Saturday, February 16, 2008

DNA Helix In The Sky: A Twisted Contrail!

Left: An aging contrail appears to be twisted into a helix over the town of Dixon, CA. Looking south, February 11, approximately 10:34 a.m. PST.

Copyright 2008
Traci Sotuela
All Rights Reserved

I set up a MySpace site last June with great reluctance. The only reason I did so was because I could find no other way to send messages to some people. But MySpace works the other way too. People who need to send messages to you now have a way to do so.

Last Monday, Traci Sotuela, who lives in Dixon, CA, took some very interesting pictures of a cloud, and wanted help from a Sacramento-area meteorologist in interpreting their meaning. Through MySpace, she was able to reach me and ask for my opinion.

The cloud in Traci's series of photos fancifully resembles "Atmospheric DNA": a twisted helix reminiscent of genetic material. Really striking! But what kind of cloud is it?

The cloud appears to have been an aging contrail (short for condensation trail), of the sort that aircraft at high altitudes often leave behind as they cruise along. But it's not often that you see a twisted contrail.

In fact, helically-twisted contrails, seem to be quite rare. In my meteorological library, I have no references to twisted contrails. Twisted contrails can be left behind by missiles flying through the air, but through a Google search, I find only one reference to a twisted contrail left behind an aircraft. Twisted contrails can be left behind by wingtip vortices, as illustrated in this YouTube video, but you never see a helix evolve from the contrails revolving about each other.

The absence of twisted contrails in the meteorological literature is all the more remarkable considering just how common contrails are in the atmosphere, and how many hundreds of millions of people see them every week as they go about their daily tasks. So, Traci managed to capture on camera what appears to be a rare event. These photos are quite special, maybe even unique curiosities. Plus, they are pretty.....

I forwarded the two photos posted here to a climatologist friend of mine, a meteorology professor at San Jose State University (SJSU) named Jerry Steffens. Jerry knows quite a bit about dynamic meteorology, the particular field of study that would be the most-useful in explaining this phenomenon. In turn, Jerry shared the photos with the faculty at SJSU.

My friend Jerry first responded with just a brief comment:
Somebody doing barrel rolls maybe?
That's a real interesting suggestion. The rarity of the event may be explained by the rarity of button-down pilots doing barrel rolls outside an air show. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the correct one: the contrail appears to roll because the pilot may have done a barrel roll in flight. It's odd - I don't know why a pilot would do that, except for fun.

On February 13th, a fellow named Bill O'Shaughnessy, who taught an aviation meteorology course at SJSU course last semester, suggested another possible origin for the twisting contrail:
I wondered where this picture was taken, until I went outside about 3pm. It was here. I saw some very interesting contrails.

I pulled up the 3pm sounding to try to figure out why. There is wind shear at about 40,000 feet which might be making rolling turbulence down to 30,000. The rolling turbulence would explain the twisted contrails.
Since O'Shaughnessy was writing two days after the event, it suggests that, provided rolling turbulence was the source, that the conditions that had led to Traci's observations could have also persisted longer through the week, allowing even more twisted contrails to appear over Northern California.

Left: This photo, taken 15 minutes after the first photos, shows the entire contrail having moved away from the photographer and to the southwest, indicating that winds at the contrail level were generally from the northeast and not precisely aligned with the axis of the contrail, which is more north-south in orientation. The contrail has been offset into two distinct segments, evidence of shear in the northeasterly winds.

Copyright 2008
Traci Sotuela
All Rights Reserved

Traci has since posted photos taken 15 minutes after the first set of photos. This set of photos show the dissipated cloud having been offset into two distinct segments. In my mind, that offset clinches the argument that it was "rolling turbulence" that caused the twisting contrail. If a barrel roll had been responsible, no offset would have occurred. Rolling turbulence appears likely to have been the cause for the pretty display.

Left: Traci also captured another contrail that appears to be in the process of twisting. Photo taken on February 14th.

Copyright 2008
Traci Sotuela
All Rights Reserved

Perusing the SJSU meteorology website, I notice that there seemed to have been a region of horizontal shear in the northerly 250 mb wind flow across northern CA on the morning of Feb. 11th (Valid 080211 1800Z - 10 a.m. on Feb. 11th). Winds at 250 mb are indicated to be from the northeast over northern California.

Northerly wind speeds may have been quite a bit greater over the Sierras and the Great Basin than over the Coastal Range.

To explain, for meteorologists, time is expressed in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT): the time in London, England, which is eight hours ahead of us. They call the time "Zulu", or "Z" for short.

So, 10:35 a. m. is roughly 11 a. m. Pacific Standard Time (PST). 11 a.m. in California is 1100 hours military time, or 1900 hours GMT (1900 = 1100 + 800), or 19Z for short. Along with other weather agencies worldwide, the National Weather Service takes soundings every 12 hours, at 00Z and 12Z, which works out to be 4 p.m. and 4 a. m. in California. 10:35 a.m. is almost exactly in-between these two times.

The National Weather Service takes soundings at Oakland, CA, and also at Medford, OR, and Reno, NV: the three closest sites.

I still need to check and see if there are any wind profiler data available for Northern CA for the same time period. I don't think there are any data there, even for Travis AFB, but if there are data available, then the exact time (10:35 a. m. PST) is important. Wind profiler data are very data-intensive so exact time is crucial in order to avoid getting crushed by data.

The height of the cirrus cloud deck may be suggested by the evening sounding for Oakland, CA. There is an inversion about 12,000 meters, a little above where airliners and other large jet aircraft typically cruise on long-distance flights. With a sounding like this, aircraft at these heights would likely leave a contrail.

It's not clear whether the rolling turbulence was generated by the shear in wind direction at the inversion, or the change in wind speed with height just below the inversion.

I prefer the second explanation, that the twist was generated by a change in wind speed with height just below the inversion, with higher wind speeds just below the inversion. If conditions at Dixon at 10:35 a.m. were the same as indicated above for Oakland at 4 p.m., then wind direction shear alone should have made the contrail rotate in the opposite direction than the photographs suggest it did. Nevertheless, there is no assurance the Oakland representation is correct for Dixon, so explanations are speculative at this point.

Left: Close-up of the aging contrail. A bright, erratic dot of unknown origin appears on the left side of the photo. February 11, approximately 10:35 a.m. PST.

Copyright 2008
Traci Sotuela
All Rights Reserved

Traci also photographed what appeared to be a dot in the sky, quickly seeming to jump back and forth. Two ideas come to mind regarding the dot's genesis:
1.) There is a strange aircraft up there;
2.) Oh.Mi.God. Extraterrestrials have come to visit Dixon!
I had a third possibility in mind. As I wrote Traci:
I've been wondering about that shifty dot too. From the photos, it looks like you were barely shielding yourself from the sun. It may be that the camera lens, two inches farther in front of eyes, could have been catching just the barest bit of sunlight, leading to the apparent presence of a shifty dot. If so, it should be possible to re-create the dot by taking more photos under similar conditions.

Left: A mysterious disc appears in the upper-left of this photo, taken on February 14th.

Copyright 2008
Traci Sotuela
All Rights Reserved

Traci tried to reproduce the conditions that led to the observation of the rapidly-moving dot, in order to confirm whether or not sun glint caused the appearance of the bright dot, but instead, she captured a photo of an even larger UFO.

I have absolutely NO IDEA what caused the presence of that disc! My first impulse is to say that it is a bird in flight, but really, who knows?

To summarize, two ideas come to mind regarding the disc's genesis:
1.) There is a strange bird up there;
2.) Oh.Mi.God. Extraterrestrials have come to visit Dixon!
Marc Valdez doesn't do unscientific explanations, so the bird explanation will do, for me, for now (but I must admit my rationalizations are getting harder and harder to accept...).
Moo! And Moo Again!

It looks as if the satellite shoot-down rationale is so unbelievable that no one else is buying it either. It's almost enough to renew one's faith in the intelligence of the human race! Certainly the Russians aren't convinced:
MOSCOW (AP) - Russia said Saturday that U.S. military plans to shoot down a damaged spy satellite may be a veiled test of America's missile defense system.

The Pentagon failed to provide "enough arguments" to back its plan to smash the satellite next week with a missile, Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement.

"There is an impression that the United States is trying to use the accident with its satellite to test its national anti-missile defense system's capability to destroy other countries' satellites," the ministry said.
And our experts know better:
Experts Scoff at Sat Shoot-Down Rationale (Updated)

...Yesterday, Deputy National Security Advisor James Jeffrey said the satellite's tank full of hydrazine rocket propellant was the main reason the military was planning to blast the orbiter. There's a small but real risk that the hydrazine tank could rupture, releasing a "toxic gas" over a "populated area," causing a "risk to human life."

But, as we noted yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright cast the threat from the satellite in much less dire terms. Even if the hydrazine were released, he noted, the effects would likely be mild -- akin to chlorine gas poisoning, which can cause burning in the lungs, and elsewhere. The area affected would be "roughly the size of two football fields [where you might] incur something that would make you go to the doctor."

And that doesn't sound like much of a risk at all.

Especially when you consider that several other hydrazine-filled object have come crashing down to Earth. Not only did the space shuttle Columbia have a similar tank, which survived re-entry, with no toxic gas cloud. Several other hydrazine-laced objects have also crashed into the atmosphere, with no ill effects. Space researcher Ed Kyle notes that there were 42 major reentry objects for 2007, including 9 satellites -- at least one of which contained a form of hydrazine, UMDH (unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine).

In addition, roughly 8-12 upper stages that originally contained UDMH reentered during 2007. Some of these could very well have contained some residual propellant. [One particular] upper stage probably contained several hundred [kilgograms] of residual propellant, for example.

Which leads one military satellite observer to tell DANGER ROOM, "Everything they said made sense except for the reason for doing the intercept in the first place."

..."The cynic in me says that the idea that this is being done to protect the lives of humans is simply a feel-good cover story tossed to the media," another veteran space security specialist adds. "It is true that hydrazine is very toxic and could result injury or death, but the odds of this happening are minuscule. The average person in American is many thousands of times more likely to be killed in a car accident than by any falling debris. In fact, no one has ever been killed by space debris (I have heard of one or two being struck but only minor injuries). So pretty much everything else you can think of (including getting hit by an asteroid/comet) is many times more likely than dying from this. Having the US government spend millions of dollars to destroy a billion-dollar failure to save zero lives is comedic gold."

"There has to be another reason behind this," said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, tells the Washington Post. "In the history of the space age, there has not been a single human being who has been harmed by man-made objects falling from space."

So what could that other reason be?

Our veteran space security specialist believes there are several. To him, the satellite shot is a chance for the military to try out its missile defense capabilities; a way to keep secret material out of the wrong hands; and a warning to the Chinese, after they destroyed a satellite about a year ago. He shared some educated guesses:

My first thought is that MDA [Missile Defense Agency] is always looking for ways to pimp their systems and provide further justification that they work. The upcoming change in Administration is almost guaranteed to result in missile defense losing the top-level advocacy that it has enjoyed for the last several years. Any additional missions and justifications that the missile defense community can provide would increase the likelihood of their systems (and budgetary power) surviving.

...My real concern is that this is simply a knee-jerk reaction made by the Administration in response to the purported threat by the Chinese. Since the April 2007 ASAT [anti-satellite] test, there have been rumors and whispers going around that the Administration and like-minded individuals are looking for more sticks (instead of carrots) to use against China. While this "shoot down" is not a direct action against China, it would be a clear signal that the US can possess an active ASAT capability at any time if it so desires. That is a serious development as the previous US ASAT system using F-15s was mothballed in the 1980's.

There are many significant political ramifications that would happen as a result of this. The US has been berating the Chinese on their ASAT test but now demonstrate that it is okay as long as it occurs at a low enough altitude to prevent long-lasting debris and can "save lives". This is close to an implied "ok" for the US and other nations to conduct more ASAT tests, which could open another arms race. I am also certain that Russian and China would also see this as a slap in the face as they are trying to revive the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space treaty discussion and ban on space weapons. It would further negatively affect the relations between them and the US. Which could lead to increased tensions, arms buildup, etc etc etc. Nothing good for anyone outside of arms manufacturers and politicians that need a bogeyman to scare people into voting for them.

Oh, and [NASA Adminsitrator Mike] Griffin's presence at the briefing was also an indicator to me that they are trying to spin this as a safety issue and not a missile defense / ASAT test. NASA has absolutely nothing to do with US Strategic Command using a Navy missile to blow up a broken NRO satellite. This is a military/national security op from the start and the only reason you trot the NASA Administrator out is to try and convince people otherwise.
Trying Their Mightiest To Make Mighty Mountains Out Of Midget Molehills

Michael O'Hanlon wrote the windiest editorial ever in Friday's Wall Street Journal regarding Barack Obama and his willingness to meet with the leaders of rogue nations. O'Hanlon states:
A central element of Barack Obama's plan to change American foreign policy is his intention, upon becoming president, to meet with foreign leaders of extremist regimes -- the type of rogue-state dictators that George W. Bush has generally shunned during his time as president.
The only trouble is this isn't what Obama said. Obama said:
In the debate, Obama was asked if he would be willing to meet — without precondition — in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

"I would," he responded.
Meaning not that he would meet with them, but only that he would be willing to meet with them. There is a big difference between being unwilling to rule out meetings in advance, and ruling out any meetings whatsoever.

Clausewitz observed that summits are very dangerous times for national leaders and careful preparation is important. I'm sure that Obama would agree.

So, Mr. O'Hanlon, case closed. The rest of your windy column is just ridiculously-excessive verbiage, because your initial starting point is just plain wrong.
Yes, We Have No Chicken Today

Dannette mentions that she went to the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Davis at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, only to be told that she couldn't order for at least half an hour, because they had somehow forgotten to prepare any chicken for the dinner rush.

KFC forgetting to cook any chicken seems inconceivable somehow. It's like Tiger Woods forgetting how to play golf, or the Pope forgetting that he is a Catholic. It's like birds forgetting to fly, or fish forgetting to swim. It's not part of the natural order of things.
Venture To Thunder Valley

The Director was prudent and HH practiced his lines. E. had no luck; neither did I.

At one point, I tried to access money a second time via ATM card, but was denied. I tried using a VISA card, but couldn't remember the PIN. Instead, as instructed, I picked up a headset, and over the cacophony of ringing slot machines, could barely hear some kind of warning or lecture about problem gambling. I was then asked if I wanted to make a point-of-sale withdrawal, but by this time I was getting impatient, and getting mad. No one on Earth is more impatient than the problem gambler wanting to chase his stake. I was so out-of-there!

The question is, who put up these new barriers? Probably not the casino, since half their income is from problem gamblers chasing their stakes. Probably not the state, since they share in that income. Probably not Gambler's Anonymous, or a similar organization, since they have no entree. I'm thinking it's the banks, since the cost of credit has gone up, and no one is a worse risk than the problem gambler.

This is a good thing (however annoying).

Loss for the evening: $403.00
Kittens and Bacon

Cousin Darin sends this!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Future Cyclone?

The FNMOC peers into the future and divines that the Queensland coastal storminess will turn into a tropical cyclone just east of Brisbane and head SE towards New Zealand. Oooowweeeoooo! I wonder if it will come to pass next week?
Becca's New Venue

Becca Costello, whom many of us know from her stint at Sacramento News and Review's (SN&R's) column: "Nothing Ever Happens..." is now in a comedy sketch troupe:
Hi everyone!

Sacramento's first All-Sketch Sketch Comedy Festival is coming up on February 21 through 23. The three-day event includes awesome performers from all over the country, like Neil Hamburger, Brent Weinbach, Boomtime, Killing My Lobster, The Weekly Armenian and Smooot Valley High. I've seen many of them in action and I can promise that hilarity will ensue.

I'm also performing with my sketch troupe, ICBINC, on opening night, Thursday, February 21 at 8 p.m. We're the local kids and the very first performers of the weekend, so we're hoping to pack the house and show those out-of-town troupes that Sacramento supports the funny. ICBINC's new show includes fake mustaches, Sweet N Low conspiracy theories, bloody murder, sweet love, and the truth about Don Henley and the Eagles. And we're sharing the bill with the world premiere performance of The Keith and Kate Show.

Check out videos of the comedians, see the weekend schedule, and buy tickets online at All shows are at the 24th Street Theatre, at the Sierra 2 complex, 2791 24th Street.

AND I've got a special discount ticket code for you:

Your Discount Code: sketchfriend

Between now and midnight on Friday February 15th you can buy your advanced tickets to any Sacramento All Sketch show online with the code and save $2.50 per ticket.

Or buy an All Sketch Pass for $75, no password required and get VIP seating at every show plus an All Sketch T-shirt.

You may share this discount code with your friends, but remember the code expires on February 15.
Detailed directions for using discount:

Visit and go to the schedule page:
Click on the "Get Tickets" link for the show you want.

You'll find yourself at the Brown Paper Tickets website, click "Begin Order"
You'll be taken to a page where you can enter your discount code, hit "Show Additional Prices" and away you go
If you have any problems drop us a line at

I hope to see you there! I'll be volunteering whenever I'm not performing, so be sure to say hello!

Humorously yours,
Gun On Space Station

As part of their survival gear, Russian cosmonauts have long had a gun on the International Space Station. Of course, any bullet fired on the Space Station would puncture the thin metal skin and expose the inhabitants to death by rapid decompression, so the gun must be meant for conditions on the ground encountered after an descent gone awry. Still, with the real potential of crazy astronauts, a gun is the last thing they should have up there. Actually, with yesterday's college shooting as a fresh example, the same applies down here too.
Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss
A Ghost Town Called Natomas

Atrios noticed: others will notice soon.
Shooting Down That Spy Satellite

Our government minders must think we are really, really dumb. I cannot believe they expect us to swallow the story that, because there is some hydrazine rocket fuel on-board a spy satellite, and because the satellite's orbit is decaying, that the satellite poses an unacceptable risk and must be "shot down." That's nearly as dumb as saying a gasoline tanker poses a risk because it holds flammable gasoline, and that's why we are firing a rocket-propelled grenade against it.

Hydrazine and nitric acid are widely-used rocket fuels. The Titan series of boosters used this particular hypergolic combination. So, we've fired off many, many tanker-trucks full of the stuff through the atmosphere before, fully aware of the dangers of crashing rockets. No one is seriously-worried that a few pounds of it might come back as part of a crashing satellite's thruster system.

And what does "shot down" mean anyway in the context of space? It won't get "shot down," in the manner of a plane. Instead, it will break into thousands of pieces, and like that satellite the Chinese "shot down" last year, poison the useful orbits these satellites use with junk that will persist for years. And they ARE useful orbits - otherwise, the spy satellite wouldn't be there at all. And even though the satellite is in a lower orbit than the one the Chinese destroyed, it will still take years for the debris to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

No, something else is up. The U.S. wants to show off its anti-satellite capability, particularly to the Chinese, repercussions to ourselves be damned. Like the fact we won't be able to use those orbits again for a very long time. It's like shooting young people as a form of birth control. Effective, but stupid. Part and parcel of life in Bush's America.

But it's the general contempt for people's intelligence that's the most worrying. The Bushies aren't even trying anymore. Not even a cow would buy this story. And yet they think it's good media spin.
Staggering Rains in MacKay, and Flood

The monsoonal flow pattern just won't let go in northern Queensland. Days and days of rain, and now this amazing and horrible rainfall. 624 mm - that's more rain than falls in a place like Petaluma in an entire year, all falling within ten hours. 180 mm - that's almost as much rain that has ever fallen in Sacramento in a day, ever, all falling within one hour:
HUNDREDS of Mackay residents spent last night in emergency accommodation after their homes were swamped by floodwaters from the biggest monsoonal downpour to hit the city in 90 years.

Many of the same residents who bunkered down at four makeshift evacuation centres overnight had earlier been forced to scramble on to roofs to escape a wave of waist-high water that swept through up to 1000 homes.

A total of 624mm was dumped on Mackay in the 10 hours to noon yesterday, nearly half the city's annual rainfall of 1561mm and almost twice as much rain as Brisbane has received so far this year.

An incredible 180mm fell between 8am and 9am.

As waist-high water flowed down the city centre, firefighters and Emergency Services rescued dozens of people trapped in their homes and vehicles.

The deluge also disrupted power and telecommunications, forced the closure of the airport and cut roads to the city.

Overwhelmed sewage stations overflowed into 200 homes.

The damage bill from the flash flooding, compounded by a high tide, is expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Premier Anna Bligh will tour the flood-ravaged city today after officially declaring the area a disaster zone.

The worst affected suburbs were Glenella and the CBD, with nearly every home caught at least in waist-high flash flooding.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Clinton Wins New Mexico Caucuses

Late, but barely:
The results are finally in and after counting about 17,000 provisional ballots, Hillary Clinton has won the New Mexico caucuses 48.8% to 47.7% over Obama, per the New Mexico Democratic Party.

Here's the vote total:
Clinton: 73,105
Obama: 71,396
Edwards: 2,157
Richardson: 1,305
Kucinich: 574
Biden: 122
Dodd: 81

How Arnold Won the West - USA

I purchased this British DVD regarding the 2003 California Gubernatorial Recall Election, and watched it two days ago.

Predictably, the journalists didn't spend enough time with the Alternative candidates (I wasn't featured, but I knew several who were featured). Instead, along with nearly everyone else in the Universe, they tried to get close to Arnold. And predictably, they utterly failed. The dynamics of a short election cycle, together with the glare of celebrity, allowed Arnold to largely-shield himself from media mediation and interference.

The journalistic frustration was keen. Even though they even had a journalist from Arnold's hometown in their entourage, it was impossible to penetrate the candidate's bubble. The journalists were merely props on a stage set for the large TV networks, the only important media players in the election, and the only ones Arnold catered to.

The media need a bit of humility. In an election, only the candidates on the ballot really matter. The platforms of the alternative candidates could have served as interesting proposed solutions to California's problems. Examining those platforms, and the candidates who advanced them, should have been the media's principal mission.

Alas! An opportunity lost, due to the search for celebrity validation!

Raja Hasan - Saregamapa - Dard-e-Disco - Om Shanti Om

Infectious fun, as Raja Hasan sings the hit song "Dard-e-Disco" from the recent movie, "Om Shanti Om."

DMTC Tuesday Rehearsal

Left: Trevor Hoffman, and the rest of the cast of "My Fair Lady", work on the musical.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Walk On The Wild Side

The Valentine's Day issue of the Yolo Flatlander is out. Here is what I wrote for them this month. I wrote this just after "La Cage Aux Folles" opened at DMTC. The editor added an introductory paragraph (which I indicate in italics:

I'm an actor for Davis Musical Theater Company's "La Cage Aux Folles." For the first time in my 51 years, I was given the role of a drag queen. I had to walk, talk, look, dress, and dance like a woman - in high heels yet! Turning into a cross-dresser became an adventure in shopping, walking, make-up and pratfalls.

In the decade of the 70’s, I remember watching TV with my father, and watching a figure skater spin on the ice. My dad turned to me with a confident smile and said, "I can do that!" My teenaged skepticism shone through: "YOU can do THAT?" "Yes," my dad said "if you try hard enough, you can do anything!" ("And fifty couch potatoes can dance on the head of a pin," I replied with my inside voice).

Fast forward to November 2007. There was something alluring about trying out for the Davis Musical Theatre Company’s New Year’s 2008 show, "La Cage Aux Folles." Over the previous years I had become enamored by the show girl career of Australian pop star Kylie Minogue. Adhering to the community theater ethic, I figured, instead of just admiring Kylie from afar, why not emulate her? There were a few difficulties to overcome – I was male, not female, for example, and I was 51 years old, a bit on the antique side. But if you try hard enough, you can do anything! And done well, the aging drag queen can be an audience-winning role (witness Robert Preston in the film “Victor/Victoria,” for example).

So I tried out, and was cast as both a café owner (male), and a Cagelle dancer (transvestite). I was fortunate to get cast as a Cagelle – the Cagelles were an awesomely talented group, half-male, half-female. My opportunity came because several young, excellent candidates had failed to audition, largely because skeptical parents saw moral or academic hazards.

The banter in the dressing room was high camp. Strange things happened that have never happened in other shows. For example, the friend of one cast member tried to be helpful by styling a wig. The wig was placed in a microwave oven and accidentally set afire, forcing a hurried search for a replacement.

I had many worries to overcome before appearing on-stage as a transvestite. Nothing worried me more than dancing in heels. I have wide, stiff, flat feet, with bunions. Would standing still be an agony, much less moving around? Via MySpace, I had a show girl contact in Australia. What would she recommend?

Well, nothing really. Young, single Australian girls generally ignore panicked E-Mail requests for high-heel advice from middle-aged American men.

Nonetheless, the heels have been working out OK, despite the occasional pratfall. Character shoes are sturdy and their heels are much less hazardous than stiletto heels. The shoes flex, and so they’ve been much more comfortable than expected.

Most of the cast members were very pro-active about obtaining makeup. I knew much less than they did, and I needed advice. During the Christmas shopping rush, I went into “Sephora,” a shop in Arden Fair Mall, and gazed longingly at fashion merchandise on display. A sales clerk asked, "Is there anything we can help you with?" I replied, "yes, actually, I um..... I - I need some help with full drag makeup?" With the most diabolically-delicious grin, she said, "we have just the person to help you!"

During the day, The Reverend Mother Joseph attends to the makeup needs of Sacramento's crème de la femme. During the night, he attends to the makeup needs of a far more diverse clientele in Sacramento's various underground drag, metal, and Goth communities. Joseph, and his friend Ashley, provided valuable and much-appreciated makeup advice, not only to me, but to the rest of the cast as well.

Based on my need to get false eyelashes on and off as rapidly as possible, in order to switch sexes as well as characters, the Reverend Mother Joseph suggested the use of very large, easy-to-handle false eyelashes. These inch-long eyelashes were a minor hit in the dressing room!

The clothes were theatrical things fashioned for display. Undergarments like nylons, and a bra, had to be purchased, however. So, at the last moment, I headed over to Target, in order to purchase dog food, bird seed, and a bra. I felt conspicuous shopping for women’s lingerie, trying to make an appropriate choice. I was about a size 39-something, but sizes were apparently in even increments. A size 38-C beige padded bra was about the best I could do.

In the Target parking lot, I was accosted by a signature gatherer attempting to qualify “Sarah’s Law” for an upcoming California ballot. The initiative was advertised as “Stop sexual predators by providing for parental notification of an abortion on a pregnant unemancipated minor” ( I wondered if this sincere woman would figure I was more a part of the problem rather than the solution, given what I was up to at the moment. The initiative sounded complex upon a first-hearing. Things have come to a pretty pass when California ballot initiatives begin to sound like Congressional omnibus spending measures, I thought. Making a snap, uninformed decision, I decided against adding my signature to the petition.

“What are you using to stuff your bra?” the Mother Reverend Joseph asked. “Tissue paper,” I answered. One cast member offered that he was using bird seed. “In response to sweat, bird seed can sprout,” asserted Joseph, and the cast member agreed that that had already happened.

Joseph himself used rice, but white, polished rice, not whole-grain rice, because of impurities. “One time, I began strapping on my boobs, and noticed they were swarming with little worms that had hatched since their last use.”

Wow! Who knew that being a woman was so complicated? One misstep amongst the grains in the supermarket, and one could end up as some kind of wormy Halloween Chia Pet! Better to sprout than squirm! I chose bird seed.

Various theater friends had strong, often negative reactions, to my new persona, as Cagelle “Derma”. I could see shock in their faces, as they turned away quickly, or laughed reflexively. The Producer happened across me as I modeled my bra, and he burst out laughing. I approached a year-and-a-half old child, whom I had played with a few days before, and he turned away and cried. The Props Lady pushed an outstretched hand directly into my face, and turned away.

As for myself, what I saw in the mirror was my dear mother (albeit a male version). Were the odd reactions due more to my age than my sex? It’s hard to say for sure. The older drag queen has an uphill struggle in this society!

You just knew that the New Year’s opening would be different than most. From the moment we turned and faced the audience, you knew we were having an impact. I could hear people laughing, which can express (or hide) a number of emotions - shock, surprise, even amusement. Whatever it was, it was all there! Excepting an injury to a cast member, the show went well.

Yielding to impulse, dancing at the New Year’s gala after our show, I approached a female friend, and asked her out on a date. She declined: “you see, I prefer women.” Really? Really? Wow, how did I miss that? An analogy came to mind.

Clever enemies can overwhelm antimissile defense systems by scattering strips of metallic Mylar chaff high in the atmosphere, confusing defensive RADAR systems, and allowing the penetration of nuclear warheads. Similarly, there were so many beads, boas, and brightly-colored spandex chaff in the theater’s atmosphere that my GAYDAR was hopelessly confused.

Jealous bachelors have long noticed that single women often prefer the company of gay men. In some way, my effort to learn the social secrets of gay men, by penetrating their camp, seems to have been exposed as a failure. Oh well!

Acceptance as an older transvestite is still hard to get. “I’m working to get your love,” I told the Props Lady. “You won’t get it,” she said with hard finality. “You are just too peculiar looking!” But I won’t give up, because, after all, if you try hard enough, you can do anything!
You Must Be Kidding...

Oh come on, it couldn't have been THAT bad:
MGM Mirage officials said today damages to the Monte Carlo stemming from the Feb. 25 fire atop the Strip resort are expected to total just under $100 million.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said repairs are ongoing to the 3,000-room hotel-casino. Damages included fire and smoke damage to the outside of the property and water damage to almost every floor in the hotel tower.

Feldman said the damage estimate was based on physical damage to the building and loss of business since the resort's closure.

The Monte Carlo reopens Friday morning.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jeff Dunham - Achmed the Dead Terrorist

Ambar says watch this. Funny!

Sultry Weather

I remember once getting a random phone call from what sounded like a teenaged girl. "Would you have sex with me?" she asked. I replied, "Not tonight, honey, I have a headache," and I hung up.

Sounds like that excuse wasn't sufficient here....
A SEX-starved woman could be jailed after making 700 calls to the emergency services, an army base and the town council demanding a man for sex.

Hanna Wozniak, 42, from Koszalin in central Poland, could be jailed for up to a year.

After police traced the calls back to her home, she told them: “I was desperate for sex. It’s been so long since I had someone in my bed.”

Police who said she had been charged with wasting emergency services’ time and making threatening phone calls said she had told phone operators that she would happily start a fire if it meant a hunky fireman would come round for sex afterwards.
The Landlord

Via Fonkcyclist. Just too funny!
Lightning Tales

Kate sends this picture and news story and asks "Is there a message here???"
This was the dramatic scene as the world's largest statue of Jesus was hit by lightning.

The bolt parted the thunderclouds over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to strike Christ the Redeemer.

The statue is 130ft tall, is made of 700 tons of reinforced concrete and stands atop the 2,296ft Corcovado mountain overlooking the city.

It was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

Sunday's storm caused havoc in Rio, felling trees in several neighbourhoods - but did not damage the statue.

This amazing photograph gives whole new meaning to the phrase "May God strike me with lightning if..."
I respond:
I remember once standing with several people on a Colorado mountaintop (Mt. Audubon, NW of Boulder). Thunderstorms were beginning to billow on nearby mountains. We could point fingers into the air and swish them around and hear the air crackle and snap with static electricity. Thinking that we might be in danger of being hit by lightning, we all lay down on top of the mountain’s peak and avoided pointing fingers.

I told a lightning expert (Phil Krider, U of A, Tucson) this story, and he went pale. It is not unusual for mountain peaks to be hit by lightning, pointed fingers or not. His message would be:

“Avoid mountain peaks altogether whenever there is even the hint of lightning nearby.”

A mundane message perhaps, less supernatural than most, but accurate…..
Tony replies:
Years ago a good friend of mine was in a party of Mazamas (Portland climbing club) who were climbing Mt. Hood via the north ridge. During a break they became aware of electricity in the air, as evidenced by that crackling sound, sparks jumping from metal ice axes to the ground, long hair standing out radially, and so on. They decided that it would be a good idea to get the hell down off the mountain, and did so, trailing their ice axes behind them, which continued to spark every time they bounced off the ground. Once, many, many years ago, the teenaged I was standing beside the family car while there was thunderstorm “activity” going on. All at once I heard a huge Bam! and found myself on my hands and knees. Don’t know what happened.
Fonkcyclist replies:
Yeah, that's scary stuff. I was once hiking up above timberline in Rocky Mtn Ntl Park, when some ominous-looking clouds moved in rather quickly. I could feel the hairs on my arms start to raise, and I turned around and just ran down until I got back to treeline. That's probably the most scared I've been by weather in the mountains. Well, that and the time sudden flash blizzard conditions nearly (literally!) blew me off the mountain when I was riding my bike up on Mt. Evans. You never know what's gonna hit you up in the high country...
Old Socorro

Bride Dies During Wedding Dance

Australian Forecasters Psyched Out

It looked like it was going to rain cats-and-dogs in the Brisbane area, and everyone forecast it, but everything depended on the presence of a eastward-moving upper-level trough passing through Quuensland. At tropical and semi-tropical locales, these troughs are often weak, and sometimes hard to detect. Still, everyone saw a weak trough passing through, and eagerly awaited the downpours.

Well, the trough wasn't there. Psyched! It rained, but not nearly as much as what people were hoping for.

Still, hope springs eternal. What, with that flux of tropical moisture from the northwest, anything seems possible....
Another Fog Accident

In Kingsburg:
As many as dozen people were injured and 50 vehicles damaged in a fog-related pileup early today south of Fresno, the California Highway Patrol said.

The chain-reaction accident shut down a portion of Highway 99's southbound lanes and scattered broken glass and mangled cars along a three-mile stretch in Kingsburg.

Rescue crews cut three people from a car that slammed into a big rig, officer Joseph Miller said. One woman was unconscious and pinned in her car for almost two hours while crews attempted to pry her out.

...Tow trucks worked to remove big rigs covering the entire southbound portion of the freeway as crash victims gathered on the freeway shoulder near the wreckage.

A bus of tourists from Canada traveling to the Ag Expo in Tulare from Fresno was reportedly involved in the crash. There was no immediate word whether any of those passengers were injured.
Sleepless In Sacramento

There is a croaking frog outside my window. I'm on the second-floor too, yet there is frog outside the window....

Monday, February 11, 2008

"My Fair Lady" Rehearsal, Monday Night

Left: With a firm, jiu-jitsu handshake, Lauren Miller places Michael McElroy upon a pedestal.

Left: The ensemble works and works on their posture.

Foreground, Jonathan Rothman and Jan Isaacson. Background, left to right: Jon Mounts, Fred Garcia (obscured), Eva Chu, Joshua Smith, Bruce Warren, Emily Clark, and Jabriel Shelton.
Kulfa Balls

There is a whole world of candy that we never see in the U.S. Even in Australia, about half the candy for sale is not available here.

This coconut-flavored Afghan candy has a following in Pakistan and China....

(Via Matthew Yglesias)
Hip TNR? Try Cringeworthy

Jason Zengerle at TNR likes this Hillary video, and thinks it hip, which helps explain, among other things, why TNR could support the invasion of Iraq, and any number of other un-hip projects.
Girls Rule

Let there be no doubt:
The tweens have inherited the earth. Their dominion was sealed early this month, when the 3-D "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" debuted as the No. 1 film in the country.

...Meanwhile, the "Hannah Montana 2" album that debuted at the apex of the Billboard chart last summer still maintains a vise-like grip on the top 10, a few slots down from the new "Hannah Montana 2 Non-Stop Dance Party." ...American pop culture as we know it belongs to my 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, and her preteen posse.

Girls have always been a formidable niche, the force that made a superstar of Barbie and propelled generations of cute boy bands to fame far beyond their talents. But on Jan. 20, 2006, their coup began in earnest. That's the night "High School Musical" premiered on the Disney Channel. More than 7.5 million viewers tuned in to watch it, a ratings record for the network. So Disney aired it again, and again, and again -- to escalating ratings. The soundtrack became the top-selling album of 2006. The revolution was televised, and the little girls won it.

In the ensuing two years, the tween machine has only grown bigger. Last summer's "HSM" sequel became the highest-rated cable broadcast in history, begetting a tour, an ice show, another forthcoming sequel and an unholy amount of Zac Efron-festooned merchandise. In the wake of its success, kid-centric music acts like the Jonas Brothers, the Cheetah Girls, and Aly & AJ have enjoyed massive album sales. The American Girl and Bratz dolls have spawned movies. But out of the smoldering, grape lip gloss-scented crater that "High School Musical" created, something even bigger emerged.

...Semi-dorky high schooler Miley Stewart leads a double life as the eponymous platinum-tressed, platinum-selling pop idol. Her secret identity known to a sitcom-stock few (including her dad, played by her dad), young Miley has, as she sings in the show's earwormy theme song and tour of the same name, the best of both worlds.

...In Hannah Montana, Disney has created a girl-next-door icon and a heroine of moxie and talent. The shticky writing on the show may never rise to "30 Rock"-level cleverness, nor will the music ever make me forget Sleater-Kinney, but I'm not the audience. I can nevertheless recognize that the star herself has undeniable chops. Cyrus has a natural charisma, effortless comic timing, and the pipes to carry off her girl-power lyrics. She is, as Lucy attests, awesome, which is more than I can say for a whole lot of what the entertainment industry is dropping on adults lately.

Say what you will about the overcalculated, quasi-creepy way the Disney machine burrows into our kids' psyches, it's effective. Kids, to the delight of advertisers, are both tremendously receptive to persuasion and astonishingly persistent at nagging. And every day, inundated parents have to pick the hills they're going to die on. The tweens have taken over on an invasion financed by their moms and dads. If a half-hour of Miley karaoke buys some peace in which to cook dinner, or a Hannah purse is the go-to gift for a birthday party, I can begin to understand how Disney saw our collective exposed throat and leapt for it.
Crackberry Problems Today

Fortunately not my addiction:
A major service outage afflicted users of the popular BlackBerry smartphones across the United States and Canada on Monday, wireless carriers said.

Officials with AT&T and Verizon Wireless said the BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion, told them customers of all wireless carriers were affected.

It was not immediately clear how many BlackBerry subscribers had problems, as some users reported normal access to their service Monday afternoon.

...Major disruptions have been rare but often provoke an angry backlash against the Canadian company because of its typically lengthy silences about the cause and because it eventually gives only cryptic, jargon-laden explanations.

"And my friends, it's going to be tough, and we're going to have a lot to do."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Swaggering Republicans Vs. The Berkeley City Council

Irresistible force and the immovable object. Gonna be ugly on Monday:
"Like most Americans, I really get disturbed when taxpayer money goes to institutions which proceed to take votes, make policy or make statements that really denigrate the military," said Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, a co-sponsor of the bill.

He told CNN he believes the bill will pass. "I think it's going to have significant support."

The bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, said in a written statement, "Berkeley needs to learn that their actions have consequences."
Worldwide Scientology Protest Today

I drove past the demonstrators at 15th & I Streets this afternoon on my way to the DMTC Board meeting. I said to myself, "WTF?"

Apparently it was the local protest of Anonymous vs. Scientology. Protests are underway around the globe.
Love That Stealin' Votes!

The Republicans in Washington State seem to love stealing votes. No doubt it was the example of Bush-v.-Gore in 2000, but their appetite must have been heightened by Democratic Governor Grigoire's very-narrow victory in 2004. Now, the McCain tribe has decided to prevent the Huckabee tribe from winning their caucus by simply stopping the count and going home. As one of their commenters notes:
Nice to know the Repubs have progressed from 2000 where they refused to count Democratic votes, to 2008 where they are now refusing to count their own votes.
Calling Mr. Nutrasweet To Account

Cyle swears by this. Addict that I am, I don't know....:
Casting doubt on the benefit of low-calorie sweeteners, research released Sunday reported that rats on diets containing saccharin gained more weight than rats given sugary food.

The study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that the artificial sweetener appeared to break the physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories, driving the rats to overeat.

Lyn M. Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the latest report, said the study offers a possible explanation for the unexpected association between obesity and diet soda found in recent human studies.

Researchers have puzzled over whether diet soda was a marker for poor eating habits, or whether the ingredients in diet soda caused people to put on pounds, she said.

"This rat study suggests a component of the artificial sweetener may be responsible for the weight gain," Steffen said.

Steffen's research, published last month in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn., showed that people who drank diet soda had a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that includes obesity, than people who drank regular soda.

...The number of Americans who consume soda, yogurt and other products containing sugar-free sweeteners more than doubled to 160 million in 2000 from fewer than 70 million in 1987, according to the report. Over the same period, the incidence of obesity among U.S. adults rose to 30% from 15%. One interpretation of the trends is that people have been turning to lower-calorie foods to control an increasing problem with weight gain.

...Swithers said that normally, sweet tastes signal the body that it is about to receive a large number of calories, and the digestive system prepares to react. When sweet tastes aren't followed by lots of calories, as in the case of artificial sweeteners, the body becomes conditioned against a strong response.

...Adam Drewnowski, director of the nutrition sciences program at the University of Washington, cautioned against interpreting the results broadly.

...He added: "We now have studies showing that sugar calories are associated with obesity and the absence of sugar is associated with obesity. Pity those people trying to do something about obesity."

"Bye Bye Life" - Roy Scheider and Ben Vereen

RIP, Roy Scheider - we will miss you!

This clip (from 1979's "All That Jazz") is my favorite Bob Fosse number ever. I want it played at my funeral. Tonight, we play it in memory of Roy's stellar career....

Sleepless in Sacramento

9 p.m.: A Diet Pepsi
10 p.m.: A Diet Coke
11 p.m.: A Diet Pepsi
Midnight: A Diet Pepsi
1 a.m.: A Diet Pepsi
3 a.m.: A Diet Pepsi

Funny...I can't sleep.....