Friday, January 18, 2008

Walt Almost Sees Mike Huckabee, But Sees Other Interesting People Instead

Walt on the campaign trail, in South Carolina:
Huckabee was scheduled to visit Aiken this morning (January 18), and I showed up, but the candidate was a no-show!!! However, his wife appeared, as did professional wrestler and 16-time WWE champion Ric Flair!!!

Aiken is only the 13th largest city in South Carolina, so it is expendable from the candidates’ point of view. Huckabee spent the previous night at Hilton Head on the coast, and intended to fly a chartered plane to Greenville today, with a brief stop and speech at the Aiken airport. However, this morning was quite foggy, and he cancelled. No problem – I understand, except that nobody told us.

On the way to the airport for the 10:00 event, I noticed the weather, and realized that he might not be able to fly. I got there at 9:00, an hour early. The Aiken Municipal Airport does not have scheduled air service; it is just a small airport for private planes, but it has a very nice lounge. I asked the air traffic controller whether Huck would be able to land, and he said that Huckabee’s flight plan showed him leaving Savannah at 9:25 and arriving in Aiken at 10:00, but under current weather conditions, his plane would not be permitted to land here. He could however, land at Augusta, GA instead, 26 miles away, and take a car here. It seems that Augusta has a beacon which Aiken lacks. I calculated then that Huckabee could not be less than 45 minutes late. There were several campaign volunteers setting things up – males in their 30s, including a black guy, professional and organized (like Hillary’s volunteers, but unlike Edwards’ people). I asked one whether he thought Huckabee would be able to show, and when? He said “we’re working on that”. Could mean anything. Later, when Mrs. Huckabee addressed us, she said that the decision was made last night that Huckabee would skip Aiken in order to make Greenville, and that the wife and Ric Flair would drive to Aiken. However, the flight plan was not cancelled last night – it was cancelled at 9:20 this morning. All the Huckabee people knew that he wouldn’t show, but they did not let on. Bastardos!

Anyway, about 120-150 people showed up, as well as six news teams. Everybody had to stand – there were no chairs. There were more babies and little kids – and mothers in their 20s and 30s – than at either the Hillary or Edwards events. About 2% of the crowd was black, indicating that Huckabee and Edwards have comparable levels of black support in Aiken. I was interviewed by a Swedish reporter for a paper in Stockholm! Isn’t that strange, Swedes visiting Aiken, South Carolina?

I asked a 40-ish overweight woman if she planned to vote for Huckabee. Yes, of course. Why do you support him over the other candidates? “I don’t know”. Well, at least she’s legal; there is no law mandating that a registered voter has to know why they are voting. The next woman I talked to, however, knew exactly what she was about. She is about 45, and was previously employed in the environmental remediation business (same line of work that I’m in), but now she works as an automobile mechanic at the Chevrolet dealership. She is the first woman auto mechanic I’ve ever met. Why does she support Huckabee? First, she’s a Christian. Second, she is very concerned about homeland security. Third, she supports the Fair Tax. She is a big fan of Neal Boortz, a libertarian radio talk show host. What about abortion and homosexual marriage? She is pro-life, but those issues are of secondary importance to her. She doesn’t believe in global warming.

Next I talked to an agricultural worker from Williston, a small town about 20 miles from Aiken. He is about 40, and was wearing a “US Border Patrol” cap. So I asked him if he is in the Border Patrol. No, he bought the hat in Charleston – there are lots of them there. That made me reflect on how big an issue illegal immigration is becoming. Five or ten years ago, I’ll bet no store anywhere sold Border Patrol hats. I sense that many Republican leaders have fallen behind their constituency on this, at least until very recently. Anyway, this guy’s number one issue, as you might expect, is no amnesty for illegals. Number two is the Fair Tax.

There was a couple standing next to me in their 60s. They are undecided voters (I too am undecided as I write this), but their biggest concern is that they want the US out of Iraq. Next, they are worried that the price of gasoline will drive us into recession.

While we were waiting, one of the campaign workers kidded around with me. He asked if I would be willing to do volunteer work for Huck. When I replied that I was undecided, he said that they needed undecided volunteers, to talk to all the undecided voters!

At 10:20 the speaking delegation showed up. First up was the SC Huckabee campaign chairman. The memorable thing about his speech was that he talked about the economy. Hillary did not discuss that when she visited in November, and Edwards did not when he visited only a week ago! It shows how fast the economy is becoming an issue, with the stock market drop. I’m betting that Hillary and Edwards, and everybody else, will be addressing the economy from here on out. After the campaign guy finished, wrestler Ric Flair addressed the group. He looks and talks exactly like what you would expect from a 58-year old professional wrestler. He brought his very young and stunningly beautiful blonde wife up to the stage. The thing about older celebrities with young trophy wives is, on one hand you think “way to go!”, but on the other hand, you know that prior to the trophy marriage, there must have been infidelity and divorce. I googled Ric Flair: he married her in 2006 following a divorce, and she is his third wife.

Then Mrs. Huckabee came out. Her speech was well rehearsed and effectively given; she is certainly a campaigner from away back when. However, it wasn’t a policy speech. About half of her speech was intended to show Huckabee and herself as likable personalities – family history, pride in their children, etc. Like Edwards (and unlike Hillary), she stressed their humble beginnings, and how they are living the American Dream. The other half of the speech, strangely enough, was about the US armed forces. She stressed their empathy and support for the military over and over again, and said that we needed to have a military force so strong that nobody in the world would ever want to tangle with us. As with all political speeches, she was frequently interrupted by applause. Whenever this happened, one woman near me would shout “Praise!” instead of clapping.

There was one other thing she said about the military. Although we want to have a very strong army, we should be very careful about using it, because once we get involved somewhere, it’s Katie Bar the Door, all kinds of complications can occur. It then struck me that her military speech was a masterpiece of ambiguity. Hawks will obviously be comforted by the support for the armed forces, but someone opposed to the Iraq war might think that Huckabee regards the war as a mistake, and be willing to pull out. Everyone can find something to like in her military policy. I think the reality for all the Republican candidates except McCain, who supports increased effort there, is that they all want to keep their options open in Iraq – to stay the course, or to pull out. I’m OK with that; it is a prudent policy, and most of the American people also seem to be willing to go either way in Iraq. So if you want out, vote Democratic; if you want in, vote McCain; and if you are flexible, vote for another Republican.

I left when Mrs. Huckabee began her closing remarks. Up to that point, she had not once mentioned religion. No elected Republican officials were there to support Huckabee. This surprises me – he is the most representative southerner of all presidential candidates in both parties this year. I would have thought there would be more support from local politicos. My guess is that since Huckabee’s rise has been so recent (it’s only been one month since he has been taken seriously!) that the elected officials had already committed themselves to McCain. McCain really, really, really wants to win in South Carolina. He has been to Aiken four times in the last six months, and once he even bought dinner for the audience. Anyway, this will be my last South Carolina candidate speech; the primary is tomorrow. The polls are showing Obama leading Hillary by 9 points, and McCain tied with Huckabee.
Chicken Feed

What can you buy with $145 billion? Apparently not much.

Dubya tries to help:
President Bush embraced about $145 billion worth of tax relief on Friday to jump start the lackluster economy. If Congress passes an economic stimulus package, the country will be "just fine," he said.
Nevertheless the Dow is close to closing below 12,000 [Update; rebounded and closed at 12,089.95]:
Wall Street extended its decline Friday, as skittish investors unable to hold on to much optimism about the economy drew little comfort from President Bush's stimulus plan.

Investors pulled back from a big early advance, with the major indexes trading mixed as Bush began to speak. By the time the president finished announcing a plan for about $145 billion worth of tax relief, the indexes were well into negative territory.

"It's disappointed in the size of the economic growth package. Wall Street's showing its displeasure," said Kim Caughey, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "Honestly, I think the institutional investors understand the limits to the government's ability to enact economic change."
Charleville Flood

High-water mark in the dusty outback. The storm system is weakening and moving SE:
THE military flew into Charleville last night as the drenched western Queensland town braced for its worst flooding in a decade and residents' anger grew over an unfinished levee bank.

Two Australian Defence Force Hercules aircraft were ferrying temporary flood barriers from Sydney to Charleville while angry residents questioned why a long-awaited $7 million levee bank had not been finished earlier.

...With a monsoonal low still dumping heavy rain, the swollen Warrego River was threatening to burst its banks and swamp Charleville – which has already been inundated by floodwaters from Bradleys Gully which runs through the centre of town.

...One of the residents to be evacuated, lifelong Charleville local Ron Akers, 81, said it was starting to look like 1997 – the last big flood when the Warrego peaked at 7.3m.

"As long as it's not like the 1990 flood when my house got wiped out and they had to evacuate just about the whole town in boats," Mr Akers said.

He said the partly finished 4km levee bank being built by the Murweh Shire Council and State Government would offer some protection as the Warrego rose. But other residents were angry the bank had not been completed.

"It should have bloody been built years ago after the '97 flood – now, 10 years later, our homes are under threat again," said one man as he sandbagged his home and evacuated.

But Murweh Shire Mayor Mark O'Brien said the levee was a four-year project and rain in November and December had delayed its completion.

...Longreach was also bracing for its biggest flood in four years as the Thomson River continued to rise but the levels there were not expected to reach the town itself.

The swollen Fitzroy River tributaries – Nogoa River and Dawson River – are rising, with moderate to major flooding warnings for the surrounding areas. Warnings also still remain for the upper Belyando River, lower Burdekin River, and Alpha Creek.

Carnarvon Gorge National Park remains closed and cut off.
RIP, Bobby Fischer

Eccentric chess genius:
CHESS legend Bobby Fischer, whose tortured genius prompted both awe and outrage, has died at the age of 64.

"We know that he died yesterday in his home in Reykjavik,'' said Gudmundur Hermannsson, a journalist at Morgunbladid newspaper.

"He was ill for a few months,'' Mr Hermannsson said."`He was hospitalised last year. It was not disclosed exactly what was wrong."

Fischer, who made world headlines by defeating Soviet world champion Boris Spassky in a Cold War chess showdown in Reykjavik in 1972, took Icelandic citizenship in 2005 to avoid being deported to the United States.

He was wanted for breaking international sanctions by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia in 1992.

Considered by many as the greatest chess player of all time, Fischer's particular genius was a troubled one that saw his life run steadily downhill since his moment of glory at age 29.

Despite having a Jewish mother, Fischer was an outspoken anti-Semite, using broadcasts at far-flung radio stations to accuse Jews of everything from his legal woes to an alleged conspiracy to kill off elephants.

His anti-US rhetoric became equally inflammatory over the years.

In the 1972 "match of the century" in Iceland, Fischer, throwing regular tantrums over the position of cameras and the audience, relied on his own wit to end 24 years of Soviet chess supremacy by dethroning Spassky, who had by his side an army of Russian master strategists.

Fischer, whose chess education had consisted of locking himself in a room for days on end facing off against himself, refused to play after his triumph and was stripped of his title in 1975.

Fischer's paranoia was reinforced in 1981 when his scruffy appearance made him a mistaken suspect in a California bank robbery. In another of his interviews on Filipino radio, Fischer accused the media of trying to "poison the public against me".

"They constantly use the words eccentric, eccentric, eccentric, weird," Fischer said. "I am boring. I am boring!"

Fischer returned to chess in 1992 with a rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia, then in the throes of the Balkan wars. At a press conference he spat on a US government notice warning him he was breaking sanctions and proceeded to defeat Spassky once again, winning more than $A3.43 million on which he boasted he would never pay tax.

On July 13, 2004, Fischer was taken into custody at Tokyo's Narita airport for travelling on a passport which Washington said was revoked.

With Japan deliberating for months on whether to send him to the United States, Iceland came to his rescue, granting him citizenship in tribute to his role in making the small island - and the game of chess - famous in 1972.

Also coming to Fischer's aid was Spassky, who in an open letter said he was ready to share a jail cell with him if Fischer was extradited to the United States.

"Just let us play chess," said the twice-defeated Spassky.
An E-Mail Exchange

Walt: First genital mutilation, now this.... Sources tell me that during the recent Mecca pilgrimage, Islamic college students persuaded young women to participate in a wet burqa contest!

Gabe: Marc may want to participate…

Marc: I am skeptical. After all, Saudi Arabia is a pretty dry place. Would they have enough water to get a burqa wet? But wasn’t it Rudyard Kipling who said nothing was as alluring as catching the eyes of a young, burqa-clad woman? With my new power false eyelashes, I can find out! So, watch out next time you see what you think is a woman in a burqa – it may be just me, in drag.

Gabe: I prefer Marc in a burqa – Compare:



Marc: Oooh! That is harsh, Gabe! The Sultan will play “Torturer’s Apprentice” using your teeth as a keyboard tonight!
Obama Or Clinton - Which One Is More Lame?

Both of them are saying dumb things. In today's edition, Hillary is the lame one:
LAS VEGAS -- Barack Obama has warned about the dangers of gambling -- that it carries a "moral and social cost" that could "devastate" poor communities. As a state senator in Illinois, he at times opposed plans to expand gambling, worrying that it could be especially harmful to low-income people.

Today, those views are posing a problem for Obama in the gambling mecca of Nevada, which holds its presidential nominating caucuses Saturday. While his top rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, also talks often about aiding low-income Americans, she has embraced the gambling industry and its executives, and her campaign has used Obama's past statements in an effort to turn casino workers and other Nevada voters against him.

...The differences could also help shape the outcome of the primary election in California, where the Feb. 5 ballot will carry four high-profile initiatives that could either rescind or allow an expansion of slot machines at Indian casinos. Californians who turn out to vote on those initiatives may also be motivated by a candidate's position on gambling when they cast ballots in the presidential contest.

"There's a fundamental question here," said the Rev. Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "Until this point, Obama's statements seemed to suggest that he did not buy into the industry arguments that this is a product like golf or Starbucks that should just go on Main Street. And Hillary, by attacking him, seems to have come down clearly on the side of the industry that this is economic development."

Although critical of Clinton's stance, Grey and others who want to limit the gambling industry are now watching Obama with a wary eye. Obama is courting union workers at casinos and has calibrated his criticisms to declare Nevada a "model" for properly regulated casino gambling.

...In 2001, the Clinton memo states, Obama described himself as "generally skeptical" of gambling as an economic development tool and likened the expansion of slot machines to the state lottery, in which, he said, "you'll have a whole bunch of people who can't afford gambling their money away, yet they're going to do it."

As part of its efforts to publicize those statements, the Clinton campaign has secured the help of top industry players -- several of whom participated in a campaign-sponsored conference call with the media last week designed to chastise Obama.

Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, now a senior executive at Harrah's Entertainment, and Philip Satre, a former Harrah's executive and top industry spokesman, argued on the conference call that gambling had brought jobs and much-needed tax revenue to many communities, including economically challenged places in Obama's home state, such as Joliet, Ill., home to a casino.

They disputed the argument that gambling causes social problems and that those problems disproportionately affect lower-income people.

"People are not gambling away their mortgages," Jones said in an interview later, adding that she planned to raise campaign money for Clinton.

...In a brief interview Thursday with The Times, Clinton described the gambling industry as an "economic development tool" and said that "for many places in the country, it seems to be an important part of what they are trying to do to revive and maintain an economic base."

Clinton likened the potential social costs of gambling to the costs of other industries that pollute or leave toxic dumps, saying that the impact "depends on how well-regulated it is."

"Any human activity has social costs, really," she said, adding later: "Life is filled with trade-offs, and you have to do the best you can to balance the pluses and the minuses."

...Obama, an avid poker player, developed a reputation in Illinois as a critic of gambling. He voted against a 1999 measure to extend riverboat gambling to include boats stationed at dockside.

But Obama was not dogmatic. In submitting campaign questionnaires in 1998 and 2002 for the anti-gambling group Illinois Churches in Action, he left himself room to back the industry, answering "undecided" on whether he favored adding riverboat and land-based casinos. On a 2002 questionnaire bearing his signature, the words "not sure" were penciled in as answers to questions about several forms of expansion, such as moving casinos from rivers to land and raising the gambling age to 21.

...In the comments cited by the campaign, Obama cast the industry's effect on Nevada in a positive light. For example, he told the Associated Press last month that gambling could be a "successful economic model" as long as it was "properly regulated."
That quote about "people are not gambling away their mortgages" made me laugh and laugh! Non-gamblers can't quite appreciate how people end up gambling away their homes, but I assure you, IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME (it nearly happened to me in 1998).

Clinton is right that "that gambling could be a 'successful economic model' as long as it was 'properly regulated,'" but no American casino is being properly regulated now, and won't ever be, because the casinos will resist proper regulation tooth-and-nail.

The only really-effective regulations I ever saw, just small technicalities really, but devastatingly effective, were what I noticed on my Australian visit last year, limiting access to credit. As a direct result, the casino was rather lifeless on a Tuesday evening. Las Vegas casinos would rather commit mass suicide than submit to them.

First, in order to access your credit card via an ATM, you have to leave the gambling floor. No ATMs in the casino proper. That discourages impulsive decisions to get more money. Second, it is illegal to access a credit-card-based cheque-cashing service, like Americans can easily do, due to a prudent Queensland law designed in order to limit problem gambling. There was one last route I didn't try: using an internal paper credit card, so I didn't exhaust all possibilities to obtain credit, but I was sufficiently discouraged that I did not attempt gambling that night. THAT is "proper regulation!" Will regulations like these ever be adopted here?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Extreme Model Rocketry

Oh, this is just so cool...:
The rocket represented three months' labor. He needed to solve the engineering flaw that doomed the Desert Hawk's three previous launches. The camouflage paint job alone took two weeks. On the rocket's fins were inspirational quotes from the Bible, Shakespeare, the heavy metal band Molly Hatchet and the theme song from the television show "Star Trek: Enterprise."

...The Desert Hawk is 10 feet tall and weighs 126 pounds. Launching it required high-altitude clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration. It's fueled by a mixture of ammonium perchlorate and synthetic rubber -- known as APCP, it's essentially what powers the space shuttle.

What was once a simple boyhood hobby spawned by the Cold War's space race has transformed into extreme rocketry, a subculture dominated by middle-aged men who harness technology, testosterone and their credit cards in the pursuit of ever-greater thrust and altitude.

"The final result of all the work is that you light a motor and there's a big old bunch of noise, smoke and flames," said Richard "Wedge" Oldham, who lives in the San Fernando Valley and builds replicas of Cold War-era missiles that break the sound barrier.

"That appeals to guys."

It also got the attention of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which in recent years has tightened regulations on the purchase and storage of APCP, even in small amounts, because the agency classifies it as an explosive. Heightened scrutiny since Sept. 11, 2001, threatens to affix training wheels to the hobby, said Ken Good, president of the Tripoli Rocketry Assn., which along with another group has been locked in an eight-year court battle with the agency.

"What's going to happen when an 18-year-old tells his parents 'I've got a new hobby, but I've got to get a low-explosive users permit, and oh, by the way, the ATF is going to inspect our house to make sure it's being stored properly,' " Good said. "The kid's parents are going to say 'Gee, can you find another hobby?' "

...As Tryon readied the Desert Hawk for launch, Oldham drew a crowd simply by displaying a motor he used last year to propel a 700-pound model of a Nike Ajax missile -- without a warhead, of course -- to 14,740 feet in 30 seconds.

The 6-foot-long Q motor delivered an impressive 3,500 pounds of thrust. Lying on a table, it looked like an innocuous sewer pipe.

"May I take a video of this?" one man said, gingerly approaching the Q. "Wow. Whose is it?"

"What'cha got there, Wedge? Is that a Q?" asked Paul Avery, 54, an Agora Hills rocketeer who is working his way up to take on such a motor.

"I don't have the experience," he explained. "It's serious stuff. The least little thing goes wrong and it gets ugly quick."

The Nike Ajax model cost Oldham $10,000 -- $8,000 from refinancing his home. His next project, a 45-foot-long replica of a Nike Hercules, will cost twice as much. It will have a first-stage thrust composed of four Q motors that will separate from the rocket at 10,000 feet.

Four seconds later, a more powerful S motor will ignite, propelling the Hercules to 30,000 feet. (Rocket motors double in power with each step through the alphabet.)

"It'll go supersonic. About Mach 1.1," Oldham said. "I don't know where the money is going to come from. I just know I'm going to build it."

Oldham stumbled onto extreme rocketry like many of his peers did -- in middle age when he introduced his childhood hobby to his teenage son.

"As a kid in the early '60s, when the U.S. got into the space race, I was totally enthralled," he said. "Eventually the Navy and girls got in the way."

Unbeknown to Oldham, model rocketry had super-sized during the intervening years. It was no longer just a kid's game. His son eventually grew bored with rockets. Oldham grew more intense.

"I wake up thinking about rockets, and I go to bed thinking about rockets," said Oldham, a software engineer who has three framed photos of his most beloved projects. "It's not a hobby. It's a passion and obsession."

Building a rocket from cardboard, plywood and fiberglass encompasses a variety of skills, including carpentry, electronics and aerodynamics. Rockets need to be light enough to fly yet structurally sound enough to hold together, especially when parachutes engage and exert a tremendous amount of force on a fragile fuselage.

Some rocketeers are focused on fuel -- building motors that run on exotic combinations of black powder, sugar, liquid oxygen, kerosene and nitrous oxide.

Just don't call it an experiment.

"The insurance companies don't like that," said Mark Hanson, president of the Rocketry Organization of California, whose weekday job is lighting the sets of television's "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."

"For liability reasons, that's frowned upon. So instead of experimental, now we call it research."
No, Ron Fong, It Wasn't Sticker Shock, It Was Sticker Rage

It seems the local politicians only bother to speak to themselves these days. It's amusing to see Ron Fong and Lauren Hammond furiously backpedaling only now. It never occurred to them at all that there was any serious opposition to this boondoggle. An 84% - 16% vote says everything that needs to be said on that matter!

Better lighting is unlikely to affect the crime rate in Land Park and Curtis Park, because most of the crime there isn't street crime. Perusal of the Sac PD crime maps show most of the crime in those neighborhoods is larceny/theft and burglary, not assaults, and thus not greatly affected by street lighting. And we are supposed to pay $32/month extra - at a minimum - for a problem that isn't really there? Hello? Anyone home?

Street lighting, in this context, is strictly an amenity. The only possible value to the community of this project, apart from the lighting itself, is something to increase property values. The project is simply too costly for property owners to voluntarily submit to an increased assessment for this purpose.

Clueless, clueless, clueless:
Jason Hill was confident that Land Park and Curtis Park residents would approve a $10 million plan to install 780 streetlights in dark sections of both neighborhoods.

...In mid-November, property owners in both areas received ballots asking them to say "Yes" or "No" to the question by Jan. 3.

..."It was a tough situation; it was difficult," Hill said last week when asked how he felt during the vote count. "There were a lot more 'No' votes than 'Yes' votes.

...The results, officially announced at the City Council meeting on Jan. 8, showed that the plan was over-whelmingly rejected.

About 84 percent of the 1,315 ballots returned to City Hall opposed creation of an assessment district to pay for the lights, city staff members said.

About 66 percent of the ballots were completed and returned.

...Only one resident, Linda Boudier, addressed the council on the lighting plan on Jan. 8.

"This procedure was seriously flawed," Boudier, a Land Park resident, told the council, referring to the mail-in ballot procedure.

"If this issue is revisited in the future, I hope it will be a more inclusive process, involving the public" and the taxpayer who would have to pay for any new lights, she added.

Council members didn't respond to her remarks, although city officials had earlier said they followed the law in the balloting.

The day before, Councilwoman Lauren Hammond had apologized, via e-mail, for referring to the plan's opponents as "little protesters" who had been misled.

..."I meant to describe the protesters as a small but vocal group," Hammond told The Bee last week. "Obviously, I was wrong since the measure was defeated."

According to Hammond, the results indicated that like many Americans, a growing number of Land Park and Curtis Park residents have become victims of tough economic times. "The economy is so bad that people are afraid to spend an extra $37 a month for safety," she said.

According to the city, most of the lights would serve areas without streetlights, but some would replace non-ornamental lights.

If the plan had been approved by a simple majority, and then by the City Council, a typical property owner would have had the option of paying $4,940 up front, according to documents that all property owners received with their ballots.

Those preferring an installment plan would have been assessed about $380 a year for 30 years. Including interest, the long-term bill for a typical property would have totaled more than $11,000, the ballot attachment said.

The pay-as-you-go payment plan would have been about $32 a month, according to Hill, who maintained that the lights were needed to help reduce crime.

"Everyone would like to have streetlights, but I think there was some sticker shock," City Councilman Rob Fong, who represents Land Park, said after the proposed assessment died.

..."You must understand that this was not a city process per se," Fong said.

The proponents, he pointed out, had shown evidence of community support for the assessment by collecting 1,100 signatures on pro-light petitions.

The process began in October 2006, when the petitions were delivered to City Hall, Fong said.

"The city gets involved only if there's a successful election," Fong said. "(For instance), the city would have directed its engineers to help" install the lights.

With so much at stake, the proponents enjoyed an unfair advantage, said Craig Powell, the opposition's top leader.

"They knew exactly when the election was coming" and distributed campaign literature well in advance, he said. "The first we heard about it is when the ballots arrived on Nov. 15."
Best Ever Circus Ballet Performance

Embedding is disabled, so the video won't post directly, but the link is here.

It took this couple, husband and wife, eight years to create and perfect their breathtaking routine!

It's amazing the way that the male dancer adjusts to the change of weight, as the ballerina steps, on toe, from one of his shoulders to the other, and back again. It's amazing to have a ballerina dancing on one's body, period, much less doing turns in attitude sur la pointe on one's shoulder, like this woman does.

Just amazing!

Chris Matthews Apologizes... and Apologizes...

The misogynist tells us about his good heart, and tells us about his good heart, and eventually just creeps me out.

Charleville Floods

That river of tropical moisture just keeps flowing.

Via Matthew Yglesias, an interesting map. A portion of the explanatory caption:
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a convenient way of measuring and comparing the size of national economies. Annual GDP represents the market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a year. Put differently:

GDP = consumption + investment + government spending + (exports – imports)

Although the economies of countries like China and India are growing at an incredible rate, the US remains the nation with the highest GDP in the world – and by far: US GDP is projected to be $13,22 trillion (or $13.220 billion) in 2007, according to this source. That’s almost as much as the economies of the next four (Japan, Germany, China, UK) combined.

The creator of this map has had the interesting idea to break down that gigantic US GDP into the GDPs of individual states, and compare those to other countries’ GDP. What follows, is this slightly misleading map – misleading, because the economies both of the US states and of the countries they are compared with are not weighted for their respective populations.

Pakistan, for example, has a GDP that’s slightly higher than Israel’s – but Pakistan has a population of about 170 million, while Israel is only 7 million people strong. The US states those economies are compared with (Arkansas and Oregon, respectively) are much closer to each other in population: 2,7 million and 3,4 million.

And yet, wile a per capita GDP might give a good indication of the average wealth of citizens, a ranking of the economies on this map does serve two interesting purposes: it shows the size of US states’ economies relative to each other (California is the biggest, Wyoming the smallest), and it links those sizes with foreign economies (which are therefore also ranked: Mexico’s and Russia’s economies are about equal size, Ireland’s is twice as big as New Zealand’s).
Fierce Looking

I need to go hide somewhere.

Lindsay Lohan.
Lea Ann Carlisle Update

Here is a portion of an update regarding Lea Ann Carlisle's recovery from falling off of a ladder, written by Marie Petersen:
Lea Ann would like everyone to know that she is very touched by all of your kindness and she appreciates it so much. Although she would love to visit with everyone, she is unable to do so at this time. She is in some pain, is medicated, and trying to rest as much as possible. She must stay in bed for the next two weeks with her arms propped up. She would prefer that visits and phone calls be held off until she is feeling up to it; possibly next week. Because she is sleeping so much she would also like to ask that calls at that time be made during the hours of noon and 6pm.

She will have an eight week recovery.
Won't be able to drive a car until then.
At the end of the month they will see what mobility she has.
After recovery she will have physical therapy.
She has numerous pins and plates in each hand/wrist.
If I remember this correctly, she has 10 breaks in each hand/wrist.
The doctors rate the severity of the injuries from A to C; C being the worst. She was rated with a C+.
She needs to concentrate on following the doctor's orders of staying in bed, resting and not using her fingers, what little are exposed out the bandages.

DJI closes at 12,159.21.
Messenger's Pictures Of Mercury

Cool stuff!:
This image was taken today by NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft at a distance of approximately 17,000 miles following the spacecraft's closest approach to Mercury. The image shows features as small as 6 miles in size. Similar to previously mapped portions of Mercury, this hemisphere appears heavily cratered. It also reveals some unique and distinctive features. On the upper right is the giant Caloris basin, including its western portions never before seen by spacecraft. Formed by the impact of a large asteroid or comet, Caloris is one of the largest, and perhaps one of the youngest basins in the solar system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Danger Of Flooding In SW Queensland

Formerly as dry as Arrakis, Charleville faces trouble. Hard to picture....

Yet despite the rains, drier than it needs to be in the immediate Lake Wivenhoe area of SE Queensland.
Becoming Alpha Dog....

Takes more than just brazen nerve:
A 47-year-old man in the northwestern German city (of Münster) had apparently had one too many on Tuesday night when he decided to show his friend's dog who was boss. He got down on all fours in his friend's apartment and, with the large mutt presumably watching in disbelief, began to munch out of the dog dish.

As the man had hoped, the question as to which of the two should be considered alpha male was quickly answered. The dog attacked the man and bit him in the face.
Armor Of God PJs

Yup. That's what they are.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

UC Davis Gives Bill Clinton A Hero's Welcome

Left: 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Tuesday’s Sacramento Bee had a small article announcing that Bill Clinton would be speaking at ‘Main Hall’ at the University of California, Davis (UCD). “Oh, that should be fun,” I thought. Doors would open at 8:15 p.m., and the rally would start at 9 p.m.

After all these years, my knowledge of the UCD campus is still rather sketchy, and I wasn’t sure where this ‘Main Hall’ was located. So, I parked not far away from the ‘Main Theater’ and hopefully made my way there.

No luck there, though. So, I groped my way through the windy darkness to UCD’s social hub, in front of Freeborn Hall, and asked a passing student where Bill Clinton was going to speak. The student (likely Filipino) was very gracious, and pointed my way down a bike path:

It’s located in the Ark. It’s a large building located next to a large parking lot straight this way. It’s a long walk though.
So, I made my through the darkness, and wondered what my odds were of finding a “large building located next to a large parking lot” on a large campus like UCD.

The student was right, though. Eventually others joined my sojourn, and soon we all walked up to the Pavilion at the ARC (Activities Recreation Center), the UCD basketball arena, which has a capacity of about 8,000 people. (Of course, I had parked nearly as far as it was possible to get from the ARC and still be on-campus, but that’s how it goes in university-land.) It was 8:35 p.m. and thousands of people were lined up outside the arena. Thousands of people! Sigh! So we all trudged off to find the end of the line.

The end of the line was at the SE corner of the Pavilion. The head of the line was also at the SE corner of the Pavilion. The line wrapped not only around the entire Pavilion, but the rest of the ARC complex as well, AND a large, adjoining athletic field, and made a complete circle around it all! Thousands and thousands of people wanted in!

It was clear that the people at the end of the line would never, ever make it into the Pavilion. But the head of the line was so alluringly close – just thirty feet away, separated from us by only one thin, young woman who was saying to the latecomers “you can’t join the line here, you have to stand at the end of the line, because they won’t let you in at the door.” The crowd-control concern in her voice was beginning to edge into panic.

So, do we do the right thing, and wait patiently here at the end of the line, and lose all opportunity of getting in, or do we get a bit creative?

Suddenly an “Ooooh!” passed through the crowd. Someone, somewhere near the head of the line could see over a concrete wall and see *something* in the distance. As if on cue, a cluster of about fifteen of us broke free from the end of the line and pressed towards the head of the line, so we could see *something* too. The young, thin woman began squawking at us to back off. Instead of complying, several of us from the cluster moved away and began walking down the incoming line of people, as if we were just passersby, not really interested in the event at all.

I followed a young woman from my cluster. She glanced over her shoulder at the squawking woman, and then suddenly dived into the oncoming line of people – and knelt, in order to tie her shoe. She pivoted around as she rose, and, in an instant, she had become part of the anonymous horde at the head of the line. A few feet farther on, I joined the horde as well.

Left: Current Lieutenant Governor (and frequent gubernatorial candidate) John Garamendi warms up the audience at the start of the rally, along with various other notables, such as Speaker of the California State Assembly Fabian Nuñez, 8th District State Assembly Member Lois Wolk, and 5th District State Senator Mike Machado (pictured at right), among others.

Upon entering the arena, I went into the upstairs stands, stage left. The seats there were already full, and many knelt in the aisles. I sat on an aisle step and we all listened to Speaker of the California State Assembly Fabian Nuñez, 8th District State Assembly Member Lois Wolk, and 5th District State Senator Mike Machado all make brief speeches. When another notable (Alice somebody) started talking, all of us kneeling in aisles were commanded to go onto the floor downstairs.

At the bottom of the stairs, we ran into an incoming mob of people that had to quickly decide whether to sit upstairs, or downstairs. “I’ll be on the top,” crowed a young male student. “I’ll be on the bottom,” squealed his young female companion. “TMI,” I thought to myself.

I found myself on the floor of the arena in a cluster of short people standing behind a lot of tall people. Boy, this won’t work! But there is the alluring platform with media people, and they have a great view, 200 feet directly in front of the Speaker’s platform. And there is just barely enough room on the steps leading up to the platform for me to stand. To my surprise, no one interceded as I made my precarious way up the steps. I had a terrible time taking photos, since the digital camera is slow and I generally had to hold the camera over my head, or at arm’s length, or otherwise in a manner that the pictures were guaranteed to be fuzzy. So, just a handful of the hundreds of pictures I took came out more-or-less OK. But I looked like a media person, and after awhile, people began treating me as if I was a media person. I only half-listened to Clinton’s speech, since I was trying so hard with the photos.

The excitement was wondrous to behold. “It’s as if Steve Tyler (lead singer of ‘Aerosmith’) was here,” enthused one young woman nearby. Another young woman on the media platform steps got faint and had to be led away (this is different event, however, than the fainting episode featured on MSN today).

Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi warmed up the audience (paraphrasing):

How about those Aggies? How about this economy? Have you heard about this war in Iraq? Are you ready for action on climate change? Are you ready for Hillary? Are you ready for the Main Event?
For some reason, Clinton was delayed walking to the Speaker’s platform, so the ‘Main Event’ turned out to be a musical interlude by the energetic Cal Aggie Marching Band. It was amusing - the politicos looked doofy clapping along to the music.

Clinton was introduced by Max Mikalonis President of the UCD College Democrats. His appeal was quite direct (I paraphrase here):

Under Bill Clinton, the environment was safe, the economy was strong, and America was protected. We need a change!
Mikalonis’ appeal got me thinking about the proper, and improper, uses of nostalgia on the campaign trail. I remember October, 1964, LBJ’s Democratic landslide year, when our elementary school was mustered out to greet some Democratic notable. This grandee stated that voters should choose the Democrats, because Republicans would implement the policies of Herbert Hoover, and we knew how all that had turned out. Even though I was only seven years old, I thought “that was thirty-two years ago!” I expected this kind of tone-deafness maybe from my parents, not from a professional politician. It would be as if some politician today tried to score points by letting go with some low blows against Jimmy Carter (Wait! Some politicians still do!) This kind of nostalgia is too old to work well.

But an appeal to the nostalgia of the Nineties is likely to work very well today. After all, these UCD students were children in the Nineties, when “the environment was safe, the economy was strong, and America was protected,” as fuzzily recalled in the recent, happy past.

Clinton stated:
YouTube and blogs – we can have a government that communicates 24-hours a day with the American people.
("I don't want to be that blogger, though," I thought.)

Then Clinton himself made a reference to the Nineties:

So much has changed. When I ran in 1992, there were fifty sites on the Internet. Fifty new sites have started on the Internet since I started speaking tonight. Cell phones were the size of a shoe. Today, they are too small for my big hands.

This election is more important to you than it is to me. Because you have more tomorrows. Not to be morbid about it.

So you have a job to do. You have to decide who is the best to do this job of President.
(A young woman shouted “You”, to laughter).

Clinton talked at length about America’s desire to form “a more perfect Union” and how the absence of affordable health care, the mortgage crisis, and the dire effects of climate change all threatened that “more perfect Union.” Interestingly, he also talked about failure:

Harry Truman - a great President. He tried to get nationalized health care, and he was crushed. LBJ stopped at Medicare and Medicaid. Jimmy Carter tried, and he got nowhere. Hillary tried in 1994, and she was defeated.

If you aren’t careful, as President, you begin to think that you really are somebody special. After leaving office, it took me three months to get used to the absence of that song they play when I made an appearance. But to really know a leader, you want to see what they do, not when they succeed, but when they fail. After health care’s failure, Hillary picked herself up, dusted herself off, and tried again. I admire her so much.
Clinton offered effusive praise to Bill Richardson, and more perfunctory praise to Chris Dodd, John Edwards, and Barack Obama.

The great thing about this election, I don’t have to be against anything. There is so much to be for.
Clinton rarely mentioned Iraq. Certainly he never talked about withdrawing troops from Iraq. To great applause, he talked about the importance of working together with other countries. His strongest point concerned the use of Blackwater security in Iraq, and their role in the recent civilian massacre in Baghdad (hoping I got the numbers right here:

It takes $65,000 to train and equip an American soldier. It takes $135,000 to train and equip a single Blackwater security contractor. We could have trained two responsible American soldiers, who would have followed the rules of engagement, instead of one Blackwater security contractor, who would not follow any rules, and saved $5,000 in the bargain. Why didn’t we do that?
Afterwards, Bill Clinton left the stage. In a few minutes, he reappeared at the NW corner of the Pavilion, shaking a few hands, and then left again. He apparently then sat down backstage and started signing memorabilia ferried to him from the floor by Hillary campaign aides.

On the steps of the media platform, a Hillary aide asked me to convey a message to the rest of the media “we want you fellows to stay here.” I conveyed the message to the next fellow, and he said “No way! I have to go!” I asked the Hillary aide “Why should we stay here? Is someone going to make an appearance?” The aide said “…someone might come out…”

Apparently this was all media control. I overheard two photographers talking:

Fellow A: They want us all to stay here.
Fellow B: Why?
Fellow A: They don’t want us pursuing Bill and asking questions. Say, did you get any good shots?
Fellow B: About 500.
Fellow A: Did you get any of him waving his finger, like “I did not do that.” THAT’s the money shot!
(the type of photo I’ve got at the top of this blogpost).

Left: Immediately after the rally, the crowd was in a festive mood. The closest thing to a dissonant note was the Obama sign (visible at left).

I eventually left the media platform and watched happy autograph recipients get their prizes. The security people were discussing how big the crowd was (there were three guesses: 11,000, 10,000, and 7,000). Since the stated game capacity is 8,000, and the floor was half full, I thought maybe 9,000, with several thousand people left outside who had to go home instead (at one point, we could hear them from the inside, as they chanted something – perhaps “Bill! Bill!”).

Update: According to the Davis Enterprise:
A crowd of 7,800 filled the Pavilion and another 3,500 were turned away at the door, according to UCD Fire Department estimates.

So, the evening ended on a happy, giddy feeling, together with a very long walk back to the car. I was surprised how, despite the crowd, I managed to get a better-than-average location from which to see things. It occurred to me that I was receiving deference because of my age, enhanced by the fact that the student body is about half Asian, and respect for the old is ingrained in Asian cultures. It is regrettable that I got in, and some other person who waited longer in the cold, likely a young Asian student, no doubt more deserving, didn’t get in. After all, that student has more tomorrows than I do. But one must give rude old people wide berth…..

Here is the link to the Sacramento Bee’s article on the event.

Here is the link to the Davis Enterprise’s article on the event.

Left: After leaving the floor of the arena, Bill Clinton apparently sat down backstage and started signing memorabilia ferried to him from the floor by Hillary campaign aides.

Left: Music for the evening was provided by a very energetic Cal Aggie Marching Band.

Left: Then suddenly, the Cal Aggie Marching Band vanished, as if it had been Raptured, or something.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What-up With Britney?

Strictly on the down low.

A Lesson in Gun Safety

The Petersens recommended this....

Gotta admire the lecturer's poise. I'd be rolling around on the floor screaming like a little girl....

In Memory Of A Princess

From Albuquerque:
Patrick Murphy was the queen of Albuquerque and New Mexico's drag scene.

She, as most people referred to the dainty 5-foot-3-inch man, could sew shimmering gowns for her drag performances in a matter of hours.

She could command the attention of a whole room with a performance as Diana Ross, then throw back a few drinks, or more, at her favorite bars.

She held the proudly won title of Miss New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association 2008.

"She was an icon in the community," said Wade Kuenzi, assistant manager and bartender at Murphy's favorite bar, Sidewinders Ranch gay bar near Central and Wyoming boulevards.

"Everyone knew Patricia," he said.

But few knew the man accused of killing her Jan. 8 by shooting her several times in the head....
Wall Street Tanks Again

DJI 12,500, and heading down.
The Baby Primary

Humbling The Proud

Atrios makes a good point: just a short time ago, we could afford the kind of pride we just can't now:
Rudy's nonfriend wants some Citi.

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Citigroup Inc., the U.S. bank facing an estimated $4.21 billion fourth-quarter loss, may get cash infusions from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and China's government to bolster its capital.

Citigroup, the largest U.S. lender, is seeking a total of $8 billion to $10 billion from investors including Alwaleed, who already owns almost 4 percent of its shares, and China Development Bank, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, citing people familiar with the matter. The Chinese bank is likely to invest about $2 billion, the newspaper said.


NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Thursday the city would not accept a $10 million donation for disaster relief from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after the prince suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed to the September 11 attacks.
Andrew Leonard chimes in:
Globalization, thy name is Wall Street bailout. There is no better demonstration of the new global financial order than the cavalcade of "sovereign wealth fund" white knights riding to the rescue of the world's name-brand investment banks all winter long.

...Here's a partial tally so far:
  • Citigroup: $7.5 billion from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and $6.88 billion from Government Investment Corp. of Singapore.
  • Morgan Stanley: $5 billion from China Investment Corp.
  • Merrill-Lynch: $5 billion from Singapore's Temasek Holdings, $6.5 from Kuwait Investment Authority, $2 billion from Korean Investment Corp.
  • Bear Stearns: $1 billion from China Investment Corp.
  • UBS: $10 billion from the Government Investment Corp. of Singapore.
A sovereign wealth fund is defined as an investment fund controlled by a national government. While not exactly new on the world scene, such funds have been proliferating of late, a consequence of the high price of oil and the growing strength of East Asian economies. Sovereign wealth funds are currently believed to control around $2.2 trillion worth of assets, and some predict that number could shoot up to $12 trillion or more in less than a decade. But the numbers hardly tell the whole story. Less than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the West's gleeful jig dancing on the grave of communism, state capitalism is suddenly threatening the autonomy of the global "free" market. Wall Street's elite banks, longtime freedom fighters for deregulation and scorners of all government intervention in the marketplace, are now begging, cup in hand, for aid from a gallery of regimes that includes some of the most authoritarian and undemocratic governments on the planet.

...Indeed the reality may be that the era of free markets unleashed by Margaret Thatcher and reinforced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s is fading away. In place of deregulation and privatization are government efforts to reassert control over their economies and to use this to enhance their global influence. It is an ill wind that blows...

...Perhaps it would be more accurate to say freer markets lost the day. The root of Wall Street's woes leads back directly to their own strategic missteps, greed, speculation-run-amok, and lack of appropriate supervision. The brightest minds in finance had exactly what they wanted, a playground where the monitors were looking the other way, and they blew it. When the China Investment Corp. pumps in $5 billion to Morgan Stanley, we are not witnessing the triumph of state capitalism, but rather, the embarrassing, humiliating failure of Reagan-Thatcher style unregulated capitalism. So now the U.S. buys Chinese toys at Wal-Mart, and China uses the resulting cash to buy American banks. Hey, anything's fair in love and war and free markets.

"Vampira" Joins The Great Beyond

Interesting life:
In the early days of television, when horror movies were often campy by nature, actress Maila Nurmi created the character Vampira, a glamorous ghoul who as hostess of late-night fright films in the 1950s layered on her own brand of camp.

Vampira played with her pet tarantula, gave gruesome recipes for vampire cocktails and bathed in a boiling caldron. With a knack for the double-entendre and the requisite blood-chilling scream, Vampira was a hit.

The character won Nurmi short-lived fame and a dedicated cult following. Nurmi claimed Vampira was also the uncredited inspiration for later ghoulish yet glamorous female characters in film and television, including Elvira.

Nurmi, who also appeared in the 1959 Edward D. Wood Jr. movie "Plan 9 From Outer Space," was found dead in her Hollywood home Jan. 10. The cause of death was still being investigated, said Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County coroner's office. Nurmi was believed to be 85, although sources offer conflicting dates of birth.

Born Maila Syrjäniemi in Finland, Nurmi immigrated to the United States when she was a toddler. By 17, she had dropped her surname and taken on that of her famous uncle Paavo Nurmi, a world-class runner known as the "Flying Finn." In her teens, she moved to New York, and then Los Angeles, to pursue a career in acting.

Little came of Nurmi's efforts to land conventional leading roles in theater or on-screen. The unconventional came calling in 1953, after Nurmi attended a Hollywood masquerade ball dressed as the ghoul of Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons.

"I bound my bosoms, so that I was flat-chested," Nurmi said, "and I got a wig, and painted my body a kind of a mauve white pancake with a little lavender powder so that I looked as though I'd been entombed."

Nurmi's costume was judged the best at the ball, according to an article that was posted last week on, her website. Months later, a KABC-TV producer tracked her down and offered her work as hostess of a late-night horror show.

In creating Vampira, Nurmi said she went beyond the Addams cartoon, developing an alter ego influenced by beatnik culture and her experiences as a child of the Depression.

Vampira wore a low-cut tattered black dress that showed off her impossibly small waist (courtesy of a waist cincher) and displayed more cleavage than was common for the day. With her 6-inch-long nails and dark, dramatically arched eyebrows, watching Vampira was "a release for people."

"The times . . . were so conservative and so constrained," Nurmi said in a video interview that was posted on her website. "There was so much repression, and people needed to identify with something explosive, something outlandish and truthful."

...But in 1955, KABC canceled her show, and the result was a stinging decline. When she met Wood at a party during the height of her career, she felt nothing but disdain, she told People magazine, but when he approached her in 1956 and offered her $200 to appear in his movie, she accepted the offer.

"I was scraping by on $13 a week," she said in the People article. "I thought, 'Well, here I go. I'm going to commit professional suicide right now.' "

"Plan 9 From Outer Space," a zombie movie, has been called the worst movie ever. She appeared in a few more movies, but by the 1960s, Nurmi's career had taken a turn toward oblivion.

...Nurmi opened a Vampira antique shop, but she continued to struggle to make ends meet. In the late 1980s, Nurmi filed a lawsuit against another glamorous ghoul. She alleged that Elvira had ripped off her character, copying features such as a "distinctive, low-cut, tattered black dress, emphasizing cleavage and a voluptuous figure."

The courts disagreed.

Nurmi's influence can be seen in the teen "goth" look of today, said Dana Gould, a longtime friend of Nurmi.

"She really sort of cast the mold for a look that is still around," said the comedy writer and comedian.

Director Tim Burton's film about Wood, starring Johnny Depp, introduced a new audience to Wood and Nurmi.
Walking Home On A Dark And Foggy Night


Monday, January 14, 2008

Home Built Cord

Have you ever had a car and thought, "boy, this car is a lemon. I could build a better car than this"? Or have you ever just been fascinated with automotive technology?

Friends Bruce and Brad Otis built their own automobiles, from scratch. Not kit cars - cars built from scratch.

Bruce details the many steps involved at his Web Site, Watch the time, though. It took Bruce something like 30 years to do it, in fits and starts, so an early start is recommended....
Lengua Mexicana

I can never remember this stuff:
Microsoft Word is somewhat trickier. Upside-down exclamation points and question marks require you push Control plus Alt plus Shift, then type whatever you want flipped around. Acute accents pop up after you hold down Control, then hit the apostrophe key; release and type in your vowel. A tilde: Control + Shift + squiggly mark, release, the letter N. Both Macs and Microsoft require you hold the Shift key after executing the above instructions if you want a diacritic to top a capital letter. And remember, people: no grave accents in Spanish, or tildes on letters other than n--that's the domain of the mongrel tongue known as Portuguese.
Before There Was Evil, There Was Good

These days, the eye of Sauron withers all:
Gilbert A. Harrison, former editor and publisher of the New Republic magazine who ran the influential Washington-based weekly for 20 years, died of congestive heart failure Jan. 3 at Hospice of the Valley in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 92.

Harrison published an intellectual, liberal but nondoctrinaire journal of opinion, politics and arts that was an early opponent of the Vietnam War. He was considered an excellent "pencil editor" -- someone who could mark up and improve a writer's work -- and was skilled at identifying and hiring talented journalists before they were known commodities.

The magazine, founded in 1914, was considered for most of the 20th century the leading liberal political magazine in the nation.

...Through his 20 years at the magazine, Harrison collected writers including John Osborne, who wrote the "White House Watch" column during the Watergate era; Richard Strout, who penned the TRB column; literary editor Doris Grumbach; and theater critic Stanley Kauffmann. Investigative reporter James Ridgeway became nationally known when he revealed in the magazine that General Motors had hired private detectives to tail consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

...Harrison bought the New Republic in 1953. He sold it in 1974 to Martin H. Peretz for $380,000. Harrison expected to stay on as editor-in-chief until 1977, but differences between owner and editor quickly arose, and he left after a few months. Peretz sold two-thirds of the magazine's ownership to two financiers in 2002.
New Book Regarding Crypto-Jews

Like I say, I don't believe New Mexico ever had many of them - perhaps none at all - but that doesn't mean the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico can't be an interesting topic for a book:
She had been intrigued by the state since visiting a friend in Santa Fe in 1979.

"There were lawyers (in Santa Fe then) who were raising goats," she said, still awed by an image so alien to a woman who had lived in Manhattan and photographed fires, sports and social events in New Jersey.

It was while taking pictures at the Congregation Montefiore (Jewish) Cemetery in Las Vegas, N.M., in 1985, that Herz heard about "the other people."
Litigious Dancing Fools

Too much time and money on their hands:
IT was supposed to symbolise the unbridled joy pulsing through an innocent young girl who lives for the thrill of performance.

Instead, a choreographed three-minute dance to Gloria Estefan's Turn The Beat Around, created for Brisbane seven-year-old Caitlyn Armstrong, has led to a $38,000 legal battle.

Her parents, Kylie and Stephen, and dance teacher Sharlene Ponzo, who created the routine, took Springwood's Wild Child Acting and Dance Studios to court last year after becoming incensed by the studio's attempts to stop them performing it.

The complainants said the youngster's winning up-tempo routine – which netted 10 section titles over two years at eisteddfods across the southeast – was owned by its creator Ms Ponzo because she crafted it while a contractor to Wild Child.

But Wild Child co-owners Philip and Julie Jones argued Ms Ponzo was an employee and not a contractor – and therefore the dance was the company's intellectual property, unable to be performed by others without their permission.

The gloves came off when Ms Ponzo left Wild Child in August 2005 and Caitlyn began performing the song at eisteddfods without Wild Child's permission.

Repeated clashes between the parties on the eisteddfod circuit became commonplace, each accusing the other of stealing the act.

Legal action began after an eisteddfod at Logan City in June last year when Caitlyn's performance was followed by a young contestant from Wild Child wearing the same costume and performing the same routine.

...But last Thursday, Federal Court magistrate Michael Burnett admonished all parties for bringing the matter before the courts.

Lawyers for both parties agreed to settle out of court.
Ted Gaines Says No

Hmmm... What does this portend for Placer Co.?
Republican Assemblyman Ted Gaines of Granite Bay says he will not be a candidate to replace retiring U.S. Rep. John Doolittle in California's 4th Congressional District.

Gaines had formed an exploratory committee but on Monday said he would not run. A father of several young children, Gaines cited family reasons and said he would remain in the state Assembly.

...Declared candidates include former state senator Rico Oller of San Andreas, while former congressman Doug Ose is considering the race.
Wishes For A Speedy Recovery

Everyone at DMTC would like to convey to Lea Ann Carlisle our best wishes for a quick and full recovery.

Lea Ann is a smiling and energetic presence at DMTC, frequently working as costume designer for DMTC's Young Performers' Theater. Her three daughters (McKinley, Danika, and Kailani) have been involved in numerous recent YPT and DMTC shows.

Apparently Lea Ann was removing Christmas decorations yesterday from the outside of her house when she pitched off the top of a 16-foot ladder, snapping both wrists upon impact.
This Guy Is A Genius

And a serious menace to Polish society:
Adam Dabrowski, 14, described by teachers as a model pupil and an electronics genius, hacked into the public transport network in Lodz to change the track points derailing at least four trams and leaving dozens injured.

...He told police in Lodz in central Poland he had changed the points on tram tracks across the city for a prank. But in one incident alone 12 people were injured.

The giant train set started operating at 1pm on Tuesday when a city tram driver tried to steer his vehicle on to right hand tracks, and found himself helpless to prevent it swerving to the left instead, seemingly of its own accord.

The rear wagon then swung off the rails and crashed into another passing tram, hurling screaming passengers to the floor.

Transport employees said they knew immediately that someone outside their staff had caused the accident.

Miroslaw Micor, spokesman for Lodz police, said: "He studied the trams and the tracks for a long time and then built a device that looked like a TV remote control and used it to manoeuvre the trams and the tracks."

Mr Micor added: "He had converted the TV control into a device capable of controlling all the junctions on the line and wrote in the pages of a school exercise book the best junctions to move trams around and what signals to change.

..."Four trams were derailed, and others had to make emergency stops that left passengers hurt. He clearly did not think about the consequences of his actions."
First Full Weekend Of "La Cage Aux Folles"

Left: Foreground - Nic Candito as 'Jacob.' Also, Ryan Adame as 'Mother,' and Mary Young as 'Jacqueline.'

A fun weekend, doing "La Cage Aux Folles"!

On Friday, the Cagelles hit their stride and danced very well. Nevertheless, there were some dropped lines that caused problems.

Several tradition-minded relatives of one cast member came to the Friday night show. "What is the show about?" they asked her. "You'll see!" she said.

When Cagelle Daryl approached the audience during the 'Birds' segment, he made eye contact with one of the relatives, and winked. Apparently it completely creeped out the family member....

Craig Howard and Bob Roe apparently saw the Friday show.

Saturday's show was good. I was startled at one point, at the start of Act II, when a lost audience member came back stage. The elderly lady started laughing and almost came on stage from the wings, in search of her seat. I directed her out, and into the house, but according to Martin, she made quite an annoying fuss searching for her seat.

John Montagna saw the Saturday show.

Sunday show was fine!

Left: The Renauds (Jan Isaacson and Marc Valdez), together with Albin (Ryan Adame), at the start of 'Masculinity.' Photo by Michael Manley.

Left: Jason 'Clocky' McDowell as an agitated Jean-Michel.

Left: These people lurk far, far below, doing what, I cannot tell.....

(was that my outside voice? Sorry!)

Left: Erik Daniells and the Orchestra.

Left: Ryan Adame as 'Albin'. Nic Candito departing as 'Jacob', and Martin Lehman as 'Georges'.

Left and below: Ryan Adame in 'Mascara.'

Left: Martin Lehman as 'Georges,' Ryan Adame as 'Albin,' and Nic Candito as 'Jacob.'

Left: Ryan Adame as 'Albin' and Martin Lehman as 'Georges'.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Finale

Left: Martin Lehman as 'Georges'; Andrew Read, Catherine Williamson, Tim Stewart, Marissa Tidrick, Daryl Clark, Brad Bong, and Nic Candito as 'Jacob' (or 'Jacobina', as it may be).
Left: I wanted to call this 'Stop In The Name Of Love.' Left to right, Catherine Williamson, Andrew Read, Time Stewart (obscured), Marissa Tidrick, Daryl Clark, and Brad Bong.

Left: Marie Dindon (Monica Parisi) improvises a few bumps and grinds!

Left: Monsieur Dindon (Michael Manley) practices 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

Left: Brad Bong, Catherine Williamson, and Martin Lehman as 'Georges.'

Left: Andrew Read, Catherine Williamson, Tim Stewart, Marissa Tidrick, Daryl Clark, Brad Bong, Nic Candito as 'Jacobina,' Kris Farhood as 'Anne-genue,' and Michael Manley as 'Winhilda.'
The Can-Can

Left: Kris Farhood (foreground), with Daryl Clark(left), and in the distant background, Catherine Williamson.
Left to right: Kris Farhood (facing camera), Tim Stewart (obscured), Andrew Read (green skirt), and Marissa Tidrick (right).

Left: Kris Farhood.

Left: Andrew Read and Kris Farhood.

Left: Catherine Williamson (foreground). Background, left to right, Tim Stewart, Andrew Read, and Marissa Tidrick.

Left to right: Marissa Tidrick, Andrew Read, Kris Farhood, Brad Bong (foreground), Tim Stewart, Catherine Williamson.

Left to right, Catherine Williamson, Daryl Clark, Marissa Tidrick, Tim Stewart, Andrew Read, Kris Farhood.

Left: Andrew flashing! Left to right, Kris Farhood, Andrew Read, Marissa Tidrick.

Left: Tim Stewart.
Getting In Touch With My Feminine Side

Left: The Reverend Mother Joseph was right - these eyelashes are great!

(photo by Michael Manley).

Left: Drama Mama (photo by Michael Manley).

Today, at the end of the show, a little old lady approached me and said "It was a great show, but you make a terrible woman!" Can't please everyone!

Left: Looking way too decadent here. I have to be careful. Since eye surgery in 1994, my left eye doesn't open quite as far as my right eye. So, to have eyes that match, the right eyelash should be just a bit farther out than the left eyelash. Here, it's the opposite (photo by Lavelle Lee).

Left: Self-portrait in the mirror, wearing the white tuxedo outfit.

Left: Half-prepared for the show, and holding a bouquet, people were amused by my ensemble - mesh stockings, sensible black shoes, and black long-sleeved shirt (photo by Dan Petersen).
Walt Goes To A John Edwards Rally

Just as he saw Hillary Clinton in November, Walt went to see John Edwards in Aiken, South Carolina on Saturday, January 12th:
Presidential candidate Senator John Edwards spoke in Aiken yesterday, and I went to see him. He was not the first candidate to visit Aiken – Obama, Hillary, McCain, and Thompson have also been here. I saw Hillary when she came in November. Edwards’ event was held at the USC-Aiken auditorium, but he did not speak in the auditorium itself; he spoke in the lobby. There were not enough people to fill the 1000+ seat auditorium.

I got there an hour early. Most of the volunteers who handed out stickers and petitions were college kids. There were only 50 seats set up, all taken. So I went hunting around the building, found a chair, brought it to the lobby, and then scoped out the audience. There were about 250 people present by the time Edwards arrived. This compares to 1200 in Aiken for Hillary, and 600 for Obama (pre-Oprah). An interesting feature was the lack of black support. Blacks make up 30% of the population in Aiken County, and perhaps 50 or 60% of the Democratic Party, but only 3% of the Edwards audience was black, compared with 10% for the Hillary audience. As it happened, I sat next to one of the only black folks, a guy in his 60s, and had a conversation with him. He was born here, but went north to find work after high school, and worked for Ford in Michigan for 30 years before retiring back home. He will vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination, but he has read a lot of the Bible, and Genesis says that Man should rule over Woman. So he is OK with either Obama or Edwards, but does not really want a woman president. Above everything, however, he will not vote for a Republican: when Democrats are in office, the economy is good, but recessions occur when Republicans rule. I guess Democrats have more business-friendly policies than Republicans. He (the black guy) also knows that foreign cars are better than US cars, but out of loyalty to Ford, always buys American. Nevertheless, he admits that Ford cars of today do not have the quality that they used to. His brother, who is ex-military, is a Republican, and they are always fighting about politics.

An interesting thing about blacks, which I never realized before I began working with them in 1992, is that there are a fair number of blacks – those with military or college backgrounds – who are swing voters, and occasionally vote for the GOP. They don’t exactly advertise it, and of course neither the Media nor black leaders want anyone to know, but a significant percentage of my black coworkers have at least once or twice voted for a Bush, or for Strom Thurmond.

On stage, there was room for about 15-20 people to stand behind Edwards. While I was in the sixth row speaking to the black guy, the organizer of the stage group worked his way over to us and asked the black guy if he would be willing to stand up on the stage. They put him in the front row of the people on stage, in the exact center. I have no idea why they singled him out. A little kid on stage was holding a sign reading “Steelworkers for Edwards”. After awhile, an adult traded signs with him – perhaps he didn’t believe the kid was really a steelworker. The guy who took up the Steelworker sign is the Assistant Principal at an elementary school in Graniteville, outside Aiken. There aren’t any steel foundries in South Carolina.

To my left was a retired couple in their 70s, transplanted northerners like me. They were originally from Michigan, and the man talked with familiarity about Michigan labor unions – he knew the names of union leaders. The woman said that this was the first Presidential Candidate speech they had gone to in 40 years! They were motivated then because of Vietnam, and this time because of Iraq. The man found it incomprehensible that most South Carolinians are Republicans. They have been brainwashed into thinking that Democrats raise taxes! A similar theme was echoed by another guy I spoke with, a young man of about 30, a nursing student at USC-Aiken. He can’t understand why most southerners are Republicans. Republicans only want to help the rich, and southerners aren’t rich. According to him, it doesn’t make any sense at all for a southerner to vote Republican. I told both of these men that in this election, I was a swing voter, and could possibly see myself voting either way. Neither one was curious about why I might consider voting Republican.

The young man was wearing an Edwards sticker, and I asked why he supported Edwards, as opposed to Hillary or Obama. It’s because Edwards is anti-nuke. The guy is correct. Of the three big Democratic contenders, only Edwards explicitly rules out a nuclear future for the US. Bechtel Corp sends out a weekly newsletter to its employees. The last one had an article about the candidates’ positions on nuclear power, based on their statements in New Hampshire. According to Bechtel, all Republican candidates support nuclear power. On the Democrat side, Edwards is against it, and Hillary is evasive. I take that to mean that she will not veto pro-nuke legislation, and might even appoint pro-nuke people to cabinet positions. Obama actually said that nuclear power should be seriously considered as an option. When I read that, I thought “O, the times, they are a changin’!” Only ten years ago, no Democrat anywhere would allow for the possibility of building more nuclear plants.

Senator Edwards showed up exactly on time, not even one minute late! There was absolutely no security protection. No secret service men, and no local cops. He wore a navy blue sport jacket with a white dress shirt, but the shirt was unbuttoned and he did not wear a tie. He wore blue jeans which were precision aged so that they did not look new, but neither did they look worn or faded. Overall, a perfect mix of formality and laid-backness. I envy him his youthfulness; he is 54, but really does look 35. I do have one cost-saving suggestion for Edwards. My haircuts cost $12, but look just as good as his $400 cuts. He is wasting his supporters’ hard-earned money on those fancy barbers.

I’m going to compare his speech to Hillary’s, because I saw both of them here in Aiken. Edwards spoke for 25 minutes (Hillary spoke for 45). He is a good public speaker, and knew exactly what he wanted to say, and used appropriate inflections and gestures at all times. Compared to Hillary, Edwards has just about exactly the same goals (considering only what they said in Aiken). Subsidized health care for all Americans is number one priority. Second place is getting out of Iraq, but recognizing that American servicemen and women are heroes. We need to combat global warming, using carbon emission ceilings, carbon sequestration, and alternative energy sources (but not nuclear). Neither candidate mentioned any foreign policy goals at all, other than getting out of Iraq. He said nothing about homeland security, except that he would put a stop to covert surveillance of US citizens. I take that to mean that he would repeal the Patriot Act. He said nothing about controlling illegal immigration.

Edwards is a genuine rags-to-riches story. He talked about being born in a South Carolina textile mill, and how his father and both grandparents spent their whole careers as millworkers. In this respect – humble beginnings – he is like Reagan and Bill Clinton, but unlike the Bushes, Kerry, Gore, and Hillary. I like to see that in US politics.

Although Edwards and Hillary have pretty much the same policy goals, there were some stylistic differences. First, Hillary used some conservative Christian buzzwords when she spoke; Edwards did not. Second, although both want to combat global warming, Edwards seems to have given the issue some more careful thought than Hillary has. But the major difference was their attitude toward social programs. Hillary wanted more social programs because it is the right thing to do. Edwards wanted this too, but there was another element in his mind. Several times in his speech he contrasted the position of the “struggling middle class” with the exalted position of the rich fatcats. There are drug company fatcats, insurance company fatcats, banker fatcats, and oil company fatcats. He wants to encourage middle class and poor Americans into conscious conflict with wealthy Americans. There was no hint of this emotion when Hillary spoke. I guess this comes out of their backgrounds. Hillary was born rich, and Edwards only became rich after 20 years of litigating against rich corporations on behalf of employees and customers. After hundred of court cases where he encouraged juries to hate defendants, perhaps hatred of his fellow rich Americans is indelibly carved into his soul. Does he feel guilty for making all that money? I wonder.

After his 25-minute speech, he spent some time shaking hands, but did not take any questions from the audience. Not a single local Democratic officeholder was present to host his visit. The closest thing was a former Aiken County Democratic Party Chairman – but not the current Chairman. No city or county councilmen were there, no state senators, and no mayors. If I had to guess, based only on crowd size and degree of support by local Democratic leaders, I’d say that Edwards will finish 3rd in South Carolina. There is a special place in Dante’s Inferno for politicians who can’t win in their own home state.