Saturday, November 01, 2008

Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" - Artistic Differences

Went to see Artistic Difference's "Assassins" at the Old Eagle Theater in Old Sacramento.

Fine performances throughout, particularly the duos:

  • Leon Czolgosz (Joshua James) and Emma Goldman (Joelle Wirth) - very strong, affecting performances;

  • "Squeaky" Lynette Fromme (Tygar Hicks) and Sara Jane Moore (Martha Omiyo Kight) - loopy fun!.

Plus extended monologues by:

  • Sam Byck (Michael McElroy) - rage, personified,

  • John Wilkes Booth (Craig Howard) - a cracked visionary,

  • Charles Guiteau (Chuck Cooner) - ambition, personified.
This is one excellent show!

The biggest flaw of the show "Assassins", as it is written by Sondheim and Weidman, is that Lee Harvey Oswald is treated as something of a malleable pawn. Reading the book "Case Closed" by Gerald Posner, the last word on why Oswald was the single shooter, it's clear that Oswald was the most misunderestimated of assassins. He had spent the fall of 1963 trying to kill right-wing Air Force General Walker, even getting a shot off, and changed his target to Kennedy only that fateful morning, when he read the newspaper and realized Kennedy would pass right by his workplace. Oswald was very determined and resourceful and astonishingly stingy, but not malleable.

This show, as good as it is, could do with a rewrite - keep some stuff and toss out the rest. After all, let's reintroduce long-forgotten presidential assassin wannabes, Richard Lawrence and John Schrank! They tried - they failed! And what about the Puerto Rican nationalists? Surely they can't be consigned to history's wastebin so easily? Maybe we need Assassins II.....

The production's timing seemed a bit crass - just before the 2008 election - but the timing apparently wasn't a promotional gambit but just due to rehearsal schedules and efforts to get rights. Everyone loves the music to this show anyway and would love to do it anytime, election or not.

American assassins, diverse in many ways, seem united by a common trait - delusional thinking.

I come from a generation particularly scarred by assassinations. I remember returning from lunchtime recess to Mrs. James' class in second grade as she tearfully announced JFK's death. When I went home, I thought to inform my mother - but she already knew. Wow, this was bigger than I thought! The story became far too complicated for a 7-year-old to follow when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot - who was this Jack Ruby? - but by now I was hooked. I watched every second of the funeral of JFK on TV, and it took hours - at least three hours from start to end.

My parents watched me watch the TV and they were - concerned.

1968 was an epic, history-making year, in part, because of MLK's and RFK's assassination.

In June 1968, as an 11-year-old, I noted how RFK's wound wasn't as dire as JFK's - with luck, potentially survivable. I spent many hours in June and July assembling models of skulls using dominoes, and laying out nerve pathways in the brain using string. Then, I fired marbles into the domino stockades, and used an electric train transformer as a diagnostic device to try and judge whether simple paralysis resulted from the wounds, or debilitating speech defects, or whether the damage was deeper than that, and perhaps not survivable at all.

Man, 1968 was a sick year.

In high school, of course, my friends and I spent much time learning and reciting assassination trivia.

In 1976, I went to a dollar cinema at the Gothic Theater in Denver, CO, and saw a double-bill: ("Shampoo" with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn - not very memorable) and the electrifying assassination classic, "Taxi Driver", with Robert De Niro as the unforgettable Travis Bickle, and Jodie Foster as his femme fatale, Iris.

I was stunned in 1981, watching the coverage of Reagan's assassination attempt while sitting in the basement of the Student Union at University of Arizona in Tucson, to learn how John Hinckley became Travis Bickle. With Stephen Sondheim's musical "Assassins", it's art imitating life imitating art imitating life - this is more confusing than Jack Ruby's emotional state!

And speaking of Jack Ruby, in 1993, I attended a lecture at the Unitarian Church here in Sacramento, where Dr. Walter Bromberg, then in his 90's (his daughter was in my ballet class), and Jack Ruby's court-appointed psychologist, discussed Ruby's state-of-mind. Apparently Ruby was very emotional - he didn't plan things out. He carried a gun into the Dallas Police HQ that fateful day because he carried a pistol wherever he went, not from any pre-meditated intention to kill Oswald. Jack Ruby was just that kind of guy.

On the way home tonight, I will detour down L Street and pass by Sacramento's Capitol Park, where Squeaky Lynette Fromme, who had spent the summer of 1975 stalking the alleys of Sacramento and dumpster diving for food, decided to meet Gerald Ford, and discuss saving the redwoods.
Deborah's Cat At All Hallow's Eve
The Duchess

Left: Keira Knightley and Hayley Atwell.

Went to see "The Duchess" starring Keira Knightley.

An excellent vehicle for Keira's acting talents. A costume extravaganza as well.

The story is a bit more prosaic - how the Duchess of Devonshire copes with the hazards of life by forming an awkward love triangle with co-stars Hayley Atwell and Ralph Fiennes.

Sadly, pretty much a chick flick. No explosions, or horse chases, or even attacks by the French. Just a lot of furtive whispering in the great halls of great houses....

But well done!
He Shoots - He Misses

Strange call from the McCain campaign:
Friday night (which happens to be the start of our Sabbath) my wife answered the phone to hear a man stating he was from the McCain-Palin campaign. He asked who she was supporting. She replied that we will vote for Obama. He replied with "but he's a f-----g n---er!". Before I get to my wife's response I'll first have to say that I understand desperation and I also understand that this pitch may actually work for a few people. I also understand that there are people who are whack-jobs phone-banking for both sides. But here are some facts:

My wife and I are Black. Citing the fact that Obama is a f----g n---er as a way to sway our vote may not be a great idea. My wife and I live in Maryland... Baltimore, MD.... One of the most African American areas of Baltimore Maryland. How on earth did our phone numbers get on to a McCain volunteers phone bank list of potential voters to be calling at this stage in the game?
Prankin' Governor Palin

Can't make this stuff up!
Empty Chairs

Over the last two months, 538 checked out McCain offices nationwide (with photos) and found little happening:
Offices in Troy, Ohio were closed on Saturday October 11. With perfect coincidental timing, two elderly women dropped by to volunteer but found the office shut. At Republican state headquarters in Columbus later the same day, one lonely dialer sat in a sea of unoccupied chairs. In Des Moines on September 25, another empty office. In Santa Fe on September 17, one dialer made calls while six chatted amongst themselves about how they didn't like Obama. In Raleigh this past Saturday, ten days before the election with early voting already open, two women dialed and a male staffer watched the Georgia-LSU game. In Durango, Colorado on September 20, the Republican office was locked and closed. Indiana didn't have McCain Victory offices when we were there in early October.

...These ground campaigns do not bear any relationship to one another. One side has something in the neighborhood of five million volunteers all assigned to very clear and specific pieces of the operation, and the other seems to have something like a thousand volunteers scattered throughout the country. Jon Tester's 2006 Senate race in Montana had more volunteers -- by a mile -- than John McCain's 2006 presidential campaign.
RIP, Studs Terkel

Remarkable guy:
Author-radio host-actor-activist and Chicago symbol Louis "Studs" Terkel died Friday afternoon in his home on the North Side. At his bedside was a copy of his latest book, "P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening," scheduled for release this month. He was 96 years old.

"Studs Terkel was part of a great Chicago literary tradition that stretched from Theodore Dreiser to Richard Wright to Nelson Algren to Mike Royko," Mayor Richard M. Daley said Friday. "In his many books, Studs captured the eloquence of the common men and women whose hard work and strong values built the America we enjoy today. He was also an excellent interviewer, and his WFMT radio show was an important part of Chicago's cultural landscape for more than 40 years."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Those Silly Neurons

Going giddy over celebrities:
It is a discovery that could explain the enduring appeal of Friends. Scientists have found brain cells devoted to Jennifer Aniston.

...Other brain cells are similarly encoded to store memories of individual celebrities, from actress Halle Berry to former US presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

Even Star Wars character Luke Skywalker has a cell of his own.

The Leicester University research, contradicts the popular theory that a large network of cells are involved in processing images of people.

Instead, it appears, our brains streamline the process by devoting individual cells to store memories of specific people or places.

...Another woman had a brain cell for pictures of Halle Berry, responding to drawings of her face and an image of just the words in her name.

Even a picture in which the Catwoman actress's face was almost covered by her costume made the cell fire.

Other celebrities exciting individual brain cells included Pamela Anderson, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise. Famous landmarks also had their own cells.

The study also showed that the same person can have a number of cells devoted to different celebrities or landmarks.

Professor Quian Quiroga said: 'The patient with the Jennifer Aniston neuron had 19 other cells firing to different things.

'There was one firing to Pamela Anderson, another one was firing to the Tower of Pisa, another to Sydney Opera House and so on.'

Although the researchers only found one Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry cell per person, they only sampled a fraction of the available brain cells.

This means each person's brain is likely to have a number cells devoted to their favourite celebrities.
Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

Lip Dub IUT SRC Rouen 2008
by arcanes-prod

As rendered by French college students.
Just Racism Against Arabs

Look, if they can't even get Martin Peretz to jump on the Khalidi bandwagon, then all they got is that Khalidi has an Arab name, and McCain's attacks on Obama have nothing to do with anti-Semitism at all - it's just pure, distilled anti-Arabism, nothing more.

Your GOP at work.
What's New On The Nerd Frontier?

Left: Image from Jamnog at b3ta.

As one might have expected: 2-D Marriage:
A JAPANESE man has enlisted hundreds of people in a campaign to allow marriages between humans and cartoon characters, saying he feels more at ease in the "two-dimensional world".
Comic books are immensely popular in Japan, with some fictional characters becoming celebrities or even sex symbols.

Marriage is meanwhile on the decline as many young Japanese find it difficult to find life partners.

Taichi Takashita launched an online petition aiming for one million signatures to present to the government to establish a law on marriages with cartoon characters.

Within a week he has gathered more than 1000 signatures through.

"I am no longer interested in three dimensions. I would even like to become a resident of the two-dimensional world," he wrote.

...But some people signing the petition are true believers.

"For a long time I have only been able to fall in love with two-dimensional people and currently I have someone I really love," one person wrote.

...Japan only permits marriage between human men and women and gives no legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Japan's fans of comic books, or "manga," sometimes go to extremes.

Earlier this month, a woman addicted to manga put out an online message seeking to kill her parents for asking her to throw away comic books that filled up three rooms.
GOTV Impacted

Hard decisions for McCain:
The decision to finance a final advertising push is forcing McCain to curtail spending on Election Day ground forces to help usher his supporters to the polls, according to Republican consultants familiar with McCain's strategy.

The vaunted, 72-hour plan that President Bush used to mobilize voters in 2000 and 2004 has been scaled back for McCain. He has spent half as much as Obama on staffing and has opened far fewer field offices. This week, a number of veteran GOP operatives who orchestrate door-to-door efforts to get voters to the polls were told they should not expect to receive plane tickets, rental cars or hotel rooms from the campaign.

"The desire for parity on television comes at the expense of investment in paid boots on the ground," said one top Republican strategist who has been privy to McCain's plans. "The folks who will oversee the volunteer operation have been told to get out into the field on their own nickel."

Obama has maintained a substantial financial advantage during the general election campaign, forcing McCain to make tough decisions when locking down a final spending plan about two weeks ago.
Organized Model Rocketry In Rio Rancho, NM

Wonderful stuff!
Going After Utah's Wilderness Areas

Time running short, the Bush Administration goes for broke:

The federal Bureau of Land Management is reviving plans to sell oil and gas leases in pristine wilderness areas in eastern Utah that have long been protected from development, according to a notice posted this week on the agency's Web site.

The proposed sale, which includes famous areas in the Nine Mile Canyon region, would take place Dec. 19, a month before President Bush leaves office. The targeted areas include parts of Desolation Canyon, White River, Diamond Mountain and Bourdette Draw.

The bureau has sought to open these public lands to energy exploration since 2003, though it had earlier classified them as having "wilderness character." But the agency has been repeatedly blocked by federal court and administrative rulings.

...The agency will publish the list of lease sites Tuesday. In a notice being published today in the Federal Register, the bureau says it is finalizing five resource management plans applying to about 9.5 million acres, a required step for parts of the sale to go forward.

One of the areas set to be auctioned off is Upper Desolation Canyon, which was named by explorer John Wesley Powell in 1869 while he traveled down the Green River, which traverses the canyon, to the Grand Canyon.

In a 1999 assessment, bureau officials wrote that Desolation Canyon "is a place where a visitor can experience true solitude -- where the forces of nature continue to shape the colorful, rugged landscape," and heralded the area's "cultural, scenic, geologic, botanical, and wildlife values."

"What makes this action by the Interior Department so deplorable is that BLM itself determined these areas to be wilderness-quality lands," said Stephen Bloch, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an advocacy group, in a statement. "Nonetheless, BLM is condemning these lands to a future of oil rigs and gas pipelines and almost certain disqualification from future wilderness designation."

The bureau first proposed opening up energy exploration in part of the area in the fall of 2003, after former interior secretary Gayle Norton reached an agreement with then-Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt not to declare any new wilderness areas in the state. Environmental advocates fought the leasing proposal in federal court, which ruled in 2006 that the plan violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Interior's own Board of Land Appeals also issued an administrative ruling backing the leasing prohibition.

In recent weeks, GOP presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.) and running mate Sarah Palin (Alaska), along with other politicians, have repeatedly called for greater domestic energy exploration -- leading chants of "Drill, baby, drill" on a daily basis. In a speech on energy policy Wednesday, Palin said the United States needs to pursue oil and gas at home rather than relying on imports.

...But environmentalists questioned why the administration is pushing for the lease of ecologically sensitive areas when Utah has more acres leased for oil and gas development than are being drilled. At the end of fiscal year 2006, there were about 4.6 million acres of BLM-managed lands in Utah under lease, with just over 1 million acres in production.
Foliage-Covered Fence

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking through downtown, when I noticed a big rubber ball in the gutter. Just then, on the other side of a foliage-covered fence, I heard a woman say "Look, the ball rolled into the street!" I couldn't see anyone: just a sign indicating a school was located nearby, and the blank face of the foliage-covered fence. Concluding that this was the woman's ball, I retrieved the ball and tossed it back over the fence.

Not only did I hear the woman say "thank you", I heard a whole chorus of little voices saying "thank you" from behind the expressionless, foliage-covered fence.
Crying Wolf

Trivializing anti-Semitism:
In Khalidi's case, the charges of "anti-semitism" are even more disgusting than the normal neocon exploitation, since it's occurring in the last week of a presidential campaign and, as Scott Horton pointed out, is so plainly grounded primarily in the politically useful fact that Khalidi is a Palestinian-American. The anti-semitism accusation is not just manipulative; it itself is bigotry of the highest order.

But this episode illustrates what neocons have been doing for years and, more significantly, signals that the efficacy of this tactic is finally coming to an end. Open debates about U.S. policy towards Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are vital, and people should be able to engage in those debates and be able to take legitimate positions, as Professor Khalidi has plainly done, without hordes of right-wing manipulators swarming on them with anti-semitism accusations.

Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative, this week wrote that he was voting for Barack Obama, principally because "John McCain wants to bring [neoconservatives] back, in triumph, on horseback." That's exactly right. The McCain campaign's repulsive McCarthyite tactics of the last several weeks are the hallmark of neoconservatives. That is who will be empowered in a McCain administration.
Our Media Elite

Bashing our media elite, as always:
Appearing once again on The Daily Show, Bill Kristol, Jon Stewart's favorite whipping boy ("Bill Kristol, aren't you ever right?"), tonight defended the McCain-Palin ticket, at one point informing the show's host that he was getting his news from suspect sources. "You're reading The New York Times too much," he declared.

"Bill, you work for The New York Times," Stewart pointed out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Everyone!

Everyone had a birthday today:
  • Nancy Agee;
  • Rich Kulmann;
  • Rodger McDonald;
  • Bethany Pedersen;
  • Gil Sebastian;
  • Marc Valdez (Numero 52).

Happy birthday, everyone!

(P.S. Andy S.: Your Dick Cheney E-card was the best!)
Looking For Scapegoats

The choice of Palin as VP was inspired, but problematic. Scapegoating is a natural human instinct, but may not be appropriate here.

In 1920, when the Cox/FDR Democratic ticket fell short, the general consensus was that no Democrat could win under the circumstances, and neither candidate went about scapegoating the other. That's a better approach than casting blame:
John McCain's campaign is looking for a scapegoat. It is looking for someone to blame if McCain loses on Tuesday.

And it has decided on Sarah Palin.

In recent days, a McCain “adviser” told Dana Bash of CNN: “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone.”

Imagine not taking advice from the geniuses at the McCain campaign. What could Palin be thinking?

Also, a “top McCain adviser” told Mike Allen of Politico that Palin is “a whack job.”

Maybe she is. But who chose to put this “whack job” on the ticket? Wasn’t it John McCain? And wasn’t it his first presidential-level decision?
The Money Advantage

This is where Obama's fund-raising advantage pays off: when he can come close to monopolizing the air waves just prior to the election and all but shut John McCain out.

In many ways, it's the old-fashioned approach. It's exactly how LBJ got his landslide in 1964, Nixon in 1972, and Reagan in 1984. It's how Hillary wanted to do it this year, and it's how Obama is doing it today:
On Wednesday night, no matter what you were watching, you almost couldn't avoid seeing Barack Obama's face on your TV screen. First there was the coverage of his latest campaign stops in North Carolina and Florida on the local news, then an interview with Charles Gibson on ABC's "World News," then Obama's carefully produced 30-minute ad, which ran on CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, BET, TV One and Univision at 8 p.m., followed by a taped appearance on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," and finally, a rally with former President Bill Clinton, timed to coincide with the 11 p.m. news on the East Coast. On top of it all, Obama launched a brand-new ad questioning the wisdom of John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Obama has already hit all of his talking points in every debate, and his face has appeared on our TV screens with clocklike regularity each night for weeks -- even in California, a blue state that's solidly in Obama's column. You would have to be hiding out in a cave somewhere not to be familiar with Obama's position on most issues. Even my 2-year-old has taken to shouting "Obama!" when she sees his face on our TV screen. (Last night, after we watched the news together, she added, "I want more Obama.")

...After half-expecting to see Obama on a couch with Jessica Simpson and a bevy of skin-care products, the ad turned out to be a thoughtful, polished bit of television magic, a well-timed appeal to Americans desperate for some new direction during tough times.

...Once again, it doesn't pay to underestimate this man. Instead of boring us to tears, Obama has managed to bring us to tears with a combination of heartstring-plucking stories, presidential poise and a good old-fashioned pep rally. And he doesn't even have to mention McCain or Palin, or even Bush, let alone attack them. The tone here is inspirational, after all: Americans are hurting, yes, but they're coming together to decide that the time for change has come.

...Meanwhile, McCain has already taken to mocking the "gauzy, feel-good" ad to crowds in Palm Beach, Fla., saying that it was "paid for by broken promises."

...But will this enormous media blitzkrieg leave a bad taste in some Americans' mouths? After watching Democrats sitting on their hands for years now, carefully selecting their words, resisting the temptation to speak out, straining to sound polite, even in the closing moments of lost elections, Obama's huge last-minute push felt impressive and formidable. Not remotely content to rest on his laurels and watch the White House slip away again, the man is going into the homestretch with a huge, smart, polished political engine behind him. He's reaching out in every way he possibly can, and leaving no stone unturned.
Good Help Is Hard To Find

Daily Show Clip

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

To The Hapless Bicyclist

Time: 6:30 p.m., just after dusk.

Me: Turning left into the DMV parking lot from 21st Street.

You: Riding against traffic, wearing dark clothing, and having just emerged from a dark tree-covered stretch of sidewalk.

Ambient lighting: Poor.

Message: Don't blame me for nearly killing you - you are invisible!
What Does "Idiot" Mean?

I found this article rather exasperating:
If a male candidate calls a female candidate "an idiot," does that make him a sexist? What if a woman calls another woman "an idiot"?

Frankly, I'm guessing a lot of candidates think their opponents are idiots, especially this close to the election. They just refrain from saying it publicly.

Larry Brown was not so discreet.

The Las Vegas city councilman, after a joint appearance with Assemblywoman Valerie Weber, his opponent in the race for a County Commission seat, answered a question from a Las Vegas Sun reporter, and now Weber is assailing him as a sexist.

Let's put it in context.

The two appeared on KLVX-TV, Channel 10, on Oct. 16 and were given the chance to ask one question of the other.

Brown said he didn't have a question for her.

Watching from home, I took it as a put-down, an implication she wasn't worthy of questioning. He now says it was a strategy. He didn't want to use a question to beat up on her, plus she has a tendency not to answer the question, so he didn't want to give her an opportunity to go off on a tangent. He wasn't being disrespectful, he insists.

The question she asked of him was convoluted but boiled down to: How do you explain your failure to bring a major sports team to Las Vegas?

After saying her premise was "fraught with mistakes," he basically said it's too early for a major sports team because the local population isn't large enough.

I thought it wasn't fair to blame Brown especially because the biggest cheerleader for a sports team and an arena has been Mayor Oscar Goodman. Brown has cautioned against using tax dollars to build an arena.

But here's the kicker. When the Las Vegas Sun asked Brown about Weber's question, he called it "a goofball question" and then added, "I felt like saying: You're an idiot."

He didn't say that directly to Weber, a GOP assemblywoman for six years. He didn't say it on air. He said it to a reporter with a tape recorder.

When Weber read the quote in Tuesday's newspaper, she was stunned.

"I've been in public office for six years. Being called an idiot is hurtful, dismissive and disrespectful," she said. "I felt it was a tone of hatefulness toward women and he was being misogynistic."

Brown insisted he was referring to the question she asked, not calling her an idiot.

"Name calling is not part of my politics," he said.
I think Valerie Weber is too much the wilting flower here. Sexism, however unattractive, is not a crime. Not only does Larry Brown have the right to call her an idiot if he chooses to, but as a political candidate, maybe even an affirmative duty to call her an idiot, once again, should he choose to do so. Political debate doesn't always have to be civil. Civility can mask the failure to speak the truth and better that civility be sacrificed than the truth.

And heck, Brown didn't even say Weber was an idiot, only that he thought about calling her an idiot. Thought crime is not a crime in America. Flinging inflammatory insults is often not the best way to wage a campaign, but there are exceptions. It's the candidate's call - no one else's.
OK, This Is What Real Elitism Looks Like

In defense of Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens:
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who is also under investigation by federal officials, offered a whole-hearted, but odd endorsement of Stevens, equating his pursuit of justice with that of disgraced former President Richard Nixon.

“I can remember Richard Nixon, you know, his years of service, what he’s done, and everybody [was] ridiculing him, and he ended up being the greatest president in the history of our century. ... The Senator will be re-elected. He will appeal it. When he does go, he will win it because there’s no way this is a jury of his peers,” Young told the Anchorage Daily News.
The Maverick And The Maiden

My friends, here is a bodice-ripper that involves the purchase of lots and lots of fashionable new clothes.
Are The Media Biased In Favor Of Obama?

W. has been flagging articles purporting to show the media are biased in favor of Obama, like this one:
Asked to rate the three major cable news channels in the latest survey, sizable percentages say the coverage on both CNN and MSNBC is biased in favor of Obama. Where Republicans overwhelmingly see bias, Democrats see no bias. Even Democratic voters, however, do not say either of these networks favors McCain.
I reply with articles like this one:
So was the reason for the media's negative treatment of McCain that notorious "left-wing bias"? Not according to the study's findings. Pew attributes the press's blistering coverage of McCain in part to the candidate's poor response to the economic crisis and his attacks on Obama's character. The report also concludes that the findings "offer a strong suggestion that winning in politics begets winning coverage, thanks in part to the relentless tendency of the press to frame its coverage of national elections as running narratives about the relative position of the candidates in the polls and internal tactical maneuvering to alter those positions. Obama's coverage was negative in tone when he was dropping in the polls, and became positive when he began to rise, and it was just so for McCain as well."
Here is one new conspiracy-type theory - it's The Aging Editors. Michael Malone at ABC writes:
Malone, it turns out, has the usual litany of complaints: Why isn't the press interviewing Obama's drug dealer? Why aren't they staking out Bill Ayers' home? What's up with Joe the Plumber? Etc. Kinda tedious. But if you make it to the end, there's comedy gold when he finally explains why the media is so in the tank for Obama. The reason, it turns out, is because the press is run by a bunch of fifty-somethings working in a dying industry:

In other words, you are facing career catastrophe — and desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play. Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here. After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway — all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.

And then the opportunity presents itself — an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career.

With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived fairness doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.
Science Education

Apparently as lamentable in Australia as in America.

h/t to John W. Via failblog.
How To Impress Your Mates

I don't know about you, but I'm impressed!:
An ex-con ended up in hospital when he tried to impress his mates - by hammering a 6cm nail into his forehead.

Romanian Radu Popescu, 39, boasted how he picked up the stunt while in prison.

He missed his brain by just 1cm but had to go to hospital when he could not get the nail out of his skull, Britain's The Sun newspaper reported.

One medic joked: "It's no shock to anyone here that he missed his brain.

"It must be a very small target."
History Of The Boom Box

Via espvisuals. Interesting site!
Cut Chemist - The Robots Are Coming

Cut Chemist - 1st Big Break from eyestorm on Vimeo.
McCain, And The Needy Reporter

No love when McNasty is mad:
It wasn't my intention, but I played a role in shutting down John McCain's Straight Talk Express.

It happened on a warm July afternoon as McCain traveled from a West Virginia airport to a rally in Ohio.

I had headed to the back of his bus with a small group of reporters, where as always McCain warmly motioned for us to squeeze in beside him on the couch.

The questions meandered across more than a dozen topics, but I asked if he agreed with his advisor Carly Fiorina's recent statement that it was unfair for some health insurance companies to cover Viagra but not birth control -- because McCain generally opposed those kinds of mandates.

Liberals and late-night comedians would later revel in McCain's on-camera discomfort -- the widening of his eyes, the awkward silence while he clutched his jaw and formulated an answer. But I had come to respect McCain's frankness and his willingness to admit he didn't always have an answer. Watching the question morph into an embarrassing "gotcha moment" for cable television, my stomach churned and my cheeks grew hot.

...Over those months, McCain had artfully created a sense of intimacy with the reporters who traveled with him. He barbecued for us at his Arizona cabin, and opened up about matters as personal as his faith and his son's girlfriends. On one of my first days covering McCain, another reporter protectively warned me that it was important to be judicious with the material I used from McCain's bus rides to keep the conversations in context.

Although the relationship was mutually beneficial, McCain offered accessibility and openness that was rare, if not unprecedented, in modern presidential politics. Now, as the presidential campaign plunges into its final days, that intimacy -- real or imagined -- has evaporated.

...On a recent Sunday during a brief stop at a Virginia phone bank, I got unusually close to McCain in the line of people waiting to shake his hand.

Tape recorder out and within a foot of him, I asked if he could talk about his new economic plan, which he was to unveil that week. The man who once asked me about my wedding date returned my gaze with a stare, shook the hand of the strangers to the right and left of me and continued out the door.
McCain On Economics

Casualties Of The Downturn

Atrios' headline says it best: And A Million Tiny Violins Began To Play:
Twenty-six Republican congressmen are retiring at the end of this session, and expectations are that Democrats will pick up at least that many seats on Tuesday. If the average congressional office has 14 to 18 full-time staffers (plus paid interns and part-timers), that’s a couple of hundred job opportunities that could soon vanish in electoral smoke.

The average Senate office has 34 staffers, and with polls showing Democrats poised to take anywhere from five to 10 of those seats, that could be an additional 150 to 300 Republican Hill jobs gone the way of the dodo bird. Scores of Republican committee staff slots would also get wiped out, too, as the GOP would control a smaller portion of the committee personnel budgets in both chambers.

Of course, with fewer Republicans on the Hill, there are fewer needs for lobby shops to refill their GOP cartridges.

“It’s a double-whammy,” said Brad Traverse, whose staffing website,, is a popular destination for job seekers on the Hill. “You have more firms who are both looking for Democrats and eliminating the Republican lobbyist positions. And from what I’ve heard talking to people is there’s a kind of a dearth of good, qualified Democrats to take some of these lobbying jobs.”

Younger staffers may have an easier time matching their $30,000 to $50,000 salaries elsewhere, but senior chiefs of staff making six-figure incomes will find it quite difficult to replicate that pay as Republican operatives in a Democratic town during an economic downturn.

...In this environment, Republican staffers should be looking to sign on as the GOP lobbyist for a predominantly Democratic firm, the same aide said. There will also be a lot of business for Republican lobbyists who have the clout to rally GOP lawmakers against a given piece of legislation. “Guys will get paid a lot of money to defeat stuff,” the aide said.

The bear market for Republican talent in Washington may rival the post-election labor market of 1994, when thousands of Democrats who had enjoyed comfortable Hill careers during the four-decade Democratic reign were tossed to the street after the Republican revolution.

...All of this, and we haven’t even touched on the direct effect of an Obama victory: If the Democrats take the White House, that’s up to 3,000 displaced Republicans looking for jobs after the Bush administration.
Federalist Society Panic

Hoo-boy, this is what happens when you believe your own propaganda: bug-eyed terror at what amounts to reasonable, predictable swing in the preferences of the electorate:
A whole generation of Americans has come of age since the nation experienced the bad judicial appointments and foolish economic and regulatory policy of the Johnson and Carter administrations. If Mr. Obama wins we could possibly see any or all of the following: a federal constitutional right to welfare; a federal constitutional mandate of affirmative action wherever there are racial disparities, without regard to proof of discriminatory intent; a right for government-financed abortions through the third trimester of pregnancy; the abolition of capital punishment and the mass freeing of criminal defendants; ruinous shareholder suits against corporate officers and directors; and approval of huge punitive damage awards, like those imposed against tobacco companies, against many legitimate businesses such as those selling fattening food.

Nothing less than the very idea of liberty and the rule of law are at stake in this election. We should not let Mr. Obama replace justice with empathy in our nation's courtrooms.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Las Vegas Lights

Left: The Mandalay Bay is a handsome building, day or night, but never more handsome than at dusk, when it glows a light copper color.

Left: The new Las Vegas under construction (is this the City Centre project?)

Left: Chandelier, Planet Hollywood.

Left: Casino, Planet Hollywood.

Left: Marquee, Planet Hollywood.

Left: New York, New York.

Left and below: The MGM Grand.

Left: Planet Hollywood, and Paris.

Left: The view outside my hotel window.
MGM Grand Lions

Monday, October 27, 2008

Las Vegas Signs

Left: East of downtown Las Vegas has become an eerie zone where business died after the freeway was completed that bypassed this area. The area is also suffering from the latest economic downturn. Even the Salvadoran karaoke shops look desolate.

Below: Election time in Las Vegas.

Left: Tired of corruption? Yes!

Left: "Machine Quilting". Handicrafts people, despair!

Left: "Intense Taekwondo". Wouldn't have it any other way!

Left: "Tender Dental". Promises to be kept!

Left: "Ultimate Hair Dynamics". These people clearly have a higher opinion of hair than I do.

Left: Salon "Shag Me". Must be where Austin Powers gets his cuts.
Stratosphere Tower

When I was 12, I put a jumping spider into the clear plastic payload section of a model rocket. The stubborn astro-spider clung to the bottom of the nose cone rather than sit on the floor of the payload section. I fired the rocket into the air and retrieved the rocket after its parachute deployed. The apparently-intact jumping spider was still clinging to the bottom of the nose cone - but it was dead. The incredible acceleration of the model rocket taking off killed it.

On Monday, I rode the Big Shot at the Stratosphere. It takes off with something like three g's of force! I'm 1179 feet above the Strip! Just like the jumping spider in the face of inhuman acceleration, I'm going to die!

Here is a YouTube link of the ride at work.

Here are YouTube links for the Insanity and XScream Rides as well.

Left: The Stratosphere Tower.

Below: Shadow of the Stratosphere Tower, along Las Vegas Blvd.

Left: The Stratosphere pool, as seen from nearly directly above.

Left: The Las Vegas Strip (Las Vegas Blvd.) from the Stratosphere Tower.

Left: View to the SE of the Stratosphere Tower.

Left: Downtown Las Vegas from the Stratosphere Tower.

Left: The "X Scream" capsule just prior to pitching over the side of the tower.
Hangover Sunday

Left and below: The Tabu Ultra Lounge in MGM Grand.

Not feeling well - something like a permanent hangover. But what was the cause? Let's see: I had a glass of wine on Thursday, I traveled and stayed up late on Friday, I partied with the kids on Saturday; so does that mean I should have a hangover on Sunday?

Later on Sunday, I finally realized what the problem was. I was suffering caffeine withdrawal. Because of the trip, I had skipped several meals. In addition, twenty years ago, soda machines were everywhere in Vegas, but these days they are scarce (perhaps because they are expensive to maintain and more money can be made from soda fountains. Deprived of my usual huge fluid and caffeine diet soda intake, I was both dehydrated and craving my addiction: hence the hangover.

I rested a lot Sunday evening, watching PBS' excellent "Frontline" special regarding Obama and McCain, and finally went out at midnight. I was surprised to see that both LAX at the Luxor and Studio 54 at the MGM Grand were closed on Sunday night/Monday morning.

Nevertheless, Tabu was open, so I went there.

I danced away, and eventually others joined in. It was an ultra lounge, and I tried being ultra cool, but the ultra devotees weren't fooled. Apparently also suffering from cooties, I mostly danced by myself, sometimes on the table tops, sometimes not, for several hours.

Pleasant fun.
Budget Vegas Vacation - "Tournament Of The Kings" at the Excalibur

Left: The arena, in the dungeon of the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas.

I had no specific plans for Sunday, excepting a visit to the Gershin family in the far northern suburbs around noon. I figured serendipity would guide my plans on this day. Sure enough, one thing led to another, and soon I was helping ferry part of the family to the Excalibur to see "Tournament Of The Kings", a long-running show.

Here is a brief description:
One of Las Vegas’ last dinner shows, “Tournament of Kings” transports the audience to King Arthur’s court to help celebrate the return of his son, Christopher.

As the story unfolds, the joyous Arthur gathers the rulers of Europe for a fantastic banquet and competition. The kings challenge their knightly skills while riding their faithful steeds. King Arthur’s hospitality is met with hostility when the evil fire-wizard, Mordred, invades the festivities. The kings of Europe must unite if the fire-wizard is to be defeated.
As the show ages, people have had second thoughts about doing away with it (article from 2006):
Sure, it's been rumored this age of Arthur was about to pass into Las Vegas legend. The rumors began as MGM Mirage swallowed Mandalay Bay resorts last year. MGM is the corporate partner of Cirque du Soleil, and the buzz has it that soon after the merger, Cirque sent its people over to measure the dirt-floored arena in the basement of the Excalibur.

"Tournament of Kings" is, after all, a remnant of 1990 and the short-lived notion that Las Vegas would become a family town and theme park mecca. It does seem plausible that this last holdover from those Middle Ages will end when Cirque finishes its new Beatles-themed show at The Mirage and decides to continue its Renaissance on the Strip.

But so far, the new owners have left well enough alone. The only chink in the armor is the end of the show's dauntless seven-day, 14 shows-per-week schedule. Starting Feb. 7, "Tournament" will take Tuesdays off, paring down to 12 per week.

There are reasons to think long and hard about "fixing" this energetically performed variation on the Medieval Times attractions in other tourist meccas. The King Arthur show is one of three or four with genuine family appeal on a Strip where stubborn families keep showing up, no matter how much the "What happens here" campaign tries to sweep them under the rug.

And, along with "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding," it's the rare Las Vegas show to offer dinner in the same room, though this banquet is famously served without utensils. The menu never changes: Cornish hen, broccoli stalk and potato wedges, preceded by a bowl of tomato soup ("Pretend it's dragon's blood," a server suggests.)

...The show itself has changed little from its last makeover in 1999. The stuntwork is the highlight of a slight story guided along by Dave Swan, who has played Arthur for years and is one of the few performers who speak into a live microphone.

Swan also helps guide the tone of the thing from jokey anachronisms to a touch of real drama.

The knights from several countries compete vigorously against one another before the tournament is interrupted by Arthur's bastard son Mordred, presented here as a video game villain who can marshal pyrotechnic effects to go with lines such as "Fight the power of my dragon knight!"

The real stars are the good and bad guys who twice a night try to create convincing action while trying not to clock each other with maces, swords and battle axes.
To me, the show looked far too hazardous, with people leaping off of horses, rolling, and bashing each other's shields - hard - with maces and swords and various other clubs, plus all the crazy jousting as well. I was sitting next to Uncle S., who does amateur theater himself (a senior group in Queens called STAR), and we were shaking our heads and watching the sparks fly (literally) and saying things like "Do you realize how much work goes into this, and just how dangerous it is?" It's a real tribute to these guys that they can pull it off with few mishaps. (The one mishap on this night was a rider getting dismounted, which seems minor in comparison to all the other mayhem, but would put me in bed for days).

Lots of fun!
Daniel Gershin's Bar Mitzvah Celebration

Left: Mazeltov to Daniel Gershin! On the left is his Uncle, Sam, and on the right is his Father, Ira.

Pleasant and fun celebration with the extended Gershin clan at the Santa Fe. Two DJs/MCs led lots of party games, including Coke/Pepsi races across the dance floor, the Limbo, a Conga Line, and numerous other diversions.
Barack Obama Music CD

I bought a CD with Obama music from Chad Wildwood, a volunteer (about age 18) from San Diego, traveling with the Obama campaign. The music is quite nice: this CD flash-freezes this particular moment in time better than anything else can.

The most interesting piece is a John F. Kennedy presidential campaign song, mashed up to remove Kennedy and insert Obama in its place (here is the YouTube link).

There are number of songs that are quite uplifting, and affecting. (one even made me cry!)

The CD leads off with the Black-Eyed Peas:

And includes this spirited song from the Mariachi Aguilas de Mexico:

Barack Obama For President Rally, Bonanza High School, Las Vegas, NV, October 25, 2008

As the minutes passed at the bar mitzvah service, I knew I was getting later and later at traveling to the Saturday afternoon Obama for President rally at Bonanza High School. So, when Obama took the stage, I was still in the security line. We frantically did whatever we could to hurry through the metal detectors.

When I finally entered, Obama sounded peeved at something John McCain has recently said, regarding his supposedly socialistic intentions.
"Senator McCain has been throwing everything he's got at us, including the kitchen sink -- all seven of those kitchen sinks," Obama said. "He's even called me a socialist for suggesting that we focus on tax cuts not for corporations and the wealthy, but for the middle class."

"That's right, John McCain has been really angry about George Bush's economic policies -- except during the primaries, when he said we've made 'great progress economically' under George Bush," Obama said. "Or just last month, when he said that the 'fundamentals of our economy are strong.'"

McCain attacking Bush on economic policy, Obama said, "is like Dick Cheney attacking George Bush for his go-it-alone foreign policy. It's like Tonto attacking the Lone Ranger."

Obama noted that on Friday, President Bush filled out a Texas absentee ballot for McCain, according to the White House.

"That's no surprise," he said. "Because when it comes to the policies that matter most to middle-class families, there's not an inch of daylight between George Bush and John McCain."

My estimate of crowd size was 5,000, but I was informed later that the Las Vegas police estimated the crowd size at 13,000. This link places the number at 18,000. It was an odd-shaped venue, like the letter "P", with Obama in the loop of the letter, and the crowd along the stroke of the letter, and so crowd estimates were hard to make on the ground.

On Sunday afternoon, with the Gershin clan, we had a wide-ranging discussion, including the importance of appropriate role models in the education of children. At that instant, I didn't want to change the subject to the election, and partisan politics, but there really has been no better role model for African-American children than Barack Obama - ever! After all, like far too many, Barack had a rootless childhood, and look where he is now!

Leaving the field, a number of us were pinned against a fence while waiting for the entire departing crowd to funnel through a narrow gate. The wait was interminable, the afternoon was hot and the crowd was tired. Nevertheless, the crowd kept its cool.

There was a noise in the distance, and a little African-American child, age about six and too short to see over the crowd, eagerly asked: "Daddy, is that Obama? Do you see Obama?" Very touching!

As the rally dispersed, there was an abrupt cone of silence in the crowd: about ten Republicans were protesting, including one woman holding a sign with bar crossing out the word "socialism".

In a helpful, rhetorical sense, a tall black woman asked the signholder to "Define socialism." I was irritated, because these folks seemed immune to the irony of the recent $700 billion bailout. "Hell, the country is already socialist!" I shouted. I meant the $700 billion bailout, but the Republicans, with different reasoning, and starting from different premises, eagerly agreed, and started replying to my shouted words.

Suddenly I felt a giant grizzly paw on my back, a hand stretching from shoulder blade to shoulder blade, and a deep voice in my ear said, "You would like to move on now, wouldn't you?" I had forgotten there were four policemen on horseback immediately behind me, plus several others on foot. I agreed this suggestion was eminently reasonable.

So, despite the heat of the afternoon, there were no hard words at the rally to speak of, except those I myself shouted.
Summerlin Idyll