Saturday, May 09, 2009

WWII, And The Sign Of The Beast

I was shredding receipts and other documents, and I came across a few letters written by Eddy Lewis, my childhood friend who recently died at age 51.

Eddy was a fundamentalist who saw my conversion to Christianity as one of his life's sweeter goals. Thus, he inundated me with letters over the years, witnessing his evangelical faith. In the early 90's, he sometimes mailed me as many as three letters a week. After and before the early 90's, his letters were more intermittent. These particular letters were written between 2004 and 2006.

In particular, Eddy disdained Evolutionary Theory, and like many other fundamentalists, he favored a rather cartoonish version of recent European intellectual history that starts with Charles Darwin's:
  • Theory of Evolution, which leads to;
  • Social Darwinism, which leads to;
  • Eugenics, which leads to;
  • Naziism, which leads to;
  • Disaster.
Now Nazis did use Evolution for their own purposes, but it hardly follows that the blame for worldwide disaster lies with Darwin. For example, I and many others endorse Evolution, but disdain Social Darwinism. But rather than face the gales of zealotry and reply in kind, I preferred to bury Eddy's letters for the time being.

Now, I finally opened these letters, and I read one that seemed unusually churlish, even for Eddy. My father had served as an artilleryman in the U.S. Army in Europe in WWII, as Eddy notes:
Marc: Social Darwinism is a demonic order that has violently claimed millions of lives. Ironic that your father fought to restore the moral order only to have a son who repudiates it. The shame shall be yours alone to bear. Repent!
First, nations do not go to war to restore another nation's moral order. Plenty of nations have disordered moral orders, but we don't war against them. Nations might go to war to restore another nation's political order, however. America wasn't interested in the fact that bad Germans existed: there have always been bad Germans, and there always will be bad Germans. Instead, America went to war against Nazi Germany because it had become obvious that the Nazis were far too aggressive and dangerous to tolerate peaceably.

But then, I began to wonder, what did America's soldiers who fought in WWII think about what they were doing? What would my father have thought at the time? What did America's soldiers believe about why they were going to war?

As it turns out (as I've blogged before), there is a memoir, "Charlie of 666 - A Memoir of World War II", written by a soldier who served in a similar capacity as my father.

Corporal Nathan Blumberg was in Charlie Company of the 666th Field Artillery Battalion. My father, Marcial Valdez, served in Baker Company, which flanked Charlie Company in General Patton's Army. Blumberg was thus within a few miles of my dad's location the entire time they were in Europe, and thus Blumberg's memoir is an excellent proxy for what dad would have thought at the time.

But first, there was the striking number "666" to deal with.

So, the first question the artillerymen had to answer was: Why were they numbered 666, 'The Sign Of The Beast', and what did it mean? Corporal Blumberg relates:
My jubilation was enhanced by the striking irony that accompanied the new assignment: I was to be in a new outfit whose number is 666 "the sign of the Beast." My four assignments in the Army had provided overwhelming evidence that the military moves in mysterious ways, and we discussed the mystery. Was the choice of "666" the result of a rare example of military sense of humor, or an even rarer military sense of irony, or a premeditated military decision or simply another baffling military accident? Was Freud right when he said there are no "accidents"? Could it be one of those "coincidences" Jung insisted did not exist?

On a subsequent weekend pass I went to the library in Brownwood (Texas) to refresh my memory of the "Beast" described in the Book of Revelation in the King James version of the Holy Bible. There among its prophecies, was one telling of a great beast coming out of the earth, speaking as a dragon, with two sheep's horns - or, in some interpretations, two rays - emerging from its head (Rev. 13:11). As a new artilleryman, I was taken with the prophecy that "he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men" (Rev. 13:13). And: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and
six (Rev.13:18).

Ah, but then I noted this is the second great beast of prophecy, following an even more blasphemous and powerful beast that arose from the sea. "If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword" (Rev. 13:9,10).

On reading that my head was spinning. The sharp memory returned:

It was 1934 and I was 12 years old, hawking Saturday night editions of the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Sunday papers to people in their cars awaiting the change of stoplights at West Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard. I picked up spending money by the customary practice of newsboys, paying the delivery man six cents a copy and selling them for ten cents. On the front page of one issue of the Post was an editorial cartoon portraying Adolf Hitler with a huge military machine behind him. The caption was "He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword." I had never seen that quotation before, so I asked my learned father, who said it was based on a sentence in the New Testament. Already schooled in the Old Testament, I promptly traced the quotation to its source. Years later, in the Brownwood library, I was astonished by the remembrance that brought my childhood and my life as a soldier full circle.

But then more questions arose: Were we of 666 to be a part of the biblical Antichrist that has haunted religious history? Were we an agent of a satanic force, deceiving the faithful and even fighting on the side of evil? Were we so designated in the belief that we would strike terror in the hearts of the enemy as deputies of Satan? (I suggested that we were headed for Europe rather than the Pacific on the slim evidence that the Japanese would not be familiar with the biblical reference.) One man in Charlie Company believed literally in Revelation's descriptions and that we were in the turmoil before the approach of Armageddon. We talked about that, unaware at the time that each of us was headed toward a personal Armageddon.

A corporal in Headquarters Battery, citing the words, "let him that hath understanding." asked us to understand that starting with "A" as 100, "B" as 101, etc., we achieve the following:

H 107
I 108
T 119
L 111
E 104
R 117

sum = 666

Us against Hitler. That sounded right.
Blumberg then mentions:
At the time I saw no significance in Rev. 13:5:"And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months." But many years after the war, I read that passage with the advantage of hindsight: Forty-two months covers the period in which Hitler was in power from the entrance of the United States into the war to V-E Day.
So, it looks pretty clear to me: the soldiers of 666 were a great beast: a second beast replying in kind to the greater first beast. Like the rest of America's soldiers, they had the task of removing Hitler and his Nazis. Reforming Germany's moral order might be beyond an artilleryman's skill. But ripping the Nazi heart out of Germany? Working with others, that they could do....

And so they did....

Reading on, I noticed Eddy signed one of his cards with:
Such shall be when Christ returns. Be ready for his return. It will happen in our lives -- our lifetime. Be ready.
Alas, Christ didn't return in Eddy's lifetime. It may happen in my lifetime, but I doubt I'll be ready. Stubborn agnostic that I am, I'll probably be in the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico, sifting through anthills and collecting dinosaur bones, when the hosts of Armageddon gather....

Jam Season

M.: HmmmppPPHHHH?

E.: MMMMMAAAAAAAARRRRCCCCC! Wake up! It was SO FUNNY last night, at the Jam Season!

M.: Jam Season?

E.: It's when all the musicians get together, and play, and they take turns playing. A Jam Season; do you know what I mean? The drummer took a break and this other guy in the bar said "I'll play!" And he jumped up and started drumming!

What do you call that round thing drummers hit?

M.: (??? Almost everything drummers hit is round...) Do you mean the cymbals?

E. Yes, the cymbals! He hit the cymbals at the wrong time! He had never drummed before in his life! It looks SO easy to be a drummer, but actually it's hard to do, especially when they hit that - uh, pendolium.

M.: It takes a lot of practice!

E.: Anyway, the whole band had to stop, because no one knew when to do anything. The singers stopped too. IT was SO funny! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! It was SO funny!

Oh gosh!

For the singers, the drummer is important, because that's where they get their melody!

M.: You mean that's where they get their rhythm.

E.: Yes, their rhythm! Then C. said "get that guy out of there!" And everyone said 'get that guy out of there.' And the guy's wife; she works at the bar and she said: "He doesn't know anything about drumming - I don't know why he did that..." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Do you know what I mean?

M.: Poor guy!

E.: I know! He disappeared after that. I think he's embarrassed.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Just A Little Slow

Even though I went to her concert and bought her "Circus" album, I still didn't get the fuss about Britney Spears' "If U Seek Amy". I had to go to Wikipedia to figure it out.

Just like I had to page through Urban Dictionary to figure out what Rihanna was talking about with 'flick' in "Lemme Get That".

I must be getting old. Really, really old......

Making The Banksters Squirm

The entire way that Geithner and Obama have been going about bailing out the banks at all costs has made me uncomfortable, but judging from today's Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, there is one thing they've gotten right: if losing bazillions of dollars isn't enough to scare the bejeebers out of the banksters and make them prudent, then maybe the spectre of government control is:
In the wake of the stress tests, the weaker banks will now have six months to raise private capital to fill the hole identified by Treasury. They'll be desperate to do so, because the alternative is that Treasury will force them to accept more public capital. This will include the conversion of Treasury's preferred stock, bought last year via the TARP, into common shares.

Under accounting rules, this gives the banks more "tangible common equity," the measure of capital favored by Treasury. Yet it provides not a penny more in actual capital to absorb losses. Meantime, the feds would suddenly own big chunks of those banks via common stock, the way they now are the largest shareholder in once-proud Citigroup. We've called this a back-door nationalization, and it means Congress looking over banker shoulders. The silver lining is that bank executives are now so appalled by this idea that they'll sell anything that moves to avoid such a fate.

As for the "stronger" banks, a major goal will be to flee as fast as possible from the TARP, also known as the Hotel Geithner. Banks can check in but it's a lot harder to check out. Treasury has set up major hurdles before a bank can escape, even if it wants to. Clearly banks at risk of failing can't be allowed to endanger the larger financial system, but banks that have adequate capital shouldn't be held hostage to the political worries of regulators.

The best that can be said about the stress tests is that they're over. Now the most urgent task is to get back to a financial system free of government guarantees, public capital and political control.

Foothill Theatre Company To Close

One of the ironies of spending a lot of time in local community theater is that I haven't been able to get out and about and see what the local professional companies are up to.

And, for some companies, it looks like I won't get a chance, either: Foothill Theatre Company is closing:
Foothill Theatre Co., western Nevada County’s only professional theater company, will close after the May 16 performance of “Bad Dates,” board president Lowell Robertson said Wednesday.

The closure after the last scheduled performance of the play — even though the comedy is in the black — comes after months of fundraising and marketing to get the struggling company onto sound financial footing.

Managers are looking for a warehouse where they can store the company’s sets, costumes and props, Robinson said.

Late last year, supporters donated about $190,000 to help the company finish its 2008 program and open the 2009 season.

“The loss of a professional theater company in our county will negatively impact our local economy well beyond the obvious effect on restaurants and the 10 FTC jobs lost,” Robinson said.

“In the long run, art defines and humanizes a civilization,” Robinson added. “The loss of any arts organization only degrades our society.”
It appears that small professional theater companies are the ones most likely to suffer in bad times, because they have to pay salaries, meagre though they may be, upon the slender reed of their small box office receipts.

Meanwhile, at DMTC, the first half of 2009 looks like a carbon copy of the first half of 2008. Last year, we began running behind around August 1st, and didn't catch up again until this February. All things being equal, I would expect the same thing this year.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons to believe the second half of 2009 will be considerably better at DMTC than the second half of 2008. For example, we finally impressed upon the landlord that we are not supposed to pay a higher-level of property tax, and thus we may be due a whompin' refund. When that comes, that will help with paying down loans.

[UPDATE: Dagnabit, apparently we are STILL stuck with higher-level property tax. Despite the fact that people learn all sorts of things here, DMTC is not an EDUCATIONAL institution, and thus eligible for the lower rate.

Well, maybe the second half of 2009 will be a carbon copy of the second half of 2008...]

In any event, condolences to the folks in Nevada City on their grave loss ....

And When You Tire Of This, Come See "Jesus Christ, Superstar"

At Davis Musical Theatre Company:
You may have the grid memorized, but have you checked out Davis' Second Friday Artwalk lately?

Tonight, the Davis Downtown Business Association is celebrating 20 years of
service to Davis Downtown with festivities that coincide with the city's Second Friday Artwalk.

In addition to perusing the 20+ venues throughout Downtown Davis that are hosting art and gallery exhibits, check out live, outdoor retro music by Fast Times , an 80's dance party band. They'll be performing in E Street Plaza (200 block of E Street) from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

You can also sample the many tastes of Downtown Davis, with eateries providing foods,
wine and other refreshments. The Davis Food Co-op (620 G St.) is among them, and will be offering a tasting of Shenandoah and Sobon Estate wines from 6 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

While you're there, don't miss The Artery's 2009 California Clay Competition Exhibit, a gorgeous collection of the state's finest functional and sculptural ceramic works.

Following The Japanese Blueprint

Geithner and Obama gambled everything on helping the banks. But it might not be enough:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is betting that U.S. banks can do something their Japanese counterparts were unable to accomplish in that country’s “lost decade” of the 1990s: earn their way out of trouble.

The stress-test results released yesterday by regulators found that the 19 largest banks face a $74.6 billion capital hole that may be filled mostly by private money. That compares with the hundreds of billions of dollars seen by outside analysts, including the International Monetary Fund, and takes into account banks’ projected earnings over the next two years.

The “stress-test results are an important step forward,” Geithner said in a statement announcing the results. “Americans should know that the government stands behind the banking system and that their deposits are safe.”

Still, the strategy carries risks for Geithner, 47, who served as a Treasury attaché to Japan from 1989 to 1991. If he’s wrong about the banks’ ability to weather the worst recession in at least half a century, the U.S. may just be postponing the day of reckoning when institutions will have to be shut down and taken over by the government.

“This looks like Japan in 1998, when they didn’t spend enough money on the banks,” said Adam Posen, deputy director of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics. “They then ended up back in crisis in 2001.”

So far, Geithner’s gamble is paying off. ... Geithner said the strategy was designed to ease the uncertainty that drove bank shares down earlier this year. By exposing the lenders to uniform tests and then publicizing the results, he hoped to reassure investors that their worst fears about the future of the banking system were unfounded.

...Critics remain unconvinced and charge that the regulators went too easy on the banks in conducting the tests, which were designed to ensure the firms could keep lending even if the economy deteriorated more than most economists expect.

Examiners used an “adverse scenario” of a 3.3 percent contraction in the economy this year, and an average unemployment rate of 8.9 percent in 2009 and 10.3 percent in 2010. Economists see a 2.5 percent drop in output this year, and unemployment rates of 8.9 percent in 2009 and 9.4 percent in 2010, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

“The stress was not much of a stress,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics and professor at Columbia University in New York.

Skeptics of the plan such as Posen said Geithner was trying to make a virtue out of a necessity. With public opposition to bank bailouts high, the Treasury secretary felt constrained from asking Congress for more money to help the industry. Treasury has about $110 billion left in the $700 billion bank-rescue package approved by lawmakers last year.

...It was public opposition to bank bailouts that prevented Japanese policy makers from taking more forceful action to aid the country’s financial industry in the 1990s.

Like the U.S., Japan at first responded by putting capital into the banks, in 1998 and 1999. The crisis wasn’t fully resolved until 2002, after the government forced the banks to write down or sell off bad loans and effectively nationalized one institution, according to Takeo Hoshi, dean of the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California at San Diego.

“I find more and more similarities to Japan as the situation develops here,” he said.

...“If the banking plan still falls short, the fiscal stimulus will have been wasted to some extent,” Rogoff said. “We could end up like Japan, sliding in and out of recession.”

Pig Under Arrest

Poor pig:
AFGHANISTAN'S only known pig has been taken off display at Kabul Zoo and locked away to avoid panic among visitors who may be worried about swine flu.

"We put the pig temporarily in his winter house under quarantine because of swine influenza," the zoo's director Aziz Gul Saqib said.

"Most people don't have much knowledge about swine influenza and seeing a pig, they panic that they will be infected.

...The interned animal - known simply as Pig - was one of two given to Afghanistan by China in 2002, months after the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime, to help re-establish the zoo after it was destroyed during civil war.

However, the other pig - and their offspring - were killed in an attack by a bear.

Despite being the only pig, it was not too lonely, Mr Saqib said.

"The pig made friends with a goat and was happy sticking to the goat in the enclosure, where some other goats and deer were on show for visitors," Mr Saqib said.

The zoo is undergoing reconstruction but is basic, with a small variety of animals, most in poor conditions.

...It is illegal for Afghans to eat pork in the strictly Islamic country and there are no pig farms or any of the animals in the wild.

Haven't Twittered Yet

But I'm beginning to see the advantages....

Image from Friz at B3ta.

The Benefit Of Marijuana Legalization

I don't know if Carlos Santana is the victim of a poor translation here, or is just playing tongue-in-cheek. But I thought it was a fun quote:
'I truly believe that once we legalize and not penalize marijuana it will allow us to have a good governor that will stop taking money away from education and teachers and we can send him back to Hollywood to make low-quality movies and we can have an excellent governor.'

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Joe The Plumber (no, the other one) Gives Up On The GOP

I don't know what this means, except maybe plumbing is looking better and better all the time, especially when compared to politics:
Big Government is never popular in theory, but the disaster aid, school lunches and prescription drugs that make up Big Government have become wildly popular in practice, especially now that so many people are hurting. Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, tells TIME he's so outraged by GOP overspending, he's quitting the party — and he's the bull's-eye of its target audience. But he also said he wouldn't support any cuts in defense, Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid — which, along with debt payments, would put more than two-thirds of the budget off limits.

Kylie To Tour North America

At last! But a very limited tour indeed!

[UPDATE: Dagnabit, the fan presale tickets for the Oakland show were sold out by 2 p.m. Thursday (they went on sale at 10 a.m.). So, ticket sales for the general public start Saturday 05/16/09 at 10 a.m.]
Kylie's North American fans will finally get a chance to experience the pop superstar live in concert when her 6-city tour kicks off in Oakland (San Francisco Bay Area) on September 30th!

Over the course of her extraordinary 20-year-career, Kylie has undertaken 8 sold-out world tours including last year's KylieX2008 tour which traveled to 21 countries throughout Europe, South America, Dubai, Asia, New Zealand and Australia, generating an estimated $70,000,000 in ticket sales. Kylie
couldn't be more excited about her first ever tour through North America.

"I've wanted to tour in America and Canada for years," admits Kylie, "I know that fans have been waiting a long time for this and I'm thrilled that the opportunity has finally arrived."

Kylie's eagerly-awaited North American concert debut is being produced by Los Angeles-based concert promotion firm Bill Silva Presents (BSP).

"Kylie has such a successful career outside of North America that it has taken quite a while to find a window in her schedule for the U.S. and Canada," said Silva. "Her amazing fans in North America will be well rewarded for their patience when they experience her show and its entire spectacle. We are confident in the tour's success, and hope that Kylie will make this the first of many tours to our shores."

Tickets will go on sale in each market on the weekend of May 15, however early access to tickets in the U.S. will be available to American Express Cardmembers beginning this Thursday, May 7, through Ticketmaster. Members of Kylie's mailing list via her official website will receive an
exclusive email that contains information of special ticket pre-sale offers.

Kylie Minogue North American Tour

Thu 30th Sep Fox Theatre - Oakland (San Francisco Bay Area)

Sat 3rd Oct The Pearl 'Palms Resort & Casino' - Las Vegas, NV

Sun 4th Oct Hollywood Bowl - Los Angeles, CA

Wed 7th Oct The Congress Theater - Chicago, IL

Fri 9th Oct Air Canada Centre - Toronto, ON

Sun 11th Oct Hammerstein Ballroom - NYC, NY

The Old Fogey Blames Narcissism

The old newspaperman thinks people distracted themselves from what they were supposed to be doing. And it is interesting, the world we have moved into now, where kleptocratic common-carrier newspaper owners flog the remaining employees to highlight the lame PR of government players and remain as neutral as possible lest anyone complain. Meanwhile, expert reporters start their own blogs, because the newspaper isn't really supporting them anymore, and isn't really interested in, like, news. And everyone is chasing the prizes and the TV spots, where the big money is. So, if you're trying to find something basic, like a well-written obituary of a community notable, fuhgeddaboutit:
American journalism is in trouble, and the problem is not just financial. My profession is in distress because for more than a decade it has been chasing the false idols of fame and fortune. While engaged in those pursuits, it forgot its readers and the need to produce a commercial product that appealed to its mass audience, which in turn drew advertisers and thus paid for it all. While most corporate owners were seeking increased earnings, higher stock prices, and bigger salaries, editors and reporters focused more on winning prizes or making television appearances.

Some long-term reporting projects have been undertaken, and multiple-part series published, simply because they might win prizes. Over the past ten years, The Washington Post has won nineteen Pulitzer Prizes. But over that same period, we lost more than 120,000 readers. Why? My answer, unpopular among my colleagues, is that while many of these longer efforts were worthwhile, they took up space and resources that could have been used to give readers a wider selection of stories about what was going on, and that may have directly affected their lives. Readers have limited time to spend on newspapers. The number has been twenty-five minutes, on average, for more than thirty years. In short, we have left behind our readers in our chase after glory.

Editors have paid more attention to what gains them prestige among their journalistic peers than on subjects more related to the everyday lives of readers. For example, education affects everyone, yet I cannot name an outstanding American journalist on this subject. Food is an important subject, yet regular newspaper coverage of agriculture and the products we eat is almost nonexistent unless cases of food poisoning turn up. Did journalists adequately warn of the dangers of subprime mortgages? I don’t think so.

...Most newspapers and the broadcast media have cut the number of reporters on beats. Meanwhile, young reporters are increasingly shifted from beat to beat, never having enough time to master complex subjects such as health care, public education, or environmental policies. As a result, more of their stories are based not on reportorial expertise, but on pronouncements by government sources or their critics.

...Meanwhile, we have turned into a public-relations society. Much of the news Americans get each day was created to serve just that purpose—to be the news of the day. Many of our headlines come from events created by public relations—press conferences, speeches, press releases, canned reports, and, worst of all, snappy comments by “spokesmen” or “experts.” To serve as a counterpoint, we need reporters with expertise.

Consider the worst of recent examples. I believe the Bush administration sold the March 2003 invasion of Iraq to the American people beginning with a public-relations campaign that started in August 2002. Vice President Dick Cheney kicked it off with a series of speeches on the growing threat from Saddam Hussein, and it continued almost daily, with key members of the administration giving speeches, statements, or press conferences. The result was that the threat from Saddam Hussein—his alleged nuclear weapons, the idea that he would give chemical or biological weapons to terrorists—dominated news coverage right up to the time the first missiles hit Baghdad on March 19, 2003.

Manipulation of the media was taken to its highest form by George W. Bush’s administration. It built, however, on what went on before.

In 1922, Walter Lippmann, in his book Public Opinion, wrote:
The enormous discretion as to what facts and what impressions shall be reported is steadily convincing every organized group of people that whether it wishes to secure publicity or to avoid it, the exercise of discretion cannot be left to the reporter. It is safer to hire a press agent who stands between the group and the newspapers.
In 1968, Joe Alsop, discussing the Vietnam War, wrote that “facts influence events.” The increasing reports by war correspondents of U.S. failures in the war gradually undermined public support for the fighting. Five years later, facts presented by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and published day after day in The Washington Post proved Alsop’s words in dramatic fashion. The Post’s newspaper stories led to the resignation of a president.

...The celebrity of Woodward and Bernstein, along with financial rewards that accompanied Bob’s continued hard work, set new goals for others in the profession. At the same time, the impact an aroused press could have on government and politics was not missed by conservative supporters of the Nixon administration. Their response was twofold: demand more conservative columnists on newspaper op-ed pages and equal treatment in news columns for politicians and experts from “both sides” of issues. It was an informal way of applying the fairness doctrine, which was required of the electronic media, to print.

In 1981, at the beginning of the Reagan administration, Michael Deaver—one of the great public-relations men of our time—began to use early-morning “tech” sessions at the White House, which had been a way to help network producers plan the use of their camera crews each day, to shape the television news story for that evening.

...After a while, the network White House correspondents began to attend these sessions, and later print reporters began showing up, too. ... The Washington Post, which prior to that time did not have a standing White House story each day (publishing one only when the president did something newsworthy), began to have similar daily coverage.

At the end of Reagan’s first year, David Broder, the Post’s political reporter, wrote a column about Reagan being among the least-involved presidents he had covered. In response, he got an onslaught of mail from people who said they saw Reagan every night on TV, working different issues. It was a triumph of public relations.

When President George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan and occasionally drifted off the appointed subject, criticism began to appear that he “couldn’t stay on message.” When Bill Clinton did two, three, or four things in a day, critics went after him for “mixing up the daily message.” Being able to “stay on message” is now considered a presidential asset, perhaps even a requirement. Of course, the “message” is what the White House wants to present to the public.

These two elements on the editorial side of journalism—a move away from expertise and the growth of public relations in government—have been facilitated, in part, by the changing nature of newspaper ownership.

Newspapers across the U.S. were often begun by pamphleteers, political parties, or businessmen who wanted to get involved in local, state, or even national affairs.

...They used their presses to influence government, but that is what the founding fathers contemplated when they wrote the First Amendment. The idea was that citizens in a democracy were to read more than one paper or pamphlet, weigh all opinions and facts as presented, and make up their own minds.

Today, mainstream print and electronic media want to be neutral, presenting both or all sides as if they were refereeing a game in which only the players—the government and its opponents—can participate. They have increasingly become common carriers, transmitters of other people’s ideas and thoughts, irrespective of import, relevance, and at times even accuracy.

When is the last time you saw a major newspaper or television network set out its own agenda for candidates to take up? At a time when it is most needed, the media, and particularly newspapers, have lost their voices.

Beginning in the 1960s, papers large and small started being bought for large sums, first by newspaper chains, which in turn became controlled by outside financial interests. A few papers remained privately owned, but eventually almost all sold stock to the public. With that financial change came monopoly ownership, one newspaper per city or town, and the notion that the newspaper that survived should be neutral, presenting all points of view in each controversial story. As I said, the fairness doctrine has been transferred from radio and television to the newspaper. How ironic is it today, then, that there are dozens of competing electronic voices in almost every city, most of which now have only one newspaper.

The Graham and Sulzberger families’ ownership of The Washington Post and The New York Times is, I believe, a major reason why these newspapers continue to provide quality journalism. But even they and their editors are nervous when accused of showing favoritism or antipathy toward one party or another.

...As a copyboy in 1954, fresh out of college, I delivered mail to Hanson Baldwin, then the Times’s highly respected military correspondent. When Baldwin wrote a news story or a piece of analysis, it was read in the Pentagon and in Congress. They had to read him because his years of coverage and his insights made him as expert as top generals and civilian defense officials. I didn’t know it then, but those days had a major influence on my approach to journalism.

I am a Democrat, and everyone knows it. No one is more aware of it than I am as I write stories for The Washington Post. I worked for Senator J. William Fulbright twice in the 1960s, when I was lucky to run two eighteen-month Foreign Relations Committee investigations for him. The first grew out of magazine articles I had written about lobbying in the U.S. by foreign governments. The second focused on military involvement in foreign policy, and grew out of discussions I had with Fulbright during my initial time with him. Those two sabbaticals were among the most important and enlightening years of my life, and influenced my view of reporting on government. They showed me how little I knew as a reporter about how government really worked.

Part of the explanation for this lack of knowledge is the emergence of the idea, among reporters in Washington and perhaps elsewhere, that we should avoid socializing or developing friendships with public officials—even those who are our peers. As a result of this artificial separation, public figures remain one-dimensional to many journalists; they have no wives, children, or lives outside their professional positions.

Not to me. After fifty years of living and working in Washington, I’ve had personal friends in Congress, on federal court benches, in high government positions, even in the White House. We should be measured by our work, not by what we say or do elsewhere. I certainly hope that as witnesses to wars, civil-rights riots, peace marches, famines, and terrorist events these past decades, we all have developed opinions which at times we may discuss or even argue about—or we just are not human.

Such experiences make us better observers and thus better reporters. With more and more PR peddled as news, journalists need the experience to sort out what really is news, and to deliver it in context.

...Family-owned newspapers were the foundation of American journalism in the 1960s. Like the Post, most were started by businessmen who wanted a voice in their communities. Few were begun as the way to make a fortune. That began to change with the arrival of radio, and then television. The electronic media involved government licenses, which carried with them the requirement for delivery of public-affairs programming, starting with news. Newspapers became the obvious applicants, and many publishers suddenly became owners of local broadcast stations who stood to make a lot of money as network affiliates.

...I believe most corporate owners of newspapers made terrible business decisions over the past decade, thinking that the growing profits of the 1980s and early 1990s would continue. Chains paid excessive prices for family-owned papers and went deep into debt. The New York Times Company finds itself in trouble after paying $1 billion for The Boston Globe, over $2 billion to buy back its own stock at the height of its price, and another $600 million for a new building.

And now there is the economic downturn. In this environment, the Web has become both the threat and, to some, the savior. But I look at this differently than some in my profession. The Web has certainly taken an important chunk of classified advertising, but the broader threat seen by many is to me another sign of our own self-involvement. Journalists, probably more than any other group outside the financial community, are mesmerized by the Web. They closely watch it, so they believe others are doing the same.

...Meanwhile, most consumers of online news do it from roughly 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They are at work, and what they have time to see primarily are headlines. They don’t pay for what they see and probably won’t. And because the daily readership numbers are relatively small and the audience often geographically dispersed, the advertising hardly covers the cost of gathering the original stories. As Washington Post President Stephen P. Hills said recently, the Post newspaper is a $600 million business; its Web site is a $50 million business.

Nevertheless, there has been an outburst within the journalism community that the end is near. Serious people have proposed what in time will be considered absurd ideas—turn papers into nonprofit organizations; charge for each downloaded story; turn into Web-based publications; make Web aggregators, such as Google and Yahoo, pay for carrying newspaper stories.

...Like other industries caught up in today’s economic downturn, newspapers, which just a few years ago were rapidly expanding, have to reduce expenses, including staff. We also should look for other ways to use the materials we already collect and produce. The Post and other publications have taken first steps in joint ventures with network television news. I believe we will see a time when a major newspaper and a major television network jointly produce a daily news show.

But when it comes to editorial content, meaningful news about government, politics, and foreign policy is only one of the saleable elements. Good newspapers have to go back to delivering a daily product that our mass audiences want, and which provides to advertisers a unique means to reach consumers. Like supermarkets, newspapers must deliver quality in all departments.

Michael Savage Disinvited

Interesting development - Michael Savage banned in Britain!:
LONDON (AFP) – The government published a blacklist on Tuesday of people recently banned from the country including a Hamas lawmaker and a Jewish extremist, as well as anti-gay protestors and a far-right US talk show host.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she decided to publish the “name and shame” list — which identifies 16 people banned since last October — for the first time to clarify what behaviour Britain will not tolerate.

“I think it’s important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here, the fact that it’s a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won’t be welcome in this country,” she said.

“If you can’t live by the rules that we live by … we should exclude you from this country and, what’s more, now we will make public those people that we have excluded,” she told the GMTV broadcaster.

Between October and April the Home Office excluded 22 people for “fostering extremism or hatred” included preachers Abdullah Qadri Al Ahdal, Yunis Al Astal and Amir Siddique, said a Home Office statement.

Hamas MP Yunis Al-Astal, Jewish extremist Mike Guzovsky, former Ku Klux Klan leader Stephen Donald Black and neo-Nazi Erich Gliebe are also on the list, as is controversial radio host Michael Alan Weiner, also known as Michael Savage.

Others blacklisted include homophobic US pastor Fred Waldron Phelps, as well as Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, former leaders of a violent Russian skinhead gang which committed 20 racially motivated murders.

Smith said: “The government opposes extremism in all its forms and I am determined to stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.

“This is the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour,” she added.
One can argue, of course, that the First Amendment guarantees Michael Savage free-speech rights. Then again, despite the fact that we share with Britain the same inheritance of the English common law, free speech provisions of the United States' Constitution do not necessarily apply there. The British Home Secretary has wide authority and I hope Savage goes ahead, sues, wastes a lot of money on solicitors, and probes the limits of his scurrilous Talk Radio speech.

That's how it goes! When you travel overseas, you are a guest, and you have just those rights that your hosts are prepared to extend - and no more!

Superior Crash Barriers

Whatever works:
PUYALLUP, Wash. -- ... A small plane crashed into a storage yard full of portable potties Friday afternoon near Thun Field just minutes after taking off from the field.

Pilot Clifford Howell of Lake Bay told investigators at about 150 feet in the air, his engine quit. He banked and tried to make it back to the runway, but came up short.

...Witnesses say the plane bounced off the rows of portable toilets in a storage yard at the north end of the field, flipped, then landed upside down on a pile of wood chips.

...Investigators say the toilets and the wood chips cushioned a potentially dangerous landing.

...Help arrived within seconds, and Howell, who was the only person on board, was able to get clear of the wreck. He was on his own feet, but not without injuries.

"He had an impact injury to his forehead, and for precautionary reasons we sent him to Good Samaritan Hospital to get checked out," said Blair.

Howell has been treated and released.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Journalistic Fail

Good point, from Badtux
It takes a 4th grader to ask Condi a probing question about torture. None of the other "reporters" who have interviewed her since her original "it's not torture if the President says it's okay" statement asked her whether she agreed with torture or not, because that would have been "adversarial" -- why, they might have even been disinvited from her dinner parties in the future! It took a fourth grader.

I've earlier stated that the reason mainstream newspapers are dying is because of a self-inflicted wound -- they're simply not selling a product that the majority of people want. There are fewer newspapers sold today than when JFK was elected President of the United States in 1960, and that's not a coincidence, that is a steady drip-drip-drip of people deciding newspapers simply do not provide them with what they're looking for (which, for the most part, is truth -- not "he said she said" transcription of "he said the sky is blue, she said the sky is purple", which fails once issues become too complex to be immediately obvious).

Heat Stroke And Dehydration Are Not The Same

How people changed their minds regarding drinking water during exercise:
Adolph was the first to test the presumptions most people still have about what to do if forced to make any sort of effort in extreme heat. Most, he discovered, were myths. Stripping to T-shirt and shorts, for instance, is not the best way to cope with dehydrating conditions. Long sleeves and long trousers may feel hotter, but they'll slow the loss of water. Nor is there any point in rationing water when supplies are low. Putting off drinking it merely makes you unhappier sooner. "It is better," wrote Adolph, "to have the water inside you than to carry it."

The most important of Adolph's findings was the simplest: drinking during exercise improves performance. Today, we take this for granted, but generations of coaches and distance runners were taught that drinking during exercise was for wimps. It would only make you thirstier, some claimed. Others said it could even trigger a heart attack. ... Adolph tested the old assumptions by splitting his soldiers into two groups. Both marched through the desert for up to 8 hours during the time of year when the average afternoon high was 42 °C. The soldiers in one group were allowed to drink as much water as they wanted and the others weren't allowed any. The results were clear: the drinkers outperformed the non-drinkers, but the men in both groups gave up once they had sweated off 7 to 10 per cent of their body weight.

To Adolph, this made perfect sense. On days when the temperature is hotter than the average person's skin temperature - about 33 °C - the only way for the body to cool itself is by the evaporation of sweat, and he could calculate how much moisture that required. A brisk walk could easily require three-quarters of a litre or more of evaporative cooling each hour. Over an 8-hour stint, that's a lot of sweat.

Adolph's research was driven by the North Africa campaign, which ended in 1943. But he returned to the desert each summer during the war years and supplemented his experiments with tests in his heated lab. His findings stayed secret until 1947, when he was allowed to publish his pioneering Physiology of Man in the Desert. It went almost entirely unnoticed. In the late 1960s, marathon runners were still advised not to drink during races and until 1977, runners in international competitions were banned from taking water in the first 11 kilometres and after that were allowed water only every 5 kilometres.

Then there was a complete reversal of opinion. A trickle of studies began to warn of the dangers of running a marathon without enough water and suddenly runners were being told they must drink during a race - and if they didn't feel like it they should force themselves or risk heatstroke.

...Runners and coaches in the 1970s and 1980s presumed that collapsing athletes like Salazar were simply extreme cases of the same thing. Dehydration and heat collapse were virtually synonymous in many minds. "Drink early and often," athletes were told - and not just when thirsty.

Yet, as Noakes points out, none of Adolph's dehydrated soldiers suffered heatstroke. "They just got very angry and stopped walking." What's more, they recovered rapidly when allowed to rest and drink. "Able to walk almost immediately after taking water," Adolph wrote in one case. In another: "exhaustion relieved by water". Salazar's brush with death wasn't the result of drinking too little: he had simply tried to run a world-class race on a very hot day. Under those conditions heat is the enemy, not dehydration.

The Lap Of Luxury - Time To Go To The Dentist

Time to attend to that cracked filling!

The best waiting room anywhere! But on this visit, the jigsaw puzzle was completed, which was a disappointment to a puzzle freak like me.

Ooooh! You can watch TV while they jackhammer away at your molars!

So, the President of Pakistan says their nuclear arsenal is safe from the Taliban. His reassurances make me very nervous indeed.

Since I was in the lap of luxury, I tried switching channels to "Keeping Up With The Kardashians", but I had a hard time following the plot line, what, with all the whining drills and suction hoses, and mouth manipulation going on.

Scaredy Cats

The hedge funds created a hostile climate, and they should expect hostility. They shouldn't try to isolate themselves from the consequences of their decisions:
Blaming a "hostile climate" perpetuated by the Obama administration "publicity campaign," Tom Lauria, the attorney representing the group of twenty hedge fund calling themselves the "Chrysler Non-TARP Lenders," filed a motion to seal claiming the hedge funds "targeted by the president" -- presumably Oppenheimer Funds and Stairway Capital, since those were the only funds associated with the group -- had "received various threats, including dozens of death threats directed to their employees."

But today bankruptcy court Judge Arthur Gonzales denied the motion, seeing "no evidence that authorities found the threats bona fide" -- maybe because the only evidence of said threats cited in the motion was a printout from the comments section of the Washington Post website.

We've excerpted the relevant portion of the motion after the jump, so we'll leave it to you to determine the seriousness of these elusive zealots operating pseudonymously under enigmatic handles (e.g. "jerkhoff").

From page ten of the 17-page filing -- all bold and italics Lauria's.

Certain members of the public have expressed their rage at the Chrysler non-TARP lenders. The following is a sample of posts on the Washington Post website in response to an article about Chrysler and the Chrysler Non-TARP Lenders:

  • "these hedge fund managers are criminals and their firms are nothing more than criminal enterprises. What they do is nothing short of treason, using loopholes in the law to avoid prosecution. Will someone please explain to me why we don't execute these vermin."
  • "These aristocrats should be lined up against the wall and executed."
  • "I'm sick and tired of being blackmailed by all these financial wizards. I never had any sympathy for them to start with, but now I have lost patience with them entirely. Too bad we can't rid the world of them all."
  • "Hedge funds are floating crap games that are capable of taking down entire nations. They should be criminalized."
  • "Hedge funds are criminal associations."

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Weirdest Political Ad Ever

Cat Got Your Tongue?

I must be shot through with the stuff:
Kevin Lafferty is a smart, cautious, thoughtful scientist who doesn't hate cats, but he has put forth a provocative theory that suggests that a clever cat parasite may alter human cultures on a massive scale.

...The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, has been transmitted indirectly from cats to roughly half the people on the planet, and it has been shown to affect human personalities in different ways.

Research has shown that women who are infected with the parasite tend to be warm, outgoing and attentive to others, while infected men tend to be less intelligent and probably a bit boring. But both men and women who are infected are more prone to feeling guilty and insecure.

Other researchers have linked the parasite to schizophrenia. In an adult, the symptoms are like a mild form of flu, but it can be much more serious in an infant or fetus. Oxford University researchers believe high levels of the parasite leads to hyperactivity and lower IQs in children.

...Building on research by scientists in the Czech Republic, Lafferty took a long look at areas of the globe where infection levels are quite high, or quite low. In Brazil, for example, two out of three women of child-bearing age are infected, whereas in the United States the number is only one out of eight.

Lafferty argues in a research paper published Aug. 2 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology, that aggregate personality types, or what cultures tend to be like, fit neatly with the effects that the parasite produces in individuals.

So that led to a basic question:

Can a common cat parasite account for part -- even if only a very small part -- of the cultural differences seen around the world?

...Toxoplasma, he notes, is "frighteningly amazing."

It can change the personality of a rat so much that the rat surrenders itself to a cat, just as the parasite wanted.

The parasite's eggs are shed in a cat's feces. A rat comes along, eats the feces, and becomes infected. The behavior of the rat undergoes a dramatic change, making the rat more adventuresome and more likely to hang out around cats.

The cat eats the rat, and the parasite completes its life cycle.

..."We have a parasite in our brain that is trying to get transmitted to a cat," he says. "This changes an individual's personality."

So if enough personalities are changed in a given society, will the culture of that society also be changed?

...Cat lovers need not get rid of their cats. The chances are not great that a modern cat, kept on a diet of safe cat food and not left to feed off rats, will transmit the parasite to humans. It's possible, but not likely, Lafferty says.

..."This isn't about trying to freak cat owners out," he says. "Simply having a cat as a pet doesn't mean you're going to get infected, for sure."

Of course, maybe some other parasite is making him say that.

Davis Ranks Number 19

On Forbes Magazine's list.

The Swiss Girls First Day In America

The Improv class was filled with retirees, but still, it was playtime. The two girls were aged eight to about ten.

The exercise was one-word story, and the group concocted a perfectly daft tale about the Three Musketeers vs. the Three Pigs, involving a shy wolf, a tall bear, yogurt served at a restaurant, and a Hannah Montana concert.

First impressions are often the deepest....

More Cryptic Fire Department Activity Today

This time the hullaballoo was at 926 J Street (10th & J). The fire engines came a screamin' down the street and set up for trouble.

I asked a waiter waiting across the street with the other evacuees what happened. He said "The fire alarm went off and so we decided it was time to leave the restaurant and go outside."

Nevertheless, after just a few minute, the fire department let everyone back inside.

Sadie's Back

In aerobics class, I was worried, because Sadie went to Argentina two months ago, and seemingly vanished. Besides just missing her presence at the front of the class, she borrowed my New Zealand guide books, and I wondered if she had just vanished into the suburbs of Buenos Aires someplace.

She's back now, apparently with art work and other items for the Argentine boutique she is planning. In a month, she'll head to NZ and AU to visit friends (but after she returns my guide books).

I reasoned that Argentina is known for it's cattle industry, so I asked her if she brought back any cows.

In response, she rolled her eyes, but just then Pepper interrupted with thumpin' loud music for the class, so I got no answer....

Why Not Vegas In Blue Jeans?

Color coordination?:
Today that press release came from the room-tax-supported Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. This is the organization that is responsible for promoting tourism here. Their most famous success, as LVCVA would be the first to point out, came from providing the money behind the "What happens here..." advertising campaign. And there is no denying that tourists were packing the Strip thanks to that message back in 2006 or so. But to quote the New York philosopher Lou Reed: those were different times.

So what do these great thinkers responsible for getting tourists to come to Las Vegas have to say to us in the midst of the worst economic times in the Strip's history?

"The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is urging all Las Vegans to show their support for the No. 1 industry to our economy by wearing blue on Tuesday, May 12."
Richard Abowitz feels the blue campaign is stunningly stupid. But, hey, gotta start somewhere!

There's even a theme song that might work: Neil Diamond's "Forever In Blue Jeans" :
Money talks
But it don't sing and dance
And it don't walk
Long as I can have you here with me
I'd much rather be
Forever in blue jeans
And if you pardon me
I'd like to say
We do okay
forever in blue jeans, babe
I know, I know, it's so un-Vegas as to make your eyes roll. But when you are looking for new ideas, it's best to start small and humble....

I Stink, Therefore I Am

I'm not dead yet!:
Life really stinks for Argentine ants. New research shows that while alive, the ants produce two odoriferous chemicals that prevent their compatriots from immediately carting their bodies away to the 'morgue'.

Within minutes of their death, however, the conspicuous absence of these chemicals prompts workers to remove the carcasses, explaining how the foraging ants are able to detect and dispose of their dead before infectious pathogens and pungent chemicals fill the corpse.

Drs. Doom & Gloom Are Not Impressed

The government has placed the banks on a treadmill, with results due Thursday. Messrs. Richardson & Roubini see lots of trouble, and lots of screaming investors ahead:
The results of the government's stress tests on banks, to be released in a few days, will not mark the beginning of the end of the financial crisis. If we are to believe the leaks, the results will show that there might be a few problems at some of the regional banks and Citigroup and Bank of America may need some more capital if things get worse.

...This would be good news if it were credible. But the International Monetary Fund has just released a study of estimated losses on U.S. loans and securities. It was very bleak -- $2.7 trillion, double the estimated losses of six months ago. Our estimates at RGE Monitor are even higher, at $3.6 trillion, implying that the financial system is currently near insolvency in the aggregate. With the U.S. banks and broker-dealers accounting for more than half these losses there is a huge disconnect between these estimated losses and the regulators' conclusions.

The hope was that the stress tests would be the start of a process that would lead to a cleansing of the financial system. But using a market-based scenario in the stress tests would have given worse results than the adverse scenario chosen by the regulators. For example, the first quarter's unemployment rate of 8.1% is higher than the regulators' "worst case" scenario of 7.9% for this same period. At the rate of job losses in the U.S. today, we will surpass a 10.3% unemployment rate this year -- the stress test's worst possible scenario for 2010.

...We fear that we are back to bailout purgatory, for lack of a better term.

...Third, stress tests aside, it is highly likely that some of these large banks will be insolvent, given the various estimates of aggregate losses. The government has got to come up with a plan to deal with these institutions that does not involve a bottomless pit of taxpayer money. This means it will have the unenviable tasks of managing the systemic risk resulting from the failure of these institutions and then managing it in receivership. But it will also mean transferring risk from taxpayers to creditors. This is fair: Metaphorically speaking, these are the guys who served alcohol to the banks just before they took off down the highway.

And we shouldn't hear one more time from a government official, "if only we had the authority to act . . ."

We were sympathetic to this argument on March 16, 2008 when Bear Stearns ran aground; much less sympathetic on Sept. 15 and 16, 2008 when Lehman and A.I.G. collapsed; and now downright irritated seven months later. Is there anything more important in solving the financial crisis than creating a law (an "insolvency regime law") that empowers the government to handle complex financial institutions in receivership? Congress should pass such legislation -- as requested by the administration -- on a fast-track basis.

...The government should be able to dangle an insolvency law as an incentive to cooperate. This will result in a $1 trillion game of chicken. But given the size of the stakes, and the alternative of the taxpayers continuing to foot the bill, it's the best way forward.

RIP, Dom DeLuise

"The Twelve Chairs" was just sublime!

DMTC Teen Benefit Planned

Oh, I'm glad to hear this! I was a little worried that, without a teen benefit being planned, it would be a little burdensome to fund the annual scholarships. I was also worried that, without a summer show being planned, summer rent and A/C would be burdensome, but the 25th annual DMTC fundraiser gala is being planned for August 1st, and so that will help fill the space and help with cash flow and general obligations.
DMTC Update!

Teen Benefit:

  • Mary Rudy & Cindi Parente are looking for performers to take part in the
    annual Teen Benefit.
  • If you are between the ages of 13 and 19, and have been involved in any YPT
    production over the years, you are invited to take part.
  • There will be two official rehearsals to be determined before the
    performance date.
  • Performance date is Thursday, May 21.
  • Please think of a number you would like to perform in a group (big or small)
    and send your ideas. All graduating seniors are invited to take part in this event, as we have so many talented YPTers who are leaving us. All seniors are invited to do a solo or duet if they wish.
  • If you are interested in participating, please respond by Wednesday, May 6

Organs In Unexpected Places

I remember when I was living in Salt Lake City, UT, I knew a recent transplant from the East Coast, a zealous young woman who called herself the 'only Orthodox Jewish woman in all of Salt Lake City', and how embarrassed she was that her synagogue possessed an organ, and how eccentric, philo-Christian and un-Jewish that seemed to her, and ...

Oh, never mind.....:
Huddled at the back of her shed, bleating under a magnificent winter coat and tearing cheerfully at a bale of hay, she is possibly the answer to Japan’s chronic national shortage of organ donors: a sheep with a revolutionary secret.

Guided by one of the animal’s lab-coated creators, the visitor’s hand is led to the creature’s underbelly and towards a spot in the middle under eight inches of greasy wool. Lurking there is a spare pancreas.

If the science that put it there can be pushed further forward, Japan may be spared an ethical and practical crisis that has split medical and political opinion.

As the sheep-based chimera organ technology stands at the moment, says the man who is pioneering it, the only viable destination for the pancreas underneath his sheep would be a diabetic chimpanzee.

The organ growing on the sheep was generated from monkey stem cells but the man behind the science, Yutaka Hanazono, believes that the technology could be developed eventually to make sheep into walking organ banks for human livers, hearts, pancreases and skin.

...Japan defines death as the point when the heart permanently stops. The concept of brain death — the phase at which organs can most effectively be harvested from donors — does exist, but organs cannot be extracted at that point.

The long-term effect of the legal definition has been striking: organ donation in Japan is virtually nonexistent, forcing many people to travel abroad in search of transplants. In the United States, the rate of organ donors per million people is about 27; in Japan it is under 0.8.

The effect, say paediatricians, has been especially severe for children. The same law that discounts brain death as suitable circumstances for organ donation broadly prevents children under 15 from allowing their organs to be harvested.

To make matters worse, international restrictions on transplant tourism are becoming ever tougher, making Japan’s position even more untenable. To avert disaster, say doctors, Japan either needs the science of synthetic organ generation to advance faster than seems possible, or it needs a complete rethink on the Japanese definition of death.

...Taro Nakayama, the MP behind the most liberal revision — a change that would allow organs to be harvested from the brain-dead — is a former paediatrician. “Organ tourism is finished and Japan has to change its ways very quickly,” he said.

Cryptic Fire Department Activity This Morning At The Buckhorn Grill (18th & L St.)

Hmmm.... There's water all over the pavement and there are blasé diners sitting outside at the sidewalk tables. Either it's a very small fire, or the fire hydrants are being tested, or the temperature is soaring, or it's cheap entertainment, or some combination of all four possibilities.

Egads! Ninth Today!

People are being very nice to me! I'm afraid I will get a nosebleed from the altitude!

[UPDATE: Peaked at eighth and settled for a nice, comfortable tenth!]

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cool Bus Stops Of The World


All I Wanted To Do Was Keep Her From Taking The Day Off

But the consequences are still being felt:

(Last Monday)

M.: You know, you really ought to go into school today. There is this story in the paper about something called swine flu, and it might affect your school.
E.: I'll give them a call and let them know....


E.: You know, I'm a hero! Until I called, no one there knew anything about it. Our school was first-in-the-District letting the teachers know! I'm a hero!

Just Reminds Me Of Someone

Also via Wicked Thoughts.

Mystery Of The Vanishing Car

Camouflage (via Wicked Thoughts):
Ms Watson, a second year [art design] student, said: "I was experimenting with the whole concept of illusion but needed something a bit more physical to make a real impact."

She was given the Skoda Fabia from the breaker's yard at local firm Recycling Lives.

Owner Steve Jackson described her work as "amazing".

"When I first saw the photos I was convinced it was something which had been done on the computer," said Mr Jackson.

"But when you look more closely you see the effort and attention to detail she has put into it. It is just amazing."

"May The 4th Be With You!"

Pretty Star-Wars-themed wedding from the UK. Great photo!

Which reminds me of something on the Overheard Everywhere Web Site:
20-something girl to boyfriend: You're such a nerd.
Boyfriend: We prefer "Men of Gondor."

Superficially More-Attractive

Years ago, I placed this blog on Bressler's list of Sacramento Area's Top 25 Web Sites. The rankings are reset to zero every two weeks.

In general, my ranking on the Top 25 has languished - sometimes as high as 26th, usually down around 55th. Sometimes it starts high, then slides into oblivion as the days go by, as discriminating readers apparently prefer to read year-old posts on other, superficially more-attractive Web Sites, than to read my own offerings.

Yet lately, my ranking has jumped. Today it's 12th, and moving up. I've never been ranked so high, so late in the bi-weekly cycle!

I'd like to think readers can't wait to read my recent posts like "Banks 1, Investors 0" (whose content comes entirely from TNR), but actually I think the reason is, since I now post a banner picture on the Top 25, my blog is now superficially more-attractive than it used to be....

Banks 1, Investors 0

"Think of the new dynamic as a kind of Iran-Iraq war come to Capitol Hill: Where there are no obvious good guys, the next best thing may be two powerful rivals beating each other to a pulp.":
In fact, there are real differences among these species of moneymen. Top executives at large commercial banks tend to be a little older, a little stodgier, a little more politically conservative than their counterparts at hedge funds and other money-management firms. Traditionally, the bankers have also been far more sophisticated about navigating Capitol Hill. That's especially relevant in the current crisis, when the interests of the two groups increasingly diverge and Washington is being forced to adjudicate. And perhaps no episode better illustrates the gap in political savvy than the battle over housing legislation now boiling over in the Senate.

Ever since 2007, Congress has been grappling with a way to ease the millions of foreclosures piling up in the wake of the housing bust.

...Among the Democrats' preferred solutions to this problem is something called "cram-down"--that is, allowing bankruptcy judges to modify a mortgage and unilaterally impose the new terms. When Obama unveiled his own housing plan in February, he asked Congress to revive the cram-down idea as part of a carrot-and-stick approach to helping borrowers. The carrot would be cash incentives--a series of $1,000 payments--for banks to perform modifications. Cram-down would serve as the stick.

Almost immediately, investors and banks joined forces to snap that stick like a twig. Investors hated the cram-down idea because they worried judges would force them to accept, say, lower interest payments for the sake of distressed borrowers. The big banks had similar worries for the mortgages they keep. Many also hold on to second liens (basically, second mortgages) after they sell off the first and worried judges would wipe those out entirely. And both groups generally feared the arbitrary ways judges might wield their power.

But a funny thing happened while the big banks and investors were uniting against the cram-down push: The banks cut their own deal. Top executives at four large banks--Citigroup, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, and Wells Fargo--descended on Congress to proclaim they'd love nothing more than to modify mortgages, just like the president wants. It's just that, with all those greedy investors out there, you never know who's going to sue. The solution, they argued, was a "safe harbor" provision: Give us legal immunity, and we'll modify all the loans you send us.

...From the banks' perspective, the beauty of legal immunity was that it would give them a free hand to modify mortgages owned by investors while collecting cash incentives from the government and protecting their second liens--a proposition potentially worth billions. From the investors' perspective, it meant the cost of modifications would come entirely out of their pockets.

...And so, while the investors droned on to glassy-eyed congressmen about the sanctity of their contracts, the banks waxed expansive about all they wanted to do for the man on the street. "The investors don't make a sympathetic case. The banks positioned themselves as happy to help modify the loans," says one neutral finance industry lobbyist. "By essentially throwing investors under the bus, they created a glide path for loan modifications."

When the House passed its bill in early March, the investors were stunned to see that it contained the safe harbor provision they feared and loathed.

...The investors realized they'd been had. They quickly pulled out of the broader lobbying effort and formed their own group--called the Mortgage Investors Coalition--which spent most of April frantically pleading their case. They argued that, even without safe harbor, the lenders had all the legal protection they needed. They insisted the only thing safe harbor would accomplish is to protect banks who made fraudulent loans, which they'd essentially be able to launder through modification.

...Alas, it may be too little, too late. Pressed by the big banks, the Senate defeated cram-down yesterday and is on the verge of passing safe harbor as early as Monday. (J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was spotted in the chamber on Wednesday.) "We're trying to cram six-to-eight months of education into three-to-four week period," bleats one beleaguered investor lobbyist.

Introspective Republicans Discuss The Ticking Time Bomb Of Hatred

It's interesting to hear Joe Scarborough and company discuss Republican venom towards Democrats, where it came from, and how to defuse it (video at the link):
In an appearance Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Scarborough offered Ronald Reagan as a model of temperamental moderation, saying, “We need to be conservative, but like Reagan. … We can’t scare little kids.” On his own MSNBC program the next day, he emphasized again, “They’ve got to drop the hate.”

“If you know you’re right, then why be angry?” Scarborough asked calmly. “I do a radio show, and a lot of callers that call in expect me to scream and yell and say I hate President Obama. Being against his policies, for some reason with a lot of people in the base that’s not enough. They want you to hate the man.”

...“If you’re mature enough,” Scarborough continued,” you realize Barack Obama doesn’t hate America, I don’t hate America — we just have different views of how to make America a better place And if you look at history over 250 years, that’s worked out pretty well.”

Scarborough and his guests were unable to agree, however, on the source of the current extreme polarization. Scarborough noted that “politics has been war, a nasty, bloody war for a very long time,” but he also suggested that Republican hatred for Obama now is a reflection of Democratic hatred for George W. Bush.

“They say, ‘Look what they did to us!’” Scarborough commented. “A lot of Republicans saw a lot of really unfair, nasty things said about George W. Bush … and so now Republicans want to pay back.”

Barnacle, however, pointed out that the hatred goes back at least to the 90s, and that Newt Gingrich was the first Republican leader for whom it was “not enough to defeat the Democrats — he had to demonize and destroy them personally. And it became infectious.”
Actually, zealous conservative hatred has a long, long pedigree and you can find an unbroken trail of hate right back to the French Revolution. Post-WWII American conservatism has had several notable practitioners of demonization - Henry Luce, Robert Taft, Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, Gen. Curtis LeMay, George Wallace, H.R. Haldeman, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, William Kristol, Tom DeLay, Ann Coulter - the list is long.

Demonization waxes and wanes with the times. Just after 9/11, there was a rare time when conservatives angry with radical Muslims could find common cause with liberals angry with leftists that weren't angry enough at radical Muslims. I was part of that group of liberals - the ones annoyed with Michael Moore for not wanting to kick the terrorists around.

But soon, conservatives began to drift. They stopped paying attention to the real Muslim world and started paying much closer attention to a fantasy Muslim world of their own imagining - a world full of ticking time bombs, torture, and terrorists.

Plus, conservatives reverted to their old familiar game of demonizing liberals and questioning their patriotism. Conservative Democrats like Jimmy Carter felt their lash for not being pro-Israel enough.

In response, leftists like Michael Moore finally got a clue and got more lucid. Liberals grew a spine. And the rare moment of conservative/liberal amity was lost. Once the absence of WMD in Iraq revealed just how lost conservatives really were, it was too late. The rhetorical war of left/right politics was on again.

Every morning, I wake up with a little prayer on my lips: "Thank God, Ronald Reagan is dead!" It can be interpreted in two ways, of course - the demonizing way I actually intend, but also as a lament. For all his faults (and excepting welfare queens and communists, for whom he had an irrational dislike) Reagan had a hard time hating individual people. Reagan seemed to sense what hatred could do, and recoiled from it. Reagan wouldn't like the current situation.

Dance Fail

Sunday, May 03, 2009

"The Soloist"

I had a pretty quiet weekend - Friday night and Sunday afternoon I helped out at DMTC. But Saturday night, Sally and I went to see Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. in "The Soloist".

The movie makes the point that there are definite limits to what one can do for mentally-ill homeless people. The best thing to do is to be a good friend.
Steve Lopez hasn't had a good story in a while and the newspaper where he works is laying off journalists due to falling ratings. He had been looking for a story in all the wrong places; when he happened upon a homeless violinist, Nathaniel Ayers, playing beautifully with only 2 strings. Ayers was a former Julliard student who begins to trust Lopez, and a friendship grows, but not necessarily to the benefit of either. While Lopez intention is to help Ayers; he isn't sure that he has in the end. Some believe Lopez saved Ayers, because he became his only friend. Can the act of caring be enough to help a person who has a mental illness? Even still, Lopez has been positively influenced by witnessing the musical genius he has found in Ayers. He was interested in Ayers and so were his readers and public officials, including the mayor, who pledges money for homeless centers.
Since I periodically bump into homeless people, I thought it interesting that the homeless people in the movie seemed ever so much more colorful than the people I typically meet. The homeless situation in LA looked like the seventh circle of hell in the movie, but I just bet if you go down there to LA and look around, it's not nearly so scary. Nevertheless, not-so-scary makes a dull movie, and so the situation was dramatized for cinematic appeal.

I thought it interesting how newspaper professional Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.) and street musician Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) both spoke in nearly-identical clipped rhythms. Madness for all of us is just one step away!

Some people are interpreting this as a sad movie, but I didn't find it sad. Sad is if you persist in failing to see the limits of your ability to change the world. Happy is when you go just as far as you CAN go to change the world, and then accept that is all you can do.

"A Beautiful Mind" explored mathematics and madness. "The Soloist" explored music and madness. We need just one more movie to make the triptych complete (mathematics and music).

Nice Hog

Love Those Risk-Free 1,000 Meter Walls!

Jet propulsion and wings:
YVES Rossy spread his wings to conquor the English Channel and now he's set to take on a new challenge.

The Swiss pilot, 49, has been tinkering with the jet-propelled wings that allowed him to ''fly'' from Calais to Dover last September.

He has now come up with a more powerful set of wings that he hopes will carry him across the Grand Canyon.

..."A month ago we went there and found a spot for flying. I'd like to fly in the US to make my name over there."

"There are vertical cliffs over 1,000 metres high, so I can do what I do without taking risks. I'd be 200 metres from spectators with 800 metres of air below me.

"It's a world famous location and very beautiful. It's also in an Indian reserve, so there is that symbolic side of things too.

"I want to make a simple wing that I can share with others and put on someone else's back so that we can do formation flying in the clouds.

"I have a list of friends who are interested. They're a bit scared but when they see me they really want to go for it."

Test Results Too Late To Avoid Disrupting Schoolhouse Rock's Schedule

Well, at least the lab results were favorable:
A definitive lab test conducted in Sacramento has determined that a Holmes Junior High student and a Woodland adult - previously thought to have 'probable' cases of the swine flu - actually experienced a more common variety of the flu that is ordinarily found in humans.

As a result, there are no longer any probable or confirmed cases of swine flu in Yolo County, and Holmes Junior High will open on Monday and hold classes as usual. On Friday, the Yolo County Health Department had ordered Holmes to close for up to two weeks, on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So, now the students won't be quarantined.

Nevertheless, because several Holmes Jr. High students are in DMTC's YPT's production of "Schoolhouse Rock", this entire opening weekend had to be cancelled. The extent to which shows can be rescheduled is yet to be determined. It was already difficult enough to work through existing schedule conflicts, but there are definite limits to how far the show can be extended, if at all, because the performers already have made commitments after when the show's run was supposed to be over.


The 2009 Oklahoma Republican Party Platform

"Forever in Hell" reviews the platform and finds no end of gems. Example:
12. We believe that government should not fund any organization that opposes the ideas and principles contained in the Republican Platform.

that's right kids. we are country of liberals, conservatives and everything in between, and even conservatives don't all agree with everything in this manifesto, but the government should not fund anything that disagrees with what is stated here.

think about that: no ACLU, no more pap smears for poor women, no funding for colleges with even vaguely liberal leanings.

that's just batshit crazy. and that's the party platform.

Hard To Find A Smoking Pig...

...In a factory farm filled with pigs:
Scientists have traced the genetic lineage of the new H1N1 swine flu to a strain that emerged in 1998 in U.S. factory farms, where it spread and mutated at an alarming rate. Experts warned then that a pocket of the virus would someday evolve to infect humans, perhaps setting off a global pandemic.

...“Industrial farms are super-incubators for viruses,” said Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Farm Production, and a long-time critic of the so-called “contained animal feeding operations.”

...[G]eneticists studying the composition of viruses taken from swine flu victims described it as the product of a DNA swap between North American and Eurasian swine flu strains. ... Six of the genes in swine flu looked to be descended from “H1N2 and H3N2 swine viruses isolated since 1998.”

...H3N2 — the letters denote specific gene variants that code for replication-enhancing enzymes — is the name of a hybrid first identified in North Carolina in 1998, the tail end of a decade which saw the state’s hog production rise from two million to 10 million, even as the number of farms dropped. H3N2 originated in a relatively benign swine flu strain first identified in 1918, but had absorbed new genes from bird and human flus.

These new genes provided replication advantages that allowed the hybrid to permeate densely packed pig farms whose inhabitants were routinely shipped across the United States. That rapid replication rate also increased the chances of strains evolving in ways that allowed them to evade hog immune systems.

Within a year, exposures topped 90 percent in several heartland states. A retrospective news account in Science said that “after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus had jumped on an evolutionary fast track.”

...“We haven’t found evidence of infected pigs,” said Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist and member of the World Health Organization’s surveillance network. “But even if we never find that smoking pig, we can surmise that this is probably where it came from.”