Saturday, April 28, 2007

David Broder - The Ultimate Put-Down!

Slap that pundit upside the head!
Think about where the Democrats were when Harry Reid became their leader in the Senate. Think about where they are now. Think about David Broder's recent prediction of a Bush comeback; his touting of Bush's response to Katrina; his praise for Cheney and Rumsfeld; his claims that journalists should apologize to Karl Rove for saying he did something he did; his call for fewer details and less discussion of policy from candidates; his defense of Richard Nixon; his prediction that if Joe Lieberman lost his primary, Democrats would perform poorly in the general election; his double standards in his coverage of candidates personal lives; his suggestion that Bill Clinton should have resigned because he "may well have lied" about sex; his unwillingness to say that a "lawless" president who "repeatedly defied the Constitution" should step down; his elitist and arrogant statement that he and his pals care more about being lied to than you do; his hypocritical statement that Kerry's and Gore's "arrogance rankled Midwesterners such as myself."

Think about all that, and ask yourself: If you were David Broder, wouldn't you -- just maybe -- think twice before accusing someone else of "bumbling" and "ineptitude"?

After a stressful week and disorienting weekend so far, I'm now at a loss for things to do. The boredom settles in as the clock ticks on the wall. You only live once, like they say. But what to do with the yawning expanse of time?

I suppose I could read a book. Or see a movie. Maybe go to the mall. Better yet, try something new, something fresh. But what? I don't know, exactly, but I'll think of something....
"Heck Of A Good Buy"

But without new product and improved message, this brand is facing obsolescence:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's unpopularity and a string of political setbacks have created a toxic climate for the Republican Party as it struggles to raise money and recruit candidates for its drive to retake control of Congress.

...With their clout diminished after November's midterm election losses, the Republicans' national committee and House and Senate campaign committees together raised the same amount as the Democrats in the first quarter of the year -- and Democrats ended the period with more cash in the bank. At this point four years ago, Republicans had more than twice as much money as Democrats.

"The reality is the Republican brand right now is just not a good brand," said Tim Hibbitts, an independent Oregon pollster. "For Republicans, the only way things really get better ... is if somehow, some way, Iraq turns around."

...While Republicans have recruited many solid candidates in their effort to retake Capitol Hill -- and they have more than 18 months to improve their fortunes -- the environment could get worse.

...When voters five years ago were asked which party they identified with, neither Democrats nor Republicans held an advantage. Now, however, 50 percent of voters say they are aligned with the Democrats, and only 35 percent with Republicans, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

And in New Hampshire, nonpartisan pollster Dick Bennett said the atmosphere is so sour that he is having a tough time getting Republicans to participate in surveys. The war, high gas prices and unhappiness with the Bush administration all have dampened their interest sharing opinions, he said.

...Republicans do hold some advantages in the 2008 congressional elections, however, including district lines for many House seats that have been redrawn in their favor.

More than 60 Democrats will have to run in districts where voters backed Bush in 2004, Republicans say, suggesting that many will prove to be too liberal to win. By contrast, they say, only seven Republicans are defending seats in districts that went for Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.

Moreover, GOP officials say conditions probably will improve once the party settles on a presidential nominee -- who they believe will eclipse Bush in the public eye and diminish the drag he is placing on Republican prospects.

...Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, R-Calif., was more blunt, describing Bush as "a millstone that most members will not have to be carrying around (once the Republican presidential nominee emerges.)"

...The GOP's weak fundraising totals for the first quarter also could complicate the party's re-election effort, wrote Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report in a recent assessment. While it can be dangerous to read too much into these early signals, she wrote, "A weak bank account doesn't just make a bad headline; it also makes an incumbent more attractive to a potential challenger."

...Overall, Republicans now resemble "a beaten-down stock," said Cole of the GOP House campaign committee. But he said he was optimistic about party fundraising and candidate recruitment.

"We're a heck of a good buy," he said, "if anyone knows how to evaluate the stock."

Not very productive:
When the neighborhood dry cleaner misplaced Roy Pearson's pants, he took action. He complained. He demanded compensation. And then he sued. Man, did he sue.

...He says he deserves millions for the damages he suffered by not getting his pants back, for his litigation costs, for "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," for the value of the time he has spent on the lawsuit, for leasing a car every weekend for 10 years and for a replacement suit, according to court papers.

Pearson is demanding $65,462,500. The original alteration work on the pants cost $10.50.

...The plaintiff, who says he has devoted more than 1,000 hours to represent himself in this battle, says that as a result of poor service at Custom, he must find another cleaner. And because Pearson does not own a car, he says he will have to rent one to get his clothes taken care of.

...According to a statement filed by both parties in the lawsuit, Pearson dropped off one pair of pants May 3 so he could wear them to his new job May 6. But on May 5, the pants weren't ready. Soo Chung promised them for early the next morning, but when Pearson arrived, the pants weren't there.

At this point, I should let you in on the subject of hundreds of pages of legal wrangling. Custom Cleaners at that time had two big signs on its walls. One said "Satisfaction Guaranteed," and the other said, "Same Day Service."

..."This case shocks me on a daily basis," Manning says. "Pearson has a lot of time on his hands, and the Chungs have been abused in a ghastly way. It's going to cost them tens of thousands to defend this case."

...Pearson has put the Chungs and their attorneys to work answering long lists of questions, such as this: "Please identify by name, full address and telephone number, all cleaners known to you on May 1, 2005 in the District of Columbia, the United States and the world that advertise 'SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.' "

...In a closet of a lawyer's office in downtown Washington, there is a pair of gray wool pants, waiting to be picked up by Roy Pearson.

"We believe the pants are his," Manning says. "The tag matches his receipt."

Friday, April 27, 2007


This columnist doesn't like it:
Our media and our minds are filled with celebrity affairs, celebrity marriages, celebrity honeymoons in celebrity resorts, followed by celebrity adoptions (the approved method of celebrity parenthood, in that they can cast the child as they would a kid for a movie - as opposed to taking the pot luck of conventional pregnancy) followed by revelations of trips to celebrity rehabs and celebrity divorce in celebrated brawls conducted by celebrity lawyers.

...Semi-talented rock stars, boof-headed rugby players who treat women like dirt and gross businessmen whose claim to fame rests on obscene salaries join the conga line of those notorious for their notoriety.

What's going on here? Are our lives so meaningless, so lacking in imagination or energy that we have to waste our time, money and neurons on this human trash? It's a serious social illness -- if for no other reason than these useless idiots distract us from the achievements of people who really are worthy of our attention.

...You wonder whether the weather is, after all, the greatest of human crises. Isn't the gush and tosh of celebrity culture (sic) every bit as threatening?

With climate change, we might all be drowned by rising sea levels. But wouldn't you rather drown in seawater than in the rising tide of celebrity bullshit?
Thank you very much, but I'd prefer to drown in celebrity trash. It's easy to make it all go away (just don't watch). Once The Pacific is in your living room, however, good luck making it leave!
Beginning To Rain On The Darling Downs

It's not much, but better than nothing....
NOx And Lightning

Left: The worldwide distribution of lightning strikes. Each flash produces a tiny puff of NOx, individually negligible, but adding up to as much as 20 trillion grams per year when summed over the entire globe.

An old grad school classmate, William Koshak, pops up in NASA's Science News!:
"Atmospheric chemists are very interested in trace gases produced by lightning, particularly nitrogen oxides ('NOx' for short)," explains William Koshak, a lightning researcher at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. NOx includes nitric oxide (NO), a toxic air pollutant produced by automobile engines and power plants, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a poisonous reddish-brown gas with a sharp odor.

"We know that lightning is the most important source of NOx in the upper troposphere, where our weather takes place," Koshak continues. "NOx indirectly influences our climate because it partly controls the concentration of ozone (O3) and hydroxyl radicals (OH) in the atmosphere. Ozone is an important greenhouse gas, and OH is a highly reactive molecule that controls the oxidation of several greenhouse gases."

While the output from cars and industry can be measured, lightning is a wildcard in models of regional air quality and global climate because it is difficult to realistically model several important lightning characteristics--e.g., lightning energy and the thermochemical yield of NOx produced by a lightning stroke. As such, the global production rate of lightning NOx is still uncertain, and ranges anywhere from 2 to 20 teragrams per year (1 teragram = 1 trillion grams).
Climate Can Change, In Fits And Starts

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) can make stuff happen in Alaska:
Left: [The figure] shows clearly that this trend is non-linear: a linear trend might have been expected from the fairly steady observed increase of CO2 during this time period. The figure shows the temperature departure from the long-term mean (1949-2006) for all stations. It can be seen that there are large variations from year to year and the 5-year moving average demonstrates large increase in 1976. The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2006, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska with the exception of Barrow and a few other locations. The stepwise shift appearing in the temperature data in 1976 corresponds to a phase shift of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a negative phase to a positive phase. Synoptic conditions with the positive phase tend to consist of increased southerly flow and warm air advection into Alaska during the winter, resulting in positive temperature anomalies.
Environmental SEMs

Frank has been studying ice fog formation in the Fairbanks, AK area, and trying to see if there are connections with the high levels of wintertime PM2.5 sulfates measured in the area. He located this article featuring an Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of Fairbanks ice fog crystals (left).

Only one, BIG problem - SEMs operate under near-vacuum conditions, and with samples possessing conductive coatings. These ice crystals don't meet these criteria. So, it shouldn't even be possible to obtain this image. How was it done?

Starting in the 1980's, an Australian research group pioneered ways to keep samples at one pressure, while keeping the rest of the electron gun assembly at much lower pressures, and also to remove the necessity of having conductive samples altogether. So, an entire new universe of imaging became reachable with what are now called Environmental SEMs. Quite impressive! I didn't know anything about all this!

The wonders of SCIENCE!

The write-up below regarding Environmental SEMs implies the methods aren't perfect. Still, it's amazing! I am reminded of the (very non-PC) quote by Samuel Johnson, which I adapt:
A[n Environmental SEM] is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

Here is the interesting write-up:
The Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM) or 'wet' SEM is the latest version of one of the most powerful analytic tools available to scientists. Like all scanning electron microscopes, the ESEM offers the ability to image specimens at very high spatial resolution; as high as 2 nanometres in some cases. However, conventional SEM's have two important constraints: the specimen chamber must be kept under high vacuum conditions, and the specimen must either be electrically conductive or given a conductive coating. The ESEM, on the other hand, permits a small amount of gas in the specimen chamber, up to 20 torr. Although this gives rise to a number of practical considerations, the main points are that the ESEM can examine uncoated insulating specimens as well as wet materials, including unfixed biological tissues. Thus, the range of specimens that can be examined and the types of investigations that can be performed are vastly increased as compared to what can be done with conventional scanning electron microscopes.

Building such a microscope requires that two main considerations be overcome. First, the electron gun and most of the optical column must be maintained under high vacuum conditions .... If the chamber is to be held at several torr of pressure, a very steep pressure gradient must be sustained. ... Second, conventional secondary electron detectors are also designed to operate under high vacuum conditions. Therefore, a new type of secondary electron detector must be employed....

In the ESEM, the pressure gradient between the specimen chamber and the electron optics is achieved by creating a series of differentially pumped vacuum zones, separated by pressure limiting apertures. These apertures are sufficiently large to allow the electron beam to pass through, but still small enough to severely limit gas flow from one compartment to the next. ... The pressure zones created by the apertures are then pumped by various means with increasing efficiency as the gun is approached. Mechanical roughing pumps are sufficient for the specimen chamber and lower column regions. Most of the electron column is pumped by either diffusion pumps or turbo-molecular pumps, depending on the specific model. For instruments with lanthanum hexaboride filaments or field emitters, the gun chamber is connected to an ion pump sufficient to achieve pressures of 10-6 and 10-9 torr, respectively. Thus, pressure gradients of up to 10 orders of magnitude can be realised over a distance of about 50 cm!

If water vapour is used as the gas in the specimen chamber, wet specimens can be maintained in a hydrated state. In fact, liquid water can be brought into thermodynamic equilibrium with the vapour phase. ... Thus, typical working conditions in the ESEM might be something like 2ÂșC and 5.3 torr of water vapour. If the specimen temperature is held constant, increasing or decreasing the partial pressure of water vapour results in condensation or dehydration, respectively. This ability to control the hydration state of a specimen has allowed us to explore a large number of application areas, ranging from examining gels and emulsions to the drying of thin film coatings and studying the structure of ice cream!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Making It Rain"

So, is THIS the backstory of the worst incident during the now-infamous All-Star Weekend in Vegas? It's surprisingly stupid:
When "making it rain" goes bad, you end up with three people shot, as happened at Minxx strip club during All-Star Weekend. Authorities claim trouble-magnet and recently suspended (for a year) Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones came in the club with a trash bag full of cash and began tossing $1 bills on the stage. When one of the strippers started to grab the money, the five-time arrestee allegedly got mad, sparking a brawl. Police say a man connected to Jones retrieved a gun from the parking lot and started shooting. Tragic.

I'm not sure what Jones thought would happen. Minxx is a strip club. The woman was a stripper. She gets paid to undress. Somehow the dots didn't connect. Misdemeanor and felony charges are possible for Jones. And in the irony of ironies, for "making it rain," he might need the umbrella of legal cover.
Time To Visit The Country Cousins

Too urban for their own good:
Thousands of Japanese have been swindled in a scam in which they were sold Australian and British sheep and told they were poodles.

Flocks of sheep were imported to Japan and then sold by a company called Poodles as Pets, marketed as fashionable accessories, available at $1,600 each.

... The scam was uncovered when Japanese moviestar Maiko Kawamaki went on a talk-show and wondered why her new pet would not bark or eat dog food.

She was crestfallen when told it was a sheep.

Then hundreds of other women got in touch with police to say they feared their new "poodle" was also a sheep.

One couple said they became suspicious when they took their "dog" to have its claws trimmed and were told it had hooves.

Japanese police believe there could be 2,000 people affected by the scam, which operated in Sapporo and capitalised on the fact that sheep are rare in Japan, so many do not know what they look like.
Slow Scientists

Anthropomorphism is a scientific sin, of course, but really, haven't any of them ever had a dog? Someone should study the scientists!:
When dogs learn new tricks, they do not simply copy what they see, but interpret it, suggests a new study, which provides evidence that man's best friend possesses a human-like ability to understand the goals and intentions of others.

In the experiment, a well-trained Border collie bitch demonstrated to untrained dogs how to pull a lever for food using her paw. If she did this while carrying a toy ball between her teeth, the dogs in her audience would instead tug the lever with their mouths when their turn arrived. These animals appeared to be thinking that she used her paw only because her mouth held a ball, say researchers.
Maybe A Bit Of A Stretch

Left: Photo by Sarah Gerke/Copied from the Movable Buffet Blog.

From Outword Magazine comes this audition announcement. Time to start touching the toes and doing side stretches!

Cirque du Soleil is seeking new talent for its 13 current productions and upcoming creations, and will be holding auditions for dancers in San Francisco in May 2007. The Cirque du Soleil Casting team is continually on the lookout for talented new artists. Their scouts search the globe for outstanding performers who are ready to embark on a new adventure.

Since 1984, Cirque du Soleil has carved out a special niche for itself in the world of performing arts. Through a mix of street performance, circus arts, dance, theatre, music and song, Cirque du Soleil has given life to a magical new universe.

Holding auditions is the primary means by which Cirque du Soleil recruits new talent. The Casting team is eager to return to California to discover local talent and the best way to do so is to give artists the opportunity to meet with us directly.

While in San Francisco, the Cirque du Soleil Casting team will be specifically seeking professional dancers with strong technique, stage experience, improvisational skills and versatility. Contemporary, Jazz, Classical, World and ethnic, Male strippers, Street and Hip Hop/B-Boy. Auditions based on video demo evaluation. Submission details for artists: www.casting.cirquedusoleil.

Whoops...Wait! We're Undercover! That's The Ticket!

Some 'splainin' to do:
What happens in Vegas doesn't necessarily stay in Vegas after all.

San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks and his undersheriff were swept up in Las Vegas prostitution sting over the weekend, authorities said today.

Munks, who was sworn in as sheriff in January, and Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos were briefly detained and questioned at a massage parlor that police contend was a front for a bordello, according to Las Vegas authorities. They were not arrested.

Munks called the incident a "personal embarrassment" and apologized today to sheriff's officials, the county and his family for his "lack of personal judgment."

"I believed I was going to a legitimate business," Munks said, reading from a written statement. "It was not."

Munks said he and Bolanos were both questioned by authorities and released. Bolanos was still outside the establishment when it was raided, Munks said.

"I would not, nor did I, break any laws," Munks said. "Neither did the undersheriff."

He declined to answer questions.

The two top law enforcement officers for San Mateo County were caught up in "Operation Dollhouse," a sting aimed at prostitution and human trafficking, according to Las Vegas authorities. Federal agents and Las Vegas police raided eight locations Saturday after a two-year investigation into a prostitution ring with suspected links to Asia, police said. Seven people were arrested.
"Salmon With Soy Glaze Sauce"

Steve called and said he and Jan are having a fabulous time today sitting with the Sac State alumni at the luncheon featuring Carol Channing. All the big muckety-mucks are there and they are all very nice.
Review Of Alanis Morissette's "My Humps"

No doubt realizing it would be impossible to make the song even dumber than it already is, Morissette pretends to take it seriously. Her version is nearly dirge-like, with sad-sack pianos and a vocal that sounds as if it were recorded at the bottom of a dark, damp well. "Whatcha gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside that trunk?" she wails, inflicting existential angst onto what was once a playful dance-floor tease.

All that ass inside them jeans, Morissette suggests, all that breast inside that shirt isn't emancipating this woman at all—it's imprisoning her, trivializing her. Ironically (isn't it?), the biological markers of womanhood infantilize the song's narrator, reduce her to grotesque baby-talk. By decelerating lyrics like "Tryna feel my hump hump/Lookin' at my lump lump" to the point where you actually have to listen to them closely, Morissette makes such lines sound even more like a talking chimp's plaintive, terrified attempts to alert the world to the sexually abusive tendencies of its handler than they do in the original.

But that's just part of the Morissette version's charm. Along with tweaking Fergie, Morissette satirizes her own serious-artist pretensions as well. In the one scene in her video that doesn't have an antecedent in the original, Morissette is crouched on the floor, her body enveloped in a slow-motion storm of feathers as she sobs hysterically and great torrents of mascara run down her face like the Mississippi in flood season. "You don't want no drama!" she howls, but it's clear that's all she has to give—drama, drama, drama. So fervently introspective, so relentlessly vigilant about maintaining her integrity as an artist she can even suck every molecule of fun out of three minutes of pure pop-fluff mindlessness!

...Fittingly, Fergie's response to her new doppelganger was to send her a gushy fan note—imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all—and a cake shaped like an ass. And, really, is there any more astute commentary on the video than that? "My Humps" allows the erstwhile pop tart to have her feminist cake and shake it too.

...What's gone largely undiscussed about the music video resurrection, however, are the specific qualities of the videos that repeatedly prove to be the most popular. In the early days of MTV, it was all about crazy New Wave haircuts, matching suits and the absence of anyone who looked remotely like David Crosby from your line-up. Today, three key elements pop up again and again amongst the web's most popular music videos: familiarity, humor and dorky white people dancing. Long before the advent of the web, it turns out, "Weird Al" Yankovic had already discovered the secret to success in the YouTube Era.

Familiarity is necessary because there's too much content on the web. When thousands of music videos are always just a click way, why try to tempt viewers with something completely new? It's a battle you'll rarely win. Instead, use something familiar.
Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm, Sturm und Drang, Drang und Sturm
Missing It All


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dry To The Bone

I'm surprised these towns are the ones being considered for evacuation. It seemed to me there are drier areas to the northwest. There may be something of a dry spot in the Warwick area, like a Bermuda Triangle for rain:
TWO towns on the Darling Downs face evacuation because they have almost run out of water and cannot afford to indefinitely cart supplies.

Senior state bureaucrats have discussed the possibility of moving residents from Leyburn, population 200, and Killarney, home to 1500 people.
One of Leyburn's two bores has run dry and there are fears the other could follow.

...The threat of evacuation has outraged locals, including former Bronco Shane Webcke, who owns Leyburn's only pub.

"I'll move from my hotel when Peter Beattie moves from Brisbane," he said.

"Imagine if you said no one can live in Kenmore, everyone in Kenmore has to go."

Warwick Shire Mayor Ron Bellingham called evacuation an "Armageddon solution", but admitted it was a possibility for Leyburn.
"Annie Get Your Gun" Review

Bev's review is out in The Davis Enterprise (but so far, just in hard copy - she generally posts here, though). Let's see what she didn't like:
The mere fact that the writers of a musical create encore numbers - to be performed when the number itself gets lots of applause, and the audience obviously wants more - does not mean that said encore numbers should be performed routinely, as part of the show.
Well, that's a matter of opinion, of course. Long encores can be hard on the audience. But they are in the show, and to be faithful to the script, they remain.
Director/choreographer Ron Cisneros is doing the original 1946 version of the Irving Berlin classic, with book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. The show was updated by Peter Stone in 1999 to be more politically correct, particularly in its depiction of Native Americans.
Actually, there is a notation at the front of our scripts indicating that we are following the 1966 revival script: "For this production Irving Berlin wrote one new number while minor book revisions by Herbert and Dorothy Fields included the elimination of two secondary characters, their songs and ensuing romance."

I don't know anything about the 1999 update. Still, what many perceive as the insufficient political correctness of the 1966 update, particularly the adoption scene, is itself a phenomenon of note.

Political correctness is a form of shorthand to guide polite behavior on controversial subjects. Like all shorthand, however, political correctness is not a perfect guide, and often lacks subtlety. My opinion is that political correctness should never guide the content of theater. Instead, political correctness is itself another object that theater can toy with, use or discard, emphasize or neglect, as seems useful.

First, as with anyone, it is imperative to be polite to Native Americans, yet people in general remain remarkably ignorant about Native Americans, and approach them from a variety of not-very-polite attitudes ranging from stereotypical naivete to outright hostility. These stereotypes were much harder in the last decade of the 19th Century, with the fresh memories of shed blood, when the events dramatized in the show occurred. Regarding the adoption scene, Bev writes:
In 2007, and especially on the heels of the recent Don Imus incident, this scene can be uncomfortable, despite the fact that it's designed to be humorous ... or perhaps because it is designed to be humorous.
Theater - good theater anyway - should make people somewhat uncomfortable, because that discomfort heightens awareness. If people laugh and cringe at the same time, that is for the best. The adoption scene underlines how much-improved our attitudes are to Native Americans today. Despite the gripes people have had over the years, political correctness actually has done a lot of good. The Don Imus analogy doesn't really apply here, however, because no Native Americans are being singled out for unmerited and thoughtless opprobrium, as was the case with Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team. A subtle point, maybe, but important.

Yet, for the most part, Bev liked the show. Yay!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

RIP, Michael Smuin

This is a huge shock for the ballet world:
Choreographer Michael Smuin, a major force in the San Francisco dance world and one of the region's most prominent and audacious showmen, died of an apparent heart attack Monday morning after collapsing while teaching a Smuin Ballet company class.

...Known for the vibrant, expressive and brassy work he created for his own company, for various regional companies, on Broadway and in Hollywood, Smuin was co-artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet from 1973 to 1985. He danced with that company from 1953 to 1961 and later with the American Ballet Theatre, where he was both a principal dancer and choreographer.

Smuin won a Tony Award on Broadway in 1988 for his choreography of "Anything Goes" and was nominated for a Tony in 1981 for "Sophisticated Ladies." He received an Emmy Award in 1984 for "Great Performances: Dance in America." He choreographed pieces for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Milwaukee Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Washington Ballet. His film choreography credits include "Rumble Fish," "The Cotton Club" and "So I Married an Axe Murderer."

...Smuin's 1977 production of "Romeo and Juliet" for San Francisco Ballet helped raise the company's national and international profile. The production aired on PBS' "Dance in America" the following year. "He made San Francisco Ballet a company to take seriously," said dance critic Allan Ulrich, who covered Smuin's work for the San Francisco Examiner and later for The Chronicle.

Despite various setbacks, including a traumatic break with San Francisco Ballet when his contract was not renewed in 1985, a failed production of "Shogun: The Musical" that he directed and choreographed on Broadway in 1990 and critical misgivings about his work, Smuin remained vital and productive. In the 13 years he ran Smuin Ballet, he choreographed more than 40 pieces. He was at work on a new season, which will open as scheduled in May, when he died.

...Smuin was born on Oct. 13, 1938, in Missoula, Mont. His mother was a Mormon, he told The Chronicle in 2001. His father worked as a Safeway butcher. Michael studied tap dancing as a child and caught the dance fever for good when his mother took him to see the touring Ballet Russe at the University of Montana. He attended Missoula's Hellgate High, where he lettered in boxing in his freshman year. At age 14, he moved to Salt Lake City on a dance scholarship at the University of Utah. San Francisco Ballet director Lew Christensen recruited him in 1953, when Smuin was 15. He eventually received his high school degree from Galileo High in San Francisco.

After dancing with San Francisco Ballet for eight years, Smuin married a fellow company member, Paula Tracy. The couple moved to New York in 1961. Smuin was cast in a Broadway musical, "Little Me," directed by Bob Fosse, in 1962. Smuin and Tracy mounted a night-club dance act, which they toured around the country and overseas. First Smuin and then Tracy joined American Ballet Theatre in 1965. Smuin choreographed "Pulcinella Variations," "The Catherine Wheel" and other pieces for ABT before the couple returned to San Francisco. They divorced in 2000.

..."He absolutely loved what he did," said Amy Seiwert, a Smuin Ballet dancer for the past eight years. "It's been a very intense morning, but I think it's very beautiful that we were all there with him at the end." Seiwert recalled something Smuin said to her once and that she often repeated back to him. " 'If I only did the things I was supposed to do,' " Smuin told her, " 'I would never do anything.' "

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Hair" - First Runthrough, Second Act

On Sunday, MikeMac suggested that if I couldn't help him and Chris Neff build the "Hair" set during the day, maybe the early evening would work. I dallied, and didn't show up till 9 p.m. I figured I couldn't help that much, but I did want to tell Chris Neff my dream from the night before and see what he thought of it.

I was too late, of course, but I did get have the privilege of seeing the first runthrough of the second act of Artistic Difference's "Hair" (Erik Daniells, Producer; Maggie Hollinbeck Director; Elaine Lord, Musical Director). I recognized a few of the actors - Jerry Lee, Ryan Adame, Inertia DeWitt, Lindsay Grimes - but many were new and unfamiliar to me.

I've never seen "Hair" before, so I didn't know quite how I would react to this musical's portrayal of the Counterculture Sixties and its complicated legacy.

My first two reactions were:
  • this cast is way too young to be singing about these matters; and,
  • I am extremely uncomfortable about this subject material.
In other words, from a theatrical perspective, Act II has a promising start.

I did have some trouble understanding people speak in The Space - mostly an acoustic difficulty, from too much echoing. Part of the trouble is that the roof is zinc-plated metal. Tapestries might help, but I don't know if that is practical, given their flammability.

The fundamental tension of the CounterCulture, between political involvement (the Berkeley pole) and the departure from rationality (the Haight-Ashbury pole) was never satisfactorily resolved in real life, so it would be hard to expect "Hair" to resolve the tension on stage in just a couple of hours. Nevertheless, the musical ends with what amounts to a deep, almost-intuitive understanding that the irrational pole is the most important, and the most enduring - just like the CounterCulture found in real life:

Let the sunshine
Let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
The War in Iraq and the War in Vietnam have so much in common that "Hair" has rarely been more topical and pertinent. The tricky part is figuring out whether the differences matter more than the similiarities. Important differences are:

  • 540,000 troops in Vietnam vs. 140,000 in Iraq - the scale of the involvement destabilized 1960's America, whereas it hasn't done so yet in this decade;
  • Despite rigid Cold War-liberal ideology, Indochina was never central to U.S. security (the biggest lie of the 60's), whereas Iraq might be central to U.S. security, simply because most of the world's oil resources are nearby;
  • The Administration in the 1960's prided itself on its supposed 'rationality', whereas today, the Administration prides itself on its ability to create its own reality (the biggest lie of this decade).
The similarities are so glaring, however, that it's important to recount:
  • The 1950's were a remarkably passive period in American history, as was the period just after 9/11;
  • Elite opinion was paralyzed. LBJ did the trick by offering conservatives what they wanted (War in Indochina) and liberals what they wanted (The Great Society and Civil Rights), thereby co-opting everyone who mattered. Bush did the trick by grossly exaggerating Al Qaeda's threat, by corrupting the lazy corporate media, and through authoritarian intimidation. New voices had to break through the logjam, from the fringes, and they had to resort to new approaches to do so.
  • Similar wars within just 40 years suggests that American society's ability to face the world has broken down in an important, fundamental way that will require a long time, perhaps a century, to resolve.
My best guide to the Sixties was my girl friend (1992-95), Katherine Arthur, who moved to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in the Summer of Love, and whose career faithfully reflected the journey of her generation. She died not long ago (reminisces here).

At a gathering after Katherine's death, friends told a story I had never heard, how she once lost her temper with Janis Joplin at the Fillmore over a man, so apparently there were limits even to the Summer of Love (it may have been Grace Slick - I only heard the story once!) In the early 70's, she relocated to the country, as so many others did. She adopted the Buddhist religion and became its advocate. She raised her family in Marin County's Monte Rio, and in the Sierra Nevada's Nevada City, before relocating to Sacramento in the mid-80's, to attend law school. She eventually passed the California bar, and ultimately ended up in the Peace Corps in Ukraine before being disgnosed with breast cancer. CounterCulture, through and through, to the end.

Katherine taught me to be more intuitive than I would otherwise be.

I always fancied myself to be post-Boomer, not from the Sixties generation - more responsible, less radical. But when the center is paralyzed, when silence means being complicit, the Sixties approach of throwing caution aside, breaking taboos, and directly challenging authority really is a better solution. A damn sight better, anyway, than just sitting still. Like the radicals of the Great Plains used to say, "Raise Less Corn, And More Hell!"

One can sympathize, to some extent, with the befuddlement of the World War II generation when facing its own rebellious children. Even objects of CounterCulture derision, like General Curtis LeMay, with his obsession with nuking Indochina, was at least speaking from an understandable martial tradition that prized taking the initiative against the enemy. With apologies to the estimable 'Daily Show' crew, the reptiles in power today in Washington don't even merit derision - just contempt.

Anyway, where was I? Yes my dream. On Sunday, Chris Neff and I had discussed how we navigate in our daily lives. I use dead-reckoning based on the sun's position, whereas Chris tends to ignore direction, and thus is prone to getting lost. We both also saw a squirrel get run over while driving through Davis Sunday afternoon. And we both have roles as Indians in DMTC's "Annie Get Your Gun."

I dreamt Chris and I, in our Indian garb, were kidnapped and taken through a combination shopping mall and U.S. Marine Base and placed in a suburban ranch-style house in the Mojave Desert, where a furtive ax murderer lived in the shadows. I escaped briefly, but was captured and brought back to the desert prison by an unfamiliar back road. An American version of Patrick McGoohan's "The Prisoner" ! To me, the dream seems to resonate with various Sixties themes, but maybe it was just that unfortunate squirrel....

In any event, "Hair" will be at The Space, 2509 R Street, from May 3 - 26, at 8 p.m., on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with two midnight performances, on May 12th and 19th.
Vegas Defies Gravity

An insatiable demand for hotel rooms and condos:
LAS VEGAS — Stephen A. Wynn, the hotel and gambling impresario, still remembers the first time he was asked if he and other developers had lost their minds building so many casino hotels here. It was the mid-1970s, when Las Vegas had about 35,000 rooms.

He was asked that same question in the 1980s, while building the 3,000-room Mirage, and again in the early 1990s. By that time Las Vegas was home to more hotel rooms — 106,000 — than any other city in the country.

And so now, with Las Vegas in the midst of another big building boom, Mr. Wynn only shrugs when people suggest that the nation’s premier gambling center, with 151,000 rooms and counting, simply cannot absorb any more new hotels.

...But even Las Vegas has never witnessed anything quite like what is going on today. “This is the most outrageous, over-the-top expansion” ever, Mr. Wynn said.

Americans — and an increasing number of foreigners — can’t seem to get enough of Las Vegas. The current construction craze is driven by a 95 percent weekend occupancy rate — and rates that approach 100 percent at the city’s newer properties. Last year, even the weekday rate fell just shy of 90 percent, partly because of the city’s success in positioning itself as an attractive convention destination.

Fueling the current boom as well are the enticing riches to be made catering to a new kind of guest: aging boomers entering the empty-nest phase of their free-spending lives.

And contrary to some predictions, the opening of American Indian casinos and other gambling outposts in more than 30 states has not hurt Las Vegas.

Far from it. The smaller, more prosaic gambling halls stretched across the country have actually helped the boom, casino executives say, serving as a kind of a feeder system for Las Vegas as people gain a taste for gambling and then aspire to a touch of the big time. The soaring popularity of poker has also helped drive growth as the game has drawn a younger crowd to the city.

“I suppose one day Las Vegas will reach its limit,” said Anthony Curtis, president of, a local travel site. “But that day is nowhere in sight.”

...Even competitors marvel at the scope of the CityCenter project, which MGM calls the most expensive privately financed project in American history. This minicity bordering the Las Vegas Strip will feature six towering buildings that reach as high as 61 stories. Covering 67 acres, it will include a 4,000-room hotel, a sprawling convention center, a half million square feet of retail space and 2,700 condominium units.

The changing demographics have led the designers of the new Vegas to push a sleek and modern aesthetic, along with amenities like luxurious spas, in place of the gilt and gaudy properties that reigned in the 1980s and 1990s. But their owners’ ambitions are greater than ever.

...Even more than hotel construction, a boom in condominium development has increased the number of construction cranes crowding the skies.

...The Vegas Strip But MGM and other developers see themselves as competing for buyers far beyond the Las Vegas market. “We see these as third homes,” said Alan M. Feldman, a spokesman for MGM.

...In a perverse way, though, the city’s current boom helped developers here avoid the kind of frantic overbuilding that plagues condominium developers and condo owners in cities like Miami and Washington. John Restrepo of the Restrepo Consulting Group, a real estate firm based here, said that a “gold rush fever” had swept through the Las Vegas condo market, with more than 100 luxury condo projects, totaling 72,000 units, announced since 2005.

But escalating land prices and a steep rise in construction costs, Mr. Restrepo said, “caused most of these guys, who were never much more than a Web site and a dream, to fade away.” Today, there are just 22 luxury condo projects, representing 10,000 units, under construction, he said, “and a large portion of those units have been sold.”

...The scale of Las Vegas’ hotel industry and the size of its properties put other cities to shame. Even the massive 2,000-room casino resort Mr. Wynn is building next to Wynn — it would rank as New York’s largest hotel — will not crack Las Vegas’s top 15.

Not to be outdone, Fontainebleau Resorts recently announced plans for a $2.8 billion, 3,900-room resort on the northern end of the Las Vegas Strip. And developer Ian Bruce Eichner has raised $3 billion to build a 3,000-unit condo-hotel, the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino, on the Strip.

[And there is the likelihood of more large-scale projects on the horizon. Yesterday, Goldman Sachs paid $1.3 billion for the four Nevada casinos owned by Carl C. Icahn’s American Real Estate Partners, including the Stratosphere Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, but also a precious 17 acres of undeveloped land on the Strip.]

Even without the new hotel properties, the 151,000 guest rooms in the extended Las Vegas area, according to Smith Travel Research, a lodging industry data broker, are nearly twice the 80,000 rooms in New York City. Orlando ranks second to Las Vegas with 111,000 rooms.

And yet Las Vegas has more new hotel rooms under construction (11,000) than any other city in the country, as well as more rooms on the drawing boards (35,000).

...Concerns over future limits on water supplies might ultimately slow development here. Eventually, tourists might tire of fighting the daily traffic jams that snarl the Strip and nearby freeways, or grow frustrated negotiating McCarran International Airport, which seems in a perpetual state of crisis.

But those problems have not hampered Las Vegas’s success so far. The city had just under 39 million visitors in 2006, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority — an 86 percent increase over the 21 million visiting the city in 1990.

And in anticipation of handling even larger hordes of tourists, McCarran is in the first year of a five-year, $4 billion makeover. Meanwhile, officials are looking into adding a second airport at Ivanpah Valley, 30 miles from Las Vegas.

“People have been predicting dating back to 1955 that Las Vegas will reach a saturation point,” said David G. Schwartz, author of “Roll the Bones,” a history of gambling, and director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “But me, I wouldn’t bet against casino growth.”
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) Betrays Australia Again

Can't catch a break, it seems:
As storms lashed Sydney on Sunday night and yesterday, a key weather indicator predicted another dry winter.

The Southern Oscillation Index had been rising towards neutral territory, a sign that drought is weakening, but in recent weeks it has plunged dramatically and it reached a five-month low yesterday of -13.1.
The only consolation is that the SOI can change direction rather dramatically, so not all is lost.

Listening on Brisbane radio, the DJs joked about today's "chances for showers" forecast, and said they had heard the same thing for the last four years....

My guess: rain by next weekend.

I know, I know, "the same thing for the last four years...."
New Campaign Ads From The NSRC

I second Atrios - the new NSRC ads are great!

Like a commenter states:
if the NRSC had been tasked to try and market New Coke after it had already been rejected by the public, i imagine their ad would have said over and over, "New Coke tastes like ass. New Coke tastes like ass. New Coke tastes like ass. Drink more New Coke."
RIP, David Halberstam

"The Best And The Brightest" is among the very best books ever written about the disaster of America's intervention in Vietnam. Which book about the disaster of America's intervention in Iraq will rival Halberstam's work is yet unknown, but Halberstam won't write it - car accident.
Crisis! Crisis!

Last year, Social Security was going to go bankrupt in 2040.

Now, it's 2041.

Wanna bet next year it's 2042?
A Reason Why I Can't Win Aussie Radio Contests

The spelling of the word "nook" is "knook"....

Or maybe the radio folks can't spell....
Weekend Of "Annie Get Your Gun"

Busy weekend. I wish I could remember where I left my camera....

It's been a struggle. A lot of material, and what seems like a short rehearsal period. Partly as a result, I'm concerned that we in the ensemble (including myself) are afflicted with poor singing, shoddy dancing, etc. We'll need to keep after this....

Lauren and MikeMac are strong, though: a saving grace....

Apparently the Indian Dancing is more effective than I first thought it would be. People said nice things about it. The ultimate non-PC activity, of course, and staged right in the heart of the People's Republic Of Davis, but no one appears genuinely upset - a tribute to the audience's indulgence!
Mysterious Disturbance

It's odd when the police have to shoot the patrons of a posh resort.
CyberKylie vs. Dr. Who

This sounds dreadful. I can't wait to see it:
KYLIE Minogue is reportedly set to return to the small screen - as a cyberwoman out to snare Dr Who.

The News of the World said yesterday filming would start in July on the Dr Who Christmas special which could revive the TV career of Minogue.

"Kylie jumped at the chance to be in the show and is really looking forward to acting again," the newspaper quoted an unnamed BBC insider as saying.
Requiem For A Squirrel
Run! The neurons did fire
Halfway across Fifth you bound
Bounced from the rolling tire
Sedan, front left, westbound

Reversed course, outlook dire
Scamper back to DQ
Car behind, rolling tire
Popped skull, a day to rue

Services brief, trash can
Emptied soon, I'm hoping
Didn't stop first to scan?
What were you thinking?