Friday, November 16, 2007

Midwestern Humor

(from cousin Darin):

How to Spot a Hunter with a DUI Conviction....
Fence Lab

Trying to build a "nice" fence:
Together, in a nine-week project called Fence Lab, they were trying to solve one of the nation's most vexing problems -- how to find fencing strong enough to protect the U.S. from one of the largest human migrations in history but sensitive to the fact that Mexico and the U.S. are friendly nations.

Consider the government's requirements.

The fence must be formidable but not lethal; visually imposing but not ugly; durable but environmentally friendly; and economically built but not flimsy.

...Even the newest fencing comes in all shapes and sizes.

In the shadow of the Huachuca Mountains in Naco, Ariz., a double-layer steel mesh barricade stretches across the frontier like a sheet of honeycomb netting. Alongside small towns in California and Arizona, tall steel tubes form what look like giant picket fences. Outside Yuma, Ariz., a wall of steel plates burns hot as a skillet in the desert heat.

...Proposals had to meet certain specifications. The barrier had to be 15 to 18 feet high. It had to be able to withstand the impact of a vehicle moving at 40 mph. It had to be strong enough to keep smugglers from cutting through it in less than 15 minutes. It had to be "aesthetically pleasing" and able to be erected at a pace of at least one mile per day.

...The idea is to develop fences that slow down illegal crossers, agents say, allowing time to stop migrants before they disappear into border communities, known as the melt zone. At Fence Lab, the designs deemed most promising took the longest to conquer.

...Hollow steel tubing, once easily cut by blowtorch-wielding smugglers, is now filled with concrete. Immigrants still get through it, but it takes time because they have to use slower-cutting saws. Rectangular posts have given way to harder-to-climb rounded ones. Fencing has grown taller.

...In rainy areas, however, mesh and solid-steel fencing won't do because they impede water flow and can cause flooding. That's why in places like the monsoon-drenched Altar Valley south of Tucson, the government is placing tall steel tubes four inches apart, gaps too small for people but big enough so that water can flow freely.

Then there's the highly subjective question of aesthetics. In the past, people found the steel-mat fencing such an eyesore that they painted it beige or covered it in murals. The federal government, sensitive to complaints from Mexico, doesn't want new fencing to look like a wall.

..."There are very few people that can see the new fence, which may be why we're not getting reports of people not liking it," said Jeremy Schappell, a Border Patrol agent who works in the San Luis area.

One of the Fence Lab barriers that agents seem to like best so far is a double-mesh barrier made of thick welded wires in a tight honeycomb-like design. The tiny holes between the wires make climbing difficult. Axes and crow bars are useless because the layers give under pressure. Blow torches get through, but it takes more than 15 noisy minutes to cut both layers.

Still, this summer a similarly constructed double-mesh fence went up along seven miles of border in Naco, Ariz., and within days Mexican smugglers had found a way to defeat it. By inserting screwdrivers into the holes to use as handholds, they are able to scale the fence as if it's a pegboard.

"They get over in about 15 seconds," said John Ladd, 52, whose 14,000-acre ranch abutting the border is trampled daily by migrants.

Even so, Border Patrol agents see progress.

After all, said Agent Sean King, based in Tucson, only the most athletic migrants possess the strength to pull themselves over with screwdrivers, and they can't do it en masse.

"Now, it's one immigrant coming over at a time instead of 100."
Capitol Ballet "Nutcracker" Approaches

Last night in Carmichael, prior to rolling around on the floor and doing cartwheels with some of the Capitol Ballet ballerinas in modern dance class, I saw them practicing for the "Chinese" variation in their upcoming "Nutcracker." These girls are unusually competent (generally the sign of superb natural ability combined with great instruction). Their dancing is just great - lots of toe work, fast transitions, challenging steps. Check out their upcoming "Nutcracker" on December 8th at Sheldon High School!
Days Like This

1.) Man digs pit to trap bear.
2.) Man falls into pit.
3.) Man attacked by bear for which he dug pit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bev's "Brigadoon" Review

The strong leads make the difference!
More Weird WSJ Editorials

Matthew Yglesias has a better response that I would have come up with:
I used to hate George W. Bush but then I read this Peter Berkowitz column and calmed down: "And lord knows the Bush administration has blundered in its handling of legal issues that have arisen in the war on terror. But from the common progressive denunciations you would never know that the Bush administration has rejected torture as illegal." See, the Bush administration has rejected torture as illegal so here I've been wasting my time being upset that the administration has redefined various forms of torture as "not torture" and therefore legal. Oy.
And what's this in today's WSJ, with President Agim Ceku of Kosovo declaring his intention to announce Kosovo's independence on December 10th?
The Kosovo status process is reaching its natural conclusion. The present negotiations come to their appointed end on Dec. 10. This will create the atmosphere for a positive and collaborative declaration of independence and prompt recognition by the international community.
On the pages of the Wall Street Journal? Which bent over backwards in the mid-90's to oppose Clinton's military and peacemaking efforts in the Balkans, and make double-dead certain that Kosovo stayed under Serbian jackboots for eternity? My, how times change!
Another Episode Of Crappy Machine Translations Of Popular Songs

Sometimes you really like a tune, but the song is in Spanish or French. What does your favorite song mean?

First, you get the song lyrics at, where semi-literate fans submit dubious renderings of what they just heard on their Ipods. Then you pass the song through one of Google's translation tools, which can render some of the stuff OK, but can't deal with misspellings, or strange idioms, or nonsense lyrics, or colloquialisms or regional slang. The final product? Often amusing semi-rubbish!

I really like Nelly Furtado's "No Hay Igual" from her 2006 album "Loose." What a great dance tune! But is she the aggressor in this song, or the guy to whom she's singing? Can't tell. So, time for a rubbishy translation!:
I want you just
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
Your my incantas
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

I want you just
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
Your my incantas
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

There is the same (What Do We Do?)
There is the same (That hacemcos?)
No-No-No-No There equal

There is the same (What Do We Do?)
There is the same (What Do We Do?)
No-No-No-No There equal

(What is it?)
Come and miralo!
Come and ends with my pain
Crazy for you please, and you know your smell

(What is it?)
Much like Mr.
When I am with you I feel so hot
I get crazy with your love
And I understand your value
(What is it?)

I want you just
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
Your my incantas
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

I want you just
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
Your my incantas
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

There is the same (What Do We Do?)
There is the same (What Do We Do?)
No-No-No-No There equal

There is the same (What Do We Do?)
There is the same (What Do We Do?)
No-No-No-No There equal

The hunger that I have to kill
My need to fill empty cup
My nights alone have to be finished
Tell me that you will never leave me
(What it is)
But do not delay
Every day my body cries
How many things I want, this gentleman
I want I want, I want now

I want you just
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
Your my incantas
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

I want you just
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
Your my incantas
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

There is the same (What Do We Do?)
There is the same (What Do We Do?)
No-No-No-No There equal

There is the same (What Do We Do?)
There is the same (What Do We Do?)
No-No-No-No There equal

Me-levantas when you sing my name oh oh oh oh oh oh
Me-levantas when you sing my name oh oh oh oh oh
Carino Oh my boy is ready oh ..
Oh caarino need your sound ay ..

I want your single
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
You, and many thousand
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal
I want your single
This is not the same
So I hope
My body smells
You, and many thousand,
Time is passing
I do not want another
There is no equal

There is equal (we)
There is equal (we)
No, no, no, no, no equal
There is equal (we)
There is equal (we)
No, no, no, no, no, there are equal
OK, not quite what I thought, and not quite what I hear, but whatever!

Time for a second song: French Affair's "My Heart Goes Boom." Another great dance tune, with it's seductive French verses. But what do the French parts mean? Time for a rubbishy translation!
When both of us, the soul does that.
I love you forever, and you know.

Your lips are sweet, let me t'embrasser.
We are made for each other and that you know.

Oh, my love, you let me touch, caress your skin,
It makes me dream ... Dancing on rhymes that make us vibrate
I love you forever and you know it.

So far
I never felt
The strength of your love
If you want to know everything
I know
That day we shall meet again
And it forever
Oh, my love
Let me touch you
Rubbing your skin
It's dreamer
Dancing on rhythmes
Who we are thrilled
I love you forever
And you know ca
Maybe it would be better if I actually learned the languages......
The Elitists Howl

Funny that Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes, Juan Williams, and bunch of others are throwing hissy fits now that Markos Moulitsas (who at least has academic credentials in journalism) will be doing occasional commentary in Newsweek.
Fall At Zumanity

Left: Las Vegas Review Journal file photo.

Always a performance danger:
Audience members watched in horror Tuesday night as two performers fell 15 to 35 feet during a "Zumanity" show at New York-New York.

One of the Cirque du Soleil performers injured in the fall, a woman, remained at University Medical Center's intensive care unit in critical condition on Wednesday. The other, a "little person" named Alan Jose Silva, was treated for minor injuries Tuesday night and released from the hospital, said Anita Nelving, spokeswoman for Cirque du Soleil.

While details of the accident varied slightly from witness to witness, one consistent comment was that the audience was aghast.

"It was traumatic," said Glenda Andress, a Dallas resident who was at the show.

The accident occurred near the end of the 7:30 p.m. performance. Witnesses said the woman was hanging 15 to 35 feet from the stage on a long white drape during an "aerial silk" segment of the show when she lost her grip.

As she plummeted to the stage floor, she knocked Silva off the same drape. He had been hanging onto it about a foot or two below her. Both hit the stage with a resounding thud and bounced several inches into the air, witnesses said.

"We thought that was just how the act ended. But I thought no. They hit really hard," said Veronica Harris, another tourist from Texas. "Our bodies are not meant to have impacts like that."

The spectators gasped loudly after the performers hit the ground, and as the woman and Silva moaned in pain on the stage, witnesses said.

Cirque du Soleil staff began assisting the performers about a minute after the fall, witnesses said. They took the performers away on stretchers as people in their seats looked on in dread.
And So Why Is Iran Our Enemy Again?

Our "enemy" Iran has been helping out with cross-border arms flows, helping make the "surge" a relative success:
Iran appears to be honoring an informal pledge to halt the smuggling of bombs into Iraq, contributing to a drop of such attacks by nearly half since March, a senior U.S. general told reporters today.

"We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq. We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," Army Gen. James Simmons said.

Bomb attacks have dropped from 3,239 in March to 1,560 last month, the lowest level since September 2005, he said. Most of the attacks are taking place north of Baghdad, from the town of Taji just outside the capital to the provinces of Nineveh and Tamim, he said.

...The reduction coincides with the overall decrease in violence since the start of the Baghdad security plan, which saw an additional 28,500 Americans troops arrive in Iraq from February to June.
But the Iranians are just helping out their Shiite bretheren in the al-Maliki government - there's no love for the U.S. here.

The "surge" may end up some sort of failure, however, because its original purpose was to create sufficient security to permit the Sunnis and the Shiites to negotiate and come to political compromises on the sharing of power. The al-Maliki government has said quite bluntly that they are sharing just as much power as they please, thank you. So, the surge's actual purpose may instead be to allow the Shiites to take the initiative in the Iraqi civil war. All done on the American taxpayer's dime, of course, and with their blood, too.

If so, then why not formally ally with Iran, and with the al-Maliki government? Right now we are arming both sides, Shiite and Sunni alike, in the next phase of the civil war. That's one way to lose influence with both sides. The logic of the American invasion was to disposess the minority Sunnis from political power in Iraq. Then complete the logic.

As regards Iranian hostility towards Israel, we should remember that Israel's interests are not precisely the same as ours. We need not be hostile to Iran on all matters, even if Israel must be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Statements Denied

Apparently Paris Hilton never said that thing about helping the drunken and rowdy Indian elephants avoid electrocution.

Too pat. Too bad.

But we are going to have a second OJ trial, so that should make everyone happy.

Wonder what the Flying Itos are doing these days?
A Spy For Hezbollah

Penetrating secret agencies like the FBI and CIA can be done two ways. Way number one is for clueless or corrupt politicians to pervert the agencies' missions, in order to do the bidding of foreigners - say, similar to the way California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher used to exercise his influence on behalf of the Taliban, pre-9/11.

Then there's way number two:
An illegal immigrant from Lebanon with relatives linked to the militant Islamic group Hezbollah paid a U.S. citizen to marry her and then lied her way through national security background checks to become an agent for the FBI and the CIA. She used her position to secretly access government computers for information about her relatives and a U.S. investigation into the group, authorities said Tuesday.

Nada Nadim Prouty, a 37-year-old Lebanese national, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, unauthorized computer access and naturalization fraud in federal court in Detroit and agreed to cooperate with authorities in an ongoing investigation into the security breaches.

...At the time, Prouty's brother-in-law, who owned a Detroit restaurant where Prouty once worked as a waitress, was suspected of having strong ties to senior Hezbollah officials in Lebanon, where the group is headquartered.

...Prouty came to one of those enclaves in Michigan in 1989 on a one-year, non-immigrant student visa. After overstaying her visa, she obtained a fraudulent marriage in 1990 by paying an unemployed U.S. citizen in Detroit to marry her, the court records state.

From there, Prouty lied her way into obtaining U.S. citizenship, and worked as a waitress and hostess for a Middle Eastern restaurant chain called La Shish Inc. that was owned by suspected Hezbollah operative Talal Khalil Chahine. Chahine even wrote a letter for submission into Prouty's immigration file attesting to the validity of Prouty's false marriage, the court papers said.

...The next year, Prouty's sister, Elfat El Aouar, married Chahine. And less than a month later, Prouty accessed the FBI case management system "without authorization, and beyond her authorized access" to query her own name and that of her sister and Chahine. She also began taking "an unknown quantity" of classified information home with her, against FBI policy, the court records state.

In August 2002, Prouty's sister and Chahine attended a fundraising event in Lebanon where the keynote speakers were Hezbollah leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah and Chahine himself.

The next summer, Prouty illegally accessed the FBI computers again. This time, she accessed an automated case system for information about a national security investigation into Hezbollah that was being conducted by the FBI's Detroit field office, the court records show.

Later that year, Prouty joined the CIA, where she remained until earlier this month.

...Now a fugitive believed to be in Lebanon, Chahine was charged in Michigan in 2006, along with Prouty's sister and others, with tax evasion in connection with an alleged scheme to conceal more than $20 million in cash received by La Shish restaurants and to route funds to Lebanon, according to a Justice Department statement.
Tedious Stock Market

Until about half an hour ago. Wassup?
Research Is Sacrosanct

But there's no sign of a control sample:
A doctor specializing in infectious diseases at UMass Memorial Medical Center said he was just “gathering information” when he was arrested by police this weekend for allegedly offering to pay for sex from an undercover officer posing as a prostitute.
DMTC - "La Cage Aux Folles" Callbacks

Folks reading lines and getting into the acting groove....

Left: Steve Minow, Brad Bong, Kristine Hager, Martin Lehman (recently-arrived from UOP - Stockton), Jan Isaacson, Michael Manley.

Left: Mary Young, Michael Manley, Monica Parisi, Nic Candito, T. Patrick Vann, Marissa Tidrick, 'Clocky' McDowell.

It's funny to watch people (besides myself) get flustered when handed a selection from a script and asked to read a part, cold. One person, for example, had trouble finding the proper page. Thing was, the script selection was only two pages long....

Also, the term 'blue movies' has fallen out-of-favor for so long that people no longer recognize what it means. Interesting!

I auditioned, even though though the show seems SO not right for me. It will be interesting to see who gets cast.....

[UPDATE: Oh, it looks like I'm in trouble now!]
Treat The Qantas Staff Well

Take a deep breath and chill:
QANTAS staff have been booed by frustrated passengers at Brisbane Airport after leaving their check-in counters to assist an elderly woman who collapsed and died in the long queue.

...Julie Bignell, from the Australian Services Union, said that when staff heard of the woman's plight, two of them went to her aid but were booed when they closed their counters.

"There were only half the number of check-in points operating that morning because six staff had called in sick. The terminal was packed with about 1000 people and no one could move. The public didn't know what was going on," Ms Bignell said.

She said it was not particularly unusual for check-in staff to be booed or even spat on when they finished their shift and closed their counters during busy periods.

...More than 90 staff had left Qantas from the domestic and international terminals since September 2006, and there were "always people off on stress leave", Ms Bignell said.

"It's extremely stressful for staff when they have such big workloads, and now they've got people dying in the queues," she said.
Dithering Tropical Cyclone Guba

A Category 1 tropical cyclone has appeared in the Coral Sea off the NE coast of Australia. Over the next week, it may meander across the (fairly-dry) Cape York peninsula into the Gulf of Carpinteria. It's a real ditherer, though, so its exact path will keep everyone guessing for a while.
Sad UCD Accident

This terrible story caught my attention, not only because it occurred on a familiar roadway, but because the victims were closely-connected to the rowing team. I know one coxswain for the team (TD): Inabnett was a coxswain as well.

The world really is a terribly small place:
The University of California, Davis, lost two of its students in a Friday morning crash, while another was hospitalized in critical condition.

Matthew Rybicki, 22, of Oakley was driving a gray 2000 Hyundai Elantra when it collided with a big rig about 5:10 a.m. on eastbound Interstate 80, west of the Richards Boulevard exit to Davis, according to the California Highway Patrol.

CHP spokesman Officer Marvin Williford said Rybicki was pronounced dead at the scene. One of his two passengers, Julie Bryant, 19, of Martinez died later at an area hospital.

The third student, Kelly Inabnett, 19, was listed in critical condition Friday evening in UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Inabnett is from Fairfield.
Weight Loss Recommendation

A young man of recent acquaintance, 22 years old, recently lost nearly half his body weight, dropping from 315 to 165 lbs. What a journey! His suggestion for losing weight? Excise all sodas from the diet, sugary and sugar-free alike.

Tethered slavelike to my Diet Pepsi, I doubt I have the will to join the journey to freedom.....
Reasons To Avoid Going Home

Reason #146: Yesterday evening, when I arrived home, there was a copy of "Watchtower" Magazine sitting on an unfamiliar white plastic chair next to the garbage cans, and adjacent to the driveway. The evidence superficially suggests a Jehovah Witness sat for hours waiting for me to return home, until giving up in exasperation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

So The Gisele News Was Not Correct?

Apparently the news from a few days ago that Brazilian supermodel Gisele was not accepting dollars is false:
The sister of Gisele Buendchen, the world's top-paid supermodel, on Wednesday denied reports that her famous sibling has insisted on payment in euros rather than the declining US dollar.

Patricia Buendchen, who also acts as the supermodel's agent, said press and Internet reports quoting her saying her famous twin sister had spurned the US unit for Europe's much-stronger currency in her contracts were "not correct".

"It's a joke by some journalist, it's ridiculous," she said.

"I never said that to any press organization. We never talk about Gisele's contracts, and even less so the money involved," said Patricia Buendchen.

She added that Gisele, 27, is "continuing to sign her contracts in dollars or euros, as she has always done.

"She is bemused by these reactions. This information is not true ... I do not recall ever having said anything that could be interpreted in that way."

The company that handles publicity and contract negotiations for Gisele in Brazil, Image Net, has demanded a retraction from various media outlets, Patricia Buendchen said.

According to Forbes magazine, Gisele dominates the model pay scales with an income that has already topped 150 million dollars in less than a decade on the catwalk. In the 12 months to July this year, she earned 33 million dollars.

Many US media on Wednesday were treating Buendchen's purported snubbing of the dollar as an affront to the United States.
This retraction makes me wonder what's up. Is it just damage control? A gaffe, perhaps? Something that should be true, even if it's false? Or something that should be false, even if it's true?

Some news stories play into an emerging script about what's happening in the world. The original Gisele story played perfectly into concern about the abrupt decline of the dollar the last few months. It hurts American "Masters of the Universe" male pride, in particular, to have the world's most-famous supermodel tell you she's just not that into you anymore. Riding around in a Corvette would be so 90's - she'd probably want to be seen in a Porsche instead.

But it's an odd story for someone to just make up. It's just too specific, somehow.

Next time I take her out on a date, I'll ask her for her side of the story.....
Bogey's Closing

Sad story regarding the closing of Bogey's Bookstore in Davis. Independent bookstores are very important in the warp and woof of community intellectual life, and, despite the growth of the Web, most of humanity's store of knowledge is still, and likely will remain, in books.

I liked this quote, because it shows the independent aspect that is so important:
"I go for the quirky and unusual," Nemmers said. "We took a political slant and evolved the progressive liberal side of our store. I know we've alienated quite a few customers because of the kind of books we spotlighted – it's not going to be an Ann Coulter book.

"People in Davis socially and culturally are liberal and vote liberal, but on economic issues, they're quite to the right," Nemmers said. "But it's my store, and I'm going to run it the way I want to."
O'Reilly Vs. Blogger

Hey, what comes around goes around! There are more bloggers than there are Fox News creeps. Fox's resources against the numbers - let's take this into the alley!:
For Bill O'Reilly, ambushing your political enemies with a video camera is just fine, as long as the camera is pointed in the opposite direction.

Blogger Mike Stark has a history of haranguing O'Reilly during his call-in radio show, and he once visited the Fox host's house to mock him over sexual harassment allegations. And now Stark, 39, has become the target of a network executive working on behalf of the combative Fox News pundit. Fox VP Dianne Brandi has written to the dean of the Univeristy of Virginia's law school, where Stark is in his second year, urging an investigation of his conduct.

Stark told RAW STORY his dean has shown him a copy of the letter but would not allow it to be distributed to others. The letter accuses Stark of violating the university's codes of conduct, and it warns that he would have trouble passing the fitness review required for admission to the bar.

The showdown began with Stark's calls to O'Reilly's radio show -- "telling the truth when he didn't want to talk about the truth," as Stark characterizes it -- and escalated to a videotaped confrontation in O'Reilly's driveway.

Brandi claimed the visit amounted to harassment, but Stark said he sees it as a reasonable response after O'Reilly sent a producer to the home of Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman when the airline sponsored this summer's YearlyKos conference of progressive bloggers and activists.

O'Reilly made YearlyKos one of his favorite targets in August, when he smeared the conference's namesake blog, Daily Kos, with a few offensive comments dredged from the thousands posted by readers every day. Stark accosted O'Reilly at his Manhasset, NY, home and implored him to "stop lying" about the blog. He also distributed copies of a 3-year-old sexual harassment lawsuit filed against O'Reilly to his neighbors and displayed signs branding the host a pervert -- actions some say cross ethical boundaries.

"Nobody's going to convince me that what I did is wrong," Stark said in a recent interview.

O'Reilly is no stranger to ambushing his political enemies and shoving cameras in their faces. Just two weeks ago, an "O'Reilly Factor" producer showed up at a public book signing to ask former "View" co-host Rosie O'Donnell about her speculating that 9/11 was an inside job.

In Stark's eyes, his actions are no different than those authorized by the Fox host, especially the Jet Blue visit.

That's not how O'Reilly or Fox News sees things, and the bombastic host's latest assault mirrors earlier incidents when Fox's legal beagles have been unleashed against critics.

O'Reilly's most famous legal troubles came in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former coworker. Before that lawsuit was even filed, O'Reilly and the Fox News legal team hit the host's accuser -- Andrea Mackris, a former Fox News producer -- with a countersuit claiming she was trying to extort $60 million from O'Reilly.

The top-rated cable news host eventually settled for several million dollars and dropped the extortion suit against Mackris, who claimed O'Reilly had accosted her with sexually harassing phone calls. O'Reilly would ask his then-producer about masturbation, encourage her to purchase vibrators and appeared to be pleasuring himself during the phone calls, Mackris alleged.
What Saddam Said

The FBI man who spent a year with Saddam helps clear up a few Fox News misperceptions they still keep peddling to the gullible:
"When we were saying bye, he started to tear up," Piro recalled in the new book "The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack."

The self-effacing G-man was hardly surprised - he had spent nearly a year carefully becoming Saddam's best friend in a successful ploy to extract confessions from the notorious brute.

Piro's inside account of spending up to seven hours a day, every day, for eight months with Saddam is revealed in the new book by journalist Ronald Kessler.

Piro, then 36, began grilling Saddam in early 2004.

Instead of bright lights, loud music or waterboarding, the Beirut-born Arabic speaker - who immigrated to the U.S. as a teen - built a rapport with the dictator nabbed in a spider hole. He treated him with respect and took care of his every need.

...Saddam never used body doubles - as was widely believed - because no one could "play" him, Piro quoted Saddam as saying.

He admired Americans, particularly ex-Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan - but loathed the two Bushes he fought wars with.

The "Butcher of Baghdad" also confessed he ordered Kurdish civilians gassed and slaughtered thousands more, their remains left in mass graves.

Until 9/11, Saddam thought UN sanctions would go away and he could make a nuclear bomb. His prewar weapons of mass destruction deceptions were a ruse to convince Iran - whom he feared - that he had an arsenal.
The Federal Government Saves The Day (Again)

An interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal by James Hagerty, regarding the mortgage crisis, discusses how Freddie and Fannie Mac have been acting as the economy's flywheels, and keeping the subprime mortgage crisis manageable.

The most important thing that the government does is to create, and impose, uniform standards. Without those standards, things fly apart. In the 1930's, 1920's-era private pensions failed, in part, due to lack of standards. Social Security helped immensely with rebuilding that portion of the economy, because of its standard-setting role.

Today, Freddie and Fannie Mac, widely-disliked on Wall Street, and seen as socialistic remnants in the home mortgage business, have been going about saving investor's bacon. Give it up for the Federal Government, folks!

The article is available here, among other places:
Then the post-tech-bubble, post-9/11 housing boom arrived, and Fannie and Freddie seemed destined to recede into a smaller, perhaps even marginal, role. Wall Street investment banks started dominating the lucrative business of bundling home loans into securities for sale to investors world-wide. Total U.S. residential mortgage debt outstanding swelled to $10.3 trillion at the end of 2006, nearly double the level of six years before. Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd recalls that some wondered, "Are these guys relevant anymore?"

Now the debate in Washington has shifted 180 degrees. "If these government-related entities were not in place, this [mortgage-default crisis] would be a disaster of far greater dimensions," says Susan Wachter, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who was a senior housing official in the Clinton administration and has done consulting work for Freddie. She notes that the companies kept money flowing into mortgages even at the height of investors' panic in August.

Fannie and Freddie bring uniform standards to the mortgage securities they back, making the securities easier to trade and value, Ms. Wachter says. The trillions of dollars of mortgage securities that were sold without their involvement during the housing boom didn't have uniform quality and have proven illiquid because investors find it hard to assess the risks.

Doug Duncan, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, says the market for these "nonagency" mortgage securities eventually will recover, but only once investors feel they have better information about what kind of loans back the securities.
Suspicious Conduct

Walking Sparky very, very late last night, I saw a suspicious truck parked next to College Cyclery on Freeport. Instead of the usual bright neon sign on the establishment, the place looked unnaturally dark. I immediately became suspicious of the person meandering around just outside the truck.

As Sparky and I approached, the person got back into the truck and noisily darted down the adjacent side street that I knew ended in a dead-end cul-de-sac by the railroad. Did he see me approaching and was he trying to escape attention? I stared down the cul-de-sac for a full minute, and wondered what he was up to.

Soon, he got back in his truck and noisily darted back to Freeport, crossed the street, and parked. The fellow came out of the truck and placed a newspaper on a doorstep. Aha! Suspicious indeed! He was delivering the morning paper!

Then he got back into the truck and erratically drove down the next cul-de-sac. Faster than a black-shrouded ninja, a passing vehicle belonging to the Sacramento Police turned off Freeport and darted into the cul-de-sac in pursuit. Apparently the cops' suspicions had been aroused as well.

In a minute, the police car came back out of the cul-de-sac and headed back down Freeport. In two minutes, the truck chugged out of the cul-de-sac and parked again on my side of the street.

I told the awkward, bundle-carrying carrier when he emerged, "So, I guess the cop was suspicious." He grinned and said, "Yeah, I guess he thought I was doing something wrong."
Grinding Those Teeth

I'm a grinder, and it may be causing problems (I developed a toothache this weekend, among other things).

This article recommends acupuncture, of all things:
I grind my teeth at night. Have for years. It’s my secret shame. But now I have the comfort of knowing that at least 8 to 10 percent of the adult population shares my malady.

It’s called sleep bruxism, and it refers to the grinding or clenching of teeth. There’s a waking version, too — an unconscious clenching of the teeth, most often owing to stress — but the origins are different and the effects are seldom anywhere near as bad as during sleep, when certain of the body’s protective mechanisms are turned off. Left untreated, it can cause damage to the teeth and surrounding tissue, headaches and jaw pain.

During sleep bruxism, he explained, the upper and lower teeth may come into direct contact as much as 40 minutes per hour, and — for example, on the first molar — with a force of about 250 pounds. ... Compare that with normal circumstances, when a person’s teeth make contact for about 20 minutes a day, while chewing, and with only 20 to 40 pounds of pressure.

...So I did what any reasonable person would do: I turned to drugs. The medical literature on bruxism showed that anti-anxiety medications like buspirone and clonazepam had worked on some patients; buspirone only made me jittery, but clonazepam brought my bruxism to, well, a grinding halt.

“Clonazepam would be a fantastic treatment, but it’s potentially habit-forming; it works too well,” said Dr. Michael Gelb, a clinical professor at the New York University College of Dentistry. “The better the pharmacological treatment works, the more fraught it is with difficulty.”

In two months, I became habituated to the drug and its effect began to diminish. I now use it only occasionally. So much for drugs.

...I’d abandoned hope of ending my bruxism until I met a woman recently who stopped 10 years’ grinding after a year of regular acupuncture treatments. I was encouraged enough to try acupuncture myself, and have noticed some improvement after a few months of weekly sessions. Acupuncture has not been clinically proved to cure or calm bruxism, but I’m willing to hang my hopes on anecdotal evidence that suggests it helps.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lack Of Vanity?

No, probably it's the higher prices:
Texas is last in the nation in the percentage of drivers with vanity plates, according to a new study by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Virginia was first, with more than 16 percent of vehicles bearing personalized plates.

In Texas, less than a percent of the state's 21 million vehicles had them.

There are a few possible reasons: they couldn't be purchased online until recently, a low-key marketing approach and the state's crackdown on naughty words. State officials say they don't allow sayings connected to sex or alcohol.

..."We are very strict," Perkes said. "We want people to have fun, we want them to express themselves. But we have to be careful."

If you're a wine connoisseur, don't try to put VINO on your plate. If your letters have a double meaning that includes a possible sexual connotation, even if it's your own four-letter nickname, consider the request rejected.

If you think you can get by with a nasty word in some language besides English, think again. Your message won't be lost in translation with the screeners, Perkes said.

...The cost for a personalized plate in Texas remains $40. That's higher than Virginia's $10, but lower than the $78 charged in Illinois. Ordering a specialty plate in Texas featuring the name of an organization or sports team incurs a charge, too, depending on the design.

There are approximately 98,000 vanity plates in Texas. Most are in the big population center of Harris County, followed by Tarrant and Bexar counties.

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

As it all comes crashing down....

It's All About The Access

As I walked past on the sidewalk, I started watching a welder on the fourth floor of one of the buildings under construction near L and 19th Streets. He needed to get access to a point near the bottom of the outside of a balcony.

So, the worker carefully stepped over the railing of the balcony, stepped onto a narrow ledge, pivoted around, knelt, and started welding. I could not establish whether he had safety ropes or anything that would prevent him from taking a header if he slipped.

Braver than me!
Kylie and Dannii Do "Dallas"

Or reasonable facsimile thereof.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Surprising Chinese Sub

Not a good sign for the vaunted (and expensive) American arsenal:
American military chiefs have been left dumbstruck by an undetected Chinese submarine popping up at the heart of a recent Pacific exercise and close to the vast U.S.S. Kitty Hawk - a 1,000ft supercarrier with 4,500 personnel on board.

By the time it surfaced the 160ft Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine is understood to have sailed within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier.

According to senior Nato officials the incident caused consternation in the U.S. Navy.

The Americans had no idea China's fast-growing submarine fleet had reached such a level of sophistication, or that it posed such a threat.

One Nato figure said the effect was "as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik" - a reference to the Soviet Union's first orbiting satellite in 1957 which marked the start of the space age.

The incident, which took place in the ocean between southern Japan and Taiwan, is a major embarrassment for the Pentagon.

The lone Chinese vessel slipped past at least a dozen other American warships which were supposed to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft or submarines.

And the rest of the costly defensive screen, which usually includes at least two U.S. submarines, was also apparently unable to detect it.
And The Process Begins Anew

Auditions Sunday night for "La Cage Aux Folles"

Left: Kris Farhood.
Below: Steve Minnow.

DMTC - "Brigadoon" Weekend

Busy weekend!

Saturday's show went quite well. Joe The Plumber came to see the show and was struck most by Shannon's performance in the Funeral Dance.

Sunday was a weird performance for me. I dropped one of Angus MacGuffie's lines and looked like an overly-stern vendor in the opening scene. Because several other lines got dropped, I spent an inordinate amount of time praying on the hill as walk-on Mr. Forsyth in the Mr. Lundie scene. I missed the entire "My Mother's Wedding Day" song and dance, because I started changing my clothes prematurely. Steve caught my error, but I goofed a second time. Instead of putting the original shirt back on to correct the first error, I put an altogether different shirt on, and simply ran out of time to correct the second error. I must be tired.......

Ben and Noel saw the show on Sunday. Answering my complaint about what I considered my own weak performance, Ben suggested the answer to a poor performance today is to simply stop the show and send the audience home, for another do-over tomorrow. This advice is based on an event that local actor R.M. once witnessed, whereby a famous stage actor actually did stop a show and sent everyone home, for a promised do-over (at least, until theater managers reasserted control and fired the misbehaving actor for insubordination). Advice comes with risks, it seems.