Friday, August 14, 2009

Ritual Of The Drugs

Now that my father had been taken away, George the Nurse led us through the next phase of activity. My father had programmed his life around his daily drug schedule. Drugs had been stockpiled, not only for daily use, but for the anticipated death struggle. There were enough drugs in the house to euthanize Ringling Brother's Barnum & Bailey Circus. These had to be rendered useless.

We systematically destroyed, or rendered unusable, the storehouse of drugs by putting them into doubled garbage bags, together with water and kitty litter. It took an hour to remove all the pills from their foil packets and release the nebulizer liquids from their plastic ampules. Some over-the-counter pills, like multivitamins, that require no prescription, I kept. At everyone's insistence, I kept the Extra-Strength Tylenol suppositories (which are said to be very effective for fever, but which I'm less enthused about using).

It Was A Dark And Rainy Night

My brother-in-law Ken picked me up at the airport. A dust storm associated with a thunderstorm struck the airport just a few minutes after I arrived, so it looked like I touched down just in the nick of time.

When we arrived at my Dad's place, the jovial neighbor, Jim, warmly welcomed my arrival, and wanted to talk, but my sisters cut us short. My presence was required in my Dad's bedroom.

My father, bedridden for two days, needed help moving around. I was happy to oblige. For all my sister's dire warnings, I thought my Dad somehow looked better than expected, with few wrinkles and an appreciable glow to his face. I complimented my father on how he looked, and my sister Michelle joined in: "Dad, I have more wrinkles than you do! How do you keep your skin looking so nice? What is your beauty secret?" Then, answering herself, she said "Oh! It's the Blakes' Lotaburgers!" We all laughed about that, including my father [note: Blakes is a NM drive-up hamburger restaurant chain, and over the years, my father was among their most devoted patrons.]

In the evening, meeting with my family, I caught up on my father's latest medical problems. He had fallen twice earlier in the week, and graduated instantly to a walker, but even that was a passing phase: he was now bedridden. In addition to COPD, and emphysema, and stomach cancer, he now also had congestive heart failure and pneumonia too. A pretty formidable list of enemies! My sister Marra thought he would pass away in a few hours (George the Hospice Nurse also thought that a quick death was likely). I thought he probably had two days left, but it was hard to tell.

My sister Michelle decided to sleep in the second bedroom, at the southern end of the mobile home. A baby monitor made it possible for her to hear my Dad, despite the distance. I decided to sleep on some sofa pillows next to my Dad's bed, in the first, northern bedroom. We sent sister Marra home to get some rest.

Rainy nights are rare in New Mexico, but the water fell in sheets Thursday night, and Friday morning. Both my sister and I made pretenses to sleep - early on, we may even have had some naps - but after about 1 a.m., we gave up. We turned on the bedroom light and shifted his position, hoping to make him more comfortable. He refused morphine (he made minimal use of the drug, taking it only four times, each dose being half of the recommended minimum dose, and only sufficient to cause an hour's long nap). Then we turned off the lights and in the dark made do with blue illumination from a first-alert device on a bedside table. My sister held his hand and I placed my hand on his shoulder. The pneumonia had settled in and breathing was more difficult than ever.

One of the things that dying people do is to take what are called long breaths - where breathing ceases altogether for a long time - before starting breathing again (almost like sleep apnea). According to George the Nurse, he had been taking these long breaths even on Thursday. He had rallied Thursday evening when I arrived, but now, in the wee hours of Friday morning, he had slipped back into the long breaths.

By 3 a.m., the long breaths alternated with the dread "death rattle" of galloping pneumonia. Death appeared increasingly likely. We both checked the time every few minutes. Heavy rain pelted the mobile home.

At about 4:30 a.m., with a mighty effort of his body, he pushed away my hand from his shoulder. Perhaps he was irritated by my hand's presence, or perhaps he had to focus on something else. At 4:36 a.m., he took a breath, then stopped. We waited for him to resume breathing, and only slowly realized he wasn't going to breathe again. In the nocturnal electric-blue illumination, I could see his head shift slightly from side to side, as if struggling. At 4:38 a.m. MDT, Friday, August 14, 2009, the struggling stopped.

We turned on the lights and quickly called my sister Marra with the news. We also turned off the oxygen-concentrating breathing apparatus that had kept him going for so many years. Then we called Harmony Hospice and roused George the Nurse. Since the mobile home park is a gated community, I went out to wait for George at the gate (the journey to which had been rendered more complicated by the recent actions of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to close the access road to the gate in order to replace a bridge across the irrigation ditch). I returned to the trailer once just to make sure George was coming, and went out to wait for him again at the gate. George finally arrived and pronounced my father dead at 5:53 a.m. About 6:15 a.m., we called French Mortuary, with whom my father had made prior funeral arrangements. At 7:45 a.m., French's Transport Team rolled up and prepared to take my father's body away.

When the Transport Team took my father's arms and legs and moved him from the bed to the stretcher, my father exhaled through his vocal cords, sounding just like he was protesting the move from beyond the grave. I was spooked by the involuntary noise, but fortunately my sisters had been speaking to each other and didn't notice. Then the transport vehicle rolled away in the rain.

And finally, in the light of Friday's grey dawn, the rain stopped.

Left: Frozen in time - the mobile home's living room and kitchen, captured on the morning of D-Day.

Left: My father's last trip out of the mobile home park. French Mortuary's transport coach, carrying my father's body, does a T-turn in order to exit the park.

We later asked why French chose a uniform white color for their fleet. They said it was a matter of practicality - white is a better, cooler color for the desert. An interesting piece of trivia they offered: in South Carolina, funeral home auto fleets are a dark green color.

RIP, Marcial Valdez

June 2, 1925 - August 14, 2009

Time of death: 4:38 a.m. MDT (just 11 hours after I arrived)
Pronounced dead: 5:53 a.m. MDT

Services to be arranged by French Mortuary (Wyoming branch). Here is the first draft of the obituary. A slightly-revised final draft will be published Sunday in the Albuquerque Journal:
VALDEZ – Marcial Valdez, age 84, passed away in his Albuquerque home in the early morning hours of August 14, 2009. Marcial was born June 2, 1925 in Myers, NM, to Felipe (an AT&SF railroad section foreman) and Carmelita Sena Valdez. Marcial’s first years were lived following the railroad with his family (e.g., in Morley, CO; and also in Maxwell, Hahn, and Hatch NM, among other places), but his family eventually settled in Bernalillo. In World War II, he served as an artilleryman in the 666th Field Artillery Battalion, Baker Battery, within the U.S. First Army, which was under the command of British Field Marshall Sir Bernard L. Montgomery. The 666th joined the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest on December 31, 1944, crossed the Rhine into Germany on March 25, 1945, and ultimately ended up in Salzburg, Austria after the war. After his return to NM, Marcial joined Sandia Corporation and worked for more than twenty years there as an accountant. He also built his own house in Corrales and raised his family there. In 1990, Marcial retired to Green Acres Mobile Home Park in Albuquerque’s North Valley. He is survived by his sister, Senaida Aragon of Bernalillo; three children; Marc Valdez of Sacramento, CA, and Michelle Browning and Marra Valdez-Newman of Albuquerque; his grandson Aaron Christopher Browning, and his son-in-law Ken Newman. Marcial’s wife, Marjorie Louise Buzzell Valdez, preceded him in death in 1992. The Valdez family would like to thank Harmony Home Health and Hospice, Disabled American Veterans, the dedicated health professionals at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Albuquerque, and Maxim Healthcare Services, as well as Marcial’s friends and neighbors. A memorial service will be held at French Mortuary’s Wyoming Blvd. location on Tuesday August 18, 2009. Public viewing begins at 10:30 a.m. Services start at 11:30 a.m. Burial is at 2:00 p.m.

Arrangements by:
French Mortuary
7121 Wyoming Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, 87109
(505) 823-9400

Aerial Pix From Sacramento To Phoenix

Left: Clouds, and their shadows, on the edge of monsoonal moisture, western Arizona.

Left: Right up there with the popcorn clouds!

Left: Mill St. Bridge, and vicinity, Tempe, AZ.

Left: Dust storm (followed by heavy rain) greets the weary traveler in Albuquerque. On the ground just in time!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hiatus - Trip To NM

Hmmm...... The blog sure is acting funny. The font size increased inexplicably....

Anyway, time to go to NM again. My father's health is deteriorating radically: today is his first bedridden day....

I will blog as events allow from my sister's computer. I hope to be back in two weeks, but really, there's no telling.....

When Emperor Retlaw Reigned

This helps enhance our understanding:
ORLANDO, FL—A Disney World maintenance crew performing routine electrical work below Cinderella Castle last week accidentally stumbled upon a mysterious underground chamber believed to contain more than 8,000 terra-cotta Mouseketeer statues dating back to 300 B.C.

Within days of the discovery, the nation's top archaeologists had begun excavating the massive subterranean army of fresh-faced clay youths, already considered the finest collection of relics from the Early Disney Dynasty ever unearthed. The opulently decorated mausoleum—suspected to be the final resting site of Emperor Retlaw I—houses row upon row of life-sized ceramic sculptures modeled after clean-cut teenagers, their faces forever frozen in a mix of joy and wonder.

"Very little is known about the early history of the Disney civilization, so this is quite a significant find," said lead archaeologist Dr. Robert Moore, adding that it may take years to fully explore the labyrinthine system of tunnels and pits that surround the burial chamber. "By analyzing the crude markings above the doorway to the tomb, we've concluded that it was likely constructed during the Pre-Eisnerian period, one of the bloodiest and most chaotic eras in the history of the Magic Kingdom."

...Because only a few hand-drawn animated cells from the reign of Retlaw I have survived to the present day, the extensive carvings found in the necropolis will provide reams of new information about the powerful Mouseketeer army. Scholars first determined the statues were intended to accompany the dead into the next life after deciphering a tablet that read 'Akman al Luad H'Beth," or "See you real soon."

"These relics have so much to tell us about the formative years of the Disney empire," said Smithsonian head G. Wayne Clough, who has already made attempts to acquire the 13-foot jade Big Roy found inside the mausoleum. "And we can finally put an end to the ridiculous rumor that these soldiers can be awakened from their centuries-long slumber and unleashed upon the greater Orlando area to mercilessly trample their enemies underfoot and reclaim the Magic Kingdom for their immortal ruler simply by some bozo saying the phrase 'Meeska, Mooska, Mouseketeer' while holding this amulet I've got here."

Molly Ringwald On John Hughes

Via XXFactor & The New York Times:
Most everyone knows that John retreated from Hollywood and became a sort of J.D. Salinger for Generation X. But really, sometime before then, he had retreated from us and from the kinds of movies that he had made with us. I still believe that the Hughes films of which both Michael and I were a part (specifically “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”) were the most deeply personal expressions of John’s. In retrospect, I feel that we were sort of avatars for him, acting out the different parts of his life — improving upon it, perhaps. In those movies, he always got the last word. He always got the girl.

None of the films that he made subsequently had the same kind of personal feeling to me. They were funny, yes, wildly successful, to be sure, but I recognized very little of the John I knew in them, of his youthful, urgent, unmistakable vulnerability. It was like his heart had closed, or at least was no longer open for public view. A darker spin can be gleaned from the words John put into the mouth of Allison in “The Breakfast Club”: “When you grow up ... your heart dies.”

I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Though it does seem sadly poignant that physically, at least, John’s heart really did die. It also seems undeniably meaningful: His was a heavy heart, deeply sensitive, prone to injury — easily broken.

Most people who knew John knew that he was able to hold a grudge longer than anyone — his grudges were almost supernatural things, enduring for years, even decades. Michael suspects that he was never forgiven for turning down parts in “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I turned down later films as well. Not because I didn’t want to work with John anymore — I loved working with him, more than anyone before or since.

John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old girl. I did some of my best work with him. How could I not? He continually told me that I was the best, and because of my undying respect for him and his judgment, how could I have not believed him?

Eventually, though, I felt that I needed to work with other people as well. I wanted to grow up, something I felt (rightly or wrongly) I couldn’t do while working with John. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he found so unforgivable. We were like the Darling children when they made the decision to leave Neverland. And John was Peter Pan, warning us that if we left we could never come back. And, true to his word, not only were we unable to return, but he went one step further. He did away with Neverland itself.

...There’s a scene in “Sixteen Candles” where my character, Samantha, and Michael’s character, “the geek,” have a heart-to-heart talk. The scene lasts all of six minutes, but it took us days to film because we were all laughing too hard. John, too. He sat under the camera — his permanent place before directors retreated to the video monitor — while the assistant directors stood around rolling their eyes waiting for him to stop laughing and reprimand “the kids.” But how could he? He was one of us.

...Toward the end of my phone call with Michael, we spent a little time catching up on mutual friends and family. I told him that my 5-year-old daughter, Mathilda, had just secured the part that she wanted in her theater camp — Tiger Lily, the Indian princess in “Peter Pan.” Michael made me promise to invite him to Mathilda’s debut as a fellow thespian. So in a few weeks we’ll drive to the theater and spend a couple of hours with Tiger Lily, Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys.

Turns out, you can return to Neverland. At least for a little while.

World Cup Qualifier Today

The U.S. vs. Mexico:
Reporting from Mexico City -- The United States national soccer team has arrived at Azteca Stadium, where more than half the anticipated 105,000 fans already are in their seats for the Americans' 3 p.m. World Cup qualifier against Mexico.

Chants of "Mexico! Mexico!" are echoing through the cavernous stadium as the U.S. and Mexican flags are carried out onto the field. The game is still more than an hour away, but the noise is deafening.

More News You Can't Possibly Use

But maybe you can:
A total of 427 men and 433 females from universities in the United States, Germany and Italy were asked to imagine their response to a request by a member of the opposite sex to: a) go out on a date; b) go home with the requestor; and c) go to bed with him or her.

The person making the invitation could be "moderately unattractive," "somewhat attractive" or "exceptionally attractive," and the research participant was asked for his or her answer under each of these permutations.

Across the board, men were more likely to accept any and all of the invitations than were women. There were a few national differences among the men: the German men were most reticent about going out or going home with any of the imagined women, and Italians were least discriminate about doing anything with anyone. American men were more likely than their German counterparts to go to bed with a woman. But they weren't quite as randy as the Italians.

As a group, the men also showed a preference for a somewhat or exceedingly attractive woman over a moderately unappealing one. But as long as a woman was at least somewhat attractive, then men were equally ready to go off with her. Extraordinary beauty was not required to secure their willingness to go out, go home or go to bed with a woman extending the invitation.

Not so women. For female respondents who agreed they would go to bed with a man, only the best would do. While they were equally likely to go out with a moderately handsome man than with an exceptionally handsome specimen, the women respondents were far more likely to accept only the exceptionally attractive man's invitation to his home or his bed.

"While men are not entirely insensitive to their requestor's attractiveness, women have higher standards and are more likely to engage in casual sex with an exceptionally attractive man than with a less attractive man," said the study's author, psychologist Achim Schuetzwohl of Britain's Brunel University. The differences among men appear to reflect "cultural differences in sexual morals and preferences," he added.

Rock Star!

People come up with the strangest things in Improv Workshop class....

Last night, we were working through a scene where a girl (about age 10), washing a car, was handed a ticket to a rock concert as payment for her work. She fainted, tumbled and started screaming with excitement.

Who was the rock star? Why, it was Michael Jackson's casket!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Show Of Hands

Interesting profession:
Ashly Covington is the kind of top model who doesn't lift a finger. She doesn't cook, she doesn't clean and she avoids anything that could ruin her manicure.

But if your hands could earn $1,200 in a day, you'd think twice before scrubbing down the bathroom, too.

As one of the few full-time body parts models, Covington thinks about her hands "every minute of every hour of every day," because for the past seven years, her hands (and, occasionally, her legs and feet) have been her sole source of income. She can earn anywhere from $300 a day to a couple thousand per hour.

"Most people can walk away from work when they're done with a job, but parts models can't, because [our parts] have to be flawless. I moisturize 20 to 30 times a day, and wear gloves 90 percent of the time," she said. "When it's your livelihood, you've got to think hands first."

..."Some people have a very romanticized view of what [parts] modeling is," said Danielle Korwin, president of the New York City-based Parts Models modeling agency. "Their boyfriend or grandmother or mother has said, 'you have great hands, you should be a model,' but we want only the exceptional. Your hands have to be veinless, poreless and flawless."

...As a result, parts models have to do what seems like the near impossible: "Your hands have to convey emotion," Covington said, whose background in drama serves her well.

"I was doing a shoot where I had to pick up a cheeseburger and bring it to camera, but they wanted it to be the most delectable cheeseburger," Covington said. "So I said 'mmmm,' and really conveyed the emotion entirely to get it reflected in my hands."

Hand model James Furino, who's played the hands of famous leading men like Matthew Perry on "Friends" and Daniel Craig for a "James Bond" promotion, and has also landed print advertisements for clients like Smirnoff Vodka, said those gigs can be a lot of pressure.

"They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in pre-production and people are flying in all over the country so you can get to that exact moment where you split a muffin, and it's [on] you," he said.

Newcomer Jivelle Callender agreed that parts modeling for TV spots can be "nerve-wracking."

"You're standing in the middle of a large group of people who are very close on top of you, and the attention is fully focused on your hands," she said. "But your hands are not the star, the product is the star. Depending on what you're doing, some shoots are very involved -- dipping a shrimp, for example. It's one thing to just dip a shrimp, but it's quite another thing to do it on camera to make sure the shrimp looks spectacular."

I'm A Wiener!

Apparently I'm a winner of KOVR Channel 13's Round Table Pizza contest featuring amateur videos and photos showing people doing things they enjoy with their friends (or something like that). Karaoke video I shot three months ago of Jetta singing 'Cabaret' will air as part of a commercial (or commercials) on Channel 13 for a two week period (August 14-28) starting as early as this Friday! Since I don't have a TV anymore, this victory means little to me, but I do get a free pizza, and there's no arguing with a free pizza!

Jetta says she's lucky at contests (I used to be lucky at contests - I once correctly guessed that a jar at a Salt Lake City McDonald's contained 656 candies - but those days are long past). She now wants to win the Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp contest:
While you're at camp, you get to work with rock superstars and the heaviest set of camp counselors you've ever seen. Get up on stage and jam, form a band, record a single at the world-famous Capitol Records studio, perform live at Whiskey-A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip and get a professionally produced DVD of your concert. It's five days of nothing but music. There's no better way to live the dream, and Guitar Center is here to help you along the way.
Oh, this sounds great, particularly since I don't play an instrument! Empty out all those seats at Whiskey-A-Go-Go!

Reminds me of the one and only time I played 'Guitar Hero' at a video arcade. I mangled whatever it was I was supposed to do with the guitar. When that happens, the cool animated characters stop what they're doing, scratch their heads, shrug their shoulders and look at each other like 'WTF'? I laughed for a week about that!

Teen Choice Awards Show

As you all know, there is nothing I like so much as an awards show!

Here is a clip from the Teen Choice awards show. The helpful folks at the Evil Beet explain:
My other favorite is the clip below, where Miley Cyrus practically confesses her desire to lick Britney Spears’ feet as she presents her with the Ultimate Lord of the Universe and All of Time and Space and Malibu surfboard, and then Britney comes on stage with half a broom stuck on top of her head and runs away from Miley as quickly as possible. She then mumbles like two sentences into the microphone as quickly as she possibly can and gets offstage as fast as possible, like her Xanax is going to turn into a pumpkin if she doesn’t take it before midnight. In fairness: her legs look amazing the whole time.

Tucson Ghost Town

One thing that really spooked me on my recent drive across the Southwest was the vast ring of virtually empty neighborhoods on the fringes of Las Vegas and Phoenix. Northwestern Las Vegas along Highway 95 was really, really bad, especially after dark: thousands of shuttered, darkened homes almost devoid of people.

I suppose what's true for these two cities is true as well for Tucson, Sacramento, and other cities in the West:
Though the residential real estate market has begun to show signs of hitting bottom — and possible signs of improvement including declining inventory, increased sales volumes and a median price that’s holding steady — there are still thousands of foreclosed homes out there.

“What we are seeing is people give up hope as they try doing a loan modification,” said Long Realty Senior Associate Broker Rebecca Patsch. “They’ll leave their house and then the lender will file for a trustee sale, which typically the trustee sale will happen 90 days after the filing. But what we’re seeing is lenders are not completing the foreclosure for six months to a year after the filing. So that’s why a lot of these houses are just sitting there with no one in them and they’re not listed for sale; the lender hasn’t foreclosed. The lender is just holding them on their books.”

...Tucson ranks among top metro areas for foreclosures, according to a report released July 29 by RealtyTrac. For the first half of 2009, Tucson ranks 40th, with more than 7,000 properties, or 1.67 percent, having foreclosure filings. Other areas in Arizona above the 1.19 percent national average for foreclosures were Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (ranked No. 9) and Prescott (No. 27). No. 1 in the country is Las Vegas.

...More foreclosures are on the horizon thanks to the risky mortgages types that were taken out when home sales shot upward a few years ago.

“So we’re looking at next year seeing the five-year resets from the boom sales,” Patsch said. “A lot of times the people’s properties have gone down in value so much that they can’t refinance out of those adjustable (rate mortgages).”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Looks Like I'm Heading To NM Again On Thursday

Jeebus, Jetta Is So Excited!

The fellow said we're 'winners' in KOVR's "Slice of Life" Round Table Pizza contest.

(I wonder if we win a TV commercial, or just a slice of pizza.....)

Cake Inspirations

Via Chris Blattman's Blog, some real inspiring cakes over at Cake Wrecks:

The glow sticks are perfect!

A tribute to the unsung hero of most medical experiments, the lowly lab rat.

A tribute to Lenin.

Getting Punked By Obama

I was always leery of hopeandchange, and others like Frank Rich are getting leery too:
Here are two not very daring predictions: Obama will get some kind of health care reform done come fall. His poll numbers will not crater any time soon.

Yet there is real reason for longer-term worry in the form of a persistent, anecdotal drift toward disillusionment among some of the president’s supporters. And not merely those on the left. This concern was perhaps best articulated by an Obama voter, a real estate agent in Virginia, featured on the front page of The Washington Post last week. “Nothing’s changed for the common guy,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been punked.” She cited in particular the billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks that still “act like they’re broke.”

But this mood isn’t just about the banks, Public Enemy No. 1. What the Great Recession has crystallized is a larger syndrome that Obama tapped into during the campaign. It’s the sinking sensation that the American game is rigged — that, as the president typically put it a month after his inauguration, the system is in hock to “the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few” who have “run Washington far too long.” He promised to smite them.

No president can do that alone, let alone in six months. To make Obama’s goal more quixotic, the ailment that he diagnosed is far bigger than Washington and often beyond politics’ domain. What disturbs Americans of all ideological persuasions is the fear that almost everything, not just government, is fixed or manipulated by some powerful hidden hand, from commercial transactions as trivial as the sales of prime concert tickets to cultural forces as pervasive as the news media.

It’s a cynicism confirmed almost daily by events. Last week Brian Stelter of The Times reported that the corporate bosses of MSNBC and Fox News, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, had sanctioned their lieutenants to broker what a G.E. spokesman called a new “level of civility” between their brawling cable stars, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. A Fox spokesman later confirmed to Howard Kurtz of The Post that “there was an agreement” at least at the corporate level. Olbermann said he was a “party to no deal,” and in any event what looked like a temporary truce ended after The Times article was published. But the whole scrape only fed legitimate suspicions on the right and left alike that even their loudest public voices can be silenced if the business interests of the real American elite decree it.

You might wonder whether networks could some day cut out the middlemen — anchors — and just put covert lobbyists and publicists on the air to deliver the news. Actually, that has already happened. The most notorious example was the flock of retired military officers who served as television “news analysts” during the Iraq war while clandestinely lobbying for defense contractors eager to sell their costly wares to the Pentagon.

The revelation of that scandal did not end the practice. Last week MSNBC had to apologize for deploying the former Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe as a substitute host for Olbermann without mentioning his new career as a corporate flack. Wolffe might still be anchoring on MSNBC if the blogger Glenn Greenwald hadn’t called attention to his day job. MSNBC assured its viewers that there were no conflicts of interest, but we must take that on faith, since we still don’t know which clients Wolffe represents as a senior strategist for his firm, Public Strategies, whose chief executive is the former Bush White House spin artist, Dan Bartlett.

Let’s presume that Wolffe’s clients do not include the corporate interests with billions at stake in MSNBC and Washington’s Topic A, the health care debate. If so, he’s about the only player in the political-corporate culture who’s not riding that gravy train.

As Democrats have pointed out, the angry hecklers disrupting town-hall meetings convened by members of Congress are not always ordinary citizens engaging in spontaneous grass-roots protests or even G.O.P. operatives, but proxies for corporate lobbyists. One group facilitating the screamers is FreedomWorks, which is run by the former Congressman Dick Armey, now a lobbyist at the DLA Piper law firm. Medicines Company, a global pharmaceutical business, has paid DLA Piper more than $6 million in lobbying fees in the five years Armey has worked there.

But the Democratic members of Congress those hecklers assailed can hardly claim the moral high ground. Their ties to health care interests are merely more discreet and insidious. As Congressional Quarterly reported last week, industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million in the first six months of 2009 alone to the 18 House members of both parties supervising health care reform, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer among them.

Then there are the 52 conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who have balked at the public option for health insurance. Their cash intake from insurers and drug companies outpaces their Democratic peers by an average of 25 percent, according to The Post. And let’s not forget the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which has raked in nearly $500,000 from a single doctor-owned hospital in McAllen, Tex. — the very one that Obama has cited as a symbol of runaway medical costs ever since it was profiled in The New Yorker this spring.

In this maze of powerful moneyed interests, it’s not clear who any American in either party should or could root for. The bipartisan nature of the beast can be encapsulated by the remarkable progress of Billy Tauzin, the former Louisiana congressman. Tauzin was a founding member of the Blue Dog Democrats in 1994. A year later, he bolted to the Republicans. Now he is chief of PhRMA, the biggest pharmaceutical trade group. In the 2008 campaign, Obama ran a television ad pillorying Tauzin for his role in preventing Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices. Last week The Los Angeles Times reported — and The New York Times confirmed — that Tauzin, an active player in White House health care negotiations, had secured a behind-closed-doors flip-flop, enlisting the administration to push for continued protection of drug prices. Now we know why the president has ducked his campaign pledge to broadcast such negotiations on C-Span.

We Avoided Great Depression II

But the downside is we'll be in trouble again shortly because we still don't understand the lessons of what we just endured, or how to act on them:
KUALA LUMPUR — Krugman said in a speech to an international business forum here that although the worst of the financial crisis was over, the world now faces a prolonged slowdown like Japan’s “lost decade” of the 1990s.

...“We seem to have avoided the Great Depression 2.0,” Krugman said, but added: “I do believe that full recovery is at least two years and probably more than that off.”

He compared the world economic picture to “a globalised version of Japan through much of the ’90s. Formally, Japan spent only pockets of its lost decade in recession, but as a whole it was a period of consistently slow growth.”

Krugman said that to find anything comparable to the current woes, economists have to look back to the 1930s, when a global slump was brought to an end “by a very large set of public works programs known as World War II.

“Hopefully we’re not going to repeat that strategy,” he joked, adding that policy makers could try more stimulus programs, higher inflation targets and spurring business investment.

...Krugman also urged a restructuring of the financial system to prevent a recurrence of the crisis, with more effective bank regulation, and limits on the risk that important institutions can take on.

“The general principle is that anything that in a crisis has to be rescued — like a bank — when you’re not in a crisis, has to be regulated like a bank,” he said.

“I have no confidence this is going to happen. In a way, the downside of our having managed to avoid a full repeat of the Great Depression is that we may have rescued the economy too soon before the political momentum for fundamental reform was strong enough to cause changes.

“Which means I worry this is all going to happen again in the not-too-distant future.”

Stompin' On Kenny

"Oh my God, they killed Kenny! ...You bastards!:
Yesterday, about 200 conservative activists held a protest outside the SEIU office in St. Louis. Gladney was there -- bandaged and in a wheelchair -- as a featured guest. Some of the activists held signs that read, "Don't Tread on Kenny." Reader R.D. alerted me to this tidbit in the local news account of the protest:

Gladney did not address Saturday's crowd of about 200 people. His attorney, David Brown, however, read a prepared statement Gladney wrote. "A few nights ago there was an assault on my liberty, and on yours, too." Brown read. "This should never happen in this country."

Supporters cheered. Brown finished by telling the crowd that Gladney is accepting donations toward his medical expenses. Gladney told reporters he was recently laid off and has no health insurance. [emphasis added]
Wait, the conservative opponent of health care reform, fighting (literally) to defeat a plan that would bring coverage to those who lose their jobs, lost his coverage because he got laid off?

Flugpig Ordo Teutonicus


Flugpig Ordo Teutonicus team perform during the Red Bull Flugtag Russia 2009 on the outskirts of Moscow

Here is a link to more photos from this most bizarre of competitions (with the first photo having the caption):
Pigs do fly ... the Flugpig Ordo Teutonicus team perform during the Red Bull Flugtag on the outskirts of Moscow.

Enthusiasts competed to fly the longest distance in self-made aircrafts in an attempt to win the contest / Reuters

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Elly Nominations Announced At City College

Left: OK, let's make this process simpler by announcing who's not going to get an Elly nomination....

John made a good suggestion, which was to make my standard pro forma announcement before offering any opinions:
Marc Valdez, not Davis Musical Theatre Company (DMTC), is responsible for the content of this Web Site.
OK, now that the formalities are out of the way, let's begin....

I was in an increasingly peevish frame of mind by the time I finally sat down in the audience at City College - hot, sweaty, twigs-in-the-hair, and late.

In my travel around the campus, I missed the front door to the theater (at the instant I passed by, it was closed and darkened). I met three young ladies who were similarly perplexed and by happenstance I sent them off in the right direction (meanwhile, I circled the theater in the opposite direction and had to slip past a fence and other obstacles to make the complete circuit around the entire building). Plus, the drama with my father's health appears to be escalating, making this annual, penny-ante bragging-rights ritual appear increasingly trivial in comparison.

Apparently DMTC got a few nominations early on, of a technical nature (e.g., light design, set design), but by the time I sat down, with more of the artistic (e.g., acting, music, etc.) nominations being announced, it was the same old story with DMTC - no nominations.

Something inside of me snapped......

It would be one thing if the absence of nominations was something of a quirk, but it isn't: DMTC has received few Elly Award nominations of any sort since 2002, and almost no acting or music nominations at all. It would also be understandable if DMTC quality lagged behind that of other companies, but it doesn't (or at least it doesn't lag so far behind as to explain the dearth of nominations). No, something else is afoot, something beyond stiffer competition, with more theater companies participating than ever, in the Ellys.

Factions at DMTC have tried over the years to withdraw the company from the Elly Awards process. The withdrawers have argued the Elly Awards process is inimical to community theater in general and that the judges have an anti-DMTC bias.

In contrast, I have argued that it is important to keep DMTC engaged in the process and that nothing useful would be served by withdrawing. At times, my voice was pivotal. For seven years I have maintained this position even as evidence accumulated of an anti-DMTC bias at SARTA (and not just DMTC - other theater companies suffer in silence too). Seven long, almost-fruitless years.

Well, I'm done. Farewell to that defense. This is a community, after all. I'm tired of supporting these SARTA parasites who do little for community theater except take time, attention, and money from designated victims in order to curry favor with those they prefer to bless.

If there has been a modus operandi to the Ellys, it has been that of continued expansion, pulling in more and more new theater companies, and leaving older ones in the dark. Well and good, if the purpose is to encourage the young. But who says there aren't young performers at older theater companies (or older performers at newer theater companies) anyway?

What if the real purpose of the Ellys is similar to that of a Ponzi Pyramid, where only the ones at the top, the very-well-connected, benefit, but in order to keep the process going newbies have to be brought in all the time? So, perhaps it is better to say not that SARTA has an anti-DMTC bias - SARTA may have no feelings for DMTC one way or the other - but rather that it is not the function of DMTC in SARTA's pyramidal plan to secure Elly nominations. That used to be DMTC's function. That function is now reserved for others. DMTC's current role in the plan is purely that of support. Elly Award nominations for DMTC would be wasted, when they could be used instead to further expansion of the pyramid.

In any event, it's not a fair process. Like I say, I'm done.

As always:
Marc Valdez, not Davis Musical Theatre Company (DMTC), is responsible for the content of this Web Site.

Signing Statements

Jerry is disquieted by Obama's signing statements, and asks:
Maybe Obama isn't the person we thought we were voting for.
I knew from the get-go that Obama wasn't the sort of candidate that liberals would favor: that's why I favored John Edwards instead.

Nevertheless, Obama's signing statements, to date, seem prudent, merely defending the perquisites of the Presidency from intrusive Congressional meddling. They have yet to approach the unconstitutional arrogance that became routine under George W. Bush.

I'm annoyed with Obama in regards to his failure to prosecute torturers, his indecisiveness regarding national security matters, his defend-the-bankers-at-all-cost approach to dealing with the economic collapse, and his damnable non-partisan approach to health care reform that is now endangering even the possibility of reform. The signing statements matter has yet to rise to a major problem, though: I'll start screaming when that happens.

Arizona Monsoon Status Report

Two recordings (impossible to turn off once started, so just turn down the volume on the undesired one to listen to the one you want).

My Exciting Saturday

I mowed the front lawn.

I used the hedgetrimmer to trim the Asclepias, or jasmines, or whatever they are, in the planter boxes out front.

I used the hedgetrimmer to trim the hedge in the back.

I swept, and swept, and swept.

Tomorrow, the lawn in the back yard!

I live an exciting life!

Battle Star Galactica - 1980!

Hooray for 70's kitsch!

Billy Elliott - Final Scene

I was just thinking that, of all the thousands and thousands of pop songs that have come and gone in my lifetime, the best single pop song, ever, when gauged by economy of words and cleverness, is T-Rex's first hit from 1970, "Ride A White Swan". No one ever wrote a better pop song than Marc Bolan!

That naturally led to the song's use at the very end of one of the best dance movies ever, 2000's "Billy Elliot". Movies don't come better than this! This scene makes me cry, every time.

More complete version of the song.

Ride it on out like a bird in the sky ways
Ride it on out like if you were a bird
Fly it all out like an eagle in a sunbeam
Ride it on out like if you were a bird

Wear a tall hat like a druid in the old days
Wear a tall hat and a tattooed gown

Ride a white swan like the people of the Beltane
Wear your hair long, babe you can't go wrong

Catch a bright star and a place it on your forehead
Say a few spells and baby, there you go
Take a black cat and sit it on your shoulder
And in the morning you'll know all you know, oh

Wear a tall hat like a druid in the old days
Wear a tall hat and a tatooed gown
Ride a white swan like the people of the Beltane
Wear your hair long, babe you can't go wrong

Da-da-di-di-da, da-da-di-di-da ....