Saturday, September 26, 2009

Brits Find Underground Vegas Fascinating

Article in UK's "The Sun". Actually, I find it interesting too:
Because, along with hundreds of others, the couple are part of a secret community living in the dark and dirty underground flood tunnels below the famous strip.

Rather than working in the bars or kitchens they "credit hustle", prowling the casinos searching the fruit machines for money or credits left by drunken gamblers.

Despite the risks from disease, highly venomous spiders and flooding washing them away, many of the tunnel people have put together elaborate camps with furniture, ornaments and shelves filled with belongings.

Steven and girlfriend Kathryn's base - under Caesar's Palace casino - is one of the most elaborate. They even have a kettle and a makeshift shower fabricated out of an office drinking water dispenser.

...He later gives directions to the tunnels' own art gallery, a collection of graffiti by local artists and some by the underground residents.

Steven moved into the tunnels two years ago after he lost his hotel front-desk job due to a heroin problem he claims he kicked in January.

He now works the same hotels credit-hustling, and his life retains other similarities with the one he left behind.

He says: "We work our way down the strip. The most I've ever found is 997 dollars (£609) on one machine. I've found about $500 a few times. But normally $20 or so is enough to call it a night.

...It is estimated the population of the underground community could be as many as 700. As well as credit-hustling, they earn their money off the wildly excessive city above by begging and "dumpster diving" - raiding bins and skips.

There are around 350 miles of flood channels running under Las Vegas. Most inhabitants are in the area under the city's strip.

..."I heard Las Vegas was a good place for jobs. It's the city that never sleeps, with all the bright lights, and I'd always wanted to come.

"But it was tough and we started living under the staircase outside the MGM casino. Then we met a guy who lived in the tunnels. We've been down here ever since.

"I have my books, my CD player, crossword puzzles, some clothes and my picture of our son Brady, who was killed 11 years ago at four months old. The main dangers are the floods and the Black Widow spiders. But it's not a terrible place to be if you're homeless.

"It's much cooler than on the streets, we get a breeze coming through and the cops don't really bother you. It's quiet and everyone helps each other out down here.

"I hope to get out one day. But I want to stay in Las Vegas - I love it here."

..."I've worked at a lot of the hotels, mainly in building and construction, but not for a couple of years. The jobs are harder to come by now.

"Now I credit hustle but there are lots more people doing it these days. Hundreds and hundreds. You see little old ladies doing it."

..."One guy down here has a full-time job. I don't think gambling is the cause of many people being down here. It's more alcohol and drugs. We all gamble a bit - we're in Vegas."

Local writer Matthew O'Brien, who has had a book published about the tunnel people, called Beneath The Neon, has been working with Steven and others to help get people housed. He recently founded the Shine A Light foundation to aid them.

He explains: "I guide social workers into the tunnels, show them the terrain and introduce them to people.

..."But a lot of the people are very resistant to help. Many don't want to give up their addictions.

"They like their freedom and that no one is telling them what to do.

"They are scared of what's out there.

"To come out of the tunnel and face the world is intimidating for some of the people. Some are very much entrenched down in that tunnel and comfortable. That's why the charity doesn't like to give out too much food, water and clothing.

"We don't want them to get too comfortable because it is really an illusion. It can be extremely dangerous.

"It doesn't rain much in Nevada but when it does the tunnels can fill very quickly. There have been 20 drownings in the last 20 years and a lot of those were people who were living in the tunnels.

"Steve and Kathryn can say they feel like they have a home. But when it pours down three inches of rain in two hours it's clear it's not a home. It's a flood channel."

Animals Crammed In Car Not As Funny As Clowns Crammed In Car

Some sort of Italian proto-circus:
Traffic cops are quizzing a motorist after finding an amazing menagerie of more than 1,700 animals crammed into the boot of his car.

The patrol pulled over the zoo on wheels in Bari, Italy, for a routine check and police were astonished when driver Francesco Lombardo opened the hatchback.

Inside were 216 budgies, 300 white mice, 150 hamsters, 30 Japanese squirrels, six chameleons and more than 1,000 terrapins.

Police confiscated the entire bootful and have passed all the animals to nearby zoos while they investigate the driver's links to rare and protected animal smuggling.

'He said he planned to sell the terrapins for 20 Euros each which would have made him a fortune.

'There is no doubt those poor animals were suffering in such a small space,' said one officer.

Banning Bottled Water

Unfortunately I continue to drink bottled water (generally as portable water for dance and exercise classes), but I know, and you know, that it has always been a total waste of good money. So why do we do it?

I remember the early 80's, when I lived in southern Arizona, when bottled water first caught on. Somehow, chemical tests notwithstanding, people persuaded themselves there were trace contaminants in the local tap water. And even if there weren't any contaminants worth mentioning, they persuaded themselves the local tap water didn't taste so good. It became *cool* to drink bottled water. Maybe just because it was a luxury - a total waste of good money.

Many people drink bottled water exclusively, avoiding fluride and flirting with dental decay. Of course, E. drinks bottled water exclusively. That's as good a reason as anyone needs to BAN THE STUFF!:
An Australian town pulled all bottled water from its shelves Saturday and replaced it with refillable bottles in what is believed to be a world-first ban.

Hundreds of people marched through the picturesque rural town of Bundanoon to mark the first day of its bottled water ban by unveiling a series of new public drinking fountains, said campaign spokesman John Dee.

Shopkeepers ceremoniously removed the last bottles of water from their shelves and replaced them with reusable bottles that can be filled from fountains inside the town’s shops or at water stations in the street.

...The tiny town, two hours south of Sydney, voted in July to ban bottled water after a drinks company moved to tap into a local aquifer for its bottled water business.

“In the process of the campaign against that the local people became educated about the environmental impact of bottled water,” said Dee.

“A local retailer came up with this idea of well why don’t we do something about that and actually stop selling the bottled water and it got a favourable reaction,” he said.

Dee said the 2,000-person town had made international headlines with their bid, which he hoped would spur communities across the world to action.

“Whilst our politicians grapple with the enormity of dealing with climate change what Bundanoon shows is that at the very local level we can sometimes do things that can surprise ourselves, in terms of our ability to bring about real and measurable change that has a real benefit for the environment,” he said.

The cash savings only made the project more compelling, he added.

“I think that’s why this campaign is doing so well, because we’re saying to people you can save money and save the environment at the same time,” said Dee. “The alternative doesn’t have a sexy brand, doesn’t have pictures of mountain streams on the front of it, it comes out of your tap.”

Activists say bottling water causes unnecessary use of plastics and fuel for transport. A New South Wales study found that in 2006, the industry was responsible for releasing 60,000 tonnes of gases blamed for global warming.

Hmmm.... And I Just Stopped Off At McDonald's Too

CORE will be participating in the Eat Your Art Out benefit for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

On Saturday, September 26th from 12 noon to 5:00 p.m. join us at "Eat Your Art Out". This delicious Edible Crawl will fill you up with scrumptious morsels of edible art and a lovely sampling of wines and beers at over 15 downtown and midtown gourmet restaurants and lively coffee houses.

CORE will be performing at some of the participating restaurants (below) during the afternoon event. Join a crawl team and enjoy an afternoon of great food and entertainment as you support your arts community!

The funds raised from this event will go the Friends of SMAC for arts education experiences for youth and related initiatives to support the arts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Criminee! I've Got A Show Tonight!

Gotta go!

Interesting Internet Surfing

The Internet is infinitely-deep, but full of driftwood that floats to the top.

The last two days, I've been watching the video blog of David Ford, young Australian TV presenter (of music show Scout TV) as he crashed around Mozambique, South Africa and other fun places.

Good stuff. I liked the fellow feeding the pigeons. Reminds me a lot of myself when I feed my pigeons.

I've never thought of videoblogging myself - my life is just too tedious - but add a bit of charm, like David does, and the thought becomes tolerable.

Don't Stop Believing

Don't Stop Believing (Glee) from on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Squandering Money, But Loving It

I just went over to Best Buy and bought a Sony HDR-XR500V Digital HD Video Camera Recorder (about $1,200.00 - among the best video cameras available to consumers for challenging low-light conditions), plus a Samsung SL620 Digital Camera (about $130.00) to augment (or more likely replace) the damaged Olympus Digital Camera I have now.

Time to start amping up the technology around here!

Obama's Missile Defense Decision Was Superb

The continual efforts of the Bush Administration to install defensive missiles in Eastern Europe did nothing except severely piss off Vladimir Putin. Every time Condi Rice stated that Russia too had an interest in staving off the Iranians, the insult to Putin's intelligence deepened. Did the Bushies really think Putin was that stupid? What planet did they live on?

Georgia's absurd invasion of South Ossetia last year, and the Russian counter-invasion, demonstrated one thing very, very clearly: in Eastern Europe, particularly in the South, even implied protection by the West will be used to justify cross-border attacks against Russia. That's just how that part of the world works. If Georgia had succeeded in getting NATO membership prior to 2008, we would have had to defend the Georgians while they went about invading a nuclear power run by a severely pissed off Head of State.

And so tell me again, the reason Chicago got nuked was that Georgia wanted to exercise its sovereignty over South Ossetia, even though the South Ossetians hate the Georgians and were clamoring for protection from the Russians? That explanation for millions of Chi-town deaths over some squabble over Caucasian statelets would never fly inside the Loop. Paraphrasing John McCain: Thank God we are all NOT Georgians now!

Thank God Obama rather than Bush is President. We are safer as a result:
It is therefore remarkable that reason has prevailed in the case of missile defense. True to the norms of our nation's capital however, the rationale for cancelling the program has been justified in terms that are as bogus as the original arguments for taking the decision. The Bush administration claimed that it was essential to place a radar system in the Czech Republic and ten interceptor missiles in Poland to counter missiles that might be launched from Iran.

The real reason for going ahead with an initiative that angered the Russians, alienated our NATO allies and did not have public support in either Poland or the Czech Republic was legacy building. With eight accomplishment-free years in office, Bush desperately needed to provide those at his belief tank at SMU with something positive they could point to as they attempt to rewrite history.

No matter that billions would be spent on a weapons system that does not work designed to counter a threat that does not exist.

The system has never passed a realistic test and can easily be defeated by decoys. In addition, to counter a defensive shield of 10 missiles an adversary needs exactly 11 missiles. Nonetheless those who shill for the military industrial complex are always ready to embrace an ever higher level of defense spending and to use fear to defend it.

...The Obama administration did the right thing with its decision, but could not justify killing the program simply on the basis of the fact that it was a monumentally dumb idea. Instead, the excuse offered was a new review of the intelligence had determined that Iran's missile program had not developed as had been projected and therefore a different system was needed. This would seem to be another example, like the case made for invading Iraq, where the conclusions of an intelligence assessment are tailored to fit a political decision that has already been taken.

The Obama administration also cannot say that we need the cooperation of Russia on a whole range of issues more than we need to please some in the governments of a couple of weak Eastern European countries. Russia feared the defense system might morph into a threat to them. Even if that seems unrealistic, are they not entitled to their point of view and should we not take it into consideration? How would we interpret Russia reviving the Warsaw Pact and inviting countries in Latin America to join?

Regardless of the reasons offered, the right decision has been made. Nevertheless, those who lose sleep at night worrying about whether Albania or Argentina might use their missile capability to launch an attack on the United States can rest easy. While the European missile defense system has been cancelled, the one being installed in California and Alaska is still going ahead and wasting some $10 billion a year.

Piñata History Is Subtle And Sublime

More sophisticated than I realized:
At the beginning of the 16th century the Spanish missionaries to North America used the piñata to attract converts to their ceremonies. However indigenous peoples already had a similar tradition. To celebrate the birthday of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, priests placed a clay pot on a pole in the temple at year's end. Colorful feathers adorned the richly decorated pot, filled with tiny treasures.. When broken with a stick or club, the treasures fell to the feet of the god's image as an offering. The Mayans, great lovers of sport played a game where the player’s eyes were covered while hitting a clay pot suspended by string. The missionaries ingeniously transformed these games for religious instruction. They covered the traditional pot with colored paper, giving it an extraordinary, perhaps fearful appearance.

The decorated clay pot also called a cantero represents Satan who often wears an attractive mask to attract humanity. The most traditional style piñata looks a bit like Sputnik, with seven points, each with streamers. These cones represent the seven deadly sins, pecados - greed, gluttony, sloth, pride, envy, wrath and lust. Beautiful and bright, the piñata tempted. Candies and fruits inside represented the cantaros (temptations)of wealth and earthly pleasures.

Thus, the piñata reflected three theological virtues in the catequismo. (religious instruction or catechism)

The blindfolded participant represents the leading force in defying evil, ‘Fe’, faith, which must be blind. People gathered near the player and spun him around to confuse his sense of space. Sometimes the turns numbered thirty three in memory of the life of Christ. The voices of others cry out guidance:

¡Más arriba! More upwards!
¡Abajo! Lower!
¡Enfrente! In front!

Some call out engaños (deceits, or false directions) to disorient the hitter.

Secondly the piñata served as a symbol of ‘Esperanza’, Hope.

With the piñata hanging above their heads, people watched towards los cielos (sky or heaven) yearning and waiting for the prize. The stick for breaking the piñata symbolized virtue, as only good can overcome evil. Once broken, the candies and fruits represented the just reward for keeping faith.

Finally the piñata symbolized ‘Caridad’, Charity. With its eventual breaking, everyone shared in the divine blessings and gifts.

The moral of the piñata: all are justified through faith.

MSM Is Buying Conservatives' ACORN Fairy Tale

And, as usual, the Main Stream Media is working hand-in-glove with conservatives to utterly mislead Americans regarding what is going on:
Rick Perlstein: I read what Brauchli said, and what he was paraphrased as saying, and it almost suggests to me that Matt Drudge is becoming his assignment editor. I mean, why would a newspaper like the Post be training its investigative focus on ACORN now? Whether you think well or ill of ACORN, they’re a very marginal group in the grand scheme of things—and about as tied to the White House as the PTA.

The real story is that millions of Americans don’t consider a liberal president legitimate, and they’re moving from that axiom to try to delegitimize the president in the eyes of the majority. And one of the ways they do that is, frankly, by baiting the hook for mainstream media decision-makers who are terrified at the accusation of liberal bias. It really looks like Brauchli is falling for that.

...So if Brauchli wants to do an investigation of ACORN, he should be able to justify it to the extent that they’re important in the grand scheme of things. And they’re important in the grand scheme of things now because the Republicans are yoking them to a narrative about the legitimacy of the president—that is the story, that is the event that brings ACORN to the forefront. Compare, say, the Chamber of Commerce’s ties to the Bush Administration—Bush’s head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission was a former executive with the Chamber of Commerce—to ACORN. Has an ACORN staffer ever made it anywhere near an executive position in the Obama administration? The scale of connection is infinitesimal.

...I have e-mail exchanges with a lot of conservative friends, and I ask them if they’ve ever been to an ACORN office, because I think in their mind ACORN has these palaces in cities around the country where they pull the strings of local politicians. But in actual fact, it’s just this kind of pathetic, shoestring operation. It’s effective at some things; it’s ineffective at others. But the idea of making it the focus of a great national newspaper like The Washington Post does not seem commensurate with its actual importance to the universe now—except as it exists in the imagination of a right wing that is working very hard to create a delegitimizing narrative about the president.

The story The Washington Post should be using its investigative resources to illuminate is how consistently, whenever there’s a Democratic president, the right works to create a distracting narrative to delegitimize that president in the eyes of the broader public. I think historians fifty years from now, a hundred years from now, will see that more clearly than we do now. And one of the reasons we don’t see it clearly now is that when the right throws out this bait, editors of major newspapers jump for it.

... It’s just too easy—and if you read my work, it’s been too easy for four decades—for conservatives to exploit their ability to create a sense that the media are biased in favor of liberalism in order to manipulate the media, in order to get the stories they want told told in the way they want. It’s a strategy—you can see the memos in which people lay it out. And unless that strategy is reported on, and treated as part of the story, then you are not reporting on what’s actually happening in the real world.

Keynes Is Hot, Hot, HOT Right Now!

Our 2008 economic crash has only one real historical analogue - the Great Depression. Keynes was the best economist on the scene then, and he can be usefully read now:
We have learned since September that the present generation of economists has not figured out how the economy works. The vast majority of them were blindsided by the housing bubble and the ensuing banking crisis; and misjudged the gravity of the economic downturn that resulted; and were perplexed by the inability of orthodox monetary policy administered by the Federal Reserve to prevent such a steep downturn; and could not agree on what, if anything, the government should do to halt it and put the economy on the road to recovery. By now a majority of economists are in general agreement with the Obama administration's exceedingly Keynesian strategy for digging the economy out of its deep hole. Some say the government is not doing enough and is too cozy with the bankers, and others say that it is doing too much, heedless of long-term consequences. There is no professional consensus on the details of what should be done to arrest the downturn, speed recovery, and prevent (so far as possible) a recurrence. Not having believed that what has happened could happen, the profession had not thought carefully about what should be done if it did happen.

Baffled by the profession's disarray, I decided I had better read The General Theory. Having done so, I have concluded that, despite its antiquity, it is the best guide we have to the crisis. And I am not alone in this judgment. Robert Skidelsky, the author of a superb three-volume biography of Keynes, is coming out with a book titled Keynes: The Return of the Master, in which he explains how Keynes differed from his predecessors, the "classical economists," and his successors, the "new classical economists" and the "new Keynesians"--and points out that the new Keynesians jettisoned the most important parts of Keynes's theory because they do not lend themselves to the mathematization beloved of modern economists.

Regarding Afghanistan

It always seemed to me our most important interest in Afghanistan was to deny use of the place to Al Qaeda (or other foreigners). That's not the same thing as denying use of the place to the Taliban (a home-grown movement). It would seem that a frontier-like outpost would be all that would really be required to do what we needed done. Mission creep is the ever-present danger. You can understand why the military would feel it necessary to keep expanding their mission - the place is chaos on wheels and the military wants order - but there are dangers in expanding too far.

I wonder if this report is true, that Gen. McChrystal wants 500K troops for Afghanistan. If so, it's an outlandish Vietnam-style request: we never sent even a quarter as many troops to Iraq. If that's what he really needs, then he's trying to do too much:
Embedded in General Stanley McChrystal's classified assessment of the war in Afghanistan is his conclusion that a successful counterinsurgency strategy will require 500,000 troops over five years.

This bombshell was dropped by NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday:
The numbers are really pretty horrifying. What they say, embedded in this report by McChrystal, is they would need 500,000 troops - boots on the ground - and five years to do the job. No one expects that the Afghan Army could step up to that. Are we gonna put even half that of U.S. troops there, and NATO forces? No way. [Morning Joe, September 23, 2009]
Mitchell got the figure from an independent source. It was not revealed in the redacted version of the once classified report released by the Pentagon earlier this week. McChrystal has warned the administration that without an infusion of more troops the eight-year war in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure."

Daily Affirmation From Charles Atlas

One of the things I inherited when my father passed away was a yellowing, incomplete set of lessons in Charles Atlas' "System of Health, Strength, and Physique Building". The date on these lessons is unclear - I'm guessing maybe 1940, when my Dad was a teenager. The lessons are typewritten - a lot of work went into producing them (although not as much work as for the lessons themselves, of course).

Writing to inspire and encourage is different than other kinds of writing. I really like Atlas' use of language - economical, vivid, and bright!

So, from time to time, for inspiration, I'll post snippets from Charles Atlas.

Today, a few bits from Lesson 1:
To be successful you must be persistent, and the first secret of persistence is a good start. You have started this course because you desire HEALTH and STRENGTH. Constantly review the motives you had in taking up this System. Never work at cross purposes. Here you are given advice to achieve the results you want. At all times, therefore, see that ALL your habits are now in accord with the health promoting principles I am providing. Avoid all dissipations and injurious habits that you know to be wrong. You cannot build health and tear it down at the same time. Be master of your own will. Choose as your companions people who are clean, mentally and physically. People who are optimistic and congenial. Keep out of the backyards, get into the sunshine amid beautiful surroundings. Live in an atmosphere of beauty, and when compelled to go through unlovely places, close the mind's eye to the surroundings and occupy the imagination with delightful scenery. At all times switch the mind from unpleasant to pleasant things. The mental influence plays a larger part in the promotion of health than most people are willing to realize. "As a man thinketh, so is he."


Do not overlook the value of good music. Like attracts like. Music is pure and clean. Good music inspires and lifts you into higher realms. I very strongly recommend that you take what I will call a "MUSIC BATH" daily. If you do not own a musical instrument, buy one as soon as you can, and let its beneficent harmonies elevate and refresh your mind, body and soul. It should be as much a part of your regular day's routine as working, eating or sleeping. See that you listen to good music. Too much of the new "swing" stuff tends to lower the tone of mind. Good music is to the soul what the water bath is to the body. Make it a point to hear it often.

Polling Dissonance

A new report by the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute in Fairfield found that only one quarter of Americans believe "all" or "most of news media reporting.

Nearly two-fifths of the respondents said they are reading newspapers less often than they did five years ago. And 77 disagreed with the notion of providing tax dollars to prop up failing newspapers. Indeed, 67 percent agreed with a statement that read "old-style, traditionally objective and fair journalism is dead."

In an indication of how split Americans are, Fox News was named both the most trusted TV news organization (by 30 percent) as well as the least trusted (26.2 percent).

You Are Absolutely Correct

Like Ed McMahon used to tell Johnny Carson, "You are absolutely correct, Sir!":
WASHINGTON - A new study from the prestigious Wolfrum Alpha Research Squad has confirmed what most people already believe - that they are absolutely correct on all issues and would be foolish to listen to opposing viewpoints.

...The research used by the group was "all-encompassing" and used biorhythms, charts, algorithms, graphs and a slide show. The end result confirmed what most already believed to be true - that they are absolutely correct.

"This is fantastic news and shows that, yes, we've been right all along," said film reviewer and political pundit Michael Medved. "And it proves that listening to each other is a stupid concept."

While the Wolfrum Alpha team has published its findings and feels confident in the results ("Of course, we're right," said Wolfrum) there has been some confusion regarding thought conflict. How could two or more conflicting thoughts be correct? Wolfrum said the answer is simple.

"It's like that 'Seinfeld' episode where George said the trick to get through a lie-detector test was to 'believe your lie was true.'" said Wolfrum. "It's the exact same principle."

..."Right now in the U.S., there are millions and millions of people who are positive that they are correct, whether it be about religion, sports or politics," said Wolfrum. "And they all are correct and shouldn't have to listen to other equally correct opinions.

"Take Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly, for example," added Wolfrum. "One day they'll say one thing, the next day they'll say the complete opposite. And yet you see they never abandon their overall correctness. It's not just the American way, it's science."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

School Bus - Car Collision Near Tucson

Remarkable video.

Trouble At 'Badlands'

Not acceptable:
The removal of unruly patrons from a midtown nightclub preceded the death of a security guard who was hit by a vehicle outside the club early this morning, police said today.

The security guard, Leroy Fisher, 64, of Sacramento, died at UC Davis Medical Center after being hit in the Badlands nightclub parking lot at 20th and K streets.

"There was an altercation inside Badlands, and security did remove some people," said Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong. "Sometime during the evening, security re-contacted the people that were kicked out in the back parking lot."

That's when Fisher was run over, Leong said. So far, authorities are not releasing descriptions of a vehicle or driver.

New Mexico's Official State Question

Red or green?:
I just got back from a week in New Mexico, and that usually means, by rough calculation, having consumed approximately 21 meals based on chile, most of it green.

...Let's be clear: I'm not talking about the fresh Anaheim-type chiles you usually find in the supermarket. Though they may sometimes be labeled "New Mexico chile," trust me, any true New Mexican considers that the gravest of insults. They're nothing but anorexic bell peppers.

...You might think that an ingredient that packs that kind of punch would be used sparingly, as an accent. Not in New Mexico. Probably the most common application is as a sauce for enchiladas -- basically, pure green chile, perhaps cooked down with stock and thickened with a roux.

...The state legislature, which does show an occasional sense of humor in between corruption investigations, officially decreed a New Mexico state question: "Red or Green?"

...Hatch does grow a whole lot of chile, but it's not the only source. Indeed, chiles are grown all along the Rio Grande Valley and because of differences in soil, climate and specific strain, the flavors can differ fairly dramatically, though due to the concentrating effect of drying, this is usually more evident in red chile than in green. When I was teaching cooking classes, I had a student from an old New Mexico family who swore she could identify at least a dozen chile sources tasted blind.

My personal favorite is the heritage variety from Chimayo, just north of Santa Fe, which is brick-red with a glorious pungent smell of earth and chile. This trip, I found a farmer selling it at the Santa Fe farmers market (quite a wonderful market, by the way). I took a whiff and just had to buy a bag to bring back home -- no matter how easily available the regular red might be here.

I'm not sure when I'll cook with it. For now, I'm getting too much pleasure just holding it up to my nose and inhaling. Living at the beach and still having good chile: How could life be any better?

New Zealand, Here It Comes!

Left: This is a photo from Sept. 12th, of a dust storm that reduced visibility in Christchurch by Sept. 15th by quite a bit (below):

Imagine what this new storm will do?

Cactus Garden, Or Prickly Pear Night

Those fine little needles will get you every time!

The Outback Came For A Visit

People are still reeling:
The worst dust storm in decades hit Australia on Wednesday, blanketing Sydney in red dust, and snarling up the transport system as earthquakes, giant hailstones and even a tornado swept the east of the country.

Gale-force winds dumped thousands of tonnes of red desert dust on Australia's biggest city, shrouding it in an eerie orange haze and coating the iconic Sydney Opera House in a fine layer of powder.

The storm, reportedly the most serious since the 1940s, then spread 600 kilometres (375 miles) up the coast to Queensland and could even hit New Zealand, some 4,000 kilometres away, experts said.

Dust covered most of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, pushing air pollution to record levels and depositing about 75,000 tonnes of powder in the Tasman Sea every hour.

"Dust storms like this occur quite regularly but they rarely travel this far east and come through Sydney," said John Leys, principal research scientist with New South Wales' Department of Climate Change and Water.

Cutoff Low Will Hover Over Great Plains For Next Few Days

That's a strange weather pattern - don't see that very often!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Soviet Doomsday Machine

I remember eighth grade, when I read Herman Kahn's On Thermonuclear War. I haven't slept well since!

Apparently Perimeter was installed to soothe jittery, trigger-happy Soviet military men, but it's making me uncomfortable - after all, it's still running, long after the Cold War ended!:
Yarynich is talking about Russia's doomsday machine. That's right, an actual doomsday device—a real, functioning version of the ultimate weapon, always presumed to exist only as a fantasy of apocalypse-obsessed science fiction writers and paranoid über-hawks. The thing that historian Lewis Mumford called "the central symbol of this scientifically organized nightmare of mass extermination." Turns out Yarynich, a 30-year veteran of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces and Soviet General Staff, helped build one.

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn't matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand.
...The system that Yarynich helped build came online in 1985, after some of the most dangerous years of the Cold War. Throughout the '70s, the USSR had steadily narrowed the long US lead in nuclear firepower. At the same time, post-Vietnam, recession-era America seemed weak and confused. Then in strode Ronald Reagan, promising that the days of retreat were over. It was morning in America, he said, and twilight in the Soviet Union.

Part of the new president's hard-line approach was to make the Soviets believe that the US was unafraid of nuclear war. Many of his advisers had long advocated modeling and actively planning for nuclear combat. These were the progeny of Herman Kahn, author of On Thermonuclear War and Thinking About the Unthinkable. They believed that the side with the largest arsenal and an expressed readiness to use it would gain leverage during every crisis.

The new administration began expanding the US nuclear arsenal and priming the silos. And it backed up the bombs with bluster. In his 1981 Senate confirmation hearings, Eugene Rostow, incoming head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, signaled that the US just might be crazy enough to use its weapons, declaring that Japan "not only survived but flourished after the nuclear attack" of 1945. Speaking of a possible US-Soviet exchange, he said, "Some estimates predict that there would be 10 million casualties on one side and 100 million on another. But that is not the whole of the population."

...The strategy worked. Moscow soon believed the new US leadership really was ready to fight a nuclear war. But the Soviets also became convinced that the US was now willing to start a nuclear war. "The policy of the Reagan administration has to be seen as adventurous and serving the goal of world domination," Soviet marshal Nikolai Ogarkov told a gathering of the Warsaw Pact chiefs of staff in September 1982. "In 1941, too, there were many among us who warned against war and many who did not believe a war was coming," Ogarkov said, referring to the German invasion of his country. "Thus, the situation is not only very serious but also very dangerous."

A few months later, Reagan made one of the most provocative moves of the Cold War. He announced that the US was going to develop a shield of lasers and nuclear weapons in space to defend against Soviet warheads. He called it missile defense; critics mocked it as "Star Wars."

To Moscow it was the Death Star—and it confirmed that the US was planning an attack. It would be impossible for the system to stop thousands of incoming Soviet missiles at once, so missile defense made sense only as a way of mopping up after an initial US strike. The US would first fire its thousands of weapons at Soviet cities and missile silos. Some Soviet weapons would survive for a retaliatory launch, but Reagan's shield could block many of those. Thus, Star Wars would nullify the long-standing doctrine of mutually assured destruction, the principle that neither side would ever start a nuclear war since neither could survive a counterattack.

As we know now, Reagan was not planning a first strike. According to his private diaries and personal letters, he genuinely believed he was bringing about lasting peace. (He once told Gorbachev he might be a reincarnation of the human who invented the first shield.) The system, Reagan insisted, was purely defensive. But as the Soviets knew, if the Americans were mobilizing for attack, that's exactly what you'd expect them to say. And according to Cold War logic, if you think the other side is about to launch, you should do one of two things: Either launch first or convince the enemy that you can strike back even if you're dead.

Perimeter ensures the ability to strike back, but it's no hair-trigger device. It was designed to lie semi-dormant until switched on by a high official in a crisis. Then it would begin monitoring a network of seismic, radiation, and air pressure sensors for signs of nuclear explosions. Before launching any retaliatory strike, the system had to check off four if/then propositions: If it was turned on, then it would try to determine that a nuclear weapon had hit Soviet soil. If it seemed that one had, the system would check to see if any communication links to the war room of the Soviet General Staff remained. If they did, and if some amount of time—likely ranging from 15 minutes to an hour—passed without further indications of attack, the machine would assume officials were still living who could order the counterattack and shut down. But if the line to the General Staff went dead, then Perimeter would infer that apocalypse had arrived. It would immediately transfer launch authority to whoever was manning the system at that moment deep inside a protected bunker—bypassing layers and layers of normal command authority. At that point, the ability to destroy the world would fall to whoever was on duty: maybe a high minister sent in during the crisis, maybe a 25-year-old junior officer fresh out of military academy. And if that person decided to press the button ... If/then. If/then. If/then. If/then.

Once initiated, the counterattack would be controlled by so-called command missiles. Hidden in hardened silos designed to withstand the massive blast and electromagnetic pulses of a nuclear explosion, these missiles would launch first and then radio down coded orders to whatever Soviet weapons had survived the first strike. At that point, the machines will have taken over the war. Soaring over the smoldering, radioactive ruins of the motherland, and with all ground communications destroyed, the command missiles would lead the destruction of the US.

...So why was the US not informed about Perimeter? Kremlinologists have long noted the Soviet military's extreme penchant for secrecy, but surely that couldn't fully explain what appears to be a self-defeating strategic error of extraordinary magnitude.

The silence can be attributed partly to fears that the US would figure out how to disable the system. But the principal reason is more complicated and surprising. According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves.

By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was "to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished."

And Perimeter bought the Soviets time. After the US installed deadly accurate Pershing II missiles on German bases in December 1983, Kremlin military planners assumed they would have only 10 to 15 minutes from the moment radar picked up an attack until impact. Given the paranoia of the era, it is not unimaginable that a malfunctioning radar, a flock of geese that looked like an incoming warhead, or a misinterpreted American war exercise could have triggered a catastrophe. Indeed, all these events actually occurred at some point. If they had happened at the same time, Armageddon might have ensued.

Perimeter solved that problem. If Soviet radar picked up an ominous but ambiguous signal, the leaders could turn on Perimeter and wait. If it turned out to be geese, they could relax and Perimeter would stand down. Confirming actual detonations on Soviet soil is far easier than confirming distant launches. "That is why we have the system," Yarynich says. "To avoid a tragic mistake. "

The mistake that both Yarynich and his counterpart in the United States, Bruce Blair, want to avoid now is silence. It's long past time for the world to come to grips with Perimeter, they argue. The system may no longer be a central element of Russian strategy—US-based Russian arms expert Pavel Podvig calls it now "just another cog in the machine"—but Dead Hand is still armed.

Fear Not The Man From NYC

This is an interesting theory:
The hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends have offered up a theory as to why the White House got personally involved in the New York governor’s race and asked Gov. David Paterson not to run again: They believe he would be vulnerable to a challenge by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a gubernatorial win by Giuliani would set the Republican up for a White House challenge in 2012.

...The New York Times reported Sunday that the White House had asked Paterson, through an intermediary, not to run for re-election. Paterson, who became governor of New York last year after then-Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal, recently garnered a 21-percent approval rating from New Yorkers.

The same poll showed that, in a theoretical match-up, Giuliani would take 60 percent of the vote to Paterson’s 34 percent. However, the poll also shows that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, would beat Giuliani 53 percent to 43 percent. Sixty-seven percent of respondents wanted Cuomo to run, compared to 58 percent for Giuliani.
If Paterson is that weak, perhaps he shouldn't run, but there is no reason to particularly fear Giuliani. In the 2008 Republican primaries, Giuliani failed to grasp the dynamics of the campaign, and focused on a slow-start post-Super-Tuesday strategy, beginning with an intense focus on the State of Florida. Mike Huckabee also focused on a post-Super-Tuesday strategy, out of necessity, because that's where his strength was, with smaller states that would vote later. Only John McCain correctly saw that, with the biggest states voting on Super Tuesday, that the campaign would certainly end that day, and he went to extremes of debt to ensure he had (barely) enough money to prevail on that day. McCain had the guts to do what was necessary to save his campaign and that's why he prevailed, despite fierce opposition from other candidates.

So, to prevail in 2012, headstrong Giuliani would have to show he is capable of learning from his 2008 campaign mistakes. My guess is that cool strategic thinking is beyond Guiliani. There is nothing for Obama to fear. Maybe Paterson shouldn't run, but for sensible reasons beyond fear of Rudy.

The Economy Can Do Fine Without Consumers

Modern technology's marvels make it possible to run the entire economy with only a fraction of the workforce formerly required, say, in the 1950's, or the 1980's. Thus, it's no surprise that the rebound from this recession, so far, features very little improvement in unemployment statistics, and is unlikely to show much improvement ever again. Because, quite frankly, we are all pretty-much redundant now. Trickle-down economics, which worked only fitfully in the best of times, can now be retired for good. We continue to get paid because it is politically-convenient to do so - it leads to inconvenient strife to just drop people from the dole - but otherwise, there is no reason for just about anyone to continue to get paid for any service:
So how can the Dow Jones Industrial Average be flirting with 10,000 when consumers, who make up 70 percent of the economy, have had to cut way back on buying because they have no money? Jobs continue to disappear. One out of six Americans is either unemployed or underemployed. Homes can no longer function as piggy banks because they’re worth almost a third less than they were two years ago. And for the first time in more than a decade, Americans are now having to pay down their debts and start to save.

Even more curious, how can the Dow be so far up when every business and Wall Street executive I come across tells me government is crushing the economy with its huge deficits, and its supposed “takeover” of health care, autos, housing, energy, and finance? Their anguished cries of “socialism” are almost drowning out all their cheering over the surging Dow. The explanation is simple. The great consumer retreat from the market is being offset by government’s advance into the market.

...Why are health care stocks booming? Because the government is about to expand coverage to tens of millions more Americans, and the White House has assured Big Pharma and health insurers that their profits will soar. Why are auto sales up? Because the cash-for-clunkers program has been subsidizing new car sales. Why is the financial sector surging? Because the Fed is keeping interest rates near zero, and the rest of the government is still guaranteeing any bank too big to fail will be bailed out. Why are federal contractors doing so well? Because the stimulus has kicked in.

In other words, the Dow is up despite the biggest consumer retreat from the market since the Great Depression because of the very thing so many executives are complaining about, which is government’s expansion. And regardless of what you call it – Keynesianism, socialism, or just pragmatism – it’s doing wonders for business, especially big business and Wall Street. Consumer spending is falling back to 60 to 65 percent of the economy, as government spending expands to fill the gap.

The problem is, our newly expanded government isn't doing much for average working Americans who continue to lose their jobs and whose belts continue to tighten, and who are getting almost nothing out of the rising Dow because they own few if any shares of stock. Despite the happy Dow and notwithstanding the upbeat corporate earnings, most corporations are still shedding workers and slashing payrolls. And the big banks still aren't lending to Main Street.

Trickle-down economics didn't work when the supply-siders were in charge. And it's not working now, at a time when -- despite all their cries of "socialism" -- big business and Wall Street are more politically potent than ever.

Monster Dust Storm Blankets Sydney

VIDEO: Monster dust storm blankets Sydney

Shared via AddThis

Image from here:

It's the first day of spring Down Under, which means DUST STORMS!

It looks like it's really rattled everyone. People are even perusing my blog looking for pictures of monster dust storms from yesteryear, for comparison purposes:
The dust storm that left Sydney a bright orange and caused misery for airline passengers has settled on Brisbane and is spreading across the state.

Brisbane Airport remains open, with the latest reports suggesting visibility has recently increased from 600m to 800m.

And about 2500 homes and business across the south-east have lost power, as high winds send trees into powerlines.

Doctors have warned people with asthma, chronic lung disease and severe allergies to minimise their exposure to the dust and be vigilant with their medication.

...Qantas has confirmed domestic flights have recommenced to Sydney, but severe delays should be expected from all outbound domestic flights from Sydney.

International flights will also operate with delays.

...The dust storm has already affected Roma, Mt Isa, Charleville and the Darling Downs, with Warwick residents describing the scene as something out of a science fiction movie.

...Warwick Newsagency owner David Hynes this morning said he felt like he was living through a ``doomsday'' movie.

Mr Hynes said conditions were crystal clear about 3am but by 6am a haze could be seen on the horizon, and the storm hit within an hour.

He said dust was now coating cars, cars were driving with their lights on and any open door was an invitation for dust to waft in.

``Dead set it looks like Doomsday or something out of science fiction, there's this orange iridescent light. It's like watching Independence Day or War of the Worlds.

``It's an eerie, eerie thing.

``You can taste it, you can feel the grit in your eyes _ I just had to go outside for 10 minutes and I feel like having a shower.''

Mr Hynes said temperatures were hot and humid to match.

``It feels stormy, but it would rain mud at the moment. I've never seen anything like it.''

Mr Rollston said dust storms were typical for September and October, but long dry spells in South Australia and New South Wales had worsened conditions.

Roma resident Alexander Zeller said gusty winds had been blowing all night and visibility had been low since sunrise.

Mr Zeller said the “light brownish” dust storm seemed to blowing in from the north-west and was getting thicker.

“The sun pops out every now and then, but two normal blocks is about the extent of the view – you can’t see downtown at all,’’ he said.

“Most of the cars are driving with their headlights on.’’

Mr Zeller said he had lived in remote Queensland all his life _ almost 78 years _ and had “never seen anything like it”.

Surprisingly, he said it was quite cool with an indoor temperature of 23C and he was wearing a jacket outdoors.

Bruce Holden, of Milmerran, said the storm blew in about 7am and had shrouded the district in a blanket of “grey”.

“It a very very fine dust, I can feel it in my mouth and eyes,’’ Mr Holden said.

“Visibility is down to about 200m – people are driving with their lights on, but I’d be advising them not to drive.

“It’s quite pretty, but I’m maudlin.”

L. Frank Baum Retrospective

L. Frank Baum, and Oz:
Two new biographies, Evan I. Schwartz's Finding Oz and Rebecca Loncraine's The Real Wizard of Oz—released in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the iconic MGM film—show that Baum was uniquely suited for this task. He was poised at the crossroads of his era—swept up in burgeoning feminism, the acceleration of new technologies, and the rise of huckster salesmanship. Born in 1856, he grew up in the bustling canal town of Syracuse, N.Y., after his father made money in the oil fields. A dreamy, sickly child, Baum devoured the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. He told his sisters he would write "a great novel that should bring me fame."

But he also reveled in newfangled inventions like the printing press (which, as a teenager, he used to put out a literary journal) and, later, bicycles, Model Ts, and movies. As a young man, he opened a bazaar, sold china door-to-door, helped manage his father's company, and edited The Show Window, a trade journal instructing storeowners in the art of luring customers with "window dressing."

...The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a traditional fairy tale to which Baum added a peculiarly American twist: the humbug. In addition to the usual talking animals, evil witches, scary forest, and challenges to be overcome, Oz has at its core a fraud. The Wizard is not a real wizard, but a lost American balloonist who uses stage tricks—hanging a disembodied head by a wire, for example—to fool people into thinking he is powerful.

...Soon enough, the Wizard recovers from his mortification; he is proud to show off how he duped his guests. "Barnum was right when he declared that the American people love to be deceived," Baum once wrote of one of his heroes. Strikingly, even after the Wizard reveals his con, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow still ask for his aid. Like the quack he is, he obliges, stuffing the Scarecrow's head with pins. The Wizard, you might say, is America's first celebrity guru: an ur-Dr. Phil, using charisma and a screen to project authority and wisdom he doesn't truly have.

If Oz and its sequels are shaped by Baum's sharp eye for the theater of commerce, they are also shaped by his wishful revisions of social conflict. Notably, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz offered a paean to strong women at a moment when suffragettes were agitating for the vote. The book's hero-protagonist, obviously, is a girl. In Kansas, her lively laugh repeatedly startles her worn-down aunt. In Oz, she effortlessly (and intuitively) kills the evil witches subjugating the natives. Indeed, all of Oz's strongest figures are women—Glinda, the Good Witch of the South; the Good Witch of the North (not in the film); and the two Wicked Witches.

Baum, who publicly supported women's right to vote, was deeply affected by his beloved, spirited wife, Maud, and her mother, Matilda, an eminent feminist who collaborated with Susan B. Anthony and publicized the idea that many "witches" were really freethinking women ahead of their time. In Oz, Baum offers a similarly corrective vision: When Dorothy first meets a witch, the Witch of the North, she says, "I thought all witches were wicked." "Oh, no, that is a great mistake," replies the Witch of the North. In sequels, Oz's true ruler is discovered; it turns out to be a girl named Ozma, who spent her youth under a spell—one that turned her into a hapless boy. One can imagine Baum winking on the page at his wife and mother-in-law. In his own life, Maud was the strong, practical one who kept things running. By comparison, he must have seemed the feckless humbug, trying one endeavor after another before succeeding as an author.

Or so Baum at times viewed himself, his biographers suggest. His career—he began as a salesman of the family axle oil ("so smooth it will make your horse talk," he would say) and ended broke—indeed lacked a steady literary trajectory. But he was not a mere hack, though he wrote scores of schlocky books for children under pseudonyms to make money. At his core, Baum was an impresario of illusion, fascinated by the allure of utopian possibility, however implausible. Often read as a political allegory about the move away from the gold standard (you can learn more about that interpretation here), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is more broadly a portrait of a country America promised to be but never became. The book and its sequels offer a recuperative vision, born of intense hopes and disappointments that did not add up in life. And if the tensions show through, that is part of the works' power.

Thus in Oz, different races (the Munchkins in the East, the Winkies in the West, and the Quadlings in the South) mingle democratically, and war is the ultimate ill.

...After the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it looked as though Baum were on track to a fairy-tale ending himself, as a wizard supplying just the fantasies Americans wanted. He helped fashion a popular musical based on the play. Later, he moved to Hollywood and started a film production company, exploring, ahead of his time, the possibilities of special effects. But in the end, Baum's profligacy and grand movie ambitions ruined him financially. He ended up a cautionary figure for an era of speculative overreaching, and a victim of overwork—a man, in other words, for our own economic season. Eventually, Baum sold the copyright to The Wonderful Wizard and died of exhaustion in 1919, 20 years before the MGM film was made.

Regulating The Clubs

I liked this quote regarding Las Vegas nightclubs and the regulatory headaches they provide:
"It seemed our position that body paint was nudity was not completely understood," Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said.

Protect Insurance Company Profits - Now!

"Seussical The Musical" Video Clip

Courtesy of the Deamers.

Gingrich Promotes The "Americano"

Newt Gingrich is now promoting a Hispanic-outreach conservative Web Site called the "Americano". And there are many Hispanics (particularly anti-aborton activists and some veterans) who would naturally be part of Gingrich's conservative coalition, except ... except....

Gingrich has a long history of campaigning against Hispanic concerns and interests:
It was, after all, the former House Speaker who, in giving a speech to a Republican group in 2007, described bilingual education as teaching "the language of living in a ghetto." He's also mocked the idea of printing government documents in anything but English, and promoted English-only measures.

In 1995, Gingrich said bilingualism poses "long-term dangers to the fabric of our nation" and that "allowing bilingualism to continue to grow is very dangerous."

And earlier this year, it was Gingrich who blasted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as a "racist," who should be "forced to withdraw" from consideration for the high court. He added that Sotomayor had to be rejected "if Civil War, suffrage, and Civil Rights are to mean anything."
Good luck squaring that circle.

Glad He Didn't Supersize It

Coughing jag solved:
Doctors say a man who was plagued with coughing fits should be fine now that they have removed a 1-inch (2 1/2-centimetre) piece of plastic from his lung, where it had rested since he apparently inhaled it nearly two years ago while sucking down a soft drink at a Wendy's restaurant.

Doctors at Duke University Medical Center say the plastic fragment of an eating utensil - with the Wendy's logo still legible on the side - was likely to blame for the coughing, fatigue and pneumonia spells that plagued John Manley for almost two years.

They pulled the fast-food foreign object from Manley's left lung during a Sept. 10 surgery. The 50-year-old Wilmington, North Carolina, resident said he probably inhaled it while gulping a drink from Wendy's.

"I like to take big gulps of drink," the former home remodeler said. "I don't know of any other ways of it getting in there."

...Manley's case eventually came to the attention of Dr. Momen Wahidi, director of interventional pulmonology at Duke. Wahidi, who mostly works with cancer patients to remove tumors from their lung airways, told Manley he would try extracting the object using a rigid bronchoscope. The procedure would allow Wahidi to insert a camera and other instruments to examine and remove the mystery object.

Wahidi said he still remembers his staff's amazement in the operating room when they pulled it out.

"We're looking at it and realizing that there are letters on it ... We started reading out loud, 'A-M-B-U-R-G-E-R,' and realized it spelled, 'hamburgers."'

"Everybody was shocked. We had no clue why something that said, 'hamburgers' would be in someone's lung," he said.

They had read a side of the plastic that spelled Wendy's motto of "Old Fashioned Hamburgers."

Wahidi said foreign objects in the lungs are much more common in children, but he's extracted false teeth, nails, and even a peanut from adults who have held the items in their mouth and accidentally sucked them in. Patients often don't realize there's a problem until their bodies begin to react.

..."I can breathe now," the father of three adult daughters said of his recovery. "I can get up and walk my dog. I couldn't do that before. I was pretty much house-ridden."

Monday, September 21, 2009


Random guy: I'm over at the Lambada Players.

Me (laughing): The Lambada Players?

Random guy: Yes, that's what they call it. It's this little theater on K Street.

2009 Elly Awards Awarded

The annual awards ceremony was held last night at the Crest Theatre. Apparently DMTC got one Elly Award. Congratulations to Steve Isaacson for "Man of La Mancha" set design.

This year, I would have preferred gouging my eyes out with spoons, or sticking hypodermic needles through my tongue, than attend the awards ceremony, so angry was I about DMTC getting shafted year-after-year for no good reason, and watching mediocrities from other theaters getting undue recognition. Whether I attend the awards ceremony again depends mostly on the quality of SARTA's judging. At the moment, I'm not optimistic, but as always, ever hopeful.

I've been puzzling through the list of nominees and the list of winners trying to establish any rhyme or reason to SARTA's pattern of awards, but have given up the effort. For years, I've felt the Ellys were too much like a lottery, where chance rather than skill determined the winners, and this year just continues the pattern. A meritocracy, this ain't. A casino; maybe. As always, too many good shows and people were ignored.

SARTA's relentless efforts to expand their domain over the northern Sacramento Valley are reaping strange fruits. The Sacramento-area educational and community musical theater scene is very large now. No one person can understand it all. For myself, the more years I spend in the scene, the less I understand it. Like magicians understand, lack-of-understanding, like misdirection, can hide almost anything (including biases).

It's interesting how many ties there were among this year's winners. Ties seem to suggest an inability to make decisions. In a competition, no one is pleased to tie.

Since SARTA's system already seems to have a random element to it, it may be better and fairer to just gather everyone in the Crest Theater, put all the award plaques in a big sack, and throw them out to the attendees from the stage. That way, you at least hit some deserving people, if only by accident. Or maybe put all the award plaques in a big piñata, blindfold Bob Baxter and hand him an enormous bat, and when he swings, hits, and splits the papier-mache Elly donkey, let the winners be decided by brute force in a big mosh-pit brawl. More entertaining to watch than repetitive acceptance speeches.

Looking forward to next year!

Jocelyn's Blog

Jeni Price mentioned that her daughter Jocelyn is blogging ferociously from Africa, and sure enough, she is. It's interesting reading about her adventures as an exchange student in Dakar, Senegal.

The Bee Picks Up On My Mark Williams Teabagger Post

Amusing, particularly the comment left by one reader:
Disgusting how the Bee allows this nit wit writer to post something like this.
Yes, disgusting it is, particularly when I wasn't asked - they just posted it. If I'd had my druthers, I would have the Bee publish a ten-page, close-typed liberal manifesto - something more useful. But you take what they give, and if that's what they give, then that's what I take.

What Judge Antonin Scalia And Myself Have In Common

We both like this movie:
He loves opera, good books, and a well-argued court case. But when it comes to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's taste in humor, he's just like the rest of us. "My favorite legal movie is My Cousin Vinny," the conservative justice admits. "I could watch that over and over and over again." Especially the scenes that include dishy Marisa Tomei. "God, she's a killer," Scalia says.
My Cousin Vinny could have been a forgettable also-ran of a movie, but is saved by a well-written script and good acting. Everyone seems to like it, and if you hail from New Jersey, you really like it!