Friday, January 27, 2006

Well, At Least It's Natural...

Fun food facts from today's Wall Street Journal....

70,000 female cochineal beetles must be crushed and dried to create one pound of the reddish Carmine pigment used in many food products, including the following:
  • Good & Plenty candy;
  • Dannon Fruit on the Bottom Boysenberry yogurt;
  • Yoplait Thick & Creamy Low Fat Strawberry yogurt;
  • Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit juice;
  • Tropicana Orange Strawberry Banana juice; and,
  • SoBe Courage Cherry Citrus drink.
Fairbanks Chill

Third-coldest January on record, so far, according to Frank, in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sometimes this Arctic Cam link works, but at these cold temperatures, everything breaks, including cameras.....

Here's what Accuweather says:
In Fairbanks, Alaska the temperature reached 50 below zero this morning. Some of that air came right over the pole from the Asia continent.
Where There's Smoke....

There's fire?:
An inquiry into the death of Princess Diana is "far more complex than any of us thought," the official leading the investigation said Friday without commenting on the conspiracy theories that persist nearly nine years after her death.

Lord Stevens, the former head of London's Metropolitan Police, acknowledged that some of the issues raised by Mohammed al Fayed -- whose son, Dodi, was killed in the 1997 car crash with Diana -- were "right to be raised." He did not elaborate.

Mohammed al Fayed, the owner of London's famous Harrods store, has claimed Diana and his son were killed by British intelligence officials and their deaths resulted from a plot instigated by Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II and Diana's former father-in-law.

Lord Stevens, speaking in a recorded interview to Britain's GMTV Sunday Program, did not reveal which of al Fayed's concerns he believed were correct.

"It is right to say that some of the issues that have been raised by Mr. Fayed have been right to be raised," he told the program, to be broadcast Sunday. "We are pursing those. It is a far more complex inquiry than any of us thought."
Ann Coulter's Sense of Humor

They call this bitch-slapping, a favorite media pasttime, particularly on the right. The trouble is that it is often effective, which means it gets done over and over again, no matter how destructive to civilized public discourse:
"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Things That Make You Go Hmm....

Something's up....
Davis City Manager Jim Antonen was fired Wednesday morning, according to a source close to City Hall.

Vegans and liberal groups in general suffer undercover surveillance by the FBI and other agencies: conservatives are left alone. So much for the value of Homeland Security!:
For example, more than two dozen government surveillance photographs show 22-year-old Caitlin Childs of Atlanta, a strict vegetarian, and other vegans picketing against meat eating, in December 2003. They staged their protest outside a HoneyBaked Ham store on Buford Highway in DeKalb County.

An undercover DeKalb County Homeland Security detective was assigned to conduct surveillance of the protest and the protestors, and take the photographs. The detective arrested Childs and another protester after he saw Childs approach him and write down, on a piece of paper, the license plate number of his unmarked government car.

"They told me if I didn't give over the piece of paper I would go to jail and I refused and I went to jail, and the piece of paper was taken away from me at the jail and the officer who transferred me said that was why I was arrested," Childs said on Wednesday.

The government file lists anti-war protesters in Atlanta as threats, the ACLU said. The ACLU of Georgia accuses the Bush administration of labeling those who disagree with its policy as disloyal Americans.

"We believe that spying on American citizens for no good reason is fundamentally un-American, that it's not the place of the goverment or the best use of resources to spy on its own citizens and we want it to stop. We want the spies in our government to pack their bags, close up their notebooks, take their cameras home and not engage in the spying anymore," Gerald Weber of the ACLU of Georgia said during a news conference.

"We have heard of not a single, government surveillance of a pro-war group," Weber said. "And I doubt we will ever hear of a single surveillance of a pro-war group."
Bad Girl

Alaskan blogger goes bad.
Weird News Blip

In today's Wall Street Journal. I wonder what it means?
Kazak police hunted for U.S. $100 and $50 bills that the central bank warned have radiation levels far in excess of normal for unknown reasons.
Clements' Taking

Logan Darrow Clements, young libertarian and former 2003 California Recall gubernatorial candidate, was in the news recently, trying to use eminent domain to seize the property of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, in order to score political points:
"This is in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party and the Pine Tree Riot," Organizer Logan Darrow Clements said, referring to the riot that took place during the winter of 1771-1772, when colonists in Weare beat up officials appointed by King George III who fined them for logging white pines without approval.

"All we're trying to do is put an end to eminent domain abuse," Clements said, by having those who advocate or facilitate it "live under it, so they understand why it needs to end."
There is a legitimate issue here. Indeed, just listening to the news regarding the particular Connecticut eminent domain case, my impulse was to side with the conservatives. Nevertheless, an opponent of Clements sees things differently:
State Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare resident who is sponsoring two pieces of eminent domain legislation in New Hampshire, said he expects the group's proposal to be defeated overwhelmingly.

"Most people here see this as an act of revenge and an improper attack on the judicial system," Kurk said. "You don't go after a judge personally because you disagree with his judgments."
Indeed, there is a regrettable impulse, at least on the part of conservatives in California (such as California State Senator Tom McClintock), to see eminent domain controversies, such as the recent one involving Yolo County and the Rumsey Rancheria (as I blogged about here last year) as just another handy wedge issue, which can be cynically manipulated, whatever the local nuances, to score lazy Culture War points.

I'd be more impressed with Clements if he tore after some conservatives for a change. He is a follower of Ayn-Rand style libertarianism, which places a very high value (too high in my opinion) on individual freedom-of-action (note I don't say freedom here: it's as much freedom of economic action as it is freedom of thought). The thought of making a sacrifice for the common good seems anathema to him, and the idea of eminent domain must strike him as particularly horrible, but perhaps it's better to let him speak for himself....

Here is a portion of an E-Mail from him, sent shortly after the Recall election(dated 10/21/03), to other Recall candidates on our mailing list, attacking, making a caricature of (and thus misrepresenting) the views of one of the liberal Democratic candidates in the election. It's written in the heat-of-the-moment, and a window into what his philosophy is:
When will socialists like yourself come to realize that socialism is disgustingly unethical. I’m sure you already realize that it is a miserable failure everywhere in the world. But I’m not against socialism because “it doesn’t work”, I’m opposed to it because it makes “society” the standard of value and sacrifices individuals to this new god called “society”. Under socialism individuals become pawns of the government who can tell them what to do, take as much of their money as it wants....or kill them if it is “good for society”. Problem is that “society” is nothing more than a word to denote a group of individuals. So history shows us that socialism amounts to one individual (or group of individuals) using the power of the government to rob, imprison or murder another individual (or group of individuals).

You socialists fear “big corporations” that provide us with food, housing, cars, software, clothing, medicine and everything else but you don’t fear “big government” which has murdered over 100 million people in the last 100 years (read “The Black Book of Communism” written by former socialists) and stolen more money from people than all the thieves in the world in all of history. A thief might steal a car stereo, some jewelry or a few hundred dollars. Governments take 50% to 80% of the income of their subjects. In socialist nations they steal entire factories and entire industries. Hillary Clinton tried to put one fifth of the US economy under socialism with her delicately named “single payer” health care plan.

What governments do: start wars, murder people, imprison people, steal our money, take away our freedom
What “big bad corporations” do: produce all the things to keep us alive, make us happy and save our life

Who do you and your ilk think are the real villains in our world?... the mass murders, destroyers and thieves which are governments? No, the companies that sell you the car you drive, the toothpaste you use and the milk you drink. What a pathetic lot of misguided fools you all are.

It’s funny how socialists like yourself often favor gun control but all of your programs require guns because they all function by force. Force people into social security, prohibit people from freely trading by force, prohibit competition with public transportation by force, take their money by force, force employers to do this, force workers to do that, force, force, force...its the way the wheels turn (or don’t) under socialism. You will need a lot of guns to implement your plans since none of them involve free choice and all involve force.

I won’t defend the Republicans. Many Republicans are as bad as Democrats, some are worse. I’m an Objectivist who just ran on their ticket. I’ll defend Objectivism though and if you’d care to take a swipe at it here’s where you can get more information about this philosophy. Take your best shot!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"Ballets Russes" Schedule Shift

From February 3rd to March 10 - 16, at the Crest.
Mara As Maggie

Ray Fisher reports that Mara Davi has been cast as Maggie in the Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Las Vegas Miscellany

I was suffering fatigue-induced Attention-Deficit Disorder during this trip, and was easily distracted by the various signs and sights:

Some signs seem to raise more questions than they provide answers.

A rhetorical question.

I hate pop quizzes!

Sorry, the word isn't "artifacts": it's "props"!

Convenience is all-important!

A Las Vegas sunset.

Smoke from a fireplace at midday? What morning chill could it be dispelling? It's shirt-sleeve weather!

Cigarette smoke and its effect on indoor air quality: they vacuum the freakin' ceiling at the MGM Grand!
Our Jaws Drop in Amazement

Walt and I have have been trying to wrap our brains around how prolific our former classmate, Lawrance Bernabo, has been in writing reviews for Yesterday, Walt wrote:
What I can't figure out is how someone could find the time, or inspiration, to write 11,646 reviews. If he started 10 years ago, he'd have to average 3.2 per day since 1996. How often do you see 3 movies in one day, or read 3 books, or even listen to three new CDs? Have you ever done 22 in one week, ever? Lawrance Bernabo apparently has done 22 per week, every week, for 520 weeks. Or maybe its only 45 per week for 260 weeks.
Today, Walt writes:
Since I wrote you yesterday, Lawrance Bernabo has written 10 more reviews: 4 movies/TV shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 3 books, 2 music albums, and one flag (yes, a flag). He has now posted 11,656 reviews. I don't think I can catch up to him.
New York, New York Roller Coaster

Suddenly looking up at the steep incline of the track, I began pondering the statistics:
  • 4,777 feet of track;
  • Maximum height of 203 feet;
  • Drops of 144 feet; and
  • Speeds up to 67 mph.

I also wondered whether I had ever been on a real roller coaster before. Careful reflection established that this was my first roller coaster ride.

I'm freakin' gonna die!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Clubbin' in Las Vegas

Besides myself, two close male college friends of Ira were at the bat mitzvah: Steve Zaintz (the "Z"; who had been in Mr. Norton's high school physics class along with Walt and myself) and Jeff Broffsky. The "Z" owns a Thai restaurant and Jeff owns a comic book store, both in Albuquerque. The two of them wanted to go out after the bat mitzvah and I wanted to join them.

Jeff exudes an air of mastery and control, a decided benefit in a place like Las Vegas, where velvet ropes and hired flaks control access to everything. Ira warned me that Jeff could take me places in Las Vegas that I had never heard of or even thought about. My inside voice said "duh, that's the entire point," but my outside voice said "don't worry, everything will be just fine."

I drove downtown, from the "Suncoast" to the "Four Queens," in order to pick up Jeff and the "Z", and parked in the parking garage. I had been pretty indecisive about what shoes to wear, so when I opened the door of my car, I decided to change shoes once again. Just at that moment, a group of people came to retrieve the car parked next to mine. "OH MY GOD!" a woman uttered, with absolute disgust, when she saw me all hunched over, squatting in-between the two parked cars. "It's OK! It's OK!", I reassured her. "Don't worry, everything is just fine!"

The three of us headed over to The Palms. For a change from his usual practice in Las Vegas, Jeff wanted to see a nightclub. Jeff said we were on a list for special entry to The Palms' Ghost Bar tonight. I was immediately impressed: the Ghost Bar is arguably the most-desired club in the entire city, one of the favorite haunts of celebrities and world-class beauties. How did we get on THIS list? Jeff said a good customer of his in Albuquerque had made arrangements with one of the Maloofs (the owners of The Palms, and who are also from New Mexico), and we were guaranteed access, even on this busy Saturday night.

When we arrived, though, we discovered Jeff's name was not on the list. The special access Jeff had been promised wasn't there. "Which Maloof gave you access?", I asked Jeff. Abashed, Jeff didn't know - his good customer had been responsible for all the arrangements. So, the Ghost Bar evaporated back into the Land of Phantoms and Ectoplasm, and we had to decide what to do next.

We proceeded to the MGM Grand, and tried to enter Studio 54, the main discotheque on the premises, but the lines were outrageously long, so instead we chose another, much smaller club inside the same complex, named Tabu. Entering the club was slightly tricky. Anticipating that Master of the Universe Jeff wanted a table of his own, the flaks quoted him a $250 rate for a table. They did not tell him that the normal cover charge was only $20. We eventually sorted it all out, however, and entered Tabu at the usual rate.

(left) Tabu at about 3 a.m.

Tabu is a lounge that features a row of four low tables surrounded by sofas, with (I believe) two bars. The low tables are cunningly designed to either be normal tables, dancing platforms, or screens upon which interesting lighting effects can be projected onto from above. Access to the sofas is carefully limited to those who pay for such access.

Jeff and the "Z" got drinks and stood gazing at the assorted beauties: I began dancing to the good House music, and tried to find some floor space in between two sofas, which was sort-of a gray border zone between two different parties. The "Z" said: "Marc, you should go dance on a platform!" and I said "Nah, I'd be too embarrassed," but after 30-45 minutes, sure enough, the young lovelies pulled me up on a platform, and there I was, shakin' my groove thing.

With their loud music and low lighting, nightclubs are purposely designed to disorient their patrons (hopefully mildly enough that no one gets hurt). Thus, it is always hard to figure out exactly what is going on, and everyone in nightclubs works to fill in their own knowledge gaps, often unsuccessfully. Same with me: I'm not sure I understood exactly what was, happening, but for the rest of the evening, here's what I think was going on....

Someone kicked over a glass, which broke on the floor. Management began glaring at nearby patrons, which included myself, since it happened nearby. Soon enough, I was back dancing on the floor, and I didn't go back on the platform again. I asked the DJ to play Roger Sanchez' 'Turn Up The Music,' and he said he would. About 1:30 a.m., Jeff and the "Z", already fatigued from the night before, decided to call it quits. I drove them back to their room, but since I had a bit of energy left, I decided to return to the MGM Grand.

(left) These athletic performance artists were built for trapezes, but the space at Studio 54 was a little cramped for THAT kind of circus action. What they're doing here is just fine, though.

By 2 a.m., entry to Studio 54 was feasible. I started dancing on the floor of this Sonic Cathedral to the Night Life, but within 30 seconds, a Woman With No Boundaries literally flung her body into mine. She was loud, funny, profane, and persistent, and indicated strongly that she needed a drink (a Long Island Ice Tea). I agreed to buy her one.

Immediately, I had second thoughts: I was breaking Feynman's Law. In the book "Surely You Are Joking, Mr. Feynman," the Nobel-prize-award-winning physicist Richard Feynman explained his counterintuitive cardinal rule regarding nightclubs: no man should ever, under any circumstances, buy a woman a drink in a nightclub. To do so marks one as malleable, weak, and therefore worthy of scorn. But a Woman With No Boundaries gains an advantage of surprise, and tonight, I fell victim.

I bought her a drink, and she immediately fell into an argument with a boyfriend/agent, who came loping after us to the bar (apparently the Woman With Ill-Defined Frontiers was having a border conflict). Small sums of money were exchanged between them. I tired of this, and drifted back to the dance floor. The woman pursued me, and asked a few questions, apparently to assess whether my hotel room was in the near-vicinity (it wasn't). In a flash, she ducked out the exit and disappeared. So, I lost $12 (a small sum by Las Vegas standards) but gained newfound respect for Richard Feynman.

Rather soon, the DJ stopped playing House music and began playing Rap music. Snoop Dog wasn't my cup of tea so after a few minutes I made my way back to Tabu. By 3 a.m., the crowd there had thinned out. The DJ said he had already played my song (about half an hour before) - shoot! Nevertheless, the DJ was playing a good mix of music, so I lingered for awhile, but soon enough, the crowd was no longer at a critical mass. I returned to Studio 54, where the DJ was once again playing good Trance and House music. Excellent!

(left: I need to get a gig like this)

Many people were working through the informational haze that night, laboring on their particular knowledge gaps and trying to answer questions. The many stone-faced young men gripping beer bottles, I don't know what they lacked - their glassy eyes conveyed nothing. (Rather, I know exactly what they lacked, having been in their shoes more than once, but they needed to dance!) There were others in the crowd whose needs were easier to read, however.....

Among the most interesting clubbers were two tall, statuesque beauties who passed along the perimeter of the dance floor, hand-in-hand, ignoring the crowd, meticulously examining the edges of the dance space. At first, I thought this was SO cool: almost like 'vogueing'. But then, I noticed the expression on the faces of these beautiful, beautiful transvestites: grim - they weren't having any fun. The knowledge gap they were working on was 'where's our stuff?' Mislaid - or stolen? Who could say under the flashing lights? I hope it all worked out OK for them.....

Then there was a young Japanese couple. The question they were working on was "what is the best course of action in a foreign nightclub?" They were trying to fit into the system. The logical course of action, of course, was to find the best dancer on the floor, and mimic that person, but that particular woman (an amazing ball of fire) was at the other end of the dance floor.

So, the next logical course was to find the best, or at least the most senior, dancer at the near end of the dance floor, and imitate that person - and I was that senior person! So they began, not precisely an imitation of my moves, but trying to catch a bit of my fire; the fellow enthusiastically so, the girl, afraid of causing offense, a little less so, but both working real hard at it. I envied them both, because, if they were actually living on Tokyo time, their evening was just starting, even as everyone else here was nearing collapse. There was a bit of 'Dance Dance Revolution' (the arcade game) feel about the whole episode, but it was all fun.

Then all of a sudden, there she was: I was dancing with the best dancer on the floor, an amazing blonde fury. We danced up a storm. She told me two things. One was "Don't Touch": unlike the other woman, the blonde had well-defined (and gorgeous) boundaries, and it was difficult to resist crossing the borderline, even if only an instant. The other thing was a prediction, in the form of a compliment, but I somehow missed a word in the din, and so now what she said is a riddle: "Someday you're going to get a (blank)". I've been trying to fill in the blank ever since. It wasn't something like 'hernia' - that has three syllables, and what she said had just one syllable. It was probably either 'girl' (which would be patronizing and therefore not a compliment at all), or, most-likely, 'job.' A job as a dancer? Very nice! Very strange for a compliment, but flattery will get you everywhere, as they say. Who knows? Maybe she's right!

Here is a sign high above The Strip. Makes me think of all the possibilities in Las Vegas. When some people retire, they take on small jobs, like clerking at a convenience store, to make ends meet. Maybe I should start a dance gig, say, at the 'Chippendales Leisure Retirement Home and Golf Resort' in Tonopah when I retire. Nothing much: just something to pay the electric bill. I'll even take the afternoon show.

Anyway, it wasn't until 5 a.m. when I finally toppled into bed at the "Suncoast," dreaming of trapeze artists and brilliant blonde bombshells and big, big tips.
Kelly Daniells at the Mandalay Bay

Here's Kelly rushing to a hair appointment, after a long Saturday rehearsal in preparation for her opening as 'Sophie' in "Mamma Mia," on January 30th (just a week away!) Behind her is the "Mamma Mia" gift shop window.

Jason McDowell flew into Las Vegas from Sacramento for the weekend, and the two of us sat around waiting nearly two hours for Kelly to make her appearance. I convinced a reluctant Jason to come with me and enter the theater and try to watch the rehearsal, but we both bailed out when the security guard escort explained the rules: not only would he have to stop rehearsal, but he would have to get explicit permission from the director, and each and every actor onstage, in order to allow us to just sit there.

Interesting statue in the lobby of the theater at the Mandalay Bay.

Kelly seems to be adjusting relatively well to her new home. The culture shock isn't as great for her as it is for other singers from New York, who were unfamiliar with strip mall living and 24-hour-a-day conveniences.

Unlike her show mates, Kelly has little experience working in professional Broadway shows, and so sometimes conversation runs dry, but that situation is rapidly changing, day after day. Kelly doesn't seem terribly attracted to The Strip: it's excessive glitz seems to strike her as glitzily excessive, and she avoids The Strip when possible. She seems to be in it for the superior singing opportunities.

Kelly's reaction to The Strip is different than my first reaction was. One of my first memories (in 1975) was of two, old, chipped, muscle-man statues, done in a Roman motif, and covered with gold-colored spray paint. The muscle proportions were wrong, and the effect was so cheesy that I could only shake my head. Even the poverty-stricken, decadent, late-Empire Romans wouldn't have put such garbage on display. I couldn't help but fall in love with the ridiculousness of it all. Sure enough, the statues soon vanished, as things, good and bad, vanish so quickly in Las Vegas. Maybe Kelly will have a love-at-first-sight moment someday for some aspect of The Strip, but it hasn't happened yet, and who knows, maybe it never will.
Beth Gershin's Bat Mitzvah

Beth's friends help her light the last of the candles in the candle-lighting ceremony.

Time for a conga line!

A very nice time with Ira, Marcy, Rachel, and, of course, Beth, and the other relatives and friends. It's like a home away from home!
"How Do You Fit Into The System?"

I'm back from a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas! The primary purpose of the trip was to attend Beth Gershin's bat mitzvah. In addition, I wanted to see how Davis' own Kelly Daniells was doing, as she makes final preparations to take on the role of Sophie in "Mamma Mia" in Las Vegas, and just experience the city in general.

I arrived on Friday night, and tried blackjack at both the Mandalay Bay, and the Suncoast, where I was staying, near suburban Summerlin. I was much too aggressive, however, and despite early successes, ended up losing $660.

Saturday morning, I took the elevator down to the Suncoast lobby, and ran into Stephen B. and wife (both related to the Gershins). As I babbled on, Stephen began getting concerned. I recognized him, but he didn't remember me, and I seemed to know an alarming amount about what he considered to be private family matters.

"Listen," he said, as he gestured with hands in the shape of a globe, "how do you fit into the system?" My inside voice said that I didn't fit into the system at all, and that's precisely why I was there, but my outside voice explained how his cousin Ira and I had been good friends in college (at UNM), and also working at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque. But I liked that strange, disembodied, holistic expression of his - something to use in the future!
The Amazon Conspiracy

Walt stumbled across this ode to the skills of our classmate, Lawrance Bernabo:
So, I think I have stumbled onto the great conspiracy. I think there is no such person as a Lawrance M. Bernabo. It’s all an sham. I point to the fact that "Lawrance" spells his name wrong as our first clue. No self-respecting Larry would spell it LawrAnce! Everyone knows it's LawrEnce! This is the telltale sign that is pulling the wool over our eyes. The subtle hint that "LawrAnce" is a myth, a sham, a FAKE reviewer, is impossible to ignore.