Saturday, May 31, 2008

No Clowning Around

Here's the text of a letter I just submitted to Sacramento News and Review regarding a recent article entitled "No Clowning Around". In the article, Kel Munger at SN&R notes:
Even if they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the mayor’s seat, we’ve got some “fringe” candidates with a lot on the ball.

That’s why SN&R’s editorial board reacted with shock to Bee columnist Marcos Bretón’s decision to slam lesser-known candidates in print, referring to them as “court jesters” in his May 18 column. (For more on that, see “Bullies and Ballots,” SN&R Bites, May 22.)

We interviewed all the mayoral candidates (except Richard Jones, who didn’t return our calls, and Adam Daniel, who’d already dropped out of the race). It’s clear from those interviews that these people are not clowns of any kind.
Here's my letter:
SN&R’s editorial board was shocked by media figures kicking lesser-known mayoral candidates around? Boy, that's a surprise! In the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, SN&R led the California media pack in kicking lesser-known gubernatorial candidates around. With 135 candidates running, many with impressive credentials, SN&R featured just five or six of the most notorious publicity-seekers, all with the aim of discrediting the entire election, ignoring all the others. Nothing like kicking around the weak to show you mean business.

Why the change? I can only hope that the slovenly gatekeeping exercised by the national media over the last decade, which led directly to the Iraq War, has caused some rethinking even on SN&R’s editorial board. Elections are always vital and should never, ever be scorned. Candidates are rarely frivolous: it's a weary, expensive process to chase votes.

Fringe candidacies often announce the birth of important new political forces. Democratic presidential politics example: 1972's Shirley Chisholm led ultimately to 2008's Barack Obama.

Overlooked constituencies generally have only fringe candidacies to push new ideas into the political mainstream. 2003 recall election example: several candidates championed the rights of non-custodial divorced fathers in California courts. It's an oddball political issue, and if you read SN&R faithfully, you will remain blithely ignorant to it, plus being completely blindsided if it ever develops into something bigger.

The media in general, and SN&R in particular, must stop righteously abusing public-spirited citizens for wanting to enter the political process. I'm glad SN&R put away the pins and voodoo dolls, at least until the next election.

Sure looks interesting. The entire landscape screams that it has been sculpted by ice. It wouldn't be all that surprising to actually see some ice. The news summary:
A view of the ground underneath NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander adds to evidence that descent thrusters dispersed overlying soil and exposed a harder substrate that may be ice.

The image received Friday night from the spacecraft's Robotic Arm Camera shows patches of smooth and level surfaces beneath the thrusters.

"This suggests we have an ice table under a thin layer of loose soil," said the lead scientist for the Robotic Arm Camera, Horst Uwe Keller of Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

"We were expecting to find ice within two to six inches of the surface," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for Phoenix. "The thrusters have excavated two to six inches and, sure enough, we see something that looks like ice. It's not impossible that it's something else, but our leading interpretation is ice."
Tights Aren't Pants? Them's Fightin' Words!

Close enough to count!

Bunheads of the world, unite! Toss off the repressive regime of the fascist pants people. Say it right, say it tight!

Tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights, tights!
Yard Sale Time!

Left: At the Runaway Stage rehearsal cottage, Karen Day struggles across the cottage walkway with one of my donations (ultimately derived from E.'s vast collection of arcane rubbish - sorry, make that precious possessions): a padded exercise bench, ideal for doing sit-ups alone at home (but for which purpose I prefer a more-social environment in a health club instead).

Today was Curtis Park's annual Yard Sale Saturday! The event is sponsored every year by the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association, and features a surprising number of yard sales all through the neighborhood, including this one for Runaway Stage Productions (RSP).

I told Karen Day that there was something disturbing about seeing theater people up and active at 9 a.m. She said it wasn't nearly as disturbing as seeing theater people up and active at 6 a.m., when they started getting ready for the sale.

I donated some CDs as well. One of the CDs was a new release by Keyshia Cole's "Just Like You". I belong to a record club that sends you their feature presentation anyway if you don't send a negative answer in on time, and because I'm so lackadaisical about responding, I often get CDs I didn't really want, but sometimes grow fond of anyway, and keep. As for Cole's CD, after repeated listening to her deep, soulful ballads, I had only one emotional response:


So, off to the yard sale with it, and several other CDs as well.

No yard sale is complete without a purchase, of course. I bought an Australian-wildlife-themed jigsaw puzzle, and I hope I didn't drop too many critical fragments from the box onto the RSP lawn (or else Sparky is going to get an unwelcome search task this evening on our walk looking for pieces of platypus).
Hope The Rules Committee Meeting Goes Well Today

Obama's been winning by mastering the rules. May he do as well today:
Unlike Hillary Rodham Clinton, rival Barack Obama planned for the long haul.

Clinton hinged her whole campaign on an early knockout blow on Super Tuesday, while Obama's staff researched congressional districts in states with primaries that were months away. What they found were opportunities to win delegates, even in states they would eventually lose.

..."Without a doubt, their understanding of the nominating process was one of the keys to their success," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist not aligned with either candidate. "They understood the nuances of it and approached it at a strategic level that the Clinton campaign did not."

...Obama used the Democrats' system of awarding delegates to limit his losses in states won by Clinton while maximizing gains in states he carried. Clinton, meanwhile, conserved her resources by essentially conceding states that favored Obama, including many states that held caucuses instead of primaries.

In a stark example, Obama's victory in Kansas wiped out the gains made by Clinton for winning New Jersey, even though New Jersey had three times as many delegates at stake. Obama did it by winning big in Kansas while keeping the vote relatively close in New Jersey.

...Obama won a majority of the 23 Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5 and then spent the following two weeks racking up 11 straight victories, building an insurmountable lead among delegates won in primaries and caucuses.

What made it especially hard for Clinton to catch up was that Obama understood and took advantage of a nominating system that emerged from the 1970s and '80s, when the party struggled to find a balance between party insiders and its rank-and-file voters.

...One big change was awarding delegates proportionally, meaning you can finish second or third in a primary and still win delegates to the party's national convention. As long candidates get at least 15 percent of the vote, they are eligible for delegates.

The system enables strong second-place candidates to stay competitive and extend the race—as long as they don't run out of campaign money.

"For people who want a campaign to end quickly, proportional allocation is a bad system," Devine said. "For people who want a system that is fair and reflective of the voters, it's a much better system."

Another big change was the introduction of superdelegates, the party and elected officials who automatically attend the convention and can vote for whomever they choose regardless of what happens in the primaries and caucuses.

Superdelegates were first seated at the 1984 convention. Much has been made of them this year because neither Obama nor Clinton can reach the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination without their support.

A more subtle change was the distribution of delegates within each state. As part of the proportional system, Democrats award delegates based on statewide vote totals as well as results in individual congressional districts. The delegates, however, are not distributed evenly within a state, like they are in the Republican system.

Under Democratic rules, congressional districts with a history of strong support for Democratic candidates are rewarded with more delegates than districts that are more Republican. Some districts packed with Democratic voters can have as many as eight or nine delegates up for grabs, while more Republican districts in the same state have three or four.

The system is designed to benefit candidates who do well among loyal Democratic constituencies, and none is more loyal than black voters. Obama, who would be the first black candidate nominated by a major political party, has been winning 80 percent to 90 percent of the black vote in most primaries, according to exit polls.

"Black districts always have a large number of delegates because they are the highest performers for the Democratic Party," said Elaine Kamarck, a Harvard University professor who is writing a book about the Democratic nominating process.

"Once you had a black candidate you knew that he would be winning large numbers of delegates because of this phenomenon," said Kamarck, who is also a superdelegate supporting Clinton.

In states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton won the statewide vote but Obama won enough delegates to limit her gains. In states Obama carried, like Georgia and Virginia, he maximized the number of delegates he won.

"The Obama campaign was very good at targeting districts in areas where they could do well," said former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a Clinton superdelegate from South Carolina. "They were very conscious and aware of these nuances."
A. Q. Khan Recants

Interesting tale here. I never believed Khan's original story. I don't believe you can have a real rogue nuclear scientist at the top of any national nuclear program. There are just too many checks and barriers. You might have a rogue scientist, but a rogue acting with the full knowledge and approval of the nation for whom the scientist works, in which case it's the nation that's the rogue, not the scientist.:
The Pakistani scientist blamed for running a rogue network that sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya has recanted his confession, telling ABC News the Pakistani government and President Perez Musharraf forced him to be a "scapegoat" for the "national interest."

"I don't stand by that," Dr. A.Q. Khan told ABC News in a 35-minute phone interview from his home in Islamabad, where he has been detained since "confessing" that he ran the nuclear network on his own, without the knowledge of the Pakistani government. The interview will be broadcast Friday on "World News With Charles Gibson."

...As to his widely publicized confession, Khan said he was told by Musharraf that it would get the United States "off our backs" and that he was promised he would be quickly pardoned. "Those people who were supposed to know knew it," Khan said about his activities.

If true, it would mean Pakistan lied to the U.S. and the international community about its role in providing nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

A spokesman for the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. said today the government there hasn't changed its views on Khan despite the claims he makes in the interview, "The government of Pakistan has adequately investigated allegations of nuclear proliferation and considers the AQK affair closed," said a statement from the embassy to ABC News.

A U.S. official said American investigators were also unconvinced of Khan's latest claims. "We have not changed our assessment that A.Q. Khan was a very major and dangerous proliferator. He sold sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to some genuinely bad actors," the official said.

Khan admitted in the ABC News interview that he had twice traveled to North Korea but denied ever going to Iran or Libya.

Khan said the North Korean nuclear weapons program was "well-advanced" before he arrived, as part of an officially sanctioned trip by his government.

As to Iran, he said he believed it would be a "long time" before that country would be able to test a nuclear weapon.

Khan said it was ridiculous to suppose that al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden would be able to build or acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan. "How can people who live in a cave hope to do that?" he said.
From The E. Files

From a 1989 Sacramento County Sheriff's Incident/Information report:
1129 hrs., 06/26/89, Monday. I arrived at xxxx Rollins Way in
Sacramento in regard to an assault report. I contacted E., and she
related the following in summary:

Her next door neighbor at xxxx Rollins has a small puppy which barks all
the time. She tried to talk to her about the dog in the past, and it
apparently has not done any good.

This morning at approximately 9:30, she again went next door to contact her
in regard to the dog.

After knocking at the door, the neighbor rudely answered it and began
yelling at her about the dog and telling that she was not going to get rid of
the dog no matter what she said.

E. tried to talk to her rationally, but the lady only screamed and yelled
at her. She finally slammed the door in her face.

This made E. angry, and she made a retort, something to the effect of
"stupid" as she turned to walk away from the door. The lady jerked the
door back open and came running out to her, pushing her down the walkway as she
yelled at her to get off the property and not come back. The lady wouldn't
give her a chance to even walk away or answer her as she continued to yell at

E. then came to her residence and contacted authorities.

There were no witnesses to the incident.
Simplicity In Your Life Will Ensure You A Happy Life

Well, that's what the fortune cookie up at the evil place said. Wish I took it to heart. Loss: $1,299.00

Friday, May 30, 2008

Exasperatingly Cute

On the sidewalk next to Chipotle Restaurant in Sacramento yesterday, I watched an adult-sized sparrow with juvenile coloration plaintively call after, and pursue, another sparrow, presumably its mother. Feigning helplessness on the cold, cruel sidewalk, the young sparrow fluttered its wings and made the unmistakable plea: "Feed me! Feed me!"

Very annoying to the mom, I'm sure, but very cute....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Entropy And The Odyssey

The last two days I've been doing housework and wrassling with furniture.

Part of the problem is E.'s difficulty with clothes. She has too many to begin with, and she doesn't have enough places to store them. The obvious answer is to give some away, but instead, she buys more. And gets more clothes out of storage. Like a geyser of clothes, her bedroom is.

After cleaning clothes, she neatly folds them, but doesn't - can't - put them away. Instead, they accumulate on her bed, until there is now a veritable mountain of wrinkled, yet clean clothing on the bed. The clothing makes for a good nest for her to sleep in - a cocoon of laundry - but it's annoying, because some of my clothes are admixed into the mountain. She says she'll get around to putting them away, but the mountain has been there for years. Her promises are meaningless at this point.

Today, I put some clothes from the mountain into one of the pieces of furniture recently brought into the house, what was originally designed as a buffet. I did cut the mountain down by a quarter, and even found some of my missing clothes.

There are a few more storage places available, like in her closet, but the closet's door won't open: there is a mound of clothes on the floor blocking the door. Plus, there are other mounds of clothes, like snowdrifts, on the floor. So many clothes, and so few storage locations! It's been five years since the bedroom's floor was cleaned, if I'm not mistaken. But today was a start.
Needles Wants To Secede

And join either Nevada or Arizona. But this may be mostly a 'grass is greener on the other side of the river' phenomenon, reflecting primarily the casino boom in the other two states.:
Depending on their mood and whom you talk to, people in this parched railroad town clinging to the eastern edge of California call it the poor stepchild, the redheaded stepchild, the ugly stepchild of San Bernardino County.

They grouse about not getting their roads paved, about being 220 miles from the county seat, about being a dumping ground for parolees and sex offenders -- all the while gazing enviously across the Colorado River at boomtowns in Arizona and Nevada.

The building codes are stricter here, the taxes are higher," said Patricia Scott, a nurse. "I cross into Arizona and it's growing by leaps and bounds. We are the only community in the tri-state area that hasn't grown, and it's probably because we are in California."

Kohl's, Target and Sam's Club stand like beacons on the not-so-distant shore. Gas is almost a dollar a gallon cheaper across the river. Casinos beckon. Cities mushroom. And Needles slowly fades away.

"Have you been downtown?" asked City Councilman Richard Pletcher. "It's like little Hiroshima. It's HiroNeedles."

Resentment has been mounting for years, but the county's decision to reduce the Colorado River Medical Center, the town's once proud hospital, to a small urgent-care facility has sparked open rebellion. Needles is now considering leaving California to join Nevada or Arizona or to create its own independent county.

"This is not a publicity stunt. We are serious about secession," said former Mayor and Councilman Roy Mills. "Look at Nevada, they are booming. Look at Arizona, they are booming. We want to level the playing field. I was initially skeptical about splitting off, but the more I learn about it, the more doable it seems."

In many ways, people here have already left; they just haven't moved. They often dine, shop and work across the river. Their schools' sports teams compete against teams in Nevada and Arizona, not California. And for fun they usually head to Las Vegas, Lake Havasu or Laughlin, not west to Barstow.

"I think leaving California may be our last chance," Pletcher said. "Are we supposed to just dwindle down to a puff of smoke?"

A city commission is investigating the options. Not that leaving would be easy. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress would have to approve.

...Needles took over the hospital itself. To cut costs, staffers are working without benefits or overtime. Yard sales are being held to raise money.

"The county of San Bernardino has never liked us. We have always been their ugly stepchild," said Pam Andrade, a respiratory therapist. "They led us to believe they would turn this place around. They are like a lying spouse in a relationship that keeps lying and lying, and eventually you can't believe anything they say."

Brad Mitzelfelt, a San Bernardino County supervisor who represents Needles, disputes that. The town is home to 11 county offices and benefits from numerous county services, including a library, an airport, a regional park and law enforcement, he said.

"Needles may be better served in another state, but that's because California has a disadvantageous business climate that hurts them when they try to compete against Nevada or Arizona," he said.

Tom Bright owned two NAPA Auto Parts stores -- one in Bullhead City, Ariz., one in Needles. He said he paid 10 times more in workers' compensation insurance in California than in Arizona. A gas can at his Needles shop cost $19.99. In Arizona, it was $5.99. He sold chemicals and paint in Arizona that he couldn't sell in California because of environmental regulations.

"The labor laws, the overtime laws, the environmental laws are all stricter in California," he said. "If you were to fly over Needles, then over Lake Havasu, Bullhead, Laughlin, you would see that Needles hasn't grown at all. I'd be happy if it left."

...With the exception of West Virginia's leaving Virginia during the Civil War, American secession movements generally have failed.

Wendover, Utah, tried to join West Wendover, Nev., in 2002, a move derailed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

In the late 1980s, San Bernardino County voters rejected an attempt to create a county running from the Cajon Pass to Needles. And a group of Northern California and southern Oregon counties declared the independent state of Jefferson in 1941. The movement lives on today with its own flag, radio station and "interim capital" at Yreka.

"There is more and more talk about secession, not just here but all over the country," said Brian Peterson, a Jefferson spokesman. "The government is out of touch with our individual lives. I would tell Needles to stick with it, keep your head and have a goal in mind. Is secession what you really want, or do you want to feel empowered?"

..."In terms of whether they are better off, they need to look at more than just the business climate and weigh the services they get now," said Virginia Valentine, manager and chief executive for Clark County, Nev., which would absorb Needles if it joined that state.

"It's true we have no state income taxes, but the idea that we have more money for services . . . well, I don't know if that's the case."

Mayor Jeff Williams thinks the whole thing is a bad idea.

"The county has bent over backward to help us," he said. "I think this is saber-rattling. But I want to look at it objectively. What will we lose? What will we gain? Is it even possible? I don't want to bash the county and then have this effort fail. Then we really will be the redheaded stepchild."
RIP, Harvey Korman

One very funny guy.
Scott McClellan's New Book

Karl Rove has commented that Scott McClellan now sounds like a left-wing blogger. To me, this sounded like a correct interpretation of events. It reminded me of the old saw that a conservative is a liberal that has just been mugged. It works the other way around too. Spending seven - *seven!* - years at the point of the tip of the Bush Administration's media spear would leave anyone feeling jaded and used.

Left bloggerdom is the touchstone of reality. Scott McClellan has returned to Earth. Welcome to his new home the intrepid voyager!

Here are some video clips of Scott McClellan back in the day....

Finally beginning to talk about the pressure:

Raining In Brisbane

SOUTH-EAST Queenslanders have been urged to prepare for wild weather with more heavy rain tipped to follow overnight downpours which have already caused some flooding.

The Bureau of Meteorology revealed this morning that Brisbane has received its average monthly rainfall in just two days _ with the heaviest falls still to come.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said residents should prepare their properties for the possibility of heavy rain and strong winds over the coming days.

He said strong winds, dangerous surf and heavy rain which could cause local flooding, were forecast from Gladstone to the Gold Coast.

Falls of 27.4mm were recorded in the city overnight but Wynnum recorded the highest with 43mm.

The falls were enough to flood the Ipswich Motorway at Goodna, and police are warning motorists to proceed with caution.

...Sunshine Coast received the bulk of the falls with a top of 87mm at Noosa, 78.8mm at Tewantin, 52.2 at Nambour and 49.4mm at Maroochydore.

The Gold Coast Seaway received 27.4mm.

The dams again largely missed out _ Wivenhoe 10mm and Somerset 8mm.

Bureau of Meterology forecaster Andrea Peace said the rain and cool temperatures would continue until Tuesday, with the heaviest falls due Sunday into Monday.

Ms Peace said just how much rain depended on the movement of the east coast low, developing off Gladstone.

She said if it moved south as predicted, the south-east could be in for a very wet couple of days.

Ms Peace said while Brisbane's May average was about 50mm, records of the past 20 years show east coast lows pushing this above 500mm.

``There's real potential to be really have rain falls, they've just got to be in the right spot,'' she said.

``Although it's the dry season, there can be one-off events where we do get a lot of rain.''

In May 1989, Brisbane received 547mm; in June 2005, 512mm; Rainbow Beach in August 2007 600m.

Daytime temperatures are currently about 17 degrees - five degrees below average.

...Weekend falls were expected to be heaviest along the coast and peter out inland, with a maximum of 20mm on the Darling Downs where farmers needed planting rain for winter crops, the bureau said.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Light Blogging

Things have been so light at work that, instead, I've been taking time to:
  • try to figure out how to integrate E.'s mountain o'crap into the household;
  • clean up stuff;
  • move furniture;
  • get Joe the Plumber to fix a leaking faucet; etc., etc.

My general philosophy is that one should always be prepared to move at the drop of a hat, and so I've been slamming things into boxes, awaiting the apocalypse, should it ever happen.

Joe's been very helpful, of course. Since Joe is now homeless again, we aren't quite as busy as we should be. Instead, I listen to Joe talk up his own plumbing skills and spin conspiracy theories over spaghetti at Crepe Escape. Plus, we left his dogs, Bella and Duncan, in the yard with Sparky while we went to go get spaghetti, but these dogs were so robust they easily outwitted the back yard gate, escaped, and attracted attention far and wide from concerned neighbors and passersby who didn't want to see the dogs get run down in the street.

So, I'm getting stuff done, but at a lackadaisical pace, and covered in dog slobber.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An Advantage To Traveling With The Bad Crowd

Easy pocket change:
Calls to the Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers hot line in the first quarter of this year were up 30 percent over last year. San Antonio had a 44 percent increase. In Wichita, the year-over-year jump was 70 percent.

Cities and towns such as Detroit and Omaha and Beaufort County, N.C., report increases of 25 percent or more in the first quarter, with tipsters telling operators they need the money for rent, light bills or baby formula.

"For this year, everyone that's called has pretty much been just looking for money," said Sgt. Lawrence Beller, who answers Crime Stoppers calls at the Sussex County (N.J.) Sheriff's Office. "That's as opposed to the last couple of years, where some people were just sick of the crime and wanting to do something about it."

...A woman called the Regional Crime Stoppers line in Macon, Ga., recently to find out when she could pick up her reward money for a recent tip. She was irritated to learn that she would have to wait from Friday until Monday.

"I'm in a bind, I'm really in a bind," she told the hot-line operator. "There's a lot of stuff I know, but I didn't open my mouth. If I weren't in a bind, I wouldn't open my mouth."

When she learned the money was not available, she said she would call back with the whereabouts of another suspect whom she had just seen "going down the road."

...Some Crime Stoppers coordinators say their program appeals to community spirit and emphasize that not everyone who calls is after money. But their advertising makes no bones about the benefits of a good tip.

"Crime doesn't pay but we do," say the mobile billboards cruising Jacksonville, Fla. A poster in Jackson, Tenn., draws a neat equation: "Ring Ring + Bling Bling = Cha-Ching." The bling, in this case, is a pair of handcuffs.

Crime Stoppers programs strictly protect the anonymity of callers. Each tip is assigned a number, and if the tip results in an arrest, the caller can collect a cash reward, usually by going to a designated bank. Some programs pay tipsters within hours of an arrest; others have monthly meetings to approve reward amounts.

Not only have the number of tips increased, several program coordinators said, but people are also more diligent about calling back to find out if and when they can collect.

..."We have people out there that, realistically, this could be their job," said Sgt. Zachary Self, who answers Crime Stoppers calls for the Macon Police Department.

"Two or three arrests per week, you could make $700, $750 per week," Self said. "You could make better than a minimum-wage job."
Congratulations To Jennifer

Along with many others, Jennifer Lin at the Sacramento Opera was shocked by the Sacramento Bee's decision to stop printing opera reviews in the print edition of the paper, and make them available only on-line. By converting her anger into action, and initiating an E-Mail campaign that flooded the Bee with complaints, she got the Bee to reverse its decision (with face-saving rationale below):
More than a few readers called or e-mailed to complain about the paper's decision to make a recent opera review available only online at

Opera fans were upset that the review of Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca" by Sacramento Opera was not in the paper as prior performances had been. They said The Bee was sending mixed signals, because it had run an extensive "Tosca" preview in Ticket, and they were anticipating a follow-up review in the paper.

"I want you to know that I think it's grossly ignorant of The Bee to stop printing arts reviews in the paper by moving them to the Internet," e-mailed Darryl McGuire of Sacramento. "It's also a complete disservice to the struggling arts organizations of Sacramento, e.g., Sacramento Opera, Ballet and Philharmonic to name a few. What kind of warped thinking is this with today's declining newspaper business? Are you now trying to rid yourself of your most loyal readers?

"This is not a negotiable issue with me. I detest The Bee's decision and have cancelled my subscription. I'll get my daily dose of ordinary blues elsewhere."

Frances Pendleton, a retired Sacramento schoolteacher, was not as vehement but was equally disappointed.

"This is a break from the past," she said in a phone call.

Pendleton, 79, and a longtime newspaper and opera subscriber, said her beef was the paper's inconsistency, citing both the comprehensive "Tosca" preview and a separate package on the challenges facing Sacramento opera in last week's Ticket, both of which she praised.

Pendleton said she ended up reading the online review, which she enjoyed. But, she maintained, it also should have been in the paper.

Turns out there was a mistake and the review should have been in the paper, said Managing Editor Tom Negrete, who oversees Ticket and the Scene section. He said he was to blame for the miscommunication.

Negrete only recently took over supervision of the features department and he has had ongoing discussions with editors there about changes.

He said he wants to emphasize more in-depth coverage of the arts via personality and issue pieces, for example, that interest more readers beyond those who are ardent fans of the opera or the theater.

Reviews still will be printed in the paper, he said, particularly of shows with multiple performances.

What he wants to stop are reviews of one-night stands, where a performer or event are long gone by the time the review is published.
The Big Four - O

And going strong:
Kylie Minogue turns 40 today. And at the risk of not sounding much like a straight man on the wrong side of 40, can I just say three words? Oh. My. God.

Certain things, like milk and Bindi Irwin, seem difficult to imagine after a certain date. And while Kylie looks like the most fabulous 40-year-old in the southern hemisphere (oh dear, there I go again), the big four-oh is traditionally a time for taking stock of what has happened so far, assessing how one got to that point, and deciding where to go from there.

Kylie - we don't need the surname any more, so let's not bother using it - is like Vegemite. You may love it, you may hate it, but it has undoubtedly become an Australian icon, something you can't avoid. And despite the fact that she has homes in Britain and Paris, and her accent has transformed into that weird quasi-English/European melange favoured by people such as Elle Macpherson, there is something definably Australian about her which she will never lose, even if she was never to set a dainty foot on our soil ever again. At heart, Kylie is a dag.

Despite the model boyfriends and the designer threads and the jetsetting lifestyle and the oh-so-unwrinkled face, she still has that sense of self-deprecation and ability to laugh at herself which someone like Madonna never had and never will have. From knowingly reciting the lyrics to I Should Be So Lucky at the Poetry Olympics at London's Albert Hall in 1996, to appearing on Kath & Kim as future bridezilla Epponee-Rae, she is what Australians of a certain age would refer to as both "a good sort" and "a good sport".

...Her sainthood was not always so assured. In the late '80s, Kylie was laughably uncool. She was in Neighbours, and back then it wasn't retro or geeky/cool to say you watched Neighbours. I Should Be So Lucky was huge but, as Anthony Dennis reported in 1988 in the Herald, where he coined the nickname the "Singing Budgie", three Sydney radio stations refused to play it after market research revealed that their 25- to 40-year-old demographic found the song intensely annoying.

Kylie is the girl who could have it all, but doesn't. Yes, she's worth a lot of money - at last count, $83 million. But there are the critics, who don't take her seriously. There is her self-confessed failure to crack the United States market. And there's the man thing. Perhaps only Jennifer Aniston has been the subject of more hand-wringing by the tabloids and glossies over their "concern" for her failure to find lasting love and then reproduce.

And on Kylie's 40th birthday that kind of speculation can only intensify. In a telling sign of how much she has become part of the national consciousness, after breaking up with the French actor Olivier Martinez last year, she quickly became "our Kylie" and he became "the love rat".

People love Kylie because of her personal and professional problems, not despite them. Her extraordinary ordinariness is often pointed out, and those big white teeth and that she stands only 152 centimetres in her stockings only adds to the hugability factor.

...There's a reason Kylie is thought of more fondly than her sister, Dannii. Despite the fact that she reportedly is driven and a workaholic, she doesn't have the appearance of someone trying too hard to be liked. Sure, she's pushing her stuff and working that butt to get across. But she doesn't give off that whiff of desperation for 15 minutes of fame, or, as in the case of the "stars" in this current plague of TV dancing/singing/talent shows, a desire to regain another few minutes after the allotted 15 minutes expired a while ago.

As a result, no matter how daggy or glitzy she is at any point in time, Kylie will still be embraced by the general public when she's 60. Maybe more so. We've already got a prime minister called Kevin. Doesn't President Kylie have a nice ring to it? We should be so lucky.
Cutting Back

There certainly seems to be less traffic these days:
The Department of Transportation said figures from March show the steepest decrease in driving ever recorded.

Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less -- that's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it "the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history." Records have been kept since 1942.
An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Too bad they didn't get into cat-washing....
So, How's The Fundraising?

Seen better times, I suppose (indeed, the event will be held in a closed venue):
Phoenix Business Journal - May 23, 2008

A Tuesday fundraiser headlined by President Bush for U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is being moved out of the Phoenix Convention Center.

Sources familiar with the situation said the Bush-McCain event was not selling enough tickets to fill the Convention Center space, and that there were concerns about more anti-war protesters showing up outside the venue than attending the fundraiser inside.
One Of Those Theater Anxiety Dreams

I'm sure we all have them....

Last night, I dreamt that the run for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" had been extended by several weeks, but because of their busy schedules, none of the RSP actors could participate. Roles and scripts were being hurriedly handed out to others, and via phone call I was assigned the role of Trevor Graydon, III. That sounded great: razor-sharp wit is the key to that role.

Trouble is, there hadn't been any rehearsal, I had no idea who had been cast as Millie, I hadn't looked at the script, and there were two hours until curtain.

Well, I'd best be getting started learning these lines....

Monday, May 26, 2008

Steve & Jan's 34th Anniversary Dinner

Seafood and steak in a luxurious atmosphere. Yum.....

Phoenix Arrives Safely!

Left: CLUES IN THE CRACKS: The flat landscape is strewn with tiny pebbles and shows polygonal cracking, a pattern seen widely in Martian high latitudes and also in permafrost terrains on Earth. The polygonal cracking apparently resulted from seasonal freezing and thawing of surface ice. This is an approximate-color image taken shortly after landing by the craft's Surface Stereo Imager, inferred from two filters: a violet, 450-nanometer filter and an infrared, 750-nanometer filter. May 26, 2008

Wow! This patterned, polygonal ground is exactly what they were expecting! There is, or once was, ice in this ground! Similar patterns can be found in icy ground on Earth. I hope they find ice!

Here is the U of A Web Site.

Left and below: Photo credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Memorial Day Weekend

Left: Dogs on a lawn, with individual carpet pads to protect each of their well-groomed coats.

Left: A 68 year old Curtis Park tradition - Gunther's Ice Cream Parlor on Franklin Blvd.

Left: Learning fun-filled facts from U-Haul truck sides - the Giant Squid.

Left: The curse of alien species, and Hawaii's native Happy-Face Spider.
So Many White Flags And So Few Red Flags

A Memorial Day protest against the criminal Iraq War:
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) ― A flag display on Memorial Day will showcase 120,000 red and white flags representing the number of troops and Iraqis killed in the war, despite an abrupt reversal that nearly led to the permit's cancellation.

Veterans for Peace member Debra Reiger requested a permit to display the flags in April. A city attorney denied the project last week, but the City Council reversed that decision tonight.

"This means so much to put this out and to be able to honor these people that gave so much," said Weiger.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) got involved after the permit was denied. "It's a victory for the average guy on the street," said Cres Vellucci from the ACLU. "This is a display that's going to honor or commemorate their sacrifice."

Debra will start placing flags on Saturday and it will be ready on Monday for people to see. People will be able to see the display between 2nd and 9th on Capitol Avenue.
Left: Just small red wedges for the few American dead.
Left: Looking towards the State Capitol building.

Left: Looking towards the I Street bridge.
"Cabeza de Vaca"

Among the movies I've been watching is this really interesting 1991 Mexican drama concerning the eight-year long journey (1528 - 1536) of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was shipwrecked and enslaved by Indians, but who found a career as an itinerant Indian shaman, and eventually, after an endless journey through swamp and desert, ultimately found his way back to Spanish civilization. Cabeza de Vaca's few travelling companions, most notably the Moor Estebanico, helped fuel rumors of the Seven Cities of Cíbola, which led directly to the 1540 Coronado expedition and the first Spanish encounters with the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca's story is one the greatest personal survival tales in world history, and it made him one of the very, very few people who could fully appreciate the tragedy of Spain's conquest of the peoples of the Americas. From Wikipedia:
As treasurer, and hence one of the chief officers, of the Narváez expedition, Cabeza de Vaca and three others were the only survivors of the party of 300 men who landed near Tampa Bay, Florida in the spring of 1528. Over the course of eight years, various members of the expedition succumbed to disease, starvation, exposure, and the attacks of various Native American groups as they slowly made their way west, toward Mexico, where they knew there were other Spaniards. Others among them simply gave up the effort and "went native." For a few years, the survivors were enslaved by various Native American tribes of the upper Gulf coast (including the Hans and the Capoques of Galveston Island, which the explorers termed Malhado, or Island of Doom). Only the final four--Cabeza de Vaca, Dorantes, Castillo, and a Moroccan Berber named Esteban (who was later called Estevanico)--ultimately escaped and eventually reached Mexico City.

Traveling mostly in this small group, Cabeza de Vaca explored what is now the U.S. state of Texas, and possibly smaller portions of New Mexico and Arizona. He traveled on foot along the Texas coast and up the Rio Grande and then down the Pacific Coast to Sinaloa, Mexico, over a period of roughly eight years, during which time he lived in conditions of abject poverty and, occasionally, in slavery. During his wanderings, passing from tribe to tribe, he developed sympathies for the indigenous population. He eventually became a trader, which allowed him freedom to travel among the tribes. Cabeza de Vaca claims to have learned to heal the sick, and to have gained such notoriety as a healer that he and his companions gathered a large following of natives who regarded them as "children of the sun" endowed with the power to both heal and destroy, and who accompanied them in their journey across what is now the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. Eventually, after returning to the colonized reaches of New Spain and encountering a group of fellow Spaniards in the vicinity of modern-day Culiacán, he went on to Mexico City and returned to Europe in 1537. Cabeza de Vaca wrote about his experiences in a report for Charles V. It was later published in 1542, under the title La Relación (The Report), and is considered a classic of colonial literature. Cabeza de Vaca desired to succeed Pánfilo de Narváez (whose supposed ineptitude is commonly credited with causing the deaths of most of the party) as governor of Florida and return there, but Charles V had already appointed Hernando De Soto to lead the next expedition. Cabeza de Vaca declined to travel with the expedition as second in command. His apparent reluctance to provide his countrymen with sufficient information about the uncharted territory may have been due to his jealousy over De Soto's appointment.

Instead, in 1540 he was appointed governor of Río de la Plata, in what is now Paraguay, Argentina and their surroundings. As in North America, he was unusually sensitive and benevolent towards the Native peoples. He was the first European to behold the Iguazu Falls, among the most spectacular in the world. Political intrigue against him caused his arrest in Asunción and return to Spain in chains, in around 1545. He was eventually exonerated and wrote an extensive report on South America, which bound with his earlier La Relación and published under the title Comentarios (Commentary).
The movie is in Spanish with English subtitles, but there is actually little Spanish at all, since Cabeza de Vaca is often alone or isolated, with no one to speak to. He is just as lost as the audience, in a world of Indian dialects.

The director Nicolás Echevarría greatly simplified, even over-simplified, Cabeza de Vaca's journey. The movie suggests the shipwreck was in Florida, but that was actually the journey's first bloody stopping point. The final shipwreck occurred somewhere west of the Mississippi Delta, and Cabeza de Vaca's enslavement likely occurred somewhere near Galveston, Texas. Why leave that part out? Well, it's complicated, and ultimately for director Nicolás Echevarría may have been unimportant. Echevarría had something else in mind. The important part was that Cabeza de Vaca was thrown into a hallucinatory world of abasement and privation. Cabeza de Vaca carried a Christian cross, and his initial captors decided he should be sent to a shaman who also wore a cross, and be put to work tending the needs of a spoiled armless gnome [Update: Upon a second-viewing, there is the chance I've misinterpreted the role of the cross in the movie - the cross instead may have been seized from Cabeza de Baca and presented to the captor, but the film's editing seems to prevent one from establishing for sure what happened, or what the meaning may have been].

What a horrible existence! The hallucinatory quality is reminiscent of the magical realism pioneered by author Gabriel García Márquez and subsequently used by directors like Mel Gibson in "Apocalypto". Cabeza de Vaca's real existence may have been as a turtle-egg collector on the Texas beach, but instead the movie shows him apprenticing the shaman craft with his captors. Cabeza de Vaca's vision-laden emergence as a successful healer is the movie's best moment.

The transition from swamp to desert is very abrupt, indicating that Echevarría wasn't much bothered by notions of continuity. Indeed, he had only two Mexican filming locations: the desert (in Coahuila) and the swamp (in Nayarit). As far as I could tell, the Indians were less like the real Indians of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, and more like the Indians of Mexico. Then I remembered my history of Mexico ("Mexico" by Michael D. Coe, third edition, p. 146):
Into this uneasy political situation stepped the last barbaric tribe to arrive in the Valley of Mexico, the Aztecs, the 'people whose face nobody knows'. They said that they came from a place called 'Aztlan' in the west of Mexico, believed by some authorities to be the state of Nayarit, and had wandered about guided by the image of their tribal god, Huitzilopochtli ('Hummingbird-on-the left'), who was borne on the shoulders of four priests. .... We next see the Aztecs following a hand-to-mouth existence in the marshes of the great lake, or 'Lake of the Moon'. On they wandered, loved by none, until they reached some swampy, unoccupied islands, covered by rushes, near the western shore; it was claimed that there the tribal prophecy, to build a city where an eagle was sitting on a cactus, holding a snake in its mouth, was fulfilled.
The director suggests discreetly, by his choice of filming location in the Nayarit swamps, through simplification and also perhaps by conflation of the Texas Indians with Aztecs, and by using a dash of magical realism, that Cabeza de Vaca's real story is about the tragedy of Mexico's conquest by Spain. And Cabeza de Vaca's story is about that, partly at any rate. The film is a meditation about Mexico's tortured birth as a Spanish colony. A powerful film and well-worth watching!
Trying To Kick This Persistent Cough - With Movies

I've been pulling back a bit, not staying out so late, sleeping more than I would care to, all in the effort to finally rid myself of this cough that settled into my chest on May 11th. Sometimes Sparky and I will keep each other awake all night long with our dueling coughs.

So, I've been watching a lot more older movies on DVD. Actually I don't remember ever having seen these, but I'm not sure if it's because I never saw them, or if my memory is so fragile that it can't hold the memory well. Maybe memory has a half-life after all:

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: What a delightful musical! Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe perform in this 1953 movie, with Monroe's stellar "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" as a timeless and classic result. Jack Cole, the fellow who developed Monroe's trademark hip sway walk, was the choreographer for this marvelous show. (It's important to remember that even something like Monroe's walk had to be created, and that it wasn't second nature, and that Monroe wasn't even the one to credit for it).

Caligula: Possessed of more money and ambition than sense, Penthouse's Bob Guccione bought some of the best acting talent available in the world to make either the most dramatic porn movie ever, or the most pornographic drama ever, with this 1979 movie showing the degeneration of the Julio-Claudian line of Roman emperors. The trouble is, porn is porn, and drama is drama, and they don't really mix. Porn exists in a free-floating world divorced from time, but drama hinges on plot and character development. For example, vengeance would be a useful theme in a drama, but vengeful porn is a non-starter for most. Apart from some marvellous character studies provided by the superb actors, the only character who seems to move well between the two worlds is Teresa Ann Savoy, who as Caligula's corrupt sister Drusilla, nevertheless manages to never lose her head, even as everyone around her was losing theirs. The television series "I, Claudius" is a much better drama about the degenerate Julio-Claudian line of emperors, partly because there is no porn in it, but mostly because everyone concerned with the project, from Robert Graves on down, never forgets that the theme of the drama is the corruption of power.
RIP, Utah Phillips

Our Nevada City favorite lived the life and he sang the songs:
The son of labor organizers, Phillips was a lifelong member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies, Smith said.

He served in the Korean War, then came home devastated by the misery he'd seen and began drinking and drifting.

In the late '50s, broke and broken-hearted, Phillips rolled into Salt Lake City on a freight train and ended up at the Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter run by anarchist Ammon Hennacy.

He helped out at Joe Hill House and became a pacifist and a performer influenced by folk legends Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, country stars Hank Williams, T. Texas Tyler, comic Myron Cohen and novelist Thomas Wolfe, Smith said.