Saturday, September 05, 2009

Why Is Scientific Progress So Slow?

There are lots of impediments:
Dutch police had already proudly announced they had found more than 47,000 cannabis plants, with an estimated street value of about $7.6million, concealed in a cornfield in the Flevoland province east of Amsterdam.

They mowed down half the plants only to be informed they were the property of Wageningen University and Research Centre, a respected agricultural school.

The field contained a new strain of hemp that researchers hoped could be a sustainable source of fibre, said Simon Vink, a spokesman for the executive board of Wageningen University and Research Centre.

The World's Fastest Indian

Using Google to hunt down Aussies at the Bonneville Salt Flats, I ran into this fun Anthony Hopkins trailer.

Managing The Creative Element

Every performing arts organization has days like this.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Here's To You!

Here is last month's Round Table Pizza commercial, featured on Sacramento channels 13 and 31, that incorporates portions of my video of Jetta singing karaoke, and wins us a free pizza in the process (the coupon was at first misdirected, but I'll have it in a few days).

Jetta calls me her agent. This is our first collaborative venture.

I submitted the video in a hurry - I only became aware of the contest on the last day of submissions, and just barely beat the deadline. I had only two videos of Jetta - both shot with my Olympus camera in the dark confines of karaoke clubs. It's not a bad little camera for $140.00, but still, it's substandard for trying to get those fine details in poor lighting.

Still, I'm pleased. A free pizza for very little work. What more could one ask?

Jetta, however, is livid that she can't be seen well, and more importantly, heard at all over the Round Table voiceover. She even considers her treatment to be unfair (winning the contest got her excited, you see, and she got her friends unnecessarily excited too), and if circumstances permitted, would even consider litigation.

Well, those are the breaks. It's not as if we ever had full creative control anyway. Stardom was never promised. The TV station was under no obligation to consider our entry. It's something nice for the resume; little more. Plus, there's a free pizza. A free pizza! And Round Table makes good pizzas! What more could one ask? If anyone's to blame, it's me for having the wrong tool for the task.

I dunno. Maybe I need a new camera? Maybe she needs a new agent? Maybe we all need a new perspective?

A lawsuit. Now THAT's the ticket!

Green Tree, And The Mobile Home Mortgage Ripoff Market

Since I'm now in the business of selling a mobile home in New Mexico, this story (via that endless fount of real estate horror stories, the Housing Bubble Blog) about Green Tree Servicing and the little ghetto of the mobile home mortgage business really caught my attention:
There are two widely accepted villains in the story of the housing market crash: greedy banks making predatory loans and greedy homebuyers buying McMansions. A third group gets less attention: people on society’s margins who had few housing choices except for high-interest mobile home loans.

On that list of 25 servicers was Green Tree Servicing, LLC, a Minnesota company that is the nation’s largest servicer of mobile home loans. According to Treasury Department figures, the mortgage modification program makes Green Tree eligible for more than $91 million in taxpayer money.

“That’s crazy. That’s really crazy,” Santa Fe bankruptcy lawyer Tami Schneider says.

To understand why Schneider thinks it’s so crazy, first understand Green Tree, a company that draws vitriol on sites like, where a borrower calls the company “corporate bloodsuckers.” The company has faced allegations of predatory lending since the 1990s.

“Green Tree did a lot of bad shit,” Homewise Executive Director Mike Loftin says.

For a time, Schneider says, Green Tree was a creditor in most of the personal bankruptcies she handled. And among Santa Fe County mobile home owners in default, “you rarely see another lender,” she says.

...Green Tree not only services mobile home loans for other lenders; until 2003, it made many such loans itself. According to its 2008 “fact book,” Green Tree has 15,241 units under management in New Mexico, worth $496 million.

...Those residents’ financial troubles differ from the overextended McMansion set. Unlike many middle-class borrowers, mobile home residents have always been at risk of eviction.

“My perception is the rate of [mobile home] repossession is not appreciably different this year,” Green Tree general counsel Brian Corey says. “These are not the same types of credit you hear about in the mortgage market, where people were acquiring real estate without being able to pay for it.”

That may be half true. In its 2008 report, Green Tree boasts about its aggressive collections practices, thanks to its “personal relationships” with borrowers. That means “field visits”—rather than just phone calls—when a borrowers falls three months delinquent.

Those “personal relationships” mean Green Tree can make money even when borrowers default. They don’t mean the company shows mercy, as one recent and egregious local case demonstrates.

In 2000, Christina Gutierrez purchased a new double-wide Redman manufactured home with her then-boyfriend David Baros and his mother, Bernice. The home was installed at the Sierra Vista mobile home park on Zepol Road, a tidy neighborhood where many mobile homes have handmade “for sale” signs in the windows.

According to court documents, the home itself cost $61,600. Green Tree’s finance charge was more than double that amount: $128,700. That’s a nearly 10.72 percent annual interest rate. “It’s obviously high,” Loftin says. “People originating subprime loans don’t inform the borrower, ‘You could pay half the interest rate.’”

The buyers put $7,500 cash down and agreed to make 360 monthly payments of $509, plus property insurance, also from Green Tree.

Four years later, with $116 to her name and thousands in credit card and other debts, Gutierrez filed for bankruptcy.

At the time, she took home $1,600 a month working at what is now CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, and the monthly home payment was by far her biggest single expense. Gutierrez could not be reached for comment.

Bankruptcy documents show Gutierrez surrendered her equity in the home. Nevertheless, Green Tree named her in its April 2009 lawsuit against the Baros family when they failed to make payments. As of April, they were $1,600 behind in payments on the mobile home. They still owed Green Tree more than $60,000—meaning they’d already paid more than the value of the home. David Baros, a trucker, lost his livelihood when his semi broke down, his mother tells SFR.

“My son was really trying. It really hurt him to lose his mobile home. That was his home; that was his independence. It was all he had,” Bernice Baros says.

...Such massive finance charges on mobile homes are typical, as several other local cases confirm. Bernice Baros says another family member was “harassed” by Green Tree for two years after trying to get out of a mobile home contract. Green Tree charged one Santa Fe woman $19,600 in finance charges on an $18,700 mobile home loan; it charged another $87,400 in finance charges on a $41,800 loan.

“I see people paying on mobile homes where the resale value is 10 grand and they’re paying these outrageous amounts of money,” Schneider says.

Furthermore, mobile home owners rarely own the land on which their homes sit.

“When you consider the payment on the house, plus the space rent, it’s a lot of money for what you’re getting,” Turetsky says.

...According to the Treasury Department, Green Tree offered to renegotiate the terms of 4 percent of its eligible loan portfolio through the mortgage modification program. Corey says mobile home loans aren’t eligible unless the borrower also owns the land. Which means Santa Fe’s approximately 2,500 trailer park residents aren’t about to get a break, even as the feds shovel millions of dollars at their creditors.

Two Items From Last Month: Item 2 - Ryan Warren

Left: Ryan Warren, second from left.

There were two theater-related items that I wanted to mention over the last month, or so, that I didn't blog about at the time because of NM-travel distraction.

The second news item regarded a feature in Inside The City on Ryan Warren:
After his sixth-grade acting debut as a Wizard of Oz flying monkey, Warren made a decision to start his own theater company. At the age of 13, and with a little help from his friend, River Park resident Julie Soto, Warren rounded up an all-star cast of kids who would sing, dance, act, write, direct, design and otherwise manage the production of live theater performances. Nine shows and six years later, Warren is now a Sacramento City College student running a full-blown, student-run theater company appropriately named after his first big break: Flying Monkey Productions.

"Everything is completely done by kids my age or younger," said Warren. For instance, River Park residents Riley O’Toole and Meghan Vanderford are high school juniors at Jesuit and St. Francis respectively. Both were also set designers for Warren’s production of Into the Woods, which was performed last spring at the Veterans Memorial Center Theater in Davis.

"My main mission from an artistic standpoint is to give students the opportunity to direct a show," says Warren. "When I was younger, my passion was leadership in theater, but there wasn’t much opportunity for me. So I felt that I needed to create that for other people." And that he has done. Warren beams when he talks about discovering a "boy genius and computer graphics whiz kid": 10-year-old Sierra Oaks Vista resident Jake Randle. (Randle does all the posters, fliers and computer art for Flying Monkey.)

And Warren lights up when he talks about Rio Americano High School student Blake Thomas, who at the age of 15 directed his first Flying Monkey production, Alice in Wonderland.

"There’s nothing like watching the kids you are working with as they learn, grow and become both skilled and confident right before your eyes," Warren says. "For me, sitting in the theater watching a show I have directed with the kids who love theater, watching those kids get so good at what they do, that’s like an out-of-body incredible experience."

...Warren also believes it’s best to spread the love. He’s a firm believer that actors learn best from a variety of directors, so he’s insistent on stepping aside so others can try their hand at directing. "I love seeing more kids getting the opportunity to student-direct a show," he says. "When I see what Blake did as a director, I am amazed. He learned a lot. All the students learned a lot.

..."I may be the leader on paper of this company, but the kids in the company are leaders, too, and they are not far behind me," he says. "That’s my main goal: to hone skills and build leaders for our community."

Two Items From Last Month: Item 1 - John & Juan

There were two theater-related items that I wanted to mention over the last month, or so, that I didn't blog about at the time because of NM-travel distraction.

The first news item regarded good friends John Hancock and Juan Ramos:
A proposed law to recognize a growing number of same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries is winding its way through California's Legislature.

...The bill's sponsor contends that his proposed changes to state family law are consistent with the California Supreme Court's nuanced decision in May to uphold Proposition 8.

...A same-sex couple in Sacramento with a stake in Leno's bill got married in Canada in 2007 before gay marriage was legal in California.

John Hancock, president of the California Channel, which airs government hearings, is married to Juan Ramos, who restores historical documents for the California secretary of state's office.

Ramos, 56, and Hancock, 55, wed in Vancouver, British Columbia, during a trip to celebrate Hancock's recovery after a drunken driver nearly killed him.

"I had skin grafts, scars. I was broken. And to have someone want to marry you and show you that devotion, I can't tell you what that does for you," Hancock said. "I want to demonstrate to people that I value my commitment."

Phoenix Rain Report

Deborah reports about last night's rain:
Tons in valley but a good solid one here, too!
I reply:
I wasn't sure whether it had rained where you were last night or not. On the radar it looked like a near-miss, and for some reason Sky Harbor Airport is just reporting a trace, but it also looked clear that some portions of the Valley were getting hammered. Nevertheless, a good, solid monsoon evening in the Valley!

Science says you will get a storm this evening about 6:30 p.m., with a couple of follow-up showers later on. May the Rain Spirits infuse the Science with Meaning!
Deborah replies:
And there shall be harmony in the Force!

Fighter Aircraft Just Fail In Civil Wars

In some ways, it might be better to ban the use of fighter aircraft altogether, these most inappropriate of tools. And note the initial, reflexive lies about the people they struck being Taliban. Like they say, truth is the first casualty of war:
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A U.S. warplane summoned by German troops fired on hijacked fuel trucks in Afghanistan before dawn Friday, killing as many as 90 people in an incident that could trigger a backlash against NATO.

NATO initially said it believed the casualties were all Taliban fighters, but later acknowledged that large numbers of wounded civilians were being treated in hospitals in the area.

Villagers said their relatives were siphoning fuel from the hijacked trucks and were burned alive in a giant fireball. Patients arrived in hospitals completely covered with burns.

...Lieutenant-Commander Christine Sidenstricker, press officer for the U.S. and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said Afghan authorities had reported two fuel trucks hijacked. NATO aircraft spotted them on a river bank.

"After observing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered air strikes which destroyed the fuel trucks and killed a large number of insurgents," she said.

ISAF spokesman Brigadier-General Eric Tremblay later said: "It would appear that many civilian casualties are being evacuated and treated in the local hospitals."

A U.S. defense official said the strike was carried out by an American F-15 jet. Germany's Defense Ministry said permission to fire had been granted by a German commander on the ground.

...Preventing civilian deaths has been one of the main themes of the new ISAF commander, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, who took command in June and says the main goal of the war is to defend Afghan civilians, not hunt down insurgents.

Under orders he issued in July, aircraft are not supposed to fire unless they are sure there is no chance civilians can be hurt, or they are responding to an immediate threat.

The United Nations deputy envoy in Kabul, Peter Galbraith, said an investigation must answer "why an air strike was employed in circumstances where it was hard to determine with certainty that civilians were not present."

Thus Sprach Zarathustra - Early School Rehearsal Version

The sound quality is - indescribable. As if all those man-apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey were using their cache of leg bones to club mating cats.

Pac-Man Rap

Thursday, September 03, 2009

More From Our (Supposedly) Liberal Media


Gonzales Cantata

Pretty, but a bit melancholy. What they need is the Teabag Tabernacle Choir to give it a bit of grandiosity:
An opera, with the lyrics taken directly from the transcripts of the Alberto Gonzales hearings on the U.S. attorney scandal, will be performed this weekend in Philadelphia.

The "Gonzales Cantata," playing at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, is a 40-minute work made up of songs such as "I Don't Recall," "You Don't Recall," "What Is One To Think," and "This Is Not About Alberto Gonzales."

Losing One's Mind

This explains a lot:
Talking to an attractive woman really can make a man lose his mind, according to a new study.

The research shows men who spend even a few minutes in the company of an attractive woman perform less well in tests designed to measure brain function than those who chat to someone they do not find attractive.

Researchers who carried out the study, published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, think the reason may be that men use up so much of their brain function or 'cognitive resources' trying to impress beautiful women, they have little left for other tasks.

...Women, however, were not affected by chatting to a handsome man.

This may be simply because men are programmed by evolution to think more about mating opportunities.

Psychologists at Radboud University in The Netherlands carried out the study after one of them was so struck on impressing an attractive woman he had never met before, that he could not remember his address when she asked him where he lived.

Researchers said it was as if he was so keen to make an impression he 'temporarily absorbed most of his cognitive resources.'

To see if other men were affected in the same way, they recruited 40 male heterosexual students.

Each one performed a standard memory test where they had to observe a stream of letters and say, as fast as possible, if each one was the same as the one before last.

The volunteers then spent seven minutes chatting to male or female members of the research team before repeating the test.

The results showed men were slower and less accurate after trying to impress the women. The more they fancied them, the worse their score.

I Wonder Where E. Is?

It's supposed to be a work week, but....

On Monday morning, she arrived home at 4 a.m., but left by 7 a.m. On Tuesday morning, she complained of having been sick all night, and stayed home from work. On Wednesday morning, she complained of a terrible back ache, and could hardly walk, but stumbled off to work anyway. And that was the last time I saw her.

Hope she's all right.

Burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle too....

AZ Rainfall Potential

There is a nice 'dryline' (dry to the SW; moist to the NE) running through the Phoenix area right now. These tend to pump up storm energy - like those building up right now over the Superstitions.

Here's hoping!

I Like These U of A Rain Forecast Animations

Some of these rain forecast animations suggest storms will come by Ahwatukee (Phoenix) evening. The NAM run suggests the rain will just miss Ahwatukee, but this RUC run suggests sprinkles at least.

Some scattered showers are forecast for the Four Corners.

Brevity Is Golden

My favorite Paul Krugman sound-bite:
Fox Business News is available in 49 million homes and has 21,000 viewers.

That is all.

Sunset In Boulder, Colorado

And so, whatever happened to all that smoke from the large fires in southern California?

Lisa sends this photo from an acquaintance named Greg Summers at

Greg calls this ominous photo "Sunset in Haze".

Jimena Dithers In Guaymas

Jimena has been a very puzzling storm so far. It has entertained by behaving differently than the forecasters first thought.

Yesterday, the storm crossed over Baja California from the Pacific. Last night, Jimena sat over the Sea of Cortez, suffered some mid-latitude wind shear, and weakened. Today, it is dumping lots of rain on Guaymas, Sonora.

According to weather forecasts, the weakening storm will change direction and head west tomorrow, crossing back over Baja California. I'm dubious about that forecast, since the storm shows little inclination to go west as of yet, but the storm's exact path from now on is less important, since it is fragmenting.

What is important is that the storm is dumping lots and lots of tropical moisture into northern Mexico, and not that far from Arizona. Today, the high-level moisture is streaming east into Big Bend country. The low-level moisture is likely to head north, however, and rejuvenate the monsoon this weekend. So, this may be a good weekend for rain in the Four Corners area, and into early next week.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Whither Jimena?

The models seem to agree that Jimena will slow down on its northward advance, then stop. The models disagree about what happens after that.

Just over half the models think Jimena will then turn west. The minority of models think Jimena will turn east.

No model seems to think Jimena will continue going north. Nevertheless, if only to cause confusion, that's what I think Jimena will ultimately decide. It's possible Jimena will follow Nora's example and move up the Sea of Cortez, and stealthily enter Arizona from the SW when no one is looking.

Of course, Jimena doesn't have to enter Arizona to strongly affect the weather there. All it has to do is pump lots of tropical moisture into the state, and that may suffice to rejuvenate the monsoon. Maybe it's better that way - lots of rain, but without the floods!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Which Way Jimena?

Ha! I've never seen such a divergence of modeling opinions about the path of any tropical storm! The models are suggesting Hurricane Jimena could go in ANY direction!

The NOGAPS model suggests that Jimena will approach the Arizona/ Sonora border from the south, but then balk, reverse direction, head back south again, and then eventually head west. Amazing what an international border can do! Mother Nature flinches!

The trouble is that the storm is likely to enter this perfect little zone, where the southwesterly winds just match the pressure gradient from the northeast. So, the storm can't go west, or go east, or for that matter, can't go north or south either. So, like some out-of-control washing machine, the storm flings apart and breaks up in place, drowning the unfortunate Sonorans below in the process.

Nevertheless, I find this scenario implausible. The storm WILL go somewhere, just not very fast.

Here's hoping it goes north, like it's supposed to. You know, the natural order of things....

Half-Lobster, Half-Man

When at Lake Tahoe last Sunday, I apparently didn't spread enough suntan lotion on just the left half of my body.

I feel like I belong in that old Star Trek episode, where Frank Gorshin ran around the Enterprise divided into two halves.

American Meritocracy

On the occasion of Jenna Bush Hager joing the Today show, Glenn Greenwald comments on our American Meritocracy:
They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There's a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

About this latest hiring by NBC, Atrios observed: "if only the Villager values of nepotism and torture could be combined somehow." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer quicky noted that they already have been: "Liz Cheney." Liz Cheney is really the perfect face of Washington's political culture, a perfect manifestation of all the rotting diseases that define it and a pure expression of what our country has become and the reasons for its virtual ruin. She should really be on every political TV show all day every day. It's almost as though things can't really be expressed thoroughly without including her. Jenna Bush as a new NBC "reporter" on The Today Show -- at a time when every media outlet is firing and laying off real reporters -- is a very nice addition though.

UPDATE: Just to underscore a very important, related point: all of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

Utah Caveman's Example

All you need is focus and determination:
He may be the only man in America who has not lost a cent to the recession. That is because Daniel Suelo, a 48-year-old hermit from Utah, decided eight years ago to stop using money. He has spent the past three years living in a cave but still manages to record his experiences in an internet diary.

...Judging by some of the responses to the website and blog that he maintains via a free computer at a public library in Moab, Utah, plenty of Americans wonder if he is also totally without sense.

“You live in a cave?” commented one of his readers. “Forgive me if this doesn’t sound like the future of mankind.” Another added: “You are out of your mind.”

...It was during a trip to Alaska more than a decade ago that Suelo first realised he did not need money to live off the land. With a Basque friend named Anders, “we speared fish, ate mushrooms and berries and lived very well ... then we hit the road, hitchhiking, and realised how generous people were”.

Suelo, who was raised in a strict evangelical family, said he had long wondered why so few Christians who considered themselves devout were prepared to adopt the ascetic lifestyle espoused by Jesus. After a visit to India and Thailand he became fascinated with Tibetan Buddhism and Hindu sadhus, the holy men who wander the country without money or possessions.

Suelo began to wonder if he could become an American sadhu — a wandering ascetic in “one of the most materialistic money-worshipping nations on earth ... to be a vagabond, a bum, and make an art of it — this idea enchanted me”.

In 2001, fed up with a series of low-paying jobs in Colorado, he turned his back on civilisation and headed to the hills where he has lived, on and off, ever since. His home is a 5ft by 15ft cave in a desert canyon an hour’s hike from Moab.

...Living off a diet of desert plants, squashed animal carcasses and leftovers scavenged from rubbish bins, Suelo alternates long periods of solitude in his cave with hitch-hiking trips around the country.

“I’ve eaten squirrel, raccoon, rabbit and deer,” he said. “I’ve also eaten ants, grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, lizards and snakes.”

He is used to being treated with contempt when restaurant owners catch him going through their dustbins, but Suelo retorts that what is really contemptible is how much perfectly good food Americans routinely throw away.

While much of his blog and website is filled with unreadable anti-corporate rants and long meditations on “the institutionalised bastardisations of Christianity”, he also provides a useful primer on living rough, from which tree bark makes the best tea to the tastiest parts of the thistle.

There are plenty of provocative asides that have generated spirited internet discussion. Many have identified with Suelo’s remark that “as I let go of useless possessions, I found more and more that I needed less and less ... It was like a tree dropping its leaves”.

He has also ignited an angry backlash from others who complain that he is only too happy to make free use of the costly internet facilities that others are paying for through their taxes.

“Who do you think pays for the internet at the library where you write this blog?” complained one reader. “You have the qualifications to get a job but, instead, you choose to leech off society.”

Suelo said he had no idea how long he would continue to live in his cave: “But the more I live this way, the more absurd it seems to go back to living in the prison of money. I was unhappy with money and I’m happy free of it.”

The Concern Troll Leaps Into Action

The 'reconciliation' approach would be very, very bad for Democrats! (Funny, reconciliation didn't bother the Republicans when they were in the majority.) And as Alexander knows full well, Americans continue to strongly support health care reform, despite Republican efforts to pack town hall meetings with their strident shills:
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) on Tuesday said a partisan approach to health reform this fall would "wreck our healthcare system and wreck the Democratic Party," raising the stakes of a go-it-alone strategy that Democratic leaders are considering.

At 59 votes with the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), Democrats have said they will consider the use of a legislative tactic called reconciliation that could allow chunks of health reform legislation to be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes, instead of the 60 that normally would be required to overcome procedural obstacles.

Alexander said that town hall meetings last month demonstrated most Americans are opposed to reform and that Democrats should heed the message.

"The intensity on this across the country is something that I haven’t seen before," Alexander said. "If they thought that one party was going to try to ram through a proposal that would increase the debt, there’d be a minor revolution."

Alexander also predicted such a strategy would yield a "Swiss cheese" approach because the Senate parliamentarian would be forced to prohibit votes on large sections of the bill that may be considered irrelevant to deficit reduction.

Pure Republican Condescension

Like Steve Benen says:
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) of Kansas has, all of a sudden, started making quite a name for herself. Last week, the far-right lawmaker said she hopes to see a "great white hope" step up to defeat President Obama and congressional Democrats. Now a clip is making the rounds with Jenkins sharing her thoughts on the plight of the uninsured.

In this clip, taken at a July town hall meeting, Jenkins is confronted by a constituent named Elizabeth Smith -- a full-time waitress with two young kids. Smith's employer doesn't provide insurance, and she can't afford private coverage. Smith's not looking for a handout; she's looking for an affordable choice.

"I want an option that I can pay for," Smith told her representative. "I work. I pay my bills. I'm not a burden on the state. I pay my taxes. So why can't I get an affordable option? Why are you against that?"

Jenkins responds, literally chuckling at the question, "A government-run program is going to subsidize not only yours but everybody in this room. So I'm not sure what we're talking about here."

Jenkins went on to tell Smith that "people should be given the opportunity to take care of themselves with a refund, or an advanceable [sic] tax credit, to go be a grown-up and go buy the insurance."

"Be a grown-up"? The taxpaying constituent Jenkins was blithely dismissing works full time and takes care of two young kids. She is a "grown-up." Indeed, tens of millions of Americans are lacking coverage -- some due to pre-existing conditions, some because their insurers dropped them through rescission, some because they can't afford it -- and it's not because they haven't "grown up."

I'm trying to remember the last time I saw a member of Congress take such a condescending attitude towards struggling American families. Nothing comes to mind.

Later, Smith explained she hasn't been able to take her two-year-old son to a doctor in 21 months, except for emergency room visits for ear infections. "I am frustrated," she said. "In a functioning, civil society, people take care of each other."

I keep wondering if there might be one game-changing moment in the debate, a turning point in which one person stands up and becomes a symbol for the larger cause. That's probably not realistic, though I thought we might have seen such a moment recently when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) callously rejected the concerns of a woman whose husband is a brain-injury victim. It got a little attention, but in general, people didn't care.

Maybe Elizabeth Smith's plight will gain more traction? She doesn't want charity; she wants an affordable choice for her and her family. Democrats want to give her one. And yet, here we have at least one Republican lawmaker who finds the idea of giving struggling families a choice laugh-out-loud funny. Indeed, she'd like to see Americans who can't afford coverage do more to "go be a grown-up."

Billionaires For Wealthcare

They Keep Shifting Jimena To The East

Dagnabit, the NOGAPS model keeps shifting Jimena to the east, which would send most of the rain into Sonora and NM, rather than AZ. Nevertheless, hope is not lost, because the models disagree about the storm's exact path, and also because there is some suggestion that the storm's passage could reinvigorate the monsoon even if it didn't cross AZ. As always, we will see what happens.....

Monday, August 31, 2009

SoCal Firefighting Dilemma

OK, we've changed our minds:
When the Station fire barreled toward their community in the Gold Canyon area, they refused to leave.

But then firefighters set backfires in the area, and now the five residents are asking to be rescued, according to authorities.

The problem is there is no way to get to them. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department considered sending a helicopter up to get them, but fire officials advised it would be too dangerous.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department is now monitoring conditions and figuring out how to get them.

The Tilt Of Hurricane Bill's Eye

Frank sent this interesting link regarding Hurricane Bill.

I remember learning in dynamic meteorology that, as one goes from lower to higher elevations in closed circulations, there is a marked tilt of the circulation towards colder air, with the magnitude of the tilt dependent on the horizontal temperature gradient.

Hurricane Bill’s radar reflectivity diagram actually shows the rightward tilt of the eyewall, consistent with colder air being located towards the right.

Evolutionary Dead End In Missouri

Survival of the fittest apparently means the death of light-hearted humor:
Sedalia — T-shirts promoting the Smith-Cotton High School band’s fall program have been recalled because of concerns about the shirt’s evolution theme.

...Designed with the help of band director Jordan Summers and assistant director Brian Kloppenburg, the light gray shirts feature an image of a monkey progressing through various stages of evolution until eventually becoming a human. Each figure holds a brass instrument that also evolves, illustrating the theme “Brass Evolutions.”

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt,” said Sherry Melby, a band parent who teaches in the district. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

But other parents were just as dismayed that the shirts were taken away from students at the Sedalia school.

“Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?” asked Alena Hoeffling, who was furious about the decision. “If I wanted my children to be sheltered, I would have enrolled them in private school.”

After practice Friday afternoon, band members piled the shirts on a table. Sophomore band member Denyel Luke said the reaction by some to the evolution theme was a little extreme.

“It’s not like we are saying God is bad,” Luke said. “We aren’t promoting evolution.”

Jimena Arizona Update

The forecast looks real interesting right now. They are shifting the forecast track east a bit, meaning that the Colorado River Valley may not get much rain. Still, the rest of the state should get some rain, with some places getting a LOT of rain.

As the storm crosses Baja and comes ashore on the desert Sonoran coast, it's forecast to break into two parts: the central part of the storm heading into Arizona on a beeline from Nogales to Monument Valley, and the secondary part heading NE over the Sierra Madre towards El Paso, and the Organ Mtns. near Las Cruces, NM.

You Suck At Photoshop

Via Skynoise, a number of episodes regarding the life of Donnie Hoyle.

Lemmings Of The Alps

Swiss weirdness:
In the picturesque Swiss village of Lauterbrunnen, the locals are worried.

Dozens of alpine cows appear to be committing suicide by throwing themselves off a cliff near the small village in the Alps.

In the space of just three days, 28 cows and bulls have mysteriously died after they plunged hundreds of metres to rocks below where they were killed instantly.

Message From Meyers, California

A hometown shoutout to Jaycee Lee Dugard.

Contemplative Sea Gulls At Lake Tahoe

The breeze made flying hard work, and the humans were stingy with their lunch offerings, so most of the sea gulls chose to hunker down on the sand and contemplate love, loss, and the beauty of a summer afternoon in the mountains.

Second Annual Day Trip To Lake Tahoe

Left: Descent into the Tahoe Valley.

It's the last weekend of August, which means it's time for the second annual day trip to Lake Tahoe!

Left: Nevada Beach at Lake Tahoe.

Last year, it was hot and calm. This year, it was warm, with a stiff breeze whipping up the whitecaps.

Left: Color variation reveals where the shallow water ends and the deep water starts.

I waded in up to my waist. I think the water was warmer this year, with lake level a bit lower. The breeze made the experience very invigorating!

Left: Nevada Beach.

Left: The breeze made it a hard day to go windsurfing!

Left: The Tahoe Queen paddle boat is just visible on the left, in the distance.

Left: Shopping in South Lake Tahoe.

Left: Dining at the Stateline Brewery.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Antioch, California; Boonieville:
Dawn Cordy always knew her neighborhood was an easy place to hide -- a semi-rural San Francisco suburb where housing is cheap, sheriff's cruisers rarely appear, residents don't snoop and registered sex offenders have found a refuge.

It's a small, scruffy, unincorporated island largely surrounded by the hard-knock city of Antioch, a region synonymous with the foreclosure crisis in the Bay Area but now linked to yet another outrage.

This is where Phillip Garrido, who was charged last week with rape and kidnapping, allegedly held Jaycee Lee Dugard for 18 years and fathered her two children in a warren of tents and soundproofed outbuildings behind his gray cinder-block house on Walnut Avenue.

Garrido's and Cordy's 94509 ZIP Code is home to more than 100 registered sex offenders, according to the Megan's Law website, and officials say the region has a higher concentration of offenders than other areas.

At least four sex offenders, including Garrido, live within easy walking distance of Cordy's house; they move to the area "because they can," said Cordy, 52. "We're mostly an older bunch, and we don't pay that much attention. This is Boonieville."

Grim Highway 49 Fire In Auburn

Very worrisome:
A 275-acre wildland fire burning in North Auburn closed part of Highway 49 and was burning structures and threatening other commercial and residential buildings Sunday afternoon.

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for several Auburn neighborhoods.

Those neighborhoods include Saddleback Estates and the areas of Virginia and Stanley roads in Christian Valley, according to Dena Erwin, Placer County Sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Erwin added that residents of at least three subdivisions off Dry Creek Road, including Windsong Park and Greenstone, were also ordered to leave their homes.

...Martha Garcia, editor of the Loomis News, who was visiting the Dry Creek Road area Sunday afternoon, said she counted at least 12 houses destroyed in the North Park subdivision.

Jimena May Be Aiming For Drought-Stricken Arizona

Current forecasts suggest that the remnants of Hurricane Jimena will cross Arizona starting Thursday evening Sept. 3rd, and not fully leave the state until Monday evening Sept. 7th.

The NOGAPS model currently suggests the center of the storm will travel a beeline from Ajo to Lake Powell. I hope that forecast holds, because central and western Arizona have suffered from this year's sputtering monsoon, and could use the rain.

Every corner of the state is likely to feel the effect of the storm.

Predicting Stock Market Crashes

This sounds pretty simple in summary. So why don't people do it all the time?:
Their model, which employs concepts from the physics of complex atomic systems, was developed by Didier Sornette of the Financial Crisis Observatory in Zurich, Switzerland, and Wei-Xing Zhou of the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. The idea is that if a plot of the logarithm of the market's value over time deviates upwards from a straight line, it's a clear warning that people are investing simply because the market is rising rather than paying heed to the intrinsic worth of companies. By projecting the trend, the team can predict when growth will become unsustainable and the market will crash.

Sornette, Zhou and colleagues applied their model to the Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks the combined worth of all companies listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, the world's second largest. Early this year, the index gained 50 per cent in just four months. In July, the team predicted that the index would start to fall sharply by 10 August ( The index duly began to slide on 4 August, falling almost 20 per cent in the subsequent two weeks.