Friday, August 03, 2007

Silver Screen Desperado

Following closely on the heels of the publication of Michael Wallis' "Billy the Kid-The Endless Ride" (which I blogged about last month) comes a wonderful new article written in the New Mexico Historical Review (NMHR: Vol. 82, No.2, Spring 2007) by UNM Professor Paul Andrew Hutton entitled "Silver Screen Desperado - Billy The Kid In The Movies".

Billy The Kid never really came to life as an American historical character until the movies came along. Hutton had the joyful labor of illustrating just how influential The Kid has been in our imagination. Some quotes that must have been glorious to write:

His time on this earth was brief, his historical significance marginal, yet his grip on the imagination of the world truly astonishing. Henry McCarty, aka Henry Antrim, aka William H. Bonney, aka The Kid, aka Billy The Kid, is now a figure of international renown and certainly the most famous citizen ever produced by New Mexico. Not bad for a runaway Silver City boy, an itinerant gunman, and an occasional cattle thief, who perished in his twenty-first year.

...It is a singular remarkable fact that more motion pictures have been made about Billy The Kid than any other figure in American, if not world, history. More than on Wyatt Earp or George Custer, more than on George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, more than on FDR or JFK. At least sixty films, both American and foreign, have celebrated the exploits of this dreamscape desperado.
Regarding King Vidor's "Billy The Kid", released in 1930:
The MGM publicity department trotted out several visitors to the set. One was Sophie Poe, widow of [Pat] Garrett's deputy John Poe, and the author of the classic New Mexico memoir "Buckboard Days." She was horrified by the glamorous depiction of the outlaw her husband had helped track down.

"Sir, I knew that little buck-toothed killer," she declared to Vidor, "and he wasn't the way you are making him at all." Vidor had to smile. "Mrs. Poe," the director replied, "I understand your feelings, but this is what the people want."
Regarding Howard Hughes efforts to ram 1943's "The Outlaw", starring the stupendously-buxom Jane Russell, past Joseph Breen and the Hays production-code office:
As Hughes fought Breen, Birdwell began his masterful publicity campaign featuring Hurrell's photograph of Russell on billboards above the slogan "How'd you like to tussle with Russell?" The advertising campaign was far more salacious than the the film itself, which finally won Breen's approval after some cuts. The picture premiered to universally bad reviews at San Francisco's Geary Theater on 5 February 1943, but the Catholic Legion of Decency's ban of the film was great for business. After ten weeks of fabulous commercial success in this limited release, Hughes withdrew "The Outlaw". Under wartime distribution agreements, films were sent overseas for free screenings to the troops, the very audience that had made Russell a pinup celebrity. By withdrawing the film until a 1946 re-release, Hughes insured that millions of GIs would pay full ticket prices to see Jane Russell romance Billy The Kid. The film did record business, grossing over $3 million domestically. Thus did Billy The Kid break down American film censorship and add to the wealth and legend of the remarkable Howard Hughes, while setting the stage for American society's breast fixation of the 1950's.
Regarding Marlon Brando's direction of 1961's "One-Eyed Jacks":
The sixty-day schedule expanded to six months. Brando's directing style astonished producer Rosenberg. "He pondered each camera set-up while 120 members of the company sprawled on the ground like battle-weary troops," Rosenberg recalled. "He exposed a million feet of film, therby hanging up a new world record." Brando's cut of "One-Eyed Jacks" ran four hours and forty two minutes, the movie itself going four million dollars over budget. When finally released in March 1961, after Paramount forced Brando to film a new, happier ending in which the Rio Kid rides into a California sunset, the film failed at the box office. Brando publicly disowned it.
Regarding Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie", in 1969:
The film, which is almost incomprehensible yet strangely compelling, tells the making of a Billy The Kid movie in Peru. In the film within a film, Sam Fuller is the crazed director, Dean Stockwell plays Billy, and Rod Cameron, [Pat] Garrett. When an extra is killed during filming, the local natives become confused on the difference between art and reality with terrible consequences for Hopper's character, Kansas. Hopper's pals Kris Kristofferson and Peter Fonda were along for this seemingly drug-induced ride. Europeans loved the film, of course, and it won first-prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Regarding John Fusco's script for 1988's "Young Guns":
"When I first saw a tintype photo of Billy The Kid, what hit me was that it didn't correspond at all with the legend of the noble bandit: Robert Taylor dressed in black, the left-hander who whistled sad ballads, the lady killer," Fusco recalled. "I looked at the young man in the photo and said, No, there's something else here. This is a ferret in a derby."
And what filmography about Billy The Kid would be complete without "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"?:
Bill and Ted take the wrong exit out of a wormhole and pick up Billy The Kid in their time-traveling phone booth.
New Mexico Historical Review is a specialty journal, so this article may be hard to find, but it deserves a wide readership!
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

Saw it - didn't understand it.

Gothic-oriented drama usually revolves around several themes: 1.) trials of strength, endurance and pain; 2.) long journeys; or 3.) webs, mazes, and networks. Since the Computer Revolution, webs and mazes have been preferred, since that's how computers operate. Harry Potter is little diifferent in that regard. Indeed, the entire series might be construed as an elaborate parable about the Internet.

The Druids departed long ago, victims to Roman armor, but we couldn't bear their loss. So we keep inventing new ways to keep them with us, even including alien elements like railways and industry, because we have to.
Witty Repartee, At Work

Why do I like blogging? Well, it's a welcome change from the sort of regulatory E-Mail exchanges that rule the day, like the following:
Buried in this lengthy Federal Register notice is a change to 40 CFR 60.13 that will interest you CEMS junkies - EPA has clarified its treatment of partial unit operating hours for affected CEMS on all Part 60 sources. It says a valid hour can be a single data point in a single quadrant of operation.
Over the top! Call and response!:
except that the provisions pertaining to the validation of partial operating hours are only applicable for affected facilities that are required by the applicable subpart to include partial hours in the emission calculations.
Mara Davi Rules!

Like Andrea St. Clair says, this is an awesome ad campaign:
Mara Davi, the clarion-voiced, yearning "Maggie" of the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, puts on the wedding veil of bride Janet Van De Graaff in Broadway's The Drowsy Chaperone starting July 31.

Sutton Foster was Tony Award-nominated for creating the role in the five-time Tony-winning musical at the Marquis Theatre. Davi takes over for the departed Janine LaManna, who replaced Foster. Davi also appeared in the Encores! concert Of Thee I Sing and starred as Peggy Sawyer in the U.S. and Japanese tours of 42nd Street.

Davi is the comely, leggy centerpiece of the new Drowsy ad campaign, which shows her off with a LP record as the backdrop.

(photo via E-Mail chain)

Time approaches for another one of many, many weekends' valiant efforts to keep Sacramento property values from sagging further:

Therefore, we must give you a test.
What is this test, O Knights of-- knights who till recently said 'ni'?
Firstly, you must find... another shrubbery!
[dramatic chord]
Not another shrubbery!
Then, when you have found the shrubbery, you must place it here beside this shrubbery, only slightly higher so you get the two-level effect with a little path running down the middle.
A path! A path! A path! Ni! Shh! Ni! Ni! Ni! Shh! Shh!...
Then, when you have found the shrubbery, you must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... with... a herring!
[dramatic chord]
Suspiciously Healthy

Yesterday, I went to the doctor for my annual physical. To all appearances, I am fine.

But why? Was it because when I went to Australia last year, I drank a bunch of this stuff?:
A QUEENSLAND-made punch packed with anti-oxidants killed the cells of five different cancers in clinical tests, it has been claimed.

Prostate, breast, bladder, colon and stomach cancer cells were all dramatically reduced after just two weeks of treatment with Dr Red's Blueberry Punch.

...Dr Red's owner, biochemist Greg Jardine, said he never set out to make a medicinal product – only a wine with three times the anti-oxidants of standard drinks.
Pretty good stuff too!

I'm skeptical, though. Not about the product, which is fine. It's just that I drink so much more Diet Pepsi instead....
"Dance With Me" - On DVD

Left: Rick Valenzuela rehearses with Vanessa Williams.

I wanted to dance down ballroom dance nostalgia alley, so I rented 1998's "Dance With Me", starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne.

Back in the day, I bumped into several of the people involved with making this film, and so there's an emotional connection as well.

In college, in the late 70's, I was vice president of the University of New Mexico Ballroom Dance Club, which meant I was the DJ at our Friday night dances. We held workshops and brought in outside choreographers, twice including Australian ballroom dance coach Roy Mavor, whose stentorian voice became well known in the U.S. in the 80's and 90's as the MC at the various national ballroom dance competitions hosted by Juliet Prowse and televised on PBS.

Roy Mavor once halted one of our workshops because of some flaw I couldn't divine. I heard him approach from behind me, and I began to get nervous. He then folded his arms around my chest, heaved me into the air, and set me down in the formation where he wanted me, rather than where I was.

His daughter Natalie was heading into professional ballroom dance. We had her and her partner perform once at our Friday night dance, and when I saw her in her elaborate competition gown and exotic makeup, I thought "Omigod, how old IS she? She could be anywhere from eighteen to thirty years old." (In fact, she was just fifteen). In the mid-90's, I saw her perform at a dance competition in San Francisco.

In any event, Natalie Mavor was a dance coach in "Dance With Me".

In 1981, I started attending Desert Terrace Dance Studio in Tucson, AZ, under the tutelage of Margaret O'Hanlon and her partner, Lonnie Mitchell. With all its affluent retirees, Arizona is a natural home to ballroom dance enthusiasts, and Desert Terrace was a real odd hothouse environment for the sport. Rich women (including one heir of the Marriott Hotel fortune) cavorted with various cads, layabouts, fashion horses, and athletes. It was an odd place for a penurious science graduate student like myself, but it was sure a lot more interesting atmosphere than the campus usually provided.

Margaret O'Hanlon was a natural dancer. Once, she said "I was watching ballerinas on TV, and how they go up on toe, and I thought, I can do that too!" She then proceeded to take her shoes off and, barefoot, sprang up on toe. My outside voice said "Wonderful!" but my inside voice said "Ouch!" There are very few people who can do that without some kind of ballet-toe-shoe help. Margaret could also do the splits from a standing position, bounce off the floor, and come back to a standing position, which served her well in competition.

Then, Liz Curtis was in the movie as well, playing the role of "Kim". In the early 80's, Liz Curtis, and her partner Ron Montez, were the reigning world ballroom Latin champions, and endlessly popular as well. They won top honors five years in a row, and I believe they eventually retired as champs, having exhausted the audiences and demoralized their competitors with their charming invincibility.

After a competition held in Phoenix (Ron's hometown), Liz and Ron joined Margaret and Lonnie in their hotel suite. I happened to be there too. Liz said "they featured the competition on the 10 o'clock news on TV!" I stammered, "was the coverage favorable?" She looked at me with those electric-blue eyes, carved her name in my heart with her smile, and said "Yes!"

I haven't been the same since.... Liz Curtis said "Yes!"

Then, chief of all, was Rick Valenzuela, who played Vanessa Williams' bickering competitive ex-husband "Julian" in the film. In 1981, Rick, and his then-wife Sandy, were the charmed professional couple of Desert Terrace Dance Studio. Margaret and Lonnie aspired to Rick and Sandy's status and frequently accompanied them in competitions throughout the Southwest. I sometimes tagged along too, and watched Rick's intense focus and competitive zeal with awe.

What an amazing dancer Rick is in this film!

I wonder what all these folks are doing these days?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Interview With A Mormon Missionary

W. gets curious:

You've seen those Mormon "elders" -- those college-age kids, traveling in pairs, usually on bicycles, usually wearing ties, visiting folks and trying to convert them. But what's up with them? I had a long conversation with a young LDS guy, "Bill", who did his two-year missionary stint recently. Here are some observations:

  • It is voluntary; Mormon boys are not forced to do it.
  • Nevertheless, Bill feels that "elders" who don't do their time are wimps.
  • Its a 2-year stint, and you don't get to choose where.
  • These days, most kids are sent overseas.
  • They are looked after somewhat by a middle-aged Mormon volunteer from the US, who does full-time service in the field for several years, keeping tabs on the elders & helping them out.
  • Some kids can't handle the challenge, and quit before finishing.
  • Bill knows one kid, who was assigned to Spain, who was recalled after one month because he was doing drugs and fornicating! Bill went to the South Pacific.
  • Elders concentrate their missionary efforts in low income, high crime areas.
  • Bill said lots of elders get beat up, or robbed, sometime during their tour.
  • The people they visit: 10% are receptive, 70% are courteous but not interested, 20% are hostile.
  • Bill's most memorable house visit: The guy told Bill to wait in the living room, then went out the back door, let his mean dogs into the front yard, and Bill had to run through two biting dogs to get away.
  • Bill has been punched in the face several times.
  • In one town, street gangs were threatening the elders. Fortunately, a local prison official was a Mormon. He visited the gang in their headquarters, and told them "You know I'll be seeing many of you in a few years. These kids here are my friends, and I like my friends. If they get hurt, I'll remember when you come stay in my house". They had no further trouble with the gang in that town.
  • Mormon converts in the South Pacific like to name their kids Moroni, Nephi, and Lehi. They stopped doing that in the US about 1930.
  • Bill, as a practicing Mormon, does not use vulgar words. However, he does say "sucks", so I guess "sucks" doesn't count as a vulgar word anymore.
When I lived in Salt Lake City for a year, I was struck how cosmopolitan the place was. (I had assumed religious centers of any sort would tend to be unusually conservative and insular, particularly one that was so far from the coast). The reasons, of course, are these missions, which expose young Mormons to a wider world. In turn, they bring back a fascination with foreign cuisine, foreign languages, foreign cultures, etc. The experiences are still refracted through Mormon lenses, of course, so no one is bringing back very much in the way of foreign religion, for example, but your typical 22-year-old Mormon will have a better grasp of foreign policy and foreign relations than a typical 22-year-old non-Mormon will, for example.

Salt Lake City is about 50/50 Mormon/non-Mormon, but it was clear to me that Mormons were the ones adding foreign spice to the place. Despite the many, real foreigners and outsiders on the University of Utah campus and in the general area, strangely enough, they contributed less to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city than the supposedly homebound natives did.

The University of Utah neighborhoods seemed intensely anti-religious, even more so than places like, say, University of California, Berkeley. (Studious Mormons seem to prefer BYU instead, in Provo.) Anti-clerical zeal has more meaning and more bite if you actually live in a religious center.

Also, SLC probably has more churches and denominations of all religions than any other city in America – at least, more than any other place I’ve ever seen (even church hothouses like Prescott, AZ).

Mormon sincerity comes out in strange ways. The “flat tax” movement was doing pretty well recently in Utah, until the Mormon hierarchy got a good look at it, and realized how much damage it would do to charitable giving of all sorts, not just tithing. The Mormon Church pronounced whatever the Mormon equivalent is of a “fatwah” against the “flat tax” movement, and the movement there, quite popular too, died an instantaneous death. Mormons are very conservative, ultra-conservative even, but there are some things Mormons will not do.
Use It Or Lose It

Doctors are now ordering men recovering from prostate surgery to have sex as frequently as possible.

Is there a generic prescription for that advice, good for all occasions? "Look, I got a note from the doctor...."
Quick With The Blame

The Bush Administration apparently learned one thing well from Hurricane Katrina regarding disasters: even before the facts are in, it's gotta be fast, fast, fast at blaming others, particularly the states, even if Republicans like Gov. Pawlenty and Sen. Coleman are among those in charge:
The White House said Thursday that an inspection two years ago found structural deficiencies in the highway bridge that buckled during evening rush hour in Minneapolis.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Interstate 35W span rated 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability.

"This doesn't mean there was a risk of failure, but if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions," he said. The bridge was 40 years old.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Karbala Whodunit

So who ambushed the U.S. post in Karbala last January, and killed five American soldiers? Was it Sunni militias? Was it Shiite militias? Or was it - Satan? (sorry, I meant Iran....)

It's important to at least give the question some thought, because the Bush Administration is increasingly using this ambush as Exhibit A in its efforts to go to war with Iran.

At the time, knowledgable observers like Juan Cole thought it sounded like a Sunni plot, since the kidnapped Americans were found in a mixed Sunni-Shiite area, but it still had a mysterious edge:
AP is reporting new details on the killing of 5 US troops in an operation that began at Karbala a few days ago. The troops were helping plan security precautions to stop Shiite pilgrims being blown up during the Muharram commemorations of the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson, al-Husayn. Guerrillas dressed in US uniforms and speaking English showed up, infiltrated the building, killed a GI, and captured 4 others, taking them to Mahawil in Babil province, and then executing them there.

Mahawil, a mixed Sunni-Shiite city, is a Sunni Arab guerrilla arena of action, and it now seems likely to me that this was a Sunni Arab operation aimed at harming security arrangements. Shiite Mahdi Army ghetto militiamen don't know English. If I were in charge of Karbala, I'd put extra extra security around the city for Tuesday's Ashura commemoration of Imam Husayn's martyrdom. The only thing I can't figure out is that it clearly was an inside job, and so how would there have been Sunni Arab guerrilla sympathizers at this police and army meeting at Shiite Karbala. Maybe mixed units were involved?
Still, because of the location of the attack, in heavily Shiite Karbala, Cole's initial impulse a few days earlier had been to blame the Sadrists:
The killing of US troops in Shiite Najaf and Karbala has been a rare event since hostilities ending in late August 2004 between the American military and the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The resurgence of lethal hostility in this Shiite area almost certainly has to do with the ongoing US crackdown on the Sadr Movement
Neoconservative desire to blame Iran for everything makes this incident ripe for abuse, as other incidents have been abused too:
The big briefing planned by the Bush administration on supposed Iranian weapons shipments to Iraq had to be postponed because the presentation was judged exaggerated and unsubstantiated by Secretary of State Condi Rice and by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. So that raises the question of who was spearheading this presentation inside the Bush administration? Getting Iran is an obsession of the Neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and their plants inside the administration, such as Iran-Contra felon Elliot Abrams in the National Security Council and David Wurmser and John Hannah on Cheney's rump Veep national security council. Many Neoconservatives and other sorts of wingnut have a secret alliance with the Marxist Islamist MEK terrorist organization, which feeds them allegations about Iran in Iraq just as Ahmad Chalabi used to with regard to the Baath regime in Iraq.

So have the Cheney Neoconservatives been at least somewhat reined in by a new Rice-Gates axis of Realists?

As for the Karbala operation where US troops were kidnapped, a reader with experience in Iraq sends along extensive evidence for the ability of the Sunni Arab guerrillas to pull off sophisticated such attacks, including the infiltration of the lunch room at a US base at Mosul.
Yet, just in July, a Sadr cell in Karbala was uncovered. Is it a coincidence?:
The US military raided a rogue Mahdi Army cell in the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Friday. US troops captured the cell leader but then took small arms fire from his supporters, leading to a vigorous clash. Iraqi sources claimed that 9 militiamen and a civilian woman were killed and 25 persons were wounded, including women and children. The US maintained that the death toll was 6, all militiamen. Any foreigners fighting in Karbala are likely to raise tensions, but this action was almost certainly requested by the city's power elite, which sides with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its Badr Corps paramilitary against the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army. US troops no longer routinely patrol downtown Karbala, but come in to the city from a base outside it when requested by Iraqi security forces.
Richard Mauer from McClatchy recently reported that a February report recently released due to a Freedom of Information Act request about the Karbala incident contains an allegation of Iranian blame by a mysterious Maj. Gen. Khalid:
It was Jan. 20. The American soldiers had been at the garrison for a week, working with Iraqi police and provincial officials to ensure security for the 10-day Ashoura religious commemoration, which was about to begin.

As Millican, 20, tapped away on his keyboard, a fleet of SUVs raced toward the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center, about 55 miles southwest of Baghdad: two or three Suburbans, a black Chevy Tahoe or two, and at least three white Toyotas. The Suburbans had big cylindrical antennas on their front bumpers, the kind you see on Army Humvees and contractor SUVs to jam signals used to trigger roadside bombs. And, like contractor and U.S. Army vehicles, there were placards in the rear windows, warning motorists in English and Arabic to stay back 100 meters.

The men inside were dressed in U.S. Army camouflage and carried American weapons. They knew enough English to bark simple commands and offer polite greetings. They knew exactly how the U.S. soldiers would defend the compound. They knew that the compound's most important room was the command and control center with its radio base stations. And they knew that at 6 p.m., the soldiers in the room would be off guard and relaxing. They even knew that the two most senior American officers in Karbala would be in the room next door.

Who paid for and trained the force that was about to attack U.S. forces and who betrayed the Americans have become one more troubling question in the Iraq war. Senior U.S. officers said the lightning assault was one of the most sophisticated and complex attacks on coalition forces since Baghdad fell.

Recently in Baghdad, a military spokesman disclosed new suspicions of high-level Iranian involvement in the sneak attack, including the alleged use of Lebanese proxies to train the force.

But while U.S. officials talk about an Iranian role in planning the attack, they've said little about how Iranians would have obtained the detailed intelligence needed for the raid or who carried it out. ... The investigation also raised serious questions about the role of Iraqi police -- the coalition's ally in Iraq.

Not only were police negligent in surrendering their guard positions to the intruders without firing a shot or warning the Americans, the report said, but investigators found strong circumstantial evidence that police officials gave the attackers key intelligence and may have been complicit in allowing an advance force of attackers into the compound.

...About 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 20, the day before thousands of pilgrims would start arriving for the religious commemoration, Millican and another soldier were on guard shift when an odd-looking outfit of 15 to 20 Iraqi police officers arrived from Baghdad. They were dressed in purple-on-black camo, and some took pictures of the secured area. Most were young and fit and appeared to be a personal security detail to three older, heavy-set men who were wearing the insignia of a general in the Iraqi national police.

One of the soldiers described a fourth man who stood out: "A tall man, probably late 30s, with Arabic lettering tattooed on his left hand. ... He didn't fit in with the rest."

None of the Americans knew of any scheduled meetings that day that would involve the visitors from Baghdad, and they wondered what was up. A U.S. soldier who was on his way to a quick meeting with the senior Iraqi police commander in Karbala, identified in the report only as Gen. Mohammed, encountered the odd group in the hallway.

"My interpreter talked with a commando, a fat guy, and he said they were there to meet with the general to talk about Ashoura," the soldier later told investigators.

...Other odd things were happening at the compound, but no one pieced them together until later. All pointed to complicity or collusion on the part of Iraqis who'd spent many days alongside the Americans.

The local barber who had a shop in the compound and who never left before 10 p.m. closed early and vanished. So did the guy who ran a small grocery.

A kid who spoke excellent English and worked as a runner for some of the soldiers, buying cigarettes and sodas and doing other odd jobs, didn't show up.

Another U.S. soldier said that an Iraqi she saw every morning told her he wouldn't be there Jan. 20. The man left at 10 a.m. and didn't return. "He said that he was not going to come back again." An Iraqi carpenter and his teenage son were always around until 10 p.m., working in a second-floor room. On Jan. 20, they, too, didn't show up for work.

The back courtyard usually was filled with lingering Iraqi police officers. However, as evening grew close, the courtyard was deserted. Only two Iraqi police officers remained on guard, and they're thought to be responsible for unlocking a back gate about 10 minutes before the attack, then they, too, disappeared. U.S. soldiers noticed that two police guard towers over adjacent streets had been deserted.

...The attackers appeared to know that they had to kill or disable the people in the command and control center before they could carry out their primary mission: Capturing the senior U.S. officers next door, according to the Army investigation.

..."We grabbed our body armor; we were attempting to put it back on again. This time the door was kicked open." In the doorway, Wallace saw what looked like an Iraqi soldier. The man was dressed in the "chocolate chip" brown desert camouflage used by the Iraqi army, Wallace said.

Investigators found Wallace's observation significant. The men who arrived in the SUVs were dressed in gray U.S.-type uniforms, and they carried M-4 and M-16 rifles, not AK-47s. The observation added to suspicions that some of the attackers had been in the building or compound all day.

...Some of the U.S. soldiers noticed men in purple camouflage uniforms and shot at several of them. It was the same purple uniform worn by more than a dozen Iraqis -- who described themselves as a police detail from Baghdad -- who'd arrived shortly after noon and were seen taking pictures.

"It seemed like some stayed around and a couple were hanging back so they could be in the attack," one of the U.S. defenders from the barracks told investigators.

...The battle was brief, maybe 15 minutes. The SUVs fled. Before the Americans knew it was safe, they saw Iraqi police returning to normal activities.

"What was strange was when we were still scared s---less, they were all walking around like they knew everything was over," a soldier recounted later to investigators. ... "After it was all over, the fat little (police) colonel was talking on his cell phone in the courtyard. He was laughing. He walked out there like there was no problem, talking on the cell phone." Another soldier said it was "odd" that no Iraqi police had died in the raid.

"Nobody even sprained an ankle running from the fight," Wallace said of the Iraqi police.

Someone else heard the Karbala governor giving an order on the local police radio that no one was to respond to the attack without his personal authorization, according to the Army report.

...Wallace said he knew right away that something bad had happened to the officers, Fritz and Freeman...Someone took a squad upstairs to look for the missing men. They were denied permission to search by the same Iraqi police colonel seen laughing into his cell phone.

...At 7:30 p.m., five SUVs raced through Iraqi army Checkpoint 21J north of the town of Mahawil. The occupants of a Chevy Caprice and a Toyota that had been hanging around most of the afternoon yelled at the Iraqi soldiers not to shoot the SUVs "because the people in the vehicles are Israeli and American."

The three people in the two cars were arrested for aiding the fleeing attackers. One turned out to be a second lieutenant in the Iraqi police, and another was a leading local official from the Mahdi Army, the militia of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

The insurgent convoy appeared to be confounded by checkpoints, roadblocks and pursuing security forces. If the militants' intent was to obtain hostages for bargaining or propaganda, that plan unraveled.

At 8 p.m., police found the vehicles abandoned on a narrow dead-end road near Mahawil. When they saw a canister with wires in the front seat of the lead vehicle and heard a "ding ding ding," they backed away and waited for the Iraqi army. .... [T]he bomb was genuine. They defused it and discovered the U.S. soldiers handcuffed together. Fritz, Falter and Chism had been executed, but Freeman was alive -- barely -- with a bullet wound to the head. He was rushed by ambulance to the hospital but died on the way.

...The Army report concluded that Freeman and Fritz had been the prime targets of the operation. The investigation quoted a police commander from Baghdad, identified only as Maj. Gen. Khalid, who thought that Iranian intelligence was behind the attack. Khalid suspected that the Iranians wanted to obtain hostages to trade for five suspected Iranian intelligence officers whom U.S. troops had seized in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Jan. 11.

Khalid conducted his own investigation for the Iraqi police and determined that police officers "were involved in the plot."

The U.S. Army report concluded that the attackers knew plenty about the Americans before they got there.

Senior Iraqi police leadership at the station, the report said, "knew the coalition forces' battle drills and often watched them practice. The attackers knew exactly where to find the officers and which rooms were occupied by Americans."
The Americans had earlier arrested the Irbil Iranians despite diplomatic cover, raising tensions throughout the region, so the Iranian angle has at least a superficial plausibility. Nevertheless I find it odd that a thoroughly-infiltrated US outpost, an intelligence bonanza, would have been sacrificed by the Iranians for that reason. And who is this "Maj. Gen. Khalid"?

To me, the evidence that a "second lieutenant in the Iraqi police, and another was a leading local official from the Mahdi Army" seals the plot as deriving from the Sadrists. But interpretations may vary since it is, after all, Iraq: Pandora's Box opened!

Beware the Bushies and their plans for war with Iran - a bright, new Pandora's Box!
Sneak Attack By California's GOP

Tora! Tora! Tora!:
[T]he election of 2008 will be the first since 1952 without a sitting President or Vice-President on the ballot. At the moment, survey research reflects a generic public preference for a Democratic victory next year. ... So this election could be another close one. If it is, the winner may turn out to have been chosen not on November 4, 2008, but five months earlier, on June 3rd.

Two weeks ago, one of the most important Republican lawyers in Sacramento quietly filed a ballot initiative that would end the practice of granting all fifty-five of California’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. Instead, it would award two of them to the statewide winner and the rest, one by one, to the winner in each congressional district. Nineteen of the fifty-three districts are represented by Republicans, but Bush carried twenty-two districts in 2004. The bottom line is that the initiative, if passed, would spot the Republican ticket something in the neighborhood of twenty electoral votes—votes that it wouldn’t get under the rules prevailing in every other sizable state in the Union.

The Tuesday after the first Monday in June is California’s traditional Primary Day. But it’s not the one that everybody will be paying attention to. Five months ago, the legislature hastily moved the Presidential part up to February 5th, joining a stampede of states hoping to claim a piece of the early-state action previously reserved for Iowa and New Hampshire. June 3rd will be an altogether sleepier, low-turnout affair. ... Initiative No. 07-0032—the Presidential Election Reform Act—is different. It’s serious. Its backers have access to serious money. And it could pass.

Nominally, the sponsor of No. 07-0032 is Californians for Equal Representation. But that’s just a letterhead—there’s no such organization. Its address is the office suite of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, the law firm for the California Republican Party, and its covering letter is signed by Thomas W. Hiltachk, the firm’s managing partner and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal lawyer for election matters. Hiltachk and his firm have been involved in many well-financed ballot initiatives before, including the recall that put Arnold in Sacramento. They specialize in initiatives that are the opposite of what they sound like—the Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act of 2006, for example. It would have raised the state minimum wage slightly—by a lesser amount than it has since been raised—and, in the fine print, would have made it impossible ever to raise it again except by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature, while, for good measure, eliminating overtime for millions of workers.

“Equal Representation” sounds good, too. And the winner-take-all rule, which is in force in all but two states, does seem unfair on the face of it. (The two are Maine and Nebraska, which use congressional-district allocation. But they are so small—only five districts between them—and so homogeneous that neither has ever split its electoral votes.) It would be obviously unjust for a state to give all its legislative seats to the party that gets the most votes statewide. So why should Party A get a hundred per cent of that state’s electoral votes if forty per cent of its voters support Party B? No wonder Democrats and Republicans alike initially react to this proposal in a strongly positive way. To most people, the electoral-college status quo feels intuitively wrong. So does war. But that doesn’t make unilateral disarmament a no-brainer.

If California does what No. 07-0032 calls for while everybody else is still going with winner take all by state, the real-world result will be to give Party B (in this case the Republicans) an unearned, Ohio-size gift of electoral votes. In a narrow sense, that’s good if you like Party B, but not so good if you like Party A (in this case the Democrats). Or if you think that in a democracy everybody ought to play by roughly the same rules. Nor, by the way, is Party B the only offender. Last week, the Democratic-controlled legislature of North Carolina, a state that has gone Republican in every Presidential election since 1976, enthusiastically took up a bill to do the same mischief as the California initiative. The grab would be smaller—it would appropriate perhaps three or four of North Carolina’s fifteen electoral votes for the Democrats—but the hands would be just as dirty.

...California Initiative No. 07-0032 is an audacious power play packaged as a step forward for democratic fairness. It’s the lotusland equivalent of Tom DeLay’s 2003 midterm redistricting in Texas, except with a sweeter smell, a better disguise, and larger stakes. And the only way Californians will reject it is if they have a chance to think about it first.
The Couchbike

For the restless potato in all of us.
Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

Boy, this looks bad! Another walk down Civil Engineering lane for us all!
A Seattle Ghoul Cat Too!

Stay away, cat!
Love Bombing

Even as her legs wither away, Cloudy The Rabbit has started putting on a bit of weight again. Her appetite is sometimes hard to keep up with these days, a welcome change after those periods, probably in pain, when she would fast for days. I worry about the ever-present danger of bedsores and other lesions - they could be fatal under the circumstances.

In the evening, Cloudy will sit on my lap as I scratch her head, sometimes for hours, as we watch, over and over again, as Madonna on the DVD does her level best to offend us, yet succeed only in entertaining us.

Meanwhile, Sparky is acting daffier and more confused than ever. His coughing worsens, he's afraid to run up and down the back porch steps, and I worry about him. I need to spare some love for him as well.
"Growing Out" Growing Out

Left: Tom (Michael Hampton) and The Beautiful Couple (Eric Toms and Stephanie Skewes) in the Park

Stephanie Skewes' new celluloid venture, "Growing Out", premieres this weekend!

Growing Out Screening
Saturday August 4th 2007

Fine Arts Theatre
8556 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Doors open at 7:00 pm
Showtime: 7:30 pm
The brief imdb plot summary:
A troubled songwriter discovers a human growing out of his basement floor.
Makes me wonder, is the basement called the "House Of Blues" Foundation room?

(Sorry - bad Mandalay Bay Las Vegas joke.....)

Let's support Stephanie and catch this movie when it becomes more-widely available!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Newt's Campaign Trail

"Heighten the contradictions" and don't pander to the audience. I'm sure Detroit kids will appreciate being economic guinea pigs:
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew strong criticism from Detroit city leaders and school officials Monday after calling the city a "disaster" in a national network TV interview on Sunday.

Gingrich blasted the city of Detroit, Detroit Public Schools, the United Auto Workers and Michigan's unemployment rate during an interview on Fox News Sunday in which he talked about how he would transform Washington.

A spokesman for Gingrich, an undeclared Republican presidential candidate who has been ramping up his public appearances, singled out Detroit and its schools because they're the "best worst-case example" of bureaucracy and "a union structure that doesn't work."

"We should basically, fundamentally replace the Detroit school system with a series of experiments to see if they'll work," Gingrich said in the interview.

Rick Tyler, Gingrich's spokesman, said Monday that unions are to blame for many of the city's and state's woes, including the inability of the Big Three automakers to be competitive and the school system's struggle to reform itself. Gingrich also cited Detroit's massive population losses.

"Detroit is routinely pointed out as one of the worst public school systems in the entire country," Tyler said. "It provides the best example of why we need transformational change in bureaucratic systems that don't work."
2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Results!

And a good year it has been! Some of the runner-ups:
LaVerne was undeniably underdressed for this frigid weather; her black, rain-soaked tank top offered no protection and seemed to cling to her torso out of sheer rage, while her tie-dyed boa scarf hung lifeless around her neck like a giant, exhausted, pipe cleaner recently discarded after near-criminal overuse by an obviously sadistic (and rather flamboyant) plumber.
Andrew Cavallari
Northfield, IL

As the hippo's jaws clamped on Henry's body he noted the four huge teeth badly in need of a clean, preferably with one of those electric sonic toothbrushes, and he reflected that his name would be immortalized by his unusual death, since hippo killings are not a daily occurrence, at least not in the high street of Chipping Sodbury. Tim Lafferty
Horsell, Woking, UK

Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was Polartec 200 (thanks to gene splicing, a diet of force-fed petrochemical supplements, and regular dips in an advanced surface fusion polymer), which had the fortunate side effect of rendering it inedible, unlike that other Mary's organic lamb which misbehaved at school and wound up in a lovely Moroccan stew with dried apricots and couscous.
Julie Jensen
Lodi, CA

Out of a hole in the ground popped a bunny rabbit which had a long thick orange carrot between its teeth and a big splotch of mud on its back that had dried into a dirt clump the size of a tumor.
Veronica Perez
Palm Springs, FL

I'd been tailing this guy for over an hour while he tried every trick in the book to lose me: going down side streets, doubling back, suddenly veering into shop doorways, jumping out again, crossing the street, looking for somewhere to make the drop, and I was going to be there when he did it because his disguise as a postman didn't have me fooled for a minute.
Bob Millar
Hässelby, Sweden

Lady Guinevere heard it distinctly, a sharp slap, as if a gauntlet had been thrown, and yet it was hardly plausible that she, perched delicately on the back of her cantering steed, should be challenged to ride faster, since protocol determined that Arthur should ride in front, then she, then Lancelot, for that was the order prescribed by Merlin, ever since he invented the carousel.
Celine Shinbutsu
Hino City, Tokyo, Japan

Professor Radzinsky wove his fingers together in a tweed-like fabric, pinched his lips together like a blowfish, and began his lecture on simile and metaphor, which are, like, similar to one another, except that similes are almost always preceded by the word 'like' while metaphors are more like words that make you think of something else beside what you are describing.
Wayne McCoy
Gainesville Fl

The highway coiled up and around the mountain like a snake ready to strike because it was being harassed by one of those annoying guys on "Animal Planet."
Brent Sheppard
Morganton, NC

His feelings for Lydia became a jumbled mess, like when the pen slips out of the hole on a Spirograph wheel, ruining the drawing you have been working on for hours, or possibly, the pen running out of ink during the process, snagging and tearing a hole in the 110# cover rated vellum of his heart.
Russell Wren
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

She had curves that just wouldn't quit, like on one of those car commercials where a stunt driver slides a sexy new sports car around hairpin turn after hairpin turn while some poor musician, down on his luck and having been forced to sell out his dream of superstardom for a lousy 30-second ad jingle, sings "Zoom, zoom, zoom" in the background.
Amber Dubois
Denver, CO

Ruthanne felt as though she was frozen in time, staring into Steve's eyes, deep turquoise pools of Tidy-Bowl blue, reflecting back the deep passionate love that Ruthanne felt in her heart because Steve certainly didn't feel anything, being in a coma as he was, so what Ruthanne had reflected back to herself was what she herself felt, bouncing off Steve's eyes, because there was absolutely zip going on behind those eyes.
Linda Morgan
Manassas, VA

Racing through space at unimaginable speeds, Capt. Dimwell could only imagine how fast his spaceship was going.
Gary Smith
Florissant, CO

I was in a back alley in Fiji, fighting desperately and silently for my life, fighting desperately for oxygen, clawing at the calm and almost gentle pressure of the fabric held over my face by implacable, ebony thighs when I realized -- he was killing me softly with his sarong.
Karl Scott
Brisbane, Australia

The droppings of the migrating Canada geese just missed the outdoor revelers at the inaugural Asian math puzzle competition, marking the first time that dung flew over Sudoku Fest.
Kevin P. Craver
Lakewood, IL

A rather youthful Billy Joel was fascinated when he entered the Green Room at the Tonight Show and saw a group of matronly nuns hastily applying hair color to the noggin of the show's next guest, Neil Young, whose agent offered an explanation from the corner of the room: "Only the good dye Young."
Joe Wyatt
Amarillo, TX

The stench would have been too much for most people to take, but Karl was used to it, having served as a Mess Specialist on board the "U.S.S. Constitution," an aircraft carrier that launched planes off its deck like so many maggots off a hot skillet.
Lupe Amezquita
San Jose, CA

(This One Is For Steve)
Hector had just met Sabina minutes before, and yet there they were, knees touching, faces just inches apart in the dimly-lit room, and her gazing deep into his eyes, which should not have been a surprise to either of them given that she was an ophthalmologist and he was a boxer whose left retina may have become detached the night before when "Mad Dog" Washington clocked him with a vicious right cross.
Ray Campbell
Redwood Shores, CA

As the budgies and parrots descended upon him, Rolf began to regret his decision to wear an outfit made entirely of cuttlebones; unfortunately, this was the first of many a fashion faux-pas resulting from Beatrice's none-so-sensible advice.
Ella Meumann
Lenah Valley, Tasmania

The crater of the volcano glowed red against the black sky, looking as if God had taken a drag of His cigar - if He smoked - which of course, He didn't.
Wendy Spoelstra
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Dane worked the Spyrograph furiously, first red, then green, then red again, and finally blue; the pattern he sought was in there somewhere, and the correct combination would open the doors to a euphoria only known to dogs getting their stomachs scratched and parakeets viewing themselves in the mirror.
Matthew Warnock
Elgin, IL
Will She Fall Off The A-List?

Unlikely, somehow:
PARTY princess Paris Hilton is $60 million out of pocket after her billionaire grandfather - appalled by her jail term for drink-driving offences - axed her inheritance.
Wealthy Old Sod

Times change! Hard to get over the old Potato Famine stereotypes:
THE Irish are the wealthiest people in Europe and the second richest in the world, thanks to exceptional gains in property values and aggressive savings rates, the Bank of Ireland reported yesterday.

The bank's annual Wealth of the Nation report estimated that Ireland has at least 33,000 millionaires in the country of 4.2 million people, up 10 per cent from 2005.

It said the average individual net wealth of Irish people rose 19 per cent to €196,000 ($312,000) in 2006.

In terms of wealth per capita, Ireland remained ahead of the UK, the US, Italy, France, Germany and Canada but lagged behind Japan.

The report said the past 13 years of rapid economic growth had been of greatest benefit to Ireland's wealthiest people, with the top one per cent of people holding 20 per cent of the nation's wealth, and the top five per cent about 40 per cent.
Getting Old? Getting Really Old???? Librarians Want To Help!

Left: Maybe spectacles will help? Dentures anyone? Breast implants? I hear they are good for the self-esteem!

Thinking I'm a Boomer, Gabe wants me as his pet project, little noticing I'm not a Boomer, but rather belong to the evanescent Gen ZZZZ, born between August 2 and November 28, 1956. Besides, my vision isn't good enough to read this announcement:
I am pleased to announce the launch of the statewide Transforming Life After 50 initiative for 2007/08. The purpose of this LSTA funded initiative is to assist public libraries in redefining, creating and delivering new and innovative services to our state’s growing population of active, older adults – a population expected to grow more than twice as fast as California’s total population, increasing 112% from 1990 to 2020, or 8.5 million people. As early as 2010, one in five Californians will be 60 years of age or older. And yet, research has shown that the current paradigm of library services for “seniors” does not match the characteristics and/or interests of this baby boomer generation.

Therefore, in the first year of this statewide initiative, a three-day Transforming Life After 50 training institute will be convened in Pasadena from November 27-29, 2007, (application deadline is September 10). The institute will promote an understanding of older adults as resources for their communities and will offer an alternative to the predominant deficit-based model of aging. ... The institute will introduce participants to a new framework for working with active, older adults that promotes productive aging through learning and civic engagement with presentations from leaders in the fields of health, education, finance, spirituality and aging. The institute will also provide training in community assessment and in the utilization of customized assessment tools designed specifically for this project and its target population.

The institute will focus on: 1) current research and trends underlying new approaches to working with midlife and older adults; 2) promising practices; and 3) assessment and leadership skills in community librarianship. After completion of the institute, participating libraries will also be asked to undertake a local assessment of their own community, and then invited to submit targeted grant proposals that would address the needs thus identified.
That Mushy Northwest Side Of The Bermuda High

So far this hurricane season, it looks like the NW side of the Bermuda High (all along the arc formed by the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S.) is a weak point where tropical storms can get started. Today, for example, Chantal, near Newfoundland, became the third named storm of the Atlantic season.

Thunderstorms are forecast to be gathering over the northern Gulf of Mexico this week and pushing northeastward. The GFS model brings most of these storms ashore not far from Tallahassee: The NOGAPS model brings them ashore farther north, near Biloxi. In any event, it’s good that these storms get brought ashore early, because if they remained over water, they would almost certainly coalesce to become a tropical storm. The NOGAPS model is forecasting the storms will move across Georgia and cause intense rains over Aiken, SC Saturday morning: the GFS model is more equivocal, keeping the storms over SE SC on Friday.

In any event, the weekend may be stormy down along the SE coasts of the US.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Last Weekend Of "Tommy"

I managed to catch a few photos before my camera died in the first Act on Saturday....

Left: "Christmas"

There were several significant changes this weekend, almost all unexpected. Steve's eye problem forced him out as drummer: Andy Sullivan took over. Tim Spangler was at a funeral, so Scott Suwabe stood in on electric guitar during 'Pinball Wizard.' Jan Isaacson was out as well on Friday night, and Erik Daniells was in Vegas on Sunday. As might be expected, the changes shook the show up a bit. Nevertheless, everyone handled things well.

Left: Uncle Ernie (Steven Ross) and Teen Tommy (Sabrina Schloss)

Sitting in the audience at intermission Friday night, I started talking to Caleb Salmon. He tells me that nearly all the Salmon boys are in a movie that will be filmed shortly in Sacramento (at a sound stage on Arden Way, plus another location). According to Caleb, has information already regarding this movie: "Cats In The Cradle," but I could not find any information there.....

Left: Cousin Kevin (Abram Stein Freer) and Teen Tommy (Sabrina Schloss). Musicians Ben Wormeli (Electric Guitar) and Andy Sullivan (Drummer).

If You Say So

A passerby, coming out of a smoke shop, and speaking to me apropos of nothing:
"Mo, mo, mo, mo, I'm gonna smoke some crack!"
Erik And Kyle's Excellent Adventure

Makes me blue, because it's been a year-and-a-half since I visited that city with a cinder for a heart.