Friday, May 29, 2009

Social Networking Sites Make Life's Little Happenings So Immediate

Because if you don't post something about what you are doing, how will anyone know what you're feeling?:
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A man who confessed to robbing a South Carolina bank in a message posted on MySpace has pleaded guilty. Federal prosecutors said Thursday that 27-year-old Joseph Northington of Roanoke, Va., will be sentenced later for using a firearm during a crime of violence.

Authorities said Northington robbed a bank in North Augusta of almost $4,000 in January while visiting a friend, who called investigators after seeing surveillance pictures of Northington.

Prosecutors said before his arrest, Northington posted a message to his MySpace account reading: "On tha run for robbin a bank Love all of yall."

Northington faces seven years to life in prison. His attorney did not return a phone call Thursday.

Northington's MySpace page is still up, his status listed as "wanted."

Vog. Vog? Vog!

And a mighty beautiful picture of Hawaii too!:
Kilauea Volcano, on the island of Hawaii, has been erupting continuously since 1983. This image, taken by the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis (after completing the capture of the Hubble Space Telescope), shows volcanic plumes from Kilauea rising up from three locations: Halema‘uma‘u Crater, Pu‘u ‘O‘o Crater, and from along the coastline where lava flows from the East Rift zone were entering the ocean. The plumes have created a blanket of volcanic fog, called vog, that envelops the island.

The Four Corners Monument Is In The Right Place

So there!:
Recent media reports incorrectly stated that the location of the Four Corners survey monument – marking the point common to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah – is in error by 2.5 miles and suggested that the monument therefore does not correctly mark the intersection of the four states. These reports also erroneously attributed the discovery of this supposed error to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Geodetic Survey (NGS). ... NGS has, however, worked with the media to correct inaccuracies in the initial reports, clarifying that the distance between the actual location of the monument and its intended location is substantially less than the reported 2.5 miles, and that – as affirmed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – it does indeed correctly mark the four-state-intersection point. ...

In 1875, a surveyor named Chandler Robbins was contracted by the U.S. General Land Office (GLO), the BLM’s predecessor, to survey the entire boundary between the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, from the U.S.-Mexico boundary to the 37th parallel of latitude north of the equator. He was charged with also establishing, at the boundary’s northern terminus, the Four Corners monument, as it would be known upon completion of the other territorial boundary surveys terminating there. Robbins was directed to base his survey on the geographic coordinates of Ship Rock (a prominent northwestern New Mexico landform), which had been determined the previous year during the decade-long U. S. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian, led by First Lieutenant George Wheeler.

An 1863 Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, which separated Arizona from New Mexico, specified that the dividing boundary should be coincident with the 32nd meridian of longitude west of the Washington (DC) Meridian. The Washington Meridian, which had been in use since 1850, was defined as bisecting the dome of the old Naval Observatory, situated at a longitude of 77 degrees 03 minutes West (for simplicity, longitude values presented here are rounded to the nearest arc minute). In fact, the boundaries of 11 western states are similarly longitude-referenced to the Washington Meridian, and not the Greenwich Meridian. This practice was in place in the U.S. until 1912, when our nation adopted Greenwich as its standard longitude reference.

Hence, what Congress had specified for the Arizona-New Mexico boundary, and the Four Corners monument, was that they should be established at a longitude of 109 degrees 03 minutes West, as referenced to the Greenwich Meridian. Therein, we believe, lies the source of the invalid report of a Four Corners monument location error of 2.5 miles. Some people apparently relied on the incorrect premise that the marker was originally intended to be located at a longitude of exactly 109 degrees West. But, Robbins followed his marching orders correctly, and the Four Corners monument was established at the point he determined, to the very best of his ability and using the available technology, to be the prescribed location of 109 degrees 03 minutes West longitude and 37 degrees North latitude. There, his meridian survey intersected the 1868 New Mexico-Colorado boundary survey, which ran along the 37th parallel. Subsequent surveys established the Utah-Colorado and Arizona-Utah boundaries, thereby completing the Four Corners assemblage of territorial (eventually state) lines, as specified by Congress.

Where There's Smoke....

There's fire....:
The newspaper world has temporarily diverted its gaze from its collective navel to Rosemont, Ill. That's where, reports James Warren in the Atlantic, top executives from major papers have gathered to plot the future of their business. Machers from, among others, the New York Times, Gannett, E.W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises, and Freedom Communication Inc. were scheduled to gather for a "discreet" "discussion about content models," including the possibility of charging for Web content. This comes barely a month after a similar meeting in San Diego, where CEOs at the "Newspaper Association of America convention [held] a clandestine meeting to discuss, among other topics, whether and how to start charging readers to view articles and other content online."

...Warren likens the Rosemont confab to the Yalta conference or, perhaps, the infamous 1957 mob summit in Apalachin, N.Y. But if the news honchos aren't very, very careful, the more apt analogy may be a 1994 meeting in a Hawaii hotel room at which representatives of agricultural-products giants gathered under the guise of a trade-association meeting to fix prices for a chemical called lysine—a story that ended up with federal criminal convictions and Archer Daniels Midland and others paying hundreds of millions of dollars in fines (not to mention a movie starring Matt Damon).

Antitrust law is complicated, but one principle is very simple: Competitors cannot get together and agree on price or the terms on which they will offer their services to their customers. It doesn't matter if the industry is ailing or if collusion would be "good" for society or necessary to preserve democracy. An agreement regarding pricing is "per se"—automatically—illegal under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, the main federal antitrust law.

All but a few newspapers currently give away their Web content for free. Many would like to start charging but are afraid that if they're the first to make the leap, their readers will abandon them for the remaining free alternatives. One obvious solution would be for them to agree to make a collective leap behind a pay wall.

But such an agreement would be blatantly illegal, says Kenneth Ewing, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson who, as head of his firm's antitrust practice, advises corporations on how to stay out of trouble. "It's Antitrust 101. If you're a competitor of another company, you violate federal and state law if you agree on the price or the general terms on which you are willing to compete."

...And Ewing and Blecher—who both stressed that they don't know the specifics of what newspaper execs have discussed and who aren't accusing them of wrongdoing—certainly aren't the first to recognize the risks of chumminess among competitors. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith himself warned, "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

In fact it's the "merriment and diversion" component of meetings that can be the most perilous, says Blecher. The biggest danger isn't what goes on in the official meetings, where lawyers "make sure everything is lily white and virgin pure," he said. But "we don't know what happens when they go out to dinner."

Of course, newspaper execs will never admit that they have collectively decided to start charging. But what if, one by one, over the next few months, each of them "independently" announces a new online subscription plan? Is that enough to send plaintiffs racing to the courthouse seeking treble damages?

Lady Gaga - Paparazzi

Some performers, like Britney Spears, play at being decadent, but they generally do a bad job of it. It's just not them. They don't know how. A dead giveaway is their sly sense of humor....

For Lady Gaga, however, decadence is home. And what is decadence? From Wikipedia:
Used to describe a person's lifestyle, it describes a lack of moral and intellectual discipline, or in the Concise Oxford Dictionary: "a luxurious self-indulgence".

...Applied to the arts, decadence implies an elevation of self-indulgence and pretension over effort and talent; when applied to science and the professions, it describes an erosion of professional ethics.

...In literature ..."decadents" relished artifice over the earlier Romantics' naive view of nature (see Jean-Jacques Rousseau). Some of these writers were influenced by the tradition of the Gothic novel and by the poetry and fiction of Edgar Allan Poe.

Oscar Wilde gave a curious definition: "Classicism is the subordination of the parts to the whole; decadence is the subordination of the whole to the parts."
One of the things that impressed me most about Kylie Minogue was her inherent classicism: in contrast, Lady Gaga seems quite....different.

Then, of course, there was this interview from Australia where Lady Gaga discusses what I suppose one might call romance. And there is little sign of a sense of humor...

Secession, Or Patriotism?

If you're Sean Hannity talking about Texas, you want both secession and national patriotism, and all done very loudly too, of course, despite the starkest of stark contradictions between the two concepts.

But there is little new here. If I recall correctly, Wilbur J. Cash, in his path-breaking 1940 book, "The Mind Of The South", carefully explained how, after the War Between The States, the former secessionists paradoxically and quickly transformed themselves into flag-waving ultra-American nationalists. Never again would they be caught on the wrong side of history. They would be more American than anyone ever could be! Take that, you yellow-bellied Yankees!

Other historians have explored how Midwestern politicians like William Jennings Bryan and Southerners like Josephus Daniels tried their unsuccessful best to oppose these ultras, and their Yankee compatriots, on hare-brained schemes like the conquest of Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines.

But time moved on, as time always does. The hell-raising Midwestern agrarians were swept away by agri-business (e.g., Thomas Frank's "What's The Matter With Kansas?"), and the Southerners who best-remembered the legacy of the War Between The States came to rest in tombs under the magnolias.

These days, the line between North and South (or as we say these days, between Blue States and Red States) is as stark as it has been since the 1920's, or indeed, since the days when General Sherman burned Atlanta. The modern South and the modern Midwest, away from the ports and sharing a common history of farm mechanization, farm depopulation, urbanization, and suburbanization, and home to common fundamentalist faiths, now have too much in common.

So, if today, Sean Hannity speaks differently out of each side of his mouth at the same instant, there is ample historical precedent. It's an old story, 140 years old, made new again every day, on FOX News.

Arrest The Kea!

Stop! Thief!:
A brazen thief stole a British man's passport but Te Anau police are not pursing an arrest or attempting to recover the document.

A Scottish man reported the audacious theft of his passport from a bus heading into Milford Sound this week, the Southland Times reported.

A kea swiped his passport from a coloured courier bag when the bus stopped at the Chasm on the Milford road.

When the driver was in a compartment beneath the bus, the bird swooped down, grabbed the bag and flew off into the bush.

The unidentified Scotsman said "I did take it with humour but obviously there is one side of me still raging".

The passport is very unlikely to be returned.

A replacement from the British High Commission in Wellington could take as long as six weeks and cost up to $400.

Stuff's Breakin' Around The House

Last week, I dropped the digital alarm clock on the floor. In response, the clock now races at twice normal speed, so if you set the alarm, it will go off in the evening rather than in the morning.

Last weekend, I rammed a ladder into an exposed outdoor pipe, and so it now gushes water in the middle of the night during sprinkling time. I've reduced the sprinkling time for that zone to one minute, but I can't reduce it to zero, and so now I have a minute-long Old Faithful in the back yard every night.

And yesterday, the pilot light blew out on the hot water heater. It won't stay relit, which means it's probably due for maintenance. It's supposed to get maintained yearly, but I've lived there 14 years and I don't think I've maintained it once in that time, so maybe it's due. So now, when I need to take a cold shower (which is often), I conveniently have no other choice but to take a cold shower.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sacramento's Future?

Some People Are So Literal

It hurts to be a clerk:
An analyst at the Connecticut Police Academy says a co-worker responded literally to her "bite me" remark and chomped on her. Former Waterbury police Capt. Francis Woodruff was charged Tuesday with disorderly conduct and released on a promise to appear in court. He's accused of biting academy license and applications analyst Rochelle Wyler on April 24.

...Wyler's complaint alleges Woodruff was annoying her by calling her a clerk. She says she responded with "bite me" _ and he did.

Prom Queen

A talent for expression!:
An openly gay teen was voted prom queen at Los Angeles' Fairfax High School in a campaign that began as a stunt but ended up spurring discussion on the campus about gender roles and teen popularity.

Sergio Garcia, 18, was crowned queen Saturday night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

"I feel invincible," Garcia said in his tiara and charcoal-gray tuxedo.

A few days earlier, he gave a speech that won over some cynics and led to an ovation and his unlikely victory.

"At one time, prom may have been a big popularity contest where the best-looking guy or girl were crowned king and queen. Things have changed and it's no longer just about who has the most friends or who wears the coolest clothes," Garcia told a gymnasium full of seniors. "I'm not your typical prom queen candidate. There's more to me than meets the eye."

Garcia assured the crowd he wouldn't wear a dress on prom night.

"I will be wearing a suit," he said. "But don't be fooled, deep down I am a queen."

...Garcia said he saw fliers advertising the prom and the election, and they didn't specify that the queen must be a girl. He thought the role would suit him better than prom king.

"I don't wish to be a girl," he told the Los Angeles Times. said. "I just wish to be myself."

Senior class president Vanessa Lo said she and many other students were initially against the idea but were won over by Garcia's speech and became convinced he wasn't just an attention-seeking clown.

"It just goes to show how open-minded our class is," Lo said.

...Other students weren't as happy, and suggested many voted for Garcia just to see the spectacle of two boys dancing together at the prom.

"I'm not really happy about that," said 17-year-old Juan Espinoza. "He should've run for prom king."

Last Page Of The Mayan Calendar

I miss Y2K. I can't wait till 2012!:

The growing harmonic convergence of apocalyptic stupidity that goes under the rubric 2012 or "the Mayan Calendar Prophecy" has not yet reached Y2K proportions. And while it's broken out of the New Agey cult status where it's been fermenting for some years, there are still many in the chattering classes who haven't heard about it. "The end of the world in 2012?" my friend Stanley said. "You mean I have to wait that long?"

The cult around the date Dec. 21, 2012—the supposed apocalyptic final day on something referred to knowingly as "The Mayan 'Long Count' Calendar"—has been the subject of fevered fantasies on the net and the free New Age "magazines" given away at health-food stores. But last week Newsweek gave it serious attention, and there's a metastasizing web of 2012 sites, including at least one anti-2012 site, which has a section devoted to debunking the apparently limitless number of gullible airheads who have become 2012 believers.

Even within the web of believer webs there are bitter mini-schisms already: Some believe that Dec. 21, 2012, will mark the end of the world in some kind of fiery apocalypse, planetary collision, gravitational reversal, black-hole disappearance, spontaneous combustion, or planetary rotational reversal of some sort. Then there are those who believe that the end of the old Mayan calendar will be something to look forward to: a transformational moment in the history of creation that will be all good for earth's peeps—a "harmonic convergence"-type thing. (Remember that from the '80s, when a bunch of planets lining up were supposed to work wonders on Earth?) In 2012, human nature will undergo a rebirth, the beginning of a New Age. (The Age of Aquarius at last! Maybe it's all hype for the revival of Hair.)

And, of course, there's at least one major motion picture of the cataclysm school, Roland Emmerich's 2012, due this November. And, needless to say, the New Age section of your local chain bookstore is bursting with 2012 titles. There's the literate Daniel Pinchbeck's 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. I was an admirer of Pinchbeck's brave first book, Breaking Open the Head, about his search for shamanic experiences, and must admit I'm disappointed that he seems to have reduced all that mystery and wonder to a single number in 2012—although I'm sure that's not how he would put it.

And, finally, there's the frankly exploitive: everything from Beyond 2012 to (I swear) The Complete Idiot's Guide to 2012 (a bit redundant). Then there are the "2012 survival kits," a 2012 iPhone app, an "official" 2012 store, and other foolishness—the whole Y2K survivalist huckster aspect of 1999 replicating itself.

It's a harmonic convergence all right, a harmonic convergence of ignorance and superstition—a tsunami of stupidity—worthy of the millennial cults of the 19th century most enjoyably anatomized in Leon Festinger's famous study, When Prophecy Fails, a look at the way end-of-the-world cults grow even stronger after their prophet's end-of-the-world date flies by and the world confoundingly continues to exist. (Festinger's study gave rise to the term "cognitive dissonance.")

In addition to 2012 the date, 2012 as a concept has its harmonic convergence (or maybe cataclysmic convergence) with an ever-widening spectrum of New Age idiocies. It's like a magnet for mindlessness. There's the literal convergence with "Planet X," for instance.

Don't tell me you haven't heard of Planet X? Obviously not, otherwise you'd be aware of the following compilation of Planet X lore I found on a skeptical Web site:
Apparently, Planet X (aka Nibiru) was spotted by astronomers in the early 1980s in the outermost reaches of the solar system. It has been tracked by infrared observatories; seen lurking around in the Kuiper Belt, and now it is speeding right toward us and will enter the inner solar system in 2012. So what does this mean to us? Well, the effects of the approach of Planet X on our planet will be biblical, and what's more, the effects are being felt right now. Millions, even billions of people will die, global warming will increase; earthquakes, drought, famine, wars, social collapse, even killer solar flares will be caused by Nibiru blasting through the core of the solar system. All of this will happen in 2012, and we must begin preparing for our demise right now …
Sounds scientific to me. I hope I have flashlight batteries for when Nibiru comes "blasting through" the solar system. (As far as I can tell from a brief survey of the subject, "Planet X" is an artifact of some infrared anomalies that may or may not have "planetary" reality. Scientists disagree, but few have formed apocalyptic cults around it.) Of course, this summary leaves out the various UFO versions of Planet X (and 2012) theories in which space aliens are going to manifest themselves, maybe hopping off Planet X during a flyby as either Wise Teachers or Sadistic Destroyers.

...Why is this tsunami of stupidity so irritating to me? I think it has a lot to do with one of the more recent moronic convergences I found on some 2012 site. One that supposedly aligned the Maya's 2012 thing with the Hopi end-times prophecy. The best cultural explanation I found for this flowering of idiocy said that New Age fads like the Hopi prophecy and 2012 are a kind of cultural colonialism in which white people endow the minorities they have wiped out or repressed with mystical powers made more mysterious by their virtual vanishing.

But I have a personal connection to the Hopi prophecy: a sad episode in my past involving the prophecy and the flying-saucer con man who was exploiting it.

It was one of my early reporting junkets for the Village Voice. I had escaped from Taos, N.M., where I had spent a lot of time not interviewing Dennis Hopper at the ranch that D.H. Lawrence had once rented, and I loved the desert and desert hot springs. So I was traveling west, and I remember I stopped at a broken-down filling station while driving through the Hopi Reservation in Arizona and saw a sign for a strange rally. It seemed to be in support of a 101-year-old Hopi "prophet" who was claiming that UFOs were coming soon to fulfill the age-old Hopi prophecy and that everyone should show up to greet them at this rally.

...Then ... well, I remember at the end of the couple days I spent in the dusty little town reporting on this story I ended up in the lovely terra-cotta cottage of a refugee from Greenwich Village, an elderly woman who had left New York, where she had danced with Martha Graham, to come to the "highly spiritual" Southwest, where she had been caught up in the Hopi-flying-saucer prophecy and come under the spell of the sketchy UFO middleman, who claimed prophetic powers himself. She believed in the mysticism of love, she told me earnestly, and she thought the sketchy guy was somehow a prophet of love. It also seems he told her that he was a bit short of cash and had to borrow the whole of the poor woman's savings to pay for the rally where the UFOs were going to land and prove everything he said about the prophecy. The aliens had to be given a proper reception. Only they held the rally, and not only did the UFOs not show up; the sketchy guy didn't show up, and he and her savings were in the wind.

Ice Circles

Are ice circles in Russia what crop circles are in England?:
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station noticed two mysterious dark circles in the ice of Russia’s Lake Baikal in April. Though the cause is more likely aqueous than alien, some aspects of the odd blemishes defy explanation.

The two circles are the focal points for ice break-up and may be caused by upwelling of warmer water in the lake. The dark color of the circles is due to thinning of the ice, which usually hangs around into June. Upwelling wouldn’t be strange in some relatively shallow areas of the lake where hydrothermal activity has been detected, such as where the circle near the center of the lake is located. Circles have been seen in that area before in 1985 and 1994, though they weren’t nearly as pronounced. But the location of the circle near the southern tip of the lake (pictured here) where water is relatively deep and cold is puzzling.

Life In Housing Hell

As unemployment rises, prime mortgages collapse too:
An industry report shows that a record 12 percent of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage are behind on their payments or in foreclosure as the housing crisis spreads to borrowers with good credit.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday the foreclosure rate on prime fixed-rate loans doubled in the last year, and now represents the largest share of new foreclosures. Nearly 6 percent of fixed-rate mortgages to borrowers with good credit were in the foreclosure process.

At the same time, almost half of all adjustable-rate loans to borrowers with shaky credit were past due or in foreclosure.

California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida accounted for 46 percent of new foreclosures in the country.

Meanwhile, new U.S. home sales were almost flat last month, indicating that the housing market's recovery will likely be a slow and gradual process.

Like Josh Marshall Says

In this post, Josh Marshall summarizes very well the nature of Sonia Sotomayor's opposition (verbatim):
To take the public conversation on its face, a key dynamic in the Sotomayor story is that Republicans can't easily level what would otherwise be legitimate criticisms because some will see them as evidence of prejudice or hostility toward a Latina woman. In other words, the GOP is hamstrung on this battle and has to fight it with one rhetorical arm tied behind its back.

In theory, that could be a problem. But a couple days in, it's actually playing really differently. While elected Republicans are keeping their powder mainly dry and avoiding -- in all but a few cases -- racial charged remarks. But you can't say that for professional Republicans. We've heard that her taste for 'ethnic' food might throw into question her judicial reasoning, that she's a product of affirmative action, that she's a racist, that she's challenging English language dominance by insisting on an alien Spanish pronunciation of her name, that she belongs to a scary group called 'la raza' that might want to help Mexico reconquer the southwestern United States and make it Mexican again and on and on. All told, there's a chorus from the right that Sotomayor is a scary Mexican, understood in the sense of 'Mexican' as anybody with a Spanish last name who isn't actively working to keep the Cuban embargo in place.

And to the extent that there's political calculation at work it seems more likely that it's the realization that any Latina nominee would bring out the rightwing crazies like moths to a flame. They simply can't help it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lost Honeybee

In my office. Dazzled by the fluorescent lights. Can't seem to catch him.....

Unusual North Korean Bellicosity

I don't know what it means, but it can't be good. The North might finally trip up in its little game of brinksmanship and finally provoke retaliation if it's not careful:
The North Korean threat -- unusually broad and bellicose, even by North Korean standards -- came three days after the reclusive communist state was condemned by the international community, including longtime allies China and Russia, for testing a second nuclear device in violation of U.N. resolutions. Since Monday, the North has also launched five short-range missiles into the sea off its eastern coast.

The nuclear test pushed South Korea on Tuesday to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which was created in 2003 by President George W. Bush and includes more than 90 countries that have agreed to stop and inspect suspicious cargo ships.

For months North Korea, which is widely suspected of violating U.N. resolutions by shipping missiles to customers in East Asia and the Middle East, has said it would regard the South's membership in the anti-proliferation program as an "act of war."

As threatened, the government of Kim Jong Il rolled out a multi-pronged counter-attack in response to South Korea's decision. So far, it remains rhetorical.

North Korea said it could no longer guarantee the safety of ships from South Korea and other countries sailing in the Yellow Sea off its western border.

It added that it would not honor a North-South border in that sea, which was drawn up at the end of the Korean War in 1953. The North also said it would not respect the legal status of five islands on the South's side of the line.

Two naval clashes occurred in that area of the Yellow Sea in 1999 and 2002, resulting in the deaths of six sailors from South Korea and more than 30 from North Korea. In those skirmishes, North Korea was badly outgunned by the South's more modern weapons.

The armistice that ended the Korean War bans a naval blockade, and North Korea claimed Wednesday that the South had nullified the agreement by joining the anti-proliferation effort.

Since "the U.S. imperialists and the [South Korean President] Lee Myung-bak group of traitors have reneged" on the armistice, North Korea said it is no longer obligated to obey international law or abide by bilateral agreements.

In Seoul, Lee publicly called for "calm" and told his advisers to "respond with cool-headedness." Japanese officials issued a similar call for restraint.

...The former Soviet Union was for decades the principal economic patron of North Korea. In a telling measure of the North's increasingly diplomatic isolation, Medvedev agreed with Lee that Pyongyang had violated international law with its nuclear test. Medvedev pledged to take an "active part" in formulating a new U.N. resolution," according to the Russian government's Web site.

Russia also called the North Korean ambassador to its foreign ministry and told him Moscow has "serious concern" over this week's test, the ministry said, according to Reuters.

North Korea's closest ally, China, has also been notably critical of the nuclear test this week.

...Andrei Lankov, author of several books about North Korea and a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said "small-scale shooting is possible and even probable, but nothing more serious than that."

"The location of mansions where Pyongyang's leaders enjoy their Hennessy cognac is well-known to the American military, and North Koreans know the precision of U.S. cruise missiles," Lankov said. "The North will steer clear of any action which might lead to a real confrontation."

Rich And Julie At The Mondavi

Nice article in yesterday's Davis Enterprise featuring Rich and Julie Kulmann!
Gotta sing!
Local chorus is a 'town and gown' mix of talents

Jeff Hudson - Enterprise staff writer
Published: May 26, 2009

Not all the singers in the University Chorus are college students.

Some come from the Davis community at large, including a few who are retired. They sing with the University Chorus — including this Sunday's performance of the Handel oratorio, "Alexander's Feast" — because they enjoy the opportunity to participate in a large-scale choral concert.

Rich and Julie Kulmann, for instance, are involved with several groups. She's an alto, he's a tenor. They've sung in the choir at Davis United Methodist Church for years.

"We also sing in the Davis Chorale, and then in 1998, the University Chorus asked the Davis Chorale to help with a performance of the Berlioz Requiem at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, in Sacramento," Julie Kulmann recalled. "That Berlioz Requiem is such a huge thing."

The Kulmanns enjoyed that Berlioz performance, and liked working with the University Chorus.

"So we just stuck with it," Julie said. "We're a retired couple; we don't have to be at work at the time the University Chorus holds rehearsals, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

Sunday's concert will take place at 8 p.m. at the UC Davis Mondavi Center's Jackson Hall. Tickets — $16/$14/$10 general, $8/$7/$5 students and children — are available at the Mondavi Center Ticket Office, (530) 754-2787.

"What keeps us going, through all these years," Julie continued, "is the way conductor Jeffrey Thomas approaches music, and the completeness he brings to it. And he's got a good sense of humor. And he's very respectful of the chorus."

Another community member singing with the University Chorus is tenor Peter Shack.

"It's my third or fourth year," he told The Enterprise. "Ever since the Davis Comic Opera Company folded, I decided to pitch my tent with the University Chorus."

Shack, who has lived in Davis for nearly 30 years, described himself as "mostly retired — I'm a lawyer, and was supervising deputy attorney general" with the state government in Sacramento.

"I sing a lot, and I sing all the time," Shack said.

Shack sometimes finds himself recalling his own college days, "when the choir director — actually, the glee club director — brought around what I thought were some old guys to kind of show us the ropes. Now I can inspire some of these kids to keep singing their whole lives.

"What goes around comes around."

This will be the first time that the Kulmanns and Shack have sung "Alexander's Feast."

"I'm trying to recall if I've ever sung a large secular work from the 18th Century," Shack said. "There aren't a lot of them. Most of the oratorios from that era are sacred works.

"It's wonderful music. My favorite section, I guess is 'Let Timotheus Yield The Prize,' which has these great melismatic runs. It's really wonderful, hearing all the parts go against each other."

"Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Music" was written in 1736, when Handel was transitioning out of writing operas, and finding popular success with oratorios. The piece depicts a celebration following the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great. There's a huge feast, including entertainment by musicians.

"It definitely sounds like Handel," said Julie Kulmann. "It's melodious, as all his pieces are. There are hints through it of 'Messiah,' and other pieces that would come later. It's got lots and lots of long lines, with are fun to sing."

He Found A Way To Baffle The French

Dubya sure knew how to confuse the Europeans:
In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France's President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:
"And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."
Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:
"This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins".
The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush's words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Romer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university's review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper.

The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush's invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs".

In the same year he spoke to Chirac, Bush had reportedly said to the Palestinian foreign minister that he was on "a mission from God" in launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was receiving commands from the Lord.

There can be little doubt now that President Bush's reason for launching the war in Iraq was, for him, fundamentally religious. He was driven by his belief that the attack on Saddam's Iraq was the fulfilment of a Biblical prophesy in which he had been chosen to serve as the instrument of the Lord.

Down The Road, A Do Over

Last November, gay marriage advocates were just a little too complacent, a little too willing to believe that the important hurdles had already been overcome. Hopefully a new campaign will be better-focused, better-funded, and reach more voters:
While no final decision has been made, gay marriage groups said their members overwhelmingly want to put the question before voters again in 2010.

"The burden is back on us to reach out to the voters of California and trust they will be fair-minded," said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

"It is absolutely their right to try that," said Frank Schubert, Proposition 8 campaign manager.

But he said the 2008 presidential election may have been gay marriage supporters' best chance of attracting an unusually large turnout of young and more-sympathetic voters.

The court's 6-1 ruling upheld Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that changed the California Constitution to declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

At the same time, the justices unanimously chose to preserve more than 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California during the five months it was legal last year.

The marriages took place before the initiative passed and after the high court ruled 4-3 in May 2008 that it was unconstitutional to prevent gays from marrying.

Rampant Narcissism

Jerry writes:
Finally, we have an explanation for everything that's wrong with society: rampant narcissism!
Actually, there may be a lot to blaming our troubles on narcissism.

I wonder if this example is narcissism, or just there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go I?:
A North Carolina woman reportedly dumped an elderly relative at a shelter in Bradenton on the way to Walt Disney World.

Beverly Edwards is said to have dropped her aunt, Ruth Smith, at a Salvation Army homeless shelter Sunday evening — while indicating that she would not be returning to pick up the 96-year-old.

Edwards, who told staff at the shelter that she could no longer care for the elderly woman, then traveled on a family vacation to Disney World. Details of her trip were not available.

Salvation Army personnel at the shelter would not comment Friday.

"This seems like a rather extraordinary and extreme case," said Jon Peck, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. "Dropping an elder and running is definitely not the best way to protect the interests of the elder."
This example sounds a little like my boss when I lived in Utah:
A recent study titled "Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader" describes how narcissists have skills and qualities—confidence, extraversion, a desire for power—that propel them into leadership roles but that when true narcissists are in charge, other aspects of their makeup—a feeling the rules don't apply to them, a need for constant stroking—can have "disastrous consequences." Yes, we're talking about you, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. After Blagojevich was caught on tape trying to sell a Senate seat, he reveled in the opportunity to appear on talk shows, making the case that he himself was a victim—self-pity being a favorite narcissist refuge.

A line from a New York Times profile of him is as trenchant a description of narcissism as is found in most psychology textbooks: "[He] is unapologetically late to almost everything, and can treat employees with disdain, cursing and erupting in fury for failings as mundane as neglecting to have at hand at all times his preferred black Paul Mitchell hairbrush." There it all is: the sense that other people don't matter, the belief others are instruments for the narcissist's use, the self-admiration.
Actually I've been surrounded by narcissists all my life. Maybe that's why I ended up helping run a theater - life would seem empty without that special emphasis on 'me':
People with NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) act as if they are special beings who are exceptionally intelligent, accomplished, beautiful, or sexy (or all of the above), to whom lesser people (pretty much everyone else) must bow. For example, the late real estate heiress Leona Helmsley did time in prison for her belief about herself and her husband, "We don't pay taxes. Only little people pay taxes."
And this example sounds like E.:
Those involved with someone with NPD frequently say they feel as if they are interacting with a kindergartener. In some way they are. According to a study in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatments, narcissists are stuck with the emotional development of 5-year-olds. It's about at age 5 that children start realizing their feelings are not just the result of other people or events but occur within themselves, and that they have control over them. But this understanding does not take place for the narcissist, who continues to see all internal states as having an external cause. Because of narcissists' inability to control their own emotions, they unconsciously experience the world as constantly threatening—thus the tendency toward inexplicable rages, the wild overreactions to the slightest perception of criticism.
Jerry recommends these examples from computer-land:
This page is a riot!
Oddly enough, while amusing, I find the examples on this Web site insufficiently-narcissistic. Maybe it's because I'm inured to narcissistic behavior or maybe it's because I'm naturally an enabler, I find the examples just run-of-the-mill consumer society stuff.

Yesterday at the sandwich shop, it seemed the three stoners in line in front of me were just clueless. Their remarks were juvenile, they couldn't decide what to order, and they behaved selfishly. After they left, I talked to the manager, who shook his head as he gazed at the departing social menaces and said:
I've worked in customer service all over the world, but I've never seen animals like this until I got here to the United States.
Uncharitable, perhaps, but the unnarcissistic majority eventually do get their revenge against the narcissistic minority.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sparrow On A Mission

I had to jump out of the way to avoid the city sparrow. On city sidewalks, moths are few and far between, and this sparrow was hell-bent to catch one of these evasive critters!

Pay Cut

Well, it's official: I will be working a 32-hour week, not a 40-hour week, at least till December.

Which amounts to a pay cut.

Which is understandable, given that the work-load has been really light since last August, and shows no sign of picking up.

But which also gave me plenty of time to blog. While getting paid.

And if there is one thing I insist upon, it is getting paid while blogging about random minutiae, like finding a glamorous high-heeled shoe abandoned in the grass.

But if others disagree, particularly my employers, what leverage do I have to change their assessment?

I should light some incense this afternoon for the God Of Stimulus....

Here is an anti-stimulus prayer, delivered several months ago, when the stimulus bill was passing through Congress. Today I will whomp up an anti-anti-stimulus prayer in response (if I can just get my mind off that strange high-heeled shoe....)

Judge Sotomayor Nominated

And the political circus is coming to town!

It was nice to see the Whispering Campaign against her that emanated from TNR came to naught. But it does show how she has well-placed enemies:
In other words, Rosen did what the modern journalist of the Respectable Intellectual Center does by definition: he wrote down what Serious People told him to say, agreed to protect their identity, and then published their very purposeful chatter without doing any real work to verify, investigate or scrutinize it. As a result, a woman who spent the last four decades of her life using her talents and intellect and working extremely hard to reach amazing heights in the face of great obstacles is now widely viewed as an intellectually deficient, stunted, egotistical affirmative-action beneficiary who has no business being on the Supreme Court -- all thanks to the slimy work of Jeffrey Rosen, his cowardly friends of the Respectable Intellectual Center, and The New Republic.
If one must have enemies, these are the enemies to have! TNR long ago gave up its hard-won liberal respectability. These days, it speaks to chameleonic neo-cons and fearful former liberals. Their opposition is to be welcomed.

And the conservatives are getting all excited! But the pick plays to their worst racist instincts. Hispanics will band together to support her, and Republicans will inevitably end up attacking and enraging Hispanics, even though they need Hispanics for future campaigns.

We Need A New Village

dday's takes on how badly our media serves us is exactly right:
It happened the Friday before Memorial Day and went almost unnoticed, but this small bit at the end of Hardball fairly well sums up the Village approach to government.

...Political reporters are often derided as being sportswriters. But sportswriters actually bother to watch the game. Cillizza's comment is akin to saying that the Lakers and the Nuggets for four quarters did "essentially nothing" to run out the clock on the postgame press conference so reporters couldn't ask Kobe about his relationship with Phil Jackson. I've never seen a group of journalists so openly dismissive about a subject they ostensibly exist to cover.

...I'd like to pinpoint the moment at which reporters stopped covering policy and began to cover "politics," which they defined as mini-controversies and gossip and what each side of the political divide says about the other (news flash: they're critical!). I have a sense the consequences haven't been all that stellar.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Artistic Difference's "The Who's Tommy - In Concert"

Left: Ian Cullity as Tommy Walker.

Lots of excellent performances Monday night at the Crest Theater, with a really rich sound!

Left: Lads (Tony Wichowski and Kevin Caravalho).

Left: Joelle Wirth as the Acid Queen.

Left: Ian Cullity, Michael RJ Campbell, Martin Lehman, Joelle Wirth, Nanci Zoppi, Martha Omiyo Kight, Kelly Daniells, Josh Robertson, and Tevye Ditter.

Left: Ian Cullity as Tommy Walker, Troy Thomas as The Specialist, and Christina Day as the Specialist's Assistant.

Left: The Walkers (Nanci Zoppi and Tevye Ditter).

Left: Nanci Zoppi as Mrs. Walker (Ben Wormeli on guitar).

Left: Ian Cullity as Tommy Walker and Jerry Lee as Cousin Kevin.

Left: Scott Woodard, Ian Cullity, Kevin Caravahlo, and Tristan Rumery (?)

Left: Michael RJ Campbell as Uncle Ernie.

Left: Michael's got the personality!

Left: The Simpsons (Craig Howard, Kristen Wagner, and Kelly Daniells).

Left: Kevin Caravahlo, Scott Woodard, Jerry Lee, and Tristan Rumery

Left: Ben Wormeli, Erik Daniells, Mark Stivers (obscured), Nanci Zoppi, Tevye Ditter, Kelly Daniells, Kenny Manlapig, Ian Cullity, Michael RJ Campbell, and Jerry Lee.

Left: Kelly Daniells, Ian Cullity, Michael RJ Campbell, and Jerry Lee.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Stranger In A Strange Land

Sometimes foreigners make better witnesses:
As a seasoned traveller, Maciej Dakowicz was keen to get a few snaps of local life during his stay in Britain.

His resulting picture album, however, could do with an X certificate. Taken over a series of Friday and Saturday nights on the streets of Cardiff, the Polish student's images provide a shocking insight into alcohol-fuelled debauchery in the Welsh capital.

...'This vibrant nightlife was completely new to me, and that's why I started photograph it,' explains Maciej, originally from Bialystok in North East Poland.

'Everywhere I go i like to take pictures of the people and surroundings. I had never seen such scenes in Poland or any other country I had visited before.

'But what I have seen in my time in the UK has been something completely new to me.'

The images come at a time when Britain's binge drinking culture is under scrutiny.

...'Many people like to pose to photos, but I prefer natural looking images, so I tell them to be natural, and then they often make funny 'natural' poses.

'My favourite picture is probably the guy in this pink hat climbing on the railings, because it is such a surreal scene.

'He saw me with my camera after I took this photo and laughed out loud, he seemed like a nice guy.

'I hope he is not too mad at me now, after this photo became so popular.'

Dance - And Confession: Pepper Von's "Let's Go"

Left: Shortly before showtime at the Crest Theater Saturday night.

Pepper Von's "Let's Go" is a music and dance revue based on a theme of a friendly competition between singers and dancers. It's simply a mechanism to get the best of both, of course. (And dancers rule, in any event, so....)

And the show delivers! Lots of very high energy performances, with soul-bracing uplift. The only criticism I had was that the show lasts a long time, but since it's so good, why not let it go on and on?

Excellent performances from everyone's favorites:

Hannah Collins, Sequence Rashad "Q" Grisby, Shanta Robinson, Carla Fleming, Cory Betts, Keith Turk, Michelle Makela, Misty Barker, Jake Montoya, Gabrielle Perez, Tyler Drewitz, LOCO, etc., etc.

In particular, "Q" Grisby just seems to be getting better and better! Very dynamic performances!

Hannah Collins' opening dance seemed oddly disjointed - it was the music, mostly. Her red-hair theme is great, and those skin-tight leather pants just slew me!

Shanta Robinson is so cute and powerful a performer! Cory Betts is a power on stage. Carla Fleming commanded attention with her powerful gospel singing. Gabrielle Perez was sure-footed and graceful. Misty Barker, Talissa James and Keith Turk put forth their best!

I asked a Step One student seated behind me (the one who was shouting and applauding so heartily) who the new white girl dancer was, and she said Michelle Makela - a fine performance!

But then, just as most shows would normally end, Pepper introduced six more-or-less randomly chosen cast or staff members for a soul-baring look at what brought these people to singing and dancing. Oftentimes, performing on a public stage serves as a way to cope with traumatic events in personal life; a way to strengthen broken people. This exercise - what amounted to confession - sailed into TMI territory, and then far, far, beyond, into the deep blue yonder....

Myself, I was shocked - particularly since I know all of these people by reputation and know some of them as acquaintances too, but I was also deeply moved. Pepper conceives dance as far more than entertainment. Dance moves the spirit, and can heal the spirit. Dance is a mystical way to approach religion; a way to approach God. A dance show is much, much more than a pleasant way to spend a Saturday night....

In some ways, the way this show ended reminded me of "A Chorus Line", except that in that show, the show is mostly confession, with a performing finale, whereas this show was solid performance, with confession reserved for the end.

With one difference - imagine that in "A Chorus Line" you already knew Val, and Paul, and Al, and Judy Turner, and the rest - maybe not well, but at least a little bit. And imagine how shocking those revelations would be.

Pepper asks much from his cast and audience, and delivers much too....

Taking Inspiration From The Crab

Sally has two acquariums, one of which has a small crab, about the size of a Hershey's Kiss. The crab is endlessly entertaining. He likes to stand atop tall objects in the acquarium, like fronds and shells, and wave his oversized claw at passing fish.

Today, for the first time in at least two years, I climbed atop the very pinnacle of my house, in order to chop off overgrown branches in the tree canopy over my house. I always carry one of those branch cutters atop a pole in order to get to the branches, but today, for the first time, I also carried a chain saw up there, in order to get at even bigger branches.

Two stories above the ground, waving the chainsaw around at passing pigeons, it suddenly struck me that the crab and I had a lot in common....