Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saw Act II Of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" A Second Time

The rest of DMTC crew seemed to enjoy the production and had lots of praise for the acting and dancing. The only complaints I heard about were the obvious PC problem of the over-the-top Asian stereotypes, and some dissatisfaction with the script. Exactly what the script problem was wasn't clear. I thought the script was punchy and direct, and thus well-written in that aspect, but the white slavery angle may have been a bit too much of a stretch (musicals have never been too strong in the department of logical consistency). And bad Asian stereotypes, while somewhat annoying, are to be found in shows like "Anything Goes" as well, so they aren't unique to this show.

If Millie was as Thoroughly Modern as she thought, instead of dealing with white slavery, she should have bought out Sincere Trust with the gains in her RCA stock portfolio as its value rapidly appreciated in the late-20's stock market rally. Better logical consistency, maybe, but it must be admitted that stock appreciation would make a Thoroughly Dull musical.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where Are Your Cans Tonight?

Sobering truth:
Nation's Poorest 1% Now Controls Two-Thirds Of U.S. Soda Can Wealth

WASHINGTON—A report on growing disparities in the concentration of U.S. aluminum-can wealth, released Tuesday by the Department of Commerce, revealed that 66 percent of the nation's recyclable assets are now held by the poorest 1 percent of the population.

According to the sobering report, the disproportionate distribution of soda-can wealth is greater than ever before, and has become one of the worst instances of economic inequality in the nation's history. Data showed that over-salvaging of cans by a small and elite group of can-horders has created a steadily growing and possibly unbridgeable gap between the rich and the mega-poor.

"Although our nation's upper middle class actually consumes the most beverages, a staggering percentage of these cans wind up in the hands of a very few," said economist Cynthia Pierce, who worked as a consultant on the three-year, $14 million government study. "It's a troubling trend. And as a tiny fraction of the population continues to maintain its stranglehold on redeemable can wealth, it's a trend that shows no sign of slowing."
Big Rain In Southern Arizona

I just sent this to Deborah, who lives in Ahwatukee, in the southern Phoenix metro area:

Hard to believe! 0.83 inches of rain at Ahwatukee in the last 24 hours! Really, for late May, among the driest months of the year, that is unprecedented! I was watching that big rain blow-up last night on the Internet, from Ajo streaming northeastwards into the Phoenix metro area, and it made me very happy!

Indeed, some places are recording records (from the NWS Tucson office):

914 AM MST FRI MAY 23 2008



ORGAN PIPE N.M. 0.40 1992/0.10
SAFFORD AG 0.39 1992/0.15
AJO 1.24 1919/0.05
WILLCOX 0.50 1992/0.32

And for Phoenix Sky Harbor:

225 AM MST FRI MAY 23 2008




Plus yesterday's record event report:

1210 AM MST FRI MAY 23 2008


She's Edging Towards Conspiracy Theories

It's true, Hillary actually said nothing offensive. She was merely speaking of the RFK assassination as a time stamp in June, 1968. She wasn't urging anyone to rid her of this 'troublesome' Obama person, even obliquely. But then there's the context to consider.

The years 2008 and 1968 are not the same. The California primary in June 1968 was still pertinent in the primary calendar: June 2008 has - what? - Puerto Rico? The biggest states have already voted. The end of this race is now quite overdue. It's clear enough who won.

And with the recent news regarding Senator Ted Kennedy's brain cancer, people are unusually protective at this moment of the Kennedy legacy. The unnecessary RFK reference grates.

So, through her energetic (but increasingly pointless) flailing, Hillary Clinton has unnecessarily alienated anyone in the Democratic party who feels kindly disposed to the Kennedy family. That's a lot of people.

She thinks it is inexplicable why people keep trying to push her out of the race. It's not inexplicable. The race is over. There is no conspiracy here. But with an unreasoning mob of angry people assembling over her latest remarks, there will be a conspiracy here soon enough. Like they say, even paranoids have enemies. Or more to the point, the more paranoid you get, the more enemies you gather. It's time to move on....

Tick, tick, tick......
The Vanishing Dog

One of the advantages of walking Sparky late at night is that there is so little automobile or human foot traffic that I can remove him from his leash and let him walk as he pleases.

Last night, about halfway on our usual circuit of the neighborhood, I got well ahead of the dithering dog. I waited and waited for him to catch up with me. Eventually, I walked back, but could not find him. I saw a side street we occasionally detour down, and thought "he didn't go that way, did he?" So I retraced my steps and then went around that detour, but didn't encounter him. Then I thought "well, maybe he just got confused, and retraced his steps instead." So I retraced our steps, returning all the way home, but still didn't see him.

Sparky and I arrived at the house, from different directions, at the same time. He had completed the original circuit, no doubt crossing streets outside the crosswalk, unassisted. The small, dark dog doubtlessly had seen me storming off hither and thither, but had been content to linger unnoticed in the shadows. Probably a more relaxing trip that way, without all that human fussing and agitating.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Day After Tomorrow, Today

Left: Tornadoes in Riverside County derailed a freight train and flipped a big rig. Orange County saw massive mudslides, while L.A. County faced flash-flood warnings and closure of the 10 Freeway.

Interesting times down in Riverside County today:
A tornado flipped a big rig truck, derailed a freight train and clogged a major interstate for several miles today as a wild spring thunderstorm hopscotched across Southern California dumping hail, rain and snow.

The most severe damage was reported in Riverside County, where dark, towering funnel clouds spun across the communities east and west of the 215 Freeway corridor. And in Orange County, walls of water, mud and debris -- some up to 8 feet high -- battered eastern canyons that had burned in last year's wildfires, leaving behind a muddy mess but little major damage and no injuries.
Gawd, What A Mess!

I'm glad I don't have to sort out this Texas polygamist case - it's chaos on wheels. But, on balance, today's court decision reprimanding Texas CPS for its haste in seizing the 440 children is probably correct. They exceeded their authority:
The decision in one of the biggest child-custody cases in U.S. history was a humiliating defeat for the state Child Protective Services agency. It was hailed as vindication by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who claimed they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

"It's a great day for Texas justice. This was the right decision," said Julie Balovich, a Legal Aid attorney for some of the parents. She was joined by several smiling mothers who declined to comment at a news conference outside the courthouse.

Sect elder Willie Jessop said the parents were elated, but added: "There will be no celebrations until some little children are getting hugs from their parents." He said his faith in the legal system will be restored "when I see the schoolyard full of children."

Every child at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado was taken into custody more than six weeks ago after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. The girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the calls were a hoax.

Child-protection officials argued that five girls at the ranch had become pregnant at 15 and 16 and that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex with older men and groomed boys to enter into such unions when they grew up.

But the appeals court said the state acted too hastily in sweeping up all the children and taking them away on an emergency basis without going to court first.

"Even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse by grooming boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and raising girls to be victims of sexual abuse ... there is no evidence that this danger is 'immediate' or 'urgent'," the court said.

"Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may someday have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme measure of immediate removal."

The court said the state failed to show that any more than five of the teenage girls were being sexually abused, and offered no evidence of sexual or physical abuse against the other children. Half the youngsters taken from the ranch were 5 or younger. Only a few dozen are teenage girls.

The court also said the state was wrong to consider the entire ranch as a single household and to seize all the children on the grounds that some parents in the home might be abusers.
On the other hand, the seizure has no doubt completely disrupted the creepy, secretive life of the Texas branch of the FLDS. That disruption may hasten its demise, which would be welcome.

There's no doubt that the generation of the Old West would not have had any such qualms about what the Texas CPS was doing. While doing genealogical work several years ago, I chanced upon the story of a distant relative, Thomas Jefferson Drake, originally from Michigan. Mr. Drake was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for the Territory of Utah by Abraham Lincoln Feb. 3, 1862. He was reappointed in 1866 by Andrew Johnson. In this crucial Federal position, he had many opportunities to clash with Brigham Young and his followers:
Judge Drake’s rulings were so distasteful to the Mormons that the feeling culminated in about a year after he assumed his duties in an effort to rid the Territory of all Federal Officers. A mass meeting was held and the following day Brigham Young sent his emissaries to wait upon Judge Drake and Governor Waite to notify them that they must leave the territory. The two men had taken a house together, and when the delegation arrived Judge Drake was writing at his desk, and as they served the notice first to the Governor he paid no attention, but kept on writing. When the committee requested Judge Drake to take notice of the resolutions as he was included, the Judge rose from his seat and said: “These are important resolutions and as they are intended to affect me I desire to say a word or two. It is a very grave thing to request a citizen to leave the country. Are you aware of the magnitude and importance of the business you have undertaken? I am an American citizen and have a right to come here and go into any part of the Republic. I have a right to ask Congress to amend the laws or to make new ones. You have no excuse for your conduct towards me. It is mean and contemptible and on your part, Taylor, a foreigner, it is impudence unequalled, and Pratt, a citizen, ought to know better than to trample on the rights of a citizen by the performance of such a dirty enterprise.

“Your resolutions are false and the man that drew them knew it to be so.” (Here Taylor undertook to speak and the Judge told him to be still.) “Besides I understand that Brigham Young yesterday in your mass meeting said I was a fool and a tool of the Governor.” (Taylor with great promptness admitted it was so.) “Then, said the Judge,” go back to Brigham Young, your master, that embodiment of sin, shame, and disgust, and tell him that I neither fear him, love him, nor hate him, but that I utterly despise him. Go tell him whose tools and tricksters you are, that I did not come here by his permission, and I shall not go away by his desire, nor by his direction. I have given no cause of offense to any one. I have not entered a Mormon’s house since I have come here. Your wives and daughters have not been disturbed by me. I have not even looked at your concubines or lewd women” – (here Taylor undertook to say something, but the Judge stopped him and bade him to be silent) – “and if you or the man you serve so faithfully ever attempt to interfere with my lawful business, you will meet with a difficulty you little expect. (Taylor again undertook to speak, but the Judge refused to let him, and said) “Horse thieves and murderers have a right to speak in a court of Justice when arrested, and unless in such a capacity and under such circumstances – don’t you ever speak to me again.” As the committee were leaving Taylor said “They could have their opinion.” “Yes,” said the Judge, “Thieves and murderers can have an opinion.”

In 1869 he became so tired of living in such a “den of iniquity” as he termed the Mormon country, that he came home on a visit. As his health was much broken his friends persuaded him not to go back, so he resigned and remained at his home in Pontiac till his death Apr. 20, 1875.
Bloggy, Not Dumb

Come, come, have more respect for the one who likes to document his own deeds:
A BRITISH man has been branded Leeds' "dumbest criminal" after he posted more than 80 videos of himself committing various crimes on YouTube.

Andrew Kellett, 23, was banned from boasting about his criminal activities on the internet after posting videos of himself and others taking class A drugs, racing cars at high speeds and trespassing and shouting abuse.

He even filmed himself receiving a suspended sentence for an offence at Leeds Magistrates Court in the northern English city.

On Tuesday, the court issued him with an interim anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) to stop him showing unlawful activities on the video-sharing website.

Some of the videos were shown to magistrates as part of the prosecution's case.

"Kellett must be in the running to be Leeds' dumbest criminal. He has handed us the evidence against him on a plate,'' said Leeds councillor Les Carter.

...Kellett opposed the court's order, claiming he was merely a bystander filming and the offences would have happened regardless of whether he was at the scene or not.
"Rent" - At A Theater Near You

There may well be a niche market here:
The Broadway production of “Rent” is headed to movie theaters. The final performance of the rock musical, which exits Broadway on Sept. 7 after 12 years, will be exhibited nationwide as part of a new business from Sony Pictures. The movie studio said on Wednesday that it would bring music concerts, stage shows and sporting events to multiplexes. Another early offering will be “Delirium,” a Cirque du Soleil show touring Europe. Exact dates for the limited engagements are still undecided. Programming theaters with nonmovie content has been gaining steam as multiplex owners seek ways to attract new ticket buyers.
What Makes Hillary Keep On Keepin' On?

Interesting suggestion, based on Hillary's flawed premise that she could not have lost a fair fight for the nomination:
I think Hillary is genuinely convinced that this election has been a travesty. That elections ought to be about who wins the most votes, full stop. Never mind the innumerable problems with applying that argument to the contests this cycle; it's what she believes. And it's of a piece with a set of grievances that she and her surrogates have voiced: that the media has treated her too harshly, that her candidacy has been hobbled by sexism, and that her opponent has enjoyed unfair advantages. Each of these complaints springs from a common premise - Hillary could not have lost a fair fight for the nomination. And working from that premise, she sees herself not only as a victim, but also as a champion of those who, like her, have been wronged by the system. This really has become a moral crusade for her, and that's impelling her forward long after she's lost any realistic chance of winning.
Fnu Slogan

I remember seeing the slogan "Dyslexics Of The World, Untie!" in a 1970's cartoon, so the actual origin of the slogan may be lost in the mists of time. But it's among the best slogans ever, and I'm glad dyslexics have adopted it for their own.
A Mighty Big Shovel

Sparky and I were in the crosswalk, crossing Castro at 21st Street late Tuesday night, when two cops in a police car abruptly pulled up. The driver spoke loudly: "Oh, that's a pooper-scooper you are carrying! We thought it was a shovel, and we wondered, 'who is that guy walking around here late at night carrying a shovel?'"

I was flummoxed, and it took me a few seconds to untie my tongue. I then told a tale about a group of cops Sparky and I once had passed by at Crepeville several years ago....

"One of your colleagues asked 'Do you really need such a large shovel for such a small dog?' The answer, sadly, is 'Yes!'"
Thinking Inside The Box

I didn't realize that the financial blogs were as much about morality as about news. But whatever works, when putting round pegs in square holes:
Japanese grocery stores had a problem. They are much smaller than their US counterparts and therefore don’t have room to waste. Watermelons, big and round, wasted a lot of space. Most people would simply tell the grocery stores that watermelons grow round and there is nothing that can be done about it. That is how I would assume the vast majority of people would respond. But some Japanese farmers took a different approach. If the supermarkets wanted a square watermelon, they asked themselves, “How can we provide one?” It wasn’t long before they invented the square watermelon.

The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn’t nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn’t assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done. It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box.

...What does this have do with anything besides square watermelons? There are a few lessons that can you can take away from this story which help you in all parts of your life. Here are a few of them:

Don’t Assume: The major problem was that most people had always seen round watermelons so they automatically assumed that square watermelons were impossible before even thinking about the question. Things that you have been doing a certain way your entire life have taken on the aura of the round watermelon and you likely don’t even take the time to consider if there is another way to do it. ....

Question habits: The best way to tackle these assumptions is to question your habits. If you can make an effort to question the way you do things on a consistent basis, you will find that you can continually improve the way that you live your life. ....

Be creative: When faced with a problem, be creative in looking for a solution. This often requires thinking outside the box. Most people who viewed this question likely thought they were being asked how they could genetically alter water melons to grow square which would be a much more difficult process to accomplish. By looking at the question from an alternative perspective, however, the solution was quite simple. ....

Look for a better way: The square watermelon question was simply seeking a better and more convenient way to do something. The stores had flagged a problem they were having and asked if a solution was possible. It’s impossible to find a better way if you are never asking the question in the first place. ....

Impossibilities often aren’t: If you begin with the notion that something is impossible, then it obviously will be for you. If, on the other hand, you decide to see if something is possible or not, you will find out through trial and error. Many of the lessons above are what I used to create my online income. ....

Take away the lessons from the square watermelons and apply them to all areas in your life (work, finances, relationships, etc) and you will find that by consistently applying them, you will constantly be improving all aspects of your life.
What Do The Corporate Jet Crowd Get For Their Money?

Well, ineffective security, for one thing:
Greg Alderete has more than a passing interest in homeland security. A retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, he has devoted most of his life to it.

So when he realized he had driven a van onto a runway tarmac at Sea-Tac airport — and that no one had asked his name, checked his ID or searched his vehicle — well, he just about lost it.

"I was appalled," Alderete says. "If you go in the airport's front door, they take away your tube of toothpaste. But the back door? That's the weakest security of any critical facility I've ever seen."

He's talking about the corporate jet area, on the airport's south tip. Business and government bigwigs fly in and out of there.

Alderete and Chris Clodfelter, a former senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, arrived there Thursday, May 8, to pick up a two-star general flying in from Portland.

What happened floored them. When they said they were picking up an Army official, the gate opened and they were invited to drive onto the airfield.

"We were sitting there, the engine idling, nobody around, when all of a sudden I realized: We're out on the goddamn runway," Alderete recalled. "We're in a gassed-up, seven-passenger van, and no one really knows who we are. We have an unobstructed path to the main runways, the commercial gates, the whole place. It was unbelievable."

No one asked their names or screened them or the van. Both were in civilian clothes.

"Within 30 seconds we could have been flooring it down the runway," Clodfelter says. "They couldn't have stopped us."

"With a van full of weapons we could have shut down the entire aviation system," Alderete said.

..."We are satisfied with how procedures were followed that day," said Perry Cooper, airport spokesman. "We have never had a security lapse in that part of the airport."

It turns out there's no requirement, local or federal, to check IDs or screen drivers and cars when they go into that part of the airfield.

Drivers must be meeting known flights and are supposed to be escorted. But Alderete and Clodfelter say they were left on their own.

Cooper says it was a "visual escort" — someone could look out and see them. They were allowed on the tarmac for 33 minutes.

Clodfelter worked in Air Force operations for 21 years and says nothing so lax would cut it there.

"Take McChord," he said. "Nobody gets anywhere near the active runway without a badge. I don't think they're serious at Sea-Tac."

"You get checked more going into a Mariners game than you do on the back side of Sea-Tac," Alderete said.
Class Consciousness 101

Just one step shy of making that critical, Marxist class connection, that the necessary response to higher gasoline prices is to take guns and point them at the oil companies. The inability of Americans to make this connection was what made communists and socialists despair of ever bringing either to the United States. History is to blame for this (mostly fortunate) cognitive impairment:
BUTLER, Mo. – A Missouri car dealership is triggering interest by offering customers free guns or gasoline with any purchase, and despite the skyrocketing price of fuel, patrons are going for the guns.

"We are aware of the gasoline and crime problem in America," states an ad on the website of Max Motors. It goes on to note it "wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem."

"What we're doing is giving everyone who buys a new or used vehicle a free handgun," said Mark Muller, the dealership's owner. "We have guns to display, but we can't actually give them a gun, so what we do is give them a coupon for a local gun dealer here in town so they can pick out any gun they want. We recommend a semi-automatic."

The certificate is good for either $250 at Alton Arms or for $250 worth of gas. Muller told WND no one has chosen the gas so far.

The promotion, which goes through the end of this month, has caused a stir among anti-gun-rights activists who turned up at the dealership to protest.

"Six people came by – a bunch of long hairs who think the '60s are still going on, and who obviously don't have jobs," Muller said. "We all went out there with our cowboy hats on and told them we'd stomp 'em, and they left."

...Even so, the dealership has received threatening phone calls.

"Someone who said they were with the ATF called and said 'You need to shut down this promotion right now or we're shutting you down.' I told them to bring their attorneys, I don't know if [the call] was real or fake," Muller said.

"I don't see what the problem is, we have a right to bear arms. It's in the Constitution and the reason we have [Amendment] No. 2 is to protect No. 1."

When asked if Sen. Barack Obama's recent comments about people clinging to guns and religion inspired the promotion, Muller said yes.

"My next promotion is to give away a free King James Bible to any Muslim that converts to Christianity," he said.
Al-Jazeera Reports On Hillary's Race-Based Appeal

An even-handed, outsider's look at Obama's Appalachian problem.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let My People Go!

Hyperbolic rhetoric leaves Earth's orbit:
BOCA RATON, Fla. - Hillary Clinton compared her effort to seat Florida and Michigan delegates to epic American struggles, including those to free the slaves and win the right to vote for blacks and women.
Sparky Cough Bad

But hopefully it's just an interlude. He ran out of Lasix medication during the period when my car was broken down, and I wasn't able to get a pill to him until noontime today.
Sacramento History - The National Bank Of D. O. Mills

Left: The National Bank Of D. O. Mills, at the northwestern corner of 7th and J Streets, in downtown Sacramento.

Waiting at First Northern Bank for the shuttle ride from Saturn (the auto dealership, not some alien civilization) I began wondering, what is that big imposing building across the intersection at 7th & J? It certainly looked solid and stable, but I had never heard of D. O. Mills.

Brief history:
Darius Ogden Mills, founded the bank around 1849. A branch bank was opened in Columbia, Tuolumne County, California in 1850, which was transferred to other banking interests in 1859. In 1872 the bank became the National Gold Bank of D. O. Mills & Company. It remained under this title until October 29, 1925, when it was merged with the California National Bank of Sacramento.

Left: Darius Ogden Mills

Brief biography:
Darius Ogden Mills, born September 5, 1825, in North Salem, Westchester County, New York, was the son of James and Hannah Mills, both descendants of early American stock. In 1840, Darius Mills started a bank, the National Gold Bank of D.O. Mills & Company, which has the distinction of being the first bank west of the Rockies and later helped to finance the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The bank would later merge with the California National Bank; and in 1864, upon moving to San Francisco; Mills helped form and become president of the Bank of California.

Brief explanation:
One of the largest banks in California in the 1850s was started by D.O. Mills, a young New York bank employee who came to California to mine gold. Soon tiring of mining, he opened a mercantile establishment in Sacramento. Mills began storing gold for the miners, and later began buying gold and issuing notes that circulated as money. Within a few years he changed the sign on his building from "store" to "bank." The Bank of D.O. Mills survived into the 1920s. Merchants started many early western banks in just this manner, since the lack of regulation or enforcement meant that potential depositors needed the security of a trusted, widely respected individual. A previous business often was the route to this trust.

Although the character of the individuals in control was of foremost importance, housing the bank in a solid structure also reassured customers. Because depositors worried about "wildcat banks" which accepted deposits, then relocated far away to discourage withdrawals, it was hard to gather deposits without proof of stability. So the bank was often the most solid structure in town. Although there are a few spectacular instances of bankers leaving town with deposits, the system generally worked extremely well with minimal regulation.

Left: Current day construction on P Street in downtown Sacramento.

Change continues to roil Sacramento and vicinity, and we too will someday enter the pages of history with our various structures. Someday in the remote future, someone in Davis will be perplexed by a theater associated with the name "DMTC" and wonder what that was all about....
Second Avenue Claustrophobia

Given my car breakdown, I felt a bit trapped in my house on Second Avenue. So, in a bit of whimsy, I watched a 1975 film, Neil Simon's "The Prisoner Of Second Avenue":
The story of Mel and Edna (Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft), a middle-class, middle-aged, middle-happy couple living in a Manhattan high rise apartment building. Mel loses his job, the apartment is robbed, Edna gets a job, Mel loses his mind, Edna loses her job . . . to say nothing of the more minor tribulations of nosy neighbors, helpful relatives and exact bus fares. The couple suffers indignity after indignity (some self-inflicted) and when they seem on the verge of surrender, they thumb their noses defiantly and dig the trenches for battle.
Funny, strange Neil Simon film, showing the years when New York was basically falling apart under the weight of the crime epidemic. Fun to see Sylvester Stallone just before he became famous: Mel (Jack Lemmon) mistakes the Youth in the Park (Sylvester Stallone) for a pickpocket and proceeds to chase him down and mug him. Interesting also that unemployed Mel starts listening to Talk Radio and starts fashioning a paranoid's explanation for his unemployment difficulties (I had thought that Talk Radio came later, but apparently it's always been there to catch the unwary). But troublesome too, because unemployment does not lead to the best of plot devices.

I'm glad my car is working again....
Parrots On Film

I've been watching "The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill" (Video URL). Such a nice documentary! I love birds, and I love parrots in particular. Can't go wrong here!:
In San Francisco, there are at least two flocks of largely wild parrots who flock around the city. This film focuses on the flock of cherry-headed conures (and a lonely blue-headed one named Connor) who flock around the Telegraph Hill region of the city and their closest human companion, Mark Bittner . Through his own words, we learn of his life as a frustrated, homeless musician and how he came to live in the area where he decided to explore the nature around him. That lead him to discovering the parrot flock and the individual personalities of it. In a cinematic portrait, we are introduced to his colorful companions and the relationship they share as well as the realities of urban wild life that would change Bittner's life forever.
And talking about parrots, what about this story!:
TOKYO - When Yosuke the parrot flew out of his cage and got lost, he did exactly what he had been taught — recite his name and address to a stranger willing to help.

Police rescued the African grey parrot two weeks ago from a neighbor's roof in the city of Nagareyama, near Tokyo. After spending a night at the station, he was transferred to a nearby veterinary hospital while police searched for clues, local policeman Shinjiro Uemura said.

He kept mum with the cops, but began chatting after a few days with the vet.

"I'm Mr. Yosuke Nakamura," the bird told the veterinarian, according to Uemura. The parrot also provided his full home address, down to the street number, and even entertained the hospital staff by singing songs.

"We checked the address, and what do you know, a Nakamura family really lived there. So we told them we've found Yosuke," Uemura said.

The Nakamura family told police they had been teaching the bird its name and address for about two years.

But Yosuke apparently wasn't keen on opening up to police officials.

"I tried to be friendly and talked to him, but he completely ignored me," Uemura said.
Wonderful Walrus Article

Very interesting, intelligent arctic mammal:
Just as we were entering the walrus house at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., however, Dr. Schusterman tossed out a bit of advice. “The first thing the walruses will do when they come over is start pushing at you, pressing their heads right into your stomach,” he said. “Don’t let them get away with that. No matter how hard they push, you have to stand your ground.”

I stopped short, confused.

“If you don’t stand your ground, you’ll be knocked over or backed against a wall in no time,” Dr. Schusterman said.

But but ... I sputtered. How was I supposed to stand my ground against an animal the size of a Honda Civic? This sounded less like “friendly and playful” than “aggressive and possibly dangerous.”

“Just push back on the snout with the palm of your hand and blow in its face,” Dr. Schusterman instructed. “A walrus really likes to be blown in the face.”

But suddenly there I was in the pen, time expanding as I watched Sivuqaq, a 2,200-pound adult male, roll toward me like a gelatinous, mustachioed boulder and head straight for my solar plexus. Somehow, either out of professional pride or rigid terror, I managed to stay standing and stuck out my palm; when Sivuqaq nuzzled against it, all my fears fell away. I stroked his splendid vibrissae, the stiff, sensitive whiskers that a walrus uses to search for bivalves through the seabed’s dark murk, and that feel like slender tubes of bamboo. Then I blew in his face, and he half-closed his eyes, and I huffed and puffed harder and he leaned into my breath, all the while bleating and grunting and snorting for more.

...But whereas there are 19 species in the family of so-called true seals, and 14 in the family of fur seals and sea lions, the walrus is the only living representative of the family Odobenidae, those that walk with their teeth. And though the walrus is an Arctic species and thus much harder to study in the wild than the elephant seals and sea lions that flop onto the beaches of Northern California, scientists are gathering evidence that Odobenus is the most cognitively and socially sophisticated of all pinnipeds.

...As researchers have lately determined, the walrus shares with other big-brained species an unusually extended childhood. Walrus calves remain with their mothers for several years, compared with several weeks or months for the young of other pinnipeds, and that sustained dependency “could very well provide an opportunity for learning,” said Dr. Reichmuth, particularly about walrus civics.

Evidence suggests that the bonds between walruses are exceptionally strong: the animals share food, come to one another’s aid when under attack and nurse one another’s young, a particularly noteworthy behavior given the cost in energy of synthesizing a pinniped’s calorically rich, fatty milk.

...“Walruses are very gregarious, and they like to be near other walruses,” said Chad Jay, who heads the walrus research program for the United States Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center in Anchorage. “They like hanging out together, touching each other, socializing. Even when it’s hot and they have plenty of space, they prefer to clamber on top of each other and huddle together.”

Walruses want so much to be with other walruses that if there are no other walruses around, they will make do with the next available large object.

...Calves might also need time to learn how to play — music, that is. It turns out that Odobenus is an acoustic genius, its body an all-in-one band. Males woo females with lengthy compositions that have been compared in the complexity of their structure and phrasing to the songs of nightingales and humpback whales, but that use a greater number of body parts.

Walruses sing with their fleshy and muscular lips, tongues, muzzles and noses. They sing by striking their flippers against their chests to hit their pharyngeal pouches, balloon-like extensions of the trachea that are unique to Odobenus and that also serve as flotation devices.

In full breeding tilt, the bulls sound like a circus, a construction site, a Road Runner cartoon. They whistle, beep, rasp, strum, bark and knock. They make bell tones, jackhammer drills, train-track clatters and the rubber-band boing! of Wile E. Coyote getting bonked on the head. They mix and match their boings, bells and knocks, they speed up and slow down, they vocalize underwater, in the air, at the bubbly border between. They sing nonstop for days at a time, and their songs can be heard up to 10 miles away. They listen to one another, take tips from one another and change their tune as time and taste require.

...The breadth of the walruses’ creativity exceeded all expectations, not only during training sessions but also during downtime. Dr. Reichmuth said one walrus figured out how to use a rubber toy in the pool as an instrument by pressing it against a window and blasting air through it until it sounded like a bugle. Soon two other walruses in the pool had learned to do the same thing.

“To use a tool to produce an innovative sound, and to learn about that behavior socially,” Dr. Reichmuth said, “now that is impressive.”
Sudden Shutdowns

Sleep deprivation is my home terrain:
Being deprived of sleep even for one night makes the brain unstable and prone to sudden shutdowns akin to a power failure - brief lapses that hover between sleep and wakefulness, according to researchers.

"It's as though it is both asleep and awake and they are switching between each other very rapidly," said David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, whose study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.

...The findings suggest that people who are sleep-deprived alternate between periods of near-normal brain function and dramatic lapses in attention and visual processing.

"This involves more structures changing than we've ever seen before, but changing just during these lapses," Dinges said.

...They found significant, momentary lapses in several areas of the brain, which seemed to frequently falter when the people were deprived of sleep, but not when these same people were well rested.

...He said the lapses seem to suggest that loss of sleep renders the brain incapable of fully fending off the involuntary drive to sleep.

He said the study makes it clear how dangerous sleep deprivation can be while driving on the highway, when even a four-second lapse could lead to a major accident.

Loss: $759.50 minus $30.00 VISA fee minus $40 E. stake = $829.50.
Legitimacy And Status

I read through former UN Ambassador John Bolton's blast against Barack Obama, and after thinking about it for awhile, I got annoyed with Bolton's use of the word 'legitimacy'. Here are portions of what he wrote:
President Bush's speech to Israel's Knesset, where he equated "negotiat[ing] with the terrorists and radicals" to "the false comfort of appeasement," drew harsh criticism from Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders. They apparently thought the president was talking about them, and perhaps he was.

...When the U.S. negotiates with "terrorists and radicals," it gives them legitimacy, a precious and tangible political asset. Thus, even Mr. Obama criticized former President Jimmy Carter for his recent meetings with Hamas leaders. Meeting with leaders of state sponsors of terrorism such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il is also a mistake. State sponsors use others as surrogates, but they are just as much terrorists as those who actually carry out the dastardly acts. Legitimacy and international acceptability are qualities terrorists crave, and should therefore not be conferred casually, if at all.
No, Mr. Bolton, negotiations confer status, not legitimacy. All nations, movements, and terrorist organizations look elsewhere for legitimacy. Legitimacy is self-generated. Democratic nations gain legitimacy through elections, but even the most ragtag terrorist organization is going to appeal to some mystical connection to a volk, or a religion, or a movement to gain the legitimacy it craves. No group or nation ever gets its legitimacy by talks with the United States government, although it may get recognition and status by doing so.

By confusing legitimacy and status, Bolton once again reveals the contempt the Bush Administration has for the rest of the world. In Bush-world, all nations are subsurvient to the United States of America, the only power capable of doling out legitimacy as it sees fit.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Epuron - The Power Of Wind

The best TV commercial involving meteorology I've ever seen!

Last night, I received my first (!) direct-mail fundraising pitch from the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Emblazoned on the envelope was her fundraising slogan:
"We're going to go all the way"

(please, someone, just shoot me....)

(video suggestion courtesy of Gabe)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Duffy - Syrup & Honey

Who Killed The Electric Car?

I also watched this movie "Who Killed The Electric Car?", because the issues surrounding it infringe on my daily work (which means I have to be careful in choosing my words). For myself, I am not particularly fond of electric cars (although hybrid cars look promising).

This film doesn't do justice to the complexity of the subject. The opinions of very few people from General Motors were included, and none from overseas motor companies. The many weaknesses of electric cars were given short shrift.

Nevertheless the most striking thing, I thought, was how difficult and withering a process it was even to get a lease for GM's EV1, and how no one ever got sold an EV1. GM did not want to sell these cars, they seemed prepared to spend billions in order not to sell them, and when they decided to stop making them, they confiscated and destroyed all of them (excepting a few museum pieces). How strange is that? GM emphatically did not want to be told what kind of car to sell by air pollution regulators who didn't know the business of selling cars.

No, there is a better documentary to be made here. This film is a start, but the subject requires a director with a taste for film noir, more like Martin Scorcese.....

Here's a portion of the imdb synopsis:
GMs started leasing small numbers of the production car, called the EV1, in 1996. Other car companies also produced electric vehicles by converting existing production models and then leased them to drivers. But the GM board of directors never really wanted the car to succeed as they didn't think they would make profit from the car. They saw losses from development costs and the virtual absence of maintenance and replacement parts which, for gas cars, bring in ongoing profits. They were worried that the popularity of the cars was growing and that other US states were considering ZEV Mandate laws which meant that they may have to convert all their cars to electric drives which represented even bigger losses.

GM initially installed poor quality Delco lead acid batteries in the EV1 and produced advertising that, it is argued, was aimed at repelling public interest.

Car companies argued that using coal for electric power would produce worse emissions than using petroleum. In the film, these arguments were dismissed as false by energy experts, due to the increased efficiency of electric cars over gas, and the ability to control emissions from power plants in ways not possible for vehicles.

The car companies then argued that they would not be able to technically and financially meet the requirements of the ZEV Mandate. Car companies, oil companies and the Federal Government sued the State of California to overturn the Mandate.

From 1999 to 2004 Alan Lloyd was chairman of CARB and he presided over changes to the ZEV Mandate. He strongly influenced the weakening of the Mandate's requirements on the automakers and gave favour to unproven hydrogen fuel cell technology in place of battery electric vehicles. Four months before these decisions were made, Alan Lloyd became Chairman of the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

The film then shows how the Federal Government and oil companies put forward hydrogen fuel cells as a better alternative to gas and battery electric cars. Interviews with two hydrogen experts gave details why fuel cell vehicles are not likely to be available for another 15-20 years, if ever, whereas battery electric technology has been rapidly improving since the mid 1990s and is cost effective now.
Why We Fight

I have recently have been watching documentaries on DVD. "Why We Fight" is a very pertinent film on the warning that Dwight Eisenhower issued in his Farewell Address about the dangers posed by the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower had recently been subject to the 'Missile Gap' campaign, led by a cabal of Pentagon-connected folks, and brought into the 1960 Presidential campaign by John F. Kennedy. Even though the 'Missile Gap' was a canard, the confirming intelligence was classified, and Eisenhower couldn't respond effectively. Despite his vast military experience, Eisenhower lost the arms race debate and was effectively sidelined. Bitter, Eisenhower saw grave danger to the Republic ahead.

Of course, we have now had two catastrophes resulting from the danger Eisenhower foresaw: Vietnam and Iraq. The danger is ever-present and very, very real. We are likely to experience the same danger again, and yet again, if we do not start to dismantle the out-of-control global empire of the USA, or at least subject it to some well-needed publicity and accountability.

If anything, I wish the film had had more on Eisenhower's embittering 'Missile Gap' experience. Nothing teaches like history!
The Burden Of LUST

Left: One of the joys of taking the car into the dealership for mechanical work is getting driven back from the outer suburbs (Elk Grove) via the courtesy dealership shuttle van. While in the lap of limousine luxury, one can look out the window and see the wider world, a luxury that self-drivers can't indulge in.

Left: Getting off the freeway at 16th and W Streets, one can see the rebuilding that is underway of the AM/PM convenience market located on the NE corner of the intersection. The AM/PM recently changed hands.

I don't know if rebuilding is required by the property sale, but other gasoline stations, such as the AM/PM at 28th and J Streets, have also recently been razed to the ground, and rebuilt, in order to upgrade the difficult-to-access gasoline storage tanks under the property. Presumably this AM/PM is no different, and is being razed for the same reason. The generic name for the problem that is being addressed here is Leaking Underground Storage Tank (or LUST for short).

Now, LUST didn't used to be a problem in California, because petroleum fuels and ground water are generally not soluble, so there were almost no tanks leaking enough fuel to be a problem. There were exceptions, of course: I understand there was a vintage LUST in downtown San Diego that leaked so much fuel (which floated on top of the water table) that it posed an explosion hazard for the basements of nearby buildings.

The California LUST non-problem all changed in the early 1990's, when MTBE was added to the gasoline, to serve as an oxygenate, to help reduce carbon monoxide emissions from automobile tailpipes. MTBE is soluble with water, and that poisonous stuff leaked from even the newest underground storage tanks with a vengeance. MTBE was not the only oxygenate available - ethanol could do the job as well - but it helped the oil and gas industry get rid of MTBE, a byproduct of gasoline refining. MTBE was placed in the fuel even though Cal-EPA knew in advance that the fuel would be prone to leakage. (Government agencies like Cal-EPA are susceptible to fads and often act contrary to the public interest, in order to be the regulatory flavor of the month. The folks in charge of air pollution could not have cared less about saving us from water pollution - so stupid!)

Of course, the poisoning of California groundwater became a scandal, but the problem was locked in - the federal government, under the sway of oil and gas interests, for years refused California's entreaties to remove the stuff from the fuel and replace it with ethanol. If ever there was an issue where the state should have rebelled from the federal government, this was it. But we were governed by girly men like Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, who refused to act, despite urgent, dire need. Removal of the MTBE didn't even start in California until 2004.

So, a new problem was born, and now, whenever AM/PMs change hands, they are generally destroyed first, in order to get at the LUST. It's almost like a long-lost chicken from the Vietnamese War coming home to roost in the Central Valley: to uproot the LUST, we had to destroy the AM/PM in order to save it.
Sympathy Baby Bump

What a wonderful term! The English language at its best! One of the regulars at the health club is pregnant and I didn't know exactly how I could respond.

Indulgence isn't to blame, just care and consideration! Developing a sympathy baby bump is the least I could do!
How to Take Care of a Pet

Cute cartoon!

But I wonder about the part about getting your pet his check-ups. The vets wield a double-edged sword with their drug prescriptions. These days, I think Sparky is having drug issues with Torbutrol, the drug that is most effective at controlling his coughing, but which is an opioid, and can cause hallucinations and mood swings.

Sparky has been running around the house by himself at 4 a.m., barking and yelping uncontrollably, and playing with his Daffy Duck toy. It's clear he's TOTALLY WIRED! But by 7 a.m., he's crashed. He lies on the floor in an exhausted state and resists any interaction.

Poor puppy! But whatever keeps him going.....
Phoenix Landing Approaches

The University of Arizona in Tucson (Go Wildcats!) will be in charge of the Phoenix mission to Mars' arctic. Next Sunday, May 25th:
Phoenix will enter the top of the Martian atmosphere at almost 13,000 mph. In seven minutes, the spacecraft must complete a challenging sequence of events to slow to about 5 mph before its three legs reach the ground. Confirmation of the landing could come as early as 7:53 p.m. EDT, 4:53 p.m. MST.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" - Runaway Stage Productions

Left: Andrea St. Clair as Millie Dillmount.

Great job by Andrea, Scott, Deborah, Dorothy, Karen, and the gang! I was very impressed by Tev Ditter's comedic timing.

I worried a bit about this show's choreography, because of what I had heard prior to seeing it: the necessity of replacing a key dancer during the rehearsal period, the need to replace a dancer due to injury the very night I attended (Sat. May 17th), and some early complaints about the dancing.

Nevertheless, I didn't have any serious issues with the dancing or the choreography. The pace in some dances is very rapid, ruthlessly exposing any flaws in dance timing amongst the dance ensemble. After all, we all hear and react to music slightly differently, and such flaws as there were were being exposed at this 128th note, or so, level. The problems were not isolated to a few but shared by all.

A solution would be problematic: not a longer rehearsal period, or a different choreographer, or even different dancers, but months or years of additional dance education. No live theater has the time for that - you cast the best people you can find and you go with them.

It would be nice to have dancers who never get hurt, of course, or who never have to struggle with hard steps. Maybe professionals, but professionals who never need to get paid, in order to keep ticket prices as low as they are. And young too. And pretty. And charming and well-read. With good teeth and lots of money.


Reading the seeaplay complaints about the dancing, and seeing the show itself, I am reminded of Veruca Salt in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: "Daddy, I want another pony!"

The dancing is great! Ignore the critics!

I had also heard, prior to the show, that Deborah was great (confirmed). I liked Andrea's energy and style. Scott Woodard was a dream too. The lady who played Miss Dorothy Brown (Julia Mosby) was wonderful too. I was most surprised and pleased by how well Tev Ditter played the comic character, Mr. Trevor Graydon, III. Over the years, Tev has shown he plays the tragic characters well, but there are only so many times you can get hammered on the cross. New vistas now open for Tev....

Left: Final bows. Left to right, (list not complete since I left my program at home) Deborah Hammond, Julia Mosby, T. Patrick Van, Scott Woodard, Andrea St. Clair, Kyle Young, Karen Day, Tevye Ditter, xxx, xxx, xxx.

Left: Musical director and set designer Christopher Cook leads the orchestra, as a group of about twenty of his band students at St. Alban's (and die-hard fans) wail and scream in adoring approval!

Left: Charlotte Hartshorne, Karen Day, and Pam Kay Lourentzos. Karen seemed to channel Sacramento's own Dorothea Puente for the role of Mrs. Meers (but focusing on young girls instead of old men). Pam choreographed the show and due to the original dancer's injury, has been co-starring with K. as the 'Lady in Pearls'.

This weekend, I cleaned portions of my home, most notably, the living room Venetian blinds. As expected, the blinds were remarkably dusty. From what I can recall, they probably haven't been cleaned since I started doing community musical theater - about 1998.

I may as well prove, to myself if no one else, that housekeeping is not against the spirit of musical theater....
Baz Luhrmann's New Epic - "Australia"

Out November 14, 2008.

from Bobson Chimpworth at B3ta.
Would Have Been A Good Blogger

World's worst poet:
EDINBURGH, Scotland – The vocabulary is poor and the rhyme excruciating but a collector paid $12,840 Friday for original works by William Topaz McGonagall, internationally celebrated as the worst poet ever to assault the English language.

Up for auction was a collection of 35 poems McGonagall self-published in the 1890s, in which he rambles about everything from a theatre fire and the life of Robert Burns to women's suffrage and Britain's imperial wars. Bad as it was, it did not reach the top estimate of $15,600 at the sale, conducted by Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull.

Still, McGonagall's work outstripped a collection of rare and inscribed Harry Potter books by Edinburgh resident J.K. Rowling, which fetched $12,000 at the same sale.

McGonagall's lack of talent was matched only by his delusion and ego. Along with the 35 poems were a portfolio of posters and two copies of his rather short autobiography – "dedicated to himself, knowing none greater."

Known as the "Tayside Tragedian," after his dire poem "The Tay Bridge Disaster," McGonagall was ridiculed during his lifetime. He kept an umbrella with him during recitals for protection from rotten tomatoes.

But he has attracted a cult following. Devotees hold annual suppers in his honour at which his poetry is recited and the meal eaten backwards – dessert first.

Such, however, is the potential embarrassment of being exposed as a fan that the vendor, buyer and rival bidders at Friday's auction all chose to remain anonymous.

"Everyone knows him as the world's worst poet, but we are still talking about him today and he's attracted an international audience here," said Alex Dove, books specialist at Lyon & Turnbull. "He's appreciated because he's comedic, he's got bad vocabulary and the rhyme is cringeworthy."