Saturday, March 24, 2007

Roadkill On The Road To Roswell

Interesting revelations from Fife Symington!

Regarding the proposed explanation from the amateur astronomer for the 1997 UFO sightings, it's important to remember that A-10 'Warthog' aircraft are common in Arizona. They train in anti-tank warfare west of Tucson.

I remember once being startled by an A-10 flying at saguaro-top levels on the road out to Ajo. Usually, A-10's fly over Tucson in slow, stately formation, two by two, as they travel to and from Davis-Monthan AFB and the training grounds, but that day, the aircraft was in killer mode. It was like discovering that my friendly dog Sparky is actually a mankilling wolf! Scary!

The A-10s rake abandoned cars out on the training grounds with gunfire. One time in the 1980's, a Fish and Game truck was annihilated by an A-10 because it was parked very near the boundary of the training ground. The pilot erred, attacked the truck, and two stranded Fish and Game employees had to hike seven miles out to a main road, on foot.

It's rarer when A-10s are over Phoenix, though - I believe they rarely stray far from the western reaches of the metropolis, near Luke AFB - so I wonder what was going on on that day in 1997?

In any event, former Arizona Governor Fife Symington is having none of the more-mundane explanations for what he saw:
Former Gov. Fife Symington says now that those strange lights that appeared over Phoenix a decade ago were from another world and that he had a close encounter with an alien craft on March 13, 1997.

"I'm a pilot and I know just about every machine that flies. It was bigger than anything that I've ever seen. It remains a great mystery. Other people saw it, responsible people," Symington said Thursday. "I don't know why people would ridicule it."

Symington, who was in his second term as governor of Arizona during the Phoenix Lights incident, recently told a UFO investigator making a documentary that he had kept quiet about his personal close encounter because he didn't want to panic the populace.

He repeated his story Thursday on CNN, saying the craft he saw was "enormous. It just felt other-worldly. In your gut, you could just tell it was other-worldly."
The governor didn't let on at the time, instead poking fun at the whole thing.

He hosted a press conference a few months after the mass sightings to announce that his Department of Public Safety had arrested the culprit responsible — a very tall bug-eyed creature brought before the media in handcuffs.

He then unmasked the creature to reveal his chief of staff, Jay Heiler, who at 6-foot-4 made an imposing, somewhat comical space alien.

...Heiler said Thursday he isn't surprised Symington believes in UFOs.

He said his boss was a "Trekkie" who enjoyed discussing space travel. Heiler said Symington was convinced that earthlings would be traveling to distant solar systems at speeds exceeding the speed of light "in our lifetimes."

...Tucson astronomer and retired Air Force pilot James McGaha said he investigated two separate sightings over Phoenix that March night and traced them both to A-10 aircraft flying in formation at high altitude.

McGaha said he talked to an amateur astronomer who observed the A-10s and to the National Guard unit that flew them.

"It was clearly aircraft in formation, flying at two different times and then dropping flares and it's clear to any rational person that's what it was," McGaha said Thursday.

McGaha said Symington "is not a trained observer and what he feels in his gut doesn't make any difference."

Symington said he's always believed that life existed elsewhere. "The universe is a big place and we're conceited to think we're alone."
"Suessical - The Musical" - CSU, Sacramento

Left: Set at the top of the show. Note all the circles! There were several circular stages, the foremost of which was tilted towards the audience.

Left: Natasha Scott (Mayzie La Bird) takes a bow at the end of the show.

Excellent show, featuring three friends (Andy Hyun, 'The Cat In The Hat'; Michael R.J. Campbell, 'Horton The Elephant'; and Brad Bong, a 'Wickersham Brother') plus a host of talented people.

Two people in particular merit mention: Stephanie Zito (Gertrude McFuzz) and Natasha Scott (Mayzie La Bird). Very energetic players both! Zito's winning manner on stage was wonderful to see!

There were also fine character sketches: Mr. Amyor (Ed Dyer) and the hunched-over old woman. Vlad Vladikoff (Ryan Harbert), with his juggling skills, was a welcome addition!

Andy Hyun is getting more and more animated in general as his stage career develops. His hands were a marvel to watch in this show.

The music was loud, but appropriately so, given the cartoonish nature of "Suessical - The Musical".

The front, tilted stage was worrisome to me. Not only was the tilted stage a slipping hazard all on its own, but there were times, such as when a rippling sheet simulating water was draped across the stage, when the circular edges of the stage were obscured, when accidents were even more likely to occur. I understand that Christopher Carlson (Jojo) has actually slipped twice into the orchestra pit during the run of the show (but not on Friday, when I was there).

The costumes were great. I wondered a bit about perfect circles for the stages (ovals anyone?), but it all worked well....

I had read that Ted Geisel (Dr. Suess) was a political cartoonist at one point, but I had thought he was a conservative. The anti-war nature of some his writing thus might have been consistent with an 30's isolationist bent, but according to Wikipedia, Geisel was a New Dealer with pacifist tendencies once the Nazi danger had passed.....

Selections from Wikipedia regarding "Dr. Suess":
Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 - September 24, 1991) was a famous American writer and cartoonist best known for his classic children's books under the pen name Dr. Seuss. ... Ted's father was a parks commissioner in charge of Forest Park, a huge park that included within its borders a zoo and was located three blocks from a library. ... Being an immigrant from Germany, the name "Seuss" would have been pronounced "zoice", the standard pronunciation in German. ... Geisel also used the pen name Theo. LeSieg (Geisel spelled backwards) for books he wrote but others illustrated.

He entered Lincoln College, Oxford, intending to earn a doctorate in literature. At Oxford he met Helen Palmer Geisel, married her in 1927, and returned to the United States without earning the degree. The "Dr." in his pen name is an acknowledgment of his father's unfulfilled hopes that Seuss would earn a doctorate at Oxford.

... He became nationally famous from his advertisements for Flit, a common insecticide at the time. His slogan, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" became a popular catchphrase.

...As World War II began, Dr. Seuss turned to political cartoons, drawing over 400 in two years as editorial cartoonist for the left-wing New York City daily newspaper, PM. Dr. Seuss's political cartoons opposed the viciousness of Hitler and Mussolini and were highly critical of isolationists, most notably Charles Lindbergh, who opposed American entry into the war. Some cartoons depicted all Japanese Americans as latent traitors or fifth-columnists, while at the same time other cartoons deplored the racism at home against Jews and blacks that harmed the war effort. His cartoons were strongly supportive of President Roosevelt's conduct of the war.... In 1942, Dr. Seuss turned his energies to direct support of the U.S. war effort. First, he worked drawing posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Then, in 1943, he joined the Army and was commander of the Animation Dept of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II, Design for Death, a study of Japanese culture that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1947, and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films....

...After the war, Dr. Seuss and his wife moved to La Jolla, California. Returning to children's books, he wrote what many consider to be his finest works, including such favorites as If I Ran the Zoo, (1950), Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953), On Beyond Zebra! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957).

At the same time, an important development occurred that influenced much of Seuss's later work. In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, Seuss's publisher made up a list of 400 words he felt were important and asked Dr. Seuss to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Nine months later, Seuss, using 220 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. This book was a tour de force—it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Seuss's earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary could be read by beginning readers.

... Dr. Seuss went on to write many other children's books, both in his new simplified-vocabulary manner (sold as "Beginner Books") and in his older, more elaborate style. ... The Beginner Books were not easy for Seuss, and reportedly he labored for months crafting them.

... Today, Dr. Seuss is widely viewed as one of the greatest American childrens authors of all time.

Dr. Seuss wrote most of his books in a verse form that in the terminology of metrics would be characterized as anapestic tetrameter, a meter employed also by Lord Byron and other poets of the English literary canon. (It is also the meter of the famous Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, more familiarly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".)

Anapestic tetrameter consists of four rhythmic units (anapests), each composed of two weak beats followed by one strong, schematized below:

x x X x x X x x X x x X

...Seuss generally maintained this meter quite strictly, until late in his career, when he was no longer able to maintain strict rhythm in all lines. The consistency of his meter was one of his hallmarks; the many imitators and parodists of Seuss are often unable to write in strict anapestic tetrameter, or are unaware that they should, and thus sound clumsy in comparison with the original.

Seuss also wrote verse in trochaic tetrameter, an arrangement of four units each with a strong followed by a weak beat.

X x X x X x X x
An example is the title (and first line) of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. The formula for trochaic meter permits the final weak position in the line to be omitted, which facilitates the construction of rhymes.

Seuss generally maintained trochaic meter only for brief passages, and for longer stretches typically mixed it with iambic tetrameter:

x X x X x X x X
which is easier to write. Thus, for example, the magicians in Bartholomew and the Oobleck make their first appearance chanting in trochees (thus resembling the witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth):

Shuffle, duffle, muzzle, muff
then switch to iambs for the oobleck spell:

Go make the oobleck tumble down
On every street, in every town!

In Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am generally speaks in trochees, and the exasperated character he proselytizes replies in iambs.

...Seuss's figures are often rounded and somewhat droopy. This is true, for instance, of the faces of the Grinch and of the Cat in the Hat. It is also true of virtually all buildings and machinery that Seuss drew: although these objects abound in straight lines in real life, Seuss carefully avoided straight lines in drawing them (in fact, he never drew a completely straight line at any part of any of his works). For buildings, this could be accomplished in part through choice of architecture. For machines, for example, If I Ran the Circus includes a droopy hoisting crane and a droopy steam calliope.

Seuss evidently enjoyed drawing architecturally elaborate objects. His endlessly varied (but never rectilinear) palaces, ramps, platforms, and free-standing stairways are among his most evocative creations. Seuss also drew elaborate imaginary machines, of which the Audio-Telly-O-Tally-O-Count, from Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, is one example. Seuss also liked drawing outlandish arrangements of feathers or fur, for example, the 500th hat of Bartholomew Cubbins, the tail of Gertrude McFuzz, and the pet for girls who like to brush and comb, in One Fish Two Fish.

Seuss's images often convey motion vividly. He was fond of a sort of "voilĂ " gesture, in which the hand flips outward, spreading the fingers slightly backward with the thumb up; this is done by Ish, for instance, in One Fish Two Fish when he creates fish (who perform the gesture themselves with their fins), in the introduction of the various acts of If I Ran the Circus, and in the introduction of the Little Cats in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. ...

...Dr. Seuss was a friend and drinking partner of crime author Raymond Chandler, who was also a resident of La Jolla.

... Is often attributed with inventing the word 'nerd'.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How's The Permanent Republican Majority Project Going?

Seen better times, it seems.
Intriguing New Musical Proposed

People find inspiration from the strangest places - like the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Was that song from the Coachella movie from this album? I think maybe so! What was with that big plastic ball? I mean, it's nice for Wayne Coyne to walk across the mosh pit inside a big plastic ball - tricksy footing, that - but how does that relate to Yoshimi's struggle?:
Coyne compares the proposed concept to Terry Gilliam's dystopian sci-fi movie Brazil. ''There's the real world and then there's this fantastical world,'' explains Coyne. ''This girl, the Yoshimi character, is dying of something. And these two guys are battling to come visit her in the hospital. And as one of the boyfriends envisions trying to save the girl, he enters this other dimension where Yoshimi is this Japanese warrior and the pink robots are an incarnation of her disease. It's almost like the disease has to win in order for her soul to survive.
Birthday - Shhh!

Left: From Whipped Dream at B3ta.

I was going to mention that yesterday was Marcel Marceau's birthday, but somehow couldn't find the words.
David Obey re: Washington Post

It's taking years, but finally our representatives are beginning to talk back to the sick fools at the Washington Post:
Let me submit to you the problem we have today is not that we didn't listen enough to people like The Washington Post. It's that we listened too much. They endorsed going to war in the first place. They helped drive the drumbeat that drove almost two-thirds of the people in this chamber to vote for that misbegotten, stupid, ill-advised war that has destroyed our influence over a third of the world. So I make no apology if the moral sensibilities of some people on this floor, or the editorial writers of The Washington Post, are offended because they don't like the specific language contained in our benchmarks or in our timelines.

What matters in the end is not what the specific language is. What matters is whether or not we produce a product today that puts pressure on this Administration and sends a message to Iraq, to the Iraqi politicians that we're going to end the permanent long-term dead end babysitting service. That's what we're trying to do. And if The Washington Post is offended about the way we do it, that's just too bad.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Song About Rush Limbaugh

A surprising number of people, many likely wacko wingnuts, have been accessing my blog for the last two days, because I wrote that post about Rush Limbaugh seizing the concept of 'the Magic Negro' from the LA Times and singing 'Barack, The Magic Negro' to the tune of 'Puff, The Magic Dragon.' The visitors want the lyrics to the tune as Rush sang it. So why are they accessing this web log? Because, if you do a Google search on 'Barack, The Magic Negro', or similar terms, this site is listed second, and the abstract Google provides makes it look like I'm right there in lockstep with the wingnuts.

So, what to do? When life hands you a wingnut, make wingnutade. Here is a song about Rush Limbaugh, sung to the tune of 'Puff, The Magic Dragon.'
Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me,
Ditto Richard Cheney loved that rascal Rush,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me,
Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Richard kept a lookout perched on Rush's gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Rush roared out his name. Oh!

Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me,
Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me.

DJs live forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant's rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Richard Cheney came no more
And Rush on oxycontin, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, beer cans fell like rain,
Rush no longer went to play, along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Rush could not be brave,
So Rush on oxycontin sadly slipped into his cave. Oh!

Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me,
Rush, on oxycontin lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in the land for you and me.
Good For Us All

John Edwards has decided to continue his Presidential campaign.
"Faithful Friends O' Th' Suburbs", And Other Fighting Words

I've been looking on-line for that list of Shakespearean insults we used in 'Fie On Goodness', in "Camelot", but haven't found it. Instead, I found this bin o' insults.
Media Crusade Against Gore

Interesting article detailing the repeated and outrageous conduct of the New York Times and other media outlets in distorting Al Gore's words.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Deborah Does Zazzle

Deborah McMillion-Nering is now selling T-Shirts featuring her colorful surrealistic paintings on Zazzle. Buy a few!

(I was going to call this post 'Debbie Does Dali', but she'd probably kill me....)
Walk A Mile In My Shoes

Well, maybe not:
Sitting in her living room in Tooele, a few days before she won the contest for the stinkiest shoes in America, 13-year-old Katharine Tuck seemed quietly confident.

..."A girl today told me I needed to get new shoes," Katharine said. She replied that she had to keep wearing this pair — scuffing them and forgoing socks to make them even rattier — because on March 20 she'd be taking part in a national contest, the 32nd annual Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest. Katharine also told her classmate, "The winner gets $2,500."

...Her mother, Paula, notes that Katharine is an honor student and that she followed the rules of the contest quite scrupulously. Katharine knew her shoes would be judged on not just smell but on appearance of tongue, soles, laces, eyelets and the like. And she knew she could not take a knife or a saw to the shoes, that she had to let them wear out by doing what kids her age would naturally do.

So she rode her bike, dragging her toes into the stop, as kids will do. And she helped her mom in the garden, and the shoes got muddy and wet. And she wore them to school, day after day, without socks. And who knows, she may even have strolled the shores of the Great Salt Lake, delicately dipping her feet into the decaying brine shrimp.

...She reported by telephone to the Deseret Morning News after her win, saying she was hopeful when the head judge, a rocket specialist with NASA, had a look of disgust on his face as he smelled her shoes.

Sure enough, after the judges discussed the shoes for what Katharine said seemed to be about three minutes, she was declared the winner.
John Backus, RIP

The leader of the team that developed the only computer language I've ever seriously bothered to learn, John W. Backus, has died at age 82. A very sad day for all.
Various Theories Regarding The Cause Of Global Warming

Via Skynoise, contributors offer their insights and suggestions:

From Diogenes, two images:

Left: From Brian O'Blivion:

Left: From Your Doppelganger:

After six years at the Grant Unified School District as a 'substitute clerk', E. yesterday was named as a 'health assistant'.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh No! Mr. Tumble!

The importance of dialect in sign language:
ANGRY parents have accused BBC TV character Mr Tumble of greeting watching children by saying "I'm f****** you" in sign language.

But the CBeebies character, the star of Something Special, has defended his greeting, saying his gestures mean "I'm happy to see you".

...Mr Miller, who said the signs for "happy" and "f******" are quite similar, contacted the BBC five times but Mr Tumble continues to open the show by saying with "I'm f******* you".

The BBC has defended Mr Tumble - presenter Justin Fletcher - saying he uses Makaton signals, which are different to British Sign Language.

... “Makaton is used more for children with learning difficulties — it is essentially a different language.”

In British Sign Language “happy” is shown by gently brushing the palms against each other. The swear word is made by brushing the hands together between the thumb and first finger.
"The Magic Negro" - Rush Bait

With the subtlety of blaring klaxon horns and squealing air brakes, Rush Limbaugh has decided to appropriate the description of Senator Barack Obama as "The Magic Negro":
"I'm going to keep referring to him as that because I want to make a bet that by the end of this week I will own that term," adding, "If I refer to Obama the rest of the day as the 'Magic Negro,' there will be a number of people in the drive-by media and on left-wing blogs who will credit me for coming up with it and ignore the L.A. Times did it, simply because they can't be critical of the L.A. Times, but they can, obviously, be critical of talk radio." Limbaugh continued to refer to Obama as the "Magic Negro" throughout the broadcast -- 27 times, to be exact -- and at one point sang "Barack, the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon." Limbaugh defended his use of the song, stating, "Well, that's what we always do here. We do parodies and satires on the idiocy and phoniness of the left."
Leaders often succeed by tapping into subconcious templates we all possess, particularly of past leaders or familiar roles. It doesn't bother me if Barack Obama seizes upon 'The Magic Negro' template: it's out there for the taking, after all. It's wise for voters to understand the existence of these templates, however, so as to better inform their votes, so that they don't cast their votes out of ignorant emotionality.

Nevertheless, if Rush is going to attack Obama just because of the template, he'll anger and provoke Democrats, and Americans in general, into coming to Obama's aid. Obama is a real person, after all, not just a hollow shell. In other words, he is not a Magic Negro, just a regular Negro with friends he can call upon in a time of need.

Do it, Rush, do it, do it, do it........
Decisions, Decisions

The folks at KCRA TV Channel 3 have a site where you can vote for your favorite Sacramento business.

The folks at Step One Dance Studio noticed the site rather late, and are encouraging all their friends to quickly vote for them for Best Dance Studio. For me, it was a difficult choice, because should I vote for the studio I once belonged to (The Ballroom of Sacramento), the studio I belong to now (Step One), or the studio that probably is the best dance studio in Sacramento (Deane Dance Center)? Or should I nominate Ron Cisneros' dance studio instead?

Thank goodness it was a secret ballot!
What Aging Dogs Don't Notice

During our nocturnal sojourns after 2 a.m., I act as Sparky's eyes. This is good, because I'm not sure he can see all that well anymore, and given his much lower height, it's no surprise he misses things. Cats hiding behind parked cars, Sparky usually finds, by using his nose, but he doesn't notice other cats who craftily stalk him from behind (like three nights ago) as he blunders through the flower beds adjacent to the sidewalks. Sparky didn't notice the three fast-moving possums cross the street two nights ago. And last night, Sparky missed the fact that I turned down a side street. I veered back and approached him from behind, calling out to him. For some reason, Sparky couldn't tell I was behind him, and he started running forwards towards where he thought I was. I started running after him, calling more urgently, and soon we were both running at top speed, in hot pursuit, down the deserted streets of nighttime Sacramento.
Applying Irresistible Force Against The Immovable Object

Daylight at the end of the tunnel. Maybe soon, I will receive my 2004 California State Income Tax refund!
Environmental Lament

Inscribed on the emerald-green rear license plate frame of a lime-green VW Bug seen driving around town:
It's not easy being green

How the crusade against porn interacts with the federal prosecutor scandal, and helps keep corrupt Arizona Republican Representative Rick Renzi in office.
Criss Angel's Trick

Splitting women in half (watch, but avoid spoiling, explanatory text).

Monday, March 19, 2007


Gorillas have one kind of lice, and chimpanzees have another kind, and humans have descendants of both kinds. Nevertheless, we had to have picked up the gorilla lice at a pretty late date, maybe from sleeping in gorilla nests:
"[Lice] are simply stranded on their hosts with no means of escape," he explained. "They can't fly, they can't jump, and they can't live apart from the host for any period of time."

The loss of hair over most of our bodies may have created two distinct habitat islands in humans. The scalp and pubic regions differ significantly—and they are separated by largely inhospitable terrain.

"Pubic lice could not have established on humans without suitable habitat," Reed said. "Loss of body hair would have left the pubic region an open island of habitat that [the gorilla louse] could have colonized."

Dale Clayton, of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, called it "a fascinating example of ecological opportunism."

"Different hair diameters [in the scalp and pubic regions] probably represent different habitat templates," he said, "just as different-size tree branches are used by different species of birds."
Barack Obama, The 'Magic Negro'

You aren't heavy, you're his brother:
AS EVERY CARBON-BASED life form on this planet surely knows, Barack Obama, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, is running for president. ... But it's clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the "Magic Negro."

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. "He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist," reads the description on Wikipedia.

...As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic — embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle. And that's not to mention a certain basketball player whose very nickname is "Magic."

...And what does the white man get out of the bargain? That's a question asked by John Guare in "Six Degrees of Separation," his brilliant retelling of the true saga of David Hampton — a young, personable gay con man who in the 1980s passed himself off as the son of none other than the real Sidney Poitier. Though he started small, using the ruse to get into Studio 54, Hampton discovered that countless gullible, well-heeled New Yorkers, vulnerable to the Magic Negro myth, were only too eager to believe in his baroque fantasy. (One of the few who wasn't fooled was Andy Warhol, who was astonished his underlings believed Hampton's whoppers. Clearly Warhol had no need for the accouterment of interracial "goodwill.")

But the same can't be said of most white Americans, whose desire for a noble, healing Negro hasn't faded. That's where Obama comes in: as Poitier's "real" fake son.

... Obama's fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he's written in his two (count 'em) books, or even what he's actually said in those stem-winders. It's the way he's said it that counts the most. It's his manner, which, as presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden ham-fistedly reminded us, is "articulate." His tone is always genial, his voice warm and unthreatening, and he hasn't called his opponents names (despite being baited by the media).
If There Is No Terror, Is There Terrorism?

It's very impressive that Union Pacific has started so quickly rebuilding the trestle that fire destroyed last Thursday. According to a report I heard on TV, it is costing UP $1 million/day to have that track section out of commission, and so they are moving heaven and earth to get concrete pre-fab trestle sections in place to rebuild a new trestle, for about $38 million, by next month. It's like a war-footing!

Union Pacific has also offered a $2,500 reward for information about foul play that may have been involved in the suspiciously-rapid destruction of the trestle - peanuts, basically, considering the scale of the damage.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the sort of terrorism the Homeland Security folks were most-worried about after 9/11, because it was the most-likely: highly-disruptive activities aimed at causing economic hardship and provoking fear. And you can't say the arsonist(s), whomever they may prove to be, didn't try. The fire was set on that portion of the trestle parallel to the heavily-traveled, Business 80 Capitol City Freeway,where tens of thousands of people would have their most-unencumbered view as they passed over the American River on their ways home in the evening commute.

And yet, there is little sense of dread - in fact, no sense of it at all! Indeed, the sudden absence of train traffic has made commuting life quite a bit easier in downtown Sacramento. So, terror has its upside!

The key here, of course, is the absence of a (publicly-acknowledged) threat, and no deaths (maybe one injury from a firefighter, though). Terror is hard to foment if there aren't at least some deaths. That's one reason Iraq is such a frightening place now: combatants are going for maximum terroristic effect, killing indiscriminately....

So, was the railway trestle fire just the start of a crime spree in the Sacramento area by newbie terrorists flexing their capabilities? Maybe so! So, the stolid reaction of law enforcement and Union Pacific so far may lead the newbies to try again, for greater effect, perhaps this time tripping up. On the other hand, maybe that's the best way terror should always be addressed - just a cost of living in the modern world.

Move along, move along, nothing to gaze at here!
The Meaning Of 'Mortgage' Is 'Death Pledge'

Here is the Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter.

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy frets about the collapse of the mortgage bubble:
But the real potential for ugliness comes when you put those things together. A fall in housing prices drives consumer demand down, as well as hurting housing-related businesses. A credit crunch means that it's harder for anyone to borrow money, which means that all sorts of demand-creating activities that people want to borrow money to undertake won't happen. All sorts of people will lose money. Not good at all.

And remember: housing recessions take a long time to unwind. When bubbles burst, prices have to return to their normal, non-bubbly level. If the bubble is in tulip bulbs, that happens when people get rid of all the tulip bulbs they couldn't really afford anyways, and things go back to normal. But people don't get rid of homes they couldn't really afford nearly so easily. People like their homes. They'll part with almost anything else first. This could take a while.
Left And Right Coast (And The Middle Too) Carbon Footprint Smackdown

Walt in Aiken, South Carolina, proposed a project:
I was curious to see how folks in Aiken are doing in reducing their carbon footprint. So one day I counted vehicles in the parking lot at work to see how many are driving gas guzzlers. My workplace is in a remote area; the nearest town with more than 5,000 people is 20 miles away. So most employees have a rather long commute.

Of 476 cars, the breakdown was thus:

sedans - 53%
SUVs & vans - 26%
pickups - 22%

Not a very environmentally conscious showing, considering that almost half the vehicles (SUVs, vans, and pickups) probably get 20 mpg or less. It was worse in town. While walking at the park on a weekday afternoon, I observed 400 non-commercial vehicles driving on the main street.

sedans - 44%
SUVs & vans - 35%
pickups - 21%

Overall, it looks as if Aiken residents do not choose their vehicles for gas economy, although they do tend to drive sedans to work, and use SUVs for running errands. I encourage you to take similar censuses in your cities. Let me know what you find.
I sat down outside at the Una Mas! CafĂ© one block from where I work, ate a burrito, and counted the mid-afternoon Monday traffic along J Street as it passed by. The location is just outside Sacramento’s urban core and includes many commuters on errands, local traffic, and commercial activity. I also counted the parked vehicles on the walk over. Since the object of interest is commuter vehicles, I tried to leave out heavy-duty vehicles and clearly-labeled commercial vehicles, but I likely-included poorly-labeled commercial vehicles. There is always the chance of some double-counting (vehicles circling for parking spaces; parked vehicles I counted driving past, etc.)

I was impressed by the noise in the counts. Sometimes there would be no pickups going past at all, and sometimes nothing but pickups.

Of 546 vehicles, the breakdown was thus:

sedans - 54%
SUVs & vans - 31%
pickups - 15%

The count is so close to Walt's, it’s quite eerie! The only significant difference is that SUVs/Vans seem to substitute somewhat for pickups. Californians like to preen over their eco-friendliness, but you can’t spot it these statistics.

[UPDATE:] Not to be outdone, John in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma writes:
OK, I did a count this morning on the street in front of my shop before opening and the results are as follows:

Of 437 vehicles counted, there were 241 sedans, 117 SUV's and 79 pickups for:

Sedans: 55%
SUV's and vans: 27%
Pickups: 18%

It seems that the numbers run fairly consistent on a national basis.
Eric Idle Hangs Out With Billionaires

Taking "Spamalot" to Vegas:
"Can I give you a ride home?" he (Steve Wynn) asks nicely. I'm thinking 6th Avenue, but he means L.A. Well, OK. He flies us home in a plane bigger than my boarding school. There are dogs on board, so my wife is happy. All the way he plays the "Spamalot" cast recording, regaling his passengers with his version of scenes from the show. Later he leaves a message on my phone in a British accent so good that for a moment I think it is Hank Azaria.

As part of my research, I decide to visit all the major attractions (in Vegas). Nothing quite matches the intensity of the plot of "Jubilee," which grips me with its thrilling story of 150 bare-breasted ladies seducing Samson and causing the Titanic to sink. At the Crazy Horse, the girls have blond wigs, perfect derri–res and genuine French names like Fifi and Suki. They remind me what the '70s was all about: light shows and shagging. But the show is a little thin on plot. And clothing.

The rest of the entertainment is all French Canadian, from Celine to the many Cirques. Monty Python was a Flying Circus, but does that qualify as a Cirque? We have no acrobats, no contortionism, apart from Silly Walks and only a few French people yelling abuse, farting in our general direction. What will the nipple-sated Nevadans make of our little show?

I know upfront that I will have to cut 20 minutes from it. What F. Scott Fitzgerald said of American lives is definitely true of Vegas — there are no second acts. Partly this is because they want you back in the casino, and partly it's because they want you back in the casino. In fact, with our low ticket prices I figured out that you will actually save money if you spend 90 minutes in "Spamalot." And if you sleep during the show you can save on a room.

...Last month we launched "Spamalot" in the new Grail Theater. I do a bit of stand-up: "I was in Vegas last night and I missed my wife so much I paid for a woman to come up to my room and ignore me…. "

I introduce our new King Arthur, producing John O'Hurley out of a can of Spam. Then we ham it up and dance a tango together. Why? Because I can't do the pasodoble. And of course we bring on our beautiful girls, wearing only white lingerie. Why? Do you need to ask? I announce that, as an added attraction, some of our shows will be topless, but only in John's part.

Steve Wynn is very funny. He says he has been trying to kill Broadway in Las Vegas and what better way than to put on "Spamalot." Earlier I had tried half-heartedly to persuade him to put his elbow through a painting. "It'll be a big laugh," I say, but he sensibly declined. "Bad enough I am known as the Inspector Clouseau of the art world," he laughed.

...THINGS are going well until the third night of previews, when we have a major glitch. Our elevator fails, and instead of the Lady of the Lake and her Laker girls emerging in their skimpy fronds, nothing happens.

King Arthur stands gesturing to an empty stage. "She's a bit late," says O'Hurley manfully. From below we can hear the Lady of the Lake singing away, but nothing emerges. Oh, dear. We are going to have to stop.

Some deep showoff instinct kicks in and I find myself rushing down through the audience and up onto the stage. The place goes wild. Easiest standing ovation I ever had. "This is what in theatrical terms is called a screw-up," I say. "A huge helicopter was supposed to land onstage … oh, no, that was another show." I ad-lib for about 10 minutes, thinking how Eddie Izzard would be proud of me doing improvisational stand-up in front of 1,600 people. Luckily the glitch ends before I do and I can escape back into the audience and the show continues.
Just Supersize It

Big ripples from a big problem. I wonder when we'll follow suit here in the U.S.?:
NSW Ambulance was the first in Australia to introduce the ambulances, which cost nearly $100,000 more than a regular vehicle, in 1999.

...Recent studies estimate 67 per cent of Australian men and 52 per cent of women aged 25 years and over are overweight or obese.

The weight epidemic has also extended to the school playground with NSW Health estimating that between 1985 to 1995 the number of children either overweight or obese has more than doubled.

..."Due to their unique capabilities the ambulances also assist patients with routine medical appointments such as doctor or dentist visits, with examinations and treatment often completed in the rear of the MPV," he said.

..."A recent case in Sydney's northwest, where a 400kg man had fractured his leg at home, required the demolition of part of a wall and required multi-agency teamwork between ambulance officers and officers from NSW Fire Brigade and NSW Police," Mr Willis said.

"The case took 16 emergency services personnel five hours to complete."

The crisis has also forced an upgrade to air emergency services with new helicopters due to arrive in May which will have a greater load capabilities than the current fleet.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Camelot" Final Weekend, And Strike

Left: King Arthur makes Mordred an offer he accepts to Arthur's face, but refuses behind his back. King Arthur (Gil Sebastian) and Mordred (Jon Jackson).

King Arthur (Gil Sebastian).

Two more shots with Nimue Dancer (Meg King, foreground), Merlin (Paul Fearn, middle), and Nimue Singer (Bridget Maguire, background).

Kaya The Hawk was hungry on Friday night, and complained about it back stage during the performance. On Sunday, the Sebastians presented Kaya with a chocolate Easter Bunny, but the offering didn't mollify her: her unscripted calls could be heard several times in Sunday's performance.

I think we were all happy to have a living raptor in the show: it added a lot of color. And now, we all know what a Red-Tailed Hawk sounds like (I saw pigeons panicking Saturday morning over a hawk circling near where I live in Sacramento. Bridget Maguire says there are raptors circling everywhere in the area, and I'm sure she's right).

A couple of bumps and scrapes were suffered by people back stage from the moving furniture during the weekend - nothing serious, but always a reminder that theater has its dangerous side.

On Sunday, the may pole dance got a bit tangled - it was always a danger, but the problem lurked until the last show to express itself. No big deal; just mildly embarrassing....

In Act I, Sunday, a woman in the audience abruptly started talking loudly, just a couple of feet from the stage, and very-nearly knocked Gil and Marguerite off their scripted lines. Obnoxious and rude! Director Lenore Sebastian posed a rhetorical question back stage: "Why do all the meshuganas have to sit in the front row?" A good question! If I had had a voodoo doll with me that instant, I'm sure Lenore could have converted it into a pin cushion.

Audience rudeness is a problem that sometimes bedevils live theater. Perhaps audiences should be encouraged to stop shows as needed and ritually ostracize unwelcome noisy individuals. It could be spooky and weird, like in a Twilight Zone episode, so as to discourage violations. Someone stands up (perhaps an usher), points at a loud person and shouts "J'accuse!" The show stops and the offender is hooted out of the theater. Or maybe it should be done with paintballs. Or pitchforks. Or tasers. Whatever works!

Strike was an easy business this time, and we all went out for pizza afterwards.
John Hancock On The Town

On Friday night, Juan Ramos and John Hancock came to see "Camelot" at DMTC. Their visit was unexpected, and it was a very happy one. To impress his fans, John stood up from his wheelchair and took a few steps. The quiet miracle wrought by physical therapy since last May's auto accident left us all awestruck. Best of good fortune to both Juan and John!