Saturday, July 26, 2008

Texan Bubble Memories

Texas missed out on the best part of the housing bubble, and so, today, they are in better shape than either bubbly coast. Still, the troubles bring back memories of the early 80's:
Gerard Cassidy recalls living through the 1980s Texas bust as a "young and naïve" bank analyst with an insurance company that had a large exposure to Texas banks.

"I believed them hook, line and sinker, everything the banks told me," says Mr. Cassidy, now a bank analyst at Canadian investment bank RBC Capital Markets. "And we went down with the ship."

Out of the ruins, Mr. Cassidy developed his own way of gauging how likely a bank was to fail, dubbing it the "Texas Ratio." He takes nonperforming assets, then divides that figure by a bank's tangible capital (the value of outstanding stock plus retained earnings) and future loan loss reserves.

The higher the number, the more dangerous the situation, Mr. Cassidy says; a ratio over 100 percent suggests a high probability of failure.

Two months ago, Mr. Cassidy told MarketWatch, a financial-information Web site, that Pasadena, Calif.-based IndyMac Bancorp Inc. had a worrisomely high Texas Ratio.

IndyMac went bust this month in one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history.

What does Mr. Cassidy see now? More trouble – but he believes the situation is less dire than in the early '90s.

"Over the next three years, upwards of 300 banks could fail," he said. "But from a bank failure standpoint and an industry collapse standpoint, we were in far worse shape in '90 and '91 than the banking industry today."
Two Decades, And Nothing Changes

Salterns Estate, Salterns Lane - it's all the same:
Raymond Southwell has called the Royal Mail every month for almost two decades to complain that his mail doesn't arrive at his home in Salterns Lane, Fareham, Hants.

Each time he calls, Royal Mail staff assure him the error won't happen again.

But 76-year-old Mr Southwell's post still gets delivered to an address in the nearby Salterns Estate.

..."Why it has happened for so long, I don't know. It's not even that the post isn't correctly addressed because it always is.

"But you can rant and rave as much as you want and nothing changes...."
Very Active SW Weather Today

New Mexico, and northern Chihuahua and Sonora, with former Dolly's center of circulation around White Sands. Next, the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma.....
McCain's Waking Nightmare

The Bushies get it:
Former Bush White House communications director and counselor Dan Bartlett yesterday offered a strikingly candid assessment of what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's support for Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan means for the campaign.

“Time will tell, but the al-Maliki comments about a timetable is very close to a game-changing event," Bartlett told my colleague Daniel Libit in an interview. "That was incredibly damaging [to McCain],because it neutralized one of [Obama’s] biggest liabilities."
Eccentric Names

This reminds me of the name N. once heard of: pronounced 'Ashley', but spelled 'Ashole':
A YOUNG girl embarrassed by her name - Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii - has won a new one from a family court judge in New Zealand.

Family Court Judge Rob Murfitt, ruling in the city of New Plymouth in the North Island, made the youngster a ward of court so that she could change the name she hates.

Judge Murfitt, in a written ruling released yesterday, said the girl's mother had not given any thought to the implication of naming her daughter.

"In all facets of life, a child bearing this name would be held up to ridicule and suspicion," Judge Murfitt wrote in the ruling made in February.

"The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child's parents have shown in choosing this name for her. It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap quite unnecessarily."

The name issue arose during a custody hearing for the girl.

Judge Murfitt also took a stand against other parents saddling their children with bizarre names despite officials often trying to talk them out of unusual choices, saying this could create "social hurdles" as they grew up.

He cited as examples a family who named their children after six-cylinder Ford cars, twins called Benson and Hedges and youngsters called Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Violence.

"Quite frequently judges in the family court are dismayed by the eccentricity of names which some litigants have given their children," he wrote.

New Zealand's Child, Youth and Family agency was quoted as telling local reporters that it did not consider odd names as such to be child abuse although it could be classified as such if a child was bullied because of his or her name.

In Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii's case, there was no bullying, probably because the girl was so embarrassed that she never told friends her real name, instead calling herself "K".

Judge Murfitt gave the girl a new name but it was not made public in order to protect her privacy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rockin' And Rollin' In The Sierra Madre Occidental Tonight!

Dolly is pounding Northern Mexico!
"bare" Coming To Sacramento!

Artistic Differences' "bare" will be at the Space on R Street through the month of August, featuring some of Sacramento's best singers/actors/dancers (Maggie Hollinbeck, Joelle Wirth, Kelly Daniells, Ian Cullity, Joshua James, etc., etc.). Some of the numbers were previewed at the Artistic Differences fundraiser last month.

Outword Magazine's Chris Narloch interviewed Director Kevin Caravalho (excerpt):

I dug out my CD of the cast recording, and I had forgotten how much I like the music. It’s not traditional show tunes stuff. Don’t you think that fans of Rent will enjoy bare?

Yes, I think the music is very accessible to the “new breed” of theatergoer. The score resembles the pop/rock sounds of Rent and Spring Awakening. I feel, however, that the story and character development in bare is far richer in scope.

I know you as an actor from your work in Angels in America and Rocky Horror. Have you directed before bare?

I have directed before, but I have never connected with a piece of theater as I have with this. And the cast we have assembled is truly amazing. I could not be happier.

I understand that James Snyder from Broadway’s Cry-Baby will be playing his own music before a couple performances. Tell me about that and his connection to bare and

You can imagine how exciting this is for us, as well as Sacramento theater in general. James is a Sacramento native fresh off his star turn in Broadway’s Cry-Baby. He lent his voice to the original cast of bare. Through a friend, James and I started speaking, and I am excited to say he has agreed to perform some songs from his upcoming CD as an opening act for two performances of our show.

bare runs July 30 through August 31 at The Space, located at 2509 R Street in midtown Sacramento. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 General, $15 Student (with valid student ID)/Senior (+65), and group (+10) tickets are $14 each. Tickets may be purchased at or by calling the box office at 916-708-3449. bare contains strong language and mature themes.

Due to the miracle of YouTube (praise be!) here is 'Epiphany', from "bare" as performed at the Artistic Differences' Fundraiser on June 1st. The video is jumpy in places, but the excellent training of the cast shines through - and this is two months before opening, before all the detail work has been done!
Dolly Moves In On The Southwest

Good grief! Dolly's spiral arms seem to persist, and are moving into Carlsbad, NM. El Paso is going to get it for sure, and showers are popping up all over SE Arizona....
Become One With The Bear

The penalty of messing with the salmon:
Bad weather is thwarting efforts to rescue a group of mine workers trapped by hungry bears in Russia's wild far eastern region of Kamchatka.

The bears have already eaten two of the workers.

The bears - apparently starving - killed the men on July 17, it was reported in Russia. As many as 30 bears have surrounded a platinum mine. Both victims worked at the mine as security guards.

About 400 geologists and miners are refusing to return to work, afraid of further attacks. Attempts by local officials to fly to the scene by helicopter and shoot the bears have so far failed because of poor weather, it was reported.

Kamchatka, 12,000 kilometres east of Moscow on Russia's Pacific coast, is one of the world's last great natural wilderness areas. The remote volcanic peninsula is home to the rare Steller's sea eagle, puffins, and brown bears that roam its geysers and snow-covered collapsed volcanoes.

Kamchatka's 12,000-strong bear population is the largest in Eurasia. Recently, however, the bears have faced unprecedented ecological pressures.

Poaching has led to a dramatic decline in the bear's main food source - the Pacific salmon.

Kamchatka is home to a quarter of the world's salmon, but they are disappearing. Poachers have cleaned out entire species by netting rivers.

Last year hunters shot dead at least 300 bears - picking off most of the large ones. At least another 600 were killed illegally, conservationists estimate.
Taking Nagourney Down A Notch

The national political media can be a beast and often have to be treated as political opponents, because, often, they are political opponents:
But, the next morning, Nagourney awoke to an e-mail from Talking Points Memo writer Greg Sargent asking him to comment on an eight-point rebuttal trashing his piece that the Obama campaign had released to reporters and bloggers like The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder and Politico's Ben Smith. Nagourney had not heard the complaints from the Obama camp and had no idea they were so steamed. "I'm looking at this thing, and I'm like, 'What the hell is this?' " Nagourney recently recalled. "I really flipped out."

Later that afternoon, Nagourney got permission from Times editors to e-mail Sargent a response to the Obama memo. But the episode still grates. "I've never had an experience like this, with this campaign or others," Nagourney tells me. "I thought they crossed the line. If you have a problem with a story I write, call me first. I'm a big boy. I can handle it. But they never called. They attacked me like I'm a political opponent."
Ye Gods!

Looks like QANTAS dodged a bullet!
Will Durst Comes To DMTC! (draft)

Left: Will Durst.

Left: Opening act Alvon (from Vallejo).

Left: Alvon.

Left (and below): Will Durst

Left: Smile for the camera! Steve Issacson, Alvon, and Jan Isaacson.

Left: Jan Isaacson, Will Durst, and Steve Isaacson. There was some discussion that Will Durst might come back in October.

Left: Bill Caruthers (who makes music under the name 'Jesus Son') and Will Durst.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Community Supports Their Own

Bruce Warren's latest story in the Auburn Journal:
Community response to one family of survivors from the Auburn Greens apartment fire has been overwhelming for Britany and Ken Mulhern and their two young daughters.

Employees at the Placer County Superior Court raised more than $2,000 for the family, which includes 10-month-old Sydney and Lexi (Alexandria), 7.

“They just started coming up to Britany with checks and bags of clothes,” Ken Mulhern said Wednesday. “None of it was solicited. We were just absolutely overwhelmed.”

Britany, 32 works as a family law clerk at Placer County Superior Court in Roseville, and Ken Mulhern’s mother Katie Mulhern works as a paralegal for Bruce Kline, an attorney for the City of Folsom. Kline started the fundraising efforts for the family by personally giving $200, and then sent out an e-mail describing our situation, Ken Mulhern said. Kline also gave the Mulherns complete use of his house for the first crucial week that they were without a home, and that’s where they are staying now.

Through Kline’s efforts the entire city hall raised more than $2,000 from “people I don’t even know,” Ken Mulhern said. “It just blows my mind.”

...“I always had thought that this could never happen to me,” Britany Mulhern said. “Well, I was wrong. I now know how other fire victims feel and I’m here to tell you I’m so glad that everyone got out safely.”
Talking With The Can Collectors In The Alley

Nice and early (about 11 a.m.) I walked into the alley out behind the house to lay down bird seed for the daily avian feeding. E. was nervous, and I couldn't blame her: two can collectors, each with their shopping carts, were smoking and talking loudly together in the alley.

D.: (sitting on a bucket and seeing me with the bird seed) So, you're the one who does that!
M.: Yeah, I feel sorry for the birds - they need help.
D.: It's good to help others when they need it. I walk these alleys, 23 miles a day, and I always lend a helping hand to those who need it, because I'm not going to let anyone suffer. And that's why I'm exchanging my cans here with this fellow, for a visit to Sac City. He'll be able to fetch more than $4.00 for them!
L.: Thank you so very much; I'm blessed.
D.: I don't need the money - I have money - and by exchanging the cans I don't have to walk all the way over to Franklin & 12th. I help him out, because he needs the money, and he gets to hear the Word as well.
L.: Don't get me wrong - this is a lucrative business. But I could use a little more. I have a pacemaker in my chest - heart problems from cocaine use. I used to do manual labor in a warehouse, but the doctor said I have to transition out of it. I really love working with computers, but for the meantime, in between things, the cans will do just fine. (To D.) Thanks again! I'll see you Sunday at Sac City! (rolls overburdened cart away)
D.: I went to 'Nam, and was a POW. Been walking these alleys for a long time, trying to avoid following behind others, so as get to the cans first.....

E.: (low and tense from the back yard gate) MMMAAARRRCCCCC!
M.: What?
E.: Come here!
M.: Just a minute....(walk over to the gate)
E.: What are you doing?
M.: Just talking with the folks....
E.: Gosh, they're homeless! What do you think you're doing? You have to go to work!
M.: They seem nice enough.....
E.: (walking away) Won't you ever learn?

M.: So, where were we.....?
D.: Now, if I don't see that fellow at Sac City on Sunday, he owes me $4.00.
M.: Really?
D.: It was a deal! Those were good cans I gave him. This way he gets what he needs, and hears the Word as well. I've been sleeping over around 26th & X, and a new crowd has moved in - dope fiends, thieves. They don't bother me, but they might bother you, so be careful. And if you could save me a few cans, for those times early in the morning when I pass through, I'd very much appreciate it!
New Mexico's "Snowy River" At Fort Stanton

Left: Caver John McLean talks about the many questions scientists have about the Snowy River formation... (AP Photo)

Amazing stuff! Many of the caves down there in SE New Mexico have been battered by use (e.g. Endless Cave), but this one is not only pristine, but active:
FORT STANTON CAVE, N.M. - Hundreds of feet beneath Earth's surface, a few seasoned cave explorers venture where no human has set foot. Their headlamps illuminate mud-covered walls, gypsum crystals and mineral deposits.

The real attraction, though, is under their shoes.

A massive formation that resembles a white river spans the cave's floor. A closer examination reveals that the odd formation is an intricate crust of tiny calcite crystals.

The explorers have reached Snowy River — thought to be the longest continuous cave formation in the world.

"I think Snowy River is one of the primo places underground in the world and there's still so much left that we haven't discovered. ... We don't even know how big it is," said Jim Goodbar, a cave specialist with the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The survey expedition by members of the Fort Stanton Cave Study Project in early July added several thousand feet to the measurement of the spectacular formation, which is at least four miles long. The explorers who have been following the passage under the rolling hills of southeastern New Mexico say there's still more of Snowy River to be discovered.

The few who have walked on the formation say they've seen nothing else like it. Early studies point to its uniqueness: Already, some three dozen species of microbes previously unknown to science have been uncovered.

New Mexico's two U.S. senators are pushing for Congress to designate Fort Stanton Cave and Snowy River as a national conservation area. The designation would protect the area from such activities as mining that threaten the water flows that created the cave. It also might generate funding for scientific research.

"It's certainly a national treasure and very well worth protecting in its own right, even without Snowy River. With Snowy River, it puts it in the class of world-class caves," said John McLean, a retired hydrologist and member of the cave study group.

"It's a beautiful anomaly," added Penny Boston, a New Mexico Tech professor and associate director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute.

Boston says extreme environments such as Snowy River provide scientists an opportunity to explore life on the fringes.

"The idea is that we're practicing to go to Mars, we're practicing to go to Europa (a moon of Jupiter) and all of these other places," she said. "It's very difficult to even prove some of the things we've studied here on this planet are alive. Imagine how much harder that is when you translate that to a robotic mission millions of miles from Earth."

Boston has collected microorganisms that she believes are responsible for the manganese crust that covers much of the walls in the Snowy River passage. Once thought to be ancient and inactive, the microbes are busy in her lab, breaking down materials and producing mineral compounds.

Boston and other scientists plan to take core samples of Snowy River to look for microbes that have been entombed in the calcite layer and for fossil evidence of past microscopic life.

Some scientists are looking to the cave to learn more about the region's geology and how water makes its way through the arid environment.

Last summer, explorers were surprised to arrive at Snowy River and find it flowing with water. It had been dry when first discovered in 2001 and during trips in 2003 and 2005.

It took several months for Snowy River to dry out, leaving scientists with another set of questions about where the water came from and where it went. Some scientists believe innumerable floods formed Snowy River, dropping a thin layer of calcite each time.

Areas of Fort Stanton Cave are open to those who get permits from the BLM, but Snowy River — deep in the cave behind locked metal gates — is off-limits. It's unlikely Snowy River ever will be open to anything but research because of the fragility of the tiny calcite crystals and microbes on the cave walls.
Perceptions Matter

McCain could not afford having Obama make a highly-successful tour of the Middle East and Europe, and he must be kicking himself for having urged Obama to make the trip. Obama isn't displaying complacence with his grand tour; he is crossing the threshold of gravitas necessary to be President. Even Reagan didn't cross that threshold until very late, in the last debate of 1980:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign rapped rival Barack Obama’s Berlin speech Thursday as a “premature victory lap.”

“While Obama spoke to 100,000 people in Berlin and proclaimed himself ‘a ‘citizen of the world,’ John McCain continued to make his case to the American citizens who will decide this election,” said Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the Arizona senator’s campaign.
Hey, Today Is Pioneer Day In Utah!

Brigham Young's "This is the place", and all that!
Will Durst, Tonight!

Tonight, 8 p.m. at DMTC, political satirist Will Durst!
Mysterious Rollercoaster Death

Horror story writers know, nothing is as fearsome as the circus:
A 12-year-old Bay Area girl found unconscious after a ride on a Las Vegas Strip roller coaster has died.

The Clark County coroner's office said Catlynne Shaw of Union City died Tuesday.

A coroner's spokeswoman said it could be several weeks before a cause of death is determined.

Authorities had said they thought Shaw suffered a heart attack during the July 16 ride on the Canyon Blaster at the Circus Circus Adventuredome.

An off-duty Clark County firefighter was credited with helping resuscitate Shaw before paramedics arrived and she was taken to University Medical Center. Doctors said she died Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for MGM Mirage Inc., which owns Circus Circus, said the roller coaster opened in 1993.

It can reach a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour and includes a 45 degree drop.
Bubble Trouble

Conserving gasoline is one thing, but conserving bubbles is another thing altogether:
NEW YORK (AP) -- The bubble might have burst for off-Broadway's "Gazillion Bubbles Show." Someone has stolen the show's specialized soapy bubble solution, which takes two months to make.

A show spokesman says 3.4 tons of bubble solution and 6,000 toys went missing in the June 10 break-in at a Hoboken, N.J., warehouse.

The show has only six weeks worth of solution on hand to make the air-filled globes of soapy film.

The interactive show was created by renowned bubble artist Fan Yang. It features dazzling light effects, lasers and lots of bubbles - some so intricate or big they have smoke, other bubbles or even people inside them. Yang has put up to four children in one bubble.

Yang and his wife, Ana Yang, also have a bubble show in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Deep Thoughts

By genocidal maniac Radovan Karadzic:
"The basis of every religion is the idea of life as sacred (which sets religion apart from sects). There is no authentic religion that does not put the salvation of man as its goal, both in this world and the next."
Bev's Review Of "Little Shop Of Horrors"

Here is Bev's review. She suggests a more-sanguinary approach to combat anemia. It must be noted, however, that according to the tabloid press, recently-diagnosed anemia's effect on Madonna has, if anything, made her even more scary than usual:
The strain has pushed her famous mood swings to terrifying new extremes.
Anemia can be fear's little friend....

I understand Benjamin Barker is rampaging around over there at Music Circus. Perhaps a frightening joint effort can be worked out, to everyone's satisfaction....
Bad Day In The Lower Rio Grande Valley

Dolly's here!. A lot of this tropical moisture will end up in the Southwestern monsoon, in NM and AZ, by the weekend:
Hurricane Dolly made landfall about 20 to 25 miles north of the town of South Padre Island or 35 miles northeast of Brownsville as a category two hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph at around 1 p.m. CDT.

Since landfall, as expected, because of land friction sustained winds from Dolly have dropped back to 85 mph; remaining a category 1 hurricane. The center of circulation is now located 50 miles north of Brownsville, Texas and moving to the northwest at 8 mph with an eventual turn to the west expected.

Even before the eye's official landfall, Dolly's eyewall punished interior and coastal South Texas beginning at the mid morning hours and the lashing continues into this evening.

Nasty squalls of tropical downpours, tropical storm-force sustained winds, and hurricane-force gusts (sometimes sustained) from Hurricane Dolly are spinning across far South Texas interior. Even with the eye making landfall, conditions will continue to be dangerous and miserable through tonight and into tomorrow morning.

It should be emphasized that this will be a long duration event for South Texas due to Dolly's sluggish nature and impacts from Dolly, especially flooding rainfall, will last well into Thursday.

Locations along the immediate coast such as Port Mansfield, Laguna Vista, Arroyo City, South Padre Island, and Port Isabel have all taken a pounding today.

Other cities such as Brownsville, Harlingen, and Raymondville ahave also felt the wrath of Dolly.

All power is reported out on S. Padre Island while power lines and power poles are down in Brownsville, Harlingen, and Port Isabel.

...Even with the extensive damage being reported, the most life-threatening impact from Dolly is becoming the prolific flooding rainfall.

Rain amounts are forecast to be in the 6 to 15 inch range in locations south of Corpus Christi through Brownsville and into northern Mexico.
The Compassionate Conservative Drops The Compassion

Robert Novak clobbers a pedestrian:
Syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak was cited by police after he hit a pedestrian with his black Corvette in downtown Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning.

A Politico reporter saw Novak in the front of a police car with a citation in his hand; a WJLA-TV crew and reporter saw Novak as well. The pedestrian, a 66-year-old man who was not further identified by authorities, was treated at George Washington University Hospital for minor injuries, according to D.C. Fire and EMS. Novak was later released by police and drove away from the scene.

“I didn’t know I hit him. ... I feel terrible,” a shaken Novak told reporters from Politico and WJLA as he was returning to his car. "He's not dead, that's the main thing." Novak said he was a block away from 18th and K streets Northwest, where the accident occurred, when a bicyclist stopped him and said he had hit someone. He said he was cited for failing to yield the right of way.

The bicyclist was David Bono, a partner at Harkins Cunningham, who was on his usual bike commute to work at 1700 K St. N.W. when he witnessed the accident.

As he traveled east on K Street, crossing 18th, Bono said "a black Corvette convertible with top closed plows into the guy. The guy is sort of splayed into the windshield.”

Bono said that the pedestrian, who was crossing the street on a "Walk" signal and was in the crosswalk, rolled off the windshield and that Novak then made a right into the service lane of K Street. “This car is speeding away. What’s going through my mind is, you just can’t hit a pedestrian and drive away,” Bono said.

He said he chased Novak half a block down K Street, finally caught up with him and then put his bike in front of the car to block it and called 911. Traffic immediately backed up, horns blaring, until commuters behind Novak backed up so he could pull over.

Bono said that throughout, Novak "keeps trying to get away. He keeps trying to go.” He said he vaguely recognized the longtime political reporter and columnist as a news personality but could not precisely place him.

Finally, Bono said, Novak put his head out the window of his car and motioned him over. Bono said he told him that you can't hit a pedestrian and just drive away. He quoted Novak as responding: “I didn’t see him there.”

...Novak, 77, has earned a reputation around the capital as an aggressive driver, easily identified in his convertible sports car.

In 2001, he cursed at a pedestrian on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th streets Northwest for allegedly jaywalking.

“’Learn to read the signs, [bodily orifice]!’ Novak snapped before speeding away,” according to an item in The Washington Post’s Reliable Source column.

Novak explained to the paper: "He was crossing on the red light. I really hate jaywalkers. I despise them. Since I don't run the country, all I can do is yell at 'em. The other option is to run 'em over, but as a compassionate conservative, I would never do that."
E. Goes Fishing

Near Marysville. Didn't catch anything. If she did, she'd be like the dog who catches a car: a fish at the end of a line behaves much differently than a fish on a dinner plate.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dolly Barrelling Towards The Borderlands

That used to be fellow U of A student meteorologist Ed Andrade's territory, down in Brownsville, but I'm guessing he is the same Ed Andrade in Amarillo now. Doesn't matter - the advice he would offer would be: get away from the coast and other low-lying areas.
English Foiled By That Northern Chill

An effort to break the Australian bikini record failed (but no one is really complaining):
HUNDREDS of Englishwomen stripped off their clothes on a chilly British beach in a doomed attempt to break a world record set in Australia last year.

Some 320 women posed in swimwear on Redcar beach, in Cleveland, in a bid to break the record for the most bikini-clad women ever photographed together.

The fundraising event, organised by Middlesbrough Rotary Club, failed to beat the current Guinness World Record, set in September last year on Bondi Beach, Sydney, when 1,010 women posed together in their bikinis.

...Organiser Mike Robson, chairman of fundraising at the Rotary Club, said: "It was electric. The atmosphere was fantastic.

"We didn't manage to break the record - in fact we got nowhere near it - but that isn't a disappointment. We managed to make an awful lot of money for the Great North Air Ambulance."
Except That Britney Might Have a Valid Complaint

Jake Tapper's take on McCain's complaint (in full):
The campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., today issued a video and a contest to mock media infatuation with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois.

Without exploring yet again what I think is a valid issue to debate, I do wonder how this comes across to his supporters or undecideds. After all, if there's any senator who has benefited from a generally friendly media it's McCain. His opponents in 2000 and 2008, his senate colleagues, and Democrats have been complaining for years that the media gives McCain a free ride.

This is like Britney Spears complaining that the hype around Miley Cyrus far exceeds her talent.
E. Returns

The same couple that invited her camping near Marysville last month surprised her by heading to Santa Cruz for dinner. She eventually returned, a day late, with about $40 worth of groceries of the $120 she had set out to get.
E.: Mmmmaaaarrrrccccc, there was a seal on the beach! He had a brand on him! Isn't it illegal to brand seals? It's cruel and unusual punishment to brand cows - why not seals?
M.: I...I don't know anything about that.....Are you sure it wasn't a tag?
E.: Why do they do that?
M.: To count them.
E.: What if they disappear in the ocean?
M.: Well, then they are missing a seal.
This morning, she was tired:
E.: Mmmmaaarrrccc, I'm dizzy. Why am I dizzy?
M.: Well, yesterday you were at sea level. Here in Sacramento, you are 24 feet above sea level.
E.: Really?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh Fun!

Check out what Bev Sykes has been up to!
Lack Of Sleep

I've been assembling the Australia-themed used jigsaw puzzle I bought at June's Runaway Stage Productions Yard Sale. The pieces-de-resistance are the koala bears in the middle. I've been staying up till 3 a.m. wrestling with that diabolical thing (made even more complicated by a few, critical missing pieces).

So, now I have a headache. I will hop up-and-down this evening with the beautiful women (aka, step aerobics) in order to have one really hella super-duper headache from hopping up-and-down (but happy enough to disregard the pain).
Sally Forment Says Hi!

She's sunning away with Page and Charlie Berghoffer on Hawaii's Kona Coast.
Sac Bee Review Of "Little Shop Of Horrors"

Left: Joshua Smith pleads for the Audrey II to grow for him in "Little Shop of Horrors." The show continues July 25-27 in Davis. (Davis Musical Theatre Company)

Jim Carnes gives it three-and-a-half stars!:
With a show as much fun as "Little Shop of Horrors" and a production as good as this one by the Davis Musical Theatre Company, it's a shame that the play runs for only two weekends. The community theater's summer offering opened Friday and will close next Sunday.

This offbeat and unassuming little play, with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman (who went on to collaborate on such animated Disney musicals as "Beauty & the Beast," "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin"), debuted off-Broadway in 1982 in the tiny WPA Theatre, where Ashman was artistic director. After a brief run there, it moved to the larger Orpheum Theatre, where it ran for five years. It remains the third-longest running show in off-Broadway history and the highest-grossing one.

"Little Shop" is based on the 1960 Roger Corman sciencefiction film "The Little Shop of Horrors" – famously low-budget, reportedly shot in two days, and known for giving Jack Nicholson one of his earliest acting roles.

Menken and Ashman crafted a score that incorporates the popular musical genres of the 1960s, doo-wop, R&B and Motown. A sort of Greek chorus – in this case a trio of Skid Row "urchins" – sets the scene, comments on the action and occasionally advances the plot through song. They are named after popular "girl groups" of the time – Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon – played here with spunk and super harmony by Caitlin Humphreys, Casey Ellis and Sarah Duvall, respectively.

The plot involves a poor florist's assistant, Seymour (played by Joshua Smith, who puts the "neb" in nebbish), who makes a Faustian bargain with the devil in the form of an unusual plant with an even more unusual appetite – "Feed me, Seymour. Must be blood! Must be … fresh!"

This Venus flytrappy-thing turns out to be a man-eating alien from outer space intent on world domination. Once Seymour begins feeding it drops of his own blood, the plant and its appetite begin to grow. Before you know it, Seymour is anemic and scouring the scene for potential substitute sustenance ("That guy sure looks like plant food to me!"). As the cast dwindles, Seymour's fame grows and he gets the girl of his dreams, plant shop co-worker Audrey (an endearing Lauren Miller), after whom he has named the plant: Audrey II (given voice by the excellent Mike McElroy and manipulated frighteningly well by Scott Griffith).

Several things must be right for "Little Shop" to succeed, beginning with the relationship between Seymour and Audrey. Audrey must deliver on the achingly innocent and touching song "Somewhere That's Green," which Miller does; the couple must make the sweet "Suddenly Seymour" duet believable (they do); and Audrey must communicate the growth of character from unloved and undeserving of love to the heroic idea that "greater love hath no woman than to give herself as plant food for her man," which she nails.

It's important that the character of Audrey's boyfriend, sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, be menacing – but not too menacing. Darryl Strohl seems to enjoy that tightrope walk between "Be a Dentist," explaining how he turned a youthful propensity for animal abuse into a rewarding medical career, and his farewell song, "Now (It's Just the Gas)."

As Mushnik, owner of the down-and-going-downer flower shop, Dustin White seems less invested in his character than others in the cast are in theirs.

All the singers perform without mikes – a tradition with this company but a refreshing change from most community theater productions – and do true justice to their lyrics. A five-piece orchestra (keyboardist-conductor Ray Fisher, keyboardist Jonathan Rothman, bassist Hal Wright, guitarist Ben Wormeli and drummer Steve Isaacson) provides excellent live accompaniment.

Isaacson also directs (with impeccable timing) and choreographs the production, and designed the set (appropriately low-budget, although the shop door could have used a little steadying on opening night). His stage environment includes garbage cans, trash and papers strewn upon the "street" and denizens of skid row who wander about and even engage the audience before the curtain rises.
I Wonder Where E. Went?

I gave her $120 yesterday morning for a trip to the grocery store, and she has yet to return.
"The Dark Knight"

For my birthday in 2002, Megan Houpt (DMTC, Peter Pan, 2001) gave me a gift certificate good for Century Theaters in Downtown Plaza. I've missed several good occasions to use it ever since. But that's OK, because one mustn't be hasty about such things.

Bruce Warren suggested seeing the new Batman movie and had coupons of his own. I thought: "Now is the moment for Megan's gift!" With the money saved, we were able to get the large popcorns without flinching at the cost.

Prior to the show, there were numerous action-adventure movie trailers. The only question in my mind was: "Which are the movies that were filmed in New Mexico?" I figured now is the time that trailers for the action-adventure movie Game, filmed in New Mexico, should be hitting the big screen, but, worrisomely, they didn't feature that one. Instead, they promoted a quirky new Kevin Costner movie (featuring Kelsey Grammer and Nathan Lane), called Swing Vote, where, by some Electoral College fluke (New Mexico is a swing state after all), Costner's character (through a single, contested ballot) gets to decide who the next President of the United States gets to be. Looks like a fun movie, and seems to feature lots of shooting on the West Mesa, WSW of Albuquerque, and lots of idyllic fishing in the Rio Grande River at the Alameda Bridge (where I don't think the fishing is really all that good, because sometimes the river all but dries up in the summer, but whatever).

So, what is my reaction to "The Dark Knight"? Confusion, mostly. In general, I have trouble following a lot of action-adventure movies, because I can't quite hear (or understand) the barked dialogue over the thunderous explosions and revving engines, and so as chaos envelopes the big screen, I'm left wondering "what are their motivations?"

Like, where does The Joker get his resources? How does he have time to set up these various traps? Bruce got agitated over the ferry scene, and being a former New York City dweller, fretted that someone would feel motivated to carry out such actions in real life (for example, there was a scary ferry slasher in the late 80's). My reaction to his concern was "this will happen when pigs fly." Even the Pentagon couldn't set up such a thing - an unbalanced criminal would have no chance.

I have to admit Heath Ledger plays a mean Joker. Favorite quotes:
  • Watch me make this pencil disappear....
  • I believe whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you... stranger
  • Why... so... serious?
  • Let's put a smile on that face!
  • (To Batman) I don't want to kill you. What would I do without you?
  • I'm a dog chasing cars. I don't have plans. I just do things. I'm not a schemer.
The movie is a long one (2 hours and 38 minutes?) After a while, the action seems - repetitive?

The end is rather downbeat and grim, apparently in accord with the Batman tradition, whereby the Dark Knight is as much a fugitive from society as a dark necessity of society: the scapegoat; the one who breaks all the rules, because someone must be in a position to do so in order to preserve society (someone like a self-supporting billionaire...yeah that's the ticket!), and thus someone who must also suffer the consequences (like repeatedly dealing with the K-9 unit). It's the kind of thinking that got us Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and ultimately it's counterproductive. Gotham City's best see the downside quite clearly, however, but they don't have the strength to escape their fate.

Yes, Buddha required sacrifice: Heath Ledger died for Gotham City's sins.

That's not the way it should have been, but that's what you get with The Joker.

In any event, that's all the philosophizing today that Megan's Gift permits.
Nothing Inadvertent About It

The press (in this case, the LA Times bloggers) is doing its charitable best to help out John McCain from his predicament, but squirming as rapidly as he can manage within his coffin of razors, McCain hurts himself anyway:
John McCain's campaign could not have seen this coming -- the presumptive Republican presidential nominee forced on the defensive by, of all people, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Much as McCain and his staff wanted to hammer home their view that Barack Obama is clueless about Iraq, Maliki seemingly gave the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee a big dose of credibility when word surfaced over the weekend that, as quoted by the German magazine Der Spiegel, he said he would like to see U.S. troops leave his country "as soon as possible."

Maliki, Der Spiegel reported, went on to say: "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right time frame for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.”

Maliki's office, suddenly finding him thrust smack in the middle of the U.S. campaign, issued a somewhat half-hearted demurral, insisting something got lost in the translation of what he said.

But an audio recording of his comment, vetted by the New Times, showed that Der Spiegel essentially got it right. And in the initial readout from Obama's visit today with Maliki in Baghdad, the Associated Press reported that the Iraqi government would like to see American combat units gone at some point in 2010 -- a timeframe, the story noted, that "falls within the 16-month withdrawal plan proposed by Obama." [UPDATE: The L.A. Times has the story, as well.]

...McCain, though, did not escape unscathed during his interview sessions. In a verbal flub that will spark renewed recollections of his Shiite/Sunni miscue earlier this year while he was visiting the Middle East, he erroneously reconfigured the map of the world.

Asked on ABC about the uptick in violence by Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, he replied: "We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."

Iraq borders several nations, but Pakistan is not among them -- looming between the two is Iran. (Pakistan's neighbors, however, include Afghanistan).

The Note, ABC's daily political summary, opined that by "appearing to confuse Iraq and Afghanistan" McCain ended up committing "the first big gaffe" since Obama embarked on his overseas trip amid much speculation about mistakes he might make.
Hilzoy's analysis seems sound:
McCain's entire rationale, as a candidate, turns on Iraq and related issues, like terrorism and (to a lesser extent) Iran. What else is he going to run on? His grasp of the economy? His health care proposals? The widespread popularity of the Republican brand? He can't even run on the rest of foreign policy: McCain's approach to foreign policy has always lacked any kind of integrative vision; he treats problems in isolation from one another. This means two things: first, McCain really doesn't have an overarching foreign policy vision, and second, for him, Iraq has always been The Big Thing, and as a result, everything else got slighted.

...On Iraq, McCain begins with a huge disadvantage: he advocated the invasion of Iraq, which most Americans feel was a mistake. (He's always urging voters to look back and consider who showed good judgment on the surge, but he doesn't want them to look too far back, lest they find themselves thinking about who showed good judgment on the invasion.) He therefore has to argue something like this: now that we're in this mess, we need someone we can trust, someone who will be able to manage this catastrophe as well as possible. McCain is solid. Obama is untested, inexperienced, risky. There was always a problem with this story: namely, it involves saying that we should trust McCain, who made the wrong call on invasion, over Obama, who got it right. But sowing doubts is pretty much all McCain has.

This got a lot harder last week, before Maliki's comments.

First the Bush administration started (appeasing) negotiating with Iran, as Obama had suggested; then McCain essentially adopted Obama's position on Afghanistan; then the Bush administration agreed to what they called a "general time horizon"for withdrawing troops. (Wait: now it's "Joint aspirational time horizons"!) McCain and Bush seemed to be adopting Obama's positions all over the place. For a risky, inexperienced novice, Obama seemed to have gotten a lot of things right. And for an experienced, serious old hand with a command of foreign policy, McCain seemed to be spending a lot of time playing catch-up. And every time Obama gets to say, in effect, 'Hi, John! What took you so long?', McCain's only winning message gets that much weaker.

...So even before Maliki said a word, McCain was in a pretty tough position. Two weeks ago, he had some pretty sharp differences with Obama. McCain wanted to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and cast any idea of leaving as dishonorable, as a way of risking the gains of the surge in order to embrace defeat. Obama wanted to withdraw from Iraq and send more troops to Afghanistan. By two days ago, McCain was left with basically two messages: (a) timetables would be a disaster, and Obama's embrace of them just shows how naive he is; and (b) McCain got the surge right and Obama got it wrong. It's a pretty weak foundation for a candidacy.

It was against this backdrop that Maliki comes out in favor of Obama's proposal to withdraw combat troops from Iraq in 16 months (though he is careful not to endorse Obama.) McCain has to call Obama naive on Iraq. But that is a lot harder to do if Maliki agrees with Obama. It's hard to say that Maliki is insufficiently familiar with the facts on the ground. It's hard to call him naive. And whatever you think of Maliki's motives, it's also a lot more complicated to make the case that he doesn't know or care what's best for his country. In Presidential elections, uncomplicated cases are key. "Obama has only been in the Senate for three years; he doesn't have the experience to get Iraq right" is an uncomplicated case. There is no such uncomplicated explanation for Maliki's being wrong.

Worse, lot of the more obvious ways of responding to Maliki's statement are fraught with danger for McCain. Responding that Maliki either doesn't know what he's talking about or is somehow untrustworthy and bad directly undercuts our reasons for staying in Iraq. We are there in support of the Maliki government, which we are hoping will become capable of running the country without our presence. The more ignorant, untrustworthy, or otherwise bad Maliki is, the less likely it is that he will succeed, and the less clear it is why we should try to help him.

Saying, as McCain has, that Maliki only supports a timetable for political reasons is almost as bad, since it rather obviously implies that the Iraqi people really want us to leave. (As, in fact, they do.) Again, this raises the question: what on earth are we doing there? If the Iraqi people want us out, and their Prime Minister is asking for timetables, why not just take 'yes' for an answer?

If the Iraqi people want us out, we have two choices. First, we leave. As McCain said four years ago, "I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people." McCain does not seem to have seriously considered this option, which would deprive him of yet another distinction between himself and Obama.

Second, we continue to occupy Iraq whether the Iraqi people and their government want us to or not. We have not paid much attention to the wishes of the Iraqi people for some time now -- in fact, I'm always struck, listening to Bush and McCain, by the way in which they consistently describe the question how long we stay in Iraq as one to be answered solely by them, in consultation with the commanders on the ground, as though Iraq's government and its people had no say in the matter at all.

This has, of course, always been true. This administration has never cared much about what the Iraqi people think. But Maliki's comments might make it clearer to the American people that it's not enough to ask whether a candidate supports staying in Iraq; you need to ask whether he supports staying in Iraq even if the Iraqi government asks us to leave. Asking McCain that question would force him to chose between maintaining our presence in Iraq and maintaining the idea that that presence has something to do with helping the Iraqi people.

Moreover, explaining why it would be OK to override the wishes of the Iraqi government presents yet another problem for McCain. The obvious default position is that when a country's government asks us to withdraw our troops, we should do so. To say that that's not true in a given case, like Iraq, you need to provide some sort of explanation. Part of that explanation would normally be: the government is unrepresentative or dysfunctional or awful in some way, and so its wishes do not carry the weight they would in, say, Switzerland.

But saying something like that about the Iraqi government -- that it doesn't really speak for the Iraqi people, or isn't capable of making its own decisions about Iraqi territorial integrity -- would undercut McCain's claims about progress in Iraq. Again, McCain would have to choose: does he say that Iraq's government has made some real political progress, and is capable of making its own decisions? In that case, he should accept its wishes. Does he say that he can disregard its requests on matters of Iraqi sovereignty? In that case, he undercuts a lot of his claims that the surge has enabled real and lasting progress in Iraq.

As I see it, Maliki's statement is all upside for Obama. It neither poses risks for him nor presents him with problems. But it's a minefield for McCain. And this will, I think, become clearer as time goes on, when people begin to ask him these sorts of questions.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Little Shop Of Horrors" Weekend At DMTC (draft)

Left: Opening night cake.

Left: Photos from bows. Darryl Strohl, Lauren Miller and Joshua Smith.

Left: Lauren Miller and Joshua Smith. Background, Dustin White and Darryl Strohl.

Left: Michael McElroy.

Left: Life after dinner. Dustin White, Darryl Strohl, Michael McElroy, Scott Griffith, and Joshua Smith.
Left: Plant Operator Scott Griffith somehow escapes unscathed from Audrey II.

Sarah Duvall, Caitlin Humphreys, Casey Ellis, Dustin White, Darryl Strohl, and Michael McElroy all acknowledge the orchestra below (Ray Fisher, Jonathan Rothman, Ben Wormeli, Hal Wright, and Steve Isaacson).
Japan's Musical Roads

Via Wicked Thoughts and Oddee:
A few years ago in japan, members of the hokkaido industrial research institute started carving thousands of very precise grooves into nearby roads. the slightly loopy brainwave belonged to a mr. shinoda, a guy who accidentally cut a road in several places with a digger and then later drove over the damage in his car. He realised that with some planning and time to kill he could create rows of grooves which, when driven over at a certain speed, would ‘play a tune'.

The results, the ‘melody road', can be seen above and the grooves are between 6 and 12mm apart: the narrower the interval, the higher the pitch. these stretches of road, each playing a different tune, can currently be found in 3 places in japan - hokkaido, wakayama and gunma - with the optimum musical speed being a depressingly slow 28mph. Don't expect a virtual orchestra - from what i've heard, it's not exactly beautiful music, but it's unique and it's mental. a winning combination. Until they create roads which can sing, you can either listen to a recording of one the ‘tunes' here or watch the video below for an example.
Sophistication Meets The Sledgehammer

The see if sleek, modern financial products work, investors body-slam them:
The culprit in those cases doesn't appear to be housing prices alone so much as the wildly complicated securities that investment firms created out of mortgages and a laundry list of other hard-to-price (and therefore risky) assets such as timber and highways.

The idea behind such financial concoctions was that if each security contained only a small share of each of those items, the overall security would be safer than the individual assets that underpinned them. But it hasn't worked out that way, according to Mason of Louisiana State University.

"New financial instruments are invented every day. Normally they get boiled down to a standardized form," he said. But this time, banks and investment houses sought to maintain high profits and a lock on the markets by keeping their inventions "customized."

The result today is that nobody can figure out how risky the new securities are, how much they are now worth or how dependent their owners -- mostly big institutional investors -- are on them.

"It's not a very efficient way to run a financial system, but how else are you going to find out?" Mason said.

That's precisely what happened to Fannie and Freddie, which are especially exposed to slumping housing prices because they own or guarantee nearly half of the nation's $12 trillion in mortgages.

Investors tripped over one another last week to sell shares of the government-sponsored but shareholder-owned companies, slicing Fannie's and Freddie's market values by nearly half. That prompted the Treasury and the Fed to rush out a plan that plants the federal government firmly behind the two mortgage giants.

Much the same thing happened to Bear Stearns in March. Investors in the nation's fifth-largest investment bank battered its stock, but what really sank the company was the fact that its lenders cut off the firm's lines of credit. Lenders feared that the brokerage was so burdened with bad mortgage securities, it couldn't repay what it had borrowed.

The Fed was forced to assume control of some of the least appealing securities and provide $30 billion in financing to pave the way for a fire sale to JPMorgan.

For Countrywide Financial Corp., the situation was similar. The largest private-sector mortgage lender watched its finances fall apart as late payments on its loans surged with tumbling home prices. The Calabasas-based lender was forced in January to let itself be snapped up by Bank of America -- for a sixth of its year-ago market value.

In each instance, the most prominent culprit behind the financial troubles has been a housing market that has fallen faster and further than almost anybody predicted.

As housing prices have continued to fall, they have exposed the weakness of firms built on the presumption that prices would keep rising. As banking consultant Ely, quoting legendary investor Warren E. Buffett, put it: "When the tide goes out, you find out who's swimming without their trunks."
I Love Politics!

Nouri al-Maliki and Barack Obama agree on a withdrawal timetable, and effectively cut John McCain and George Bush out of the action. Like the Republican strategist said, "we're fucked."

Feel that dagger in your back, John? That's what happens when leaders meet who are prepared to negotiate, with sufficient advance preparation to avoid mistakes, but without preconditions.