Saturday, February 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Julie Kulmann!
Trust The Technology

Paul Fearn saw this and brought it to my attention.

A rope snapped on a second-time amateur bungee jumper. He ended up in a creek, but because he was at the very end of the 400-ft line when the snap occurred, he wasn't much hurt and he is eager to go again.

Now, was it because he and his crew weren't professionals that they didn't spot the stressed spot on the cord, or was it just bad luck?
The Crisis of Credit Visualized

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

(via Andrew Sullivan)
Ex KKK Member Apologizes To Congressman John Lewis For Beating Him

Dangerous Lorraines' "Connect/Disconnect" (draft)

I went to see the show at the Guild Theater by Sac State's Dangerous Lorraines Dance Troupe (DLDT).

I recognized a few people: Inertia DeWitt was dancing and Gabe Gabrielson was doing tech. In the audience, I recognized Gino P. and Kelli L. (I think).

The opening pre-show "Retro/Intro" featured a very slow motion dance. The dancers were barely moving, but just like that Outer Limits episode where privileged people's metabolism was speeded up, every time you looked at a dancer, their expression had unaccountably changed and they were now in a different position. When did that fellow (Leon Damasco) take off his jacket? When did some of the other dancers turn around? How do they keep their balance? It was a very nice number!

For me, the rest of the show was rather uneven. I could not locate the elusive concept driving the show. After a while, I decided that the show was trying to achieve a surreal impact, but I thought modern dance was the wrong vehicle to choose (Salvador Dali wasn't a modern dancer). At intermission I asked Gabe Gabrielson if he considered the show to be primarily theater, or dance. I was inclined to say theater, but he replied dance (since the cues were body positions).

My dissatisfaction really wasn't about the choreography or the dancing, but rather the suitability of the numbers. For example, the opening number after intermission was called 'Desire To Take Flight'. The dancers made as if to take flight, or at least to be thinking about it. But modern dance is all about breath control and controlling the body's center-of-mass. When a modern dancer plants their foot and places weight on it, you know. Sometimes you can even hear it in their breathing (especially if they wheeze from smoking - my first strong memory of modern dance, from the 70's).

But birds aren't like that at all. Birds hop. Birds flit. When they adjust their center-of-mass they do so with silly, reflexive head bobs. They don't fret about shifting their weight.

I remember visiting the San Diego Zoo in 1978. For ten minutes I watched a baby hippopotamus try to enter a pool of water. There was a slight slope, maybe half a degree, and the baby hippo was anxiously rocking back and forth trying to decide whether it was worth the risk. The slope was ridiculously slight, but the baby hippo's legs were short, and it was afraid.

Silly mammal. That is how most mammals think: 'Am I going to fall?'

On the other hand, it's hard to knock birds over. I remember how our family drove to San Diego and back with a caged parakeet and how the bird fell just once, after being blindsided by an abrupt stop. In contrast, mammals fall all the time. You hear about cowtipping, but do you ever hear about goosetipping? Ostrichtipping? Robintipping? No. These pasttimes have no practitioners.

Modern dance is very much a mammalian thing. If birds ran the show, modern dance would look much different.

But Marc, the number was 'Desire To Take Flight'. Surely mammals can feel the desire to fly. Surely modern dancers would love to take wing. Why not dance about that?

Yes, but humans are so unsuited to flight. They are so heavy! The mammals that do fly, primarily bats, are built a lot different than people. A LOT different! It's time for mammals to get real about their limitations!

So, I was unsatisfied with some of the dancing. Nevertheless the show came together for a satisfactory conclusion with 'Connect/Disconnect', which reprised some of the dancing earlier in the show, but also featured vigorous dancing by some of the men, and also featured people walking back and forth with cell phones. Since 1990, cell phone use has completely changed the way people walk down the street and it is ripe for exploration by dance companies of all sorts (although if I see lyrical ballet featuring cell phones I will shoot the choreographer).

A very nice, very solid conclusion to a thought-provoking show.
Who Do You Believe, Me Or Your Lying Eyes?

This turn of events is extraordinary and shows how the dissembling Straussian character of the neoconservatives really comes out when the times become adverse:
Listening to neoconservative mastermind Richard Perle at the Nixon Center yesterday, there was a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.

In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack. But at yesterday's forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:

1. Perle is not a neoconservative.

2. Neoconservatives do not exist.

3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn't be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.

"There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy," Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. "It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy."

So what about the 1996 report he co-authored that is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy? "My name was on it because I signed up for the study group," Perle explained. "I didn't approve it. I didn't read it."

Mm-hmm. And the two letters to the president, signed by Perle, giving a "moral" basis to Middle East policy and demanding military means to remove Saddam Hussein? "I don't have the letters in front of me," Perle replied.

Right. And the Bush administration National Security Strategy, enshrining the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom? "I don't know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements," Perle maintained. "My guess is he didn't."

The Prince of Darkness -- so dubbed during his days opposing arms control in the Reagan Pentagon -- was not about to let details get in the way of his argument that "50 million conspiracy theorists have it wrong," as the subtitle of his article for National Interest put it. "I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world," Perle told the foreign policy luminaries at yesterday's lunch. "None of that is true, of course."

Of course.

He had been a leading cheerleader for the Iraq war, predicting that the effort would take few troops and last only a few days, and that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction. Perle was chairman of Bush's Defense Policy Board -- and the president clearly took the advice of Perle and his fellow neocons. And Perle, in turn, said back then that Bush "knows exactly what he's doing."

Yesterday, however, Perle said Bush's foreign policy had "no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged." He also took issue with the common view that neocons favored using American might to spread democratic values. "There's no documentation!" he argued. "I can't find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force."

Those in the room were skeptical of Perle's efforts to recast himself as a pragmatist.

Richard Burt, who clashed with Perle in the Reagan administration, took issue with "this argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn't exist." He reminded Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists. "You've got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought," Burt challenged.

"I don't accept the approach, not at all," the Prince of Darkness replied.

Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest asked Perle to square his newfound realism with the rather idealistic title of his book, "An End to Evil."

"We had a publisher who chose the title," Perle claimed, adding: "There's hardly an ideology in that book." (An excerpt: "There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.")

Regardless of the title, Heilbrunn pursued, how could so many people -- including lapsed neoconservative Francis Fukuyama -- all be so wrong about what neoconservatives represent?

"It's not surprising that a lot of people get something wrong," Perle reasoned.

At times, the Prince of Darkness turned on his questioners. Fielding a question from the Financial Times, he said that the newspaper "propagated this myth of neoconservative influence." He informed Stefan Halper of Cambridge University that "you have contributed significantly to this mythology."

"There are some 5,000 footnotes," Halper replied. "Documents that you've signed."

But documents did not deter denials. "I've never advocated attacking Iran," he said, to a few chuckles. "Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term," he said, to raised eyebrows. Accusations that neoconservatives manipulated intelligence on Iraq? "There's no truth to it." At one point, he argued that the word "neoconservative" has been used as an anti-Semitic slur, just moments after complaining that prominent figures such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- Christians both -- had been grouped in with the neoconservatives.

"I don't know that I persuaded anyone," Perle speculated when the session ended.

No worries, said the moderator. "You certainly kept us all entertained."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dangerous Lorraines

Something from Sac State! :
Wynn and her California State University, Sacramento, colleague Lorelei Bayne are co-artistic directors of the Dangerous Lorraines Dance Theater, which will open its Sacramento premiere season tonight at the Guild Theater in Oak Park.

Wynn explained the name: "Lorraine is actually my middle name," she said in a recent telephone interview from her home, where she was off sick from teaching duties. "When I was first forming the group, which was in Texas, I was looking to embrace all the styles of choreography I have.

...Wynn's dance background is varied.

"I kind of come from strict ballet technique," she said, but she also has studied the techniques of Martha Graham (a pioneer of modern dance) and Lester Horton (who incorporated American Indian and jazz elements) and practiced (José) Limón-style Release technique (minimizing tension through the joints and muscles to create an ease of movement).

She is interested in dance theater – "not musical theater," she emphasized – and said she is "inspired by Della Davidson (of the University of California, Davis) and her Physical Sideshow Theater, and very much by Dr. (Linda) Goodrich (a disciple of Katherine Dunham) here at CSUS."

Bayne teaches jazz and modern dance and choreography at Sac State, coming at the Lorraines project from a slightly different perspective. Her choreography has been called "thoughtful and beautifully awkward."

Her contribution to this weekend's program is "Everything Old Is New Again," set to the music of Kurt Weill. The work is separated into several sections to be performed throughout the evening, all related to (and relating) how, in an effort to continue functioning, society disconnects itself from tragic events.

...Wynn and Bayne will dance together in "Black/White." The 11-member troupe will perform "Retro/Intro," a 20-minute, slow-motion show opener that will begin before the 8 p.m. opening of the performances to "serve as a background and company introduction for early-arriving audience members," Wynn said.
For two months in the fall of 2007, I took a modern class taught by Lorelei Bayne at Capitol Ballet Center. Thoughtful and beautiful dancing, yes, especially as rendered by the Nutcracker teenagers there, but awkward was my special domain.

Should be an interesting show!
What Could One Do For Fun In Anatevka?

Beats plowing beets....
The Exorcist Spider Walk Regan Action Figure

Looking for some action figures for a child's birthday....
I'm A Celebrity, Don't Run Me Over

Nice game suggestion for the day.

Not a bad idea:
What allowed some people to see the financial crash coming while so many others missed its gathering force? I put that question recently to Nouriel Roubini, who has come to be known as "Dr. Doom" because of his insistent warnings starting in 2006 that we were heading into a global firestorm.

...First, the standard analytical explanation: Roubini said that he studied a chart in economist Robert J. Shiller's book "Irrational Exuberance." It showed that U.S. housing prices, adjusted for inflation, had remained essentially flat for a century, until the mid-1990s, when they began to shoot up. What's more, Roubini saw that the most recent housing correction in the late 1980s had a severe effect on the financial system -- leading ultimately to the collapse of the savings and loan industry.

So Roubini knew two things: Housing prices wouldn't keep going up forever, and when they went down, they would take a big piece of the financial system with them.

...But everyone else had those same numbers. Why did Roubini act? The answer is that he decided to trust his gut, which told him there was trouble ahead, rather than Wall Street's "wisdom of the crowd," which -- as reflected in stock prices -- said everything was rosy. He concluded that the markets were not pricing in the degree of risk that was actually present in housing.

"The rational man theory of economics has not worked," Roubini said last month at a session of the World Economic Forum at Davos.

...The most compelling rebuttal of the rational model, paradoxically, was delivered by the ultimate rationalist, Alan Greenspan. "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders," the former Fed chairman told Congress last October.

That's why Greenspan didn't see it coming, argues Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton professor who is often described as the father of behavioral economics. His rational-actor model wouldn't let him.

...One of the most powerful ideas I heard at Davos was the idea of "pre-mortem" analysis, which was first proposed by psychologist Gary Klein and has been taken up by Kahneman.

A pre-mortem analysis can provide a real "stress test" to conventional thinking. Let's say that a company or government agency has decided on a plan of action. But before implementing it, the boss asks people to assume that five years from now, the plan has failed -- and then to write a brief explanation of why it didn't work. This approach stands a chance of bringing to the surface problems that the decision makers had overlooked -- the "black swans," to use former trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb's phrase, that people assumed wouldn't happen in the near future because they hadn't occurred in the recent past.
The Washington Post Mammoth Has Wandered Into The La Brea Tar Pits Of Falsehood And Now Is The Time To Shoot It

At last, we have 'em where we want them!:
(George) Will wrote, and is trying to get readers of The Washington Post to believe, that there was a scientific consensus about global cooling in the 1970s. This is false. Post readers are being deceived. And the Post is standing by the deceivers.

This started as a problem for Will, his direct supervisors, and the Post’s ombudsman. But now that the Post as a paper is standing behind Will’s deceptions, I think it’s a problem for all the other people who work at the Post. Some of those people do bad work, which is too bad. And some of those people do good work. And unfortunately, that’s worse. It means that when good work appears in the Post it bolsters the reputation of the Post as an institution. And the Post, as an institution, has taken a stand that says it’s okay to claim that up is down. It’s okay to claim that day is night. It’s okay to claim that hot is cold. It’s okay to claim that a consensus existed when it didn’t. It’s okay to claim that George Will is a better source of authority on interpreting the ACRC’s scientific research than is the ACRC. Everyone who works at the Post, has, I think, a serious problem.
The Battle Against Lust

Apparently GodTube is affected peripherally by the Stanford Financial chaos. Still, I stopped long enough to view this video about the dangers of porn.

I liked the analogy with the Gettysburg battle, but it's a bit hyperbolic. I had a relative (Stephen Buzzell, on my mother's side) who barely survived the Gettysburg battle, under the cautious and thoughtful command of that noted firebrand, Brevet General George Armstrong Custer (7th Cavalry, Michigan), youngest general (age 24) in the entire Union Army, and I can't help but wonder what he would have thought. What would be more fearsome, a hail of porn DVDs or a hail of Confederate Minnie Balls?

Different eras, different battles....
DJI Falling Through The Floor

It's the only way to wring the speculation from the system. The process can't be gamed, it can only be survived. Slaughter, slaughter, slaughter, until there is nothing left to slaughter.

In the Great Depression, the DJI didn't reach bottom until 1940, and didn't reach its 1929 peak again until 1954 - 25 years later! It would be nice if we could get this over with faster than 25 years, because I retire in 13 years, dammit!
Men Of The Ballet Russe

Nice interviews, featuring George Zoritch at about 5:00 (my first ballet instructor).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Spirals" Choreographed by Francisco Gella

What are my old friends up to at Tucson Regional Ballet? Apparently some lovely things....
Jan's Dad....

Out of heart surgery, and doing well....
Sorry I Haven't Got Back To All Your Facebook Friend Adds

I apologize. I have a kind of irrational fear of Facebook. Part of it is the 'Terms Of Use' squabble. Part of it was Darryl Strohl wanting to kidnap me using the 'fuzzy pink handcuffs'. I don't know what that means. What does that mean? Is he going to put me in a box in his basement? And part of it is....I don't know what it is, exactly.

I need a Xanax and I don't have a prescription for the stuff.
10/4, Good Buddy
Too Gay For L.A.

Rent, Jr., or whatever they call it:
Drama students and alumni of Corona del Mar High School are staging an uproar, following accusations that a principal’s alleged censorship sank the school’s planned production of the musical “Rent.”

In an anonymously published letter circulated to students, alumni and gay websites like, a student accuses principal Fal Asrani of nixing the Tony-winning musical because it portrays gay and lesbian characters.

“Mrs. Asrani (the principal) is firmly against the portrayal of homosexual characters in RENT, despite the fact that all displays of affection have already been edited out of our script,” the letter reads.

Drama students and alumni told similar versions of events.

“We went to a lunch meeting for drama class and our teacher told us the show was canceled,” said Ryan Willison, a senior at the school. “He said it was because Ms. Asrani did not want homosexual characters portrayed on stage — but that’s kind of the point of ‘Rent.’ ”

...Repeated efforts to reach Asrani and school district officials for comment Friday were unsuccessful, though some media reports had Asrani denying the allegations and saying that she merely wanted time to review the script for objectionable content.

While those raising the outcry said Asrani had not directly canceled the script, they said the manner in which she had asked to review it would not have allowed the drama department to make changes in time to put on a show.

Willison said it was hard to imagine what was left in the script to object to — aside from the presence of gay characters. The production was already going to use a sanitized version of the script, the “high school edition,” that had adult content cut out, Willison said.

“They don’t even let the gay couples kiss on stage, so I’m not sure what she’s objecting to,” Willison said.
Sock And Awe

Zaidi isn't the only one who felt the urge:
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush defiantly defended his actions in court on Thursday, saying he had become emotionally overwhelmed when confronted by the ex-US president.

Muntazer al-Zaidi won global fame when his footwear whizzed past Bush's head on December 14 as the then president was making a farewell visit to Iraq before leaving the White House.

His lawyers used the trial's opening arguments to assert that the remarkable protest was lawful, but the judge brought proceedings to a halt 90 minutes later, saying more information was needed about Bush's trip.

The 30-year-old journalist had told the court that he had become outraged and been unable to control his emotions when Bush, who ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, started speaking.

"I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes," he said from the dock, with an Iraqi flag draped across his shoulders.

"So I took the first shoe and threw it but it did not hit him. Then spontaneously I took the second shoe but it did not hit him either. I was not trying to kill the commander of the occupation forces of Iraq."

Zaidi gave a detailed account of the joint media conference, which was being beamed live across the world, where Bush was speaking alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"I came to the press conference and the US security guards asked the Iraqi journalists to go outside and they started to check us and they checked one journalist in a humiliating manner while we were on Iraqi soil," he said.

"After Bush started speaking about 'victory and achievement in Iraq' with an icy smile... I did what I did."

Zaidi, who works for the private Al-Baghdadia television channel was abducted by insurgents during the sectarian strife that engulfed Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and made plain his feelings about the occupation.

"We as Arabs are proud of our sense of hospitality, but Bush and his soldiers have been here for six years," he said.

After his testimony, Zaidi argued that Bush's trip to Iraq had not been an official visit. One of the three trial judges, Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubai, then said that the trial would be adjourned until March 12.

"We have adjourned the trial so that we can contact the prime minister's office to find out if the visit of the ex-American president Bush was an official visit or not," he said.

...The incident inspired a British student, Alex Tew, to create a "Sock and Awe" ( shoe-throwing website which says it has so far had more than 86 million hits in the face of ex-president Bush on the Internet.
Good God, The Giant Spanish Rabbits Are Back!

"What's up doc?" the mutants say:
The Valencia Agricultural Research Institute has launched a breeding programme of the rare Valenciano rabbit and predicts that it could be on supermarket shelves within three years.

It is hoped that the animals, which can grow as big as a lamb and produce 7kgs (15lbs) of meat, will prove popular as a healthy and cheap alternative to red meat.

The Valenciano breed was established in 1912 when farmers cross bred large domestic Spanish rabbits with the imported Flemish Giant variety and for decades it appeared on dinner tables across the nation.

Vicente Garcia, the agricultural engineer in charge of the project, said: "These animals were valued by farmers for their meat and the speed at which they bred, often producing up to 16 young in each litter."

During the first half of last century the enormous rabbits were exported across Europe and to Cuba, Argentina and Chile but by the 1970s they were close to extinction in Spain.

"Only a very few examples of the breed still exist in Spain," Mr Garcia told Spanish newspaper 20minutos. The breed had only survived in two isolated areas of Spain, he added, because the giant rabbits were bred by enthusiasts as pets.

...They are about the same size as the renowned German grey giant, but honey coloured.
Lady GaGa Ft Colby O'Donis - Just Dance

I remember 1982, when it became difficult to ignore newly-famous Madonna on the radio. "I hate Madonna! I really hate her!" a friend repeated, over and over, and his girlfriend nodded vigorously in agreement. "I hate Madonna too," I said, mostly because I didn't much like her song 'Lucky Star' and didn't yet realize that 'Borderline', a song that I did like, was one of her songs. After hearing more tracks from her debut album, I let this distaste go.

That's how it goes. If some newly-famous singer really gets in your face and crowds your airwaves, there's usually a reason. In 1999, I noticed that all sorts of people were hating on newly-famous Britney Spears for no rational reason, which just meant it was time to pay attention. I mean, people (particularly women) hated Marilyn Monroe with the same irrational fervor, and look how great she turned out.

Now it's 2009, and it's difficult to ignore newly-famous Lady Gaga on the radio:
Pop culture is art. It doesn’t make you cool to hate pop culture, so I embraced it and you hear it all over The Fame. But, it’s a sharable fame. I want to invite you all to the party. I want people to feel a part of this lifestyle
I haven't yet heard anybody say they hate her, but I'm sure I will soon enough.

Blame The Bikini

Tool use? When I think tool use, I think of 'Thus Sprach Zarathustra' from "2001: A Space Odyssey". Yes, maybe it's time for a tool-use field study at "Centerfolds":
Sexy women in bikinis really do inspire some men to see them as objects, according to a new study of male behavior.

Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.

Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as "I push, I grasp, I handle," said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

And in a "shocking" finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another's intentions.

This means that these men see women "as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds," Fiske said. "The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens."

...Scientists have seen this absence of activation only once before, in a study where people were shown off-putting photographs of homeless people and drug addicts.

If a similar study were done with women, Fiske told National Geographic News, it would be hard to predict whether a woman shown a scantily clad male body would dehumanize him in the same way ... because women usually react to men they desire by "interpreting their minds, thinking about what they're interested in, and then trying to please them," she said.
High Maintenance

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

Dude, and his wife too!:
The mistress of a married Chinese businessman whose lover spurned her due to the economic downturn plotted to get back at her lover and his four other paid paramours.

The 29-year-old woman, identified as Yu, drove the man and four other kept women off a mountain precipice after the double sting of losing her income and getting dumped.

Identified as Yu, the woman was the first to be cast out from the married businessman's harem of five mistresses after he held a secret competition to decide which one of them to keep.

After realizing he needed to pare down to just one lover, the entrepreneur, identified as Fan, hired an instructor from a modeling agency to judge which mistress would stay on.

The women were assessed on looks, singing ability, and how much alcohol they could hold, according to

The women all had their rent paid and received a monthly allowance of around $730 from Fan.

After Yu was eliminated in the first round of the competition because of her looks, she decided to get back at Fan and the four other women vying for his money and affections.

She arranged a group sightseeing tour, telling the others it was a farewell outing before she returned to her home province.

She then piloted the car over a cliff on a winding road, killing herself and injuring the others.

Police in China initially thought the Dec. 6 crash was an accident, but learned of the contest in a letter Yu had written before the fateful trip.

...The other mistresses have all left him, and so has his wife.
Not Realistic

Well, at least someone in the Palin household learned something:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter, an unwed mother, says teenagers should avoid having sex.

However, Bristol Palin acknowledges that abstinence is "not realistic at all."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The People's Sheriff Of Chicago

I loved this story of victimized Hispanics getting help:
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, like his counterparts across the nation, has been evicting people from their homes in ever increasing numbers. ... But on October 8 Dart stood before TV cameras and said he'd had enough. Criticizing banks and mortgage companies as heartless, careless and taking advantage of taxpayers, he suspended all mortgage foreclosure evictions.

...In a recent interview Dart said that over the summer he'd become aware that the eviction orders increasingly lacked evidence of the due diligence the banks were supposed to perform. In one instance, he said, his deputies arrived to evict residents from a building that no longer existed, and in other cases they found residents had documents showing they were rightfully in the house. "It was a disaster," he said. "Just complete chaos out there."

The tipping point came with the crisis at 4914-16 North Spaulding, an apartment building full of Hispanic immigrant families in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. Mihail Stancu, a Romanian immigrant, had purchased the building in October 2006 under the guise of MKST Enterprises.... According to City of Chicago senior assistant corporation counsel Steven McKenzie, Stancu's corporation sold the seven units as seven condos, the buyer being Stancu himself, who'd borrowed from seven lenders. Stancu was then in possession of a lot of cash and a lot of debt, and according to McKenzie the Romanian simply abandoned the latter, pocketing as much as $1.2 million, after which he disappeared. McKenzie, who has filed charges against Stancu, reports that the fugitive has been spotted in Spain and Romania.

Stancu had regularly collected rents from his tenants, but the collections stopped after about a year. Unable to reach the owner, tenant Esteban Cruz, an immigrant landscaper and gardener, began collecting the rents, paying for repairs and utilities, and depositing the remainder into a bank account belonging to Stancu. None of the tenants were particularly worried until May 28 of last year, when what seemed to be an eviction notice was posted on the front door and on the mailboxes of all the units. A second threatening notice followed shortly thereafter. Cruz brought the paperwork to the offices of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council. APNC recognized the notices as bank-generated, not court-generated, discovered the condominium ruse and laid out the problem before a housing court judge. The judge recognized that the best course was to put the building into receivership and try to find a single buyer who would convert the condos back into affordable rental housing. Armed with that decision, the tenants should have been safe.

But the eviction threats continued. A locksmith arrived and told one family they had thirty minutes to vacate. APNC organizer Emily Burns fended him off. Not long thereafter, Sheriff Dart's deputies pounded on the door of apartment 1A, demanding entry, armed with eviction papers. They left after finding the family was not listed on their papers, but according to Burns, they said they'd be back in a week to put the family out. Alma Aquino, who works as a cashier at a restaurant in the Loop, says she went to work every morning afraid that her family's possessions would be at the curb when she got home. Her parents, visiting from Mexico, asked what they should do if the deputies came back. "I say, 'Just don't open the door, and call the police.' But my father said, 'They are the police.'"

The APNC decided the sheriff was the problem, and on August 13 the council staged a protest rally in Daley Plaza, denouncing the sheriff, after which APNC board member Diane Limas and six of the Spaulding tenants, including two children, walked into Dart's office asking for a meeting. Three of Dart's aides sat down with the delegates and promised to investigate. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Patterson recalls that within about two days of the protest, Dart said, "You know, these people are right."

On October 8, with the APNC's Burns and Limas in attendance, Dart announced he was suspending mortgage foreclosure evictions.

"These mortgage companies only see pieces of paper, not people, and don't care who's in the building," Dart said. "They simply want their money and don't care who gets hurt along the way. On top of it all, they want taxpayers to fund their investigative work for them. We're not going to do their jobs for them anymore. We're just not going to evict innocent tenants. It stops today."

...In the wake of his announcement, Dart sat down with the chief judge of the Chancery Court and worked out new procedures; the suspension ended ten days after it began. Dart, however, is still receiving paperwork filed before the new procedures were imposed, so he has continued to reject orders. Between October 20 and January 13, he received 232 requests for eviction, and he performed twenty-four. Part of his slow pace can be explained by the annual holiday moratorium on evictions and by cold weather (if it's fifteen degrees or colder at 6 am at O'Hare Airport, no evictions take place). But it also appears that Dart, enjoying the camaraderie of the Joad camp, has no great enthusiasm for getting back up to speed.

...In the meantime, the Spaulding tenants have continued to receive threatening notices from banks and their agents. By mid-January, eleven such notices had been posted. But Jack Markowski, president of the Community Investment Corporation and the receiver appointed to administer the building, thinks the residents will be able to stay for years to come.
Silver Lining In Geithner's Stumbling Debut

Richardson & Roubini see a saving grace:
On Sept. 7, 2008, the government put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship. They were bankrupt because of an accumulated portfolio of $1.5 trillion worth of mortgage-backed securities, of which $225 billion was subprime mortgages and the other $1.275 trillion were illiquid prime mortgages.

While some of Fannie and Freddie's portfolios were hedged against interest rate movements using interest rate swaps, the subprime portion was an outright bet on default rates of low quality mortgages. How much cushion did they have? Only $1 of capital for every $25 of debt. What type of crazy creditor would lend to them? Almost anyone, because the debt had the implicit, now explicit, guarantee of the U.S. government.

With the economic dangers we now face, do we really want to go down this road again?

We don't, and that's why, for all the criticism, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's plan -- call it Bailout 2.0 -- does have a silver lining. It stops the madness.

Yes, Bailout 2.0 lacks details, but it is clear it won't propose more bank freebies -- no new loan guarantee programs or backstops of losses on their bad assets, or government capital infusions in the form of underpriced preferred shares. Now the banks will have to prove themselves via a "stress test" on their solvency to access new capital. It won't be a pretty picture.

And by the way, if banks want Uncle Sam to buy all those "toxic" assets, the government is now going to do it alongside private capital. These investors aren't going to overpay, so that game is up as well.

Since Mr. Geithner's plan has been unveiled, the stock prices of the financial sector are off about 19%. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The banks were expecting another handout.

While it was not his intention, the reality is that Mr. Geithner is going to confirm the insolvency of the financial system. Once we face this truth, there really isn't much left to do but nationalize.

We are not talking about the government operating the banks for the long-term. But, as was done in Scandinavia in the early 1990s, we are talking about orderly clean up, then reselling the banks to private investors.

The good news is that much of the risk will be borne by the banks' common and preferred shareholders and their long-term unsecured creditors -- as opposed to by taxpayers. This makes sense since shareholders and creditors were the ones who bet on banks in the first place. We'll also stop repeating the mistakes we made with Fannie and Freddie.
Harrison Schmitt, Climate Change Denier

Or, if not a denier exactly, certainly willing to wade in those waters:
Schmitt provided Fox News another climate denier moment this week when he said, “I don't think the human effect [of climate change] is significant compared to the natural effect." Schmitt is also speaking at a climate denier conference next month sponsored by none other than the notorious Heartland Institute.

Desmog Blog readers will recall the hilariously unethical stunt pulled by the Heartland Institute last year when they produced a list of 500 scientists who apparently disputed climate change. The problem was that most of these individuals no idea that their reputations were being dragged through the mud by an astroturf group that has so far received almost $800,000 from Exxon.

Enter Harrison Schmitt. Most media coverage of this story has rather lazily reported Schmitt only as a former astronaut and one of the last people to walk on the moon. A lot has happened since 1972. It turns out that Schmitt was the Chairman and President of the Annapolis Center For Science-Based Public Policy between 1994 and 1998, and remains “Chairman Emeritus”.

This may be a lucrative gig given that the Annapolis Centre has received more than $860,000 in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998. But what does money have to do with anything?

Schmitt has also been keeping some very dubious company.

Sallie Baliunas is listed as a member of the Science and Economic Advisory Council of the Annapolis Center. She is described by ExxonSecrets as a “darling of the anti-climate movement, Baliunas has been a central scientist in the fight against action on climate change. She is used by virtually all of the Exxon-funded front groups as their scientific expert.”

Baliunas is associated with a veritable constellation of industry-funded groups opposing carbon regulation including: the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, and of course the Heartland Institute.

The Annapolis Center also honored none other that Senator James Inhofe for “his work in promoting science-based public policy” – a distinction so absurd it almost deserves a laugh track.

Lastly, the Annapolis Center has also spent considerable effort calling into question the well-known link between air pollution and asthma, the impacts of mercury pollution, and the dangers of pesticide residue on food.

Why Schmitt has chosen to associate himself with such an organization since 1994 is of course for you to judge.
In addition to being an astronaut, Schmitt was a U.S. Senator (R) for six years from New Mexico, so it's hardly surprising that science and ideology might be fighting for his allegiance. When I see the quote, “I don't think the human effect [of climate change] is significant compared to the natural effect," I see an effort to split the difference. He's not saying anthropogenic climate change doesn't occur, only that it isn't significant (whatever that means....)

There is a place for skepticism in all these things, of course. For example, even though air pollution aggravates asthma, it's indeed odd that asthma has been growing as a problem, when air pollution levels have been dropping (in California, maximum levels are well below, roughly half, what they were in 1980). Ambient air pollution is likely not the primary cause of the growing asthma problem (maybe indoor air pollution is responsible, which is resistant to regulatory control). If Schmitt wants to talk about that, good for him. We need to know the source of the asthma problem. But when these positions dovetail so closely with economic interests, that's where the trouble is.

Schmitt also needs to remember his expertise is in geology, not climate. It is wiser not to say anything when you know little about it.
Produce The Note, Dammit!

This tactic is so stupid I can't imagine it works, but the current mortgage crisis is so stupid the tactic ends up doing wonders.

The brilliant financial wizards who created securitization should get a trophy! These folks should get a trophy too!:
ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. -- Kathy Lovelace lost her job and was about to lose her house, too. But then she made a seemingly simple request of the bank: Show me the original mortgage paperwork.

And just like that, the foreclosure proceedings came to a standstill.

Lovelace and other homeowners around the country are managing to stave off foreclosure by employing a strategy that goes to the heart of the whole nationwide mess.

During the real estate frenzy of the past decade, mortgages were sold and resold, bundled into securities and peddled to investors. In many cases, the original note signed by the homeowner was lost, stored away in a distant warehouse or destroyed.

Persuading a judge to compel production of hard-to-find or nonexistent documents can, at the very least, delay foreclosure, buying the homeowner some time and turning up the pressure on the lender to renegotiate the mortgage.

"I'm going to hang on for dear life until they can prove to me it belongs to them," said Lovelace, a 50-year-old divorced mother who owns a $200,000 home in Zephyrhills, near Tampa. "I'll try everything I can because it's all I have left."

...Chris Hoyer, a Tampa lawyer whose Consumer Warning Network Web site offers the free court documents Lovelace used to file her request, has played a major role in promoting the produce-the-note strategy.

"We knew early on that the only relief that would ever come to people would be to the people who were in their houses," Hoyer said. "Nobody was going to fashion any relief for people who have already lost their houses. So your only hope was to hang on any way you could."

Tom Deutsch, deputy executive director of the American Securitization Forum, a group that represents banks, law firms and investors, dismissed the strategy as merely a stalling tactic, saying homeowners are "making lawyers jump through procedural hoops to delay what's likely to be inevitable."

Deutsch said the original note is almost always electronically retained and can eventually be found.

Judges are often willing to accept electronic documentation. And lenders are sometimes allowed to produce other paperwork to establish they are the holder of a loan. Still, assembling such documents to a judge's satisfaction takes time, which to homeowners is the point.

...A University of Iowa study last year suggested that companies servicing mortgages are often negligent when it comes to producing the documentation to support foreclosure. In the study of more than 1,700 bankruptcy cases stemming from home foreclosures, the original note was missing more than 40 percent of the time, and other pieces of required documentation also were routinely left out.

The first big success of the produce-the-note movement came in 2007 when a federal judge in Cleveland threw out 14 foreclosures by Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. because the bank failed to produce the original notes.

Michael Silver, a lawyer for two of the families in that case, said at least one eventually lost their home. Still, he considers that a success.

"From the perspective of the person who's in the home, you may have kept them in the house another 10 or 12 months," he said. "If I can get a result with economic benefits to a client, then I think I won."
Cornyn & Stanford, BFF

Senator Cornyn must love the Ponzi Pyramids of Antigua:
So we already knew that Allen Stanford -- the Texas banker charged by the SEC today with running an $8 billion "fraud of shocking magnitude" -- had some pretty impressive political contacts with both parties.

But it looks like his relationship with one of his home-state senators, Republican John Cornyn, may have been especially cozy.

According to Cornyn's Senate disclosure reports -- posted on the site, which tracks privately financed trips by members of Congress -- the Stanford Financial Group paid for the Texas senator and an unnamed companion to take a November 2004 trip down to Antigua and Barbuda, the tiny Carribean nation where the company has its headquarters.
George Will, Crank

As others in the Left Blogosphere have reported, George Will's recent opinion piece in the Washington Post regarding "Global Cooling" is so bad, so ridden with simple errors, that it signals Will's departure from serious opinion. A crank is born every day, and George Will is today's crank baby. Like a forgetful uncle, Will is repeating the same falsehoods over and over, and counting on people's indulgence and poor memory to save him.

Brad Johnson has looked at the matter in greater detail:
Conservative leading light George F. Will recently penned a column claiming global warming is a “hypothetical” calamity. In “Dark Green Doomsayers,” Will attacked Secretary of Energy Steven Chu for discussing a worst-case scenario of California drought caused by the decimation of Sierra snowpack, falsely claiming Chu predicted this will come to pass “no later than 10 years away.” Will also incorrectly claimed that “global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979″ — based on a 45-day-old blog post by Daily Tech’s Michael Asher, one of Marc Morano’s climate denial jokers.

Will’s numerous distortions and outright falsehoods have been well documented by Joe Romm, Nate Silver, Zachary Roth, Brad Plumer, Erza Klein, David Roberts, James Hrynyshyn, Rick Piltz, Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, and others. They recognized that George Will is recycling already rebutted claims from the lunatic fringe, and offer the excellent suggestion that Washington Post editors should require some minimum level of fact-checking.

But I haven’t seen anyone comment that Will is also recycling his own work, republishing an extended passage from a 2006 column — which Think Progress debunked — almost word for word.

I was shocked to discover that there are some people in this world who not only don't like cilantro, but actively hate it:
After picking up a vegetable burrito on his way home from work, Mike Racanelli planted himself in front of his television and took a bite. The smell hit him immediately: cilantro.

Irate, the 29-year-old Chicago band manager drove 20 miles back to the Mexican restaurant where he'd bought the offending item, threw it on the counter, he recalls, and "raised hell," demanding a cilantro-free replacement "immediately."

Later, he decided to vent some more. He recounted his experience on a Facebook networking group called "I HATE CILANTRO." Social-networking Web sites have emerged as a bonding place for the multitudes who share his aversion to the pungent herb. The group has 894 members; there are some 40 other Facebook groups dedicated to cilantro bashing.

...Many people say it tastes soapy, rotten or just plain vile. Just a whiff of it is enough to make them push away their plates.

Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, is the leaves of the herb coriander, native to the eastern Mediterranean region. Cultivated for more than 3,000 years, the herb was used by Roman and Greek physicians, including Hippocrates, to make medicines. During the Chinese Han dynasty some 2,000 years ago, it was thought to have the power to make people immortal, according to Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.

...Cilantro haters complain that it is showing up in unexpected places. Erin Hollingsworth, a 26-year-old editor at an environmental Web site, says she detected it in a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder she ordered at a New York lunch place.

"I thought to myself: 'No, it couldn't be. Really. Is this a joke? Who puts cilantro in Manhattan clam chowder?'" she wrote in her blog, "I Hate Cilantro: A Look Inside the Life of a Cilantro Hater and Food Lover." Ms. Hollingsworth says she now lies to waiters, telling them she's allergic to cilantro. "People take you seriously that way," she says.

...Dr. Wysocki contends dislike of cilantro stems from its odor, not its taste. His hypothesis is that those who don't like it are unable to detect chemicals in the leaf that are pleasing to those who like the herb.

..."My family is Mexican and I always feel guilty that I don't like it," wrote Natalie Sample, a geography major at the University of Washington, in a Facebook posting. It's "like somehow I am letting my heritage down for [not] liking such an important element of our cooking."

...One group member confessed that she once "threw a burrito across my living room because, despite my specific delivery order, it was packed with cilantro. no joke."

...Some cilantro lovers are fighting back. Their groups include "Cilantro is totally sexy!" and "cilantro is the paramount herb."

...Tana D'Amico, 43, is a reformed cilantro hater. The Toronto native founded a cilantro-bashing group on Facebook. But later she tasted the salsa at a local restaurant and suddenly "really liked the freshness" of it.

"I fought a brave battle to fight for your rights to live in a Cilantro free society," she wrote in a letter of resignation as the group's president. But, she confessed: "The guilt has been building and churning for months."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dream Weavers

From A Night Light:
So the House Republicans are bragging about their opposition to the stimulus bill ... with a video that uses Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle"? And they're bragging about ... doing nothing? America deserves a better opposition party than that, and the opposition party deserves a more appropriate theme song.

The role of the opposition is to present different ideas, propose alternatives, challenge the party in power to think differently. You know - all that civic stuff. Instead we get a song selection that's as poorly thought out as the party's platform. I mean, have they even listened to "Back in the Saddle"? One of its more printable lines is "four bits gets you time in the racks." That's right. Eric Cantor, the man who took Tom DeLay's old job, has just chosen for his battle cry a tune about prostitution in the Wild West.

Is this a theme song or a cry for help?
The Land Down Under

John sends this photo (from Reddit).

The land Down Under is water (or at least that portion in northern Queensland).
Stock Market Thud

7,552.60, down 297.81. Now, stop this pointless jumping around and stay there for awhile! Get people used to the idea that this is the new reality....

Monday, February 16, 2009


This afternoon, J. suggested seeing "Coraline", a movie I hadn't heard of at all, since I don't watch TV to any real extent, and don't read children's books either. So, I said OK.

This stop-motion animated 3-D picture was directed by Henry Selick, who also directed "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The two movies share many common features, not least of which is that they both have a vast, almost-incalculable impact on impressionable kids (of whom I include myself). I described before the impact of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and how it affected an entire generation of kids. This movie will do the same! What an excellent movie! Really, it's better than "The Nightmare Before Christmas"!

Lately, I've been having a dream, which varies from night to night, but has a common theme. My house is a large, rambling house. Underneath the house is a multi-level series of caverns, prone to breakdown and collapse. Almost like an anthill.

The source of the dream is easy to understand. The south side of the house has been undermined over the last century by pooling water, and is slowly slumping. Indeed, someday it might even collapse, say, if a tremor from a Napa or Tahoe earthquake were to coincide with a heavy rainstorm. So, the house has issues....

Indeed, the house is 100 years old. The County Recorder's Office lists its birth date as 1908. Bill The Carpenter reminds me, however, that construction stopped on a lot of Sacramento houses in 1906, when the San Francisco earthquake led to an immense demand for local carpentry labor. Sacramento construction virtually stopped for a time, as carpenters made a bee line for the Bay Area, so the house might even be a couple of years older, and date from 1906.

So, when Coraline arrived from Pontiac, MI to her new home in Ashland, OR, into a large, rambling house that was 150 years old, and when she discovered an alternate house through a tunnel through a small door in the wall, I felt like I had arrived in an animated version of my own anxiety dream.

Coraline is shown three wonders in her alternate universe: a circus of mice, a trapeze exhibition in a theater, and a garden. The theatricality of it all just heightens the dreamy aspect of the show (and I'm sure it's no coincidence they placed the story Ashland - the Shakespeare capital of the West).

I was particularly struck by the manner Coraline's alternate universe eventually unraveled - in strips of fragmenting pixels. Recently, I blogged about how physicists might be able to reconcile problems with certain physical laws if they assume the world we know is actually a hologram, consisting of blurred pixels, projected from a giant, distant cinema screen on the boundary of the Universe more than 13.5 billion light years away. "Coraline" makes explicit these underlying assumptions about the order of the Universe.

The audience had its special types. As soon as the first significant 3-D trick hit the screen, a guy 5 seats down shouted "Dope!" A baby started crying, and 'Dope' shouted "Why did you bring a baby in here anyway?" I shouted to 'Dope' to be quiet.

With the problems in the automotive industry, many kids will be leaving the Midwest - if they haven't left already, they will be leaving soon - from places like Pontiac, MI, and heading with their parents to unfamiliar places like Ashland, OR. "Coraline" speaks to their fears, and their needs.

A great show!

I like the comments over at imdb:
Author: SethGecko96

Henry Selick, the director of " The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach", once again takes us to a world full of imagery and wonder...but this time...some of it is actually frightening. It was filled with such magic and enchantment that I completely forgot that it was a dark tale..until the occasional scares filled the air. It has some highly fun and amusing characters in it also, and that is the strongest thing of the movie. After viewing it, I came to the conclusion it was basically an "Alice in Wonderland" tale (girl entering new and strange world, plus the cat that talks makes it obvious) but this world has a dark twist. Filled with a great cast and terrific visionary, I feel this movie is fun for all ages (who says kiddos shouldn't be scared?)

Author: Greg Treadway

Feisty eleven-year-old Coraline walks through a secret door and discovers a parallel reality. That reality is sort of similar to the life she already knows yet deeply unsettling in a number of ways. Coraline (voice of Dakota Fanning) begins a journey of adventure and self discovery when her parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman) relocate the family to Oregon from Michigan. No one in this new space has time for her so she spends her time exploring her new neighborhood with an talkative local boy named Wybie Lovat (Robert Bailey Jr.). After discovering the odd neighbors all of whom are true characters, she is still bored somehow.

All of this immense undertaking is courtesy writer and director Henry Selick, director of Nightmare Before Christmas, and the well crafted adaptation of Neil Gaiman's international best-selling children's novel. To Selick's credit this is the first 3D stop motion ever made; stereoscopic 3D. Selick himself worked on the film for three years. The style is stunning and the story is an unwavering fairy-tale nightmare that has some genuinely scary moments. is a masterful movie and an exciting tale of mystery and imagination.

In the rotting nooks and crannies of Coraline's new home the real story begins and where she discovers a hidden doorway behind the wallpaper. Inside is her alternate space where there are doubles of her distracted parents now lavish loving attention on Coraline, the oddball neighbors are friendlier, and her pesky friend long longer speaks. Only her parents' eyes now black buttons give a clue that something isn't quite right.

Selick has created a world as much for adults as children as there are references dotted throughout that the young won't understand. The imagery, however, is very child like. Both talents live side by side and bodes well for Selick's previous work in Nightmare before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and even Monkeybone. His work has always been fascinating. Gaiman is to be credited with the story for sure, but this is Selick through and through. This film is sure to become an instant classic and as well executed as this movie is it should be.

Author: uruseiranma

Almost 3 weeks ago, I attended a screening from Ain't It Cool News to see Henry Selick's latest film, 'Coraline.' I was excited because the screening would showcase the film in 3-D technology, and there was the chance to do a Q&A with Director Henry Selick (unfortunately due to bad weather, Mr. Selick did not make it to our screening).

Before going in to see 'Coraline,' I had read the book on which the film was based. While many acclaimed it for it's storyline, I found it rather dull and predictable. I've been surrounded by fans of Neil Gaiman's work, though so far had never picked up a book written by him (though 'American Gods' did pique my interest).

Going into the film, I was not quite sure what to expect. I had had tastes of the film from the trailers, but the general consensus was that Henry Selick had tarnished Gaiman's story, turning it into 'Disney fodder.' The truth is: the film manages to be both charming and creepy.

For those not in the know, "Coraline" tells the tale of Coraline Jones, who moves to a new town and a house with several strange characters. As well, Coraline's parents just seem to have no time for her, and so she takes to exploring her new abode by herself. In her exploration, she uncovers a small door in the house, which seems to lead to nowhere. But upon revisiting the door late at night, it opens onto a parallel world that is much more whimsical and fun than the real world.

The one difference is that in the 'Other World,' almost all the inhabitants have buttons for eyes. But still, the other parents in this world pay attention to Coraline, and the rather blasé atmosphere of the real world is electrified with color and interesting flights of fancy. It seems just so perfect...or is it? Henry Selick manages to take Neil Gaiman's story, and crafts a world that just seems to take great advantage of stop-motion in a world where the obvious choice would be to go for a totally computer-generated world. Seeing minute details such as Coraline's clothing made of actual material makes the world seem even more magical, where invisible giants manipulate the Lilliputians in this miniature world.

Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and a number of other vocal actors give voice to a number of wonderful characters, with Hatcher really doing double and triple-duty with her vocal talents. Fanning on the other hand, fleshes out a character that seemed rather dull in Gaiman's work. Her voice gives Coraline the life that I didn't think was possible.

One unsung hero (along with the countless animators who will be passed over in the press junkets) is the composer, Bruno Corlais. Mr. Corlais had never crossed my ears until the screening, but his music lends a touch of brilliance to the film, and makes it seem almost like a European production. Growing up in he US in the early 80's, I saw a number of stop-motion productions from Europe that played on the Nickelodeon show 'Pinwheel.' Corlais' music just transported me to that simpler of times when music didn't need to be 'commercial.' His score really helps to establish the world as well, and uses some instruments that may sound foreign to American ears.

And if anyone is questioning if the 3-D is worth it-it is! This isn't the fly-in-your-face 3-D that was seen 2-3 decades ago. It's subtler, but gives dimension to the miniature world of 'Coraline.' I think if you showed this film to a child in 3-D, they'd go home dreaming of creating their own little worlds of stop-motion puppets.

For the year 2009, 'Coraline' so far (as of 2/6/09), is my first enjoyable film experience. I'm hoping my other upcoming film hopefuls (Watchmen, Up, Transformers 2) will also make me feel as positive.
The Root Of Our Difficulties

Roger Sanchez- Turn On The Music

Always liked this tune. Wouldn't it be fun to be like Bobby Farell?
Ballet Advice Not Always Correct

Pam Kay (instructing the class on correct arm placement): Remember, you have to make a statement with your arms. Sometimes we say imagine holding onto a beach ball, or a pizza. Expand your arms. Through expansion you will find success!

Marc: Well, that's what CitiBank did, and look how well that worked for them!
Broken Hill Dust Storm Australia

John says:
Jeez, I'll take a tornado over this (but then, in Oklahoma we have both....)
Like the woman on the video says, "it looks like Ayers Rock!"
An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Carolyn sends this....
Christian Bale On "Family Guy"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

If It Doesn't Happen In Vegas, It Doesn't Have To Stay There

Vegas is now getting all ripped up by its image as a haven for spendthrift debauchery. Ironically, the local boosters double-downed on that decadent image to replace the earnest family-friendly marketing of the late 80's-early 90's (which replaced the decadent marketing of the 70's, etc. etc.) Now, no one is interested in sin:
Some locals who depend on conventions to survive say they can't afford the war of words going on between President Obama and Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Last week, both Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs canceled corporate junkets scheduled to take place here in Las Vegas.

They were trying to get away from the perception that they are taking the money given to them in these bailout packages and using it to treat their CEO's to lavish vacations.

The comment President Obama made about the matter at a town hall meeting on Monday was:

"You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you've paid taxpayers back, you can't get corporate jets, you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers dime."

...Gaming revenues fell every month last year and they were down nearly 19% in December which is a drop of 9.7% for all of 2008.

That is the worst gaming revenue decline in Nevada's history.
But as Richard Abowitz notes, few convention vacations are as inexpensive as the Vegas convention vacation. The city's habit of fronting inflated list prices in order to convey the illusion to the sponsors that they are getting a good deal is a big part of the problem:
Last Friday CNN reported on a convention taking place this week at the Venetian for a group called the American Securitization Forum. In a voice-over, the correspondent offered this on the attendees:

"They'll huddle here at the five-star Venetian on the Vegas Strip, where gondolas float beneath $300-a-night rooms, hobnobbing with government officials, doing business deals, trying to plug leaks in an industry that's been kept afloat by government bailouts."

I was dubious and challenged the $300 price by going to the Venetian site and finding rooms in some cases for $145, less than half of that CNN price quote. I tried, without success, to reach CNN to find out where the $300 number came from.

Today, the Review-Journal makes a similar point in a front page story that takes on the CNN report. The Review-Journal notes of the CNN story: "The report cited '$300 hotel rooms,' as an example of extravagance, even though rooms at The Venetian are actually going for $189 per night on Las Vegas hotel-booking Web sites." The Review-Journal makes no note of any effort they may have made to reach CNN to find out where the cable news network got that $300-a-night number.

...In fact, this example shows how the perception that Vegas is outrageously expensive and for top-tier extravagance only has been nurtured and fostered by the resorts. Why? The resorts want you to think that you have a bargain price and value. You are getting a $319 room and paying only $219. But even that $219 is a bit much when compared with lower rates online. There are also multiple packages that include discounted rooms along with, say, airfare. So the higher the official rate for a room, the more wiggle room for the wide range of coded packages and discounts the resorts are constantly putting together and sending out to anyone who registers on their sites.

...This tactic of fronting inflated prices to create a sense that people have received a deal is what is hurting Vegas now so badly. The media cannot be blamed for quoting list prices even if locals know that list prices are not what things really cost.

I think now is the time to start announcing openly how cheaply rooms can be had in Vegas, as well as promoting honesty in pricing of show tickets. Otherwise, I think Las Vegas really might become a "toxic city" for convention business. Vegas needs to do more than offer bargains, but actually front-and-center how cheaply things can be had here right now.

On Monday night, Goldman Sachs Group pulled out of a three-day meeting at Mandalay Bay set for later this month. They are holding the convention instead in San Francisco. ... A Mandalay Bay official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release customer information, said the bank agreed to pay the hotel $600,000 to cancel its reservation.

...If I get this right, Goldman Sachs would rather spend more money paying Mandalay Bay to cancel and then book a San Francisco hotel, than come to Vegas now. In other words, the issue is no longer about the best place to hold a cost-effective meeting, but the perception that a meeting in Vegas on its face is wasteful spending, whereas spending even more to go to San Francisco can sidestep the controversy -- even if getting that to happen requires meeting the very definition of wasteful spending (paying for the same convention essentially twice).

Vegas had better be quick and proactive in reminding people that our convention business and facilities are meant to be affordable or we are in for some grim times from a wound that is increasingly looking self-inflicted.
Americans in general, and Vegas in particular, have a very strong "B.S." culture. Everybody wants to hear the fantasy, not the truth.

Bad times are very hard on the B.S. culture, however. People finally want to hear the truth, even if it hurts. One example is how rapidly musical theater faded during the Vietnam War. People were no longer interested in fantasy characters singing down the street. Instead, they wanted to stick it to the man. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples. The Great Depression was full of examples.

Just drop the special deals and tell people what the rooms really cost, for chrissakes....
Chocolate At Chaco Canyon

Archaeologists have long known that Chaco Canyon hosted macaws. Macaws! These large and colorful birds - presumably pets - were far away from their native Costa Rica and, together with chocolate, represent another "refinement far beyond the bare necessities of survival".
Many people balk at the idea that North America had any substantial civilization before 1492, the moment that it is customarily believed this continent switched from prehistory to history. I remember being on a National Public Radio talk show and a caller accused me of making an unwarranted upgrade when I said there was civilization in the ancient Southwest.

A thousand years ago, people in the Southwest had not invented the wheel, had no armies and relied on stone tools, which has marked them as uncivilized. They are imagined as cavemen. But the recent discovery of chocolate in a broken jar from pre-Columbian New Mexico might be enough to change that kind of thinking.

North Americans in the early centuries AD were gathering into population centers, dabbling in metallurgy and domesticating animals such as dogs and turkeys. Public works were going full swing. Beneath the modern city of Phoenix you will find remains of several hundred miles of mathematically engineered irrigation canals that once fed a hydraulic society on a par with early Mesopotamia.

Structures now known as "great houses" once stood in the Four Corners region -- where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet. They were masonry compounds rising as tall as five stories, their ground plans going on for acres, interiors honeycombed into hundreds of rooms including massive, vaulted ceremonial chambers.

Such an architectural landscape defies cliches about this continent's history. Add into this picture trade routes extending more than 1,000 miles along which goods were being moved from Central America into what is now the United States. These goods included copper implements, live tropical birds and, now we know, chocolate.

Chocolate is the cherry on top of Southwest archaeology, and it tips the balance of perspective.

The recent find comes from a 1,000-year-old site in New Mexico that had trade relations with people far to the south. It is the first time pre-Columbian chocolate has been found this far north. As trivial as it may seem, the discovery says a lot about early civilization in North America. Most remarkable is the context of this discovery.

Theobromine, a chemical marker for cacao, was detected on shards from the rare cylindrical jars found in a sprawling pre-Columbian ruin in northwestern New Mexico. The jars are tall, open-mouthed and about as slender as a wine bottle. Only about 200 have been found intact, and they have long presented archaeologists with an enigma. What were they used for? The only jars showing similar form belonged to Mayans who occupied great city-states 1,500 miles to the south in the jungles of southern Mexico and Central America. There, these jars were used in chocolate-drinking rituals. But what were they doing here?

Chocolate finally answers the question. People in the Southwest were doing the same thing as Mayans, both engaged in a chocolate-imbibing tradition with the same sort of ritualized vessels. We have long known about trade items coming up from Mayan territory, but this is the first proof of an actual formality shared between these two regions. The Southwest suddenly looks like it was not so far off the map.

This is what civilization is about: Distant but connected people spending time on mutual ephemera, a refinement far beyond the bare necessities of survival. In the Southwest, people traded along more than 1,000 miles, engineered massive irrigation systems, erected monuments and sipped bitter chocolate from courtly jars.

We often look back on prehistoric Indians through Manifest Desinty-colored glasses -- we see a proud and vanishing race, but not civilization-builders. ... That era is over. Too much archaeological and ethno-historical evidence has accumulated against it. What happened here 1,000 years ago stands up to Stonehenge and Ban Chiang. Given another several centuries -- based on timelines followed on other continents -- North America could have become a major player in world civilization, but it was stopped short by the wide-scale cultural unrest between AD 1200 and 1400, followed by the arrival of Christopher Columbus, then smallpox, then the trappings of pioneers. If not for these obstacles, the people here might have turned the Colorado River into another Nile.