Friday, September 11, 2009

Snack Time!

Photo: Tobias Haase, at the Hamburg Zoo in Germany.

Resourceful Escapee

Prison break in a cardboard box:
Embarrassed officials were at a loss to explain how Jean-Pierre Treiber, 45, a double murder suspect, managed to elude detection in the box he had built himself at a workshop in the high security prison of Auxerre, Burgundy.

With its hidden human cargo, the box was loaded with dozens of others onto a lorry for delivery to the Yonne region, southeast of Paris.

During the 100-mile journey, he broke free and leapt from the lorry. The driver only realised there was a problem once he had reached his destination, when he spotted a hole in the tarpaulin covering the boxes, some of which were flattened.

Police have sealed off roads and a huge area of woodland in the hunt for Treiber using helicopters and sniffer dogs.

Treiber has been in prison awaiting trial since 2004, charged with murdering French actor Roland Giraud's daughter Geraldine, and her friend Katia Lherbier.

He is due to stand trial early next year in a case that shocked France.

Treiber is believed to have sneaked inside a cardboard box at 10.30am on Tuesday while he was left alone in a prisoner's workshop.

He had earlier told guards that he had an afternoon meeting with his parole officer – and nobody noticed his absence until later that evening, giving him seven hours to make good his escape.

...Police admitted they had a tough task finding Treiber, a former forest warden, who knows the Othe woods 20 miles north of Auxerre like the back of his hand. "We're searching the places where he used to hunt," said a policeman. "But he might well have fled further afield".

It's Nice To Work For A Bank

All the perks, you know:

A Wells Fargo executive who oversees foreclosed properties hosted parties and spent long summer weekends in a $12 million Malibu beach house, moving into the home just after it had been surrendered to Wells Fargo to satisfy debts, neighbors told The Associated Press.

The previous owners of the beachfront home in Malibu Colony — a densely built stretch of luxury homes that has been a favorite of celebrities over the years — were financially devastated in Bernard L. Madoff’s massive fraud scheme, real estate agent Irene Dazzan-Palmer told the news service.

...Residents in the gated community told The Los Angeles Times that a woman they believe was Cheronda Guyton took up occupancy at the home in May. Residents said they obtained Ms. Guyton’s name from the community’s guards, who had issued her a homeowner’s parking pass.

Residents also wrote down the license plate number of a 2007 Volvo sport-utility vehicle they say was parked in the home’s garage. A check of state motor vehicle license plates by The Times found the vehicle was registered to Ms. Guyton.

Guyton is a Wells Fargo senior vice president responsible for foreclosed commercial properties, resident Phillip Roman told The Associated Press.

”It’s outrageous to take over a property like that, not make it available and then put someone from the bank in it,” said Mr. Roman, who lives a few homes away from the property.

Residents said Ms. Guyton, along with her husband and two children, often hosted guests at the home, including a large party the last weekend of August. Malibu Colony is about 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Hasty Newt Can't Wait To Make An Award

Like Ronald Reagan used to say, "trust, but verify":
Newt Gingrich's 527 group sent a letter to porn exec Allison Vivas Wednesday telling her she'd won their "Entrepreneur of the Year" award and inviting her to an "intimate event" with Gingrich.

"I'm honored, and more than a little surprised, to receive this prestigious award," Vivas said today in a cheeky press release. "Rest assured, I'll take the opportunity to inform Mr. Gingrich of some of the major challenges facing the adult entertainment industry in the current market .., from obscenity prosecutions to content piracy, I'll make sure he walks away from that dinner educated about the realities of the online porn market."

AZ AG Worried About ARM Resets

Eyeing the approaching Reset Tsunami:
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was in Yuma Wednesday to share some of his concerns about the already plummeting state housing market.

According to Goddard, thousands of homeowners who have an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) are facing foreclosure because their loans are about to be reset into thirty year fixed rate mortgages.

"The reason I am so concerned is because of something called a payment option ARM," Goddard said. "Arizona has something like 128,000 loans that are payment options. That means the home owners have been making a minimum payment for the life of the loan, and are now facing a reset provision. If they are making a $200 payment when the normal payment would be $2000, the $1800 they are not paying every month gets added on to the principal, which keeps growing in a market that is declining."

Goddard said when the loans are recalculated into a fixed rate, many homeowners could lose it all.

"If the payment is $2,000 when the person was used to paying $200, and the bank comes and drops the hammer, the homeowner will probably default and go into foreclosure the next day."

Goddard said the reset provision started in August.

"I am really worried. Most of the payment option plans are going to re-calibrate in the coming year and unless the mortgage lenders become a whole lot better at working with their clients and modifying loans, virtually all of those loans are going to turn into foreclosures. That frankly is the other shoe that could drop on the Arizona housing market and it is a really scary proposition."

...Goddard said many loans now cost more than the property is worth, using Maricopa County as an example.

"This is shocking. Over 70 percent of the homes in the Phoenix area are under water because the loan is greater than the value of the property. And so, until we get out of that situation, recovery is going to be extremely difficult and almost impossible."

Goddard said the housing market will continue to have properties going into foreclosure, adding the short-sale process will leave the homes with an undetermined value on the street.

"Now we are faced with abandoned and stripped properties where the people who got foreclosed on usually take everything of value out with them whether it is legal or not, leaving a stripped hulk behind which hurts the whole economy as well as the lenders. They say for every foreclosure every house in the neighborhood has a $1,000 reduction in value. That is probably conservative; it may be even greater than that."

The Easy Life In The Desert

Quiet and peaceful (until it ain't):
Resident Barbara Koltweit played her best round of golf ever on the course of Palm Desert Country Club on Monday afternoon, a 76. Then the club closed.

"I posted my score at 2 p.m. and no one said anything to me," said Koltweit, who lives on the fairway. "I'm kind of in shock."

Koltweit was one of many residents trying to make sense of the closing of clubhouse and golf course on Monday afternoon, when a notice was posted on the door of the clubhouse on California Drive.

...Kosmont, Randy Case, another developer, and Dahoon Investment filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 19 in Central District Court in Riverside, hoping to restructure debts of more than $1 million.

...“That's going to kill the property values,” said Paul Sturwold, who has lived at the club for more than 20 years.

The club, opened in 1962, closed its nine-hole executive course in early June, leaving its 18-hole course open for play.

Club members first asked the city for a financial bailout on June 8. Reception from council members was cool.

The owners “didn't put any money away for a rainy day,” Sturwold said.

...On June 25, the Palm Desert City Council rejected the idea of forming an assessment district for the club — levying a special fee on club residents to be used for maintenance of its two golf courses.

A long overdue water bill from the Coachella Valley Water District forced the club to go to the city in mid-August to request an interim loan to cover the annual reseeding of its courses. City officials agreed to review the request.

BBC Newsreader Blunders

Rather a Mother Lode of humor....

BBC TV News Blooper

Like everyone, the Brits were fascinated by the Jaycee Lee Dugard story.

Bats On The Go

Every evening at sunset the bats emerge from their roosting places beneath the I-80 Yolo Causeway and depart in formation to nearby fields to spend the evening eating insects. Since I generally head towards Davis these days right around sunset I can catch a few pictures of these bats while racing west at 60+ mph.

A diligent member of your drive-by media, like Rush might say (but part of the wildlife branch)....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Phoning It In

Camille Paglia, academic on-the-go, needs to slow down, take more time, and perhaps employ a fact-checker too. And stop taking Talk Radio as seriously as she does. Few others do; why does she?

In 2006, I got turned off to Paglia due to her sweeping criticisms of Madonna.

No nuance. Once again, taking things too fast:
This Camille Paglia column is one of the most rambling incoherent pieces I’ve ever read (for a professional writer). It’s hard to even know where to start.

The most obvious problem – the rambling hordes of lost adverbs in mile-long sentences – isn’t even what most bothers me. What most bothers me is the repeated factual inaccuracies – Salon should demand better than this.

To begin, to the extent the column has a structure, it goes something like this: First, there’s an extended rant against Democrats that is Hannity-esque in sophistication and accuracy, and that’s mostly about health care. Then there’s a dream sequence of some kind. Then there’s a much smaller rant against Republicans. Then, at the end, she suddenly explains why we should get out of Afghanistan. I felt some sympathy for the Salon editor who had to come up with a title for all this.

But the larger problem is that the piece is filled with glaring factual inaccuracies....

Frustration At The Mall

Can't blame the consumers. The rules changed, and so did their behavior.:
After a year of economic crisis and an even longer slump, the nation's retailers are facing a consumer who's more reluctant to buy than ever before in modern times. All signs point to a new era of frugality.

Whether it's because of job losses, uncertainty about employment, banks tightening lending, high debt or eroding income, the U.S. consumer is tightening her belt and doing without.

That's a big problem for the U.S. economy. Consumers in recent years have accounted for about 70 percent of American economic activity, so their reluctance or inability to spend matters. With the jobless rate at 9.7 percent and expected to keep rising for months, consumers are likely to remain hunkered down.

Federal Reserve data released Tuesday showed that consumers cut borrowing in July by an annualized 10.4 percent. The dollar amount of the decline, $21.6 billion, was the largest month-over-month decline on record.

A lack of borrowing translates to a lack of spending.

"Consumers continue to be incredibly cautious," said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, which represents nationally known retailers.

Sales at stores open for more than a year posted a 2.9 percent drop in August. That's not as bad as July's 5.1 percent decrease and was smaller than expected, but it was still a drop. Moreover, any improvement in retail sales reflects only statistical growth from a deep bottom.

Adding to retailers' woes, the government's "cash for clunkers" program helped spur car sales, but maybe at the expense of other spending.

"Consumers that a year ago, or even six months ago, might not have expected to have a car payment now do. Naturally that money was going to have to come from somewhere: It came from their discretionary spending," Krugman said, noting that "cash for clunkers" purchases ate into other summer retail sales. "That's not the sole reason. Obviously it was going to be a challenging back-to-school season" anyway.

Having tried steep discounting, retailers are still searching for a formula to get consumers spending again. They fear that people will spend only for bargains.

"The biggest change is that consumers are now firmly in the driver's seat. For over a decade they spent relatively freely. Not anymore," said Ted Hurlbut, a Boston-based retail consultant. "They have become far more cautious, and their emphasis on intrinsic value is now far more than a rational response to economic realities. It's become a cultural virtue."

...Meanwhile, some analysts hold out hope that the new frugality may wane as the economy improves.

"A lot of that was said after 9-11 as well. The consumer is resilient," said Krugman, the spokesman for the National Retail Federation. "Once the economy starts improving, you're going to see a ripple effect. I think the consumer believes the economy is improving. They just need a little more proof and it needs to hit closer to home before they loosen the purse strings."

Stylin' And Profilin'

CdM "Rent" Lawsuit Settled

Photo by Matt Coker

Caption: Karyl Ketchum and Mike Wiggins talk about the hell their 17-year-old daughter Hail endured at Corona del Mar High School last school year.

Lawsuit settled, and one of DMTC's favorite daughters, Hail Ketchum-Wiggins, finally goes public:
Three varsity football players at Corona del Mar High School posted a video on the school's Facebook page in January in which they describe how and where they would rape now 17-year-old Hail Ketchum-Wiggins before disclosing the manner in which they would shoot her to death. The video also includes homophobic remarks directed at another student.

Immediately after seeing the video, which was posted with the profile of a fourth male student, the girl's parents met with vice principal Duncan McCulloch, who assured them all four boys would be punished. As far as the Ketchum-Wigginses know that never happened, because within days of their meeting with the school official, the boy with the profile page confronted their daughter on campus and threatened her again.

The family also contacted the Newport Beach Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney's Office. The case was apparently kicked back down to a district security official, who essentially told the Ketchum-Wigginses it had been determined the boys could not carry out their threats because they had no access to guns.

About a month after the video was posted, the football players received honors from their school for their athletic prowess. Hail, whose crime in their eyes was expressing disappointment on Facebook that her theater class' production of the musical Rent had been cancelled, had to change her daily routine, switch classes and take other precautions to avoid contact with those still among her who'd threatened to rape and kill her.

It was only after the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and a Pasadena firm that specializes in First Amendment issues filed a lawsuit in March that alleged McCulloch, then-principal Fal Asrani, Newport-Mesa Unified School District superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard and the Newport-Mesa board tolerated sexism and homophobia on campus that serious efforts to protect the girl were finally taken.

With today's announced settlement of the suit, Hail has gone public with her identity. Her tormentors remain protected under a cloak of anonymity due to their ages.

Citing the "uncommon courage" of Hail, who was bedridden with the flu and could not attend today's announcement at the ACLU's office in Orange, and her family, Hector Villagra, director of that office, expressed pride in announcing the settlement "that will ensure the safety of all students at Corona del Mar High School."

Under the terms of the agreement forwarded to an Orange County Superior Court judge today, the district must:

-Provide eight hours of mandatory training for 30 district administrators into protecting students based on their sex and gender identification;

-Create a team of administrators certified to train others about the same;

-Provide four hours of mandatory training about the same for all teachers, staff and students at Corona del Mar High School.

(The Long Beach/Orange County office of the Anti-Defamation League was assigned to administer all training and make sure the district and high school live up to the terms of the settlement.)

-Conduct a district-administered survey of all Corona del Mar High students to determine the level of bias against others that exists on campus so that reforms can be implemented.

Mike Wiggins, Hail's father, estimated that the video featuring details of the proposed execution-style killing of his daughter had been seen by 600 students at the school and an undetermined number of others off campus before it was finally taken down.

His wife, Karyl Ketchum, said that while it is too late for the settlement to protect members of Corona del Mar High's Class of 2009, or to give certain members of that class much-needed lessons in tolerance, her daughter is pleased that measures will be taken for current and future students there.

Wiggins later read a statement from his absent daughter saying she was happy with the settlement because other kids will not have to go through what she did. She also hoped that the arrival of a new principal will allow students to feel safe and hate speech to end on campus. (Asrani was reassigned but, as Ketchum later disclosed, McCulloch remains at the school, something "that still concerns us.")

A women's studies professor at Cal State Fullerton, Ketchum said the atmosphere at Corona del Mar High was part of a tolerated hatred of women, since violent sexism and homophobia was directed at girls and violent homophobia was directed at boys deemed "not masculine enough."

She added that a larger problem remains at the school that district administrators should address: classism. Among the wealthiest families in the county send their children to Corona del Mar's middle and high schools.

Alongside Ketchum was Ron Martin, the Corona del Mar High theater teacher who wanted to stage Jonathan Larson's Rent--a hugely popular Broadway musical that follows impoverished young artists and musicians, some of whom are gay and HIV-infected, struggling to live in New York City's Lower East Side--to temper the rampant homophobia on campus.

That blew up in his face when Asrani canceled the spring production, blaming the teacher for failing to provide her a script to review and approve. Her move drew widespread condemnation and national headlines. After Martin presented a script for a toned-down, high school-friendly version of the musical, Asrani allowed the show to premiere on April 23. The production brought TV news crews and protesters to the school, including the Kansas Christian ministry of the Rev. Fred Phelps of "God hates fags" fame.

As Ketchum-Wiggins was being harassed and school and district officials seemed loathe to do anything about it, Martin contacted the ACLU, which filed the suit "over a sexist and homophobic atmosphere that officials permitted to flourish at the school."

"Our voices were heard," Martin said of today's announced settlement. "Bigotry is not going to be tolerated on the Corona del Mar High School campus."

...Asked if they considered transferring their daughter out of Corona del Mar High, the Ketchum-Wiggines said they talked about that with Hail but that she decided it would be better not to give in. They also decided as a family against lawsuits seeking damages, saying this was never about money. They only wanted to achieve what is said in the ACLU suit: to stop the district and school officials from "permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."

As for that one student, other than being ill at the moment, she is doing well as a theater arts major at Loyola Marymount University, reports her mom. She learned a lot from the ordeal, Ketchum said of her daughter, including to always stand up for what is right.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

He Came From The Primordial (But Nevertheless Very Fertile) Ooze Of The Central Valley...

As they have done for a number of years now at the California State Fair, TV News 10 took TV camera photos of fairgoers standing in front of one of their TV 'blue screens', together with either a sports or weather projection in the background.

I was wearing blue jeans on Labor Day, apparently very similar in appearance to the projection 'blue screen'. As a result, the resulting photo looks as if I'm emerging from California's Central Valley.

Troubled Times For (Former) Assemblyman Duvall

I'm always baffled by these crises. Like, what did he think would happen?

Mangled English Top Ten

This is worth reproducing in full.

Too bad Donald Rumsfeld is in this list with this comment, because, as we know, on this matter, he's right. His appalling reaction to the looting of Baghdad - "stuff happens" - was acidic irony at its best, but it's not mangled, so doesn't belong on this list. Maybe a better quote is: "If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be inaccurate, but I'm disinclined to mislead anyone."

Or whatever. Like Donald says, "I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty":
FORMER US president George W Bush topped a poll of the worst examples of mangled English, followed closely by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Rumsfeld.

French footballer-cum philospher Eric Cantona and former US president Bill Clinton also produced prime examples of gobbledegook, according to the online poll of 4000 people inspired by the Plain English Campaign.

Notoriously language-challenged Bush romped to the top accolade for his: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

Second came bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-California governor Schwarzenegger, who during an election campaign in 2003 minted the puzzling: "I think that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman."

The rest of the top 10 in the poll, commissioned by an insurance company after it won an award from the Plain English Campaign, were:

3. Rumsfeld, in February 2002: "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns: the ones we don't know we don't know."

4. Murray Walker, motor racing commentator: "The lead car is absolutely unique, except for the one behind it which is identical."

5. John Motson, football commentator: "For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are playing in yellow."

6. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, explaing budget plans to lawmakers in July this year: "Total spending will continue to rise and it will be a zero per cent rise in 2013-14."

7. Clinton, in 1998 grand jury testimony about Monica Lewinsky: "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If 'is' means 'is and never has been' that's one thing – if it means 'there is none', that was a completely true statement."

8. Cantona, 1995: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

9. Bush, July 2001: "I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe – I believe what I believe is right."

10. London mayor Boris Johnson, on British satirical gameshow Have I Got News for You in 2003: "I could not fail to disagree with you less."

Smiling Doves

At home every morning and evening, the smiling doves trustingly gather on the telephone and power lines above, as I distribute their favorite seeds on the pavement below.

That made this article in the "Living Here - Food and Wine" section of the Sacramento Bee somewhat jarring to read:
Doves, the fast food of the hunting world, become an afternoon meal in a matter of minutes.

Pluck, marinate, grill, done – instant, tasty gratification.

The hunt for those doves, however, lends itself to the exact opposite of the fast-food concept: a large social gathering that unites family and friends for the kickoff of fall bird hunting.

That's a recipe for the first feast of fall.

Andy Donald of Woodland usually goes out on "dove opener" with friends from his duck club.

"It's pretty social," he said. "You don't have to do a lot of camouflaging and hiding – it's pretty much stand around and talk. And shoot."

Having so many hunters around also means that cleaning is a breeze.

"If your group shoots 30 birds or more, you can sit around on the tailgate of your truck and clean the birds in another 30 minutes," he said.

...For Brad Ostman of Mountain View, the tradition of family and feast for the dove opener goes back to his childhood when he, his brother and his dad would go out with their cousins and uncles.

"It was the more, the merrier," he said. "We would have eight, 10, 12, 15 guys out there shooting."

...For Ruth Dwight Adams of Sacramento, everyone in her family seems to have a recipe for dove, but she likes to keep it simple: "We pluck them, stuff them with a chili pepper, wrap with bacon, put them on the grill and have a glass of wine," she said.

"I think the flavor of a dove is so unique. I just call it a flying backstrap."

For Adams, everything about the dove hunt is special.

"I enjoy the flavor, the hunt, the challenge, being outdoors. Having your shoot, then enjoying it. It's so fresh."

Slob Confounds The Police

There but for the grace of God go I:
The awful stench coming from a Queens apartment on Monday was so bad that cops thought they would find a body inside.

But when firefighters busted down the the door, they found tenant Ming Li Sung was very much alive - and living with rotting garbage piled floor to ceiling.

"When they started trying to clear away some of the trash to get in, he popped up inside, yelling, 'Get out! Get out!'" said Ray West, who lives across the hall.

Cops first noticed the horrible smell when they were called to the Ravenswood Houses in Long Island City in the early morning for a domestic dispute.

"They thought he was DOA," said West.

The apartment looked like a landfill, with trash jammed top to bottom and pressing up against the flat's front door and rear window.

A broken fan, an old watering can and scores of sodden plastic grocery bags stuffed with wet garbage could be seen among the detritus.

When an FDNY haz-mat team arrived to start excavating the garbage, an army of cockroaches poured out into the second-floor hallway, West said.

"The police were throwing up," West said.

Sung, 69, was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center for psychiatric evaluation, police said. He does not face any charges.

Sung's next-door neighbors have moved out because of the smell, which had been a problem for years, West said. He and his wife, Robin McNeil, are still on a long waiting list for a transfer.

"We're stuck here," said West, a veteran who returned just over a year ago from 18 months fighting in Afghanistan, only to spend his time fighting city bureaucrats over the rancid stench.

West said he called 311, the city Housing Authority and even the Health Department to complain, but he kept getting bounced from agency to agency.

"Everybody kept saying, 'We don't deal with that' and told me I had to call somebody else," he said.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Is It Good News, Or Bad News?

Or a little of both?:
The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumers in July ratcheted back their credit by a larger-than-anticipated $21.6 billion from June, the most on records dating to 1943. Economists had expected credit to drop by $4 billion.

July’s retreat translated into an annualized decline of 10.4 percent. That followed a cut of $15.5 billion in June, or a 7.4 percent annualized drop, and was the most since a 16.3 percent decline in June 1975.

The latest cut still left total consumer credit at $2.47 trillion.

Wary consumers and hard-to-get credit both factor into the scaled-back borrowing. But economists are split on which force — lack of demand by consumers or lack of supply from banks — is having the bigger influence.

...But Erik Hurst, economics professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says it is impossible to know for sure. “We are seeing declines in demand for loans from consumers but also declines in the supply of loans from banks. How much of the credit cutback is due to the decline in supply or demand, you can’t really tell.”

...In Tuesday’s report, demand for non-revolving credit used to finance cars, vacations, education and other things fell by $15.4 billion, also a record decline. That 11.7 percent pace was on top of an 8 percent annualized decline in June.

Consumers’ appetite for revolving credit, primarily credit cards, declined by $6.1 billion in July, an annualized rate of 8 percent that followed a 6.4 percent drop in June.

The magnitude of the drop surprised analysts. Some thought the Cash for Clunkers program — which began in July and aided auto sales and car loans — would have blunted cutbacks in other lending areas.

...“As great as the clunkers program has been, it’s tough to head out and buy a big ticket item when you don’t have a job,” said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research. “Don’t expect consumer credit to increase any time soon; the job situation is dismal, at best.”

The View From Britain

They can spot loathsome from across the pond:
There are few tribes more loathsome than the American right, and their vicious use of the shortcomings in the NHS to attack Barack Obama's attempts at health reform are a useful reminder.

I was thinking of this during a visit to my 91-year-old dad who is still in an NHS hospital after three weeks, recovering from a broken hip. He has had fantastic care, including a new metal hip, blood transfusions, different antibiotics to match every aspect of his condition; all administered by nurses who remain cheerful even when asked to perform tasks on men – the lethal combination of pain and old age makes some in the ward exceedingly grumpy – that I would not want to do for £1,000 a time. If he was in an American hospital he'd be using up half his life savings to get that standard of care, and few ordinary Americans could afford the insurance that would provide it. (This is because health insurers spend a large part of their income on PR against the "socialised medicine" and on sending pro forma letters explaining why your policy doesn't cover actual illness.) All over the US there are people whose lives are being destroyed for lack of proper health care provision, and there is no sight more odious than the rich, powerful and arrogant trying to keep it that way.

Heavy Metal Velcro

Not just direct a cannonade of Velcro-covered kids against the wall, and have them stick there, but Metaklett-covered cars too:
A square metre of the new fastener, called Metaklett, is capable of supporting 35 tonnes at temperatures up to 800 ÂșC, claim Josef Mair and colleagues at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. And just like everyday Velcro it can be opened up without specialised tools and used again.

...Mair thinks his spring-steel fastener is tough enough to be used for building facades or car assembly. "A car parked in direct sunlight can reach temperatures of 80 °C, and temperatures of several hundred °C can arise around the exhaust manifold," he says, but Metaklett should be able to shrug off such extremes.

The fastening is made from perforated steel strips 0.2 millimetres thick, one kind bristling with springy steel brushes and the other sporting jagged spikes.

Metaklett can support maximum weight when pulled on in the plane of the strips, and a square metre can hold a perpendicular load of 7 tonnes, says Mair.

Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat

Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat

Charo At The 2009 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon

California State Fair 2009

Wild, Wacky, Wonderful California was the theme at this year's California State Fair.

The California bear is put to work for this year's State Fair theme.

View of Cal Expo from the monorail.

Morning view of the midway from the monorail. John, Keith and myself rode three rides at the midway: Pole Position, Tilt-A-Whirl, and Viper (located in the lower-right of this picture). We didn't ride any of the four rides at the State Fair that hailed from Michael Jackson's Neverland, but we all thought those rides looked excellent, and reflected well on Michael Jackson's taste.

Riding through a plume of fair-food grease smoke churning out from the rectangular stack exit in the lower right of this photo.

Left: The Cal Expo monorail path, from below.

Below: Chef Tyler Stone prepared peach crepes on behalf of Del Monte Foods at the California State Fair.

Candy Mountain.

Don't neglect your candy ration! Don't worry, I won't!

Left: I instantly recognized this amiable-looking parrot as being a galah, after seeing flocks of them sitting on fences and telephone wires near Brisbane, AU, in 2006.

Below: Fanciful giraffe.

Detail of the 100,000-toothpick, San-Francisco-themed, toothpick sculpture.

Three tenors.

Dress parade.

At the County Exhibits, the California Department of Water Resources, in the conjunction with one of the counties (Stanislaus? San Joaquin?) assembled this rather-frightening looking (but wild and wacky themed)robot to sell their Delta Corridors concept to help solve water-quality issues in the Delta.

Mendocino County exhibit.

Sacramento County exhibit.

Popular SMUD chalkboard.

The FMX Freestyle Motocross motorcycle jumping competition featured amazing mid-air tricks!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Phoenix Monsoon Report

Deborah reports:

I reply:

"Hats! - The Musical" - Stage Nine Theatre

Every Labor Day seems to present the same entertainment conundrum: should I finally go to see disco star Kristine W (who faithfully returns to Sacramento every year at this time) at Rainbowfest, or should I see community theater star Mary Young in her latest performance?

Unfaithful Kristine W fan that I am, I always seem to choose the second alternative.

Ths year, Mary is in "Hats! - The Musical" at Stage Nine Theatre in Folsom.

Left: Accompanist Mark Ferreira, with his amazing women's bodice hat, together with Sally Forment.

Mary wasn't the only friend in "Hats!" Kathleen Flint, Eileen Beaver and Connie Mockenhaupt Jimena were also in the cast.

It was great seeing Mark Ferreira again. I wondered what he had been doing since Garbeau's Dinner Theatre folded in May.

In fact, Garbeau's didn't precisely fold, but rather got abstracted into cyberspace, or wherever theaters go when they lose their brick-and-mortar connection. Since Mark owns the Garbeau's name, it goes wherever he goes, and right now he will be collaborating with the Stage Nine folks to present both their shows, and his own shows under the Garbeau's name, at Stage Nine Theatre.

Sunday evening, Mark was presenting the first of his Mini Concerts, featuring two singers (one of whom is Jessie Stein).

Left: Lady (Mary Young), Contessa (Connie Mockenhaupt Jimena), and Baroness (Eileen Beaver). Note the excellent costumes (by Costume Designer Eileen Beaver) and the red hats!

The "Hats!" synopsis is as follows:
Hats! concerns a 49.999-year-old woman, MaryAnne, who reluctantly faces the inevitable 50th birthday. In the production, MaryAnne (Kathleen Flint) warms up to her 50th once she meets several remarkable women who show her about fun and friendship after 50. Hats! is based on the ideas of The Red Hat Society."
The show is full of post-50 uplift, with references to a variety of life landmarks.

Women must naturally be more inclined to celebrate life events and to dwell on retrospective thoughts. Natural historians, they are. I'm post-50 myself, and I like history, but if there is the male equivalent of the Red Hat Society, I'm unaware of it. As Wikipedia explains:
The Red Hat Society (RHS) is a social organization founded in 1998 for women approaching the age of 50 and beyond. As of July 2009, there are nearly 40,000 registered members and almost 24,000 chapters in the United States and 25 other countries. The Red Hat Society is the largest women’s social group in the world.

...The founder of the Society is artist Sue Ellen Cooper, who lives in Fullerton, California. In 1997, Cooper gave a friend a 55th birthday gift consisting of a red fedora purchased a year earlier at a thrift store along with a copy of Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning." The opening lines of the poem read:
“ When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.”
Cooper repeated the gift on request several times, and eventually several of the women bought purple outfits and held a tea party.

Cooper never set out to ignite an international phenomenon. However, after spreading by word of mouth, the Society first received national publicity in 2000 through the magazine Romantic Homes and a feature in The Orange County Register. Cooper then established a "Hatquarters" to field the hundreds of e-mail requests for help starting chapters. She now serves as "Exalted Queen Mother", and has written two best-selling books about the Society.
The Director of the show, Susan Mason, was called upon, starting this weekend, to play the character 'Duchess'.

"In the song 'My Oven's Still Hot', 'Duchess' needed a male plant in the audience upon whose lap she would sit at the end of her number. She chose my lap. Afterwards, she thanked me for being a good sport. I thanked her for the unexpected excitement.

Several musical numbers stood out, particularly 'Celebrate', led by 'Lady' (Mary Young). I also liked the interesting word play in 'Just Like Me', sung by 'Princess' (Jeanette Hall). The cast had a lot of energy, and Eileen's costumes were wonderful (particularly Susan Mason's dresses).

Every show has its bobbles. At one point, in 'Yes We Can', control was lost over a ball of yarn, and it rolled into the audience. I tossed the ball of yarn back onstage, and the amused singers could could barely keep character.

Kathleen Flint played an affecting MaryAnne, the 49.999-year-old woman approaching the Big 5-O. MaryAnne's monologue drives the pace, particularly at the beginning of the show. At first, in order to keep the show from dragging, Kathleen kept a smart pace (maybe a touch too fast for post-50 sloths such as myself), and slowed down later as her character evolved, from tension to relaxation, from apprehension to acceptance, of the landmark age.

After the show, we all repaired to the nearby Hacienda Mexican restaurant, for a convivial Old-Folsom good time. We ate upstairs, outside, on the veranda.

While we ate, on the neighboring street, a solo motorcyclist headed into a curve while riding downhill, lost control approaching the traffic light, and was forced to lay his cycle down in the street. The sound of scraping metal on the pavement caught everyone's attention, and there was certainly damage, but it appeared as if injuries to the rider were fairly minor.