Saturday, March 14, 2009


Images from the magic of chutney at B3ta.

"The Sound Of Music" - Third Friday

Left: Louisa (Jasmin M.), Liesl (Moriah H.), Friedrich (Rami R.), Brigitta (Kendyl I.), Gretl (Rose M.), Kurt (William C.), and Marta (Ani C., obscured).

Left: Giorgio Selvaggio as Captain von Trapp. Front row; Gretl (Rose M.), Kurt (William C.), Marta (Ani C.), Brigitta (Kendyl I.). Back row; Louisa (Jasmin M.), Friedrich (Rami R.), and Liesl (Moriah H).

Left: Emily Cannon-Brown as Elsa Schraeder.

Below: Herb Schultz as Max Detweiler, Giorgio Selvaggio as Captain von Trapp and Emily Cannon-Brown as Elsa Schraeder.

Left: Emily Cannon-Brown as Elsa Schraeder, Giorgio Selvaggio as Captain von Trapp and Herb Schultz as Max Detweiler.

Left: Brigitta (Kendyl I.), Louisa (Jasmin M.), Gretl (Rose M.), Liesl (Moriah H.), Maria (Kay Hight), Marta (Ani C.), and Friedrich (Rami R.).

Left: Gretl (Rose M.), Kurt (William C.), Louisa (Jasmin M.), Herb Schultz as Max Detweiler, and Marta (Ani C.).

Friday, March 13, 2009

All In For Britney

After lots of wincing, I finally bought two tickets for Britney Spears on April 11th.

I was amused by this article in this month's Outword Magazine talking about Derrick Barry, Britney impersonator:
Britney Spears will be coming to ARCO Arena for her first performance in Sacramento on April 11. [Derrick] Barry on the other hand will be performing on the intimate stage at Badlands on Friday, April 3 [8 p.m.].

The 25 year-old Barry is a native of Modesto, where at the age of 12 he began performing in junior high productions, later moving onto high school and college shows. But it was a Halloween costume in 2003 - when friends first told him how much he looked like Spears. - that helped launch him on his current career as a female impersonator.

When Spears was scheduled to appear on the Jay Leno Show, Barry managed to get a seat in the audience. It was only the second time that he had gotten dressed up as
Spears, but production personnel spotted him and got him on camera. When Leno pointed out the amazing resemblance, Spears laughed and clapped for him, and a
new career was launched.

An appearance on America’s Got Talent quickly followed and he was an obvious audience pleaser and had judge David Hasselhoff jokingly question his own sexuality. Barry made it to the semi-finals.

In June of 2004, Barry became the youngest cast member in a Las Vegas show called An Evening at La Cage, a six-day-a-week revue of female impersonators at the Riviera Hotel and Casino.
Is Nothing Sacred?

From J.:
The Sears Tower in Chicago will soon have a new name. A global insurance broker, Willis Group Holdings, announced that it would place its name on the 110-story skyscraper. ... A spokeswoman for the Sears Holdings Corporation said that officials were “saddened” by the coming name change but that the company had no naming rights to its former headquarters, which was the tallest building in the world when it was built in 1973.
Glenn Beck On The Alabama Shooting

One of the under-appreciated lessons of radical violence in the Sixties was that, if you indulge in it, you alienate people who might otherwise be your allies. That was the key reason the Weathermen never gained any real influence at all in American politics and why the New Left had no staying power.

I'm surprised America's Right hasn't suffered any violence, after all the damage it's done around the world. That reticence to go medieval on conservatives is among the reasons Progressives are slowly gaining the upper hand in American politics. It's more mature, and it wins allies.

Thus, I find it amusing that Bill O'Reilly, of all people, is pressed into pulling back Glenn Beck from his PC-rage fantasy.

Go ahead, Glenn. Make my day....
Wall Street Metaphor

From Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1925).
Trust No One With Your Investment Money

When tools like (former Republican California Congressman) Christopher Cox run the SEC:
1. Helen Chaitman, 67

Occupation: Attorney
Relationship to Madoff: Says she's invested money with Madoff since 2005

"Justice was served. I lost my entire savings, it was a lot of money...I think we've all learned that we can't trust the SEC. That was the big mistake I made. [Madoff] was recommended to me and I recognized after looking at his program that the only risk was that he [could be] a fraud, and I took great comfort in the fact that the SEC had investigated him and found him clean. I would not have invested had I not seen the SEC stamp of approval...He was earning 10% [returns] at a time when hedge funds were earning 20, 30, 40%. He wasn't offering extraordinary returns, but he was offering reliable returns with the SEC stamp of approval. "

2. Burt Ross, 65

Occupation: Retired; former mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.
Relationship to Madoff: Says he invested with Madoff since 2004

"I spoke to him on the phone one time and congratulated him on the great work he was doing. Very wealthy friends recommended him. You obviously have to be careful. The SEC blew it. The Justice Department did not blow it. They deserve a lot of support and praise for what they did. In three months they put this guy behind bars for life. I lost a good chunk of my net worth [and I'm] unlikely to regain that. I probably will have to work longer but I don't consider work a four-letter word. I have to figure out what I'm going to do."

3. DeWitt Baker, 84

Occupation: Retired book publisher
Relationship to Madoff: Says he invested with Madoff since December 1994

"[My wife and I] don't know how much we really lost...[but it was] in the millions. Any discretionary money is gone...All the [regulations] that I saw as a young kid going through school that were put in during the '30s to keep this from happening have gone away. Congress doesn't fund the SEC enough. They don't have enough investigators. We'll live on our income stream. There is nothing [left] to protect. Fourteen years is a long time [to invest with someone] and you find you get very comfortable."


5. Miriam Siegman, 65

Occupation: Retired, consultant for nonprofit human rights association
Relationship to Madoff: Says she's been investing with Madoff since 1992

"The fact that he'll be in prison doesn't help either the victims nor does it prevent future catastrophes. I've lost everything...and it was millions... [My trust in the SEC] was never very great to begin with. But the government agencies in this case from the early '70s failed. This is total failure. Banking committees, financing committees in Congress, Sen. Schumer, Sen. Lautenberg -- all of them failed. I had retired. You know what the job market is like...Money I earn from here on won't need to be protected. It will be spent on food."


7. Jason Bocchinfuso, 25

Occupation: Security officer
Relationship to Madoff: Says he has no relationship to Madoff.

"He really messed things up for everybody in this country. The guy is going to get what he deserves, but really at 70 years old, how much is he really going to serve? The faith in our nation is shattered. If this is going on with these guys that we're supposed could anybody want to invest in anything? I'm a young guy and I'm just starting out. It's really shattered me and my entire generation to be honest. If this was a blue-collar crime, the book would have been thrown at him. I think he's going to get a country club treatment and I bet he'll end up [with] a Martha Stewart-type deal. "
Massive Oil Slick

Left: Moreton Island.

These are some very handsome beaches. They've got to jump on this, and fast:
ANOTHER batch of spilled fuel oil is set to hit Queensland's already scarred beaches this weekend after the worst environmental disaster in the region's history.

Authorities yesterday admitted the oil spill was more than twice as large as initially thought and warned the worst might be yet to come.

Amid the political bickering, there were accusations the Filipino master of the MV Pacific Adventurer had lied about how much fuel was lost and that the response by the Government was too slow.

Fears are also held that 31 shipping containers missing off the coast could be floating time bombs for passing cargo ships, making for an even bigger disaster.

But Maritime Safety Queensland general manager John Watkinson yesterday said his main concern was that more oil broken up in the rough seas was yet to come ashore, which would produce a second wave of the damaging oil slick.

Up to 80 tonnes of oil has spread from the southern end of Moreton Island to its northwestern shore and on to Bribie Island and at least five Sunshine Coast beaches: Marcoola, Mudjimba, Buddina, Kawana and Wurtulla.

In some places, the sludge left on previously pristine beaches is 10cm deep.

Oil is also trapped in parts of Honeymoon Bay on Cape Moreton, one of the prettiest part of the island. Fears are held for wildlife, so far 13 oil-affected animals have been spotted.

Deputy Premier Paul Lucas said he was furious the ship's master had told authorities less oil was spilled than actually had occurred.

This put response crews in a difficult situation and caused the immediate scale of response to be less than required.

"If these (shipping) people have done the wrong thing, I want the book thrown at them in relation to misleading us," Mr Lucas said. "There's no place for people who don't secure cargo if that's what's happened in relation to the leaking of oil."
Putsch Coming

Or so we are told:
The call by some right wing leaders for rebellion and for the military to refuse the commander in chief’s orders is joined by Chuck Norris who claims that thousands of right wing cell groups have organized and are ready for a second American Revolution. During an appearance on the Glen Beck radio show he promised that if things get any worse from his point of view he may “run for president of Texas.” The martial artist/actor/activist claims that Texas was never formally a part of the United States in the first place and that if rebellion is to come through secession Texas would lead the way.

Today in his syndicated column on WorldNetDaily Norris reiterates the point: “That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.”

He continues; calling on a second American Revolution; “…we've bastardized the First Amendment, reinterpreted America's religious history and secularized our society until we ooze skepticism and circumvent religion on every level of public and private life.

How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution? We the people have the authority according to America's Declaration of Independence, which states: That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

Norris claims that; “Thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation.” The right wing cells will meet during a live telecast, "We Surround Them," on Friday March 13 at 5 p.m.
Axis Of Weasels

Helpful feature at TPM putting faces on the names of the villains who caused our economic crisis. If you are looking for scapegoats, blame these people, rather than some Chicanos in Santa Clarita.
The Global Financial Pyramid

Jim sends this interesting article.

Commenting "Bernie Maddoff was a piker," Jim continues:
I ran across this article today from an economic series in the Manchester Guardian titled "Road to Ruin". The author, Dan Roberts, uses a simple graphics guide to show how the entire global economy is functionally equivalent to a Super Ponzi scheme. The simple answer to the hypothetical question, "where did all the money go?", is nowhere, it never really existed. Until the price of a house falls to the value of the bricks and lumber plus the man-hours of immigrant labor to rebuild it, the economy will continue to contract. Attempts to pump "money" into the economy will only devalue the currency. The cost (price) of materials and labor will rise (inflate) until price = value. We are in for a long haul and a rough ride. I suspect Bernie understood this clearly and just underestimated the tipping point. Unrestrained economic growth looks a lot like unrestrained population growth, with similar consequences.

Have a nice decade.
Extended Jon Stewart Interview With Jim Cramer


Like John says:
Journalism at its finest. How did we arrive at a point where a fake news anchor does the best interviews with the most insighful and productive questions?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Model Bootcamp

This sounds alluring. I'd go, but I lack the required camouflage:
  • Have you always dreamed of being in a music video with someone like Beyonce?
  • On the cover of Cosmopolitan?
  • A Playboy centerfold?
  • On the Victoria's Secret Runway?

You can meet and talk with a professional model this Sunday, PLUS get a FREE hip-hop lesson from one of our professional instructors! You'll be given a sneak preview of our exclusive Bootcamp for models in the Sierras May 15-17, with an opportunity for early registration for this limited space event!

Sunday March 15th, 8:30-10:30 a.m., Step One Studios, 1920 T Street, Sacramento, 95811.

There Are No Stoopid Questions

J. in San Jose writes:
So I'm waiting for the light to change at South 4th Street and San Carlos St. and the guy next to me asks, "Where is NORTH 4th Street?"
For some reason this reminds me of something that happened once when I lived in Corrales, NM.

I was walking down the village's main thoroughfare, and a man driving with his family stopped his car, got out, approached, and started asking me questions:

Man: "Do you know where Highway 40 is?"
Marc: "No, I've never heard of Highway 40."
Man: "What do you mean, you've never heard of Highway 40?"
Marc: "Well, there is a Highway 44 a few miles to the north. It takes you to Farmington."
Man: "But I'm looking for Highway 40."

(after five fruitless minutes talking about Highway 40, with the man's family drooping in the heat)

Marc: "Oh, you mean INTERSTATE 40!"
Award Show Cheese

Campy fun between Kylie and the hosts at the 2009 Brit Awards....
"Sound Of Music" Mentioned In Tuesday's "Capitol Morning Report"

Apparently not available for non-subscribers, though.
Music Molds The Brain

All those hours practicing the piano pay off big time by biologically enhancing a person's ability to quickly recognize and mentally process sounds that carry emotion, according to a new study.

The study, from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., offers a new line of evidence that the brain we end up with is not necessarily the same brain we started out with.

...Kraus and a team of researchers attached electrodes to the heads of 30 people, half of whom were serious musicians and half of whom had no significant musical training. The electrodes measure electricity, "which is, of course, the currency of the nervous system," Kraus said. The study revealed two major differences between the musicians and the nonmusicians.

Musicians heard an emotion-packed, complex sound with an enhanced sensitivity, and they also were less distracted by simple sounds, according to the study, published in the current issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience.

"What we found in this study is both an enhancement and an economy of resources varies as a function of the extent of musical experience," Kraus said. "The more years the person has been playing an instrument, and the earlier the person began musical training, the larger the effect."

Although many other studies have tried to show the beneficial effects of musical training, the researchers said their findings "provide the first biological evidence for behavioral observations indicating that musical training enhances the perception of vocally expressed emotion." The findings have implications far beyond the world of music.

"The same neural transcription process that is enhanced in musicians is found to be deficient in some children with language disorders such as dyslexia and autism," Kraus noted.

The research suggests that something as basic as musical training may be a useful therapeutic device, along with other more traditional techniques.

...The researchers relied on an emotion-packed sound that has been used for many years by scientists around the world who have studied auditory processes -- the sound of an infant crying. That sound carries an enormous emotional load, but it is also a surprisingly complex sound.

...As expected, the musicians had an enhanced ability to pick up on the emotional cues of the sound. But the researchers were a little surprised to learn that the musicians were more attuned to the complex sounds -- those carrying the most emotion -- than to the less significant "periodic" sounds of crying. That allowed them to devote more resources to the important sounds and virtually ignore the sounds that carried little emotion.

...The findings might seem open to the chicken-and-egg debate. Did the musicians perform better because they are naturally more sensitive to sounds, and thus more likely to study music? Or did their nervous systems change because they were exposed to music for more than a decade?

The researchers feel confident the correct answer is the latter.

"With musician studies you always wonder if the person was just born with a more accurate sensor," Kraus said. "And there's probably an element of that. We're all a combination of nature and nurture."

But the fact that all the musicians performed so much better than the nonmusicians clearly shows that the study of music -- not an innate musical aptitude -- literally changed the way the musicians' brains processed sounds, the researchers concluded.

...In other words, we aren't just who we are. We're also what we have done.
Stop Blaming The Poor For The Subprime Crisis

Go somewhere else for your scapegoats! An excellent column from the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez, and carried in Vida En El Valle:
Blame the hedge fund managers. The subprime mortgages. Mismanagement at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. Detroit automakers' stubborn refusal to build more energy-saving vehicles.

Blame the regulatory apathy of the Bush years. The bookkeeping tricks. (War? What war? Not in W.'s deficit numbers.) The unregulated credit default swaps. The blind devotion to Wall Street without a thought for Main Street.

Most of all, blame unadulterated greed.

Just don't blame the working poor and middle-class folks who bought into the American dream that if you work hard, you can one day own your little castle. Don't play class warfare after a decade of corporate welfare.

Conservative talking heads and some members of Congress continue to blame the subprime loan mess -- which led to the housing collapse -- on a 1977 law meant to help poor communities build wealth. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) requires banks and savings and loans to make credit available to poor communities that bank with them. In the 1990s then-President Bill Clinton put more bite into the law by tying those institutions' expansion to their efforts to make responsible loans to working folks.

Remember red-lining by banks? Because those of us who grew up here certainly remember the abuses, when blacks and Hispanics couldn't get a break on a loan for a business or a home, even when non-Hispanic whites of comparable means got theirs.

Here's the truth: Most sub-prime loans weren't made by banks and savings and loans, which are subject to CRA rules. They originated with mortgage service companies -- remember all those ''deals'' online? -- or affiliates of banks that aren't beholden to CRA rules.

Ellen Seidman ran the federal Office of Thrift Supervision from 1997 to 2001, which oversaw savings and loans. She writes in The Ladder, a blog at the New America Foundation, that ``while many of us warned against bad subprime lending before the turn of the millennium, the massive breakdown of underwriting and extension of risky products far down the income scale -- without bothering to even check on income -- was primarily a post-2003 phenomenon. To blame a statute enacted in 1977 for something that happened 25 years later takes a fair amount of chutzpah.''

And here's the kicker: The Bush administration weakened CRA enforcement in 2005, and that's when the ''creative'' adjustable-rate mortgages shot up among banks and thrifts. Even then, they make up only about 20 percent of the subprime explosion, according to congressional testimony.

Were there poor people who got in over their heads? Absolutely -- and the vast majority weren't poor. Many were well-off speculators.
I Get E-Mail About Illegals

Left: A chart from the source of all good and true things, the Internet...

J. send this:
Back during The Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover ordered the deportation of ALL illegal aliens in order to make jobs available to American citizens that desperately needed work.

Harry Truman deported over two million Illegal's after WWII to create jobs for returning veterans.

And then again in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican nationals! The program was called 'Operation Wetback' so that American WWII and Korean veterans had a better chance at jobs.

It took 2 years, but they deported them!

Now, if they could deport the illegals back then, they can sure do it today!!

If you have doubts about the veracity of this information, enter Operation Wetback into your favorite search engine and confirm it for yourself.

Reminder: Don't forget to pay your taxes...12 million Illegal Aliens are depending on you!
Well, the numbers don't seem to add up. Thirteen million is the claim of illegals deported, but there weren't anything like that number in the U.S. at the time. According to Wikipedia, many fewer were deported, at considerable cost:


Burgeoning numbers of illegal aliens prompted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to appoint his longtime friend, General Joseph Swing, as INS Commissioner. According to Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr., Eisenhower had a sense of urgency about illegal immigration upon taking office. In a letter to Sen. William Fulbright, Eisenhower quoted a report in The New York Times that said, "The rise in illegal border-crossing by Mexican 'wetbacks' (rooted from the watery route taken by the Mexican immigrants across the Rio Grande) to a current rate of more than 1,000,000 cases a year has been accompanied by a curious relaxation in ethical standards extending all the way from the farmer-exploiters of this contraband labor to the highest levels of the Federal Government."

The operation was modeled after a program that put pressure on American citizens of Mexican ancestry to move to Mexico during the Great Depression because of the bad economic situation in the United States. (See Mexican Repatriation.)

Operation Wetback in action

The effort began in California and Arizona and coordinated 1075 Border Patrol agents, along with state and local police agencies, to mount an aggressive crackdown, going as far as police sweeps of Mexican-American neighborhoods and random stops and ID checks of "Mexican-looking" people in a region with many Native Americans and native Hispanics. 750 agents targeted agricultural areas with a goal of 1000 apprehensions a day. By the end of July, over 50,000 immigrants were caught in the two states. Around 488,000 illegal immigrants are claimed to have left voluntarily for fear of being apprehended. By September, 80,000 had been taken into custody in Texas, and the INS estimates that 500,000 to 700,000 had left Texas on their own. To discourage re-entry, buses and trains took many deportees deep within Mexico before releasing them. Tens of thousands more were deported by two chartered ships, the Emancipation and the Mercurio. The ships ferried them from Port Isabel, Texas, to Veracruz, Mexico, more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) to the south. Some were taken as far as 1,000 miles. Deportation by sea was ended after seven deportees jumped overboard from the Mercurio and drowned, provoked a mutiny and leading to a public outcry in Mexico.
Nevertheless, despite these efforts, illegal immigration has accelerated, especially since the late 80’s. Why?

It’s a matter of supply and demand. The Mexican birth rate was extraordinarily high in the 1960’s – 6 children per couple (it’s been much lower since then, about 2 children per couple since 1970) and all those workers were entering the labor market by the late 80’s. So, there was a big supply of excess labor.

Plus, American businesses and homeowners were hiring at an extraordinary rate. When there are jobs to fill, people get less picky about legal formalities. So, big demand, particularly in the construction trades in the burgeoning Sunbelt.

Note that the illegals are no longer confined to unskilled labor, or the Southwest, but have entered all kinds of skilled labor all over the country. Indeed, in some places and jobs, they are nearly indispensable.

Note that illegal immigration increased during Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The market is driven by business considerations, not ideology or approach to governing.

Since the economic crisis started, the number of illegal immigrants has dropped about 10%, and is likely to drop more - even without disruptive campaigns by the INS to clamp down on illegals. I suppose Obama could claim credit for the big reduction when he runs for reelection in 2012, but it’s a pretty cheap claim. And numbers are likely to spring back when economic conditions improve.
I Want To Work For The RNC

Interviewees apparently have the option of uploading their own YouTube videos as part of the interview process....
Mothra Vs. Godzilla

Tonight's guest on Jon Stewart's Daily Show: Jim Cramer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stoopid Is As Stoopid Does

We need crises every now and then to keep us on our toes. The FDIC is among the best things that came out of the Depression, but like all worthwhile things it requires a little maintenance, and it looks like we got a little lax (which means that your deposits in your bank are in far greater danger than you thought possible).

I thought things were under better control than this, but I thought wrong. When the business class runs government, as it has for the last 30 years, tedious maintenance tasks don't get done (like the folks in New Orleans found out when Hurricane Katrina kicked aside the levees). Maintenance is the job of those reviled creatures, the bureaucrats. Maintenance is not sexy, like leveraged buyouts. Because of this oversight, all we need is one more Big Financial Gust to generate the Mother Of All Bank Runs and break America's middle class:
The federal agency that insures bank deposits, which is asking for emergency powers to borrow up to $500 billion to take over failed banks, is facing a potential major shortfall in part because it collected no insurance premiums from most banks from 1996 to 2006.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures deposits up to $250,000, tried for years to get congressional authority to collect the premiums in case of a looming crisis. But Congress believed that the fund was so well-capitalized - and that bank failures were so infrequent - that there was no need to collect the premiums for a decade, according to banking officials and analysts.

Now with 25 banks having failed last year, 17 so far this year, and many more expected in the coming months, the FDIC has proposed large new premiums for banks at the very time when many can least afford to pay. The agency collected $3 billion in the fees last year and has proposed collecting up to $27 billion this year, prompting an outcry from some banks that say it will force them to raise consumer fees and curtail lending.

To possibly reduce the fee increase, the FDIC has asked Congress for the temporary authority to borrow as much as $500 billion from the US Treasury - up from the current $30 billion limit - in case the number of bank failures increases even more dramatically. If Congress approves the measure, to borrow more than $100 billion, the FDIC would still need permission from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the White House.

As of Dec. 31, the FDIC had $18.9 billion in its insurance fund - down from $52.4 billion a year earlier - in addition to $22 billion that it has set aside for pending bank failures. The agency has projected it will need $65 billion to take over failed banks through 2013.

But if the FDIC suddenly had to take over a giant bank such as Citigroup or Bank of America, the fund would be drained "in a flash," said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Boston University law school's Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law.

Last week, FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair wrote to Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, that her agency could need more money because the existing fund "provides a thin margin of error" given the government's responsibility "to cover unforeseen losses." The March 5 letter, provided to the Globe, said the additional borrowing authority is necessary to "leave no doubt" that the FDIC can "fulfill the government's commitment to protect insured depositors against loss."

Bair said yesterday that the agency's failure to collect premiums from most banks "was surprising to me and of concern." As a Treasury Department official in 2001, she said, she testified on Capitol Hill about the need to impose the fees, but nothing happened. Congress did not grant the authority for the fees until 2006, just weeks before Bair took over the FDIC. She then used that authority to impose the fees over the objections of some within the banking industry.

"That is five years of very healthy good times in banking that could have been used to build up the reserve," Bair, a former professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said in an interview. "That is how we find ourselves where we are today. An important lesson going forward is we need to be building up these funds in good times so you can draw down upon them in bad times."
Michael Steele's Music

Interesting quote from the head of the RNC:
I love the Pack Rats from the 1950s--Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, those guys.
As the blogger comments:
So Steele doesn't just sound like a middle-aged man trying to talk to his kids and failing to sound cool. He's also trying to talk to his parents and failing to sound cool.
Cheney's Assassination Squads

Seymour Hersh has been working this beat for years, and likely has the goods.

There have been reports that such squads were at work in Iraq. But apparently this report may go deeper.

As if it isn't obvious, the reason why executive assassinations squads is a bad idea is that it attracts the same. The main weakness of the Warren Commission's report on the assassination of JFK is that the CIA did not reveal to the Commission that assassination squads had been sent against Castro. The angle of revenge was not explored in the report, thus opening up a Pandora's Box of questions to the conspiracy-minded.

If Cheney needs a basement to find shelter, he can't use mine. He can take his own bullets, for a change:
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh dropped a bombshell on Tuesday when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that the military was running an "executive assassination ring" throughout the Bush years which reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The remark came out seemingly inadvertently when Hersh was asked by the moderator of a public discussion of "America's Constitutional Crisis" whether abuses of executive power, like those which occurred under Richard Nixon, continue to this day.

Hersh replied, "After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet."

Hersh then went on to describe a second area of extra-legal operations: the Joint Special Operations Command. "It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he explained. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. ... Congress has no oversight of it."

"It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on," Hersh stated. "Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us."

Hersh told blogger Eric Black in an email exchange after the event that the subject was "not something I wanted to dwell about in public." He is looking into it for a book, but he believes it may be a year or two before he has enough evidence "for even the most skeptical."

Stories have been coming out about covert Pentagon assassination squads for the last several years. In 2003, Hersh himself reported on Task Force 121, which operated chiefly out of the Joint Special Operations Command. Others stories spoke of a proposed Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group.

As Hersh noted in Minnesota, the New York Times on Monday described the Joint Special Operations Command as overseeing the secret commando units in Afghanistan whose missions were temporarily ordered halted last month because of growing concerns over excessive civilian deaths.

However, it appears that Hersh is now on the trail of some fresh revelation about these squads and their connection to Vice-President Cheney that goes well beyond anything that has previously been reported.
Surgery For Sweating

Sounds tempting! I mean, I sweat like, omigod! It was a real problem when I lived in Southern Arizona. But still, I agree with the doctor, only as a last resort:
A little perspiration is one of life’s minor irritations – unless you are a celebrity in the unforgiving glare of the paparazzi camera lenses.

Most people simply reach for the trusty deodorant to keep it at bay, but for the worst-affected sufferers it can be a real social nightmare.

Now a British surgeon is offering a more permanent solution.

A new cosmetic surgery technique, available for the first time in the UK, claims to be able to get rid of underarm sweat for good.

The £3,500 hour-long procedure, pioneered in Brazil, uses a laser to burn away underarm sweat glands and claims to leave patients with minimal scarring and sweat-free armpits.

Previously, one of the few options for people with sweat problems has been major surgery conducted under general anaesthetic to cut nerves in the chest that lead to the sweat glands.

Celebrities including former Miss England and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Danielle Lloyd have also resorted to injections of anti-wrinkle treatment Botox under the arms, which offers a temporary solution.

The new technique, called Laser Sweat Ablation, is said to be able to help cure everything from minor sweat problems to axillary hyperhidrosis – excessive, uncontrollable sweating which can cause enormous discomfort and embarrassment.

But experts are concerned that the procedure means patients will seek surgical treatment even if their condition could be better dealt with by behavioural therapists.

They say some cases of excessive sweating can be caused by nerves or psychological problems.

They also claim that surgery on the underarm area has a high likelihood of complications because it can become easily infected, and that it should be considered a last-resort treatment.

...Mr Whiteley added: ‘The Laser Sweat Ablation treatment allows patient to return to their normal activities within hours of treatment, and be fully recovered after four to seven days.’

Mr Brydon said: ‘I have been suffering from excessively sweaty armpits for more than five years and it makes me feel very self-conscious.

‘I tried Botox injections for a while but they are very expensive and only give a temporary result.

‘It will be a great relief never to have to worry about sweat patches on my clothes again.’

However, Professor Christopher Mathias, a neurovascular medicine specialist at the University of London, has some concerns.

He said: ‘It could be great for patients. However, removing sweat glands is a tricky operation and there could be complications from infection. Surgery should always be a last resort.’
Optimism Bias

Gamblers have optimism bias, in spades. I do too. Maybe we all do, to some extent.

The National Weather Service has been interviewing victims to assess why some people failed to respond to tornado warnings in the Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak of February 5-6, 2008:
In reviewing the public response, the team found that two-thirds of the victims were in mobile homes, and 60 percent did not have access to safe shelter (i.e., a basement or storm cellar). The majority of the survivors interviewed for the assessment sought shelter in the best location available to them, but most of them also did not have access to a safe shelter. Some indicated they thought the threat was minimal because February is not within traditional tornado season. Several of those interviewed said they spent time seeking confirmation and went to a safe location only after they saw a tornado. Many people minimized the threat of personal risk through “optimism bias,” the belief that such bad things only happen to other people.
Jury Agrees Novel TMJ Therapy Is Violation Of Trust

Trial comes to conclusion:
A prominent Woodland dentist who once had it all – a thriving practice, loyal patients, a big house and high standing in his church – saw his fortunes crumble Tuesday as Yolo County jurors convicted him of a dozen counts of sexual battery for molesting female patients.

Mark Anderson, 49, was allowed to leave the courthouse on his own recognizance, pending sentencing April 24. He could receive 14 years in state prison.

As Anderson walked away with his wife and children beside him, he was asked what he had to say to his victims: "There were none," he said.

It was his only comment on the trial's outcome.

Anderson's defense at trial was that he had touched the women's chests as treatment for TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, a painful jaw condition.

But some women who testified at trial described Anderson reaching into their bras and making comments about their breasts.

Two victims spoke with reporters outside the courthouse, saying they were pleased with the verdicts but angered that Judge Stephen Mock had allowed Anderson to go home Tuesday.

In an impromptu press conference, the women identified themselves and spoke candidly about their reaction.

Tanya McKay, 37, and Candis Barajas, 30, said Anderson had violated their trust and used his patients' vulnerability in the dental chair for his own sexual gratification.

"He used his status to take advantage of all of us," said Barajas, a patient of Anderson's until he groped her at a dental appointment. "He's a habitual predator and he's done it for years."

She said she felt sorry for Anderson's family, but "it was all his doing."

...After court, [Deputy District Attorney] Gorman said the jurors had been conscientious and thorough.

They had found that Anderson had fondled his patients with his bare hands and told them it was all part of treatment, Gorman said.

"It's not dentistry," the prosecutor said. "As this jury found, it's felony sexual battery under false pretenses."
More Crashes On Familiar Routes

I take this exit every night:
A portion of Highway 50 in downtown Sacramento is blocked because of a crash that caused one vehicle to overturn.

Two sedans collied about 10:50 a.m. on eastbound Highway 50 at the 15th Street exit, an online California Highway Patrol traffic report states.

One of the cars flipped onto its roof.

Several witnesses reported to the CHP that a van also might have been involved in the collision and was sideways in the lanes next to the crash before leaving the scene, the report states.

The crash is blocking the two left lanes of the highway.

Only minor injuries were reported.

The CHP issued a traffic alert about the crash at 11:09 a.m., stating that there is no estimated time of reopening the lanes.
George's Corner

Unsafe at any speed:
Two men are safe, but a new BMW automobile is not after it flipped onto the train tracks in Davis and an Amtrak train totaled it.

The crash occurred about 9:24 p.m. Tuesday near the intersection of L and 2nd streets on the east side of downtown Davis, said Davis police Sgt. Rod Rifredi.

Aaron Singerenglar, 25, of Redwood City was driving the 2008 BMW 1 Series and failed to negotiate the "very sharp 90 degree turn," according to Rifredi who also said crashes are not uncommon at the site.

"The gentleman was heading into the turn a little too fast," Rifredi said.

The car flipped onto the train tracks and Singerenglar and his passenger, Peter Dempster, 26, of Davis, escaped before an Amtrak train hit the car moments later, destroying it.

The two men suffered minor injuries from the initial crash, Rifredi said.

Alcohol and drugs are not believed to be a factor.

The car is owned by BMW of America. Singerenglar works for BMW, Rifredi said.
"Hooray For The Pendejos!"

I hope this feud goes on and on!
Mr. Impulse Control At The Airport

Louisiana's Senator David Vitter:
After missing a flight last Thursday from Washington to New Orleans, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter opened an armed security door and went off on a United Airlines employee, according to a report filed Wednesday by Roll Call.

The door sounded a security alarm.

Vitter had arrived at the gate for a flight from Dulles Airport, only to find that the door had been closed twenty minutes prior to departure.

After setting off the security alarm, the Louisiana senator proceeded to dress down an airline employee who told him entering the restricted area was forbidden. He invoked his standing as a senator, delivering a "do-you-know-who-I-am" tirade, the paper said.

The airline worker then announced he was going to summon security.

"Vitter, according to the witness, remained defiant, yelling that the employee could call the police if he wanted to and their supervisors, who, presumably, might be more impressed with his Senator's pin," the paper's Heard on the Hill column noted. "But after talking a huffy big game, Vitter apparently thought better of pushing the confrontation any further. When the gate attendant left to find a security guard, Vitter turned tail and simply fled the scene."
Natalie Bassingthwaighte - Someday Soon

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Cramer Bashing

It's like shooting a very loud fish in a barrel:

Since the dawn of the Obama administration, not even two months ago, CNBC has become notorious as a redoubt of talking -- no, shouting -- heads who insist that the market is tanking because the new president is an incompetent lefty. A Bolshevik even, according to Bloviator-in-Chief Jim Cramer. A squish who hands out free mortgage do-overs to "losers," according to Chicago trading-floor populist Rick Santelli. Twice in the past week, "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart has responded with blistering mash-ups of the same talking heads talking out of their behinds. Larry Kudlow and Jim Cramer and others were seen, in CNBC footage assembled by "The Daily Show," making absurd, toxic and ultimately tragic predictions about how awesomely awesome the market was about to be, how Bear Stearns would never fail, how turnaround was coming, how it was time to buy. Maria Bartiromo and various on-air soldier ants were also shown sucking up to assorted titans of business in the golden days before the recession began to seem like something worse.

Jim Cramer has responded by noting, angrily, that Jon Stewart is a comedian, which apparently makes Stewart unqualified to judge when someone is making a fool of himself.

...By now, I have noticed that I speak a different language than the people on this channel. Or maybe I'm just not as smart as they are. "I've decided that flat is the new up," declares one talking head. "If they can't get their heads together, there's no way we're going to get meat on the bone," warns another. Their braying seems to mean something to their target audience, but not to me. Even most-esteemed sage Warren Buffett wasn't immune. He spoke in an un-CNBC-like volume, but said things like, "It's a lot better to have a goose that keeps laying eggs than a goose that just sits there and eats insurance."

...Then Jim Cramer stops by at the end of her show, and turns in one of the more tortured and conflicted television performances I have ever seen. He personifies, in his very body, the war between boosterism and reality that lends CNBC such an air of anxiety. ... "Every night," he barks, "I try to come out and say something good, but it's difficult. It's difficult, because it spits in the face of people who've lost so much."

Cramer is in pain, and he's taking it out on Burnett. By the end of six of the more excruciating minutes I've witnessed on television, Burnett was scrambling for a graceful way out.

..."Fast Money" comes on after Bartiromo, to kill an hour until the network's true stars come out at 6. The show professes to arm its viewers with insight and analysis gleaned from the day's gyrations. "Faster than a New York minute, Dylan Ratigan and the 'Fast Money' traders give you the information normally reserved for the Wall Street trading floor," promises the Web site. This claim might be true, if the Wall Street trading floor is secretly run by Lewis Carroll. The hosts have all affected epithets like "the Commissioner," "the Pit Boss" and "the Ambassador." And they seemed, to an outsider's ear, to speak nonsense, at an auctioneer's manic pace, with exclamation points. "Look at Google at 290!" snapped the Ambassador. "Did you buy it?" beeped a voice off-screen. "I did look at it, I didn't buy a share!" "Why not?" "I like to look at it!"

Then the Commissioner explained it all. "One company's going to buy another company, and this company's going to buy the company that's going to buy that company."

After "Fast Money," it's time for the channel's marquee names to explain what it all means. At 6 o'clock Eastern, 90 minutes after the closing bell, Cramer is back on camera, this time as the host of his own show, "Mad Money."

...Never having seen the show before, I'm astonished, even though Cramer's conniptions earlier in the day should've warned me. I thought the whole premise was that Cramer had a compass, and knew where he was taking us. Jon Stewart's whole point in his criticisms of Cramer was that the guy gets things wrong all the damn time. Yet the show depends on his almost violent assertion of his own authority. He has to acknowledge that he's been wrong if he wants to seem like a serious analyst, but he also has to keep pointing the way forward. A caller asks him if it's a good time for new investors to break in. Cramer says there's no hard-and-fast rule, we've got to go case-by-case, and then, without missing a beat, or seeking any further information, says, "Buy Verizon."

Nobody knows what they're doing, but hey, here's what you should do. How can CNBC square this circle? The answer is, as Jon Stewart called it, cheap populism. That's where Barack Obama comes in.

According to CNBC's evening punditocracy, nightly tasked with explaining why another day has ended in the toilet, it's not the market's fault, it's the government. Cramer warns that the Obama administration might cause another Great Depression, accuses the administration of "wealth destruction," and compares Obama's cap-and-trade carbon pricing scheme to the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee.

...Economist Larry Kudlow, whose hour-long "Kudlow & Company" follows "Mad Money" Monday through Friday at 7 Eastern, has even less shame than Cramer. Kudlow accuses Obama of "waging war against businesses and investors and entrepreneurs." He tees up guest Art Laffer, a wholly discredited economist, who claims, "The political process started in late 2007. Since that time, the markets have been down 55 percent. Markets are forward-looking, not backward-looking. They saw what was coming in the election. They were anticipating what this guy would do, and they caused a slowdown."

Got that? It's not our fault none of the models are working. The economy collapsed because the government broke it. Buy Verizon. If it goes up, Cramer and Kudlow and Santelli are geniuses. If it goes down, it's Obama's fault. Either way CNBC wins.

CNBC's audience is not a demographic cross section of America. If it was a cross section, the network wouldn't make any money; CNBC attracts advertisers not with the size of its audience but with its maleness and its affluence. The network gets about a quarter million viewers a day, a tiny fraction of the U.S. population, but those viewers have a median household net worth of more than $1.2 million. Still, the financial pundits flatter viewers into thinking, as Rick Santelli put it during his famous trading floor rant, that they are "a pretty good statistical cross-section of America." For these guys, investors are America. Jim Cramer asked at one point, of the Obama administration, "Who do they think owns stocks?" As if the obvious answer is, "Everybody!" Obama, Cramer complained, "seemed proud that he ignored the [market] averages, as if they're some sort of distraction, and not a precursor of the economy."

I'm not going to argue that the Dow Jones is irrelevant to the economy, but the fundamental problem of the bubble years was that the Dow Jones was growing and our actual assets were not. We weren't really getting richer. We were just pretending to get richer.

In mistaking themselves for the country at large, and the bouncing of the market for the health of the economy as a whole, Cramer, Kudlow and the whole talking-head crew give the lie to Rick Santelli's assertion about a "silent majority." CNBC feels like bizarro world because, in an important sense, it is.

Blaming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

In the never-ending game to affix blame for the Housing crisis, Jean sent me this YouTube video:

Timeline shows Bush, McCain warning Dems of financial and housing crisis; meltdown

There is something to all this, of course: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regulatory weakness was a part of the bigger problem (but not the most important part). But there is a lot of double-speak here.

When McCain and the Republicans complained about a lack of regulatory oversight, they weren't really complaining about a lack of regulatory oversight. Remember, the Republican mantra has always been that things work better with less regulation! So, why the difference here?

In the early 2000’s, various Wall Street players looked with envious eyes at Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's business (the bulk of the first-time purchaser U.S. housing market) and were trying various ways to sideline them. The complaints were about as real as a three-dollar bill and were whomped up in order to help force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the market - so the Wall Street insiders could get more of the business, not because anybody thought they were under-regulated. (In retrospect, maybe the Democrats should have stopped playing defense and let them!)

The real problem was the securitization of home mortgages and converting them into opaque CDO’s. Then, the Wall Street players secured loans based on the values of the opaque CDO’s. The leverage was huge and there were huge regulatory weaknesses there too: AIG, for example, was not required to set aside reserves based on the values of CDO’s (a special goody that Republican Senator Phil Gramm from Texas inserted through legislation he introduced). Effectively, AIG was running an insurance company without reserves: with clueless aplomb, AIG saw it as a matter of satisfying their customers with up-to-date financial services.

It takes a lot to run a Ponzi Pyramid. I tend to see Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as chumps in a game mostly not of their own devising. Their job was to bring unprepared newbie homeowners into the game, a game that they were in danger of being cut out from.

The folks collecting the fees at the top of the Pyramid bear the lion’s share of the blame for everything falling apart. The game was not sustainable and they knew that and they didn’t care. Blaming everything on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is quite predictable, and mostly wrong. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be to blame for the timing of the collapse, maybe, but not its inevitable end. All Ponzi Pyramids end, generally when there aren’t enough qualified newbies entering the Pyramid. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can be blamed for not finding enough newbies. Damn Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, damn them for eternity, for that!

At the end of the chain of blame shouldn’t lay just millions of Patsies holding homes with declining values, however. It isn't just a matter of folks getting too upwardly-mobile before their times. There are other, more blameworthy, folks around, and they are trying to scuttle away from this flaming disaster just as fast as their six legs will let them....
Moving Into The Big Time

Left: Davis Enterprise Weekend cover from the summer of 1999, featuring the Woodland Opera House's cast of "A Chorus Line". Many of the cast had come from Solano Community College in Fairfield, but others were locals from Sacramento, Davis, or Woodland. Greta Gerwig is in the back row, in powder blue. I'm in the middle, in black. Folks whose names I still recall are: Michael Miiller, Aaron Clemens, Stephen Hatcher, Pam Kay Lourentzos, Jenny Stallard, Julianne Riordan, Stacey Arriaga, Angela Yee, Kathleen Reilley, Paul Jones, Pam Benjamin, and Peter Baldridge.

I was explaining to Gabe how excited I was that Greta Gerwig had landed a role opposite Ben Stiller in "Greenberg". After her various indie films, she's taking a big step up. If it's not the big time, it's certainly within hailing distance!

I also explained how I had had contact with her as a cast member of "A Chorus Line" at the Woodland Opera House in 1999. Of course, it was fleeting contact of the most superficial sort: saying "Hi!" every other weekend, or so. I was a Cut Dancer, bumped from the show in the first ten minutes (except choreographer Pam was nice and brought us on again for the Tap Sequence), while Greta played Judy Turner, one of the leads. And I was 43 and she was 15, so it wasn't like we had a whole lot to talk about anyway.

Gabe thought about this for awhile, and said: "This sounds like something from 'The King of Comedy'. Have you ever seen that?" No, I hadn't. Imdb explains:
Rupert Pupkin (Robert de Niro) is obsessed with becoming a comedy great. However, when he confronts his idol, talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), with a plea to perform on the Jerry's show, he is only given the run-around. He does not give up, however, but persists in stalking Jerry until he gets what he wants. Eventually he must team up with his psychotic Langford-obsessed friend Masha (Sandra Bernhard) to kidnap the talk show host in hopes of finally getting to perform his stand-up routine.
I love that name 'Pupkin'. I can't associate it with any actor, general, politician, doctor, scientist, or philosopher. It's a perfect nullity of a name, in a language where there are few. They must have spent a week going through the telephone directory to find one that worked so well.

Anyway, here is a clip from Martin Scorcese's 1982 film, "The King Of Comedy", in a scene where delusional Rupert Pupkin, having invited himself into Jerry Langford's house, meets the man....

Stock Whiplash

Today's rally was huge (DJI 6,926.49, +379.44). More volatility to the fire!
Asian Problem Gambling

I was happy that the Sunday Sacramento Bee finally devoted a front-page article to problem gambling among Asians, but it's gotta be at least twenty-five damned years too late, after the huge explosion in founding new casinos in California. The Western Calvinist tradition of moral disapprobation, the official state attitude of happy approbation, and the eastern tradition of acceptance and denial have all conspired to bury Asian problem gambling from any serious attention, for years, and years, and years.

Organizations like Gambler's Anonymous, which attempt to use pre-existing affiliations to rescue gamblers; in particular pre-existing Christian religious beliefs, is all but useless in this fight. An Asian approach has to be found, but hardly anyone is doing the work necessary to find one. Don't expect any of California's supposed 'leaders' to do anything. Far too much money is made by looking the other way. And in the interim, the weak perish and the bodies accumulate.

In particular, I remember seeing someone at Cache Creek very much like Chee Lin Tse Chui, but Vietnamese, and lost, walking back and forth in the Cache Creek Casino, begging for money. Her bus had left without her, she couldn't get home, she couldn't reach any relatives, and she was quite alone.

And I also remember talking to a 21-year-old with a $20,000 gambling debt. I was shocked that someone so young could have accumulated such a debt, but even more shocked by her casual acceptance of that fate - she is by no means alone in her age cohort:
The rangers found Ee Kouei Saelee hanging from a tree in Gibson Ranch Park after he'd gambled away his life savings, his self-respect and his will to live.

Saelee, 51, had helped many of Sacramento's Mien refugees find jobs, homes and health care. But the shaman who spoke five languages and saved others' lives as a healer and medical interpreter couldn't save himself from his addiction to pai gao poker.

Hours before he died, his widow recalled, "He was sitting on the bed and said, 'Honey, we've lost all our money, I can't feed my family. I have to die.' "

More than a million Californians have a gambling addiction, and the problem is especially acute locally. In the past two years, the 916 area code has ranked first or second in calls to the state's gambling hotline. Few of the callers are Asian, despite studies showing that Asian Americans are particularly prone to gambling addiction.

That disconnect is partly cultural, said Dr. Tim Fong of UCLA's Gambling Studies Program.

"From the Asian experience there's this whole mind-set that problems of the mind, psychiatric problems, are not real problems," said Fong, who wrote several of the studies. Many Asians "believe your fate is predetermined from the day you're born, and you really have no control."

Even those who want to get help for gambling addiction might not know where to go, especially if they don't speak English well.

The state hotline does not have interviewers who speak Southeast Asian languages or Tagalog. The only Chinese hotline and treatment program is in San Francisco, and the only Gamblers Anonymous meeting for Vietnamese and Filipinos who don't speak English meets in San Jose.

The State Office of Problem Gambling, created by the Legislature in 2003, has received $15 million from Indian gambling tribes. So far, none of that money has gone to treatment.

Lawmakers have approved $5 million more from the tribes to help set up programs. But that effort includes no plans to target Asian gamblers.

By contrast, Oregon – with nine Indian casinos compared with California's 60 – spends $3 million a year on treatment, providing free services to thousands of gamblers. One of the state's counselors speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, Haka, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao and French.

...Language and cultural differences are no barriers to gambling addiction, as some notorious cases underscore.

• Bong Joo Lee, a divorced Korean American from Fontana, owed $200,000 in gambling debts in 2006. He killed his 5-year-old daughter and then himself.

• Ted Ngoy, the Cambodian doughnut king of California, gambled away his empire and, by 2005, wound up living on the porch of a friend's trailer.

• Kao Xiong, a Hmong father in North Sacramento, argued with his wife over his gambling, shot himself in the head and killed five of his seven children in 1999.

Regional studies show that up to half of Asian Americans are problem gamblers – a much higher rate than the general population, said UCLA's Fong, who has received more than $975,000 from the state to study the topic and develop manuals and workbooks.

"What we're finding is gambling addiction … among Asian families strikes very differently and often much harder," he said. "Asian families tend to bury problems much more, enable behavior and bail out the problem."

Visit any casino in the Sacramento area and easily half the faces are Asian, often clustered around the pai gao and baccarat tables.

Although the recession has sapped some casino profits, it may be swelling the ranks of Asian problem gamblers, said Dr. Eddie Chiu, a clinical psychologist who runs the only Chinese language treatment program for problem gamblers, in San Francisco.

"Once they lose their job they sit at home without much to do so they go to a casino," Chiu said.

Casinos cater to Asian customers with an array of Asian games, dining and entertainment, Asian hosts and dealers.

"Right now, I have four relatives that work in casinos," said Nai Poo Saechao, Saelee's widow.

...Many older Asians gamble out of loneliness, experts say. Yet loneliness would have seemed the least likely of problems for the successful Saelee.

But, in 1997, everything Saelee had built began to unravel.

First he lost his job. Then his son Pa Seng, a 16-year-old Center High School sophomore who dreamed of becoming a doctor, was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Four Laotian youths were convicted in the slaying.

Grief-stricken, Saelee found work at two local card rooms, Lucky Derby and Phoenix.
"He didn't gamble before, but he had so much stress he couldn't think straight," said his widow, Saechao. "When he played poker he forgot about everything else."

Saelee lost every cent of his $400,000 home equity playing pai gao, she said.

"We always said, 'Please don't do it anymore' every time he came home, but he'd say, 'I lose so much money I have to pay off my losses.' "

By the time Saelee admitted he had a problem, it was too late.

"Of all the elephants in our community," Saechao said, "gambling is the biggest."

...Counselors "don't know how to help the Asian population," said Foua Ly, a Hmong worker at the Southeast Asian Assistance Center, who said his own cousin lost more than $100,000 gambling.

"Gamblers Anonymous is not going to work because it's very strict – no credit cards, no money," Ly said, "and they're not going to lower themselves to be treated like a child."

Terri Sue Canale, director of the state's Office of Problem Gambling, said the lack of treatment in California "is a concern for everybody in the gambling world." When California finally sets up treatment programs, "Hopefully Southeast Asians will be referred to groups that speak their language," Canale said.

There are more than a million Filipinos and a half-million Vietnamese in California, most of them in the north state. California's sole Vietnamese and Filipino Gamblers Anonymous group meets in San Jose.

...Chee Lin Tse Chui, a 77-year-old retired seamstress from China who died outside Cache Creek last July, also was an isolated gambler.

Twice a week, her daughter says, she'd leave her apartment in San Francisco's Chinatown early enough to catch the 8 a.m. bus.

Ling Chui said her mom wasn't a gambling addict. "She played 21 and she won a lot and quit when she was up $300 or $400." As her invalid husband's health deteriorated, she lived for her casino escapes.

Chui traveled alone. Her only friend was the driver, and "she always tipped him $10 to $20, depending upon how much she'd win," her daughter said.

Typically, Ling Chui said, the bus driver made sure her mom knew when he was leaving. But, on July 1, the bus left Cache Creek without her.

The disoriented Chui – who spoke only Cantonese and had no cell phone – wandered outside, according to the law enforcement investigation.

Five days later, sheriff's deputies found her body in bushes about 700 feet from the casino. The cause of death was undetermined. "It may have been some sort of mild stroke," said Yolo County Chief Deputy Coroner Robert LaBrash.

In Chui's purse when she died was $600 in cash.

...Asian American advocates throughout California are critical of what they characterize as exploitation of Asian immigrants by casinos.

"The thing that really troubles me is that these casinos benefit greatly from the (Asian/Pacific Islander) community and give nothing back," said Jerry Chong, legal counsel for CAPITAL, a Sacramento umbrella group for 100 Asian organizations.

Even if the bus that brought Chui to Cache Creek didn't belong to the casino, "they're supposed to look out for people and care for people. There may be dementia and Alzheimer's out there," Chong said. "It's not asking too much to make sure to get them back home."

Casinos try to distance themselves from most of the bus trade.

Li, the Cache Creek host, said 10 charter buses arrive daily. The bus that brought Chui "doesn't belong to us," he said. "We do try to control them and remind them to make sure nobody's missing the bus, but we still cannot control them."

Asians have yet to fully address the problem, Fong said. They may protest against gangs, drugs, or strip clubs in their communities, but "they don't really do that for gambling. … Have you ever seen any protests against these casinos – 'We don't want this any more, get rid of the buses, get rid of the marketing, stop taking advantage of our weak?' "

...Even in death, Saelee demonstrated leadership through the two-page suicide note he left on his bed:

"I want to tell my family, my children, the whole community and all the people around the world, don't gamble," he wrote. "If you gamble, you become addicted and it can make you crazy."
Tropical Cyclone Hamish

The powerful storm is raking the Queensland coast with high surf, but it's unlikely to cross the Australian coast. Instead, it will head out across the Tasman Sea, become extra-tropical, and eventually hit - where else? - New Zealand:
The category three cyclone is slowly spinning away from the coast but is expected to veer towards land as a weakened system by Friday.

Hamish was downgraded from a category four to a three around 1pm (AEST) today and is predicted to further weaken to a category two by Thursday and possibly a category one on Friday.

The Bureau of Meteorology's deputy director Bruce Gunn said Hamish was hovering about 165km east-northeast of Sandy Cape on Fraser Island and was moving away from the coast at about 11km/h.

"There is a very small chance it could make landfall,'' Mr Gunn said.

"We have a severe weather warning out for Sandy Cape on the tip of the east coast of Fraser Island.

"There is damaging winds of up to 90 kilometres per hour, abnormally high tides and dangerous surf.''
Jon Stewart Reams Jim Cramer, Again!

In an update of Mark Twain's maxim about not getting into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel: don't get into a fight with folks who have video archives and a well-watched television show!
Dirty Bomb

I found this story particularly disturbing:
Trust fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was slain by his wife Amber in December, allegedly had the radioactive components necessary to construct a "dirty bomb," a newly released threat analysis report states.

The man, allegedly furious over the election of President Obama, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.

"According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9," reported the Bangor Daily News.

"Amber (Cummings) indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected President," reported the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center. "She indicated James had been in contact with 'white supremacist group(s).' Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned 'dirty bombs.'"

"Also found was literature on how to build 'dirty bombs' and information about cesium-137, strontium-90 and cobalt-60, radioactive materials," said the Bangor Daily. "The FBI report also stated there was evidence linking James Cummings to white supremacist groups. This would seem to confirm observations by local tradesmen who worked at the Cummings home that he was an ardent admirer of Adolf Hitler and had a collection of Nazi memorabilia around the house, including a prominently displayed flag with swastika. Cummings claimed to have pieces of Hitler’s personal silverware and place settings, painter Mike Robbins said a few days after the shooting."

..."Conservatives apparently didn't want to draw attention to a radioactive, wealthy version of Timothy McVeigh coming from their own sphere, although nearly every day during Bush's reign saw "dirty bombs" hyped as the ultimate threat," summarized Wikileaks.

"The left didn't want to repeat another 'dirty bomb' story, the likes of which Republicans had used to drive hundreds of billions of dollars into Republican dominated military and security contractors."
Britney's Wardrobe Malfunction

Hey, it happens....

A lofty ideal:
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Montgomery County police say 16 people were arrested after a fight broke out during a concert held to promote nonviolence and to remember a Silver Spring teen killed last year.
And speaking of the absence of violence, I thought it interesting that no one's been killed in Sacramento since New Year's Day:
Despite two violent episodes early Saturday morning, the city of Sacramento recorded its longest stretch – 64 days – without a homicide since 1998.

In doing so, the city also tied the record held within the Sacramento County sheriff's jurisdiction, a streak achieved in 2006.

City police have little explanation for the lull and point out that overall incidence of violent crime has remained unchanged during the past decade. Some officials suggest the record, while welcome, could be a fluke.

"It's a great thing," said police spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong. "We can't explain it, but we'll take it."

...Sacramento's last recorded homicide involved Kyle Ray Smith, 20, who was shot and killed at a Pocket area party early New Year's Day. Nicholas Moreno, 18, was arrested Feb. 21 in connection with the killing.

...An examination of all city homicides dating back to 1997 shows that, on average, someone is killed in the city of Sacramento every seven days, according to coroner's data examined by The Bee.

But the violence is there, authorities say.

From Jan. 1 until Friday, 183 assaults with a deadly weapon – including shootings and stabbings – were reported to Sacramento police. That's down only three assaults from the same period last year.

"Violent crime does exist still in Sacramento. That's the reality," Leong said. "People are still going to the hospital in serious condition, and they're surviving."

Among the city's recent close calls was a Feb. 26 assault in which three people were stabbed in the 3900 block of 12th Avenue. All the victims recovered.

...One possible explanation for the city's lower number of homicides is the ongoing advancement of medical care. At the UC Davis Medical Center – where most of the city's violent-crime victims are treated – trauma doctors and nurses have improved their blood transfusion skills, said Dr. David Wisner, chief of trauma surgery at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Transfusion theories have changed as a result of lessons learned by doctors treating injuries in Iraq, he said.

But Wisner said medical advances might account for only one or two of the patients surviving life-threatening injuries from crimes.

Truth be told, he said, it's probably just a stroke of luck.

"I don't think 'no murders in 65 days' means a thing," Wisner said. "Just serendipity and statistical chance alone would argue that once in a while you're going to have a long stretch where things look pretty good."

Whatever the reason, Leong said, the downtime has been productive for his department's homicide squad.

"Hopefully, it'll continue through the year and allow us to work on some old cases," Leong said.

So far this year, Sacramento police have made arrests or issued arrest warrants in at least two homicides that occurred a year or more ago.
UK's Vanishing Blue Ducks

Too bad - pretty ducks:
They have taken to each other like...well, like ducks to water. Which is all very disappointing for those in charge of the breeding program.

Because this pair of birds represents two-thirds of the entire population of blue ducks remaining in the UK. And they both happen to be male.

Flying in the face of what was billed as the last chance of keeping the species in this country, the two male ducks have completely ignored their female companion, Cherry.

Instead the boys of a feather have flocked together, and even engaged in courting rituals normally observed between mating pairs.
Working On Taxes

I like refunds. Give me more refunds....

Monday, March 09, 2009

Nobody Ever Expects The Skipper

Bekah took some time off "Oklahoma!" to visit Pepper's. You never know where she'll be next - I thought she was piloting Canadian submarines!
The Ting Tings vs The Knack vs Toni Basil - That's Not My Name Mashup

In general, I don't like mash-ups that much, but this one is inspired!
Just Go Away

Will these people ever leave us in peace?:
Post-mortem harassment is the latest trend in debt collecting, and one of the thriving parts of the reviled industry.

In Minneapolis, Minn., teams of debt agents labor on the third floor of DCM Services, are dialing up the departed dear ones' next of kin and thoughtfully asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan or make one last utility bill or mobile phone payment.

Generally, the living have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent, although laws vary by state.

“I am out of work now, to be honest with you, and money is very tight for us,” one man declared on a recent phone call after he was apprised of his late mother-in-law’s $280 credit card bill, and which he promised to pay $15 a month, the paper reported.
Lost In A Fog

I previously read somewhere that nuclear warhead maintenance requires a constant stream of tritium. I wonder if this ‘Fogbank’ is related to tritium?:
PLANS TO refurbish Trident nuclear weapons had to be put on hold because US scientists forgot how to manufacture a component of the warhead, a US congressional investigation has revealed.

The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) "lost knowledge" of how to make a mysterious but very hazardous material codenamed Fogbank. As a result, the warhead refurbishment programme was put back by at least a year, and racked up an extra $69 million.

According to some critics, the delay could cause major problems for the UK Trident programme, which is very closely tied to the US programme and uses much of the same technology. The US and the UK are trying to refurbish the ageing W76 warheads that tip Trident missiles in order to prolong their life, and ensure they are safe and reliable. This apparently requires that the Fogbank in the warheads is replaced.

Neither the NNSA nor the UK Ministry of Defence would say anything about the nature or function of Fogbank. But it is thought by some weapons experts to be a foam used between the fission and fusion stages of a thermonuclear bomb. US officials have said that manufacturing the material requires a solvent cleaning agent which is "extremely flammable" and "explosive". The process also involves dealing with "toxic materials" hazardous to workers.

...But vital information on how Fogbank was actually made had somehow been mislaid. "NNSA had lost knowledge of how to manufacture the material because it had kept few records of the process when the material was made in the 1980s, and almost all staff with expertise on production had retired or left the agency," the report said.

...To John Ainslie, the co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it was "astonishing" that the Fogbank blueprints had been lost. "This is like James Bond destroying his instructions as soon as he has read them," he said. "Perhaps the plans for making Fogbank were so secret that no copies were kept. The British warhead is similar to the American version, and so the problems with Fogbank may delay Aldermaston's plans for renewing or replacing Trident."