Friday, December 21, 2007

One In 75 Chance

That an asteroid will hit Mars next month:
The scientists, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, put the chances that it will hit the Red Planet on Jan. 30 at about 1 in 75.

..."We're used to dealing with odds like one-in-a-million," Chesley said. "Something with a one-in-a-hundred chance makes us sit up straight in our chairs."

The asteroid, designated 2007 WD5, is about 160 feet across, which puts it in the range of the space rock that exploded over Siberia. That explosion, the largest impact event in recent history, felled 80 million trees over 830 square miles.

The Tunguska object broke up in midair, but the Martian atmosphere is so thin that an asteroid would probably plummet to the surface, digging a crater half a mile wide, Chesley said.

The impact would probably send dust high into the atmosphere, scientists said. Depending on where the asteroid hit, such a plume might be visible through telescopes on Earth, Chesley said.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is mapping the planet, would have a front-row seat. And NASA's two JPL-built rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, might be able to take pictures from the ground.

Because scientists have never observed an asteroid impact -- the closest thing being the 1994 collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter -- such a collision on Mars would produce a "scientific bonanza," Chesley said.

The asteroid is now behind the moon, he said, so it will be almost two weeks before observers can plot its course more accurately.
"Rudolph's Christmas Magic" - DMTC's First Storybook Theatre Show

Left: Suzie McSneezer (Emily Jo Seminoff)

Three more performances remain!:

Friday, December 21st, 7:15 p.m.
Saturday, December 22nd, 11:15 a.m. & 2:15 p.m.
Cost - $10, all ages.
Left: The Davisville Junction Barbershop Quartet warms up the audience just prior to the show (Scott Scholes, Rick Price, Andy Hyun, Wayne Raymond.

Left: Everyone loves the snowflakes! (Leah Pinto, Cassidy Patterson, Rebekah Hall, Raven Crosby).

Left: Bobby McBaggins (Andy Hyun).

Left: A pyramid (Ashley Browne, Katelyn Browne, Javen Crosby, Tessa Macias, Alice Moylan, Sara Pinto, Casey Powers, Mary Ellen Price, plus a mysterious ninth elf).

Left: "The Shrug Bug" finale.

Left: Suzie McSneezer (Emily Jo Seminoff) and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Karina Summers).

Left: Suzie McSneezer (Emily Jo Seminoff) gets a gift.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A St. Tropez Quinceañera

Left: Presenting Zaza! (aka Albin, aka Ryan Adame).

Left: Albin (Ryan Adame) and Georges (Martin Lehman) at Wednesday night's "La Cage Aux Folles" rehearsal.
Fire Snark

Among the records destroyed in the electric-utility closet fire near the Vice President's ceremonial office:

Countless ... records and computer systems were apparently stored in the 3 foot by 3 foot utility closet, the content of which shall be revealed as destroyed as necessary pending any future investigations.
  • All RNC computer servers, back-up servers, and archival back-ups
  • The original Downing Street Memo and associated notes
  • Valerie Plame and the White House investigation of the leak (W.H. UPDATE: no records of Valerie Plame investigation destroyed as there was no investigation)
  • God’s personal correspondence with President Bush including those related to the invasion of Iraq
  • No-bid Halliburton contracts
  • War crimes committed by U.S. contractors in Iraq
  • Scuttling of the original Abramoff investigation, by the President
  • Federal court appointees and their qualifications and records
  • Negroponte’s activities in Iraq
  • Judith Miller’s embedded reporting and using her influence to override generals
  • Bombing Al-Jazeera television
  • Bribing and threatening of journalists and planting of stories in the U.S and Iraq
  • Stopping the NY Times from revealing White House secret spying on Americans
  • Jeff Gannon/Guckert
  • Terror alerts
  • The Vice Presidents Energy Task Force and all meetings dividing up Iraq’s oil fields pre 9/11
  • Enron and all related activities during California’s "energy crisis"
  • The Congressional records relating to passing legislation with last second changes, midnight votes, and the minority excluded from committee meetings.
  • The U.S. national debt and holders of the debt
  • The "Bin Laden determined to Strike in U.S." PDB
  • All copies of "My Pet Goat"
  • Extrication of Saudis after 9/11, especially Saudis named "Bin Laden"
  • Bush and Cheney’s joint un-sworn "conversation" with the 9/11 commission
  • Library checkout and Amazon shopping records of every American
  • Bin Laden’s actual location after he "escaped" from Tora Bora
  • Yellowcake documents from Niger
  • Attempts to dismantle PBS
  • Using American troops as speech props for Presidential speeches
  • Ohio voter suppression
  • Questioning the full faith and credit of the United States to scare people into dismantling Social Security
  • Payola related to the Medicare bill
  • Targeting and surveillance of peace lovers as terrorists
  • Duke Cunningham of San Diego and related bribes and treason
  • The U.S. Attorney firings of the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Duke Cunningham and who was pursuing the investigation to the White House.
  • Tom Delay’s redistricting in TX and using anti-terror assets to track down legislators
  • Bush’s cocaine use and failure to take the ANG drug test
  • Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service
  • Bush’s Arbusto stock sale, Saudi bailout, and lack of SEC follow-up
  • Bush’s insider trading at Harken and Bush 41’s quashing of the investigation
  • Push-polling smear on John McCain during the 2000 Republican primary
  • All records of clients of the DC Madame
  • All IMs and emails between Republican congressmen and underage Congressional staffers
  • Iranian Nuclear Program National Intelligence Estimate
  • FEMA staged news conferences
  • New Orleans reconstruction contracts
  • Alberto Gonzales’ memory (and "meeting" with Ashcroft in hospital)
  • De-listed superfund toxic waste dump sites
  • Walter Reed facility maintenance
  • NASA’s evidence of global warming (redacted and sealed by the administration)
  • Looting of the Native American Trust Fund
  • Forensic reports from 2001 anthrax attacks against key Democrats and media
  • Dubai Ports deal
  • Under-funding of Russian loose nuclear materials security programs
  • Guidelines for putting American citizens on no-fly and terror watch lists
  • The Vice President’s red phone that directly connects the Vice-President’s office to the on-air Fox news desk (possibly salvageable)
And who would have thought?:

  • The original Nixon Tapes (!)
  • New Year’s Eve Comedy, Dinner, Dancing

    Here is Bruce's press release for DMTC's upcoming annual New Year's Eve gala:
    DAVIS - Plenty of excellent seats remain for one of the best kept New Year’s Eve secrets in the greater Sacramento area. The Broadway hit musical comedy "La Cage aux Folles," opens on Dec. 31, at 8 p.m., as a production of the Davis Musical Theatre Company (DMTC) at 607 Pena Drive in Davis.

    Following the performance, a turkey meal with all the trimmings will be offered as part of the $40 admission ticket. The all-star menu, catered by Ludy’s Main Street BBQ in Davis, features tri-tip, pasta alfredo, desserts including cheesecake, and for the pallet champagne, sparkling apple cider and punch.. For your listening pleasure and the opportunity to dance in the New Year, an on-site disc jockey will crank out tunes from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

    "La Cage aux Folles," entertains with the music of Jerry Herman of "Mame" and "Hello Dolly" fame. Herman wrote both the music and lyrics for "La Cage aux Folles," and Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein wrote the book. The movie "Bird Cage," starring Robin Williams, was based on the play.

    The story about two lovers, George and Zaza, who run the St. Tropez nightclub, first opened on Broadway on Aug. 21, 1983, at the Palace Theatre in New York. The "Daily News" once reviewed "La Cage aux Folles," as a "family show, a glittering, fast-stepping extravaganza."

    Director and choreographer Ron Cisneros, who has choreographed many DMTC productions, has the dancers stepping out for this hilarious show.

    Tickets can be easily purchased on the web at, or by calling the box office at (530) 756-3682. Directions to the theater, just 12 miles west of Sacramento and minutes from the Mace Boulevard exit off of Interstate-80, can also be found at
    Photos from The Space Shuttle Endeavour

    Left: I was looking at the land surfaces far below, trying to figure out where they were, and I finally figured it out: New Zealand, with the South Island to the left, the North Island to the right, and looking down into the valley of the Waiau River.

    Bruce Warren sends a link to some great photos:
    Check out these space station pics that my sister, the scientist, ... , sent me. Apparently she has a friend whose sister works for NASA.
    Great photos, Bruce!

    Here’s more about this particular mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour, from late last summer.

    Left: Very interesting pentagonal cellular convection, featuring cumulus clouds, over a vast, uniform sea surface.

    It's amazing to see this kind of uniform convection over such a vast area!

    Left: The nice, inviting eye of Hurricane Dean.
    Journey Of Cathy Liu

    I found the two-part Sacramento Bee series of articles on new M.D. Cathy Liu, and her effort to recover from brain damage after being struck by a car last July 6th, very sad, not just because of the terrible nature of the accident, but because it's all local-neighborhood stuff.

    The apartment house where she was living is one block from my house. The location where she was struck, on Freeport Blvd. near Taylor's Market, is four blocks from my house. Her last memory before being struck, of the Cal Expo 4th of July fireworks extravaganza, is the same one I attended with Ira, Marcy, and family.

    That stretch of Freeport Blvd. has always terrified me at some dark, primal level. The street is hemmed in by large trees, but traffic nevertheless moves very quickly on the one-way segment. Poor lighting, and the sudden bend where the street joins 21st St., complicates visibility, and adds to the unease.

    Crossing Freeport near Taylor's Market is like crossing the business end of a bowling lane during a tournament. And that's even without complicating factors, like this Ipod Liu was wearing while she jogged, her newness to the neighborhood, and poor visibility in the early-morning gloam.

    I sincerely hope the traffic-calming construction underway now will mitigate the danger there, by eventually converting the one-way street into a two-way street, and slowing the traffic down.

    And I hope Cathy Liu is able to make the best recovery she can.
    Of Cockroaches And Markets

    Interesting analogy:
    There is a tendency we have to take the environment as we know it now, and think this is it, and construct things that are ideally suited to the current environment. The problem with financial markets is that we also know they can change in unexpected and unanticipated ways. My argument is that you want to construct the markets and construct the way you behave in the markets so that if the world tomorrow is exactly like the way it is has been for the last year, maybe what you are doing is not optimal. But if things change in surprising ways, what you're doing is more robust and there is a higher probability that you will do well in the long run.

    Taking the cockroach as an example, as we look back hundreds of millions of years, we have jungles that became deserts, and the deserts turned into cities, and if somebody looked at the cockroach, it never would have won the Best Designed Insect of the Year award, because it's very simplistic in what it does. So in any one environment people would point to the cockroach or point to the market that was behaving the way that I would argue we should behave, and say: You're ignoring what's going on right now, you're not fine-tuned to the degree that you could be to do the best possible job in the present market.

    But that's kind of like somebody saying: Hey, in this particular jungle there is a seed that is really abundant and unless you have an insect with a mandible that is designed in this particular way you can't really optimize on the abundant seed. But that insect doesn't survive if the environment changes and the plants with those seeds disappear.

    ...There's incredible volatility now. ... I do think that there is potential that this could be a very unusual crisis. Usually when we think of a market crisis we think of things that go boom, that sort of blow up, and then dust settles, and five months later it's back to normal.

    But the current crisis could be different. It could be so long term that we could be in the middle of it and not really realize it. A great analogy for this is what happened in Japan, with the equity markets. A whole generation of people in Japan have grown up thinking that stock markets don't move because for 17 years or so the Nikkei has been bouncing around in the same trading range and hasn't gone anywhere. I'd call that a crisis. An equity market that is the same place 20 years later that it was before is the same thing as having an equity market that over the course of one year drops 50 or 60 percent and then just slowly crawls out from that pit.

    So it may not even be that we see housing prices plunge 30 percent or 40 percent. It could just be that the housing market, which we have always thought of as not just being a store of wealth but something that appreciates, instead sits and stagnates or doesn't do anything for a number of years. And that would be a crisis that took place over a period not of months but of years. It could be a real slow burn.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    Orwell Wept

    Christmas wishes from Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.
    The Trouble With Advice About Parenting

    Keeping up with the twists and turns:
    Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc., said Wednesday that the memoir by the mother of Britney Spears was put on hold last week. She declined to comment on whether the delay was connected to the revelation that Spears' 16-year-old daughter, Jamie Lynn, is pregnant.

    ..."Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World" was initially scheduled for release May 11, Mother's Day.

    Left: Just prior to 'Song On The Sand': Albin (Ryan Adame) and Georges (Martin Lehman) in Tuesday night's "La Cage Aux Folles" rehearsal.

    Prior to starting rehearsals, for me, the most anxiety-producing part of "La Cage Aux Folles" wasn't the gender-role stuff, but whether or not the high heels would work. I have such strange feet - wide, stiff, flat, with bunions - that failure could be an option.

    The character shoes we have been given seem nice, however - stable, OK on stairs, even a bit flexible. I am mildly uncomfortable wearing the high heels - left bunion inflaming slightly, slight plantar fascitis on the right sole, right calf cramping a bit - but not anything like the agony I expected.

    I could get used to this.....

    Which reminds me of my favorite story about stilettoes (which I blogged about once, but which I repeat, because that's what old guys do). At the time, I was a college student living in Albuquerque. It was the Seventies, and most everyone was dancing:
    I was dancing in a discotheque, looking all suave, when someone stepped on my foot. I didn't glance around and seek out the person at fault. Instead, I surmised I was just too close to this particular dancer, and started boogeying away across the dance floor, in order to find more space.

    There was a problem, though. My foot still hurt. Indeed, the pain seemed to be increasing as I continued to dance. What could it be? Finally, I looked down, and I was shocked: a high-heel shoe was affixed to the outside of my own shoe. The stiletto heel had become firmly wedged between the outer surface of my foot and the inner surface of my shoe. I looked up, and I was shocked again: the owner of the shoe, an elegant beauty, was frantically signalling. Apparently I had wrenched the shoe off of her foot, and as I boogied across the floor, she had limped after me, desperately trying to catch up.
    And so, with the shoe issue apparently under control, I can now focus on the show itself - the challenges of makeup, line memorization, songs, and dance steps - and in particular, the atmospherics, so well summarized by that distinguished musical-theater authority, Mel Brooks:
    Keep it happy, keep it snappy, keep it gay!
    Quite A Feat!

    The silliest things make me laugh. The editors of my local neighborhood newspaper, the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association (SCNA) "Viewpoint", are apparently unfamiliar with ballet photography, and what the body can do, and can't.

    Thus, here is a picture of ballerina Kinsey Webb doing the improbable - a grand jeté, straight up.
    Soporific Flies
    "MMMAAAAARRRRCCCC! Look! Flies!"
    Sure enough - sluggish flies everywhere, sitting on dishes, falling from lamp shades, languishing on the floor. But why?

    Something must be dead, somewhere. But where? Nothing smells....

    A month ago, I discovered a dead mouse in the basement. And wouldn't you know it, tell-tale flies were everywhere in the basement too. Could it be....?

    Sure enough, this morning, I found a second dead mouse, just two feet away from where I had found the first dead mouse. It's possible I never noticed the second dead mouse, grateful as I was for the improved basement scent that resulted when the first mouse was removed, so the second mouse's decomposition had gone much further than anyone would have wished.

    Anyone, that is, but the flies.....
    Be Afraid

    Be very afraid:
    Bill Richardson on the attack

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    Self-Victimization And The Single Student

    Gulled by the Nava Hoax:
    The emails prompted new calls from conservatives about the repressive pro-sex, anti-conservative atmosphere on campus and claims of a double standard applied to intimidation against conservative students. And the outrage only spiraled further out of control when Nava claimed that on Friday evening two pro-sex advocates wearing black clothes and ski caps accosted Nava near campus and severely beat him.
    Tangled Trends

    Keeping Amy Winehouse Out Of The Public Eye

    Prison will do, for now.

    Monday, December 17, 2007

    A Pro Takes Stock

    And blames buyout firms and governments:
    British financier Guy Hands, known for his outspoken views, has sent bankers, investors and journalists a letter of best wishes for 2008 with a Christmas gift of a book -- "The Great Crash 1929" by John Kenneth Galbraith.

    As buyout firms such as his Terra Firma Capital Partners brace for possible bankruptcies among their businesses and struggle to raise debt, Hands sent out the book accompanied by a letter pointing to similarities between 1929 and now.

    "The most obvious being that complex financial instruments have been invented which no one really understands and have led to a loss of confidence in the banking system," said Hands.

    Hands, 48, has very close links with the structured finance market. He made his name in the 1990s at Nomura International where he set up the principal finance group, making extensive use of securitization to finance takeovers.

    But late in 2005 he said that he had a less favorable view of securitization as it removed flexibility from companies to make operational changes, as cash flows are so closely accounted for.

    ..."As we go into a new year, the big question for private equity, and one which I believe will affect the wider economic system, is whether liquidity will return to the broader markets in 2008," said Hands. "It is in this light that I chose this year's book."

    The financier added that buyout firms are not the only ones to blame for the rise in debt and liquidity that fuelled the record M&A volumes and debt boom of the past few years and which is now clogging up the arteries of the financial system.

    Hands placed part of the blame for the current liquidity crisis on governments, saying that while borrowing by both individuals and companies soared in the last 25 years, loans were allowed to slowly become too generous in their terms.

    "Governments have had a vested interest in making everything appear rosy, and thus have encouraged ever increasing borrowing as the alternative would have been a slowdown in growth," said Hands.

    And throwing the gauntlet back to governments, he said Western states must, in order to avoid a "great crash" now "find a way to unwind this excess in liquidity without social and economic chaos."

    Joe Lieberman endorses John McCain.
    Droughts Begin Easing In Eastern Australia

    Left: Current rainfall maps from the Bureau of Meteorology.

    Many areas suffer still - SW Australia; Murray-Darling basin, etc., even Tasmania. Still, the rains have begun making an impact....

    THE grass on Craig Mitchell's property near Cooma in southeast NSW is over the fence - and he's "over the moon".

    "It's unbelievable, just unbelievable," said the wool grower, standing amid the lush grass on his property, Gaerloch.

    Mr Mitchell's area has been in and out of drought since 2002 and was most recently drought-declared in March last year. But a week ago, after the rains, the tag was lifted from Cooma, along with 12 per cent of NSW.

    Mr Mitchell called the recent rains the best Christmas gift farming families could receive.

    Winter brought snow and rain to the Monaro region, but in such a cold climate grass only really begins to grow in October. Spring was dry. Then it started raining in November. "We've had 136mm in November, and since then we've had 55mm in December, so it has been very good," Mr Mitchell said.

    "At this stage we have a couple of spots where the grass is over the fence. We're usually struggling to get it over the bottom wire, let alone across the top wire. It's just amazing how it has grown in the last five weeks." The rains have come at a good time for the wool growers. The wool selling year closed on a high last week.

    "It's been fantastic," Mr Mitchell said. "We're getting grass and good seasons and good wool prices. I feel pretty confident about farming. There is a little bit of money to do the things you want to do, like fixing up the drive up to the house."

    Blair Trewin, from the National Climate Centre, said that over November and December, southeastern Australia had enjoyed consistent above-average rainfalls.

    "Queensland has been doing OK since June, although as the wet season picks up the totals involved have got bigger," Dr Trewin said. "November was above average over most of NSW and also most of Victoria and eastern South Australia."

    This month NSW reduced the area drought-declared from 81.9per cent to 69.4 per cent. Last week 16 areas were moved from the drought-declared list, including parts of Bombala, Braidwood, Casino, Central Tablelands, Cooma, Coonabarabran, part of Goulburn, part of the Hunter, Kempsey, Molong, Mudgee, northern NSW, part of the northern slopes, the south coast, Tamworth and part of Yass.

    In Queensland, 62.4 per cent of the state, plus five individual properties, were drought-declared at November 30, slightly more than in October.

    The National Climate Centre's outlook for January to March is for a good chance of above-average rainfall for southeast Queensland, northeast NSW and southwest Western Australia. But for the rest of the continent, including the Murray-Darling Basin, the outlook is for a drier than normal three months.

    Dr Trewin said the outlook was consistent with a La Nina event. He pointed out southeast Queensland was wettest over summer.

    Dr Trewin said that during La Nina events, there tended to be a lot of easterly and northeasterly systems over southeast Australia in summer and autumn.

    "That is very good for rainfall on the east coast and areas that get moisture from that direction, but by the time the easterly-to-northern flow gets as far as Victoria and South Australia, it has often lost quite a bit of its moisture," he said.

    ...The La Nina rains have been filling Sydney's dams, which are up to 60 per cent.

    But Brisbane's dams are still low, on 20 per cent, Melbourne's are on 39 per cent, Canberra's dam is nearly 44 per cent full and the Murray River storages (Dartmouth, Hume, Lake Victoria and Menindee Lakes) are at 20 per cent.
    Christmas At The Ritchies

    Remember, crunches after stretches, not before:
    Somewhat breathtakingly, the main reason for not exchanging gifts is that Madonna is very much against the commercialism of Christmas.

    This seems rather a cheek, given the way she has unblushingly flogged her image and her sexuality in the most commercial way possible for three decades.

    She is quite sincere about it, though. Her children will get just three presents each -- a modest tally, given that their mother's fortune stands at $550 million.

    Ritchie says this is enough, though: "As long as the kids get three presents at Christmas, everyone's happy.''

    The day's highlight will be a low-fat, macrobiotic feast prepared by their chef. (Neither Ritchie nor Madonna cook.) It is highly unlikely to feature turkey, as Madonna has issues with the rearing and slaughtering of poultry. Instead, the "feast'' will be based on grains - such as quinoa - and vegetables.

    Friends of the family say there will be a small amount of unsalted meat for the children and for Ritchie, but salty, fatty treats such as stuffing are completely out.

    Indeed, the festive season is seen by Madonna as no excuse to stint on her punishing health regimen. She has even hired a nutritionist to advise on her children's food.

    As a result, except for the very occasional ice cream as a treat, they have controlled amounts of dairy food, no cheese, no cream, no salt, no preservatives and no sugar.

    Although Madonna tries to send out the message that she isn't too controlled to have fun (``We will be drinking copious amounts of beer for the holidays,'' she trills, unconvincingly), she is far too self-disciplined to deviate from her strict diet.

    She works out every day, no matter where in the world she is, for between two and three hours. ... So there's no reason to believe she won't sneak in a workout on Christmas Day.

    ..."A housekeeper will set out a great big table covered in stuff, all macrobiotic, which no one dares eat unless Madonna tucks in.

    "They're all terrified of her.''

    Hardball - Star Fighters Of The New Century

    At Obsidian Wings:

    "A few notes here -- first, Mark Penn really shouldn't be on TV. I could almost smell him through my computer screen. To see what I mean, check out the exchange beginning at 3:50 (specifically, at 4:14). Penn, pretending to backtrack from the Obama drug allegations, goes out of his way to throw the word "cocaine" out there. Trippi rightly calls him out though. Penn's tactic here is hardly novel (see, e.g., Edwards praising Cheney's love for his lesbian daughter in the debate), but Penn is so transparently phony that it doesn't work.

    Second, check out the exchange beginning at 5:30. The look that Trippi gives Penn at about 5:45 is priceless. It's quick - but it's just pure disgust. I thought it was hilarious."