Friday, January 30, 2009

Dubya Gets His Statue

Or, rather, the shoe the Iraqi journalist threw at him:
A sofa-sized statue of the shoe was unveiled Thursday in Tikrit, the hometown of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad-based artist Laith al-Amari described the fiberglass-and-copper work as a tribute to the pride of the Iraqi people.

The statue is inscribed with a poem honoring Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who stunned the world when he whipped off his loafers and hurled them at Bush during a press conference on Dec. 14.

In the Arab world, even showing someone the sole of a shoe is considered a sign of disrespect.

Al-Zeidi was charged with assaulting a foreign leader, but his lawyer is asking prosecutors to reduce the charges. The trial has been delayed.
What Was Bound To Happen Now That Google Rules The Earth

Google Van crunches deer.
"Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch"

This weekend, DMTC's Storybook Theatre premieres "Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch".

These days, the Storybook Theatre is probably the most innovative component of DMTC, featuring new scripts and experimental approaches to theater.

To make room to rehearse the upcoming SENSE benefit, the premiere of "Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch" was shifted to Sunday (which unfortunately coincides with the Super Bowl). That makes it even more important to gather all the Football Widows (and Widowers) for what promises to be a fun time on Sunday (and the other three performances as well):
Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch
Based on the Story by Award-Winning Author Eileen Spinelli
Adapted by Jenifer Price
A One-Act Musical for Audiences of All Ages

It’s Valentine’s Day and lonely Mr. Hatch has received a special package with a note saying ‘Somebody loves you’ – but who could that somebody be? As Mr. Hatch helps out about town, wondering who his secret admirer could be, he and his neighbors come to know the importance of friendship and community – and Mr. Hatch has the biggest surprise of his life!

Performance Dates:

Sunday, February 1st , 2:15 pm
Saturday, February 7th, 11:15 am 2:15 pm
Saturday, February 14th, 11:15 am & 2:15 pm
Sunday, February 15th, 2:15 pm

Tickets: $7 all ages

Admission price includes an invitation to Mr. Hatch's Valentine's Party - with refreshments and Valentine's craft - in the Lobby immediately following the show.
Prance 4 Paws Fundraiser

I didn't even know about this Tribal Fusion Belly Dance outfit here in Sacramento, even though I probably bump into the individual dancers from time to time (well, not literally bump into them, since I'd probably remember getting bumped by belly dancers).

In any event, they have a fundraiser and workshop coming up:
Friday February 6, 2009
Prance 4 Paws Show Fundraiser
at Capoeira-Brazilian Arts Center in Sacramento, CA
7:00 pm
Shelly's dog Cleo was injured doing her favorite thing in the world - Playing Frisbee - and needs extensive surgery to be able to play and walk again so Origin, Freyja, Michelle and her No Rules dance crew, Gibson Pearl, Bo, UNMATA, and of course the Hot Pot crew are all performing to help this great cause!

Sunday February 8, 2009
Prance 4 Paws Workshop Fundraiser
at Hot Pot Studios in Sacramento, CA
10:00 - Noon
To help get Cleo back on her feet, we're going to get you up on yours! Come learn some fun combos and drill the basics with Shelly of UNMATA. You may leave sore, but you'll be smiling and asking for more. Then we'll go have lunch together afterwards!
Gallium Nitride To The Rescue

Better technology means less electricity consumption down the road:
Incandescent tungsten-filament light bulbs face a global switch-off as governments push for energy efficient fluorescent lamps to become the standard. But the light could soon go out on those lamps too, now that UK materials scientists have discovered a cheaper way to produce LED bulbs, which are three times as efficient as fluorescent lamps.

Although the ultimate dominance of LED lights has long been predicted, the expense of the super-efficient technology has made the timescale uncertain. The researchers now say LED bulbs based on their new process could be commercially available within five years.

Gallium nitride (GaN) LEDs have many advantages over compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and incandescent bulbs. They switch on instantly, with no gradual warm-up, and can burn for an average of 100,000 hours before they need replacing - 10 times as long as fluorescent lamps and some 130 times as long as an incandescent bulb. CFLs also contain small levels of mercury, which makes environmentally-friendly disposal of spent bulbs difficult.

The cost of production has kept the LEDs far from homes and offices, however. Gallium nitride cannot be grown on silicon like other solid-state electronic components because it shrinks at twice the rate of silicon as it cools. Crystals of GaN must be grown at 1000°C, so by the time a new LED made on silicon has cooled, it has already cracked, rendering the devices unusable.

One solution is to grow the LEDs on sapphire, which shrinks and cools at much the same rate as GaN. But the expense is too great to be commercially competitive.

Now Colin Humphreys's team at the University of Cambridge has discovered a simple solution to the shrinkage problem.

They included layers of aluminium gallium nitride in their LED design. These layers shrink at a much slower rate during cooling and help to counteract the fast-shrinkage of pure gallium nitride. These LEDs can be grown on silicon as so many other electronics components are. "They still work well as LEDs even with those extra layers inside," says Humphreys.

A 15-centimetre silicon wafer costs just $15 and can accommodate 150,000 LEDs making the cost per unit tiny. That levels the playing field with CFLs, which many people only ever saw as a stopgap solution to the lighting problem.

Humphreys reckons that the UK government encouraged consumers to drop tungsten bulbs too soon. "We should have stayed with tungsten for another five years and then switched to LEDs," he says.
Looking Better Every Day

Nouriel Roubini, Master of the Masters of the Universe:
Even as he wins plaudits for his prescience, Roubini, 50, says worse lies ahead. Banks face bigger credit losses than they realize, more financial companies will require state takeovers and the world economy will keep shrinking throughout 2009, he says.

“The consensus is catching up with me, but it’s still behind,” Roubini said in an interview in Davos. “I don’t know what some people are smoking.”

As long ago as February 2007, Roubini was writing on his blog that “the party will soon be over,” and warning of “painful consequences for the U.S. and the global economy.” By last February, his tone had become apocalyptic, raising the specter of a “catastrophic” meltdown that central banks would fail to prevent, triggering the bankruptcy of large banks with mortgage holdings and a “sharp drop” in equities.

The next month, Bear Stearns Cos. failed, to be taken over by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in a government-backed deal. Then, in September, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. went bankrupt, prompting banks to hoard cash and depriving businesses and households of access to capital. The U.S. took over AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index suffered its worst year since 1937.

“I was intellectually vindicated,” Roubini says. “But I was vindicated by having an economic disaster which has political and social consequences.”

...Roubini was born in Istanbul, the son of an importer- exporter of carpets, and spent his childhood in Israel, Iran and Italy. It was while living in Milan from 1962 to 1982, he says, that he became attracted to economics: “Economics had the tools to understand the world, and not just understand it but also change it for the better.”

After a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he earned an economics degree at Milan’s Universita’ L. Bocconi and then his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1988, where he specialized in international economics.

Jeffrey Sachs, he says, became his “role model” at Harvard by demonstrating that economists could shape public policy -- as Sachs did by lobbying for poor countries to have their debts relieved by richer governments. Sachs is now a professor at Columbia University.

“You sensed there was something beyond academia, that you have to figure out the big issues of the global economy,” says Roubini. “You have to be engaged, and can’t just be in an ivory tower.”

For much of the 1990s, Roubini combined academic research and policy-making by teaching at Yale and then in New York, while also spending time at the International Monetary Fund, the Federal Reserve, World Bank and Bank of Israel.

By 1998 he had attracted the attention of President Bill Clinton’s administration, joining it first as a senior economist in the White House Council of Economic Advisers and then moving to the Treasury department as a senior adviser to Timothy Geithner, then the undersecretary for international affairs and now Treasury secretary in the Obama administration.

Roubini returned to the IMF in 2001 as a visiting scholar while it battled a financial meltdown in Argentina. He co-wrote a book on saving bankrupt economies entitled “Bailouts or Bail-ins?” and opened his own global consulting firm, which now employs two dozen economists and publishes a popular Web site and blog.

“Nouriel has a rare combination of economics and the real world, and so has great insight because of that,” says Shiller. “He looks into the details and rolls up his sleeves.”

Roubini says working on emerging-market blowouts in Asia and Latin America allowed him to spot the looming disaster in the U.S. “I’ve been studying emerging markets for 20 years, and saw the same signs in the U.S. that I saw in them, which was that we were in a massive credit bubble,” he says.

With that bubble now popped, Roubini remains more pessimistic than economists elsewhere. The IMF forecasts global growth of 0.5 percent this year and bank losses from toxic U.S.-originated assets of $2.2 trillion. By contrast, Roubini sees the global economy shrinking this year, and banks writing down at least $3.6 trillion -- compared to the $1.1 trillion disclosed so far.

While the U.S. government is resisting nationalizing its biggest banks, Roubini says it will have no choice because they are now “effectively insolvent.” And the outcome may be even worse than even he anticipates if governments fail to take aggressive steps to recapitalize banks and revive their economies, he says: “The risk of a near-depression shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Roubini, who’s now working on a book about the crisis, says he takes no particular pleasure in his role as Dr. Doom or the attention it brings him.

“I’m not a permanent bear,” he says. “I’ll be the first to call a recovery, but I just don’t see it yet, and it’s getting uglier.”
Summertime Blues

Australia is hot right now. At the north end, they are very near the rigger point for cyclone generation. And at the south end - don't ask:
Southern Australia suffered Friday from a record-breaking heat wave that has threatened rural towns with wildfires and sent ambulance crews after heat-stressed patients.

Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city recorded its third consecutive day of temperatures above 43 degrees Celsius (109 F) for the first time since 1855, when record-keeping began, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The temperature in Melbourne topped 45.1 C (113 F) on Friday ahead of a cooler change that might even bring some thunder showers, the bureau said.

Adelaide, the other major city on the south coast, is expected to match its longest heat wave in a century by Monday, with six consecutive days exceeding 40 C (104 F). The heat there buckled train and tram lines.

The high temperatures have afflicted tennis players and spectators alike this week at the Australian Open in Melbourne, where men's No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic retired ill from a game Tuesday after heat-related complaints.

The retractable roofs on Rod Laver Arena have been closed at least parts of the last three days.

There was controversy Wednesday when they closed the roof during the match between Serena Williams and Svetlana Kutzetsova. The Russian had won the first set, but the break gave Williams time to recover and she rallied to win.

Players complained that it felt like their feet were burning right through their shoes. A bunch of moths that have annoyed the players were basically sizzling and dying within seconds of landing on the broiling court surface.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Don't you just love the credit card companies?:
A new policy being used by at least one major credit card company judges a shopper not necessarily by his credit purchases and payments alone, but also by the fiscal behavior of the fellow shoppers in the stores he visits.

...Kevin Johnson, 29, of Atlanta, says he got caught in such a financial headlock.

Johnson is, by all accounts, the type of customer most credit card companies want.

..."My dad worked in the credit industry. So talking about finances was a common thing in our household," Johnson said. "I learned from an early age not to abuse that type of access to money."

Johnson says because of his father's lessons, he scrupulously maintained his credit since college. He says he has never had a late payment, rarely carries a balance on his credit cards and has never been over his credit limit. His FICO score -- the standard credit rating used by most lenders to determine credit worthiness -- is a 764 out of 850. A score of more than 740 is considered by most experts to be excellent.

Two years ago Johnson says he jumped at the chance to open a "blue" personal credit card with American Express. He says he considered the card prestigious.

...In the fall, he even used the card to purchase airline tickets for a Jamaican honeymoon with his new wife, Deidre. They left for the trip in October.

But while Johnson and his new bride were sunning on the beach, a dark cloud was hanging over their mailbox. When the couple returned home, Johnson says he discovered a letter from American Express lowering his credit limit from $10,800 to $3,800.

Johnson says his jaw dropped when he read one of the reasons American Express gave for lowering his credit limit: "Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express."

"I think offended is an understatement," Johnson said of his reaction. "It was more like completely disgusted, offended, appalled. And I didn't know what to do."

"They've crossed the ethical line in terms of looking at where you're spending your money and making a judgement about whether that's a good or bad decision for you to make given these financial times," Robert Manning, the director of the Center for Consumer Financial Services at the Rochester Institute of Technology, told ABC News' Chris Cuomo on "Good Morning America."

Manning, the author of the book "Credit Card Nation," says Johnson was the victim of a relatively new credit scoring process being used by credit card companies.

"They are saying, 'We don't like the behavior of other people that are shopping in stores that you are currently conducting business. Therefore, that raises questions about your ability to repay the loan.'"

Manning says the process -- called "behavioral analysis" or "behavioral scoring" -- is a new twist on the same type of data analysis credit card companies previously used to prevent fraud.

Traditionally card companies used a customer's purchasing history to flag suspicious transactions. For instance, a card company might flag a large withdrawal at a casino if a card customer lives on the East Coast and never gambles.

But Manning says banks are now using the information to model the behavioral patterns of its customers in order to try to determine credit risk.

"Ultimately, the banks now are looking at what we purchased and they're making decisions on whether it's appropriate or not," Manning says.

He says in a recession it might be wise for some consumers to save money by reducing their spending or choosing to shop at a discount store. "And, yet, that creates a red flag where all of a sudden these companies are saying, 'You may be in financial trouble, and we're going to cut you off before we take a loss," Manning said.

"The ability to analyze and mine data is so much easier and faster since 9/11. Many people don't understand how almost every transaction they make today could trigger a readjustment in bank analytics," he said.

...While behavioral analysis may be seeing increasing use, it is only beginning to draw scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers. In a lawsuit filed in 2008, the Federal Trade Commission cited Compucredit, a third-party credit card issuer, for failing to disclose to customers the use of behavioral scoring.

In solicitations Compucredit advertised its cards could be used anywhere. Yet the FTC alleged the company reduced credit scores of customers who used their cards to pay for things like marriage or personal counseling or to retread their tires. Allegedly, Compucredit believed those types of purchases signaled a customer might be in financial distress.

..."What are the rules of the game? That's all consumers really want to know," Manning said. "They changed the rules of the game without telling Johnson."

Experts say the bigger issue for customers like Johnson is not the immediate loss of available credit. Credit limit reductions can have large, long-term implications because they change the ratio between available and in-use credit and that is central to the FICO score.

"What they're trying to do is squeeze the people they're making money from," Manning said. "Unfortunately, a reduction in a line of credit could hurt someone's credit score."

Experts contacted by "GMA" -- including Manning -- say they believe banks may now be using data collected by customers to compare them to other shoppers at individual retail locations or by zip code, weeding out customers in neighborhoods hardest hit by the economic downturn.

In Johnson's case, American Express refused to say which stores he'd visited might have caused the company concern. Johnson says that's especially baffling since his card purchases were at major retailers like Ruby Tuesdays, XM Satellite Radio and

He says the only shopping trip he can determine was out of the ordinary was a September visit to a Wal-Mart in Southeast Atlanta. It was the first time he had used his American Express card at that store.

"The majority of the retailers I went to are not in my neighborhood. Coincidentally, though, the one time I went to the Wal-mart in the area that I live, the next month I get a letter saying my credit limit is reduced," Johnson said.

...In January 2009, American Express became a bank holding company and received more than $3 billion in taxpayer money as part of the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

"I think the fact that American Express has taken bailout money is one of the most appalling parts of this story," Johnson said. "Here you have a company that's obviously in dire straits, but, in trying to turn the company around, they actually throw some of their best customers under the bus."
Pushing The Envelope

The envelope pushes back (video at link):
JONESBORO, Ga. -- A high school dance team at Jonesboro High School has been disbanded.

The move announced Tuesday comes after parents complained about a provocative dance routine that was performed by the 8-member group at a Jan. 13 basketball game.

Jacqueline Evans, a school district spokeswoman, said the squad will not be allowed to perform or represent the school for the remainder of the school year.
A Moment Of Silence

From Centerville, Utah:
On Friday at 10 a.m., the Carl's Jr. restaurant in Centerville will have a "moment of silence" for the potty that was destroyed last week when a patron's handgun fell out of the holster and fired as he was hitching up his pants.

The bullet shattered the toilet and sent sharp shards into the man's arm. The 26-year-old, who had a concealed-weapons permit, was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

But the "john" was destroyed, and the national hamburger chain is feeling the loss. "By all accounts, it was a good toilet; reliable and well liked by customers and crew members alike," wrote Brad Haley, executive vice president of Carl's Jr. marketing, in a tongue-in-cheek note posted on the company's Facebook page.

"It seems only fitting to have a formal service to let everyone say goodbye to such a critical member of our team that was in very close contact with the public each and every day," Haley eulogized. "Our thoughts go out to the surviving men's room urinal and porcelain sink. We only hope that the new toilet can fill the void left by its predecessor, but so far it hasn't made much of a splash."

The outpouring from the community has been overwhelming, said Carl's Jr. manager Christian Martinez. "We have received e-mails and cards from all over the country expressing condolences for our loss," he said.
Walking Jokes

Actually, recent weight gain notwithstanding, it looks like I may visit the gym four times this week....
My grandpa started walking five miles a day when he was 60.. Now he's 97 years old and we don't know where he is.

I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.

I have to walk early in the morning, before my brain figures out what I'm doing..

I joined a health club last year, spent about 400 bucks. Haven't lost a pound. Apparently you have to go there.

Every time I hear the dirty word 'exercise', I wash my mouth out with chocolate.

If you are going to try cross-country skiing, start with a small country.

We all get heavier as we get older, because there's a lot more information in our heads. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Several years ago, Atrios and others started calling the current financial crisis "Big Shitpile", because of the image of bankers desperately running around trying to figure out where to put all those toxic assets.

Now, the Obama Administration is considering creating a "Bad Bank", whose sole purpose is to buy up all those toxic assets, so all the other banks can be healthy again.

Josh Marshall is now referring to the "Bad Bank" as "Shitibank".
Snap! Maureen Dowd Goes Postal

Left: Image from prose before hos.

Maureen Dowd takes on Wall Street's Former Masters Of The Universe, the ones that got us into so much economic trouble:

Now that we’re nationalizing, couldn’t we fire any obtuse bankers and auto executives who cling to perks and bonuses even as the economy is following John Thain down his antique commode?

How could Citigroup be so dumb as to go ahead with plans to get a new $50 million corporate jet, the exclusive Dassault Falcon 7X seating 12, after losing $28.5 billion in the past 15 months and receiving $345 billion in government investments and guarantees?

(Now I get why a $400 payment I recently sent to pay off my Citibank Visa was mistakenly applied to my sister-in-law’s Citibank Mastercard account.)

The “Citiboobs” — as The New York Post, which broke the news, calls them — watched as the car chieftains got in trouble for flying their private jets to Washington to ask for bailouts, and the A.I.G. moguls got dragged before Congress for spending their bailout on California spa treatments. But the boobs still didn’t get the message.

The former masters of the universe don’t seem to fully comprehend that their universe has crumbled and, thanks to them, so has ours. Real people are losing real jobs at Caterpillar, Home Depot and Sprint Nextel; these and other companies announced on Monday that they would cut more than 75,000 jobs in the U.S. and around the world, as consumer confidence and home prices swan-dived.

...In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC, Thain used the specious, contemptible reasoning that other executives use to rationalize why they’re keeping their bonuses as profits are plunging.

“If you don’t pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise” and they’ll go elsewhere, he said.

Hello? They destroyed the franchise. Let’s call their bluff. Let’s see what a great job market it is for the geniuses of capitalism who lost $15 billion in three months and helped usher in socialism.

Bartiromo also asked Thain to explain, when jobs and salaries were being cut at his firm, how he could justify spending $1 million to renovate his office. ... It’s psychopathic to spend a million redoing your office when the folks outside it are losing jobs, homes, pensions and savings.

Thain should never rise above the level of stocking the money in A.T.M.’s again. Just think: This guy could well have been Treasury secretary if John McCain had won.

Bartiromo pressed: What was wrong with the office of his predecessor, Stanley O’Neal?

“Well — his office was very different — than — the — the general d├ęcor of — Merrill’s offices,” Thain replied. “It really would have been — very difficult — for — me to use it in the form that it was in.”

Did it have a desk and a phone?

How are these ruthless, careless ghouls who murdered the economy still walking around (not to mention that sociopathic sadist Bernie Madoff?) — and not as perps?

Bring on the shackles. Let the show trials begin.
But it's 2009, for chrissakes. This white-hot anger would have been more appropriate in 2005, when it could have made a difference, when the big tsunami in subprime mortgages was approaching the beach. What was Maureen Dowd writing about then?

Oh yes, her clever little book "Are Men Necessary?"

(Dowd must have lost a lot of money lately...... )
Anywhere But Here

I'm always a bit amused by people who want to live somewhere else. I'm easy to please on that score - most places will do - but some people get really restless, dreaming of the greener grass on the other side of the fence. One friend, for example, wants to find the nicest place on Earth, and live there. He has three houses, in three different countries, to attest to the fact that it is hard to figure out exactly where that nicest place on Earth is actually located:
Living in Las Vegas appeals more to men than women. Affluent adults are twice as likely as poorer folks to want to live in Boston. Young people like big cities such as New York and Los Angeles. More Americans would rather live in a place with more McDonald's than one with more Starbucks.

Those are some of the findings of a Pew Research Center survey out today on where Americans would most like to live. Whether they favor cities, suburbs or the countryside, almost half wish they lived somewhere else, the report found. City dwellers are more likely to dream of living somewhere else, and men in rural areas are far happier living there than women.

...Denver, San Diego and Seattle are the top picks of the 30 largest metropolitan areas. Denver is the favorite city among Republicans, and it also rates well with Democrats and independents.


• In addition to Denver, favorite cities among Republicans are Phoenix, Orlando and San Antonio. Half of all liberals would like to live in San Francisco, more than double the share of conservatives. San Diego, once a bastion of conservatism, appeals to Democrats, liberals and moderates. "Good weather and the beach triumphs over ideology," Morin says.

• The West and South are more enticing regions than the Northeast and Midwest.

• 46% would prefer to live in a different type of community from the one they now reside. Adults 50 to 64 who live in cities are the least likely to say they live in the ideal place; two-thirds of those in that age group who live in the country say they couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

• Young people are the opposite: 57% of urban dwellers younger than 30 say the city is where they want to live.

..."City residents disproportionately are more likely than people living in other types of communities to say they would prefer to live in a place other than a city," Morin says. "Fewer than half of all city residents say there is no better place to live than in a city."

A smaller proportion of women express the desire to live in the nation's largest cities. "Women are less drawn to big cities," says Robert Lang, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "It could be safety."

...Brianna Fahey lives in a city the survey says an overwhelming majority of Americans would prefer not to live in: Cincinnati. Like many other large Midwestern and Northeastern cities, Cincinnati ranks near the bottom on people's lists of ideal spots.

For Fahey, 30, Cincinnati is truly home. She grew up in North College Hill, a suburb where her parents and friends still live, but bought a downtown condo after college. She gets by without a car in a city that has few mass transit options. "I like the self-sufficiency of the city," she says. "It's a good place to be in all stages of life."
Interesting Gambling Analogy

From Publius at Obsidian Wings:
When you start losing in Texas Hold ‘Em, you eventually face a difficult choice – a crossroads if you will. The problem is that your chip stack is getting smaller and smaller while the blinds take bigger and bigger chunks of your money each turn. The choice then is whether to go down fighting or suffer a slow death by a thousand cuts.

For those preferring to go down fighting, the advice is to try to hold out for a decent hand (not necessarily a good one) and then go “all in” before seeing the flop (the next set of cards shown face up). The potential benefit of going all in is that you’ll double your chips in one swoop and regain past strength.

The potential downside though is that you’ll be permanently eliminated. Indeed, going all in is pure Russian roulette – there remain 5 cards to be flipped over, and you have no idea what they will be. Maybe they’ll turn out great. More likely, though, they'll be fatal. But regardless, you are completely at the mercy of Lady Fortune at that point.

That’s essentially what the House Republicans did today when they voted unanimously against the stimulus – they went all in before the flop. And now they too are completely at the mercy of the flop -- and fate -- with a less than stellar hand.

Frankly, I don’t think it was a completely irrational move considering the circumstances. The House Republicans’ long-term prospects ain’t good – they’re locked into a declining, southern-centric demographic base getting smaller by the year. Plus, it's not like voting for the stimulus will reverse these trends. If it works, Obama will probably get credit regardless of what the GOP does. Accordingly, the GOP decided to do something more drastic, and then hope for the best by hoping for the worst.

And it might work. The flop might save them. Maybe the economy will get even worse in 2 or 4 years. If so, the Republicans can stand up and say, “if only we had cut more taxes, if only we hadn’t wasted all this money…” And who knows? If the economy continues to tank, that might get some traction.

But make no mistake – it’s an extremely risky strategy. The GOP locked themselves into a game of Russian roullette today. If the economy gets better, or if the GOP somehow manages to block it in the Senate, then the Republicans’ unanimous opposition could send the party into the wilderness for a long time to come. Republicans, remember, picked the wrong horse in the New Deal debate, and ultimately lost control of Congress (with periodic and fleeting exceptions) for about 60 years.
Celebrity Singalongs

Probably better than when Willy Nelson teamed up with Julio Iglesias:
Kylie Minogue has recorded a duet with children's group The Wiggles for their new album.

Minogue, 40, said she hoped the song would impress her two-year-old nephew Charles, son of her cameraman brother Brendan.

"Now Charles really will think I'm cool," she told The Sun.

"I hope he likes the song. It was fun to do.

...The new track will appear on The Wiggles' new album, The Wiggles Go Bananas.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Listenin' To The Radio

I was very impressed listening to Bill O'Reilly tonight. It's clear he understands - and accepts! - why the electorate voted for Obama in the recent election. In his view, faced with the choice between a Big Spender, and a Smaller Spender, the nation chose Big.

Further, declaiming that the merit of the big economic stimulus was in putting people to work, O'Reilly opined that was how the stimulus should be judged - simply its impact on jobs. Then O'Reilly went through a laundry list of what is in the stimulus bill and rejected many proposals, not because of the jobs they generate, but for other reasons: AMTRAK (should be privatized), NEA funding (wasteful), Global Warming initiatives (not urgent), and other ideas would get O'Reilly's axe, whether or not they generate jobs.

So, O'Reilly is a tightwad, and inconsistent, but basically he's on board. He's moving left, one step at a time.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh has decided to personalize and polarize the debate. Today's rant was quite remarkable (reproduced below, with my comments in parentheses, and notable passages in bold). Rush settled on a slogan ("America wins if liberalism fails") and basically has started to scorch what earth he can reach:
CALLER: Well, here. Let the stimulus package speak to you. Ready? (snorting like a pig) Okay, thank you very much. Every time he speaks, I get a mad taste for bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, Rush. You are perfectly right. Keep it up.

RUSH: Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it. One of his points was he going to sort of chide me. He was going to say, "You knew! You knew when you said you hope Obama fails, you knew what was going to happen." Of course I knew! Of course I knew! Folks, I've been doing this 20 years. I know my enemy. I know the liberals like I know every square inch of my glorious naked body. (MV: I don't think he knows liberals) During that day, where I talked about a newspaper asking me for an op-ed, 400 words on my hopes for Obama, I went through the whole thing. I said, "It's more liberalism, it's more socialism. I don't want that. I don't want more liberalism. I want that not to work. I want it to fail. I hope he fails. I don't need 400 words, I need four," and I said, "I'm going to say this on purpose. I want the Drive-Bys putting this on television four times a day," and they've complied. They did it. (MV: Aha! Rush actually orders the MSM around!)

They're taking it out of context. I knew they would. But here's the thing. You see, ladies and gentlemen, I very seldom talk about my marketing strategy because my belief is: You execute it. You don't tell anybody about it. You don't prepare 'em for it. You just do it. You know, why tell people how you plan to separate them from their money, for example? You just do it. I'm talking about retail and public relations, marketing plans. Okay. Here's the circumstance. It's just a window into my fertile mind. Here we are. The new president is obviously running as fast as he can to the liberal left. I have known it since I first started studying him. I have known he's not a moderate. I have known he's not a centrist. I have known that he doesn't want to take anybody's ideas that are not his. (MV: this is a very cryptic paragraph, and it makes me think scorched earth is his marketing plan)

He'll say he does, but he is who he is. He's an extreme radical leftist who talks a conservative game to mask it. His demeanor belies the fact that he is who he is. From his demeanor, you'd never think this guy is a radical. You would never think he's an extremist unless you took seriously who his mentors are: Jeremiah Wright, Father Pfleger, Louis Farrakhan, the whole list of these people that we weren't allowed to talk about during the campaign. (MV: Louis Farrakhan was never Obama's mentor in any way, so why mention him at all, except to incite a racist reaction?) I mean, Obama's telling the Republicans not to listen to me, but it's okay for him to listen to Jeremiah Wright, for example. (MV: Except, after last spring, Obama no longer listens to Wright) So in my mind, I know who he is and I know what he's going to do. I have no doubt, zero doubt about where Obama wants to take this country and why.
He wants to move it far left. He wants the government to be as large as it can. He wants power. He wants to punish success. (MV: Obama has never shown any such ambition) He wants to try to make everybody as equal and the same as possible, 'cause that's "fair." There is nothing about him that has an adoration or respect for capitalism. Look at the stimulus bill and you can see. To me, anyway, there's no question about this. Now, when I gaze out across the country and I look at what is called the mass media, I see no person, entity, network -- I see no attitude, no similar attitude reflected. I see no skepticism. I see no curiosity. I see no informed knowledge. I see nothing but pure groupie idolatry, from a constitutionally charged business designed to be suspicious of people who want power and to vet them and to find out who they are. (MV: I don't know about you, Mr. Limbaugh, but I see right-wing media robots everywhere)

So the mass media is selling a version of Obama that he wants sold. They are helping to advance it, to promote it, and promulgate it. Now, what am I to do? I love my country. I was born at one of the best times in world history to be born. We all were. Look at the opportunity that we have had because of the diligent, hard work, and sacrifices of our forbears. Look at the abundance into which we were born. Now, I don't have kids, but I've got nieces and nephews, and I've got a lot of family that have kids, cousins and so forth. You have kids and grandkids. And part and parcel of responsibility as a human being, especially an American, when we are born and inherit such a wonderful place, it has to be incumbent on all of us to first and foremost want to pass that on to others. Why would we want...? (MV: Patriotic hogwash, cloaking the iron fist)

We always hear parents say, "I want my kids to have a better life than I had." It's natural. There's nothing wrong with that, and it's true. So I firmly believe that the policies of the left -- I don't care who runs 'em. I don't care who's implementing them, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama. (MV: Rush, these folks aren't 'left' in any sense) I don't care who's implementing them, they're bad. They're destructive. They eliminate or damage individual freedom. They destroy lives in the sense that they destroy the quest for excellence. (MV: Liberalism is what brings the quest for excellence to the deprived, Rush - it doesn't kill it at all, but fosters it) They destroy the quest for individuality. They make everybody feel like they're victims. They make everybody feel like the world revolves around them. They bust up families with welfare programs. Liberalism is destructive, and it's a myth. It's a series of myths, and it's destructive, and it can destroy the country as we've known it, if unchecked.

Like it has destroyed New Orleans, or did, like it has destroyed Detroit, like it's on the verge of altering California in ways that people who are native to that state are crying about. (MV: look at any of these places and you find neglectful conservatives running the show or setting the rules - Prop. 13 anyone?) You go to any city that has been run by unchecked liberalism for years, and you will see a microcosm of what can happen to this country if they succeed to the degree they've succeeded in these cities. Forty-seven percent of graduates in Detroit cannot read, high school graduates. Now, to liberals that's an opportunity. To us, it's a crying shame. (MV: Rush, liberalism MADE my home state of NM. As the WSJ noted, for every $2 taxed by the feds, the state receives $3 from the feds. In 1900's America, NM was dead last in education. LIBERALS changed that!) So I'm being somewhat verbose here in explaining to you why I have this great fear and opposition to liberalism, socialism, collectivism, whatever you want to call it. The evidence is all around us to see; the effects of it, in Detroit, in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina or any other place where nobody but liberals run the show.

I don't care if it's a city or a ward or a neighborhood or a whole state or a whole city, you can see it. It's there -- and conversely, you can see the prosperity that exists when it is not dominate, when liberalism is not dominate. So, believing this to the bottom of my heart and to the depth of my fertile brain, what do I see when I gaze out across the country but a bunch of people who have given up, who have been told there is no hope for them. There is no chance either because of their gender, their skin color, their size, what have you. I look at a media which is promoting the very things and people I fear will cause great damage and destruction to the country. So I decide to say, "I hope it fails," and then I say, "I hope he fails."

To me, it is the most basic common sense, and what stuns me is that no one, apparently -- well, outside of our little world here of conservatism. No one is examining at all the effects of this plan, which is depressing! It's frustrating. It makes you mad. But I'm not one just to sit around and take it. So, okay. If it takes somebody dropping a little bomb to cause some people to wake up and at least start thinking, even if they're knee-jerk reacting, I'll gladly do it. So, damn well I intended to say it! I'm saying it again now: I hope he fails! Because, my friends, America wins if liberalism fails, and that's the bottom line. America wins if this plan fails, because it can only fail, this plan. This has never worked. What they're trying has never worked. This plan will fail.

And it's gonna cause pain and suffering, and it's going to be a long recovery from it, and I believe that the people in this didn't get what they want and get what they vote for, based on, you know, a whole bunch of factors that make them think and vote the way they do. I hope it fails. I hope liberalism fails every time it's tried because it has. I don't want it to succeed. America succeeding, and everyone talks about, "But we all want our new president to succeed!" No, we all want our new president to do the right thing. Big difference. We all want our president to do the right thing. If we're attacked by someone, we want him to do the right thing. We don't know if closing Guantanamo is the right thing. We do not know if turning these people loose and trying them in US courts is the right thing. Well, I don't think it's the right thing. I know it's not the right thing -- and I know this economic porkulus bill is not the right thing. I want America to succeed.

I love my country. I want it to remain the place with more freedom and more opportunity and more prosperity than anyplace on the planet and I want the rest of the planet to learn from us, and this ain't the way to do it. So I want America to succeed. My whole objective here is to maintain an America in the image of its Founders and founding, where individual liberty and freedom reward the human spirit and the yearning to be free, the entrepreneurial desire to excel at something. That's the greatest propellant this economy has ever had, and I'm all for it continuing. I don't want to starve this engine of fuel -- and the government is not fuel, and it's not an engine. The government is a giant roadblock. And the people trying to build the government are, in my mind, moving us forward toward America not being the best it could be. So that's what "I hope it fails" means.
"You Are My Sunshine"

Makes Irwin Mainway's Bag O'Glass look like a class act!:
ORLANDO — After coming under intense criticism, a Jacksonville-based promotions company that says it specializes in creating gifts from current news stories has suspended plans to sell a singing Caylee Anthony doll, inspired by slain toddler Caylee Marie Anthony.

...Showbiz Promotions listed "The Inspirational Caylee Sunshine Doll" on its Web site,, for about $30.

The doll has blond hair, stands 18 inches tall and wears a white T-shirt and blue jeans and plays the song "You Are My Sunshine" when you push its belly, a song that Caylee was seen singing on a home video released shortly after she was declared missing.

...Salcedo, of Showbiz Promotions, had said earlier he was not selling a doll that looks exactly like Caylee because it would be too morbid. Instead, he said at the time, his company wants to honor and respect Caylee's life by bringing awareness to her case.

"We want it to be a tribute," he said.

Showbiz Promotions is already the center of an active civil investigation by the state Attorney General's Office. The allegation: Consumers ordered and paid for merchandise from two Web sites, but never received anything.

One of those sites sells a "Vick Dog Chew Toy" for $7.77.

...Salcedo said he planned to donate a portion of the proceeds of the doll to charity -- though he did not know which organization. Salcedo said he was waiting to hear back from several groups, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He was considering donating $3 for every doll sold.
Jessica Alba Is Smarter Than Bill O'Reilly

So why isn't she an anchor on Cable TV?:
Jessica Alba is setting the record straight: Sweden was neutral during World War II.

Alba and Fox TV show host Bill O’Reilly traded punches last week after the presidential inauguration. After Alba told a Fox reporter that O’Reilly was “kind of an a-hole;” he retaliated by calling her a “pinhead” for telling a reporter to “be Sweden about it,” assuming she meant Switzerland.

“I want to clear some things up that have been bothering me lately,” Alba blogged on MySpace Celebrity. “Last week, Mr. Bill O'Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e.TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country. I appreciate the fact that he is a news anchor and that gossip sites are inundated with intelligent reporting, but seriously people... it's so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland.”

Although Switzerland is more frequently cited as an example of neutrality, Sweden did indeed follow a policy of neutrality during World War II. History point to Alba.
Bill O'Reilly Gets His Wish

Although the cost of a jet is chump change compared to everything else going on these days:
NEW YORK (AP) - Citigroup won't be getting a new corporate jet after all. Under pressure from President Barack Obama, one of the nation's largest banks reversed course, announcing that it will not take delivery of the jet it had planned to purchase before the credit crisis unfolded.

The canceled deal came as many politicians voiced concern about how banks are spending government bailout money.

The White House reached out to Citigroup on Monday to reiterate Obama's position that such jets are not "the best use of money at this point," calling them "outrageous" spending for a company getting taxpayer dollars, said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was describing private conversations.

In a statement late Monday, Citigroup Inc. said it paid a deposit in 2005 to acquire the jet. The New York-based bank said it did not plan to use government money for the purchase, and it noted that any cancellation of the deal would probably lead to multimillion-dollar penalties.

...Citi is also planning to cut the number of corporate jets in its existing fleet from five to two, said the person, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been made public.
Sounds Real Enough...

But it's from The Onion:
SPRINGFIELD, IL—As his impeachment trial began Monday, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich kicked off a national media tour to explain that his alleged senatorial pay-to-play scheme was merely an elaborate plot to surprise U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald with a Senate seat on his birthday. "You try to do something nice for someone, and look what happens," the embattled governor told reporters at a press conference during which he unveiled a birthday cake for Fitzgerald.
Alienating Big Business From The Republicans

With the various big bailouts underway in D.C. at the moment, Obama looks like he is openly pandering to Big Business, and therefore trying to hammer a wedge between Big Business and the GOP. That effort will set up interesting clashes on Capitol Hill, since Big Business generally writes the checks for everything that happens there and will take umbrage if GOP obstruction works against its best interests.

Perhaps we are headed back to liberalism's Golden Age (1932-1980) when Big Business was generally allied with the Democrats, not the Republicans. Remember the 1940's, when Brown and Root, the predecessor to Halliburton, and the folks who underwrote LBJ's various campaigns, had hardly any need for Republican contacts at all?:
But Obama doesn't look like he's trying for 80 votes in the Senate anymore, as one of his aides once foolishly said earlier this month; he looks like he's wielding his electoral mandate for change, and he should. And he and his staff are mostly ignoring John Boehner's House Republicans, who seem determined to make their party irrelevant with their sloganeering and obstruction while the economy falls apart.

There was a little too much pandering to the CEOs for my taste, of course. I wasn't thrilled when Obama blamed the economy's troubles on "a sense of irresponsibility that prevailed from Wall Street to Washington" and then said the burden for recovery will fall on "executives and factory floor workers, educators and engineers, healthcare professionals and elected officials."

I'd like the burden to fall heaviest on those responsible for this mess, some of them probably in Obama's audience this morning. But that's not realistic politics.

After the speech, MSNBC's Pat Buchanan asked, "Was that Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan?" Buchanan tried to make the case that Obama's speech was "very conservative," because he also promised to root out government waste -- as though waste were a liberal value. But what Buchanan was really praising was Obama's Reaganesque grasp of politics and pageantry. He's trying to make Democrats the party of business and prosperity, and he looks like he's succeeding. It's going to be fun to watch the House Republicans now.
Meanwhile, this morning on Talk Radio, a rather defensive-sounding Rush Limbaugh was reiterating that he hopes Obama will fail, because "America succeeds when Liberalism fails."

This should be fun!
White Denim - Shake Shake Shake

Junkyards and rock music go together.
Efterklang - Illuminant

I don't get this. It kinda creeps me out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

VW Bug Anniversary

Today is the 31st anniversary of the purchase of my first automobile: a dark green, 1970 VW Bug with an automatic stick shift transmission, purchased at Galles Chevrolet in Albuquerque, NM. I can't quite remember the cost - $1,300.00?
Understanding Mars

I liked Ian Sample's well-written article describing the importance of the various recent Mars probes:
High in the sky above Mars, it is snowing right now. Very gently snowing. The snow does not settle on the rubble-strewn land below - not these days, anyway - but instead vaporises into the thin atmosphere long before it reaches the ground.

The first flakes of snow, on a planet that until fairly recently was believed to be waterless, were spotted just a few months ago. A Nasa lander near the planet's north pole was scanning the sky with a laser when it noticed the telltale signs of snowfall. The probe, called Phoenix, announced the news in a radio signal that was picked up by an overhead orbiter and beamed back to Earth. Nothing like it had ever been seen before.

The news of snow falling is just one piece of an extraordinary wealth of information that has recently been sent back from Mars by orbiters, landers and rovers. Together, they have mapped the surface in unprecedented detail, cracked open rocks, sniffed the atmosphere and dug down into the soil. What they have found points to an unimagined Martian history, one where life may have once gained a foothold and may even cling on still in the frigid soils of the permafrost.

...The rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were designed to survive the harsh environment for just 90 days, but somehow they have survived, and they continue to astound Nasa scientists with the new data they send home.

Spirit has explored a world as fantastic as any imagined by JG Ballard. It touched down a short distance from the Columbia Hills in a region named Home Plate, a plateau 80 metres wide. Spirit found the plateau to be surrounded by deposits of opal. As the rover trundled around, its wheels kicked up soil rich in sulphate. Together, these two pieces of information identify Home Plate as an old volcano. ... Warmth and water rank highly on Nasa's checklist of criteria for the emergence of life, and scientists have been making a credible case for water on Mars since at least the mid-1970s, when pictures sent back from the Viking orbiters showed deep channels, canyons and even features that resembled ancient lake shorelines. In 2006, Nasa had announced the then strongest evidence yet for liquid water on the planet, when its Mars Global Surveyor orbiter spotted what appeared to be stains on gully walls caused by gushing water.

On the other side of the planet, Spirit's twin, Opportunity, has been having its own solar-powered adventures, driving around and analysing rocky features on an expanse called the Meridiani Planum. From data sent back to Earth, scientists know that the rover landed on several hundred metres of sedimentary deposits that must have formed in ancient lakes. The soil is inhospitable, similar to that in parts of Rio Tinto in southern Spain, where water bubbles up through iron sulphide deposits, forming sulphuric acid that dries into an acidic mud over the long, dry summer.

...Remarkably, though long out of warranty, Spirit and Opportunity are carrying only a few mechanical injuries. Spirit, which parked up for the Martian winter with its solar panels angled towards the sun, has recently been ordered to drive south to investigate what look like once-exploding volcanoes that have since been eroded. Opportunity has scrambled out of the 800m-wide Victoria crater and is now setting off on a journey of more than a kilometre to a giant crater called Endeavour. The rocks scattered around the basin of the Endeavour crater have been scanned by cameras aboard orbiters hurtling overhead. They are unlike anything scientists have seen before.

...While Spirit and Opportunity poked and prodded rocks dating back billions of years, the Mars Phoenix lander was sent to explore more recent conditions on the planet. The probe touched down after a flawless descent in the Martian arctic last year, in an area known as Vastitas Borealis, or "northern waste".

On arrival, Phoenix's lead scientist, Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona, expected the lander to find precisely what Spirit and Opportunity had already seen: a landscape smothered in acidic, salty soils that could hardly be considered hospitable. There was good reason to think as much: the planet is frequently hit by giant dust storms that can measure thousands of kilometres wide. When they strike, they whip up the soil and scatter it around on a global scale. The soil in one place, scientists thought, would be similar to that in another.

But built into Phoenix was a robotic arm that allowed it to reach down and gather clods of Martian soil to test with its onboard chemistry lab. And as Phoenix's arm scraped away at the frozen surface, it revealed clear patches of ice that quickly evaporated, making it the first probe to touch water on another planet.

On closer inspection, it became clear that the soil at Phoenix's feet, in the planet's arctic circle, was very different to that found by Spirit and Opportunity at the equator. It was slightly alkaline, like sea water, and contained calcium carbonate, which usually forms in the presence of water. "It told us that Mars is not the same everywhere, as people were suggesting," says Smith. "If the soil was acidic and salty everywhere, you would have trouble imagining life even getting started in a place like that, but we found conditions much like those you see in the Earth's oceans, and for those of us looking for habitable zones on Mars, that's good news."

Scientists poring over data coming back from Phoenix are using it to work out what may have happened in the planet's past. Their best guess links the soil conditions to wild swings in the planet's orientation.

As the Earth orbits the sun, it leans over on its axis at an almost constant 23.5 degrees, and in doing so underpins the regularity of our seasons. Today, Mars is leaning over at around 25 degrees, but five million years ago, that could have been 40 or even 50 degrees. By showing more of its polar caps to the sun, the Martian ice will have warmed up and vaporised. The atmosphere would have become thick with ice clouds that later released snow, which fell to the ground and made the ground damp. That, at least, is the leading theory.

Further tests by the Phoenix lander found traces of a substance called perchlorate in the Martian soil. On Earth, some microbes use perchlorate as a source of energy, Smith says. The picture that emerges from Phoenix is that millions of years ago, when Mars was tilted more toward the sun, the planet may have been hospitable to life. Whether it remained so for long enough for primitive life to get started is another matter.

"We have nutrients in the soil, energy sources, and if there was liquid water five millions years ago, we're getting close to an environment where life could live," says Smith. "If you tossed some Earthly life up there that hadn't evolved for the climate, then it probably couldn't survive. But you have to wonder if, over a long period of time - say a billion years - if Mars slowly transformed itself from a more benign place to what we see today, whether little creatures could have evolved and maybe learned to survive. Life does amazing things on Earth. You can unfreeze the permafrost in Siberia and bring things back to life that have been encased in ice for a million years, so who knows?"

Last week, the evidence for life on Mars received another boost, when scientists at Nasa reported enormous plumes of methane emanating from the planet's north during the summer months. Methane is not proof of life - it can just as well be released by geological processes - but the prospect that life might be responsible is tantalising none the less.
Ruled Out-Of-Bounds

Many of the people here at work are Global Warming skeptics, and they like tweaking Global Warming acolytes (people like myself).

This week, the tweaking revolves around the sentence (highlighted in bold) in a recent paper in Nature (Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year, Steig et al., Vol. 457, 22 January 2009):
Our reconstructions show more significant temperature change in Antarctica (Fig. 2), and a different pattern for that change than reported in some previous reconstructions (Fig. 3). We find that West Antarctica warmed between 1957 and 2006 at a rate of 0.17 +/-0.06 deg C per decade (95% confidence interval). Thus, the area of warming is much larger than the region of the Antarctic Peninsula. The peninsula warming averages 0.11 +/-0.04 deg C per decade. We also find significant warming in East Antarctica at 0.10 +/-0.07 deg C per decade (1957-2006). The continent-wide trend is 0.12 +/-0.07 deg C per decade. In the reconstruction based on detrended TIR data, warming in West Antarctica remains significant at greater than 99% confidence, and the continent-wide mean trend remains at 0.08 deg C per decade, although it is no longer demonstrably different from zero (95% confidence). This is in good agreement with ref. 6, which reported average continent-wide warming of 0.082 deg C per decade (1962-2003) and shows overall warming in West Antarctica, although statistical significance could not be demonstrated owing to the shorter length and greater variance of the reconstruction. We emphasize that, in general, detrending of predictand data lowers the quality of reconstructions by removing spatial covariance information. The detrended reconstruction therefore represents a conservative lower bound on trend magnitude. Although ref. 7 concluded that recent temperature trends in West Antarctica are statistically insignificant, the results were strongly influenced by the paucity of data from that region. When the complete set ofWest Antarctic AWS data is included, the trends become positive and statistically significant, in excellent agreement with our results.
One co-worker writes:
This has to set a record of some kind for the most incomprehensible sentence ever written. I’ll buy lunch for whoever can use this sentence most creatively in a paragraph not more than five sentences long.
So, in response, I wrote:

(based on what I remember of a tour guide’s talk at Sutter’s Fort, where I learned that the reconstructed walls occupy about 30% less land than they originally did in the 1840’s):

In 1891, when the “Native Sons Of The Golden West” began their reconstruction of the outer walls of the ruins of Sacramento’s Sutter’s Fort, their intention was to rebuild exact duplicates of the walls. Running out of money, however, the restorers settled on a more-compact plan that required less land and fewer materials, thus establishing a trend among restorers towards more-compact reconstructions. Frontier purists argued for greater fidelity to the original plans, of course, and worked for a detrended reconstruction, particularly within the walls of Sutter’s Fort, where original floor plans were still available. The evidence of this clash-of-views is still present at Sutter’s Fort. The detrended reconstruction therefore represents a conservative lower bound on trend magnitude.
Alas, the rules of the contest have been arbitrarily changed!:
Any submissions that reference or cite Wikipedia will be summarily rejected, without detrending or reconstruction.
To which all I have to say is: "Waaahhhh!" I guess I didn't count on Wikipedia resistance!

Here is a blog post (citing another blog post) regarding Wikipedia's propensity to eat the world (which would tend to suggest we should all display a bit more Wikipedia resistance).
Three things have happened, in a blink of history's eye: (1) a single medium, the Web, has come to dominate the storage and supply of information, (2) a single search engine, Google, has come to dominate the navigation of that medium, and (3) a single information source, Wikipedia, has come to dominate the results served up by that search engine.
Wondering If Bill O'Reilly Is Trying To Weasel Away From the Right

Last night, listening to Bill O'Reilly on AM Radio 650, I noticed a strange change in tone. O'Reilly was declaiming against CITIGroup. Apparently CITIGroup had purchased a $50 million jet aircraft at the same time it was receiving taxpayer TARP money, and that struck O'Reilly as wrong. It was important for President Obama to chastise CITIGroup for this error of judgment, O'Reilly said.

That tone is Populist: namely, left-wing Populist. Populism is the loose cannon on the deck of American politics, and can swing left or right, or in both directions at once, at a finger's snap. It certainly is a change from hailing Big Business as our saviors and demonizing Big Gummint - O'Reilly's general tone for at least the last decade.

I just thought it strange.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Loaded For Bear

Or just plain loaded. Another zombie Bush regulation run amok.

Are they worried about revenge, like the deer hunter in the YouTube video above? Or do they forget that the chief beneficiaries of this regulation are likely to be drug smugglers near the Mexican border?:
Today, the Department of Interior overturned a Reagan-era regulation, permitting loaded firearms at 388 of 391 national park sites. The decision allows guns in parks in “any states with concealed carry laws, not just those that allow guns in their state parks as originally proposed.” While the Department cited safety concerns as a factor, the National Park Conservation Association notes:
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, there were 1.65 violent crimes per 100,000 national park visitors in 2006—making national parks some of the safest places in the United States. The new regulation could increase the risk for impulse shootings of wildlife, and risk the safety of visitors and rangers. Despite the potential affect on national park wildlife and resources, the Administration did not conduct an environmental review as required by law.
The Location-Aware Lifestyle

Like Dick Cheney, I think I'll retreat to my secret bunker:
I'm baffled by WhosHere. And I'm no newbie. I built my first Web page in 1994, wrote my first blog entry in 1999, and sent my first tweet in October 2006. My user number on Yahoo's event site, 14. I love tinkering with new gadgets and diving into new applications. But WhosHere had me stumped. It's an iPhone app that knows where you are, shows you other users nearby, and lets you chat with them. Once it was installed and running, I drew a blank. What was I going to do with this thing?

So I asked for some help. I started messaging random people within a mile of my location (37.781641 °N, 122.393835 °W), asking what they used WhosHere for.

My first response came from someone named Bridget, who, according to her profile, at least, was a 25 year-old woman with a proclivity for scarves. "To find sex, asshole," she wrote.

"I'm sorry? You mean it's for finding people to have sex with?" I zapped back.

"Yes, I use it for that," she wrote. "It's my birthday," she added.

"Happy birthday," I offered.

"Send me a nude pic for my birthday," she replied.

A friendly offer, but I demurred. Anonymous geoshagging is not what I had in mind when I imagined what the GPS revolution could mean to me.

The location-aware future—good, bad, and sleazy—is here. Thanks to the iPhone 3G and, to a lesser extent, Google's Android phone, millions of people are now walking around with a gizmo in their pocket that not only knows where they are but also plugs into the Internet to share that info, merge it with online databases, and find out what—and who—is in the immediate vicinity. That old saw about how someday you'll walk past a Starbucks and your phone will receive a digital coupon for half off on a Frappuccino? Yeah, that can happen now.

...I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!

The trouble started right away. While my wife and I were sipping stouts at our neighborhood pub in San Francisco (37.770401 °N, 122.445154 °W), I casually mentioned my plan. Her eyes narrowed. "You're not going to announce to everyone that you're leaving town without me, are you? A lot of weirdos follow you online."

Sorry, weirdos—I love you, but she has a point. Because of my work, many people—most of them strangers—track my various Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, and blog feeds. And it's true; I was going to be gone for a week on business. Did I really want to tell the world that I was out of town? It wasn't just leaving my wife home alone that concerned me. Because the card in my camera automatically added location data to my photos, anyone who cared to look at my Flickr page could see my computers, my spendy bicycle, and my large flatscreen TV all pinpointed on an online photo map. Hell, with a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place—and with a few more you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered to your home.

To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user's photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.
Penguin's Escape

From killer whales.
Fleet Of Feet

Sacramento Ballet's decision to cancel the rest of its season must have been agonizing but may be the best course for the moment. Nothing is harder than a radical change in direction in the face of difficulties, but if a radical change is necessary, speed is of the essence. And it IS a wonderful group, one we must hold together at any cost!:
The Sacramento Ballet will cancel its remaining three productions for the 2008-09 season in an attempt to get back on its feet financially.

The cancellation of 12 performances "does not mean that we are closing the curtain on our 54-year history," co-artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda told subscribers in a letter dated Wednesday. "Rather, we believe this is the most responsible action to take so that we might weather the current economic storm."

The ballet's 2,000 subscribers will have the option of receiving a refund for their unused tickets or exchanging them for tickets to upcoming shows by the Sacramento Philharmonic, Sacramento Opera or California Musical Theatre. The canceled performances of mixed repertoire were scheduled for February, March and May.

"For us to help the ballet to continue its relationship with its customers is a critical thing to do," said CMT executive director Richard Lewis. "In this economy, arts organizations throughout the United States are taking a hit. … But I know the opera and philharmonic believe as we do; we're all partners."

For months, the Sacramento Ballet has tried to deal with lagging ticket sales while keeping its 24 dancers together.

"This was a very painful decision," Cunningham said in a phone interview. "We're asking subscribers to stay with us, to be understanding while we try to work through this."

The Sacramento Ballet has not been alone in its struggles. In recent weeks, companies in Cincinnati, Miami and Madison, Wis., also have had to cancel shows or face other major cutbacks. Vancouver's struggling Ballet British Columbia laid off all its dancers and most of its front office last year; however, its creditors agreed this month to a partial repayment plan and dancers were to return to work.

In December, the Sacramento Ballet pleaded for community support when ticket sales for its annual presentation of "The Nutcracker" fell $500,000 short of expectations. The ballet's annual budget is $2.5 million.

"We asked the community for help, and people really responded," Cunningham said. "We sold out almost all the seats for our remaining performances (of 'The Nutcracker.') Unfortunately, it was a little too late for us to still reach our projections. We could simply shut our doors and wait for better times or we could try to work through this tough situation."

In addition to canceling shows, the ballet cut three people from its staff of 12.

"We've examined every nickel we spend, right down to how much we spend on toilet paper and can we get it donated," Cunningham said. "Our priority is our dancers. We can't fundraise around an invisible company, and our dancers are the treasured resource for our company."

Although response to "The Nutcracker" appeal was huge, this economy proved too tough to crack.

"The decision was excruciating," longtime board member and historian Fred Shadle said. "We're dedicated to the ballet and its being. The alternative was not canceling the season, but eventually (the company) would have to dissolve. The loss of the ballet would be disastrous."

Shadle, who has seen every production by the ballet since 1962, noted that the ballet has overcome tough situations before. Founded in 1954, the company had to cancel one show in 1973 due to heavy debt and faced bankruptcy in 1995.

...Meanwhile, the Sacramento Ballet's dancers will continue to perform at the company's studio, a far less expensive alternative to the Community Center Theater, as well as in schools and such nontraditional venues as art galleries during Sacramento's popular Second Saturday Art Walks.

Cunningham and Binda are working on a 2009-10 season built around "The Nutcracker" but also responsive to current economic conditions.

"Other ballet companies in recent history have been in this situation and gone out of business so fast, the community didn't have a chance to respond," Cunningham said. "We're keeping our dancers dancing, so people can see we're still here and have a chance to help. Our long-term stability depends on getting through these tough times."
And it is also important to note this:
Re "Ballet cancels rest of season" (Our Region, Jan. 22): I was saddened to read of the Sacramento Ballet's continuing financial crisis and the cancellation of the remaining season.

My wife and I have enjoyed ballet performances in a number of venues, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Hamburg, Germany.

Some of the most memorable performances we have attended were here in Sacramento. The company here has produced some of the most innovative, entertaining, dramatic and moving performances we have seen.

As season subscribers, rather than requesting a refund or ticket exchange, we will donate the value of our tickets to the company. Pity that the article failed to list that option. If half of the season subscribers checked this box on the "Subscriber Options" form, that would be a net gain to the company of about $100,000.

– John Carroll, Davis
The Noisy Martyr Speaks

Rush Limbaugh suspects that President Obama is personalizing the debate regarding the various government bailouts in order to distract the public. It would then seem to make sense to counter Obama's efforts by depersonalizing the debate somehow, but Rush doesn't seem to be heading in that direction:
There are two things going on here. One prong of the Great Unifier's plan is to isolate elected Republicans from their voters and supporters by making the argument about me and not about his plan. He is hoping that these Republicans will also publicly denounce me and thus marginalize me. ... Meanwhile, the effort to foist all blame for this mess on the private sector continues unabated when most of the blame for this current debacle can be laid at the feet of the Congress and a couple of former presidents. And there is a strategic reason for this.

...To make the argument about me instead of his plan makes sense from his perspective. Obama's plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party, in the same way FDR's New Deal established majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule, and it would also simultaneously seriously damage any hope of future tax cuts. It would allow a majority of American voters to guarantee no taxes for themselves going forward. It would burden the private sector and put the public sector in permanent and firm control of the economy. Put simply, I believe his stimulus is aimed at re-establishing "eternal" power for the Democrat Party rather than stimulating the economy because anyone with a brain knows this is NOT how you stimulate the economy. If I can be made to serve as a distraction, then there is that much less time debating the merits of this TRILLION dollar debacle.

...One more thing, Byron. Your publication and website have documented Obama's ties to the teachings of Saul Alinksy while he was community organizing in Chicago. Here is Rule 13 of Alinksy's Rules for Radicals:
"Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
"Hello Dolly!" Closes

Strike, followed by dinner at Sudwerks.

Apparently a theater patron suffered a medical emergency that caused trouble at intermission, but I have no news regarding his condition.
Deleveraging Will Come

Interesting discussion from last July regarding the first quarter of 2008 (but still pertinent):
The chart is admittedly a bit hard to read, but it is prepared from Fed's Funds Flows through the latest reporting date, which is March 31, 2008. ... The line is Total Credit Market Debt/GDP. As you can clearly see, the steepness of the vertical ascent of the has not eased in the last year or two. If anything, it may have gotten worse.

...The March 31 level was 350% of GDP. The previous peak occurred in 1933, during the Great Depression, at just under 270% of GDP. Note that the peak was reached due to the start of the rapid fall in GDP taking hold faster than debts were written off, a dynamic not in operation now. So the comparable level to our situation is in fact lower than the 270% peak.

...Private sector credit growth has slowed, in fact pretty dramatically in the first quarter. But "slowing growth" and "deleveraging" are two different conditions. Alejandro Neut at Banco Bilbao provides a good overview of the Fed's funds flow data for the first quarter of 2008:
Credit continued to decelerate in the first quarter of 2008. Total debt of the domestic nonfinancial sectors grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.5% ... This bleak assertion is based in the yet strong deceleration of households’ debt, segment which remains the main driver of the current downtrend (households’ debt grew a meager 3.5% compared with the previously seasonally annualized growth of 6.1% in the previous quarter). Debt in almost all sectors grew at a lower pace than anytime during 2007. The only exception was the federal government’s debt, which grew at an impressive annualized rate of 9.5%.

Business debt continued to expand at a healthy pace Business’s debt grew 10.8% yoy. With interest payments at historical lows (relative to profits) debt growth in corporate America was robust. This explains why businesses have been shifting the means to finance itself, from bond issuance to bank loans. But risks are growing: the financial gap remains at a high level, indicating the need for external financing in order to keep current operations.
Note that even though the tone of the report is downbeat, credit is still growing, but at a slowing pace. While certain individuals and institutions might be reducing their borrowings, on an overall level, private debt is still increasing.

And, of course, the other reason that we haven't seen deleveraging is that our friendly foreign funding sources have kept the credit spigots open and government debt has grown at a an accelerating pace, thanks in part to Iraq, but to a bigger degree due to various interventions. Tim Duy earlier focused on the role of foreign assistance in keeping a financial crisis from (yet) hitting the real economy to the same degree:
Perhaps most importantly, however, is the massive liquidity injections from the rest of the world, or what Brad Setser calls “the quiet bailout.” In the first half of this, global central banks accumulated $283.5 billion of Treasuries and Agencies, something around $1,000 per capita. This is real money – I outlined the likely implications in January. Foreign CBs are happily financing the first US stimulus package; will they be happy to finance a second? Do they have a choice? Their accumulation of Agency debt is also keeping the US mortgage market afloat. Do not underestimate the impact of these foreign capital inflows. If the rest of the world treated the US like we treated emerging Asia in 1997-1998, the US economy would experience a slowdown commensurate with the magnitude of the financial market crisis.
...Frank Veneroso argues we have to get off the debt E-ticket ride, now. Referring to the chart above, he writes:
This chart shows something that has gone vertical, something that is on a moon shot. If it were the GDP of Argentina in pesos I would agree that the moon shot could go on and on. But it is not the Argentine economy in domestic money terms. It is a macroeconomic ratio of total debt to GDP. Macroeconomic ratios cannot go on unending moon shots. They are basically mean reverting series. In many cases, such as an economy’s investment ratio or its profit ratio, these values tend to be more or less the same on average over long periods of time. ....

For the above ratio of credit market debt to GDP there is no gradual tilt to this ratio over the last two decades...How can that be, given that it is a macroeconomic ratio? ...If we look back in history, we see one prior vertical takeoff in this ratio – the period from 1930 to 1933. In that episode economic agents did not want to increase their aggregate debt to GDP..... A very bad recession from mid 1929 to mid 1930 started to take the denominator – nominal income – down rapidly....The resulting financial and economic carnage was so great that all economic agents wanted mean reversion. But debt is a stubborn thing to dislodge. It took a generation encompassing a wartime inflation to revert to the mean and eventually overshoot it to the downside.

Over the last year the U.S. has undergone the worst financial crisis in the three generations since that horrific episode of the 1930s. Even though we have had a severe financial crisis the ratio of total credit market debt to GDP keeps on rising. This could have occurred because government was socializing debt, but that has not happened yet.

Private debt to GDP rose as rapidly last year as it did before the onset of the financial crisis. It even rose in the first quarter of this year as the financial crisis intensified. But unlike the 1930s, when this ratio rose even though economic agents did not want it to rise because nominal income was falling, in this episode the private debt to GDP ratio has kept rising because fee hungry lenders continue to engage in expanding credit to profligate over-indebted borrowers. ... It is widely acknowledged that it has taken several units of debt to produce a unit of GDP in recent years. Most people strangely assume that will be the case in the next recovery. The same attitudes hold for our policy makers. They do not talk about an eventual reduction of credit relative to income. They talk about providing new channels of credit to offset constricting ones; for example, expanding the lending of the GSEs to offset the falloff in securitizations. Can the moon shot in the debt to GDP ratio keep going on, like so many assume? Or has something happened that makes at least a reversal, if not mean reversion, imperative now?

The answer is, reversal is imperative now. Why? It is widely understood that starting in the mid 1990s we entered into a historically novel path of serial bubblizations. Each asset bubble went hand-in-hand with an expansion of credit to the private sector....we can see why the reversal of the moon shot in the debt to GDP ratio is imperative. First, house prices now seem to be in an unstoppable downward spiral.....

It has been calculated from the flow of funds accounts that the ratio of aggregate mortgage debt to residential real estate value reached a peak of 50% when the home price and home finance bubbles reached their peak at the end of 2006. But the flow of funds accounts do not capture second and third mortgages. They do not capture the home equity loans that are in portfolios other than those of the commercial banks. There is a large “other” household debt item in the flow of funds accounts which includes various such claims against residential real estate collateral. I encountered one ratio calculated by the housing finance industry that suggested that, at the home price peak at the end of 2006, the aggregate loan to value ratio was 57%.....

If home prices fall nationwide by 35%, it follows that the average loan to value ratio will exceed 90%. About 30% of all residential real estate in value terms is without a mortgage. For all real estate with a mortgage, the distribution of mortgage indebtedness is very skewed. With the average loan to value ratio rising to almost 90%, a huge share of almost all mortgage debt will be deeply underwater. All studies show that when mortgages are well underwater there are defaults and foreclosures. This applies to the majority of mortgage debt classified as prime as well as the margin of mortgage debt classified as subprime. If home prices mean revert, the odds are high that in the shakeout that will follow the total credit market debt to GDP ratio will finally fall from its moon shot trajectory.....

There is another reason why. There are no more serial bubbles to be blown that are beneficial to income and output, even in the short run. The housing bubble was able to bailout the bursting of the tech bubble because it lifted household wealth and in turn employment, income, and output. Not so, the next new bubble now underway – the commodity bubble.....the effects on the economy from the commodity bubble are very different than those of the housing bubble. The public is not on board this bubble. They are not day trading tech stocks and feeling richer day by day. They are not buying second homes and investment homes, pyramiding their real estate wealth. The public’s involvement in the commodity bubble market is vestigial at most. Rather, the public is exposed to commodities primarily as goods which they must buy to use. This bubble – and in particular the oil bubble – is squeezing the bejesus out of everyman. Rather than being a new bubble that makes households feel richer, it is a bubble that is taxing them and thereby making them poorer.

The serial bubble solution to the problem of prior bubbles and the financial fragilities they spawn has come to a dead end with a third toxic oil bubble the financial authorities did not expect and do not want – the commodity bubble. Now the serial bubblization of the policy makers portends recession, not recovery.....The end of the moon shot in the debt to GDP would appear to be at hand.
Veneroso thinks the only way we might get a break is if the commodities bubble gets pricked and oil goes to $60. Since that is a wet dream for commodities bears, it looks likely that a grim scenario is not far from unfolding.

In case you view Veneroso as extreme, other analysts are leaning to a deflationary scenario, which presupposes deleveraging. Forbes cites the views of Merrill Lynch's North American economist, David Rosenberg:
..."The forces of deflation will outlast the cyclical inflation story," Rosenberg wrote, adding that Japan's experience in the 1990s of a lost decade of economic growth and deflationary pressures after equities and real estate bubbles there burst could mirror the unfolding situation in the United States more closely than many analysts reckon.

"Using the Japan post-bubble experience of the 1990s as a benchmark for comparison purposes may not be such a stretch as many people think it is because this is increasingly looking like a very similar secular bear market in equities," he wrote.

Another lesson the United States now can draw from Japan's earlier experience is that tax rebates may not free the economy up from the long lasting constraints of a credit crunch, he wrote.
Allegations Of A Cult

Repressed memories of rape apparently are the key for a cult leader in West Australia:
The woman, who initially found Meinck's therapy helpful for controlling anxiety attacks, said she now saw his group as a cult and believed she had been ``brainwashed in a subtle way''.

``It's a belief system in what Matthew believes,'' she said. ``It's like he's playing God, telling people who they can talk to, what they can do.

``There's the isolation (and) being scared to leave. If people leave, they're `doing a runner on themselves', `not facing up to themselves'.''

In 1994, Meinck wrote and published the book Discovering the Nature of Mind: A Healer's Guide to Enlightenment. In it, he recalls incarnations and gives detailed descriptions of his birth.

``My first thoughts were: `I cannot let my mind be tarnished by these beings I have chosen to parent my childhood. I will be my own support through this life','' he wrote.

The head of the School of Psychology at Edith Cowan University, Craig Speelman, evaluated recordings of Meinck's ``counselling'' sessions and transcripts of interviews for The Sunday Times.

Prof Speelman, who specialises in the field of memory, said the ``repressed memories'' elicited by Meinck were highly implausible.

He said it was understandable that people involved in a tight group with a charismatic leader over several years could believe in false memories, particularly if they were looking for reasons why they had been unhappy.

``They seem intelligent and articulate, but it is quite bizarre,'' he said.

``The fact that it was happening in a group situation, upping the ante each time (with more traumatic and recent ``memories''), helped everyone believe it.

``I suspect that this Matthew doesn't allow any critical questioning so it all seems to keep reinforcing itself. It becomes the only way to think.

``The long meditation sessions break down resistance. It's a very intense environment.

He pushes them through the pain barrier and they are trying to please Matthew by doing this.''

Prof Speelman said there were ``certainly sinister elements'' to Meinck's group, similar to other cults around the world.

``All it takes is for someone to be looking for answers to their problems and they can be attracted to this sort of thing,'' he said.