Friday, February 06, 2009

Try, Try Again

Driving is a privilege:
SEOUL (AFP) – A dogged South Korean grandmother has failed her driving test 771 times, police said Thursday, but a local newspaper reported she will keep trying.

The 68-year-old, identified only by her last name Cha, has taken the test almost every working day since 2005 in the southwestern city of Jeonju. She failed again Monday for the 771st time.

...Choi said that Cha cannot pass the preliminary written section of the test, averaging scores of 30-50 whereas the pass mark is 60 out of 100.

..."I feel sorry every time I see Cha fail. When she passes, I'll make a commemorative tablet myself and give it to her," one officer was quoted as saying.
Drama In The Crosswalk

Walking along J Street, I approached 13th Street just as the light changed. Suddenly, I heard a woman shouting: "hey, Hey, HEY!" I glanced left and saw an African-American woman in a motorized wheelchair in the crosswalk, halfway across J Street, just as an SUV turning from 13th Street barreled straight towards her.

Suddenly, the driver saw and heard the woman and came to a sudden halt, with the driver's hands flying from the steering wheel as the vehicle lurched to a stop.

With a mixture of terror, relief, and protest, the woman in the wheelchair shouted "SHIT!"

The woman continued crossing the street and approached three business people waiting at the stop light; two men and a woman. "I'm sorry I said that," the woman in the wheelchair said, "but that woman nearly killed me!" "No, no, that's OK," one businessman told her, "we're glad you yelled!"

Actually, I was just as sympathetic to the SUV driver. Pedestrians in motorized wheelchairs make compact visual targets. They subtend small solid angles. In a confusing spectacle like the typical urban street scene, they tend to blend into the background, and thus can be hard to see.

Well, that's at least what I told myself, the last three or four times I nearly barreled into pedestrians crossing the street in motorized wheelchairs....
The Cost

Our Middle East cakewalk continues:
The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone -- six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday.

The Army said it already has confirmed seven suicides, with 17 additional cases pending that it believes investigators will confirm as suicides for January.

If those prove true, more soldiers will have killed themselves than died in combat last month. According to Pentagon statistics, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January.

"This is terrifying," an Army official said. "We do not know what is going on."
Do It!

A plethora of Silicon Valley businesspeople who can no longer hack business:
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina is making some moves that strongly suggest she's got her eye on a political future in California -- and the buzz is that it may even have something to do with that 2010 race against Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

Last week, Fiorina -- the former leader of the Republican National Committee's 2008 Victory drive and chief adviser to presidential candidate John McCain -- emerged, after months out of the presidential 2008 campaign spotlight. This time, she was the new political analyst -- and a good one, we may add -- on George Stephanopolous' ''This Week'' show, talking up the economy and the Obama stiumulus package.

Now, we hear she's been added as a scheduled speaker at the California Republican Party Convention in Sacramento later this month.

Other speakers: Meg Whitman, former Ebay CEO, as the lunch keynote and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner as the dinner keynote. We all know what those two have in common: they're very wealthy and very connected Silicon Valley insiders, both eyeing the 2010 governor's slot. With former Rep. Tom Campbell of San Jose also expressing interest, the betting is that Fiorina may want to avoid a competition already crowded with moderate Silicon Valley GOPers.
Wine Bottles As Blogs

The possibilities are limitless. I want to see Lewis Black on a bottle of sangria:
A TASMANIAN winery has launched a new range of wines with labels featuring terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Another label reproduces an image that surfaced from the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, of a hooded prisoner with electric wires attached to his hands.

The wines are being produced by the Moorilla winery, owned by millionaire gambler David Walsh, at Berriedale in Hobart's northern suburbs.

The images are taken from political graffiti from the streets of Hobart and Melbourne.

The stencil image of bin Laden goes next to a graffiti message reading "all you need is love".

Beneath the torture image are the words "Iraqi liberation".

Moorilla has previously produced an erotic sex-and-death themed "Muse" wine series.

Moorilla winemaker Conor van der Reest said the temporary and contemporary nature of street art suited the drink-now ethos of the new "Praxis" wines.

"It's not a question of us trying to confront people," Mr van der Reest said. "It's more a chronicling of stuff that's current, either in art or world events."
Just A Really Bad Night, All Around

The Grim Reaper must have had a quota to meet:
A man survived a rollover accident off a cliff and walked up to Highway 152 for help, but was hit by a car and killed, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The unidentified man was driving a Toyota Tundra east on Highway 152 near Los Banos about 3:15 a.m. Wednesday when he lost control of the car and it went off a cliff, rolling over and landing 200 feet below.

He made his way up to the highway, apparently to flag down help, but was hit by a Honda Accord driven by Fernando Martinez of Los Banos.
Fun Nazis Running Amok In Antarctica

If jelly wrestling is out, what else is left?:
The organiser of last month's jelly wrestling, which was held in a vehicle maintenance facility and attended by New Zealanders from neighbouring Scott Base, was sacked the following week.

The incident also led to an urgent all-staff meeting where the US Antarctic Programme workers were read the riot act and given a stern lecture on their collective moral failure, with other activities involving nudity cited as further examples.

In an email sent to all the staff, the sacked jelly-wrestling organiser threatened to file a suit for wrongful termination as well as lamenting the way the US programme was now run by Raytheon Polar Services and the "fun nazis".

..."No-one was injured (five medevacs from the company-sponsored softball game), no equipment was abused or damaged, no-one complained to HR, there was no inappropriate behaviour, clothing, or nudity (though the Polar Plunge just hours before the jello event had plenty of nudity but no-one got fired or reprimanded for doing that!)."

The incident has highlighted the culture clash between the Raytheon Polar managers, many of whom are ex-military, and the staff, who may have been working on the ice for many years and do it out of commitment to the programme.

..."Every trip, there are more and more rules, restrictions and guidelines that seem designed to take all the life out of the place and make it more like a unionised auto factory.

"Yes, I know it is a workplace, but they are sucking all the fun out of the place."
Krugman Can't Bear The Republican Nonsense

And neither can the rest of us:
Somehow, Washington has lost any sense of what’s at stake — of the reality that we may well be falling into an economic abyss, and that if we do, it will be very hard to get out again.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much economic trouble we’re in. The crisis began with housing, but the implosion of the Bush-era housing bubble has set economic dominoes falling not just in the United States, but around the world.

Consumers, their wealth decimated and their optimism shattered by collapsing home prices and a sliding stock market, have cut back their spending and sharply increased their saving — a good thing in the long run, but a huge blow to the economy right now. Developers of commercial real estate, watching rents fall and financing costs soar, are slashing their investment plans. Businesses are canceling plans to expand capacity, since they aren’t selling enough to use the capacity they have. And exports, which were one of the U.S. economy’s few areas of strength over the past couple of years, are now plunging as the financial crisis hits our trading partners.

Meanwhile, our main line of defense against recessions — the Federal Reserve’s usual ability to support the economy by cutting interest rates — has already been overrun. The Fed has cut the rates it controls basically to zero, yet the economy is still in free fall.

It’s no wonder, then, that most economic forecasts warn that in the absence of government action we’re headed for a deep, prolonged slump. Some private analysts predict double-digit unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office is slightly more sanguine, but its director, nonetheless, recently warned that “absent a change in fiscal policy ... the shortfall in the nation’s output relative to potential levels will be the largest — in duration and depth — since the Depression of the 1930s.”

Worst of all is the possibility that the economy will, as it did in the ’30s, end up stuck in a prolonged deflationary trap.

We’re already closer to outright deflation than at any point since the Great Depression. In particular, the private sector is experiencing widespread wage cuts for the first time since the 1930s, and there will be much more of that if the economy continues to weaken.

As the great American economist Irving Fisher pointed out almost 80 years ago, deflation, once started, tends to feed on itself. As dollar incomes fall in the face of a depressed economy, the burden of debt becomes harder to bear, while the expectation of further price declines discourages investment spending. These effects of deflation depress the economy further, which leads to more deflation, and so on.

And deflationary traps can go on for a long time. Japan experienced a “lost decade” of deflation and stagnation in the 1990s — and the only thing that let Japan escape from its trap was a global boom that boosted the nation’s exports. Who will rescue America from a similar trap now that the whole world is slumping at the same time?

...It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.
Opportunities For Those With Money

Via the Housing Bubble Blog, a story from Stockton:
Huber said the current "very rough down cycle" has been difficult for builders, but it also creates an opportunity for long-term investment.

"You can buy today for substantially less than what it would cost you to develop," he said.

For example, it typically costs between $40,000 and $50,000 to develop a Stockton lot with the infrastructure - curbs, gutters, utilities and so on - needed to get ready to build, Huber said. And that doesn't count the cost of the land itself.

In the past few weeks, though, ready-to-build "finished" lots have been sold for between $5,000 and $7,500 each, he said.

That's as little as 10 cents on the dollar from those who bought and developed land while the boom was on but found themselves hurting in the bust and forced to sell.
M.I.A. - "Paper Planes"

I was thinking about those beautiful scenes in "Slumdog Millionaire", where the two boys and the girl ride the trains through the Indian countryside, and that naturally led to the scene's theme song:
"Paper Planes"

I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make 'em all day
I get one down in a second if you wait

Sometimes I think sitting on trains
Every stop I get to I'm clocking that game
Everyone's a winner now we're making that fame
Bonafide hustler making my name

All I wanna do is (BANG BANG BANG BANG!)
And take your money

Pirate skulls and bones
Sticks and stones and weed and bongs
Running when we hit 'em
Lethal poison through their system

No one on the corner has swag like us
Hit me on my burner prepaid wireless
We pack and deliver like UPS trucks
Already going hell just pumping that gas

All I wanna do is (BANG BANG BANG BANG!)
And take your money

Third world democracy
Yeah, I got more records than the K.G.B.
So, uh, no funny business

Some some some I some I murder
Some I some I let go
Some some some I some I murder
Some I some I let go
Sing, Sing, Sing!

From "All Night Strut", presented at Garbeau's Dinner Theater in the summer of 2007, and choreographed by Pepper Von.

I recognize Hannah Collins and Shantá Robinson - and is that Michelle Fox there?

Thursday, February 05, 2009


At the party, W. (who is Chinese) piqued my memory and curiosity about Kevin Smith's 1999 movie "Dogma". W. said "It's a funny movie, but I didn't understand the Catholic parts." I thought that was funny - the movie is entirely about Catholicism, so - what did W. understand? Anyway, off to the video store to check it out....

It took me forever to view this movie. As soon as I would pop it into the VCR, people started calling for me on the phone. Obscure charities, for example. Long-winded friends. Even - I kid you not - Al Franken's Senatorial campaign in Minnesota, currently mired in the endless recount up there, and hard up for my cash. Actually, I think Satan really - really - didn't want me to watch this movie, and just made up all this static.

Smith discussed "Dogma" in that documentary, "An Evening With Kevin Smith", that I blogged about last year (here and here). The dialogue and acting in "Dogma" are considerably superior than they had been in "Clerks", and "Clerks II", not just because the subject material forced Smith to think through the script first, but also because the acting pool was more experienced (Ben Affleck; Matt Damon; Chris Rock, jeesh, even Alan Rickman; plus Alanis Morisette). Better actors often mean better movies. Plus, by the time Smith made this movie, he had already made several movies, and was able to avoid the charming but elementary goofs of the previous films (although the facial reaction scenes are still overdone for my taste).

I was one of the folks offended by the disclaimer at the start of the movie. You can't curry favor by describing the platypus - evidence of God's sense of humor - as a noble animal in one line, then call the noble platypus a stupid animal in the next line. The platypus is God's gift to us all....

Some of the philosophical back-and-forth was hard to follow. Just like W. said, "It's a funny movie, but I didn't understand the Catholic parts." Nevertheless, there was much to like:
Metatron: I am to charge you with a holy crusade.
Bethany: For the record, I work in an abortion clinic.
Metatron: Noah was a drunk. Look what he accomplished. And no one's even asking you to build an ark. All you have to do is go to New Jersey, and visit a small church on a very important day.
Bethany: New Jersey? That doesn't sound like much of a crusade.
Metatron: Aside from the fine print, that's it.
Bethany: What's the fine print?
Metatron: [mumbling into glass] Stopacoupleofangelsfromenteringandthusnegatingallexistence.
Bethany: Wait, wait, wait. Repeat that.
Metatron: Stop a couple of angels from entering and thus negating all existence. I hate when people need it spelled out for them.
And this:
Nun: You don't believe in God because of Alice in Wonderland?
Loki: No, "Through the Looking Glass". That poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter" that's an indictment of organized religion. The walrus, with his girth and his good nature, he obviously represents either Buddha, or... or with his tusk, the Hindu elephant god, Lord Ganesha. That takes care of your Eastern religions. Now the carpenter, which is an obvious reference to Jesus Christ, who was raised a carpenter's son, he represents the Western religions. Now in the poem, what do they do... what do they do? They... They dupe all these oysters into following them and then proceed to shuck and devour the helpless creatures en masse. I don't know what that says to you, but to me it says that following these faiths based on mythological figures ensure the destruction of one's inner-being. Organized religion destroys who we are by inhibiting our actions... by inhibiting our decisions, out of... out of fear of some... some intangible parent figure who... who shakes a finger at us from thousands of years ago and says... and says, "Do it - Do it and I'll fuckin' spank you. "
And this:
Bethany: What's he like?
Metatron: God? Lonely. But funny. He's got a great sense of humor. Take sex for example. There's nothing funnier than the ridiculous faces you people make mid-coitus.
Bethany: Sex is a joke in heaven?
Metatron: The way I understand it, it's mostly a joke down here, too.
And this:
[first lines]
Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemen, the driving force behind Catholicism WOW, Cardinal Glick.
Cardinal Glick: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now we all know how the majority and the media in this country view the Catholic church. They think of us as a passe, archaic institution. People find the Bible obtuse... even hokey. Now in an effort to disprove all that the church has appointed this year as a time of renewal... both of faith and of style. For example, the crucifix. While it has been a time honored symbol of our faith, Holy Mother Church has decided to retire this highly recognizable, yet wholly depressing image of our Lord crucified. Christ didn't come to Earth to give us the willies... He came to help us out. He was a booster. And it is with that take on our Lord in mind that we've come up with a new, more inspiring vigil. So it is with great pleasure that I present you with the first of many revamps the "Catholicism WOW. " campaign will unveil over the next year. I give you... The Buddy Christ. Now that's not the sanctioned term we're using for the symbol, just something we've been kicking around the office, but look at it. Doesn't it... pop? Buddy Christ...
So, one thumb up for the movie, and another thumb up for Buddy Christ.

The key to liberty:
Last week, Ogden's Landmarks Commission approved Bruce Edwards' proposal to restore a sign on his historic C.C. Keller Building on 25th Street -- a full 10 years after his original request.

"I outlasted 'em," Edwards chortled Thursday. "And the bottom line is, I was right."

The original wording, dating back to about 1910 and painted on the north side of the two-story brick structure, is still barely visible: "Every hour upon the hour for about an hour Drink Becker's Beer -- Ogden's Famous Beer."

But in 1998, the Landmarks Commission -- whose membership has now changed -- gave the sign restoration a big thumbs down.

"One of the members said, 'We can't have beer on that sign; we want 25th Street to be family oriented," Edwards recalled.

The decision ignited a feud between Edwards and City Hall -- most notably with Mayor Matthew Godfrey -- at least in Edwards' telling of it.

...Snubbed by the city, Edwards in 2000 put up a large sign in the window of his then-vacant building, saying, "Why would anybody do business in Ogden? It's the dope capital of Utah."

"Dope" didn't refer to illicit drugs, Edwards explained. It was his description of the folks at City Hall.

With the 2002 Winter Games looming and the Olympic torch scheduled to run past Edwards' building, the then-City Council worried the town could be in for some bad publicity, recalled Councilwoman Amy Wicks, who was not on the panel at that time.

...That council responded with an ordinance forbidding such signs. Edwards called the American Civil Liberties Union and the feud moved to court where, in 2005, 2nd District Judge Parley Baldwin ruled in favor of Edwards, saying Ogden had usurped his First Amendment rights: "The sweeping ban understandably would dismay the average American … who would be surprised to learn he could not display flags, religious symbols, political placards, or even bumper stickers in the windows of his vacant building."

To this day, Edwards has signs in his windows, including one with a big likeness of the mayor with a Pinocchio nose and the words, "Indict Gondola Godfrey" -- a backhanded reference to the mayor's support on a gondola transit system.

But after the court ruling, the Landmark Commission again denied Edwards' restoration request.

...So, in 2008, he applied again.

A new Landmarks Commission said OK.
NYC Solves Mysterious Maple Syrup Smell

Apparently it's New Jersey:
New York City officials have discovered the source of a mysterious maple syrup smell that has enveloped the city (Manhattan in particular) at various times since 2005.

The culprit: a New Jersey facility that processes flavors and fragrances.

...New Jersey officials also helped with the case. Finally, the odor was traced to a Bergen County facility which processes fenugreek seeds.

Given the evidence, I think it's safe to say that the Great Maple Syrup Mystery has finally been solved," said Mayor Bloomberg. "I want to thank the City's environmental protection and emergency workers, as well as their colleagues in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, for their diligence in finding the source of the smell, which was a lot like finding a needle in a haystack. Air samples taken by DEP have confirmed that the odor in New York City was an ester associated with fenugreek seed processing. The Health Department confirmed that the odor does not pose a health risk, but I am pleased to know that our OEM and DEP smelling sleuths got to the bottom of this mystery."
Rough Australian Weather

And it's hard on wildlife:
More than 60 percent of Queensland is under water -- 400,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers), or twice the area of Spain. Ingham has been hardest hit, with 2,900 homes damaged or flooded in a weekend storm and hundreds of people evacuated.

...The main cities on northern Queensland's coast, Townsville and Cairns, were flooded in January storms and are still receiving daily rain. The main highways to Townsville were cut off by water this week and some northern towns have been isolated for weeks.

Military helicopters were preparing Friday to drop supplies to some areas, and emergency workers have converged on Ingham and other devastated areas to rescue stranded people and assist with cleanup efforts.

The wet weather has also disrupted the habitat of the state's wildlife. Kangaroos and wallabies have been stranded on pockets of dry land, birds are starving and officials have warned of crocodiles and snakes roaming flooded streets and yards.

Volunteer Lana Allcroft said her North Queensland Wildlife Care group was receiving more than 30 calls a day about stranded or injured animals.

She helped talk Townsville residents through the rescue of a sodden, injured wedge-tail eagle on Thursday, and tried to save a baby bandicoot rescued by a visiting official the same day, but it died of exhaustion.

Allcroft said birds and possums were starving because the floodwaters had washed away nectar and insects.

"We normally tell people to not feed wildlife, but now we are asking people to be mindful of them and leave food out for them," she said.

In stark contrast to the wet weather in the north, the south remains hot and dry. Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney have all sweltered through record-breaking heat waves in recent weeks, and weekend forecasts show temperatures reaching 97 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (36 to 46 degrees Celsius) in those state capitals.
Door Now Seems Open

I was hoping the storm system that started sliding in last night would be enough to knock down the ridge that's protecting the west coast from rain, and sure enough, it looks like next week several storms will pass through. Good! It's time to lay up some snow in the mountains, because, before you know it, it'll be summer again!
The Khan Machine

From B3ta:
"Khaaan!" as William Shatner so memorably screamed. Or was it "Khaan?" A wee while ago we were wondering what other words are commonly overextended for dramatic effect and how long for. It just wouldn't do to misspell "Pleeeease noooo!". Anyway, b3tard area has built a clever thing that makes graphs of just exactly that. Awesome!
On Wednesday, Ryan Adame Came To The Theater For A Visit

One queen.

Two queens.

Three queens (Jennifer Aniston, Ginnifer Goodwin and Drew Barrymore — He’s Just Not That Into You - Marie Claire photo shoot).

On Tuesday at 4 p.m., I was padding down the sidewalk, heading east to eat lunch at Subway - like I've done every single dingdong day since 1996 - when two pedestrians approached from the other direction. Just as we passed, the pedestrian closest to me turned towards me and shouted: Yaaawwww! I hesitated for half a second, then replied in kind: Yaaawwww! The other pedestrian started laughing so hard he walked into a post.
Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That

Yes! This is why Al Gore invented the Internet!

I didn't realize they popped this video up on YouTube! It's one of the blistering hot dance numbers from Pepper Von's "Let's Go!", seen last summer at Garbeau's Dinner Theater (and previously-blogged about here).

Many familiar faces here!

The first formation (0:45) is Hannah Collins, Keith Turk, Misty Barker, Cory Betts, and I think that's Shantá Robinson.

Second formation (1:00) is Cory Betts, Hannah Collins, Keith Turk, and Shantá Robinson.

Then brief solos by Hannah Collins (girl's got energy!) and Shantá Robinson.

Then third formation (1:44) by Hannah Collins, Gabrielle Perez, Shantá Robinson, x?, and Misty Barker.

Fourth (1:55) and fifth (2:05) formations too!

Just love it!
Britney Spears - BAMBI 2008 - Womanizer

Few pop stars dance better than Britney! I'm very much inclined to buy tickets for her April 11th concert in Sacramento, but I'm afraid to do so, because of this squabble with Kevin Federline over the kids.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Gold In That Thar Sewer!

A sewage treatment facility in central Japan has recorded a higher gold yield from sludge than can be found at some of the world's best mines. An official in Nagano prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, said the high percentage of gold found at the Suwa facility was probably due to the large number of precision equipment manufacturers in the vicinity that use the yellow metal. The facility recently recorded finding 1,890 grammes of gold per tonne of ash from incinerated sludge.

That is a far higher gold content than Japan's Hishikari Mine, one of the world's top gold mines, owned by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co Ltd, which contains 20-40 grammes of the precious metal per tonne of ore.

The prefecture is so far due to receive 5 million yen ($55,810) for the gold, minus expenses.
Just Swamped

Left: Wallabies marooned on the only high ground for miles outside of Ingham. Pic: Rob Maccoll

Northern Queensland is just a mess right now:
MORE than 60 per cent of Queensland is covered by floodwaters and more devastation is expected as two lows threaten to develop into cyclones.

The amount of rain that fell around Ingham in the 24 hours to 9am yesterday was almost half of what fell in Brisbane all of last year.

Scores of houses in the northern sugar town have been damaged by flooding and hundreds of people are marooned by rising water, adding to a crisis now spreading across the state.

The monsoonal downpour is the most severe in more than 30 years.

Two men were rescued after more than three and a half hours clinging to a tree in the middle of a flooded creek near Innisfail last night.

Ingham, about 100km north of Townsville, was a microcosm of the heartache that has followed the cyclones and torrential rain affecting 60 per cent of Queensland since the start of 2009.

The damage bill has already topped $100 million but is expected to rapidly rise as the floodwaters recede and reveal the true extent of damage to infrastructure, businesses and homes.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas and Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts found a town in good spirits but preparing for a long recovery when they toured Ingham by air and boat yesterday.

Floodwaters surrounded the town and covered many of its streets, trapping many residents inside unless they had a boat or were able to hitch a lift on a passing tinnie.

Mr Lucas said it was "heartbreaking" to see the floodwaters had seeped into the living areas of about 50 houses in the town of 6500 people.

A further 2000 homes had water through their yards and their owners were anxiously watching a low-pressure system off the coast that could develop into a cyclone.

"People need to understand that the ground in north and far north Queensland is as wet as it can be," Mr Lucas said.

"It's like pouring water over a damp towel so there is nowhere for this rain to be absorbed.

"It floods, it pools and my great fear is we do get another cyclone and it dumps more rain and the ground just can't take any more."

...Hinchinbrook Mayor Pino Giandomenico said the amount of rain since Sunday had been "horrendous".

"The last time we had something like this was 30 years ago," Cr Giandomenico said.

"People think that once the water recedes it's all over but once the water recedes that's when the work really starts and that's when we need all the people here."

He said many residents had been forced to temporarily seek refuge at the homes of relatives or friends while others were sleeping at the local high school, where emergency accommodation had been set up in the library.

"As you go round the street and talk to people they're reasonably calm, they're concerned, everybody's concerned but I think we'll get through it," Cr Giandomenico said.

"We're a resilient mob."
Do What You Know - Joaquin Phoenix Edition

Whether or not you know what you're doing (at least it's better than Paris Hilton's "The Hottie and the Nottie").

And watch your step....

Big Babies

Really big frickin' babies! A simple rule. If you want to have sweet private sector autonomy don't take public money!:
Wall Street and the business community gave a lukewarm response Wednesday to the US administration's plan to cap executive pay, fearing it may lead to a talent exodus and delay recovery in the finance sector.

The reaction came after President Barack Obama announced that executives of finance firms taking government bailouts would have their annual salaries limited to 500,000 dollars, a move aimed at protecting taxpayer interests.

The salary limit is "still a hefty sum to be sure, and the spirit of the order certainly has popular appeal, but it's a slippery slope when the government puts restrictions on how much an individual can earn in the private sector," said Patrick O'Hare of the independent research firm

"Also, the order itself strikes us as a disincentive for financial firms to reach out for aid, which will just prolong the recovery for the sector and the economy."

Douglas McIntyre at the financial website 24/7 Wall Street said the limits could make it more difficult for troubled banks to retain their best executives.

"Wall Street may keep most of its bankers if they face pay cuts, but it is the top five or 10 percent who make these companies really profitable, and they will soon be on their way to greener pastures if this measure is enacted," McIntyre said.

Don Lindner, a compensation specialist with the human resources association WorldatWork, said the new restrictions could mean a "huge cut in pay" for many top executives.

"They might leave to find jobs where they are paid more, that's my concern, that the restrictions are so deep that the leadership won't stay," Lindner told AFP.

Still, Lindner said the matter is "a complex issue" and that "just like any other investor, I think the federal government has every reason and responsibility to protect its investment."

But he argued that the move "may have some consequences," such as "not being able to get the kind of leadership the organizations need to recover quickly."

...John Wilson, an equity analyst at the brokerage Morgan Keegan, said that despite the protests, Obama's step is "the logical political move" after the government stepped in to rescue major banks.

"You can't take on a business partner and not expect them to have some say in your business," he added.
Kingdom Of Wallachia In Turmoil

Humor departs when money is involved:
The faux Kingdom of Wallachia is nestled in the northeast corner of the Czech Republic, 230 miles from Prague. It was founded in 1997 by the itinerant photographer Tomas Harabis, its current foreign minister, as an elaborate practical joke.

The ruse quickly captured the imagination of Czechs, long drawn to black humor and parody, and Wallachia, which also happens to be a real place, became one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions. Its success has led to a real-life battle over who owns the kingdom, which generates hundreds of thousands of euros in revenue each year.

The kingdom has the requisites of authentic statehood, including a currency called the jurovalsar; consulates in the Arctic Circle and Togo; a Royal Wallachian Navy, consisting of 40 wooden canoes; a bright yellow Communist-era limousine for use by visiting dignitaries; and a burgundy passport, covered with a picture of the pagan god Radegast, that Mr. Harabis says he has used to cross the border from Canada to Alaska.

“The Kingdom of Wallachia is a parody of Czech identity because nothing is holy for Czechs,” Mr. Harabis, 37, the son of a former Communist schoolteacher, explained recently. “Our history and reality is marked by depression, invasion and occupation, while fiction and fantasy let you do and be whatever you want.”

The political dispute stretches back to Mr. Harabis’s decision in 1997 to crown Bolek Polivka, a classically trained clown and famous Czech actor, as king of Wallachia. At the time, Mr. Polivka seemed an ideal choice: he had already crowned himself by a somewhat different title, Wallachian King, Boleslav I the Gracious Forever, on his popular television show.

Mr. Polivka became the face of the kingdom, signing its passports and attracting thousands of visitors. A formal coronation in the Wallachian town of Vsetin in 2000 was televised nationally and attended by 5,000 guests. Soldiers in traditional pointy shepherd hats fired cannons as the king inspected his subjects from atop a horse.

But in 2001, a fight for control of the kingdom erupted. Mr. Harabis charged that Mr. Polivka had begun to open Wallachian consulates without his permission and demanded 1 million Czech crowns — about $27,000 — to remain king.

Mr. Harabis responded by issuing an edict saying Mr. Polivka was no longer king and eventually installing a local construction worker, Vladimir Zhanel, as the new monarch: Vladimir II.

In 2002, Mr. Polivka went to court over who owned the kingdom’s trademark. The case became front-page news across the country. Finally, last fall, a Czech court ruled that Mr. Polivka had no right to profit from any association with the kingdom.

“The whole thing was meant to be a joke, but Polivka began to believe that he really was a king,” Mr. Harabis said.

Mr. Polivka retorted in an interview that it was Mr. Harabis who had allowed business interests to blunt his sense of humor, saying that he himself was motivated only “by fun.” And even if he was officially ousted as monarch, he said, 23 of 28 municipalities across the kingdom still regarded him as the rightful king.

“There is an air force loyal to me, a royal guard; we even have a Trabant tank division,” he said. “We have not only conquered space but planted our sacred blue plum trees on the moon.”

In fact, the Wallachian Royal Air Force consists of five Cessnas emblazoned with a Wallachian crest: an emaciated chicken falling through the sky.
SENSE Theatre Benefit At DMTC - Children With Autism

Purchase Tickets for the Fundraiser

Christine Totah and Jeni Price have been the DMTC point people on this fundraiser. It looks like a really interesting venture between DMTC's Storybook Theatre and SENSE Theatre. Buy your tickets now! This benefit might actually sell out!:
For children with Autism, simple communication with others can be extremely challenging. Now, a program called SENSE Theater is helping those with the neurodevelopmental disorder that affects approximately 1 in 150 American children and 1 in 94 boys.

SENSE Theater is a unique theatrical intervention research program designed to improve the social and emotional functioning of children with Autism. The new and innovative program is a blending of youth actors, who are experts in social communication and language, with autistic children who have challenges around basic social interactions.

On Friday, Feb. 6 from 7 to 9 p.m., a benefit will be held for the founding of the SENSE Theater at the 238-seat Davis Musical Theatre, located at 607 Pena Drive in Davis.

Tickets are available for $50. Youth actors and children with autism will perform onstage, demonstrating how art and science can come together to both heal and educate.

In addition, Franc D’Ambrosio, the World’s Longest Running Phantom, who brought more than five million theater-goers to their feet for more that six years, will give a very special performance. SENSE Theater’s first full stage production set for June 2009 will be “Disney’s The Jungle Book,” directed by Jeni Price.

“SENSE Theater is a rich opportunity for both parents and professionals to team up together to create a visionary and imaginative community-based intervention program,” says Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., who is co-founder of SENSE Theater, along with parent advocate Christine Totah. Corbett, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at University of California, Davis and a pediatric neuropsychologist with the M.I.N.D. Institute adds, “The theatre aids in enhancing communication and relating to one another. The theatre can be transforming for many people, especially for children with autism.”

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

PEDIGREE® Super Bowl Commercial 2009

Gabe liked this Super Bowl ad, and so do I.
Garbeau's Under Threat

Over the last day, people have been digesting news that Garbeau's Dinner Theater is being threatened with shutdown:

Garbeau's Dinner Theatre in Rancho Cordova is facing possible closure next month. Mark Ferreira, CEO and co-owner of Garbeau's since June 2007, says he needs to raise $100,000 by the end of this month to satisfy his landlord, Lakha Investment Group.

Ferreira's for-profit theater had strong revenues the first nine months of his ownership and artistic direction of the theater business. But he ties his theater's problems to last year's crumbling economy - specifically gasoline prices.

"The last six months have been tough. Once gas hit $3.50 in just about a week we saw our averages drop in half," Ferreira says. "We were getting about 145 people a night and when gas spiked that dropped to about 60 to 70 patrons per show.
More news comes from Garbeau's Newsletter:

To: Our Patrons and Friends
From: Garbeau's Dinner Theatre

It is with a combination of sadness and optimism that we are writing to you. As of today, we are launching a campaign to keep Garbeau's from closing. We did not anticipate being in this position, but a conversation this past Wednesday with our landlord went far differently than we had ever expected.

To explain, I will write chronologically from the start.

We bought Garbeau's in June of 2007. For nine months, we were enjoying wonderfully sized audiences and healthy revenues. In March of 2008, gas prices broke $3.50 for the first time and-practically overnight-our attendance dropped in half. Apart from getting fewer calls, the huge and sudden energy cost spike that happened last spring resulted in a record number of cancellations from people who had existing reservations. We literally received many calls from guests who said they were looking forward to coming, but the murky outlook (that we months later found out was a full-scale recession) prompted people to cancel their reservations due to uncertainty of what might be in store.

Changes were made to meet the lower attendance-our operating costs were smartly diminished to "skeleton crew" proportions without sacrificing our effort to provide quality customer service. The decreased revenue set us on a path in which we were able to cover most of our costs, with the primary shortfall being rent. We tried to negotiate with our landlord for a temporary rent reduction considering the economy. Our effort was to have a rent based on a percentage of our sale until the economy recovered; upon having stronger numbers, we would happily return to the regular rent cost.

We thought the negotiation would end favorably. If so, we would be like other companies who were struggling in this market, but who would manage to survive. This past Wednesday, our landlord flatly refused any negotiation whatsoever. His demands were that we come completely current (we have not been capable of paying full rent) AND supply financial proof that we are well capitalized enough to manage full rent going forward. He stated that if we did not satisfy his demands, he would terminate our lease, an act that would force us to close Garbeau's forever. To meet his demands, we are launching an effort to raise one hundred thousand dollars. On one hand, that number is depressing and we face the reality that not raising enough will leave us with no choice but to close. On the other hand, we are optimistic that this goal can indeed be met. For perspective, if the number of people who saw our production of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (which ran for only seven weeks-20 performances total) bought a $26 gift card, we would overshoot our goal by over a thousand dollars. It is due to that context that we are hopeful.

What Do We Need?
We are asking for help from everyone who wants to see Garbeau's stay in business. Here's how:
The newsletter then describes actions that Garbeau's supporters can do - listed here.

Most of all, to their supporters, the Garbeau's crew urges speed - delay will not help them in the least.

Other Sacramento theater groups are also feeling pinched.

It's not surprising that the rapid economic downturn is affecting the professional theater companies first - they have greater overhead and are more vulnerable to trouble.

It's interesting to me that Mark Ferreira blames the rapid increase in gas prices last year for Garbeau's current crisis. It may be the housing crisis bears a share of the responsibility as well - Garbeau's is in a suburban location where the housing market may well have tanked (and which makes me wonder how that other nearby theatrical venue - Centerfolds - is doing).

Economic volatility may next come for the community theaters. As DMTC Treasurer, it worries me.

In the typical annual cycle at DMTC, February is usually the weakest month, and this year is no exception. So far, this year looks no different than last year did at this time, however - I'm not seeing the economic shock as of yet. Mid-2008 was worse than mid-2007, of course, but we also had fewer fundraisers, so I can't blame the runup in gas prices alone for the trouble. The acid test will come when 2009-10 Season Tickets go on sale, starting later this month. By April, we will know how bad the punch will be. Nevertheless, because the community theaters generally have less overhead than the professional theaters, we might suffer less, at least initially (and the housing crisis may not be as severe in Davis as elsewhere).

Abrupt economic changes, like a spike in gas prices, can pull the rug out from all kinds of businesses, theaters included. Donations to DMTC peaked in 2004 - in support of construction of the New Theater - then abruptly dropped after the December 2004 tsunami in South Asia (if it isn't one thing competing for charity dollars, it's another). We survived that transition to a leaner environment. Since then, DMTC has adjusted to reality by slowly cutting expenses (the hardest thing to effectively do in a crisis). So far, we've been spared an abrupt crisis, and I pray we may continue to be so spared.

Please give generously to help Garbeau's Dinner Theater. Then, kick a few more dollars to other theater groups of your choosing (like DMTC). Because we all depend on one another and we are all wounded if one of us suffers.

DMTC has joined the list of organizations that will honor Garbeau's Season Tickets should the theater be forced to close. So, buy Garbeau's Season Tickets with confidence that they will be honored by someone, one way or the other.
America's Greatest Motorcycle Rallies

Joe The Plumber said 'you've got to watch this video!' So, I did.

I thought it funny how everyone waxed poetic about the freedom of riding on the open road when every motorcycle rider there was clearly in thrall to Big Oil. But that's just how we Americans are: soft, happy, dumb, and convinced we have have greater autonomy than we do. We wouldn't have it any other way.

The DVD spent a lot of time - way too much time - on scantily-clad dancers and exotic fashion shows at the motorcycle rallies. That was OK though....

I liked the documentary's focus on the annual motorcycle rally at Laughlin, Nevada, and the side trip into the mountains outside the Colorado River valley, to the active gold-mining town of Oatman, AZ, where the burros walk freely down the main street (U.S. Highway 66). I've driven through there before: Oatman is one strange and interesting place for supposed rugged individualists (which is why so much of the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was focused there). Oatman must be gun nut heaven!
"Shattered Glass"

I rented this 2003 movie on DVD mostly because I wanted to get a cinematic handle on why The New Republic magazine (TNR), a liberal bastion for many years, had by 2004 become nothing more than a slave to the right wing neocon echo machine. (I was a dedicated subscriber from 1980 till 2004, by which time I wouldn't even want to use it for toilet paper, it had deteriorated so.) The Glass episode was the most significant event that occurred at the magazine during the long decline of the 1990's:
This film tells the true story of fraudulent Washington, D.C. journalist Stephen Glass (Christensen), who rose to meteoric heights as a young writer in his 20s, becoming a staff writer at "The New Republic" for three years (1995-1998), where 27 of his 41 published stories were either partially or completely made up. Looking for a short cut to fame, Glass concocted sources, quotes and even entire stories, but his deception did not go unnoticed forever, and eventually, his world came crumbling down...
I remember reading Glass' stories and liking them a lot. People tend to like stories that confirm their world views, and Glass did that very well. I especially liked the story of drunken depravity at the Young Conservative's conference, and it just figures that the story was completely invented. Lies sell.

The movie disappoints in that it doesn't aim to tell the bigger story of TNR's corruption at the hands of Editor-in-Chief Martin Peretz, but it does suggest that part of the impulse to lie to readers comes from a desire to please them - a message that can apply to other magazines as well. Thus, the media corruption of the Bush years stems, in part, from that same desire to please.

Grovel, grovel, grovel.....

Monday, February 02, 2009

Dingell's Milestone

Long service:
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) will become the longest-serving member in the history of the House next week, the House historian’s office announced Monday.

Dingell is set to earn the honor on Wednesday, Feb. 11, when he eclipses Rep. Jamie Whitten’s (D-Miss.) 19,419 days in office.

There had been conflicting reports about when, exactly, the record would fall, so House Historian Robert Remini sought to come up with a definitive answer.

Whitten served from 1941 until 1995, while Dingell assumed office in 1955. Both men won their seats in special elections.

“On Feb. 11, 2009, Congressman John Dingell will begin his 19,420th day in the House of Representatives, a period of service that is almost a quarter of the whole history of the federal Congress,” Remini said. “John Dingell’s exceptional service is a historic milestone that should be celebrated.”

Only two men have served in Congress (the House and Senate) longer than Dingell and Whitten — Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and former Sen. Carl Hayden (D-Ariz.).
Why Housing Continues To Slide

Banks are reluctant to help (because it would mean they would lose money):
Washington’s main response to the mortgage crisis so far has been last year’s landmark housing bill, which created the Hope for Homeowners program. The program was expected to help 400,000 homeowners work with their banks to write down loans to more affordable levels.

The program has fallen short. A report to Congress last month said only 300 loans were being reworked. Congress and the Bush administration blamed each other for the shortcomings, with experts saying the program stumbled for a variety of reasons as lenders were reluctant to take losses and borrowers were unable to meet eligibility requirements.

Bert Ely, a banking consultant watching the debate, said ideas for a government-run program to offer low, fixed-rate mortgages surfaced late last year. But interest in it waned once the costs were considered.

...“When you start getting into the numbers, you start to realize it would be very difficult to execute and could be quite expensive,” Ely said. “You’re talking about millions and millions of mortgages.”
"Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch"

Left: Left to right, Mrs. Weed (Becky Moore), Mr. & Mrs. Dunwoody (Stephan Dean and Emily Jo Seminoff), Ms. Goober (Lee Ann D'Amato), Mr. Todd (Bruce Wallace), Mr. Hatch (Wayne Raymond) and Little Tina Finn (Camille Totah).

There are three more public performances for "Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch", plus a school show on Thursday, and two traveling shows (Esparto and Westmore Oaks in West Sacramento) on Friday.
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.

Left: Mr. Hatch (Wayne Raymond) and Ms. Goober (Lee Ann D'Amato).

Left: Left to right, Melanie and Melody Todd (Cass O. and Chloe M.), Ms. Goober (Lee Ann D'Amato), Mr. Todd (Bruce Wallace), and Mrs. & Mr. Dunwoody (Emily Jo Seminoff and Stephan Dean).

Left: Left to right, Ms. Goober (Lee Ann D'Amato), Mrs. & Mr. Dunwoody (Emily Jo Seminoff and Stephan Dean), Mrs. Smith (Kristin Stansby), Mrs. Weed (Becky Moore), and Little Tina Finn (Camille Totah).

Left: Melanie and Melody Todd (Cass O. and Chloe M.).

Left: After the show, children gather in the theater lobby to make valentines.

Left: After the show, Mrs. Smith (Kristin Stansby) reads aloud "Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch" to the gathered children.
Foreclosure Tours

Via the Housing Bubble Blog, an interesting tour:
Tonight Stockton will get another dose of national attention as a foreclosure hot spot in yet another round in the TV spotlight.

This time, though, say the producers of the "Deals on the Bus" series by Discovery's TLC channel, the documentary-style series that premieres at 10:30 p.m. today on Comcast cable will show a new real estate trend: People riding in tour buses in the quest to buy nice yet affordable homes in communities hard hit by the housing downturn.

"It's kind of like speed dating for homes," said executive producer Carlos Ortiz of Actual Reality Pictures, an independent Los Angeles-based film company that has filmed such reality-genre programming as "Flip That House" for TLC.

That's old news in Stockton, thanks in part to Stockton real estate agent Cesar Dias, an agent and loan officer at Approved Financial & Real Estate Center.

He drew a burst of national media attention last year with the creation of his tour bus - a brightly colored vehicle that gives potential homebuyers a look at some of the top foreclosure-purchase prospects on any given weekend.

TLC liked the idea of creating a program that focuses on new good ideas out there for real estate, said Dustin Smith, TLC's director of publicity.

...The series has 18 shows in the can, with bus tours filmed in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston, and not all the properties are foreclosures, Ortiz said.

...One of the local stars will be Albert Jimenez, a Stockton meter changer for PG&E, who is staging a family party tonight during the show premiere because he not only bought a nice 2,400-square-foot foreclosure home in Stockton for $125,000 - "The home looks so good you'd think it was new" - but he's also doing it on national TV.

...In this market, that means a 5 percent 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage of $903 a month, including property taxes and insurance, for Jimenez, who makes about $60,000 annually.

"That's only about $150 more than my apartment was, and it's three times the size," he said.

...Ortiz said the show aims to capture without manipulation the real action of those looking to buy their first homes, and the focus goes on the chase for a home and the positive opportunities in a down residential real estate market.

Contrast that with Australia's "60 Minutes" take last year on the same Dias foreclosure bus tour in Stockton, where the reporter described the tour-bus riders as "vultures - here to pick the bones of the subprime crisis."

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"Andrew Lippa's Wild Party" At Runaway Stage Productions (draft)

Left: Bows on Saturday night at RSP. Left to right, x, x, Andrea Eve Thorpe, Scott Woodard, Amber Jean Moore, Dan Masden, x, Joshua James.

Really excellent show featuring strong dancing (choreography, Darryl Strohl). Difficult, jazzy music too; music that reminded me, at times, of "Rent" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Can't go wrong with Amber Jean Moore, Scott Woodard, and Andee Thorpe! I wasn't familiar with Dan Masden, but he's very strong too! Everyone loved Robin Hushbeck, Kris Farhood, and Megan Sandoval!
Second Act At RSP On Friday

Left: Bows on Friday night. Left to right, Marissa Tidrick, x, x, Andrea Eve Thorpe, Scott Woodard, Amber Jean Moore, Dan Masden, x, Joshua James, Robin Hushbeck, Kate Richardson (?)

It was still just 9:15 p.m. Friday night after the Allan and Maire's reception, and a bit early to turn in just yet. So, what to do with the time?

I suppose I could watch videos. Here's an inviting Jenna Jameson video.... But you know how wooden the acting can be in these things. And when Jenna stops the action to give notes, that's when things turn really weird (and like Hunter S. Thompson used to say, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

No, I need something hotter, something sexier, something more entertaining....

Hey, it's about intermission time! I gotta go! What could possibly be hotter than Act II of Andrew Lippa's "Wild Party" at Runaway Stage Productions?

As well as being entertaining, the difficulty of the show makes you admire the performers even more. Like K. noted "It's hard to have sex and sing at the same time."
Reception For Allan And Maire

After work, a get-together welcoming Maire from Ireland, and celebrating her recent marriage to Allan. She does theater and teaches gymnastics there.

If they stay in the U.S., it would be fun to get them both involved in local theater.
Give Jess A Break

It's January. We're still in the shadows of the holidays:
In her first performance since the flap over her figure, Jessica Simpson strutted across a Virginia stage in skin-tight leather pants Thursday night and lamented the world's "completely pointless" focus.

"Thank you for your support," she told the crowd in Charlottesville at the end of her set. "Stay positive, and pray out loud! I love you guys, good night."