Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Domestic Disturbance" Signing Party - Celebration Arts

Left: Carla Fleming finishes the evening with a rousing rendition of Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman".

Saturday evening, Celebration Arts hosted a signing party for singer Carla Fleming, upon the release of her new CD, "Domestic Disturbance." Carla is part of the "Step One" family and I sometimes see her in aerobics class. Along with the dancers, she was featured recently in Pepper Von's "Let's Go!" at Garbeau's Dinner Theater. She is a phenomenal R&B singer!

Carla knows (and has known - death being a permanent state) too many friends caught up in the scourge of domestic violence - hence this album. Celebration Arts hosted the party and show, which featured two poets, and another singer, Reming Livingstone, plus some of Step One's favorite dancers.

The two women poets (LaRue and Immobme) were quite good, and sang poems of romantic longing, echoing the theme of the night. (The name "Immobme" is apparently a contraction of "I'm going to be me", or "Im Mo Be Me").

I had the impression (not confirmed) that a portion of the proceeds will go to aid the victims of domestic violence.

Left and below: Carla Fleming.

Left: Evening co-hosts Jean Hooks, and "Jack".

Below: "Reming" Livingstone.

Left: Carla Fleming, and dancers. Dancers, left to right; Hannah Collins, Misty Barker, Alli Phelps, Gabrielle Perez.

Left: Carla Fleming. Dancers, left to right; Hannah Collins and Misty Barker.
Oliver Stone's "W"

When Oliver Stone's "JFK" came out, I promised to never see another Oliver Stone movie. I never saw "JFK", but by introducing an entire generation to the erroneous multiple assassin theory of Kennedy's death (I'm a convinced Oswald-was-the-single-shooter guy), it seemed to me that Stone had done a tremendous disservice to American history - a crime, really. Stone? - Anathema!

Nevertheless, time tends to heal wounds. Today, I went to see Oliver Stone's "W". Josh Brolin's portrayal is almost a caricature, to the point where it's hard to see why anyone would admire and follow George W. Bush. What a dunderhead Brolin's Bush is! Nevertheless, it's a very good caricature - Brolin becomes Bush after a time, so you have to wonder, is the real George W. Bush really this much of a dunderhead? Maybe he is! But a likable dunderhead, and Stone's portrayal is rather sympathetic to a man out of his depth.

The dialog takes creative use of Bush's public malapropisms and brings them into the settings of private cabinet meetings. Everyone's but Brolin's acting tends to be a bit stilted, so the effect is to give a sense of unreality to events that were very real and very recent. The best acting beside Brolin's Bush was Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. Robert Cordrry gets to play Ari Fleischer! I didn't much like Thandie Newton's portrayal of Condoleezza Rice - just a bit too prissy.

No crimes to history here - the real crimes are a result of the actions of the Bush Administration, not Oliver Stone. I give the movie two thumbs up!
Bobby Conn- Never Get Ahead

This video clip was voted “Worst Video Ever” in a VH1 contest and has been broadcast in the UK and Europe pretty consistently for the past ten years.

Actually, not so bad....
La Pequeña Sarah Palin

Via Synthesis Magazine Blog.
Joe, 24/7

Joe The Plumbers, everywhere!

Friday, October 17, 2008


There is a small cyclone spinning in the southern tropical Indian Ocean right now. Awfully early for that! There is also tropicalish bad weather north of there, in the northern tropical Indian Ocean. It's unusual to have tropical disturbances underway in both hemispheres of the same ocean at the same time.

A brief history:
Tipping was imported from Europe, and when it arrived in America, it met with impassioned and organized opposition. While the precise origin of tipping is uncertain, it is commonly traced to Tudor England, according to “Tipping,” Kerry Segrave’s history of the custom. By the 17th century, it was expected that overnight guests to private homes would provide sums of money, known as vails, to the host’s servants. Soon after, customers began tipping in London coffeehouses and other commercial establishments. One frequented by Samuel Johnson had a bowl printed with the words “To Insure Promptitude,” and some speculate that “tip” is an acronym for this phrase.

Tipping began as an aristocratic practice, a sprinkle of change for social inferiors, and it quickly spread among the upper classes of Europe. Yet even at its outset, tipping engendered feelings of anxiety and resentment. In the mid-1800s, after leaving the Bell Inn of Gloucester, the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle complained: “The dirty scrub of a waiter grumbled about his allowance, which I reckoned liberal. I added sixpence to it, and [he] produced a bow which I was near rewarding with a kick.”

After the Civil War, wealthy Americans began traveling to Europe in significant numbers, and they brought the tip home with them to demonstrate their worldliness. But the United States, unlike Europe, had no aristocratic tradition, and as tipping spread — like “evil insects and weeds,” The New York Times claimed in 1897 — many thought it was antithetical to American democratic ideals. “Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape,” William Scott wrote in his 1916 anti-tipping screed, “The Itching Palm.” One periodical of the same era deplored tipping for creating a class of workers who relied on “fawning for favors.”

Opposition to tipping was not limited to the media. In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America sprang up in Georgia, and its 100,000 members signed pledges not to tip anyone for a year. Leagues of traveling salesmen opposed the tip, as did most labor unions. In 1909, Washington became the first of six states to pass an anti-tipping law. But tipping persisted. The new laws rarely were enforced, and when they were, they did not hold up in court. By 1926, every anti-tipping law had been repealed.

Ultimately, even those who in principle opposed the practice found themselves unable to stiff their servers. Samuel Gompers, who was president of the American Federation of Labor and a leading figure of the anti-tipping movement, admitted that he “followed the usual custom of giving tips.”

Meanwhile, Europe was rethinking its devotion to the custom. The 1943 Catering Wages Act in Britain established a minimum wage for service employees that helped decrease their reliance on tips. And in 1955, France passed a law requiring its restaurants to add a service charge (“service compris”) to each bill, a practice that has become the norm for most of the continent.
Who Cares?

Like Atrios is fond of saying, this is another episode of what Digby says:
Is there any value in an endorsement that comes in the last two weeks of a campaign where the endorsee is substantially ahead? It wouldn't hurt to have General Luke Warmwater come out for Obama, but I don't see why anyone but the Villagers will give a damn.
Sixty Is The New Forty? A Boomer Conceit

I find it insufferable that Boomers feel privileged enough to alter the calendar to suit their boundless narcissistic vanity. And to my shock, they quote my optometrist!:
After a recent Bee story described a 60-year-old woman as elderly, one 60-year-old reader called to complain. What's up with you guys, she asked, don't you know that's just plain wrong?

...The consensus seems to be that 60 is the new 40. Or at least a 40 with far different pressures and responsibilities. If not retired, then working with less pressure. The kids are grown and gone. And there's just more time to do fun stuff.

...Bag the "elderly" tag, she said – the preferred terminology these days is "seniors" or "older adults."

Like other experts, McVicar attributes the extended longevity to better knowledge and acceptance of the role of a proper diet and regular exercise.

And, perhaps most important of all, the wonders of life-prolonging and life-enhancing modern medicine that weren't available to earlier generations.

...Ernest Takahashi, 63, is a Sacramento optometrist who in his spare time runs, and runs far. He recently ran in the Cowtown Marathon, completing those 26.2 fun miles in 3 hours, 29 minutes.

"Age is relative," said Takahashi. "When I was younger, I used to think that 50 was really old, but now, I'm physically fit and doing fine."

He said he owes his health to eating right and exercise. He runs between two and 50 miles on a given day and hasn't missed a day in 20 years.

"I've found that running is a good way to keep weight off and release stress," he said.

"It's never too late for anyone to start doing something to keep fit … and for me, it's still a great feeling when I'm in a race and I see someone younger than me and I think, 'I can pass them.' "
I have no problem with 'Sixty being the new sixty.' And it's wonderful that people are living fulfilling, pain-free lives far, far into the golden years. But let's not kid ourselves. For every healthy elderly person, there is another pain-ridden person in their 30's limping around with a cane. Life can be a cruel tyrant. Age is NOT relative! Few yardsticks are so reliable and resilient! And wasn't it my optometrist who first noted the symptoms of my age-associated retinal detachment 14 years ago? Age happens to thee, but not to me - is that the new slogan?

(To be fair, my optometrist never said this - I'm just engaging in thought-provoking hyperbole here).

This "age is relative" nonsense permeates the entire age spectrum now, of course. I remember, when I turned thirty and starting referring to myself as middle-aged, my girlfriend (who was a little older) said, "I don't THINK so! Leave ME out of this middle-aged nonsense!"

Well, she was wrong. Like they say, "Time wounds all heels."

Certain kinds of age can be relative, however. Mental maturity matters. Once, I remember being introduced to a porn-obsessed nineteen-year-old, and I thought it remarkable how OLD the fellow seemed.
Guilt By Association

John McCain's campaign is bloated with lobbyists - some like William Timmons, who lobbied on behalf of disgraceful clients, like Saddam Hussein.

Fortunately, a brave few are willing to call John McCain on his slanderous campaign. Last night, David Letterman went where the cowardly mainstream media journalists were afraid to go, and confronted McCain about Watergate's infamous Gordon Liddy.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander:
Questioning the premise of McCain's relentless guilt-by-association attacks, Letterman noted that people in public life can't necessarily be held accountable for everyone they've interacted with. When McCain protested a bit, Letterman asked two highly relevant questions: "Did you not have a relationship with Gordon Liddy?" and "Did you attend a fundraiser at his house?" McCain, looking confused, conceded to having "met" Liddy. After a commercial break, McCain added, "I know Gordon Liddy. He paid his debt, he went to prison.... I'm not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy."

That's an interesting response. Liddy is, of course, a convicted felon who has "acknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in 'if necessary'; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a 'gangland figure' to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap 'leftist guerillas' at the 1972 Republican National Convention -- a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis." Liddy also once famously gave his supporters advice on how best to kill federal officials (he recommended shooting them in the head because they might be wearing flak jackets).

Despite this scandalous past, McCain has accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from Liddy, attended a fundraiser in his honor at Liddy's home, and told Liddy that he's "proud of" him.

Also remember, Liddy can be fairly described as "unrepentant." When asked if he regretted his felonies, "A vein twitches angrily on one of his scales, but he replies in a level voice, 'No.'"
The Uses Of Disco Music

It's the rhythm:
In a small but intriguing study from the University of Illinois medical school, doctors and students maintained close to the ideal number of chest compressions doing CPR while listening to ["Stayin' Alive"] the catchy, sung-in-falsetto tune from the 1977 movie "Saturday Night Fever."

The American Heart Association recommends 100 chest compressions per minute, far more than most people realize, study author Dr. David Matlock of the school's Peoria, Illinois, campus said Thursday.

And while CPR can triple cardiac arrest survival rates when properly performed, many people hesitate to do it because they're not sure about keeping the proper rhythm, Matlock said.

He found that "Stayin' Alive," which has a way of getting stuck in your head anyway, can help with that.

..."It drove them and motivated them to keep up the rate, which is the most important thing," he said.

...It turns out the American Heart Association has been using the song as a training tip for CPR instructors for about two years.

They learned of it from a physician "who sort of hit upon this as a training tool," said association spokesman Dr. Vinay Nadkarni of the University of Pennsylvania.

..."I don't know how the Bee Gees knew this," Nadkarni said. "They probably didn't. But they just hit upon this natural rhythm that was very catchy, very popular, that helps us do the right thing."

Dr. Matthew Gilbert, a 28-year-old medical resident, was among participants in the University of Illinois study this past spring. Since then, he said, he has revived real patients by keeping the song in his head while doing CPR.

Gilbert said he was surprised the song worked as well as it did.

"I was a little worried because I've been told that I have a complete lack of rhythm," he said. Also, Gilbert said he's not really a disco fan.

He does happen to like a certain Queen song with a similar beat.

"I heard a rumor that 'Another One Bites the Dust' works also, but it didn't seem quite as appropriate," Gilbert said.
MIT Flying Car Prototype

Or not a flying car, exactly, but a "roadable aircraft," the Terrafugia Transition is approaching first sale in 2009.
A Christening

Paternal pride:
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin went beyond a bumper sticker and named his newborn daughter after the duo.

The baby's name, Sarah McCain Palin Ciptak, came as a surprise to her mother.

The parents had agreed to name the girl Ava Grace, but father Mark Ciptak instead filled out the birth certificate with the political name to draw attention to the candidates, he told local newspaper the Kingsport Times News.

He only later told his wife, Layla.

"To be sure, she was not quite fond of me or of what I had done, but we've had some time to talk it over, and she has been really supportive through it all," Ciptak told the newspaper.
Renaissance Man

I saw this article last weekend, and particularly liked it:
For pianist, scientist and windsurfer Davide Verotta, the feeling of being at one with himself happens on San Francisco Bay as his board skips over the waves at 40 mph.

It is here, in this windy realm, in the shadow of the Golden Gate, that Verotta ceases to be a man split among three pursuits.

"Sometimes, when I'm on the water, it's a feeling of absolute harmony," said Verotta, 49, who has been windsurfing for almost three decades.

"When you're skipping over waves, that's a transcendent moment. It takes me outside of time, and I feel like I can go on forever."

But transcendence is fleeting, and all windsurfers must return to shore.

And it is ashore where Verotta plays out his other roles, as classical pianist-composer and as professor of biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

...Verotta, who is pursuing a doctorate in music composition at the University of California, Davis, dwells simultaneously in the right- and left-brain worlds. When he's not attending to his duties as professor at UCSF, Verotta is likely found in his basement studio in San Francisco's Outer Richmond district, composing new works or practicing the piano sonatas of Beethoven and Mozart.

To see him bent over his Yamaha grand piano is to be tempted to think that music and windsurfing have nothing to do with each other.

But Verotta tells you otherwise.

"There are connections," he said. Verotta believes the two activities share issues of physical control, repetition and muscle memory.

"Windsurfing enhances my performance skills by developing my body awareness and my facility to stay in control in hair-raising situations."

Windsurfing has taught Verotta how to keep cool under stress, whether it be steering his board out of the path of an oil tanker or staying focused at the piano when performing a daunting Beethoven sonata.

The crossover of science and music is a trickier matter.

Verotta says he believes that science and art are almost mutually exclusive. For him, science has less to do with capturing the transcendent or building focus as it does with pursuing the truth.

"With music, you don't have any way of measuring the truth like you do with science," he said.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Krona Guilt

Yes, you too are guilty:
ICELANDERS have woken up in a new novel by Franz Kafka, where everybody is guilty by default. One by one, the mighty banks have been seized by the government, and Icelanders, aghast, have been told that each and every one of us owes millions of dollars — to whom, we don’t know. The earnest faces of the politicians, of bankers and tycoons almost crying, give us the final touch of the surreal. The situation is comparable only with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 9/11 attacks — something final and yet beyond one’s individual grasp has happened.

...Suddenly, there are lines in the bank for foreign currencies, and there is a limit on how much we can get — overseas banks are refusing to accept our freefalling currency, the krona. One of my students, studying in Spain, can’t get money from Iceland for her rent. Importers and exporters can’t get currency to conduct business. Icelandic tourists abroad have problems getting cash from A.T.M.’s. The British government has applied terrorist laws to freeze the assets of an Icelandic bank; the list goes on as if it were a script for the nightmare of globalization.

We thought we had friends, in Europe and in the United States. They were sought in the hour of need and found to be busy with their own problems; only the Scandinavians were prepared to extend a helping hand, and then, all of a sudden, Russia — somehow the world has changed.

...Now that we don’t know if we can, the shock is so strong that neither anger nor sorrow have really taken hold. We thought Iceland was an independent country that could take care of itself without the help of Russia or the International Monetary Fund, that our currency amounted to something, that we could own companies and banks all over the world. We thought we could enjoy our beautiful country and clean air in the backyard of the aluminum smelter.

In many ways, we uncritically accepted the capitalist system, which now appears to have been a gigantic casino without an owner. We did in the end believe that we could get “money for nothing” and now we face the fact that we will get nothing for our money.
Heading Upstream

And I thought I had problems:
Professor Vezhaventhan and Professor Jeyaraman, who treated the boy and later wrote a paper on the case, said: "While he was cleaning the fish tank in his house, he was holding a fish in his hand and went to the toilet for passing urine.

"When he was passing urine, the fish slipped from his hand and entered his URETHRA and then he developed all these symptoms."

After finding the fish in the boy's BLADDER, the medics insert a special set of forceps down the patient's penis in a technique known as cystourethroscopy.

But the fish was too slippery, so the professors used a rigid ureteroscope with a tool attached – normally used for removing bladder stones.

The fish, which is thought to be a small member of the Betta genus, measured 2cm long and 1.5cm wide.

The patient was later offered counselling.
Upside Down Dogs

Useful web site of the day.
Smile With Your Eyes

The Nation Meets Joe The Plumber

Left: US Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reacts to almost heading the wrong way off the stage after shaking hands with Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 15, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Bourg.

In last night's 3rd and final presidential debate of 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain traded shots about the prospects of Joe The Plumber (a registered Republican). Joe The Plumber is said to be from Holland, Ohio, and he wants to buy a plumbing business.

Nevertheless, readers of this blog know that Joe The Plumber is this guy (lower right-hand corner).

Joe The Plumber (an independent) doesn't worry too much about high taxes. After long periods of unemployment, he's just grateful to be working again. Instead, Joe worries about what British financiers are doing to this country, what aliens are doing to our species, and what the Warren Commission has done to our brains.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mystery Of The Screaming Puppy

Eight a.m., and I woke abruptly. In the other room, Sparky was screaming at the top of his fluid-clogged lungs. I jumped out of bed and ran over to see what was going on.

When I got to Sparky, he stopped. He was coughing, as he always does now with his chronic heart disease, but he didn't seem to be in unusual distress. Had he been dreaming? Did he have a cramp? Did he have a heart attack? Clearly, it was time to make a visit to the vet. So, this afternoon, it was off to Rancho Cordova (where Sparky's vet is located).

A new woman vet looked at Sparky. The first thing she noticed was his bright-pink crayon of a penis. "Is it stuck?" she said, meaning his foreskin. It didn't look particularly stuck to me (but I'm not a trained vet). "I have some lube that might help with that," she added with a slight smile.

She had blood tests done, and X-Rays done, and carefully checked Sparky out for anything that might cause acute or chronic pain. His lungs contain too much fluid; particularly the right lung. Sparky's kidney function is increasingly-impaired and the heart medications require working kidneys to be effective. So, the vet suggested a regimen of antibiotics in case a kidney infection is at work (I vetoed a urine culture, however, to pin down exactly what bacteria might, or might not, be at work). She also prescribed increasing the heart medication dosages, in a more aggressive effort to contain the coronary disease.

I hope this $315 effort is enough to keep the puppy from mysterious night screams.
More Racism Please

It helps:
The standard GOP character attacks, launched in the face of a once-in-a-half-century economic crisis, have failed. Obama’s favorable ratings went up. McCain’s went down. Obama now has a commanding lead.

What went wrong with McCain’s attacks? The audience’s shouted slurs ruined the classical Republican approach of plausibly deniable racism. Imagine if at the old boy's country club someone said, “Well, I’m not sure the Cohens would fit in here.” Wink wink. And his buddy responded, “Oh yeah. You mean because they’re Jews, right?” It ruins the ruse, like the sitcom stooge who asks “Hey, why are you kicking me under the table?”

The McCain campaign has used plausible deniability before. Why, for instance, did it deploy Bill Ayers (who is only tenuously connected to Obama) but not mention Reverend Wright (who is, in Obama’s words “like family to me,” and officiated at Obama’s wedding and baptized his children)? Deniable racism. The real payoff of the Ayers ads is putting the words 'radical' and 'terrorist' next to Barack Obama’s name. If accused of racism or anti-Muslim sentiments, however, the campaign and its surrogates can just feign innocence and say “We’re only talking about an aging white hippie and Obama’s judgment. Why are you playing the race card?” Clearly, however, the attacks revived the “secret Muslim” rumors that have been spread since 2004.

But the GOP base didn’t get the memo on how to bash Obama as a secret Muslim—i.e. implicitly. So the attacks backfired, turning the GOP’s carefully hedged strategy into out and out racism that the press and independent voters couldn’t ignore, with disastrous consequences for McCain. And now McCain has wisely ordered his campaign not to go after the Wright-Obama association, to avoid another racial dust-up.

I wish he would bring on Reverend Wright. The damage was done during the primary. Bring on the whole parade of black bogeymen. The racial stuff only hurts the Republicans. It appears that McCain, for the moment, has backed off. But Obama and Biden’s shrewd “say it to my face or you’re a coward” strategy seems to have succeeded in baiting McCain (an old schoolyard scrapper) into renewing the attacks during tonight's debate. One hopes that will ignite another round of infighting and distraction in the McCain camp.
Al-Jazeera Reports On How Some See Obama

Smackdown For Those Who Just See The Fannie Mae Side Of Things

So, are you inclined to blame minorities for the credit crisis? Read this first (as summarized by Steve Benen). Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and National Review's Byron York argued over the financial crisis. Taibbi does not "suffer fools gladly":
B.Y.: [O]n the financial meltdown in particular, if you're suggesting that that is a Republican creation, or even more specifically a McCain creation, I think you're on pretty shaky ground.

M.T.: You don't think the unregulated CDS market was a major factor in the current crisis? Were you watching when AIG almost went under? Were you watching the Lehman collapse?

B.Y.: I think that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were also major factors. And I believe that many of the problems in the mortgage area can be attributed to the confluence of Democratic and Republican priorities: the Democrats' desire to give mortgages to people, particularly minorities, who could not afford them, and the Republicans' desire to achieve an "ownership society," in part by giving mortgages to people who could not afford them. Again, I believe that if you are suggesting that the financial crisis is a Republican creation, or even more specifically a McCain creation, I think you're on pretty shaky ground.

M.T.: Oh, come on. Tell me you're not ashamed to put this gigantic international financial Krakatoa at the feet of a bunch of poor black people who missed their mortgage payments. The CDS market, this market for credit default swaps that was created in 2000 by Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act, this is now a $62 trillion market, up from $900 billion in 2000. That's like five times the size of the holdings in the NYSE. And it's all speculation by Wall Street traders. It's a classic bubble/Ponzi scheme. The effort of people like you to pin this whole thing on minorities, when in fact this whole thing has been caused by greedy traders dealing in unregulated markets, is despicable.
The Grim Reaper Comes Out Swinging

Two deaths today. Grace Anderson, who was everyone's favorite mom back when I was a teenager, and a favorite presence always, passed away September 28th. Many condolences to Julie, Fred, Jeff, and everyone in the Anderson family.

Last night, Jerry reported his father died. Many condolences to Jerry as well.
So, How's The 401K Doing?

Guess I know already what retirement will be like. I wonder if Pedigree tastes better than Alpo? Can I afford to upgrade to Iams?

Oh yes, the Dow is off 500+ points today.

Didn't I say the big advance the day-before-yesterday was a sell signal?
Messy Bedrooms

OK, what I've got are laundry baskets, irons and sewing materials PLUS travel memorabilia PLUS two television sets (one that works, one that doesn't, but neither hooked up), some weird-ass suitcases, PLUS a stack of magazines, cloth flowers, a filing cabinet PLUS posters of Madonna, Bugsy Siegel, and oddball paintings.

Guess that makes me middle-of-the road!
According to a controversial new study, set to be published in The Journal of Political Psychology, the bedrooms and offices of liberals, who are generally thought of as open, tend to be colorful and awash in books about travel, ethnicity, feminism and music, along with music CDs covering folk, classic and modern rock, as well as art supplies, movie tickets and travel memorabilia.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to surround themselves with calendars, postage stamps, laundry baskets, irons and sewing materials in their personal spaces, according to the study. Their bedrooms and offices are well-lighted and decorated with sports paraphernalia and flags—especially American ones.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Exhibit B: Google = Stoopid?

For solace, I mutter this to myself day and night:
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles studied people doing web searches while their brain activity was recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging scans.

"What we saw was people who had internet experience used more of their brain during the search," said Dr. Gary Small, a UCLA expert on aging.

"This suggests that just searching on the internet may train the brain — that it may keep it active and healthy," said Dr Small, whose research appears in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Circular Firing Squad

Usually a Democratic specialty:
Matthew Dowd, a prominent political consultant and chief strategist for George W. Bush's reelection campaign eviscerated John McCain on Tuesday for his choice of Sarah Palin as vice president.

Dowd proclaimed that, in his heart of hearts, McCain knew he put the country at risk with his VP choice and that he would "have to live" with that fact for the rest of his career.

"They didn't let John McCain pick the person he wanted to pick as VP," Dowd declared during the Time Warner Summit panel. "When Sarah Palin got picked instead of Joe Lieberman, which I fundamentally believed would have given John McCain the best opportunity in this race... as soon as he picked Palin, that whole ready versus not ready argument was not credible."

Saying that Palin was a "net negative" on the ticket, he went on: "[McCain] knows, in his gut, that he put somebody unqualified on the ballot. He knows that in his gut, and when this race is over that is something he will have to live with... He put somebody unqualified on that ballot and he put the country at risk, he knows that."

Gloomy days on the right:
Christopher Buckley, the author and son of the late conservative mainstay William F. Buckley, said in a telephone interview that he has resigned from the National Review, the political journal his father founded in 1955.

Mr. Buckley said he had “been effectively fatwahed by the conservative movement” after endorsing Barack Obama in a blog posting on; since then, he said he has been blanketed with hate mail at the blog and at the National Review, where he has written a column.

As a result, he wrote to Richard Lowry, the editor of the National Review, and its publisher, Jack Fowler, offering to resign, and “this offer was rather briskly accepted,” Mr. Buckley said.

Mr. Buckley said he did not understand the sense of betrayal that some of his conservative colleagues felt, but said that the fury and ugly comments his endorsement generated is “part of the calcification of modern discourse. It’s so angry.” Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s quote about the Democrats, Mr. Buckley added, “I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.”
Get Well Soon, Jackie!

She turned her ankle in step aerobics yesterday evening - so easy to do!

Hard work for George W. Bush:
The plan is a dramatic reversal of course for the Bush administration and a departure from the Republican Party's strong free-market philosophy. But Bush said the programs were "not intended to take over the free market but to preserve it."
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley:
The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder.
Obama And The Midwest

Behind all the hoopla of the campaign, people are carefully calculating which candidate will be best for their parochial interests. A principal reason Obama currently leads McCain is because the Midwest is swinging into his column (Bush carried most of those often-Republican states in 2004).

Obama is a big supporter of ethanol subsidies. I agree with McCain that these subsidies are evil and wasteful, but that appears NOT to be a winning posture this year - the peril of being a maverick!
Playing With A Pet Rat

Judgment impaired by beer:
"She was getting adventurous and we wanted to let her walk around on the ground and we didn't want her running off too far, so we grabbed some twine and some jingle bells so she didn't get too far," Stanifer told Eyewitness News.

Stanifer said he didn't have any scissors to cut the twine, so he tried to use a lighter to burn through it. The rat started to run around the garage, starting small fires.

..."I had a few beers before it happened, but nothing out of the ordinary," Stanifer told Eyewitness News.

The residents tried putting the fire out, but were unsuccessful. More than a dozen firefighters responded to help fight the blaze.

"This is my parent's house. My dad's not here right now. He's in Africa on a mission trip and my mom works most of the time. We can't get a hold of her," said Stanifer.

Fire investigators said the damage to the home will cost nearly $30,000 to repair. The rat was unharmed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fauxmosexuals And Celesbians

Getting complicated out there:
Gay social commentator Tim Duggan has described the "lesbian trend" as a fad which is actually doing "more damage than good".

"Experimentation is healthy — what it leads to can sometimes be a great thing, but you need to wonder what effect [fake lesbians] are having on women," said Mr Duggan, co-founder of gay and lesbian site SameSame.

"Women who pretend to be lesbians do it to titillate men.

"The current trend of gay acceptance is a Trojan horse: on the surface it's 'wow, isn’t it great, it's being talked about', but it's not real acceptance — it's a titillating, easy-on-the-eyes acceptance."

...Mr Duggan said the impact of "celesbians" — stars who use alternative lifestyles as marketing ploys — is something which can no longer be ignored.

"When straight celebrities like Katy Perry come out and sing about kissing girls and liking it, you have to wonder what impact that has on the playground," he said.
Trying To Read The Crystal Ball

Bruce Warren interviews some experts, who say don't leave the stock market (a sell signal if I ever heard one):
Richard Barber, managing director at Wachovia Securities in Auburn, takes a wait-and-see attitude toward Monday’s spectacular gain.

“It’s an 11.08 percent gain,” Barber said. “It will help take a small amount of the pain away after being down 18 percent last week. Now the challenge will be to see if we can hold most or all of it. It’s been the history of this market to give a large gain back in the next day or two.”

...“I think the apparent coordinated effort of nations all over the world to get this global problem turned around had a large effect on today’s gains,” Barber said. “I think it’s a combination of all the stimulus packages, including the fed lowering rates a half point last week as well as central banks all over the world lowering rates.”

Despite Wall Street woes, Mishler does not have many clients selling stocks in response to recent falling stock prices. Out of 420 local clients, only three have made drastic changes in their portfolios.

...For Barber, only a few of his 200 clients have cashed in their stocks.

“I can count the number of clients who have cashed in on one hand,” Barber said. “I understand the fear that has griped people that would make them want to sell even if it’s not necessarily a good idea. When your portfolio causes you do lose sleep at night, sometimes it’s better to just pull the plug, but fortunately the majority of my clients have resisted the temptation.”

Right now, Mishler recommends patience, but does not advocate blind patience.

“Be patient. Buy and hold does not mean buy and ignore,” Mishler said. “Now is a very good time to evaluate and make strategic adjustments to benefit from the coming recovery.”

...Barber does not know if the current market has reached bottom yet, but he knows what happens if clients bail out now.

“There are no guarantees that we’re at the bottom, but the market action in the last three days would indicate that if we’re not there, we’re close,” Barber said. “It’s not a good time to get out. Invariably investors get out at the bottom and then they lose the ability to recoup some of their losses.”
How To Deal With All The Deadbeats?

Indian call centers ponder the conundrum:
Sitting in a narrow cubicle, her head-set switched on, Chaturvedi listens every night to increasingly disturbing tales of woe from the other side of the globe.

"My mortgage payments are just too high, honey. I just can't make the payment this month," a weeping woman with a Southern accent recently told her in response to a call for a $200 credit card payment. "I'm sure y'all heard about the credit crunch and gas prices. I'm flat broke."

"Ma'am, I am here to help you," Chaturvedi calmly said. "Ma'am, maybe you could make a small payment, $100 or $50, anything that you can."

Few places in India absorb and imitate American culture as much as call centers, where ambitious young Indians with fake American accents and American noms de phone spend hours calling people in Indiana or Maine to help navigate software glitches, plan vacations or sell products. The subculture of call centers tends to foster a cult of America, an over-the-top fantasy where hopes and dreams are easily accomplished by people who live in a brand-name wonderland of high-paying jobs, big houses and luxury getaways.

But collection agents at this call center outside New Delhi are starting to see the flip side of that vision: a country hobbled by debt and filled with people scared of losing their jobs, their houses and their cars.

"Lately, 25-year-old Americans are telling me that they are declaring themselves bankrupt," said Chaturvedi, raising her eyebrows in shock. "These days the situation is so emotional, so fragile. We have to have so much empathy and patience."

"It's like people are totally drowning," said Omkar Gadgil, 24, who goes by the alias Richard Rudy and was a math major in college. He is brainy and considered the office expert on the intricacies of debt collection. "There has just been years of overspending and now: the crash."

In the past, debt-saddled customers were often annoyed by Chaturvedi's calls from the open-air office at Aegis BPO Services. But now they seem depressed, defeated. Even the men sob into the phone, several agents said.

...Chaturvedi said she has never seen it so bad. Many of the young employees say they are flabbergasted at just how widespread the financial ruin appears to be.

Talking to so many anguished Americans has taught these agents an important lesson: Live within your means. Agents with credit cards are vowing to pay them off every month, even during the upcoming holiday shopping season, when malls feature neon signs advertising flat-screen TVs and air conditioners.

Managers of this call center say they have recently added a seminar on the economic crisis, with PowerPoint slides that graph the financial mess as well as updates on other events that could affect the ability of U.S. debtors to pay their bills, including natural disasters such as Hurricane Ike. The presentation is intended to enable collection agents to bond with their clients, and possibly deflect their excuses.

Since the crisis began, agents have seen call times shoot up dramatically because late payers often want to talk more. More callers have moved. More phones have been disconnected. Clients have started bargaining with agents for discounts on their debts "as if they were haggling at an Indian vegetable market," said Rhoit Chug, assistant vice president of training for Aegis.

...Aparup Sengupta, global chief executive officer and managing director of Aegis, encourages his debt collectors to use a "hospitable Indian touch," meaning less arm-twisting and more emotional therapy.

"This business is a performing art," Sengupta said. "We are part therapists because the core of the issue is that every human being wants to be honorable in life. We don't just push someone into a bad situation. We try to create a real solution."
Sumo Sensation

At age 14:
IN a sport dominated by the biggest men in Japan, an Australian girl has become one of the biggest names in sumo wrestling.

Samantha-Jane Stacey, 14, has claimed a world championship silver medal - the first Australian to do so in almost three decades.

She battled through five bouts with a sprained ankle at the weekend's championships in Estonia to win silver in the junior women's division.

...Samantha-Jane has been sumo-wrestling for two years and before that was trained in wrestling.

Her mother Sue hit back at critics of her daughter's weight saying she led an active life, playing netball as well as competitive sumo wrestling.

Ms Stacey said her daughter's weight was due to a medical condition rather than a junk food diet.

"The only takeaway food she eats is sushi - we're not takeaway people," Ms Stacey said.

"She probably eats less than my eldest daughter, who's a size 8.
As Maine Goes, So Goes The Nation

Basically, in both directions simultaneously.

W. recently returned from Maine:
We recently retruned from visiting my sister and her husband, who live in Bangor, Maine. I wanted to figure out which way Maine will vote, so I counted bumper stickers and yard signs. The bumper sticker poll is Obama 14, McCain 3. However, the yard sign poll is McCain 22, Obama 4! Is that strange? Which is more accurate?

One factor which should be considered is that more than half of the cars with bumper stickers, had three or more stickers. I have always subscribed to a crank-detecting rule, which is that a person with more than 2 bumper stickers is not completely well-balanced. My reasoning is that if you have something to say, you should be able to say it with 1 or 2 bumper stickers; any more, and you are ranting. By this line of thought, the yard signs should perhaps be given more weight than the bumper stickers. However, Maine has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections, and is favoring Obama in the polls now, so I guess I won't trust either the yard signs, or the bumper stickers!

BTW, the house of author Stephen King, who lives in Bangor, sports an Obama sign, and two end-the-war signs.
That is strange indeed.

Since bumper stickers can easily be mailed, perhaps bumper stickers tend to signify contact with a political organization with a national scope. The yard signs, however, suggest a political organization with a strong local presence.

As far as I can tell from this, the Bangor area has been trending Democratic of late, but it doesn’t mean the Republicans don’t have a kick-ass yard sign operation.

Two days ago, I put four Obama bumper stickers on my car, but I’m already a well-established ranter, so the characterization fits.

Left: The kinder, gentler McCain campaign this morning.

What does this statement remind me of? Hilzoy says it reminds her of the Titanic, but that's not it:
Let me give you the state of the race today. We have 22 days to go. We’re 6 points down. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq. But they forgot to let you decide. My friends, we’ve got them just where we want them.
The last line reminds me of General George Armstrong Custer. Now, it may not have been Custer - this fiction author places those exact words in the mouth of Custer's superior General Terry - but it's the same mind set (except at least McCain realizes he has problems, whereas Custer apparently did not until it was too late).
Paul Krugman Wins The Nobel Prize!

The fierce Bush critic and famed columnist and famed blogger and famed economist wins the biggest one of all!:
Oct 13th, 2008 STOCKHOLM, Sweden — The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences says that American Paul Krugman has won the Nobel economics prize “for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity.”
The Four-Raccoon Family Goes A'Visitin'

Walking Sparky over on Markham Way at 2:30 a.m. last night, just two streets over from where I live, I walked past a minivan parked in a driveway, and suddenly saw a funny-looking mammal hissing and doing an aggressive crab walk across the lawn just ten feet from where I stood. Was this unidentified rabies carrier about to attack? Was Sparky, who was trailing behind, even more at risk?

No, the hissing was a bluff, to cover the movement of the Four-Raccoon family on the other side of the minivan. Keeping a wary eye on me, they disappeared down the driveway, looking for food and other humanoid bipeds to frighten.
Casino Back In Business

The Dow Jones Industrials is up nearly 700 points today! Whee!

As in any casino, the trick is keeping ahold of that gain.
Broken Clock

Left: Courtesy of The Evil Beet, Sad Guys On Trading Floors.

The National Debt Clock keeps a running tally of total U.S. debt and what each family owes.

In fact, the digital counter has been moving so much that it recently ran out of digits to display the ballooning figure: $10,150,603,734,720, or roughly $10.2 trillion, as of Saturday afternoon.
"Footloose" - DMTC YPT - Chicago Cast

Left: Ren (Mark Lillya) and Willard (Carver Simmons).

Here are some pictures (mostly of Act I - my camera's battery failed early in Act II).

"Footloose" is a difficult show to do, particularly with regard to the singing. The show I saw (Chicago cast only) was variable in quality. I thought follow-through was missing from some of the dancing, as if promising choreographic avenues were terminated prematurely, with the cast looking uncomfortable with some of the execution.

Nevertheless, some of the acting was just sublime. Cody Craven as Reverend Shaw, and Kennedy Wenning as his wife Vi, were both just awesome. If Cody ever starts his own religion I'll be first getting the face tattoo (or whatever Cody's revelation deems necessary). Caitlin Humphreys as Rusty and Kristine Hager as Ethel were also excellent. Kim Casazza provided comic relief with her characterization of Betty. I was pleasantly surprised to see Andrew Lampinen cast as the Bad Boy, Chuck.

Left: Urleen (Nora Unkel), Wendy Jo (Lisa Parente), Ren (Mark Lillya), and Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys).
Left: Ariel (Erica Pieschke), Betty (Kim Casazza), and Ren (Mark Lillya).
Left: Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys), Urleen (Nora Unkel) and Wendy Jo (Lisa Parente).

Left: Reverend Shaw (Cody Craven).
Left: "Let's Make Believe We Are In Love". Irene (Rachel Pinto) and (I think) Emily Hirsch.

Left: Reverend Shaw (Cody Craven).
Left: Ariel (Erica Pieschke), Vi (Kennedy Wenning), and Reverend Shaw (Cody Craven).
Left: In perfect clipped tones, The Principal (Ashley Hickman) disabuses Ren (Mark Lillya) of the notion that dancing is permitted anywhere, anytime, in Bomont.
Left: Urleen (Nora Unkel), Ren (Mark Lillya), Wendy Jo (Lisa Parente), and Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys).

Left: Ariel (Erica Pieschke) and Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys).

Left: Ariel (Erica Pieschke) and Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys).

Left: "Learning To Be Silent". Ethel (Kristine Hager).

Below: "Learning To Be Silent". Vi (Kennedy Wenning).

Left: Cop (Hope Wiedenhoefer) and Ren (Mark Lillya).
Left: Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys) and (I think) Hudson Shively as Cowboy Bob.
Left: Ariel (Erica Pieschke) sings "The Girl Gets Around".
Left: "Somebody's Eyes". Urleen (Nora Unkel), Wendy Jo (Lisa Parente) and Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys).

Left: Vi (Kennedy Wenning), Reverend Shaw (Cody Craven), and Ariel (Erica Pieschke).
Left: "Holding Out For A Hero". On the table, Ariel (Erica Pieschke). Background, Rusty (Caitlin Humphreys), Urleen (Nora Unkel), and Wendy Jo (Lisa Parente).

Left: Chuck (Andrew Lampinen), Ren (Mark Lillya) and Willard (Carver Simmons).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bill Maher's "Religulous"

Left: After seeing "Religulous" I saw this bumper sticker, and I thought "Coexistence demands mutual respect, and that is in short supply!"

I went to the Varsity Theater Sunday afternoon with Sally and saw Bill Maher's new movie, "Religulous" :
'Religulous' is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Larry Charles and starring political comedian Bill Maher. According to Maher, the title of the film is a portmanteau derived from the words "religion" and "ridiculous," implying the satirical nature of the documentary that is meant to mock the concept of religion and the problems it brings about.
Maher's mom was Jewish and the rest of his family was Catholic, the legacy of which has made Maher an agnostic skeptic and the kind of person who simply cannot keep from picking at the scab of wounded religious sensibilities. As might be expected from a standup comic, Maher's analysis of religions worldwide is both puerile and sophomoric. There are a few laughs, that is true, but they come at the expense of the usual suspects: megachurch fundamentalist preachers, Muslim suicide bombers, Mormons and Scientologists. (The funniest part is a supposed translation from Arabic of several Muslims saying that Bill Maher's TV show sucked.)

Maher concludes that a religious sensibility, in a world that possesses nuclear weapons, is little better than a mental disorder. Now, as a confirmed agnostic myself, I should be a natural ally of this view, but Maher's acidic analysis leaves me cold.

Once, I explained to a Muslim that I really had no religion to speak of. For a second, I caught his unvarnished emotional reaction - utter pity! Not much respect there! Respect works both ways. Why should religious people extend respect to Maher and his work when Maher won't extend elementary courtesy to them? Religious people rely on faith. Maher may find faith absurd but it doesn't follow that religious people are absurd.

Coexistence is a cold word. Religions coexist in Bosnia. They coexist in Iraq. Those places aren't a religious Eden! Tolerance is a bit warmer, but Muslims say all the time they tolerate Jews because maybe they don't kill them on sight. I like mutual respect. Enough with the jokes. Like Rodney King once said:
People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?...It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.
Eric Prydz - Call On Me

Yup, this is just like my Monday evening aerobics class (in the sense that there is one guy, me, and the rest are women).