Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hard To Believe

But maybe true:
In Texas, over the last decade, only one hunter in 26,000 has been involved in a hunting accident.

In 2005, only one in 36,000 was involved in a hunting accident.

In fact, there were 1.1 million hunting licenses issued in Texas last year but only 30 reported accidents.

In 2005, only ONE hunting accident in the entire state of Texas involved alcohol. One accident, one million licenses.

Yep, that makes Dick Cheney - who drank the day he shot Harry Whittington - one in a million.
Corruption, Documented

Wow! Duke Cunningham's bribe menu!

Friday, February 17, 2006

"The Pink Panther"

A few nice gags, but pretty much a dud. Steve Martin just doesn't make the sale. I like the out-of-control globe making guest appearances during the movie, but it says something when the funniest thing about a movie isn't even alive.
"Stuff Happens"

Losers in war tend to blame the media, but it's not the media: it's the message:
The Pentagon will not close its Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects, despite U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call to shut it down, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday.

"He's just flat wrong," Rumsfeld said in response to a question about the controversial prison during an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations. "We shouldn't close Guantanamo. We have several hundred terrorists — bad people, people that if let back out on the field would try to kill Americans. That's just a fact."

...Rumsfeld also asserted that U.S. forces in Iraq are making progress on the security front, but he said there inevitably will be setbacks as the Iraqis struggle to assume control of their country.

"Our goal has to be to reduce our forces down, and to do it at a pace where we recognized that we're going to — I almost said 'make a mistake.' It will look like a mistake. It's a judgment call. We're going to have to pull out of some pieces of real estate and turn over things to Iraqis, and they're going to drop the ball. Let's face it.

...Rumsfeld also said al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups have poisoned the Muslim public's view of the United States through deft use of the Internet and other modern communications methods that the American government has failed to master.

"Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we — our country, our government — has not adapted," he said.

He quoted Ayman al-Zawahri, the chief lieutenant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, as saying that their terrorist network is in a media battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims. Rumsfeld agreed, saying that the battle for public opinion is at least as important as the battles on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

..."We in the government have barely even begun to compete in reaching their audiences," Rumsfeld said.

I'm headed this way:
Sixty-four-year-old Thai Ngoc, known as Hai Ngoc, said he could not sleep at night after getting a fever in 1973, and has counted infinite numbers of sheep during more than 11,700 consecutive sleepless nights.

“I don’t know whether the insomnia has impacted my health or not. But I’m still healthy and can farm normally like others,” Ngoc said.

Worrying about Cheney's mental state.
Cheney, a medically fragile 65-year-old who appears constitutionally unable to unburden himself publicly and was unwilling or unable to discuss the events before being subjected to intense G.O.P. and White House pressure to do so, might be at an unusually high risk of developing symptoms if he did not receive immediate and ongoing counseling as well.
Southern AZ Forecast

Maybe sprinkles for today?

The news over the last couple of days has been so grim that I hesitated to write. The forecasts are progressively downplaying the strength of the Feb. 20 system to the point where it might not be that much when it arrives. I'm hoping the forecasts are bad - they sometimes are when it comes to west coast systems, but it's not as big as I hoped....

Today, the forecasts are suggesting that some of the warm, tropical stuff Hawaii-way might be on the move, aiming for AZ arrival around Feb. 25-26.
A Yellow Grosbeak

A Central American bird stops in Albuquerque for three months, and the world flocks in.
Shoes For The Super Fantastic Scientist

But only if you are a woman, it seems....
Blogs Peaking?

I don't think so, but here's a thought-provoking article suggesting that the blog fad may be cresting, particularly as a business. It features nice paragraph headings like:
  • the magazine cover indicator;
  • the smart guys cashing out;
  • the excited dinosaurs; and,
  • the gullible newcomers.
For myself, success seems to follow persistence. The more you write, the more searches Google will send your way, and the more traffic results. It's not even the writing quality: this Web Site is even more inane today than it was two years ago.

Excited dinosaur on the prowl!
Where Are My Presents?

The closest thing to an interview of the founder of Napkin Nights:
The site is a one-stop shop for clubbers. There they can find photos of themselves and friends and assorted other gorgeous folk partying the night away at all of Las Vegas' venues, as well as clubs in Scottsdale and Sacramento.

...Besides her age, Lee is often asked what nationality she is -- something she'll gladly tell you for a buck. She says the proceeds are going toward a boob job. She doesn't need it, but I gladly toss her a single anyway. Then she lists off her countries of origin: Korea, Russia and Hungary. How did I know that was coming?
Just Laying Around...

I usually find just cigarette butts when I hike:
A Greek hiker found a 6,500-year-old gold pendant in a field and handed it over to authorities, an archaeologist said Thursday.

The flat, roughly ring-shaped prehistoric pendant probably had religious significance and would have been worn on a necklace by a prominent member of society.
Something Orwell Wrote

Mr. Whittington issued a statement today:
The lawyer shot by Vice President Dick Cheney during a hunting trip was being discharged from a hospital on Friday and told reporters he was sorry for all the trouble Cheney had faced over the past week.

..."We are deeply sorry for what Vice President Cheney had to go through this week," Whittington said, appearing emotional in front of television cameras.
In his book "Homage to Catalonia," radical English writer George Orwell talked about his recuperation from a bullet wound through the throat, a wound he received on the Aragon front of the Spanish Civil War. Orwell suffered permanent damage to the vocal cords from the wound. Person after person told Orwell how lucky he was, seeing how the bullet had barely missed the carotid arteries. Orwell wryly commented that he had only wished he was lucky enough to have avoided the bullet altogether.

Orwell was lucky, Cheney was unfortunate: it's a Kafkaesque world!
Camera Phones

Only cyberspace is real:
Japan's obsession with camera-equipped mobile phones has taken a bizarre twist, with mourners at funerals now using the devices to capture a final picture of the deceased.

"I get the sense that people no longer respect the dead. It's disturbing," a funeral director told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

..."Some can't grasp 'reality' unless they take a photo and share it with others ... It comes from a desire to keep a strong bond with the deceased," social commentator Toru Takeda told the paper.
Bring Out Yer Dead!

But I'm not dead yet!:
When burying a body in the backyard, don't put it too close to the septic system. That was one piece of advice offered on Wednesday to a business conference on preparing for a potentially lethal bird flu andemic.

Preparations for a global flu pandemic, which many experts believe is overdue, have begun but the grisly details are horrific and the number of sick could quickly overwhelm the health care system.

..."We talk about how people should bury their dead in their backyards, how far from the septic systems," said Dorothy Teeter, director of the King County public health department in Seattle. "In case you're wondering, it's $20 apiece for high-quality body bags. In New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina) they had to double-bag bodies."

Refrigerated trucks will be needed to ship and store food and medicines and will not be available for corpses, a mistake made by federal authorities who commandeered trucks after Katrina, said James Caverly of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Communicating the truth will be important to deter civil unrest, several experts told the conference. Up until six months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services was planning privately for a pandemic but saying little publicly, said communications consultant Peter Sandman.

The shift may be due to President George W. Bush reading John Barry's "The Great Influenza," an account of the 1918 influenza pandemic during which government assured the public that it was just another seasonal flu outbreak, Sandman said. At the time, Barry said many communities were brought to a near standstill, with people afraid to talk to each other or care for the sick.

"When you mislead people, when you over-reassure people ... they feel less trusting, and they behave much worse," Sandman said.

...Meanwhile, government will have to address public skepticism about its ability to prepare for a pandemic, the official in charge of emergency preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services said.
Well, count me among the skeptics. The lethality of this virus is still quite abstract to me. Icebergs are abstract to me too. Only cyberspace is real.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Role Of Ridicule

Bush effectively deployed ridicule against Kerry in 2004. According to Legal Fiction, the tables are now turned:
Getting back to Dead-Eye Dick – slayer of octogenarians – I think the incessant jokes-to-come could undermine him (and the administration) politically – maybe not a lot, but they won't help. And yes, people ridicule Bush and Cheney all the time. But this one is different. To borrow from Ed Helms, he shot a 78-year old man . . . in the face. That’s so ridiculous that even people who pay no attention to politics will hear about it and find it pretty funny.

But here’s why it matters. Perhaps this is too snarky, but I think the continued political support for the administration has little to do with actual policy. How could it? Instead, it relies heavily on a cult of personality – a carefully-crafted aura or projection of toughness and decisiveness. To many people, Bush is still the 9/11 President, the decisive war president, the man who stood on the rubble with the bullhorn.

But the thing is – once you've pulled back the curtain, you can’t ever really believe in the Wizard again. It’s just an old man pulling some switches. Over the past year, the projected aura has lifted and revealed the bumbling incompetence of the administration. Call it the Wizard of Oz effect.

Katrina in particular was the last straw for many people. ... But their image of Bush changed that week. Suddenly the 9/11 President was indecisive, helpless, weak, and incompetent. It popped the bubble for a lot of people.

And now we have Cheney – who shot a 78-year old man . . . in the face. It’s kind of hard to square the tough-guy war-leader image that Cheney wants to project with the image of the bumbling hunter who shot an old man in the face at close range. Yes, in a rational world, this sort of thing would be irrelevant. But in the modern media age, it’s not. And even if the coming ridicule doesn’t pull Cheney’s ratings down lower, it will at least prevent them from being rehabilitated for some time to come. And again, because Cheney depends so heavily on this aura of toughness for support, the ridicule may well effect that support.
"I Have A Gub"

Sigh. Well, at least there's an AM-PM not far away!:
"We find that unattractive individuals commit more crime in comparison to average-looking ones, and very attractive individuals commit less crime in comparison to those who are average-looking," claim Naci Mocan of the University of Colorado and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University.

Mocan and Tekin analyzed data from a federally sponsored survey of 15,000 high-schoolers who were interviewed in 1994 and again in 1996 and 2002. One question asked interviewers to rate the physical appearance of the student on a five-point scale ranging from "very attractive" to "very unattractive."

These economists found that the long-term consequences of being young and ugly were small but consistent. Cute guys were uniformly less likely than averages would indicate to have committed seven crimes including burglary and selling drugs, while the unhandsome were consistently more likely to have broken the law.
View From A Bridge

Chief Officers of HMS Titanic, left to right: Captain E. J. Smith (Richard Spierto), Chief Builder Tom Andrews (Michael McElroy), Owner J. Bruce Ismay (Ben Bruening), First Officer William Murdoch (Chris Neff), Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Jabriel Shelton).

It's hard to resist having a bit of fun....

Capt. Smith: Are there any reports of ice?

Lightoller: Sir, we have several reports of ice at 42 degrees latitude, and just one report, from the French liner Tournant, of ice at 41 degrees.

Capt. Smith: That is so like the French.

Lightoller: Sir, my mother's family is French.

Capt. Smith: My condolences, Mr. Lightoller.

Lightoller: Yes sir. Sorry sir.

Capt. Smith: Mr. Murdoch, do you see any ice?

Murdoch: No sir, but I do see a large, white bird. I've never seen a wingspan so large - it covers the western horizon!

Capt. Smith: Please ask Mr. Fleet to inform the first class with dispatch that a large, white bird is approaching from the west, and that their diligent attention to this hazard is required.

Murdoch: Aye, aye Captain! If you don't mind me saying so, sir, we are blessed with a very attentive first-class on this maiden voyage.

Capt. Smith: Indeed we are, Mr. Murdoch. Indeed we are.

Cheney Plays Folsom Prison

Inspired by Johnny Cash - and Senator Patrick Leahy's experience last year.
Australia's Cane Toad Invaders

The long-legged ones are rushing forward like embers from a leaping forest fire. The invasion started in 1935, and it's a disaster!
The researchers believe their findings indicate evolution is favouring longer-legged toads which can travel further, quicker, meaning they can encroach on new territories faster than ever before.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Weird Rumor

Cheney had to figure out first what to do with the girlfriend before hitting the airwaves? History repeats itself, first as tragedy (Chappaquiddick), then as farce?
The New Spartans

Video gamers, in a sense, spend all their spare time preparing for high-tech war, much like the ancient Spartans prepared for traditional warfare. Here is an interesting big-think article about the effects on young warriors:
"Of course, it's not a game. The feel of the actual weapon was more of an adrenaline rush than the feel of the controller," he continues. "But you're practically doing the same thing: trying to kill the other person. The goal is the same. That's the similarity. The goal is to survive."
Cheney's Got A Gun

A roundup of the Web:

Red State Update (pretty funny)

Song Parody Lyrics:
Am I Right
Famous James
Pittsburgh Thoughts
Call Me Roger
etc., etc. etc.
Even The Right Is Making The Chappaquiddick Parallel

I don't see much of an upside for the Right here, but if they think humor helps, so be it:
Top radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh put a political spin on the accident, offering his listeners a choice:

"Would you rather go hunting with Dick Cheney or riding in a car over a bridge with Ted Kennedy?” Limbaugh asked. "At least Cheney takes you to the hospital.”
Annoying Matters of Law

Ann Coulter apparently voted in the wrong precinct in a recent Florida election. She gave her realtor's address as her own, perhaps in an attempt to avoid stalkers, but nevertheless, that is still a third-degree felony.
The Wily Bob White

I remember walking through sagebrush one day during quail-hunting season in Corrales, New Mexico. I could hear gunfire nearby. I was getting nervous. Then I stumbled into a covey of quail, and dozens of birds abruptly took flight. I hit the ground just as fast as I could manage! Can't be too careful in quail-hunting season!

Here are three good questions that Slate is reporting that Harry Whittington's co-workers have:
Who was in charge of the hunt? As many Americans are learning for the first time, quail hunting is dangerous—arguably the most dangerous type of hunting. Participants, usually a threesome, follow dogs through thick brush and tall grass seeking what Karl Rove, a dedicated quail hunter, calls "the wily bob white." When the quail flush, hunters are surrounded by panicked birds. Each hunter is supposed to fire forward, but in the adrenalin spike of the flush, it is easy to lose your bearings. That is why it's good practice for someone who is not shooting to be in charge of the hunt. The hunters are supposed to maintain a horizontal line as they move forward, but this is easier than it sounds in rough country. When someone falls behind—someone, for instance, like Harry Whittington—the person in charge calls a halt until the line forms up again. Whittington, as we know, dropped back to pick up a bird. This happens all the time in quail hunting; the question is, why did the other two hunters keep going? Perhaps, veteran quail hunters are speculating, no one was in charge on the Armstrong Ranch, leaving the three hunters in Dick Cheney's party on their own while hostess Katharine Armstrong watched from the car that had transported them.

At what range was Harry Whittington hit? The official story is that the blast from the vice president's shotgun hit Whittington at a distance of 30 yards. Hunters at the Vaughn Building are skeptical. The hunt took place on a cold, windy afternoon. Whittington and his fellow hunters were probably wearing warm clothing—say, a jacket and a flannel shirt. Cheney was using a 28-gauge shotgun, a smaller-diameter firearm with pellets smaller than BBs. Whittington's friends question whether the pellets could have penetrated his layers of clothing and skin at that range. Yet two pellets lodged against his larynx, another was in his liver, and another migrated into the heart muscle, causing the heart attack. The pattern of wounds was between the lower chest and the forehead, a pretty tight zone for shot of 30 yards. If the range was considerably less than 30 yards, then it is likely that Whittington's injuries were worse than the initial statement by Katharine Armstrong indicated. (The blast "knocked him silly," but "he was fine.")

Whose fault was it? If there is anything that Harry's friends at the Vaughn Building are angry about, it is not the shooting itself but the attempt by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to place the blame on the victim. It's the shooter's duty to know what he is shooting at and where his companions are. A shooting accident is always the fault of the shooter. Always.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Marlin Fitzwater Reacts

Ronald Reagan's and George H. W. Bush's Press Secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, can't quite believe how bad Cheney and the White House handled this:
"If [Cheney's] press secretary had any sense about it at all, she would have gotten the story together and put it out. Calling AP, UPI, and all of the press services. That would have gotten the story out and it would have been the right thing to do, recognizing his responsibility to the people as a nationally elected official, to tell the country what happened," Fitzwater added.

"Secondly, it would have been confined to the vice president. By not telling anyone for 24 hours, it made it a White House story. Now it has become 'when was the president notified?', 'why didn't he put it out?' It becomes a story about the White House handling of it."
Letters To The Editor Are 'Sedition'

Albuquerque nurse is a menace to Homeland Security:
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has asked Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson for a thorough inquiry of his agency's investigation into whether a V.A. nurse's letter to the editor criticizing the Bush administration amounted to "sedition."

Merely opposing government policies and expressing a desire to change course "does not provide reason to believe that a person is involved in illegal subversive activity," he said. Bingaman said such investigations raise "a very real possibility of chilling legitimate political speech."

Laura Berg, a clinical nurse specialist for 15 years, wrote a letter in September to a weekly Albuquerque newspaper criticizing how the administration handled Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. She urged people to "act forcefully" by bringing criminal charges against top administration officials, including the president, to remove them from power because they played games of "vicious deceit." She added: "This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil....Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times."

The agency seized her office computer and launched an investigation. Berg is not talking to the press, but reportedly fears losing her job.

...Berg signed the letter as a private citizen, and the V.A. had no reason to suspect she used government resources to write it, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which last week asked the government to apologize to Berg for seizing her computer and investigating her.

V.A. human resources chief Mel Hooker had said in a Nov. 9 letter that his agency was obligated to investigate "any act which potentially represents sedition," the ACLU said.
Can't Beat The Daily Show!

Even the wingnuts are having fun with it (picture, left, from Lucianne), but I still prefer Jon Stewart (as posted at Daily Kos):

Jon Stewart: "I'm joined now by our own vice-presidential firearms mishap analyst, Rob Corddry. Rob, obviously a very unfortunate situation. How is the vice president handling it?

Rob Corddry: "Jon, tonight the vice president is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Wittington. According to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush.

"And while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face."

Jon Stewart: "But why, Rob? If he had known Mr. Whittington was not a bird, why would he still have shot him?"

Rob Corddry: "Jon, in a post-9-11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak."

Jon Stewart: "That's horrible."

Rob Corddry: "Look, the mere fact that we're even talking about how the vice president drives up with his rich friends in cars to shoot farm-raised wingless quail-tards is letting the quail know 'how' we're hunting them. I'm sure right now those birds are laughing at us in that little 'covey' of theirs.

Jon Stewart: "I'm not sure birds can laugh, Rob."

Rob Corddry: "Well, whatever it is they do ... coo .. they're cooing at us right now, Jon, because here we are talking openly about our plans to hunt them. Jig is up. Quails one, America zero.

Jon Stewart: "Okay, well, on a purely human level, is the vice president at least sorry?"

Rob Corddry: "Jon, what difference does it make? The bullets are already in this man's face. Let's move forward across party lines as a people ... to get him some sort of mask."
Problems in the Colorado Strip

When I was doing genealogical research on my family, I discovered Judge Drake, who, in his capacity as the first federal judge for Utah, was a royal pain in Brigham Young's backside. I wonder what he would make of this?:
...Intermarriage among close relatives is producing children who have two copies of a recessive gene for a debilitating condition called Fumarase Deficiency.

They predict the scale of the problem will increase dramatically in the future. Wyler, who has lived in the polygamist community most of his life, said he expects residents to continue marrying close relatives.

"Around here," Wyler said, "you're pretty much related to everybody."

Fumarase Deficiency is an enzyme irregularity that causes severe mental retardation, epileptic seizures and other cruel effects that leave children nearly helpless and unable to take care of themselves.

Dr. Theodore Tarby has treated many of the children at clinics in Arizona under contracts with the state. All are retarded. "In the severe category of mental retardation," the neurologist said, "which means an IQ down there around 25 or so."

Until a few years ago, scientists knew of only 13 cases of Fumarase Deficiency in the entire world. Tarby said he's now aware of 20 more victims, all within a few blocks of each other on the Utah-Arizona border.

...According to community historian Ben Bistline, most of the community's 8,000 residents are in two major families descended from a handful of founders who settled there in the 1930s to live a polygamist lifestyle.

"Ninety percent of the community is related to one side or the other," Bistline said.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bargaining With The Arizona Weather Gods

Things look a little more reasonable after the weekend. A trough will move into the western U.S., allowing opportunities for some weather to occur, but with not as much wind as once looked likely. A disturbance will pass through AZ on Feb. 16th, but a more significant disturbance will pass through, slowly, around Feb. 20th.
White House Blames The Victim

As usual:
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan tried to absolve Cheney of blame for shooting wealthy Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, saying that hunting "protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying others that he was there. And so, you know, unfortunately, these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time."

Several hunting experts were skeptical of McClellan's explanation. They said Cheney might have violated a cardinal rule of hunting: Know your surroundings before you pull the trigger.
Adam Taylor's "Gardens of Eden"

Under construction! Working on gutters this week.

Boy, Cloudy the Rabbit is having a hard time just keeping up with the changes in the backyard!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Flying Monkey Productions - Saturday Night Performance

Caught the tail end of the Saturday performance (saw Friday's show, though). Appropriately enough, Flying Monkey Productions did some of their best work with "Wicked."

Glinda just chucks the wand: 'Popular,' from "Wicked." Elphaba (Kelley Jakle) left, and Glinda (Kristin Cunningham).

Elphaba gets confidence: 'Defying Gravity,' from "Wicked."

Elphaba gets a whole lot more confidence: 'Defying Gravity.'

Inertia DeWitt (left).

Nice weekend of benefit performances for Flying Monkey Productions. According to Katherine Vanderford, for this benefit, the performers had been practicing songs for about six months, with more focused rehearsals for the past two months.

Many good voices! Portions of five popular, recent musicals were performed: "Hairspray", "Rent", "Phantom of the Opera", "Mamma Mia!," and "Wicked."

The singer who did best with the exposure was Inertia DeWitt. Her strong voice and excellent rhythm-and-blues training served her very well, particularly as Joanne in the 'Seasons of Love' opening from "Rent." Her strong voice was particularly useful in helping her overcome the often-missing sound amplification from the microphones, a problem that tended to bedevil the show (the short technical rehearsal period compromised quality here).

Katherine Vanderford did well as 'Christine' in the "Phantom of the Opera" segment, managing to hit those impossibly-high notes. She's disappeared into the Parisian underworld - who knows when next we'll see her?

The performer who seemed to have the greatest range and versatility was Kristin Cunningham, who performed numerous dances and songs, and brought the house down as bubbly Glinda, singing 'Popular,' from "Wicked." Interestingly, she was less effective as Ula, singing 'If You've Got It, Flaunt It,' from "The Producers." I suspect it wasn't because of any particular failure: rather Ula's song-and-dance must be much more difficult than I had appreciated. In retrospect, maybe that is to be expected: the role of the sultry siren is a minefield of difficulties. Even Marilyn Monroe had to learn her trademark walk, closely following choreographer Jack Cole around the room for hours at a time, trying to use her hip sway to maximum effect.

Kelley Jakle was very effective playing opposite Ryan Warren and Kristin Cunningham, as 'Elphaba' in "Wicked." I had never seen anything from "Wicked" before, and I thought Kelley's 'Defying Gravity' was marvellous! Ryan Warren did well as Fiyero: in fact, I think I shall appropriate Fiyero's trademark slogan for myself: "Life is Painless for the Brainless."

Julie Soto (left) was very funny as Tracy Turnblad in "Hairspray," and I particularly liked whatever that hip action was that she had going on in 'Dancing Queen.'

I was surprised that Flying Monkey Productions attempted 'Out Tonight' from "Rent." As Rosario Dawson demonstrated in the recent movie, that is one hella athletic song-and-dance that 'Mimi' does. I was even more surprised to discover that Carly Wielstein was doing the number. In the spring of 2004, DMTC's Young Performer's Theater had cast Carly as 'Cinderella,' but after she graduated from high school, I no longer knew what she was up to. She apparently remained in contact with the Sacramento crowd, however, and Ryan Warren was able to tap her talents for this show. She is now a soon-to-declare theater major at Cal State Fullerton.

Carly started out with a vamp across the front railing of the hall, and then aimed at a portion of the uncompleted 'Titanic' set, stage right. For a few seconds, I thought she was going to do a pole dance on one of the bare wood pillars. If she tried that in spandex, she was going to get more splinters than she'd get by embracing a porcupine. "Don't do it, Carly!," I wanted to shout, but she draped a leg across a railing instead. As graceful and athletic as her dance was, Carly's dance was somewhat conservative compared to the universe of possibilities (to the extent that the word 'conservative' can be applied to 'Mimi' in any meaningful way), which was a good thing, since Carly may have never danced on that stage before.

Carly also did 'Does Your Mother Know?,' from "Mamma Mia!," with Tyler Thomas (Tyler did an inspired 'worm' at the end of the Friday night show - lots of potential there!) It will be interesting to see what Carly can do in Southern California in the years ahead: she's only gotten better as a performer in the last two years!

Local community theaters are often not able to do the more-recent Broadway shows because of copyright restrictions: as long as Broadway shows are playing, or on tour, rights are simply not extended to small groups. The benefit performance genre seems to be an exception: for a brief time, performers can tackle the latest and the greatest, and get away with it. It's not a surprise, then, that this weekend's performances felt like a dam bursting, almost like we were hearing sung every song these talented people had ever learned.

I don't have much experience with benefit performances, but I saw one last year for Huntington Beach High School, one of the best public performance-arts magnet schools in the Los Angeles area (which I blogged about here.) The two theater groups are not directly comparable, of course - well-established drama department vs. recently-formed community group - but a benefit is still a benefit, and there are lessons to be learned.

For their benefit performance, Huntington Beach also featured popular songs from recent musicals (e.g. 'Hairspray'), but they also focused on another class of shows - obscure or failed musicals. Lots of musicals have been written, but despite beautiful songs, some have been handicapped by lame plots. People usually can't be persuaded to leave their homes to see an obscure musical, but they will easily turn out to see their favorite group do a benefit show, and if they have their horizons expanded as a consequence by seeing an obscure musical, so much the better!

The Huntington Beach group focused on the musical "Side Show," which is sort-of an anti-Carnival kind of show: instead of people running away to join the circus, the circus closes, and the carnies have to pack up, go home, and readjust to normal life. You can just feel the excitement leach away - what? - will the bearded lady find a depilatory cream that works? By that logic, DMTC, instead of doing "Titanic," should be doing "Carpathia - the Musical" (about the bitter second-half of the 1912 Atlantic crossing.) Nevertheless, there are some great songs in "Side Show" that make it worth a second look. And there are a bunch of other worthy (but defective) musicals out there too.

Just tossing out an idea!