Friday, May 04, 2007

Abandoned Vehicles

The latest junker on the block:
Residents of the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) are wondering how long it will take to remove a disused Boeing 737 that has been abandoned in a busy road.
Learning From Other's Misfortunes

Avoid superglue and exercise:
A gang of armed robbers forced a man to strip naked and then glued him to his exercise bike and sealed his lips with more glue while they ransacked his house, according to a published report.
The One Second Film

Strange idea, but maybe it works:
The 1 Second Film is a non-profit film that combines social-networking with collaborative art to empower many small contributions to make a difference. Anyone in the world can help produce the film by donating as little as $1. Our producers range from celebrities to great-grandmothers.

The film will be one-second of animation (made of 12 large paintings), followed by 90-minutes of credits (which include an open-source feature-length documentary). The entire film is being completed on 70mm, making it the 'Worlds Biggest Shortest Film.'
Speech Crime

Even talking about an eco-terrorist past makes you a present-day danger, and therefore merits prison, according to the feds.
Questions & Answers

From 'Ask A Mexican':
Are Mexicans really baptized in bean dip?

-- Frito Laid

Dear Gabacho: Yes, but only because Jesus once said, "Blessed are the refried, for they shall inherit the Southwest United States."
A Bit Of A Non-Story

So why is it getting prominent mention? Big media spin by the White House veterans? In any event, like Lee Rainie, founding director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project says, the Internet is custom-made for niche interests, so have at it:
But YouTube, which is owned by Google, has also been a favorite target of conservatives, who accuse the site of a liberal bias.

Railing against YouTube, two Republican White House veterans have launched QubeTV as a conservative alternative.

"The 2008 campaign will be dominated by video and in particular by user-generated video," says QubeTV founder Charlie Gerow, a former aide in the Ronald Reagan White House.

"There are a vast array of young conservative activists and operatives out there armed with cell phones or hand-helds that are going to capture the next 'macaca' moment or John Kerry bad joke and put them on Qube TV," says Gerow, whose Pennsylvania strategic media firm, Quantum Communications, created the Web site.

Gerow insists YouTube banned a video by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin about radical Islamists.

Responding to that incident, a statement on the Web site reads: "We fly the conservative flag here at QubeTV, and we will not be about banning or deleting conservatives."

YouTube takes issue with Gerow's assertion that the site is banning conservative content.

"That's flat out incorrect," says a spokesman for YouTube, who asked not to be identified by name.

...YouTube says its users, not YouTube employees, police the site. However, if users flag inappropriate content, YouTube managers review it and remove the offending video from the site.

...But YouTube isn't the only site raising the ire of some conservatives.

Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales' Internet encyclopedia, also has some conservative competition on the Web. was founded in November 2006 by Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.

A statement on the Web site reads: "It's time for the conservatives to get our voice out on the Internet!"

...The difference in approach -- a classic "wiki-war" -- is not uncommon, and Rainie suggests that the conservative alternatives are natural outgrowths of the Internet.

"The Internet is all about niches," says Rainie. "It makes perfect sense for all kinds of groups that are organized by partisan belief and passion to create their own channels."
Too Tough

I'll wimp out on this course, thank you:
By Day 2 in the blazing Utah desert, Dave Buschow was in bad shape.

Pale, wracked by cramps, his speech slurred, the 29-year-old New Jersey man was desperate for water and hallucinating so badly he mistook a tree for a person.

After going roughly 10 hours without a drink in the 100-degree heat, he finally dropped dead of thirst, face down in the dirt, less than 100 yards from the goal: a cave with a pool of water.

But Buschow was no solitary soul, lost and alone in the desert. He and 11 other hikers from various walks of life were being led by expert guides on a wilderness-survival adventure designed to test their physical and mental toughness.

And the guides, it turned out, were carrying emergency water on that torrid summer day.

Buschow wasn't told that, and he wasn't offered any. The guides did not want him to fail the $3,175 course. They wanted him to dig deep, push himself beyond his known limits and make it to the cave on his own.
This Old House

Kinda sounds like mine:
An upstate New York couple didn't think a few bats in the attic were much of a problem when they were buying a house last summer.

Months later, they found out how wrong they were when they discovered more than a ton and a half of bat droppings up there.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mystery Of The Empty Nest

The last two days, I had noticed that the jays had disappeared from the vicinity of my house, which I took to be ominous. After all, there was still a baby bird in the nest in the hedge.

Or at least, so I thought. This evening, I got the ladder and checked out the nest - empty. And yet, no body.

So, something bad happened. A predator attack? Squirrel, possum, cat? Or maybe the body had fallen and was scavenged.

In any event, it looks like Baby Blue is a foundling.....
"Largest Robbery In The World"

It certainly is interesting what happened to all that U.S. taxpayer money:
A former Iraqi defence minister whose 10 months in office coincided with the disappearance of more than $800m (£400m) from the ministry’s coffers is living openly in Amman and London despite a warrant for his arrest.

Hazem Shaalan, a small businessman in London until Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003, rose in a year to one of the most important jobs in the interim government that ran Iraq from 2004 to 2005.

He left Baghdad before the next government discovered that a fortune had been looted from his ministry’s account in what one senior investigator has called “one of the largest thefts in history”.

The missing money was part of $8.8 billion of shrink-wrapped American cash that was flown into Iraq after Saddam fell but which is now unaccounted for. It is the subject of a congressional inquiry in Washington amid growing demands by Democrats to identify those responsible.

...An investigators’ audit of the ministry during Shaalan’s tenure found that $1.7 billion went into its account at the Rafidain Bank in Baghdad before vanishing into a Jordanian account.

Two cheques drawn on the Ministry of Defence account, one for $149m and the other for $348m — were among transfers totalling $1.126 billion to al-Warka, a small private bank in Baghdad. The money was then deposited at the Housing Bank in Amman.

There it went into the account of Naer Jumaili, a little-known Iraqi businessman who held no official position but acted as a middle man for Iraq’s defence contracts while Shaalan was in charge. Jumaili also lives openly in Amman despite an Iraqi arrest warrant on charges of theft but was unavailable for comment last week.

“What Shaalan and his ministry were responsible for was possibly the largest robbery in the world,” said Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the head of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity which investigates official fraud.

The scandal has raised a series of perplexing questions. The nature of Shaalan’s role, the impact on the faltering development of Iraq’s nascent army as the insurgency took hold and the failure of US officials to keep track of billions of dollars are all coming under growing scrutiny in Baghdad and Washington.

Not least is the question: where did all the money go? Iraqi investigators have been denied access to Jordanian bank details and have yet to establish how much may have simply been stolen.

But they believe that most of it went on weapons deals in which the ministry was supposed to acquire expensive, modern equipment but bought cheap, substandard items instead, with the difference in price being pocketed along the way.

In one example, the latest MP5 American machineguns were ordered at a cost of $3,500 each. But what was delivered were Egyptian copies worth $200 per gun.

Other purchases included outdated Pakistani armoured personnel carriers that could hardly stop a Kalashnikov bullet and had steering wheels on the wrong side; and bullets so old that when soldiers opened the ammunition cases they feared the ammunition would explode.

“Huge amounts of money simply disappeared,” said Ali Allawi, a former finance minister who uncovered the problems after he came into office in 2005.

“We got scrap metal in return. This is not just about fraud. The substandard equipment that the army received meant soldiers died as a result.”

One Iraqi official claimed last week that the missing money would have paid for 11,000 schools or 500 hospitals. But the immediate impact was that the Iraqi army was woefully unprepared to tackle an increasingly savage and well armed insurgency, just at the time when the Americans were pressing for the national force to start replacing their own troops. Iraqi soldiers found that they were ambushed by insurgents with far better weapons than their own.

...Shaalan became defence minister without any experience in security or managing a large organisation. Soon after his appointment he wrote to the prime minister, Iyad Allawi, asking for an increase in his ministry’s budget, which had been set at $450m, on top of $8-$10 billion the Americans spent separately that year on training and equipping the Iraqi army.

Shaalan decided to create new mechanised divisions and a rapid deployment force to counter the insurgency, and for that he needed more money. Such an increase would normally have been submitted first to the cabinet and, if approved, to the National Assembly.

Instead, Shaalan sent a memo to the office of the prime minister, requesting an emergency exemption from the procedures.

In a memo signed by Shaalan he said there were “a number of secret contracts the amounts of which cannot be made public”, and other contracts “which require immediate expenditure”. In the same memo he demands “tax exemption for secret contracts”. The finance ministry was instructed to allocate the $1.7 billion for the creation of the rapid deployment divisions and to place it at the disposal of Shaalan’s ministry.

Shaalan’s memo was dated August 29. Two days later Jumaili incorporated the Flowing Spring company with assets of $2,000. Within months the company was doing deals for the ministry and hundreds of millions of dollars were flowing into his personal account.

Jumaili forged an alliance with Ziad Cattan, an Iraqi with dual Polish citizenship. Cattan was appointed head of military procurement at the ministry, even though he appears to have had no credentials for the job. He had run a pizza parlour in Poland while Saddam was in power, and had a small used car business in Germany.

He later admitted to an American newspaper: “Before, I sold water, flowers, shoes, cars – but not weapons. We didn’t know anything about weapons.”

...There was little or no competitive tendering. The contracts, some of which the Ministry of Defence never saw, even allowed Jumaili to determine what was delivered at his own discretion.

Documents show that in one transaction Jumaili transferred about $480m in ministry funds to the account of a colleague in Baghdad. The colleague then transferred the entire sum to Jumaili’s account in Amman.

Jumaili also took $100m of ministry cash from a bank in Baghdad in a single withdrawal and flew it out of the city.

A large quantity of substandard equipment was bought by Jumaili from a Polish company through a connection established by Cattan.

Twenty-four Soviet-era helicopters were acquired for $100m, ostensibly paid in advance. They were more than 30 years old and so outdated that Iraqi army inspectors refused to take delivery of them. Another purchase of 16 Polish-made Sokol helicopters is still being disputed.

...Last week Shaalan said he had sold a spacious villa in Amman and now lived in a small flat. But among the countless Iraqi refugees in Amman, many of them destitute, Shaalan cuts a suave figure, travelling in a luxury car and accompanied by solicitous bodyguards.

He also seems to have ready access to cash. When he travelled from Amman to London with a Sunday Times journalist in 2005, he stopped before customs to divide up bundles of US dollars from his briefcase between himself, his wife and his travelling companions.

...On visits to his family in London, Shaalan stays in some of the capital’s most expensive hotels and has been known to take a suite at the Dorchester.

...By the time Shaalan’s successor came to office in May 2005, the ministry’s resources had been plundered and an army that was supposed to be well equipped and trained was vulnerable and demoralised.

When Ali Allawi traced the missing money to Jordan, his request to officials in Amman for the records of Jumaili’s bank account was stonewalled..
RIP, Wally Schirra

I remember how exciting and dramatic the Gemini 6 mission was, particularly the aborted launch, where the Titan II engines fired, but then were shutdown, which led to the oddity of Gemini 7 being launched before Gemini 6:
Walter M. "Wally" Schirra Jr., who followed his barnstorming parents into the sky as a Navy combat pilot and the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, has died. He was 84.

...A Naval Academy graduate credited with shooting down at least one enemy jet during the Korean War, Schirra was chosen as one of America's seven original Project Mercury astronauts.

On Oct. 3, 1962, he lifted off from Cape Canaveral in the Sigma 7 space capsule for America's fifth manned space mission and third orbital flight.

...Asked later what went through his mind as we waited atop the 95-foot Atlas rocket for liftoff, Schirra replied with a grin: "You think, all these hundreds of thousands of parts were put together by the lowest bidder."

In 1965, Schirra and fellow astronaut Thomas P. Stafford were selected to fly the Gemini 6 mission, the first attempt to rendezvous in space with another orbiting spacecraft. Success was necessary if the Apollo program to land men on the moon was to advance.

After several postponements due to a rocket failure and technical problems, Schirra and Stafford were launched from Cape Kennedy -- the temporarily renamed Cape Canaveral -- on Dec. 15, 1965. Schirra's assignment was to maneuver Gemini 6 close to the orbiting Gemini 7, which had been launched 11 days earlier and carried astronauts Frank Borman and James A. Lovell Jr.

Six hours after liftoff, Schirra brought Gemini 6 to within 6 to 10 feet of Gemini 7, close enough to see the other astronauts' faces.

"It was done to perfection," Schirra said later. "Until then, we came in second to the Soviets. But they had never done a rendezvous and they didn't do that kind of rendezvous for another 10 years."

...Three years later in October 1968, Schirra and fellow astronauts Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham orbited the Earth in Apollo 7. The flight went well but all three men came down with severe head colds. Schirra was the first person to take Actifed in space, much to the delight of the product's manufacturer, Burroughs Wellcome.

Walter Marty Schirra was born March 12, 1923 in Hackensack, N.J.

His father, Walter M. Schirra Sr., was an engineer and an Army pilot who had flown bombing and reconnaissance missions over France during World War I. His mother was Florence Leach Schirra, who starred as a wing-walker during some of her husband's stunt flights over county fairs during the early 1920s. She was pregnant with Wally during the last of those flights.

Schirra said he grew up knowing he'd be a pilot. He soloed at 16 and in 1942, the year after the United States joined World War II, he was accepted into a three-year, accelerated course at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

...In 1949, Schirra was assigned to the 154th Fighter Bomber Squadron, flying low-level bombing and strafing runs over Korea. Rated an outstanding pilot, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals.

From 1952 to 1954, he was a test pilot at the Naval Ordnance Training Center in China Lake, where he was remembered for evading a Sidewinder missile that unexpectedly turned on him during an exercise. From 1954 to 1958, he was assigned to the carrier Lexington, the Naval Air Safety School at USC and the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent, Md.

In 1959, Schirra was selected as a Project Mercury astronaut. His responsibility, in addition to training for spaceflights, was the development and testing of the astronauts' life-support systems.

Schirra was a practical joker, relaxed and popular with his fellow astronauts. But he also was tough, cool and decisive under pressure. He became an outspoken critic of the carefully choreographed public relations program that threatened to smother the astronauts.

"None of us is interested in the glamour of being a spaceman," he said. "We're interested in getting up and getting back."

Schirra got up and back three times, once each during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. During his second spaceflight, maneuvering at 17,000 mph under Schirra's direction, Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 circled for hours, perfecting the techniques that would enable later space vehicles to dock with one another during flights to the moon.

Despite the danger, the banter never stopped.

"There seems to be a lot of traffic up here," Schirra radioed from Gemini 6 after one particularly close maneuver.

"Call a policeman," Borman retorted from Gemini 7.

"I can see your lips moving," Gemini 7 pilot Lovell told Schirra.

"I'm chewing gum," Schirra replied.

In 1969, after receiving the Collier trophy for achievement in aviation, Schirra left NASA and the Navy. He became a commentator for CBS News and often teamed with anchorman Walter Cronkite on space coverage.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Anita Creamer's Column On Eric Presnall

Amusing column this morning regarding a standout at El Dorado Musical Theater:
In the autograph line after the show, he'd hear girls whispering to one another about him.

"They were like, 'Oh, my God, there he is. What should I say to him?' " Presnall says. "People would sneak a kiss on my cheek. They'd have me sign their hands and their foreheads.
Companion At Work

But one with a prodigious appetite....
A Night On The Town With Joe The Plumber

Left: Colorful chandelier, in the rotunda at Cheesecake Factory.

Joe the Plumber had been promising for two months that he would treat me to a night on the town, in gratitude for me helping through a rough patch several months ago by lining up work for him. With schedule conflicts, it seemed difficult to arrange this jaunt, but last night seemed opportune.

Joe had lots of time to envision what he considered the perfect night out. The night would start with dinner at Arden Fair Mall's Cheesecake Factory, and would end at an establishment where 'the ladies sit on your lap', which sounded perfectly sedate.

Left: Sacramento's "Torch Club" beckons on a Tuesday night.

Dinner was pleasant at Cheesecake Factory. I had pork cutlets with macaroni. We both got white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake, but got it to go, since we were already stuffed.

Dinner conversation was light. I've had trouble fully-following Joe's reasoning since he suffered a beating at Del Paso's Stoney Inn several years ago, so I just let him riff. Regarding Iraq, we both lamented the war, but Joe sees the hands of the British in the bloodshed, since they essentially own everything in the world (I disagree, but like I say, Joe's treating here, so I kept conversation light). We didn't touch usual subjects, like UFOs, and only lightly discussed his Native American roots.

Joe told one of his favorite stories again, where he had once been sent into South Central LA on a union plumbing job, but was waylaid by a van full of youths. A machete was produced, and he understood they were going to decapitate him. He told them "I was sent here on a job. I am just a plumber." One of the youths said, "Oh yeah, my mother's waiting for you," and so they let him go.

After Cheesecake Factory, we went and listened to blues music at Sacramento's Torch Club. It was a slow night, but the music was good. I had a margarita, but since Joe was driving, he had just a soda.

After The Torch Club, it was time to find this sitting establishment. We ended up at a club called Amber's, in Citrus Heights. Very slow Tuesday night, very dark lighting, and the dancing was lackadaisical - nearly clinical. One dancer put more energy into her act than usual, and I called out to her afterwards. I asked her: "So, what do you do?" She stifled a laugh, and Joe chimed in helpfully "she's a neurosurgeon." She said that, when she wasn't busy here, she helps sell spoilers for Dodge Vipers. Such a colorful occupation! Afterwards, I asked Joe what he thought. "She's a Hell's Angel," he said. "Really?" I said, "Why? She's the most-improbable-looking Hell's Angel I've ever seen." "Her colors, the ones she wore - red and white: those are Hell's Angels colors," Joe said. Once again, I disagreed, but like I say, Joe's treating here.....

We were both dissatisfied with Amber's, so we ended up at a place called Club Fantasy on Richards Boulevard. The place was nearly deserted, but the dancers soldiered on. One dancer urged us to sit closer to the stage, since 'Nina' was going to be dancing: "She's the best!" I have to admit her assessment was accurate. Still I couldn't help making an eye-rolling comment to the first dancer aforementioned that it was the improbably-tall platform shoes that really caught my eye. For some reason, Joe seemed out-of-sorts in this establishment. No British or Hell's Angels were in evidence anywhere, so I don't know what it was. Maybe it was the cheesecake waiting in the truck.

An interesting evening with Joe The Plumber.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Hmmm. What's that about the pot and the kettle?:
Moving toward a veto of a war spending bill, President Bush said Tuesday that Democrats who made the legislation a showdown over withdrawing U.S. troops could turn Iraq into a "cauldron of chaos" with their approach.
SOI Still Negative

The Southern Oscillation Index is STILL negative - essentially neutral, but still negative! Like a negative attitude, not much use in a negative SOI!
Tom Poston, RIP

Familiar actor passes away:
Goof-up or not, Poston was a versatile actor who made his Broadway debut in 1947 playing five roles in Jose Ferrer's "Cyrano de Bergerac."

One role called for him to engage in a duel, fall 10 feet, roll across the stage and vanish into the orchestra pit. Other actors had auditioned and failed but Poston, who in his youth had been an acrobat with the Flying Zepleys, did the stunt perfectly.

He went on to play secondary roles in Broadway comedies and starred at regional theaters in such shows as "Romanoff and Juliet" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." For 10 years he was also a panelist on the popular TV quiz show "To Tell the Truth."

He made guest appearances on scores of television shows, including "Studio One," "The Phil Silvers Show," "The Defenders," "Get Smart," "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Love Boat," "St. Elsewhere," "The Simpsons," "Coach," "Murphy Brown," "Home Improvement," "Touched by an Angel," "Will & Grace," "Dream On," "Just Shoot Me!" and "That '70s Show."
Mercy On Them

No redeeming social benefit here, except schadenfreude:
Obese British teenagers will be dropped into Australia's harsh outback, where they will have to hunt with Aborigines for food in a new reality television show, said a report on Tuesday.

The makers of Fat Teens Can't Hunt are talking to Aboriginal groups who will teach the youngsters how to trap, kill, gather and cook "bush tucker" for the BBC show.

Common Aboriginal food includes kangaroos and emus, witchetty grubs, lizards, snakes and moths.

The series will feature five boys and five girls aged 16-19 in six one-hour episodes and is based on an earlier series, Fat Men Can't Hunt, which sent a group of eight obese adults to live with the bushmen of Namibia.

..."The biggest revelation of the last series was that people are addicted to tastes and they don't eat for survival anymore.

"For them to realise where the meat actually comes from and to actually trap a small game bird and eat it is really, really special. It helps them reconnect with where food came from."

Ramsden rejected suggestions from critics that the show was voyeuristic.
Big Anniversary - Mission Accomplished Day!
Britney Singing On Sunday?

A rumor of Britney Spears singing at House Of Blues at the Mandalay Bay on Sunday. The messenger is a bit skeptical, though:
Still, I have a hard time imagining her in a venue like House of Blues that requires a band and actual singing from performers. That would almost be a new Britney Spears. I see Britney Spears "singing" comeback taking place, if in Vegas, at a spot more in fitting with her career to date, like Pure or Tao, where she can just get up and sing-along with a little help from her old recordings. We will see.
Maiko Kawakami Says It Ain't True

She says the lamb/poodle scam was a complete fabrication. Too bad. It's a great story, but if it ain't true, it ain't true.

W-H-A-T???? People in the news media make things up completely out of thin air? NO!!!!:
The British tabloid The Sun reported that the scam came to light after Kawakami complained on a television talk show that her new poodle refused to bark or eat dog food and that she was devastated when told it was a lamb.

"Ms Kawakami is very surprised by how much this has spread overseas. She was just recounting on television how she had heard of such a story while she was at a nail salon," a spokeswoman for her talent agency said.

"Ms Kawakami does not even own a poodle," she said.

As a result of the international coverage, Kawakami - who starred in Takeshi Kitano's Japanese thriller Violent Cop - appeared on television again today to deny the reports.

Police in Sapporo, where the fraudulent company was reportedly based, also denied the tale.

"We have had inquiries from so many media - CNN, CBS among others - and all I can say is that that article is completely made up," a spokesman said.
Nesting With The Nestling

I know you like salmon. Do you like peanuts? Here, I'll wash the salt off these AM/PM specials....

Do you like lumpia? Has lots of rice and hamburger. Do you like rice?

Do you like the stuffed toy kookaburra? Kookaburra says "Hoo hoo hoo, ha, ha, ha!" Here let me squeeze it so you can hear it.... I know it's an Australian bird, but it looks vaguely like a Scrub Jay.... I know the toy sounds sinister, but the real bird doesn't - more like Hollywood's idea of what a jungle sounds like.....

Your real nest is just outside the bedroom window. Can you hear your mom? Let's hope she remembers you, even though you now reek of salmon.

Boy, you're growing fast! You have more feathers today than yesterday....

Monday, April 30, 2007

Twilight Of The Republican Party?

William Buckley wonders:
When the Romans were challenged by Christianity, Rome fell. The generation of Christians moved by their faith overwhelmed the regimented reserves of the Roman state. It was four years ago that Mr. Cheney first observed that there was a real fear that each fallen terrorist leads to the materialization of another terrorist. What can a “surge,” of the kind we are now relying upon, do to cope with endemic disease? The parallel even comes to mind of the eventual collapse of Prohibition, because there wasn’t any way the government could neutralize the appetite for alcohol, or the resourcefulness of the freeman in acquiring it.

General Petraeus is a wonderfully commanding figure. But if the enemy is in the nature of a disease, he cannot win against it. Students of politics ask then the derivative question: How can the Republican party, headed by a president determined on a war he can’t see an end to, attract the support of a majority of the voters? General Petraeus, in his Pentagon briefing on April 26, reported persuasively that there has been progress, but cautioned, “I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and again I note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.”

The general makes it a point to steer away from the political implications of the struggle, but this cannot be done in the wider arena. There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.
Are You My Mommy?

Preparing to walk Sparky about 4 a.m., I cast a flashlight around under the nest where the baby birds had been falling out that afternoon, hoping that they had ceased doing so after the nest fix earlier in the day.

No such luck. Splat on the driveway gravel was a very cold, very baby bird. Presumably this was the weaker bird, pushed out of its nest by its stronger sibling. It was clearly going to die soon. I tried giving the bird some of Cloudy the Rabbit's banana, but the bird didn't react. What to do? So, I cupped the bird in my hands as I juggled the pooper scooper, and gave Sparky a brief walk around the neighborhood, not even travelling as far as our usual jaunt to the 24th Street Theater. At 24th Street & 2nd Avenue, I located a small slug on the sidewalk outside the cafe there and fed it to the bird. I quickly returned home. I located a second, larger slug in the back yard and brought it inside the house.

What to do? I decided to sleep with the bird. I cut a sock in half and put the bird inside the bottom end. Then I placed the sock inside the rigid ring of a roll of masking tape, minimizing the chances that I'd roll over and squash the bird in the night. I prepared a syringe of water, to hydrate the bird, should it need it.

The second slug vanished somewhere in the bathroom: I doubt it moved fast, but it had incentive to hide. So, what to feed the bird? In the refrigerator we had some Harry and David smoked salmon, purchased at Christmastime at the Roseville Galleria, salmon that E. refused to eat, because we discovered only too late that the purchase date had long passed: it was apparently from 2001. I nevertheless figured that smoked salmon should last, and that salmon is very nutritious: I know I'd prefer old, dead salmon to new, live slugs any day. So, I opened up one of the packages of salmon and started feeding the bird.

She's (he's?) so cute. She'll be all curled up, and quietly chirping in her sleep, then suddenly she'll open up her big, gaping mouth, like Audrey II, and ask to be fed.

I woke up shortly after 6 a.m., and found my T-shirt and covers were smeared with bird poop. Didn't quite understand how that happened, but since this morning I now have a better idea - they just stick their rear ends outside the nest in order to take care of business. So efficient!

So, I've brought her into work. I'll likely run out of the salmon I brought, so we'll both dine out today at lunch. Maybe I'll check out the cracks in the sidewalk again over at 24th Street and 2nd Avenue.

She seems to be a Western Scrub Jay, a common bird which can eat many things, so salmon won't hurt, and there are likely many other things I can feed her - even slugs.

I wonder how to deal with issues like introducing her to her kin, teaching her to fly, etc.?
The Magic Chair

Thunder Valley was a canyon of despair Sunday night. At one point, I was down $1,300.00 playing blackjack.

Then I sat at a table and the only other patron said this is a good table. Sure enough, luck turned, and I began climbing again. After he left, I took his chair, reasoning that it was the chair. After awhile, I was only $300.00 down.

Nothing lasts forever. The chair was good, but wore thin. Final loss: $1,152.00.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Urinetown - The Musical" - River City Stage

Photo copied from the River Stage Web Page. Photo features 'Bobby Strong' (Kevin Caravalho), leader of the rebellion at Public Amenity #9. To left is 'Josephine Strong' (Monica Parisi). Behind her is 'Hot Blades Harry' (Scott Woodard). On floor on right in front is 'Little Becky Two Shoes' (Amanda Morish). In the background, hands over face, is the kidnapped 'Hope Cladwell' (Maggie Elizabeth May). 'Little Sally' is at right (Francesca Jimenez).

Excellent show at River Stage! Fine dance routines choreographed by Pam Kay Lourentzos. Many friends in this show, at their very best.

Pam's choreography featured many trademark moves (even a 'shimmer'): fast-paced, representing the music faithfully and strongly. A real workout!

It's interesting whom the audience will identify with. Especially in an ensemble show, it's often not the whom you might expect - the leads. I sat with J. behind five trim, sophisticated women in their fifties. When Monica Parisi, who in make-up appeared to be in the same age range, came jamming down the fire pole like any other 20-year-old, all the women gasped and said "ooh!"

I tended to identify with Scott Woodard. When he came right to the edge of the stage, and without the benefit of much space did a double outside pirouette, followed immediately by an inside jazz pirouette, I gasped and said "ooh!"

Roger McDonald was superb as the smug and corrupt, but not entirely-evil 'Caldwell B. Cladwell'. Maggie Elizabeth May (aka Maggie Roesser) was excellent as well as his daughter, 'Hope Cladwell'. Roger and Maggie last performed together in 2001 in DMTC's "Peter Pan", with Maggie as 'Wendy' and Roger as 'Captain Hook'. Kevin Caravalho was also very strong as 'Bobby Strong', the male romantic lead, and Martha Omiyo Kight as 'Penelope Pennywise'.

Andrew Hutchinson was perfectly cast as 'Officer Lockstock'. Both he and Franchesca Jimenez ('Little Sally') expanded upon and narrated portions of the show. Some may wonder whether Little Sally's cloying innocence would have been better played by a child (Megan Sandoval, who played 'Tiny Tina' can nail 'child' better), but for myself, college-aged Jimenez played the part faithfully and well. I agree with Marcus Crowder at the Sacramento Bee that I wish we had seen more of 'Officer Barrel' (Kevin Menager).

Special moments: Roger's own special dance. Monica's tap dance. Amanda Morish's sly facial expressions, which were variations on the theme of "I'm bad." Jabriel Shelton counting his pee fee coins on his fingers. Kevin waving a TP banner from a roll placed on an extra-long toilet plunger. And of course, the big send-up of "Fiddler on the Roof's 'Bottle Dance.'

The musical itself has great songs, but the writing is a bit weak - too simple - OK for only certain kinds of musicals. The romance between Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell is written to be too rote, too abstract. The age compromise between casting together the younger Maggie Elizabeth May and the older Kevin Caravalho didn't matter in the end, since the writing itself wasn't as good as it could have been (although I do admit to liking the verbal imagery of interlocked veins and arteries).

"Urinetown" is a 'metaphysical' concept, meaning any town - your town - is Urinetown. Nevertheless, I kept thinking about the towns and cities of Australia's Darling Downs. Last year, the city of Toowoomba (population 100,000), known for its elaborate gardens, voted down a serious plan to recycle sewage directly into drinking water. You just know that somewhere in the city's planning department, civil engineers are yelling at the wall, demanding to know how they are expected to find enough water for the idiot voters, given the severity of the drought. And next year, the City of Brisbane, which is larger than Sacramento, will finally exhaust its supply, Lake Wivenhoe, and face a conservation bludgeon no city of its size has ever faced.

Indeed, today's news from Queensland has uncomfortable echoes to the 'Senator Fipp jetting off to Rio' part of "Urinetown":
PREMIER Peter Beattie jetted overseas yesterday, three hours before a report revealed the southeast was moving quicker than previously known towards water Armageddon.

The sobering report showed construction of the region's recycled water pipeline, designed to take purified wastewater from Brisbane to Wivenhoe Dam, had fallen further behind schedule. It will also deliver only two-thirds of the water originally forecast.

...Mr Beattie's final public announcement before jetting off to Hong Kong on a trade mission outlined a new plan to enlist prisoners to build up to 50 rainwater tanks a week. Massive demand for tanks and other water-saving devices has caused huge delays and blown out the cost of the Government's water rebate scheme to $50 million.

The developments came as the weather bureau and SEQWater revealed Brisbane City received a miserly 3.2mm of rain last month.

In the catchment areas of the region's three main dams, only 10mm of rain was recorded – the worst on record. The worst news, however, was that the 200km recycled water pipeline – the centrepiece of the Government's strategy to keep the region from running dry late next year – would deliver far less than the 210 million litres of water previously announced.

That was due to residents cutting water consumption, reducing flows to waste treatment plants.

"The full effect of level 5 restrictions may result in total volumes of approximately 142 million litres a day," the commission's report said.

...Mr Beattie meanwhile announced that the Government was looking for a private sector partner to help manufacture water tanks at the Woodford Correctional Centre near Caboolture.

..."Prisoners will help the community get through the drought," Mr Beattie said.
Reality is beginning to imitate art!
Bad Blue Bird Architecture

On Saturday, about noon, I was sweeping and raking just outside the gate to the back yard, when I looked down and received a shock: a baby bird was writhing around in the gravel of the driveway, overheating in the sun. I scooped up the featherless, closed-eye baby, took him into the kitchen and washed him off under the water tap in order to cool him down. I even put a little water in his mouth and heard him cough. Then he opened up his mouth and silently implored for more than just water.

What to do? No earthworms anywhere!

I made E. hold the bird as I got the ladder to put the bird back in the nest. "M-A-A-A-A-R-R-R-C! It's a baby blue jay!" she shouted as she got paper towel, in order not to actually come into physical contact with the bird and with whatever diseases it might carry (although I suspect the bird has far more to worry about from us, diseasewise, than us from it). I put the bird back into the nest, which was lodged in the hedge, as the mother bird a few feet away screached her displeasure in my ear.

On Sunday, heading to Pam Kay Lourentzos' ballet class, about 11:30 a.m., I opened the back gate. On the ground next to E.'s car were two baby birds writhing around in the gravel of the driveway. Both were alive, but one bird was significantly cooler than the other. Neither looked well, and they both were very young.

I was getting exasperated. Sunday morning ballet class is the holiest of holies, and I was going to be late. My religious obligation on Sunday is doing plies and pirouettes, not this preservation-of-life stuff. So, once again, I made E. hold the birds as I got the ladder to put the birds back in the nest. "M-A-A-A-A-R-R-R-C! Baby blue jays!" she shouted as she got another paper towel in order not to actually come into physical contact with the birds. I put the birds back into the nest as the worried mother bird watched from a nearby power line.

This time, I took a closer look at the nest, and noticed that even though the nest was well-built, it was nowhere near level - maybe 40 degrees from level. No wonder the baby birds keep falling out! This is a bad place for a nest - this kind of hedge has few horizontal surfaces of any sort. In order to keep this from happening many more times, I would have to help out Mommy and Daddy Blue Jay with some engineering consulting.

I obtained a strip of cloth to attach to the hedge branch on which the nest sat precariously. I also obtained an underinflated wheelbarrow tire to act as a weight. I tried tying the wheelbarrow tire to the hedge, but the weight was too heavy. I dropped the wheelbarrow tire and it bounced off the hood of E.'s car like a basketball (hope those streaks on the black paint aren't scratches in the paint!)

Instead, I used just the strip of cloth to bend the supporting the branch and tied it to the supporting trunk, so the nest isn't much more than 10 degrees, or so, from horizontal. Hopefully that will be stable enough for the moment. Hope the siblings continue to get along, and hope the flying trials go well, and come summertime hope we'll have two healthy flying baby blue jays to show for interrupting the holiest of holies!
The Chile Lab

In New Mexico, of course!:
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Jit Baral, a researcher at New Mexico State University, stepped into the lab and pulled a plastic gas mask over his face. He and two students strapped on heavy rubber gloves and lab smocks. They activated an exhaust fan to cycle air quickly from the room.

Then Baral gingerly lifted the object that triggered all the precautions — a small, wrinkled red chile. This was no ordinary pepper. Baral was about to prove that the bhut jolokia, originally from northeastern India, is the hottest chile in the world.

He plopped it into an electric grinder, and caustic fumes filled the room. Next, Baral ran the powder through a machine to measure its spiciness, which registered as 100 times that of a typical jalapeno. The research landed the pepper in the Guinness World Records and was another coup for a school with an unusual academic flavor.

...The school houses a Chile Pepper Institute to educate the public about the plant. Agriculture professor Paul Bosland founded the Institute in 1992 after he and other professors were deluged with e-mails from people worldwide with hot pepper inquiries. The most common question: How does one get rid of the sting on the skin after chopping chiles? The answer: Douse your hands in milk.

...Bosland won Harvard's "Ig Noble Prize" for dubious achievement in science after developing a heatless habanero, which is used to thicken salsa. "I got e-mails accusing me of selling my soul to the devil after that one," Bosland recalled.

...Early last century, a Mexican-born NMSU agriculture professor, Fabian Garcia, virtually created the state's chile industry by breeding a milder pepper that would appeal to Anglo palates. One strain was taken by a farmer to Southern California, where, to the chagrin of New Mexicans, it became known as the Anaheim chile. The other strains were planted in the lush fields that follow the Rio Grande as it winds past Las Cruces.

...But since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the state's chile crop has plunged almost 50% as cheaper foreign imports from Mexico, Peru and China pushed local growers out of the market. Chile farmers are selling to developers who replace fields with subdivisions.

"This is an industry we can't afford to lose," said Gene Baca, president of the New Mexico Chile Assn., a trade group. "Losing the chile industry in New Mexico is the equivalent to Napa Valley losing grape growing and wine production."

...Capsaicinoid, the chemical in chile peppers that generate spiciness, is also the active ingredient in pepper spray.

The Indian military drew NMSU's attention to the bhut jolokia. Without explaining why it had been investigating the fruit, the Indian military announced that it believed the pepper was the world's hottest. A friend of a Chile Pepper Institute member traveled to India and bought the seeds at a local market. Bosland and researcher Baral grew the peppers and tested them late last year.