush may formally be a President, but he is, in fact, a Monarch. A strange, 21st-Century Monarch who believes in the American Dream. He can be anything he wants to be, including a salmon-colored prime number, if he believes in himself and works hard enough at it. Anyone who says otherwise is probably European. Or amongst the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Things You May Not Mail To Australia

Picky, picky, picky!

  • Coins; bank notes; currency notes (paper money); securities of any kind payable to bearer; traveler's checks; platinum, gold, and silver (manufactured or not); precious stones; jewelry; and other valuable articles are prohibited.
  • Fruit cartons (used or new).
  • Goods bearing the name "Anzac."
  • Goods produced wholly or partly in prisons or by convict labor.
  • Perishable infectious biological substances.
  • Radioactive materials.
  • Registered philatelic articles with fictitious addresses.
  • Seditious literature.
  • Silencers for firearms.
  • Used bedding.
Various Kylie Showgirl Homecoming Segments

You just knew people were filming segments of these concerts, and that they'd be on YouTube soon! Surprisingly large number of snippets, actually, by several people.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Take A Chance"

Along with many others, I've been making periodic visits to Tower Records on Broadway in Sacramento to peruse the merchandise and partake of the sale as they prepare to close Tower Records for the last time. A week ago they closed their video store, and last night they closed their bookstore, and so all that's open now is the music portion of Tower.

Today, you could tell we were getting down to the last dregs of the CDs and DVDs on hand. Almost all the popular singers were gone, and many obscure singers were gone too, leaving just the eccentric leftovers. Even the titles told the story: Wong's "No Better Than This," or Vanessa Randall's "Take A Chance."

Some bands you could tell never took off: The Bangkok Five, for example. Others spoke of a lack of audience acclaim: Emma's "Crickets Sing For Anamaria," or Kimberley Locke's "Coulda Been." Other titles suggested oblivion: Roadtrip's "Road To Nowhere," or Samantha's "Square One," or Drywall's "Barbeque Babylon." One title suggested tedium: an opera based on Prokofiev's "Betrothal in a Monastery."

Some groups saw bright, gleaming possibilities, presumably now dashed: The Spores "Imagine The Future," or Whitestarr's "Luv Machine." Other singers seemed disillusioned: Joel Elizalde's "Ayudame a Creer" (Help Me To Believe). Other groups seemed to have missed their audience altogether: Cow's "Hear This! 3," Boy Hits Car's "The Passage," Unknown's "Volume II," or Asshole Parade's self-titled album. Other groups seemed to glory in the chaos: The Bleeding Alarm's "Beauty in Destruction."

Before walking in Tower, I had decided to degrade my already-low standards to the vanishing point, but even still, I couldn't stomach the thought of taking some of this music home to collect dust, much less pay for it.

Nevertheless, I decided to pick up two albums by Carquinez Straits. I don't know who they are, but they seemed local and ecological and thus a sure sell by my now infinitesimally-low standards. One song on their album "Humiliation Jacket" was called 'The Time We Left H-Bomb in Woodland,' a song title full of joyful possibilities. I hope it's good!

I also picked up some fairly-obscure stuff, like Moloko's Greatest Hits, and "Work This!", a collection of pump-you-up exercise music hopefully suited for aerobics and driving long distances across the Southwest.

Two genres seemed particularly slow to clear the tables: Dance and Goth. Even Dance fanatic me couldn't seem to get excited about what was left behind - obscure Brazilian DJ's mixing trashy French techno - and you could tell that the dramatically anti-commercial attitude of Goth/Metal groups like Necrodeath and Graveworm had finally come to its logical end point of dust, ruin and 70%+ discounts.

In the checkout line, a woman saw "The Cranberries" DVD I was purchasing. "Cranberries! Score!" she said. I said: "It was the last one on the shelf!" She said: "Well, I guess that means I have to beat you up now!"

Hurry up for the sale! Time is short!
"Beauty And The Beast" - Woodland Opera House

Left: Belle (Buffee Gillihan) talks to Leona Craig after the show - Beast (Troy Thomas) is at left. Buffee also gave impromptu curtsey lessons to young girls dying to know her Belle secrets.

Left: Bobby Grainger acknowledges tumultuous applause Friday night.


Excellent final-Friday show at the Woodland Opera House! Excellent costumes as well. (more)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dagnabit! Julia Othmer Concert Cancelled

From DMTC:
We regret to say that the Dec. 16 Julia Othmer benefit concert for DMTC has been cancelled due to lack of interest/pre-sales. She may perform later as part of a another concert, but we couldn't ask her to travel here with just a few tickets sold. If you have assisted DMTC in publicizing this event, thank you very much. If you have purchased tickets, please come to the box office at your earliest convenience for a refund.
Come on people! These are great musicians!

Try, try again!
And What Were Those Final Election Results?

From the hotly-contested District 1 Congressional race in New Mexico this last November?
UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE - DISTRICT 1

PATRICIA A. MADRID Democratic 105,125 49.8%
HEATHER A. WILSON Republican 105,986 50.2%
Sigh.....

"Always Look On the Bright Side of Life!" (whistle...)
Those Who Don't Learn History...

I saw Emma Tom's newspaper column while passing through Australia's Gold Coast - I'm glad it's on the Web!

Australian students are just as ignorant of history as their American counterparts, but then again, our politicians are ignorant too (even as an outsider, I know 'Damien' just won 'Australian Idol'):
ONCE again, Australian school kiddies are in big trouble. According to a new report commissioned by the nation's education ministers, bucketloads of the ignorant little buggers don't know why we celebrate Australia Day, have a governor-general or whack a Union Jack in the corner of our flag.

...Australian students are a bunch of lazy pinheads who should be sent to a corner to think about what they haven't done. And while they're down there, why not force 'em to start memorising important dates such as 1788, 1901 and 1947 - the latter marking one of many previous media panics about ill-educated Aussie youngsters unable to write in proppa sentences.

Here's the thing, though. If students are required to swot up on subjects politicians think are important (namely history, civics and blindly swallowing spin), surely politicians should have to gain a rudimentary knowledge of something young people rate highly, namely pop culture.

Last week during the electioneering in Victoria, punters were treated to what has become a pre-poll staple: candidates making tokenistic appearances on yoof media programs and revelling in their dearth of pop cultural knowledge, wearing their ignorance (or at least their professed ignorance) of Paris Hilton's shaggin' habits like rosettes of honour.

On the penultimate day of the campaign, Steve Bracks and Ted Baillieu accidentally ended up on air at Fox FM at the same time. Neither was able to answer questions about Jessica Simpson, Australian Idol or even the winner of the Melbourne Cup.

...It's easy to dismiss the nipply adventures of Hilton, Simpson et al as low-brow ephemera, but this could well be at politicians' peril.

Insisting that citizens develop more interest in crucial matters of state won't change the fact that many are not interested - or at least not as interested as they are in whether bootleg honeymoon videos reveal that Britney Spears is bisexual and threesome-eager (to quote one popular, saliva-dripping internet site).

One Australian broadsheet - regarded as a quality publication - regularly charts the most clicked-on stories from its internet site ... the A and AB-demographic readers of this particular organ prefer feasting on fast food features about grisly baby deaths, celebrity sex romps and cyclops kittens. On Monday, the fifth most popular story here was Crocodile yak: Elton shouts at shoes - 321 words about Elton John dashing off stage for a Down Under chunder during the first performance of his latest Australian tour. Apparently a guitarist masked the knighted pianist's sudden and wordless exit by noodling an impromptu solo.

While I'm not suggesting that knowledge of such an event be tested in HSC exams, it is worth ditching the heated, high versus low culture debate for a moment and looking at the situation from a realpolitik perspective.

Growing political disengagement among young people is regarded by many pundits as a serious threat to democracy, with party membership, trust in office-holders and interest in traditional politics plunging faster than a Brownlow Medal ceremony neckline.

Reaching these voters requires learning to speak their language or, at the very least, not taking such elitist delight in disparaging it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Carnivorous Plants Seem To Worry East And West Alike

Great civilizations, with little prompting, sometimes come to a common understanding. People worldwide seem to fear being eaten alive, whether by sharks, tigers - or plants.

DMTC recently hosted Steve Ross' and Jabriel Shelton's production of "Little Shop of Horrors." Fear of chlorophyll hung in the air.

Meanwhile, in Brisbane, artist Jean Poole focused on an Asian version of a Venus Fly Trap as he prepared for battle. People worldwide, in many languages, may instinctively agree: "Don't feed the plant!"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Vietnam Deja Vu In Iraq

Remember how Richard Nixon, after exploiting how badly Democrats botched Vietnam to win the presidency in 1968, decided to go for victory instead of withdrawal? Remember how well that worked?

We are at it again, in Iraq:
Since the Pentagon has decided to discuss its new strategy in gambling parlance, it should at least use the proper terminology. Today's LA Times article says that a Pentagon official has referred to the option of sending more troops in to Iraq as a "double down" strategy. The reference is to a bet in blackjack when, based on the cards that have been dealt, the player seeks to maximize a payoff that is more likely to occur in that hand, given the probabilities. The double down is a calculated bet, made from a position of strength when the odds are favorable to the bettor.

In Iraq, we are certainly not in a situation where the odds are favorable to winning. Our bet is not a double down. Let's call it what it is: double or nothing. This is more like the gambler who has been on a bad losing streak deciding to empty the savings account and put all of his chips on red, hoping that the roulette wheel will spin his way and bring him back close to even. Double or nothing is a desperation play. It is an ill-advised way to gamble, with chips or human lives, and such a strategy inevitably leads to another appropriate gambling term. Gambler's ruin: winding up completely broke.
"Weekly World News" On Top Of Things

Jim McElroy writes:
This afternoon I was down at SaveMart picking up E-Coli samples for some research I am conducting and noted this 4 page research report on the library rack near the checkout. I know that you are interested in Titanic Research and thought I should draw it to your attention. As is well known, most research leads to information that you were not even looking for, and I saw this other report that contradicted your recent research on drain swirl effects. Maybe you should tweak your parameters and try again (justifying NSF funding for another trip to OZ?). Also a small Item that would make a good footnote to your excellent description of various flora and fauna that you encountered.
Here are edited versions of some of the JPEGs Jim sent:

WMD sank the Titanic!



Why I had so much trouble in Australia finding Koala Bears.

The real importance of the Coriolis Force.
Rehearsing For "Mame" at DMTC

Left: Mary Young in the title role.



Mame (Mary Young) and Vera (Peggy Schechter)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Julia Othmer This Saturday

I like this concert series: it is an introduction to splendid music that one otherwise might miss.

Monday, December 11, 2006

STC-2

Here is an article from Sacramento's "Inside The City" regarding STC's Peggy Shannon's STC-2 classes for young actors (and featuring Anna Miles):
Anna Miles, also 15, concurs. “Theater is literally like my home. I’ve never experienced any feeling that’s better and more amazing than when I’m onstage. I love it, and I can’t ever stop.”
Report On The Australian Drought

Here is a recent governmental report regarding the unprecedented drought affecting Australia. The figure to the right helps express the terrible nature of the drought. The new hyperaridity of Interior Queensland contributed to my unease while travelling there recently. I just hope that the climatologists will screw up with their forecasts and that things will improve over the next few months.

Key conclusions:
Much of southern Australia and coastal Queensland has experienced a protracted downturn in annual rainfall which has intensified since the 2002 El Niño event and has most severely affected the eastern states and the southwest corner of Western Australia.

Some areas of central Victoria, southern New South Wales and south east Queensland have had continuous lowest on record or very much below average rainfall since 1997.

A sequence of seven failed autumn breaks in the Murray-Darling Basin has not previously occurred in the records. Chances of a break in the current Autumn are fast receding. There is no sign that the months up to December 2006 will lead to any major relieving rainfalls, with rainfall in the southeast and even the summer rainfall in north-eastern Australia likely to be below average.

Indeed, the presence of a developing El Niño event suggests that it is very unlikely that Australia will see extensive drought breaking rain before the autumn of next year.

Major urban water storages are low and well below average for this time of the year across the south eastern part of Australia and south eastern Queensland. Storages for virtually all the major urban centres of Australia are being progressively drawn down, with no signifi cant inflows for a number of years.

Tough water restrictions, which include complete bans on the outdoor use of water, are already in place in Goulburn, Gosford, Bendigo and Toowoomba. More cities, such as Brisbane, Gosford and Ballarat, are likely to follow in the immediate future. Sydney has had a ban on sprinklers for three years. Significant water conservation measures are already in place and contingency measures for augmenting water supplies in the face of a deteriorating situation are also well in train.

In rural areas, inflows to dams in the Murray-Darling Basin System over the past five years have been the lowest on record. Consequently, irrigation allocations are significantly below entitlement.

Storages such as in the Wimmera Mallee in central Victoria have received no substantial inflow for six years.

The impact on individual farm incomes will vary depending on the way irrigators respond to low water allocations. The ability to trade water under the NWI will assist farmers adapt to the shortfalls.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Happy Feet"

Very interesting, clever and fun computer-animated film! All-star voices, lead by Elijah Wood as the Emperor Penguin Mumble, and including Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, and even the late, great Steve Irwin.

Take the kids!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Terrible Fires

The fires in Victoria, Australia, east and northeast of Melbourne, are seriously out-of-control, taking a huge toll on wildlife, and destroying property:
Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said the weekend conditions could be compared with the 1939 Black Friday fires that killed 71 people and destroyed several towns.

Black Friday is considered to be Victoria's worst day of bushfires.
We Sell! We Buy!

Still trying to track down some of that strange MAAP art. Having trouble, maybe because the artists fear being ripped off, maybe because the artists are obscure, but maybe most of all because I read neither Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Still, it's gotta be out there somewhere on the Internet!

For those who like soothing music with imagery frenetic enough to make you seasick, here is something from Candy Factory regarding - Okinawa!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Signs

Left: Meaning "Yield"


Left: Meaning "Cattle Guard"


Left: Watch out!

Left: In America, when surveyors were faced with just another redundant creek, they usually called it 'Deer Creek.' In Australia, they tended to speak a little more directly to the problem.
Australian Miscellany

Left: A "Road Train", full of cattle.
Memorials

Left: "Wall of Remembrance", in honor of military service, at Miles, Queensland.


Left: A military aircraft, piloted by Americans, and filled with Australian soldiers, crashed at this creekside site near the base of the Carnarvon Mountains, during an electrical storm, on November 16, 1943.
Australian Churches

Left: St. Patrick's Cathedral, Toowoomba, QLD.

Left: Tenterfield Uniting Church, NSW

Left: St. Mary's Catholic Church, Casino, NSW

Left: St. Carthage's Cathedral, Lismore, NSW

Left: St. Andrews Uniting Church, The City, Brisbane.

St. Patrick's Church, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

St. Stephen's Cathedral, the City, Brisbane

St. John's Cathedral, The City, Brisbane
The Longest Day

December 3rd began with the harrowing forest walk at Mt. Glorious, then the surprisingly trouble-free drive to the airport, then airport security, then the flight on the crowded Boeing 747-400 from Brisbane.

My mates on my row of seats were two pleasant women, representatives from SunSail yacht rentals. Based in northern Queensland's gorgeous Whitsunday Islands, they were headed to the British Virgin Islands, for serious work discussions with American compatriots. Such a life!

I watched three movies, but imperfectly, because of jet noise and entertainment center glitches: "Joyeaux Noel," "Little Miss Sunshine," and the recent Australian hit "Kenny." "Kenny" is one funny movie: an Australian foreman of port-a-loo installations talks about his life and work, and even finds romance, when he travels to attend a portable toilet convention in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. My mates found "Kenny" uproariously funny, and I must agree with them.

Crossing the International Date Line, we caught the last few hours of Western Hemisphere December 2nd, but then December 3rd started all over again. We landed at LAX about 7:30 a.m. (after an abortive landing, however, because we got too close to another aircraft on the ground and had to circle back again).

After returning via Southwest Airlines to Sacramento shortly after noon, I took a much-needed nap (two nights in a row without sleep is tough), before heading to Davis, to catch the DMTC folks after "Oliver!" strike, and to pick Sparky up from Steve and Jan. Sparky had gotten along famously with Mrs. Lovett and Scruffy, but had repeatedly peed all through their house, so - it was time to leave!

December 3rd was the longest day ever! I thought it would never end!
Does Water Drain Clockwise, Or Counterclockwise?

In graduate school, we learned that the Coriolis Force is much too weak on the distance scale of a sink to affect how water drains. Only over large distances is the Coriolis force large enough to affect fluid flow. Local friction effects and residual circulation determine whether water drains clockwise or counterclockwise from a sink, in either hemisphere.

Now that we were wise to this little Coriolis factoid, we made fun of people who believed otherwise.

Still, it would be nice to know.... The last time I shaved at Mt. Glorious, I paid attention to how the water drained, so as to know for sure.

The drain at the bottom of the sink was so large that the water didn't have a chance to drain either clockwise or counterclockwise - instead, the water drained straight down.
When You Shut One Door, You Open Another

Left: Paradise at Mt. Glorious!


I returned Saturday night from Fortitude Valley at 1 a.m. and prepared for my last sleepover at Mt. Glorious. Andrew had left two days previously for the United States and I was all alone. I removed my keys, coins, wallet, and every other item from my pockets and laid them on the bedroom table.

Then I remembered I had not yet studied southern constellations in much detail, and this was my last chance to do so. So, I grabbed my newly-purchased southern star chart, walked out the front doorway, and casually closed the front door.

Instantly, I knew, and my heart froze: I was locked out of the house!

I quickly ran around the house and assessed the situation. Because of our diligence over the last several days, the house was now hermetically sealed. All doors and windows were locked and secure. Entry was not possible. But I had to leave Mt. Glorious by 9 a.m. to make the noon flight to the U.S.! What was I going to do?

For about one-and-a-half hours, I tried to pick and pry locks, all the while jumping around in the dark so that the motion-sensitive outdoor lights would generate enough light by which to see. I found a tool tray in the garage, which provided some tools, but the tool tray also sported a giant Australian Brown Huntsman Spider guardian, so every time I reached into the tool tray I had to shoo the spider away first.

Giving up on lock-picking, I decided I had to break a window. I decided to break the guest bathroom toilet window, because it was the smallest window in the house and would be the easiest to repair. Despite being divided in half by a metal frame, and requiring me to stand precariously atop a ladder, I figured I could wiggle my way inside, kind of like a contortionist entering an air-conditioning vent; one arm in first, then the head, then the other arm, until I could fall in, using the inner toilet door for support. I began cutting the outer screen of the window in preparation for shattering the glass.

Reality is a hard teacher. Sorry, Marc is just too fat a person for this to work! I might easily hurt myself! Plus, since Andrew isn't here, I must see to the window's immediate repair. Even a bad repair job would cost too much time in order to successfully catch the noontime plane. So, I HAVE to get help!

Even though this house was in a fairly-remote rural community, there were a few neighbors nearby. But how can I bang on their front doors at 3 a.m.? They don't know who I am. I have no identification. And my urgent insistence that I had to enter their neighbor's home despite his absence might strike them as not credible.

The only thing that could work would be to find a locksmith. But how do I call anyone without a phone? I wondered whether there was a pay telephone in the village of Mt. Glorious, which was located about 2 kilometers (1 mile) away through the dark forest. Funny, I THOUGHT so, I thought I had seen one, but I wasn't sure.

I changed my mind about breaking Andrew's windows. I still had several hours with which to work with, and I didn't HAVE to sleep. I would try to work through this problem with the remaining time. I was thirsty, and a little uncomfortable, but the night was cool, and I could manage for a number of hours yet without drink.

So off I went, tramping along the desolate road through the forest to the village of Mt. Glorious. The moon was nearly full, but the sky was overcast, so the darkness was nearly complete. I worried about stumbling over pythons in the dark. There was no reason any longer that snakes would prefer the tarmac, since the sun had long ago set and the pavement was cool, but animals sometimes do inscrutable things, so I tried to stay close to the slight glow emanating from the road's center dotted line, so that I might have at least have a last-second warning if *something* was in my immediate path.

I heard lots of rustling in the roadside forest, and sometimes the worried coos of startled birds as I walked past, but what exactly was *out there* I didn't know and couldn't tell.

After the longest walk, I found the village, with its two street lights. The place appeared utterly deserted at 3:30 a.m. Indeed, there was a phone booth there, next to a restaurant, but possessing no resources, and with no identifying phone number or phone book in the phone booth, I was limited to toll-free numbers only. I could monitor the time, however, by peering through the windows at the restaurant's clock.

I called "000" (the Australian equivalent of "911") and the Brisbane police reluctantly gave me the toll free number of Locksmith #1. He refused my appeal for help - after all, there was little attraction to rescuing someone atop a mountain, 30 km outside of the big city. He referred me to Locksmith #2.

Locksmith #2 said he couldn't respond immediately. He was far away, in Coloundra, but if I called back at 6 a.m., he would see what he could do.

I called back Locksmith #1, to see if he could respond sooner, and he said no way - it was illegal to open locks for people like me, people who had confided they weren't the actual homeowner. He said that I should be grateful that Locksmith #2 hadn't turned me down cold.

The directory assistance operators commisserated with my problem, but the trouble was these two locksmiths were the only two toll-free "express" locksmiths in Brisbane: I would need to find some coins to call other locksmiths. There were toll-free glaziers, however, if I wanted to return to Andrew's house and bust some windows instead.

At a loss, I lay down on a bench outside the restaurant and tried to sleep. Sleep didn't come.

For reasons I don't quite fathom at this semi-tropical locale, dawn came early. Despite an early-morning shower, the sky began lightening up. Australian King Parrots were fussing around, as were kookaburras, and those birds that sound like super-expressive drops of water. For the first time, I got a good look at a Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo, as it prowled around some nearby forbs. All the cockatoo need was a safari hat to look like a Great White Hunter stalking his prey.

At 5:30 a.m., I called Locksmith #2 back. He sighed and asked if I had a mobile number. I said no, I had nothing at all. He said "look, there's nothing much I can do without a mobile number. I want to refer you to another locksmith (Locksmith #3) who lives on that side of Brisbane, but I can't do it without a mobile number. You need to ask someone if you can use their mobile number." I said I was reluctant to ask before, because it had been dark. He said, "yes, and I can understand that. But this is Australia. Everyone has a mobile number. And they'll help you too. But you need to ask."

So, I reluctantly began walking through Mt. Glorious, looking for help. The village was utterly silent, except for the deafening parrot roar in the treetops.

Walking past a house, I thought I heard some thumping. Summoning the courage, I knocked on their door.

A young family and their five thumping kids answered the door. They had moved to Mt. Glorious from Brisbane just the day before (although the mountain biker husband was long-accustomed to taking his bicycle on nearby trails). They offered coffee and marvelled at my story.

The mother looked at her kids, then me, then asked "walking through the woods, weren't you afraid of dingoes?" "Dingoes!", I replied, "no, I was worried about pythons!" She said, "well, they removed dingoes from these hills a while ago and took them over to Moreton Island, but they've been filtering back, and they've been spotted again around here lately." I said "Wow, no I hadn't thought about dingoes - glad I didn't really! It was so dark that dingoes could have walked right up to me, and I would have never known!"

The family lent me their mobile phone and I made contact with Locksmith #3, who promised to come out. The kids ran around the house and rounded up some coins, which they lent me, if I needed them, in order to contact another locksmith in case Locksmith #3 didn't turn up. The husband decided to travel to the house to see if he could puzzle a way inside, now that it was light. I returned to waiting by the phone booth for Locksmith #3. The owner of the restaurant was now present and preparing the place for breakfast, and he lent me a phone book so I could get extra locksmith phone numbers if needed.

After just half an hour, a couple drove up and asked "are you in need of the services of a locksmith?" "Boy, am I ever!", I replied. Locksmith #3 was a part-time lifesaving instructor on Bribie Island: his wife came along for the fresh mountain air. We returned to the house and met the husband, who hadn't found a way into the house either. I returned his kids' coins to him and we talked about mountain-biking as Locksmith #3 went to work.

By 8 a.m., the drama had concluded. I was in the house again and I succeeded in leaving for the airport by 9 a.m. Just the damage to the window screen to worry about. And dingoes too (although I hope these are just hypothetical boogey-dogs in this part of Australia).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Who Is That At The Bottom Of The Tree?

Left: A nervous young Galah at Apex Lake, Gatton


Australian parrots want to know!

Noisy Crimson Rosellas, Carnarvon Gorge National Park

Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets at the University of Queensland, Gatton.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Time Runs Out

Left: A Saturday night in Fortitude Valley


Last walking tour of downtown Brisbane and the Fortitude Valley neighborhood. Sitting here in Global Gossip Internet Shoppe, watching the Saturday night partiers stroll by, and thinking about last-minute things. I'll miss this strange place. I'll miss Tappy's wake-up call every morning, the kookaburra's laugh, and parrots in the trees. Now I'll have to learn to drive on the right hand side of the road again. I'm not ambidextrous yet, so watch out Sacramento!

Pacific ho!
Gala Reopening

Left: Newly-reopened State Library of Queensland


The State Library of Queensland and the Gallery Of Modern Art (GOMA) reopened tonight after a two-year closure for massive reconstruction. Featured at the festivities was the James Morrison Jazz group, one of Australia's premier jazz groups (related article). Large numbers of people (~800 to 1000, or more) came to hear the group.

James Morrison produced the strangest thing from a travelling case - a digital trumpet. He proceeded to play a Herbie Hancock composition with it. Because it is digital, the trumpet can be made to sound like just about anything - a flute, or a cello, or even a trumpet.

We live in strange times....

Friday, December 01, 2006

Final Saturday

Woke up to smoke. Too much smoke in the air! It's a constant here! Where is it coming from? Australia is on fire!

Yesterday, when I awoke, a bird was flinging itself against the window on Mt. Glorious, but it wasn't Tappy. Instead, it appeared to be a female bird of the same species. Oh horrors! This is disturbing! Did Tappy get married? Will their babies fling themselves against the windows too? Will Andrew have to flee Mt. Glorious, in order to find the relative calm of a door stoop in Fortitude Valley on a Friday night?

Did housecleaning this Saturday and have sleepily returned to the Fortitude Valley area. Tomorrow, I leave for America! Still haven't done many things. Never went to Lone Pine or rode the City Cat. Never got a good look at the sulfur-crested cockatoos. But I did relax and have fun, and that, after all, was the point of the trip!
Trash Australian Animals

(Left) Common pigeons and glamorous Australian White Ibises prowl for peanuts near ANZAC square in downtown Brisbane.



(Left) Ibises and dumpsters go together.


Left: Look who was at the bottom of the Mt. Nebo trash dumpster! A three-feet long Gould's Goanna!
Fortitude Valley Friday

Left: Lobby of the Globe Theatre


The "Showgirl" cinema tribute to Kylie Minogue at the Globe Theatre was sparsely attended: a matter of bad timing, I think, since her shows have already come and gone in Brisbane. The movie was wonderful, of course, and showed how "Showgirl" was originally conceived to be, before Kylie's illness, and the reworking of the current "Showgirl Homecoming" tour. Nevertheless, poor turnout meant greater intimacy among the people there, as we danced and gabbed in the lobby.

The manager of the Globe Theatre described how the theater is an all-volunteer, non-profit arts organization. Wait....that sounds a lot like DMTC! Turns out, both organizations, thousands of miles apart, are eerily similar in important managerial respects, and so we began comparing notes.

The manager described the local scene as 'stifled', which I found surprising given the vibrant youth culture here. There are growing redevelopment pressures in the Fortitude Valley area, which are culminating in ballot measures to lift height restrictions on buildings and raze old structures so as to build high-rise housing. Various local performance venues have been closed recently, not only because of redevelopment, but because of noise complaints.

What has saved the Globe so far is that the venue is partly underground, which helps control noise. So, like DMTC has done, the Globe is resisting outside pressures to close its doors. The Globe uses income from emerging artist performances to subsidize its cinema, much as DMTC is trying to use income from folk artist performances to subsidize its musical theater ventures. The Globe sells liquor (but not food for some reason), just as DMTC sells cookies, T-Shirts, and other items (but not liquor). Some volunteers here get a free drink for their efforts, just as some DMTC volunteers (orchestra) get free cookies.

Also present was Sue, a die-hard Kylie fan (from 1996!) She's met Kylie several times, and recounted how she once followed Kylie on foot on the streets of downtown Brisbane and observed people's dismissive treatment of the star. Kylie at first ignored her trailing fan club, thinking they might be abusive too, but relented at last, and signed autographs before stepping into a limousine.

Most enjoyable to talk to and dance with was Ann Hutchinson, who was something of a natural leader: a fine dancer, a longtime surf instructor, and a grass roots environmental and antiwar activist. She was there because her mates were Kylie fans.

Youth everywhere face the powerlessness of penury and inexperience, which is exacerbated in Australia, a nation with a large area but a small population, far from many of the world's power centers. How people deal with powerlessness is important. One of Ann's mates wants to emigrate to the U.S., which is one way to deal with the problem - join the powerful! Still, joining a powerful nation like the U.S. doesn't make one personally powerful. Organizing, like Ann does, alone is ultimately effective in making one powerful. Fiery Ann offered to teach me surfing at Noosa Beach, and apprehensive as I am about water, I'd love to take her up on the offer someday.

After the show, I wandered the mall on Brunswick St. and watched the out-of-control antics of youth in the hectic night-club scene. What a place! How the homeless folks slumped in noisy doorways could manage sleep baffled me. At one time, I had planned to find a room in this neighborhood, because it had the highest number of discos per acre in the entire city, but seeing the resultant effect on peace and quiet in the neighborhood, I'm glad I'm staying in the quiet mountain fastness of Mt. Glorious.

I wandered into a burlesque house, hoping to see exotic Goths do *something* on stage, but instead arrived just in time to catch the live band on break. I waited, and fidgeted, and eventually they returned. 'Small Sensations' described their music as 'new wave indie electro pop trash', but 'New Wave' seemed good enough.

New Wave songs always seem so similar to each other. The lead singer crowed, "we are playing to fifteen people here tonight!" He continued, "how many 'Devo' fans are there here?" Then the band launched into a Devo cover tune, which they treated in orthodox New Wave fashion, meaning it didn't sound like Devo at all, but rather exactly similar to the previous four songs in their set.

After the show, I headed back to Mt. Glorious, and upon arriving, encountered what looked like a dread Cane Toad, that destructive alien import from South America. With ecological zeal, I had intended on killing any Cane Toad I encountered, but I couldn't be completely sure it was a Cane Toad. The guidebooks say, don't worry, the dread Cane Toad looks unlike any Australian Toad you'll ever see, but that doesn't help me, because I don't know what Australian Toads look like either. So, I spared the dread Cane Toad.
Quiet Friday - (So Far)

Spent the pleasant (but smoky) day clearing brush and cleaning windows at the manse on Mt. Glorious....

Decided in midafternoon to come into Brisbane (lots of windows on Mt. Glorious). Picked up a local magazine called City News (one of several produced by Quest News) and noted they are screening Kylie's "Showgirl" at a Fortitude Valley theater called The Globe. I want to go, and I wondered how I would explain myself to the mothers of all the little girl Kylie fans. But I checked out the location of the theater, across the street from a strip tease cabaret and two adult book shoppes, and now I'm wondering how I would instead explain myself to the crossdressers.....

But we'll see......
Out Of The Internet

Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) hosted an opening for its new art show "Out Of The Internet." The avant-garde of Brisbane was out in force, particularly the Asian wing.

One nice thing about an art show on the Internet is that if you miss the physical show, you can still see everything in the show via the Internet.

There was a Candy Factory film called "G'day G'day", which kinda looked like an out-of-control Australian version of Max Headroom.

Pressed for time, I quickly scanned the monitors, looking for a hook, which, for me, was people. Among the artwork featuring people, there seemed to be a theme of frustration and debility. Three films caught my attention:
  • a man explained about a proposal for an art work that was never funded;
  • a woman placed a large block of styrofoam over her head and flailed away at the styrofoam with a knife, attempting to carve something, but making little progress (Hyunjoo Kim - Korea, Styrofoam Head - here is a related Japanese review); and most interesting of all,
  • a man attempted to eat a bowl of noodles with cutlery, and prepare tea, all the while wearing boxing gloves (Takayuki Hino, Japan, Boxing Man - here is a related Japanese review).
There was also something called Manhua Wonderlands, which also looks interesting:
Incarcerated in their own karaoke ward room, Karaoke Bedlam presents the work of a series of artists exploring karaoke and music video clip culture as it can be channelled through the lens of hallucination and surrealism, chaos and nihilism, subconscious and the unconscious, sanity and schizophrenia. From delusions of grandeur that surround the cult of the pop-idol celebrity, to booty RnB strip-tease role-playing, to fantastical visions of mermen singing sea shanties, Karaoke Bedlam invites audiences to enter the Karaoke Bedlam wards and become voyeurs into claustrophic worlds of audio-visual madness and karaoke induced psychoses.
I hope to return to this and see more of what they have there.....But if I fail, there's always our friend, the Internet.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"We Love Our Queen!" - QPAC's "The Pirates of Penzance."

(Left) Queen Victoria: 1837 - 1901. Queen Gardens, The Treasury, downtown Brisbane, Queensland.


Queensland Performing Arts Center (QPAC), in conjunction with Opera Australia, staged "The Pirates of Penzance" in Brisbane.

A flyer indicated that Opera Australia, which has a demanding touring and performance schedule, has not played in Brisbane in 18 years. How could that be? Brisbane is Australia's 3rd-largest city! There are only six large cities on the entire continent! Was it - ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES? Or was it (in keeping with the paradoxical nature of the show) just four and a half leap years?

Anthony Warlow, who played the Pirate King, entirely adopted Johnny Depp's manner and dress from "Pirates of the Caribbean."

At intermission, I overheard a patron say, referring to Taryn Fiebig's (Mabel's) voice, "what coloratura!" I agree!

Three encores of that big rousing number in Act II, "With Cat Like Tread, Upon Our Prey We Steal"!

Very interesting use of light bulbs for the title and end title of the show. Setting the stage for Act 2 got big applause for the physical comedy.

The Constable had an amazing voice. And everyone had nothing but the highest praise for John Bolton Wood's "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General."

After the show, I stumbled across one of Australia's own common ringtail possums. The shy possum (looks less alien than the common Sacramento possum) was mistaken in thinking all the people had disappeared from the pedestrian areas....
Down The Rabbit Hole

Left: The City, and Brisbane's Victoria Bridge, from the South Bank's Melbourne Street.


I spent Thursday wandering around The City - the financial district of downtown Brisbane. Interesting....interesting - the place is a pedestrian madhouse. Nice big buildings, and disciplined, harried, young office workers cadging smokes on the sidewalk (newly-restrictive smoking laws are causing grief). Wandered over by Parliament House and saw the Falun Gong protestors with their signs.

Spent the afternoon shopping at the downtown five-level mall, Myer Plaza. I had been told to look for a shopping mall called Maya Plaza, which I thought would be SO exotic, but I forgot about the Aussie accent - nevertheless, it's exotic enough in its own way, and full of young shoppers. Bought some kangaroo-lined dress shoes.

Got a haircut by a young English woman who relocated here just this October. She had travelled through the U.S. just recently, as part of her world wide tour, and despite the assistance of strategically-located U.S. relatives, she lamented how the absence of youth hostels in the U.S. made it the most expensive country for her to travel through. She said the prime backpacking traffic was going to South America instead, as a direct result of the cost.

I'm very impressed by the willingness of the people I've been seeing here to just drop everything and travel around the world. It's an amazing thing that air travel has wrought. Every shop clerk I've talked to has visited relatives fairly-recently in California.

Walked back to the South Bank. Saw a youth talent group singing Christmas carols, but it wasn't clear whether it was a very-poorly attended concert, or a microphone check. The kids and their stage moms were surrounded by an ugly chain link fence in the middle of a beautiful mall. Weird what places stage business gets you into.

On a whim, decided to see Queensland Performing Arts Center's (QPAC's) "The Pirates of Penzance." What could be more fun than seeing Gilbert and Sullivan at their silliest in a nation of the British Commonwealth?

Since I had some time before showtime, I wandered across Melbourne Street and through the vast cultural center on the south bank. They had life size humpback whale models singing whale songs along a long breezeway. But the time was late and the place was basically empty....

Then, in the side of the State Library of Queensland, there was an open door, like a modernistic rabbit hole, and a friendly bearded man was passing out programs.... Like Alice in Wonderland, I went through the rabbit hole, and suddenly I was in an entirely-different world.....

Oooo-weeeee-ooooo!

Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) was hosting its new art show "Out Of The Internet." The Asian avant-garde of Brisbane had all turned out for the opening, and the place virtually roared with conversation. Really weird and interesting stuff!

Had to leave for 'Pirates' just as the festivities were getting underway, but I got a taste....

As an aside, and speaking of rabbits, when passing through, I saw a sign at the New South Wales border at Woongarra stating that if you raise rabbits in Queensland, the authorities will fine you $30,000 AU. Watch out, Cloudy!