Saturday, April 04, 2009

Today, I Wax The Living Room Floor

Or at least most of it....

Lots of rabbit pellets behind the boxes.... And spiders....
Bill The Carpenter Bids 'Listen!'

Marc: This looks like a bag of Purina Special Feast cat food.
Bill: That is what I hoped. Its deceptive appearance throws people off. But if you look inside, you'll see it contains dozens of cassette tapes.
Marc: Gosh, you're right!
Bill: You can listen to cassette tapes, right?
Marc: Yeah, sure....I guess....
So, What Are My Peeps Up To?

No good, it appears.

Derrick Barry At 'Badlands'

Fine show by Derrick Barry, Britney Spears impersonator. Even got an autograph! Barry seemed quite pleasant in person.

Strange evening. At one point, while I was standing near the bottom of the stairs, someone dropped a drink down the stairs, and the glass shattered. Some glass went into my hair, and an indeterminate amount slipped down the back of my collar.

Then, on the dance floor, a pretty, tattooed (but really drunk) young lady tried to stand on a riser and almost toppled over a railing into my arms. She tried a second time and fell off the riser and onto the dance floor. She tried a third time, but wobbled dangerously for many minutes, as she tried her level best to dance lasciviously. (Is she going to take her top off? No, she's not going to take her top off. Which way is she going to fall?) I felt pressed to spot her movements. Her girl friend tried to steady her, then decided to share the riser with her, which was a mistake, given the lack of space. Fortunately, the lascivious one finally gave up the exhibitionist dancing (unfortunately, lascivious appearances demand stone-cold soberness).

Here's a bit of video....

Friday, April 03, 2009

Deborah Says "Stay Warm"
1966 SR-71 Crash In Eastern NM

John poses a question:
Hey Marc,
Have you ever heard of this? I imagine it was kept pretty quiet at the time and since you were only 9 at the time you probably would not have heard about it even if it was in the news...
Wow! That’s real interesting! No, never heard a thing about it. With the Cold War and everything, this sort of event would have been actively buried with respect to media coverage. It’s only now, 40+ years after the fact, are we beginning to hear these things in more detail. With regards to the ‘War on Terror’ we might also have to wait 40+ years to hear the interesting stuff.

Here's a sample:
Looking down, I was startled to see a fairly large animal--perhaps an antelope--directly under me. Evidently, it was just as startled as I was because it literally took off in a cloud of dust.

My first-ever parachute landing was pretty smooth. I landed on fairly soft ground, managing to avoid rocks, cacti and antelopes. My chute was still billowing in the wind, though. I struggled to collapse it with one hand, holding the still-frozen face plate up with the other.

"Can I help you?" a voice said.

Was I hearing things? I must be hallucinating. Then I looked up and saw a guy walking toward me, wearing a cowboy hat. A helicopter was idling a short distance behind him. ....
8-Bit Waterslide

Nostalgia. When I last waterslid, it was an 8-bit world, in the 80's, when I lived in southern Arizona.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Brisbane Area Pounded by Rain

The Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast, portions of coastal NSW - just swamped!

These semi-tropical coastal storms are a real mystery to me. They occur reasonably often along the eastern coast of Australia, and feature a big high pressure system to the SE, with a trough stalled near the coast.

These storms kick the coastal areas real hard (some places are reporting close to 400 mm rain in 24 hours, something that would be unheard of in the mid-latitudes outside of hurricanes) but the rains don't penetrate much farther inland than the crest of the Great Dividing Range. The resulting climate leads to people hugging the coast for water, leaving a yawning, almost people-free emptiness in the continent's dry interior.

A mystery wrapped within an enigma within a riddle! Beware warm waters and an onshore breeze!
Baffled By The Day Off

I was baffled by the day off too (but not this baffled):
"No, the courthouse was closed yesterday because of something called 'Senior Chavez Day' and I'm pissed. (Ten-second pause.) I don't know. I think it has something to do with old Mexicans."
April Fool

Touched a nerve:
In her April 1 column, Ann Coulter fell for a fake April Fools' Day article by Car and Driver magazine that claimed that President Obama has ordered General Motors and Chrysler to cease their participation in NASCAR because it is an "unnecessary expenditure." Coulter wrote, "If Obama can tell GM and Chrysler that their participation in NASCAR is an 'unnecessary expenditure,' isn't having public schools force students to follow Muslim rituals, recite Islamic prayers and plan 'jihads' also an 'unnecessary expenditure'?" Car and Driver originally posted an April 1 story online -- since removed -- with the headline, "Obama Orders Chevrolet and Dodge Out Of NASCAR," and the text, "With their racing budgets deemed 'unnecessary expenditures,' GM and Chrysler are ordered to cease racing operations at the end of the season." However, Car and Driver later clarified that the story was an April Fools' Day joke, then removed the story from its website.
Defending Ancient Liberties

The ones we casually toss aside:
Angry villagers formed a human chain to thwart the progress of a Google Street View car that was in the process of taking photographs of their homes.

Police were called to Broughton in Buckinghamshire yesterday, after furious villagers blocked one of the cars, complaining it was an invasion of their privacy and that the photographs would attract burglaries.

...In the past six weeks there have been three break-ins in Broughton, near Milton Keynes, and residents fears that the digital photographs of their roads would be used as a tool in further burglaries.

...Mr Jacobs said, “I was upstairs when I spotted the camera car driving down the lane.

“My immediate reaction was anger; how dare anyone take a photograph of my home without my consent? I ran outside to flag the car down and told the driver he was not only invading our privacy but also facilitating crime. This is an affluent area. We’ve already had three burglaries locally in the past six weeks. If our houses are plastered all over Google it’s an invitation for more criminals to strike. I was determined to make a stand, so I called the police.”

...A spokesman for Google said, "Embarking on new projects, we sometimes encounter unexpected challenges, and Street View has been no exception. We know that some people are uncomfortable with images of their houses or cars being included in the product, which is why we provide an easy way to request removal of imagery. Most imagery requests are processed within hours."
Lip Service

Left: Clovis West High School principal Ben Drati won first place, followed by Daniel Chacon of Sanger, Jason Noll of Tracy, and David Stubbs of Patterson.

This sounds like an interesting contest:
MODESTO -- Principal Ben Drati was all smiles Saturday night.

For the second year in a row, his school Clovis West High School won the championship title and $2,500 in scholarship funds during the 22nd annual High School Principal Spanish Lip Sync contest at the Modesto Centre Plaza.

"It feels great to have won first place. I had big shoes to fill because the last two principals did very well in this competition. So I'm glad we came through," Drati said.

This was Drati's first year participating as principal; he had previous exposure as a dancer.

"Yeah, dancing was OK with me but the lip-synching part was definitely a challenge," he said while holding his crystal-like trophy.

His student Judy Vera, a first-time participant, was ecstatic about the win.

"It is so exciting to have won. Oh my gosh!" said Vera, 15, who admitted her nerves defied her.

...Sanger High School came in second place and won $2,000; Tracy High School took third and $1,500; and, Patterson High School took fourth place.

..."The biggest challenge we faced was the short time we had to prepare," said Jesús Guviano, 22, choreographer for Sanger High School.

Guviano, who is a professional dancer and has worked with Sanger High for seven years, said that second place at the championship, was not bad at all.

"My biggest satisfaction and the best gift of all are seeing what those kids did on that stage, especially because they are all beginners," Guviano said. "All I can say is wow!"
...Julio Bustos, advisor for the Clovis West folkloric dance team, has many years of experience with the lip sync contest. He helped choreograph two or three competitions back in the early 90s and has been with Clovis West since 2000.

For him, the challenge is trying to outdo the previous performances, he said. "We try to keep up the legacy from the previous generations," said Bustos.

And even though the students and advisor meet in September to brainstorm for the competition, he said there is one thing that seems to be the winning ticket for the school.

"We always try to bring something traditional. That is our trademark. We can do other stuff but our strongest is the traditional," he said.

...The annual lip sync contest was founded in 1987 by Mike Sturtevant and is organized by El Concilio for the Spanish Speaking. More than $800,000 in scholarship funds has been awarded since its inception.

Each competing school gets $1,000 in scholarships, while the winning school receives $2,500; $2,000 for second place; $1,500 for third place.

The competition requires each school principal to lip sync to a Spanish-language song while it features a cast of student dancers, costumes and elaborate backdrops.
Karaoke At Callison's
Yanking Back The HELOC

I wondered if it would come to this. I had hoped the property values in my urban neighborhood would stay high enough to keep my home equity line of credit (HELOC) from being clipped, like so many HELOCs are now being clipped in the 'burbs.

No such luck though. The limit has been pulled back from some $150,000.00, or so, where it's been since 2002, back to a thrifty $45,000.00. I never went up to the limit, of course (some relict prudence at work), but I'm over this new limit.

They're not asking for all the money back right now, of course, just that if I want to borrow any more money for any purpose, the answer is "no" until I'm back under the limit. How nice!

Rice and beans. Rice and beans, from now on.

Rice and beans at restaurants (I got my tax refund today).
Tales Of Lohan

Hollywood upbringing:
Oh, Dina Lohan. She is every bit the mother I’m so thankful I don’t have.

Last night Dina, Lindsay and Ali were on the town. They arrived at Hollywood nightclub Villa and were turned away at the door. Why? Because Ali Lohan is fifteen years old, that’s why! The door dude said, “No,” and Dina replied with the so overused and tired inquiry, “Do you know who I am?” Big sister Linds, who should not be pointing out anyone’s mistakes to anyone, chimed in, “You’re making a big mistake! Huge!” Yet still, Access. Denied.

Sad and disturbing - a random bouncer offers more guidance and parental judgment to Ali than her own mother and sister.

Where you at? We're wondering.

Your cousins,
Marc & Michelle

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Guard Donkeys

Didn't realize the dog problem was so severe out in the Warwick area:
DARLING Downs grazier Bruce McLeish and his wife Angela turned to "guard donkeys" after losing 400 sheep worth $110,000 to wild dogs in 2007.

As well as shooting, trapping and baiting the dogs, the McLeishes – who run 4500 sheep on Warahgai, near Karara in the traprock country west of Warwick – got the donkey idea after hearing about a Toowoomba woman who ran free-range poultry with a donkey and found a fox which had been kicked to death.

"There seemed to be some link so I went to the internet and found Canadians were using donkeys to protect sheep and cattle from coyotes and wolves," he said.

It was a decision which paid off, with Mr McLeish estimating he may have lost only eight sheep in the past 12 months instead of the usual 200 or so.

"The donkeys lash out at anything that they see as a threat and most importantly they can handle a pack of dogs, not just one," Mr McLeish said.

...He admitted some people thought they were "crackers" but said their 13 Australian and Irish donkeys bonded easily with the sheep, ate the same food and one could protect about 400 head.

Like Orwell used to say, "imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever":
Is it an April Fool's joke that Fal Asrani will receive an Honorary Service Award for "extraordinary efforts for the children and youth of the CDM High School"? Stranger than fiction, she will, on April 1 at 9:30 AM in the Small Gym.
Trouble At The Finland Station

Lenin's booty's da bomb!:
One of Russia's most famous statues of Vladimir Lenin has been bombed, leaving the Bolshevik revolutionary with a gaping hole in his rear.
Colbert On Narcissism

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Me Time - American Narcissism
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Me Time - Emily Yoffe on Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest
A Virtuous Rant Regarding Higher Education

This sounds almost-exactly like the critique of liberals in the 1960's that radicals in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) folks favored. And it's because, whether it's Vietnam in the 1960's, or Iraq in this decade, we have exactly the same cancer at work.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Given this sorry history, and the way that history tends to repeat itself, it's all-but-certain that, 30 or 40 years from now, unless something important changes, we'll have exactly the same cancer emerge again, and we'll end up invading Mexico or China or Iran or France, on some wacko holy mission that ultimately makes no sense:
The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think.

...Intelligence is morally neutral. It is no more virtuous than athletic prowess. It can be used to further the rape of the working class by corporations and the mechanisms of repression and war, or it can be used to fight these forces. But if you determine worth by wealth, as these institutions invariably do, then fighting the system is inherently devalued. The unstated ethic of these elite institutions is to make as much money as you can to sustain the elitist system. College presidents are not voices for the common good and the protection of intellectual integrity, but obsequious fundraisers. They shower honorary degrees and trusteeships on hedge fund managers and Wall Street titans whose lives are usually examples of moral squalor and unchecked greed. The message to the students is clear. But grabbing what you can, as John Ruskin said, isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists.

Most of these students are afraid to take risks. They cower before authority. They have been taught from a young age by zealous parents, schools and institutional authorities what constitutes failure and success. They are socialized to obey. They obsess over grades and seek to please professors, even if what their professors teach is fatuous. The point is to get ahead. Challenging authority is not a career advancer. Freshmen arrive on elite campuses and begin to network their way into the elite eating clubs, test into the elite academic programs and lobby for elite summer internships. By the time they graduate they are superbly conditioned to work 10 or 12 hours a day electronically moving large sums of money around.

“The system forgot to teach them, along the way to the prestige admissions and the lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter or a number or a name,” Deresiewicz wrote. “It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.”

“Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul,” he went on. “These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don’t think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus.”

Barack Obama is a product of this elitist system. So are his degree-laden Cabinet members. They come out of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley and Princeton. Their friends and classmates made huge fortunes on Wall Street and in powerful law firms. They go to the same class reunions. They belong to the same clubs. They speak the same easy language of privilege and comfort and entitlement. They are endowed with an unbridled self-confidence and blind belief in a decaying political and financial system that has nurtured and empowered them.

These elites, and the corporate system they serve, have ruined the country. These elite cannot solve our problems. They have been trained to find “solutions,” such as the trillion-dollar bailout of banks and financial firms, that sustain the system. They will feed the beast until it dies. Don’t expect them to save us. They don’t know how. And when it all collapses, when our rotten financial system with its trillions in worthless assets implodes and our imperial wars end in humiliation and defeat, they will be exposed as being as helpless, and as stupid, as the rest of us.
Hitler On Criss Angel

I don't know anything about Angel or his show, but it seems Abowitz' little feud with him is shared by others.
Worst Homemade Star Wars Costumes

I'm in pain, my ribs hurt, just make the pictures go away....
The 10/31 Project

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The 10/31 Project
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Colbert discusses the musical "Rent", among other things.

And Greenwald is right:
Exemplifying the deeply self-pitying theme of the entire discussion, Jonah continuously insisted that conservative magazines are so very, very important to the political landscape -- indispensably so -- because conservative voices are frozen out of mainstream media venues by The Liberal Media, so that poor, lonely, stigmatized conservatives can only get right-wing opinion in places like Weekly Standard and National Review. In between Jonah's petulant laments about how conservative opinion cannot be heard in The Mainstream Media, Bill Kristol talked about his New York Times column and his Washington Post column, John Podhoretz told stories about his tenure editing The New York Post Editorial Page and Charles Krauthammer's years of writing a column for Time and The New Republic, and Jonah referenced his Los Angeles Times column.
Dyer Visits The Fourth Avenue Street Fair In Tucson

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride?
Those Damned Paralegals

Like they say, a fish rots from the head:
Charlotte real estate lawyer Victoria Sprouse, accused of participating in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme, took the stand in her own defense Monday, weeping as she denied committing any crimes.

“There was no reason for me to do this,” Sprouse told jurors. “This has ruined my life.”

In tears, she recounted how her arrest in the federal case also has crushed her business. She told jurors she used to conduct 3,000 mortgage closings a year. Now she does three to five a month.

“I've been financially ruined,” she said.

Sprouse is accused of lying to lenders, falsifying settlement statements and stealing from her clients while reaping millions of dollars for her and co-conspirators – including mortgage brokers, real estate agents and an appraiser.

The 38-year-old real estate lawyer is charged with bank fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. If convicted on all the charges, she could spend more than 25 years in prison.

Five men indicted along with her have pleaded guilty to their roles in the mortgage fraud case involving about $15 million in loans and more than 200 properties. Two of them testified for the prosecution last week.

...Sprouse, who testified about five hours Monday, told jurors she'd never been convicted of a crime. She recalled the day federal agents knocked on her door to arrest her, and described what her life has been like since.

“I want to get married and have kids,” she testified. “I can't do that with this hanging over my head. It's not fair to my boyfriend.”

Asked if she had comitted bank fraud, Sprouse replied, “No. Never.”

Asked if she'd made mistakes in her business, she replied: “I made a lot of mistakes.”

Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Martens, Sprouse admitted that she had signed documents without reviewing them. She said she should not have let her paralegals do so much of the work.

...Sprouse told jurors that she depended on her paralegals to prepare documents properly but acknowledged that she hadn't closely supervised them.

...“I couldn't keep up with everything,” she said. “I was working too much.

“I was signing a lot of documents, and I wasn't paying any attention to what I was signing.”

Yuba County:
There's nowhere tougher in America to be paying a mortgage than Yuba County, says a new lending industry study released Monday.

Nearly 78 percent of the county's mortgage debt is tied to houses that have lost value and are worth less than what's owed on them, said New Jersey-based SMR Research in its yearly "Giants of the Mortgage Industry" study.

"That was the worst on the hit parade," said SMR President Stuart Feldstein.

The report said 60.3 percent of the county's 10,558 mortgage borrowers owed more in February than their homes were worth. The phenomenon is commonly called being "underwater" or "upside down."

The statistics mean most struggling Yuba County borrowers can't refinance out of their troubles. The majority are ineligible, too, for President Barack Obama's plan to help underwater owners, which is limited to homes whose value is no more than 5 percent below what's owed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Trying To Stop A Rumor Mill

Rumors can be hard to knock down:
Two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the incident said a group of girls at the school had been bullying at least one other student who likes to dress in Goth-style, a vampirish look popularized by musician Marilyn Manson. The officials said the girls began spreading a rumor that the student was a vampire who had cut someone's neck and sucked the blood.

When Boston police went to the school Wednesday on an unrelated matter, their presence fueled yet another rumor: that a vampire was being arrested, according to one of the law enforcement sources.

...[Boston Latin School headmaster Lynne Mooney] Teta issued her notice to parents in an e-mail sent yesterday at 8 a.m.

"It has come to my attention that rumors involving 'vampires' began spreading through the building yesterday," it said.

"I am very concerned that the safety of certain students may be jeopardized as targets of rumors and speculation," she wrote. "Please alert any adult in the building if you feel that any student is being harassed or targeted."

Teta denied requests for an interview yesterday, referring all questions to the School Department spokesman. But the memo appeared to raise new questions and rounds of speculation.

One student who contacted the Globe said a male student, rumored to be a werewolf, had threatened on Facebook to bring a gun to school because he was being harassed. Other students at the school yesterday said they had heard that a student had been bitten.

...Students leaving Boston Latin yesterday said rumors about students claiming to be vampires, or more specifically "half-vampires," have been circulating for months. Several said two or three female students at the school carry umbrellas in all weather to avoid exposure to the sun.

Myles Friedman, a junior, said that after police appeared at the school yesterday, the rumor mill kicked into full gear. "I've never heard any rumor spread so fast."

Some at the school yesterday said they believed a student had been bitten. No one had heard about a problem with bullying.

Seventeen-year-old Davis Murphy said he heard that some students claiming to be half-vampires were draining their blood to make their skin paler or had claimed they could fly.

"No one bullies them," he said, laughing. "We just want to know why they're vampires."

...Browne, who has been involved with the school's antibullying campaign, said she had not heard any reports of bullying.

In recent years, public schools have attempted to crack down on bullying because of its link to teen depression and suicide. Boston Latin has taken steps to make sure all students feel comfortable, she said.

"There's no bullying here," Browne said. "It's just that everybody is really weirded out."
Meanwhile, Back In Iraq... Remember Iraq? Oh Yeah...

Judy Torres (feat. Bonnie Stone) "Hell No"

How The Big Decisions Get Made

I just wish this was a joke....
Why We Need National Health Care Now

Perverse but compelling incentives for companies to provide pensions and health care insurance lead companies to commit slow-motion suicide. The Japanese don't burden their companies with these things, and they're doing all right:

The chart ... details GM's operating margin -- its profits divided into its revenues -- over the past 50 years:

...The remarkable thing is that, once you account for the economic cycles, the trend for GM is exceptionally steady -- an exceptionally steady trend downward. There were still bad times thirty years ago -- but they weren't bad enough to threaten GM's survival, and conversely, the good times were much better. These are General Motors' operating margins by decade:

Average Annual Operating Margin, General Motors
1960s: 8.7%
1970s: 5.5%
1980s: 3.0%
1990s: 1.3%*
2000s: -0.5%
* Excludes one-time $20 billion accounting charge for retiree health benefits in 1992.

...Of course, GM benefited by promising its employees access to lucrative retirement programs -- it benefited by being able to pay less to those employees in the form of salary. But whereas the benefits to GM came long ago, the costs come now. This, indeed, is the entire crux of the problem, as is cogently explained by this Washington Post article from 2005:

GM began its slide down the slippery slope in 1950, when it began picking up costs for medical insurance, pensions and retiree benefits. There was huge risk to GM in taking on these obligations -- but that didn't show up as a cost or balance-sheet liability. By 1973, the UAW says, GM was paying the entire health insurance bill for its employees, survivors and retirees, and had agreed to "30 and out" early retirement that granted workers full pensions after 30 years on the job, regardless of age.

...GM was willing to cut its employees some very attractive deals in the 1950s through the 1980s -- provided that they took them in the form of retirement benefits rather than salary, which wouldn't hit GM's books until much later and which until 1992 weren't even required to be carried on its balance sheets all, making its financial statements (superficially) more appealing to its shareholders. That health care costs have risen so substantially in the United States have made a bad matter worse.

This issue is wrongly portrayed by both the liberal and the conservative media as one of management versus labor, when really it is a battle between General Motors past and General Motors present. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, everyone benefited: GM and its shareholders got the benefit of higher profit margins, and meanwhile, its employees benefited from GM's willingness to cut a bad deal -- for every dollar they were giving up in salary, those employees were getting a dollar and change back in retirement benefits. But now, everyone is hurting.

...Today's employees at GM, and the unions that organize them, likewise don't have anything much to do with the problem -- most of the excess costs it requires to produce a Buick versus a Toyota come in the form of legacy costs, not what those employees are receiving in salary and benefits today. And the taxpayer is bound to to get screwed either way, either picking up the tab to bail out GM, or bearing the costs of the pension programs, which are guaranteed by the government (although the legacy health benefits aren't guaranteed).

Policy-makers, finally, share in the blame too. General Motors might be the latest casualty of the distorted incentives created by our employer-based health care system. Meanwhile, the government would probably improve incentives by providing a more generous Social Security guarantee in lieu of guaranteeing private pension programs. The whole idea of Social Security is that people do an inadequate job of saving when left to their own devices. But companies, even companies as big and proud as General Motors, are overly concerned with the present as well.

The Virtual Improv Class

For different reasons, our motley troupe of workshop performers didn't have class two weeks ago, or last week, or this week, and can't meet next week either. Instead, we are turning into a group of people that meets at the same street corner at the same time every week. Which is OK - they are fine people - but it is a little strange....

Re-entry is quite a shock:
The mysterious boom and flash of light seen over parts of Virginia Sunday night was not a meteor, but actually exploding space junk from the second stage of a Russian Soyuz rocket falling back to Earth, according to an official with the U.S. Naval Observatory.

"I'm pretty convinced that what these folks saw was the second stage of the Soyuz rocket that launched the crew up to the space station," said Jeff Chester of the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.

Residents of the areas around Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va., began calling 911 last night with reports of hearing a loud boom and seeing a streak of light that lit up the sky, according to news reports.

Chester heard about the incident this morning; the Naval Observatory gets plenty of reports of such fireballs and Chester investigated whether it could be a meteor or whether there were "any potential decays of space junk that were coming up," he told

He checked the listing for debris that were expected to enter the lower atmosphere from their decaying orbits around this time period and found that second stage of the Soyuz rocket that launched last Thursday was slated to hit during a window that started at 8 p.m. last night.

The Russian-built Soyuz rocket lifted off Thursday from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to launch a new crew and American billionaire Charles Simonyi — the world's first two-time space tourist — to the International Space Station. The spaceflyers arrived at the space station on Saturday.

Chester ran a satellite tracking program that showed that the rocket debris should have come down exactly in the area where the fireball was spotted.

Chester said that U.S. Space Surveillance Network had not yet confirmed that this was the case, but said that he was "99 and four one-hundredths [percent] convinced that this is what it is."

...It's possible that some fragments of the rocket made it to the Earth's surface, but they would likely have a couple of hundreds of miles east of Cape Hatteras, Chester said.
Caught In The Act

Stealth eluded them:
This is the moment a group of students tried to abduct a giant model dinosaur from a museum as a drunken prank.

Deciding to relocate it in the middle of a roundabout as a joke, they set about lifting the 20ft long and 10ft tall plastic triceratops.

It took ten of them carry the giant model over an iron gate outside the Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester, Dorset.

But just as they carried it off above their heads into the night, they were stopped in their tracks by a policeman.

...'The police asked us to take it back which we did quite willingly and I have to admit they found it quite funny.'

He added: 'We were really sorry for causing any hassle and we are in the process of paying for the slight damages that the triceratops sustained whilst we lifted it over the fence.'

Monday, March 30, 2009

And Back On Mars....

Rover Opportunity is in the middle of a long drive, and stops to check out a rock outcrop known as the "Cook Islands".
The New Homeless

Can't help but disrupt the hierarchy:
Until recently, homelessness was the misfortune of a small minority in Japan. According to official figures, the country had 16,000 homeless last year, less than two thirds the number counted five years earlier, and they are the neatest, cleanest, most unobtrusive homeless in the world.

...Many have been living on the street for the best part of a decade or more, since the beginning Japan's last recession in the 1990s. Like the rest of Japanese society, they live in an ordered hierarchy in conformity with strict social codes. It is with this smoothly functioning world that a new generation of destitutes is coming into conflict.

Mr Iwamura outlines the unwritten rules that govern life in the Shinjuku subway, which became his home last October after the bakery where he worked went bankrupt: once it has been claimed, a sleeping space is sacred and never to be infringed upon by another homeless person; never get into arguments with police or security guards; use only discarded cardboard boxes to construct shelters - never steal them from shops.

...“When you look for food in the bags outside McDonald's, the rule is to open them, take just what you need and close the bag neatly up again,” says Mr Iwamura, 42. “These newcomers carry the bag away with them and when they've finished just leave the rubbish spilling everywhere.”

...The new homeless are younger, angrier and unadjusted to the conventions of life on the streets. As numbers increase so, inevitably, does competition for food and shelter. When conflict arises, homeless society has its own way of resolving the problems.
The Law Begins To Catch Up

The perps still talking trash:
A former top US government advisor who faces possible indictment in Spain for his role in establishing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp described the case against him as "outrageous."

Douglas Feith -- a key advisor in president George W. Bush's Pentagon -- told Fox News that moves before a Spanish court to indict him for facilitating torture were an effort to "intimidate US government officials."

A Spanish non-governmental group has called for six Bush-era advisors to be prosecuted, including Justice Department lawyer John Yoo and a top aide to vice president Dick Cheney.

The case is currently being considered by high-profile Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzon -- famous for his prosecution of human rights cases.

Spanish law applies the principle of "universal jurisdiction," allowing courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, terrorism or war crimes.

Oh, that's too funny! I submitted this to Urban Dictionary a couple of months ago, and I guess it's been approved.

And I like the guy!:
Thanks for your definition of biden!

Editors reviewed your entry and have decided to publish it on

It should appear on this page in the next few days:

Urban Dictionary



Garrulous cluelessness.

We finally stopped the little biden by shouting "TMI! TMI!"

And who can forget?: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man."
More Regarding The CdM Controversy

Ryan J. Davis blog.

Text of the ACLU suit.
If Only Left-Types Were So Disciplined

Keeping lefties "on message" is like handing out placards at a sports arena for one of those highly-choreographed North Korean-style propaganda displays, but instead of the stands being filled with brainwashed zealots, the stands are filled with a bunch of inattentive cats lazing in the sun. Absent a mass release of lab rats, nothing happens, and what does manage to happen is usually fighting amongst ourselves.

As Alex Koppelman notes:
The sentence, "Much of Mr. Obama's vaunted online strategy involved utilizing 'Internet trolls' to invade enemy lines under false names and trying to derail discussion" is particularly amazing, as pretty much everyone else in the country had previously assumed the key facet of the Obama campaign's online strategy was the small-donor fundraising.
And memory is short. Remember Jeff Gannon? Remember how FOX News routinely used White House talking points? I suspect what's really happened is that Mr. Breitbart must have been burned recently on the Internet, but inattentive cat that I am, I didn't notice until now:
Uninvited Democratic activists are on a mission to demoralize the enemy - us. They want to ensure that President Obama is not subject to the same coordinated, facts-be-damned, multimedia takedown they employed over eight long years to destroy the presidency - and the humanity - of George W. Bush.

Political leftists play for keeps. They are willing to lie, perform deceptive acts in a coordinated fashion and do so in a wicked way - all in the pursuit of victory. Moral relativism is alive and well in the land of Hope and Change and its Web-savvy youth brigade expresses its "idealism" in a most cynical fashion.

The ends justify the means for them - now more than ever.

Much of Mr. Obama's vaunted online strategy involved utilizing "Internet trolls" to invade enemy lines under false names and trying to derail discussion. In the real world, that's called "vandalism." But in a political movement that embraces "graffiti" as avant-garde art , that's business as usual. It relishes the ability to destroy other people's property in pursuit of electoral victory.

...During the Clinton impeachment scandal, a new group out of California called employed a plan to get its members to dial into right-leaning talk radio shows with scripted talking points falsely claiming that they were Republicans. They said they would never vote for the GOP again if the case against Bill Clinton was pursued.

..."This is nothing more than the Internet version of Soviet disinformation," Human Events editor Jed Babbin told me. " and the little boys from 'Lord of the Flies' who run Media Matters want to make it appear that there's huge dissension within conservative ranks on issues on which we're most united."

The left also uses disinformation to inundate the advertisers of conservative-leaning talk shows to intimidate them from financially supporting popular mainstream shows.

Media Matters even offered its services to an autism support group in its attempt to bring down talk-show host Michael Savage. It had nothing to do with Mr. Savage's underlying offense. Would Media Matters go after Keith Olbermann if he made a tirade against the afflicted? David Brock and company certainly didn't raise a peep when President Obama made a joke at the expense of the Special Olympics.

So now that the right is vanquished and thoroughly out of power, why doesn't it learn from its conquerors and employ similar tactics?

The answer is obvious. The right, for the most part, embraces basic Judeo-Christian ideals and would not promote nor defend the propaganda techniques that were perfected in godless communist and socialist regimes. The current political and media environment crafted by supposedly idealistic Mr. Obama resembles Hugo Chavez's Venezuela more than John F. Kennedy's America.

The Huffington Post, Daily Kos and other left-leaning sites benefit from the right's belief that there are rules and decorum in political debate and civic engagement. Of course, every now and then, a curious right-winger will go in and engage in discussion at a left-wing site, but rarely under purely disingenuous and mass coordinated means.

David Brock, John Podesta, am I missing something?

As a prolific consumer of online content, I value nothing more than the sincere expression of opinion that differs from mine. Sometimes I am even moved or swayed from my dogma. But that was not the type of communication that got Mr. Obama elected.

The American right is in a heap of trouble in a media age that doesn't shun the goons and liars that have poisoned the political process and won the American presidency by breaking the rules of fair play. It is time to fight back, but it won't be easy. The enemy is willing to do and say anything in order to win.
Charles E.F. Millard, Ideologue In Charge Of Other People's Money

Tool urges "Fortitude!":
Just months before the start of last year's stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

Switching from a heavy reliance on bonds, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation decided to pour billions of dollars into speculative investments such as stocks in emerging foreign markets, real estate, and private equity funds. ...

...And who was responsible, exactly?

Charles E.F. Millard, the former agency director who implemented the strategy until the Bush administration departed on Jan. 20, dismissed such concerns. Millard, a former managing director of Lehman Brothers, said flatly that "the new investment policy is not riskier than the old one." ...

Asked whether the strategy was a mistake, given the subsequent declines in stocks and real estate, Millard said, "Ask me in 20 years. The question is whether policymakers will have the fortitude to stick with it."

Notes Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz: "A finance professor who had previously advised the agency not to make the switch away from bonds compared the move to an insurance company writing policies to cover hurricane damage and then investing the premiums in beachfront property."

TPM's Josh Marshall, meanwhile, sees the move not as incompetence but possibly as part of a more general move by the Bush Administration to push more money into the stock market (a la their failed Social Security 'private accounts' bid).

..."One of the big drives behind Social Security privatization was the desire to find more money -- in the case of Social Security, a lot more money -- to keep the fires burning on Wall Street," he adds. "Not just more fees for the people handling the money, but more money to keep pushing asset values higher. This looks like the same thing just using slightly different means."
More At Stake Than I Realized

This story is more pertinent than ever.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Philosophy Bullet Point

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote books on the subject, but in the modern era, it's got to be a bumper sticker, or nothing.

OK, these "garden parties" next door every weekend (and during the week) are getting out-of-hand.

Last night, after the party next door ended, people apparently continued partying in the parking lot for an hour, or so. I arrived back at 2:30 a.m., after the last person had left, and discovered someone had recently peed on my garage door. But first, to get to the garage door, they had to walk down my driveway, which is not fenced, but still is my property.

I don't care about the guests, and I don't even care about the noise (since I'm a night owl), but I draw the line at trespassing and public urination on my property. What's the WWE slogan? "Raw is War".
So A Bobcat Walks Into A Bar...

And the rest is pandemonium:
A bobcat walked into a roadside bar in Cottonwood.

What happened next was not a joke but "pandemonium": two or three minutes of chivalry, cellphone cameras and people jumping on top of pool tables to get out of the way.

When it was over, two people were scratched and bleeding, and the bobcat was gunned down by police in a parking lot on Main Street.

All that's left now is a barroom story that is sure to become legend.

And a series of rabies-vaccine shots.

"This was a rabid animal," said Zen Mocarski of the Arizona Game and Fish office in Kingman. "You've seen the cartoon Tasmanian Devil? That's a bobcat with rabies."

... By Thursday afternoon, Hicks had received his first of five rabies shots.

"In the arm," Hicks said. "They don't do it in the abdomen anymore. Thank God."
Puretone - Addicted To Bass

An Australian road trip!
Keri Hilson Performs "Turnin' Me On" feat. Lil Wayne

Dannette's Day

Happy B-Day!
Getting Theater People To Be Quiet

Theater people are the most voluble people on Earth, and it is almost impossible to get them all to clam up. Doing so usually requires a shock of some sort. The only time I've ever succeeded in bringing an entire room to silence was in 2003, during rehearsals for DMTC's "Show Boat", when I didn't pay attention to instructions not to use the n-word in the script. I let rip with that one magic word and suddenly you could have heard a pin drop!

But there are better ways to bring theater people to silence....

Today, I was over at DMTC to collect signatures for a release of photos I took last weekend (and published on my blog) from DMTC's production of Disney's "Mulan, Jr." I talked to some of the parents one-on-one, but I soon realized I would need the cooperation of the theater kids to reach parents who weren't there that day. So, after vocal warm-up, I followed Dan Petersen in addressing the theater kids.

The theater was filled with a dull roar of children's voices as Dan spoke. Practically shouting, Dan urged the kids to "check your props!" If anything, the roar of voices increased in volume.

Then I started talking. The roar decreased slightly: I never address the theater kids, and they were curious about what made today any different.
My name is Marc Valdez and last week I took pictures of Mulan and posted them on my Web Site. Someone at Disney noticed and....
And in an instant, the theater was as silent as a Chinese Emperor's tomb. One magic name and their jaws dropped open, revealing shocked ovals where words once flowed like water. Suddenly, the kids were following my every word with rapt attention and laser focus....

With help from the kids, tomorrow I hope to finish getting signatures.

Silence is golden....