Saturday, November 14, 2009

"The Prisoner" Remake

Jerry writes:
AMC is showing a remake of "The Prisoner" starting Sunday night.
This would be very interesting to watch!

I wonder if the concept quite works in the same way these days - the claustrophobia, the falsehoods, the Village. It's interesting than the location is a semi-tropical place (imdb says South Africa), but the original idea that they never, ever leave that little corner of the UK may be better.

Take a look and see what you think!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lawn Ornament Duel

Brute-force fail in the Great North:
A love-struck buck ran out of luck a week ago.

The seven-point buck was killed when it rammed a 640-pound concrete statue of an elk in the backyard of Mark and Carol Brye's home in rural Viroqua, Wis.

Bucks often fight during the breeding season, commonly called the rut. Dominant bucks defend breeding territories and female deer by sparring with subordinate bucks. Antler battles sometimes result in the death of one or both deer, but usually end with the biggest buck winning and the smaller buck high-tailing it out to another area.

Mark Brye, who owns Brye Plumbing in Viroqua, was still laughing about the suicidal buck he found near his elk statue last week.

Brye said his morning ritual is to rise early and look out at the life-like statue about 40 yards from his home.

"Our son and daughter gave it to us for Christmas four years ago because we like to hunt elk," Brye said. "The elk is a nice thing to see every morning. It looks pretty cool, especially on a foggy morning."

Brye said he knew exactly what happened when he saw the statue tipped over. Although they were about the same height, the statue weighed at least three times more than the 180-pound deer.

He didn't realize the buck lay dead a short distance away.

"I could tell the buck poked the statue a couple of times by the chipped paint on it," Brye said, adding that the buck eventually rammed it like a mountain goat.

The buck apparently staggered about 20 feet and fell.

Brye claimed the buck with a tag from the Vernon County conservation warden. He laughed at the warden's tag note: "lawn ornament fight — lost."

Hip Hop Vladimir Putin

An iron-fisted message on behalf of health. So, shut up and dance!:
MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin, never shy with a photo-op, took his man-of-the-people act to the hip-hop dance floor Friday, where he used a rap music competition to deliver an anti-drugs message.

"Graffitti is becoming a true art, fine and delicate," Putin, clad in a beige turtleneck and grey sports jacket, told a young crowd at the "Respect" rap contest.

"And breakdance is something peculiar," he said. "This really is propaganda for a healthy lifestyle because it is hard to imagine breakdancing having anything to do with drinking and dope," Putin said.

The powerful Russian president-turned-prime minister praised the spectators packed into the room where they watched displays by contest participants of making graffitti, breakdancing and belting out rap tunes.

"I must say honestly that those young people who are pursuing these kinds of arts in our country are bringing in their own, Russian charm" to them, Putin said during the contest, portions of which were shown on state television.

The youths appeared charmed themselves by the appearance of the 57-year-old Putin, who remains by far Russia's most popular politician despite ceding the Kremlin last year to Dmitry Medvedev.

"It would be cool to produce a joint track with Putin because he is a legendary person and our idol," gushed Rapper Zhigan, one of the winners of the contest, quoted by the state news agency RIA-Novosti.

"We would create so much noise for him that the whole world would hear."

New, Punitive Sentencing Makes You Wonder

Now, I know someone who got four months in prison for the same conduct. So why a ten-year sentence here? New mandatory 'guidelines'? Or is it because the feds are involved? If so, why? Aren't local jurisdictions good enough? Were state lines about to be crossed? But they weren't, were they? Was the fellow entrapped, or not?

It makes you wonder about our court systems and the ways that popular hysteria wash through them and rejigger all the laws from time to time. Dramatically different sentencing at different times in different courts for similar crimes undermines overall confidence in the system of justice:
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A 50-year-old electrical engineer remains behind bars after being sentenced for trying to meet what he thought was a young girl on the Internet.

Prosecutors say Jerald D'Souza was sentenced in a Sacramento federal court Thursday to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in August to using the Internet to attempt to commit criminal sex acts with a minor female.

The 50-year-old D'Souza has been in custody since March 6, 2009 when he was arrested near Truckee. Prosecutors say after communicating with what he believed was a 13-year-old girl, he drove from his home in the San Francisco Bay suburb of Dublin with a plan to bring the girl to a motel.

It turned out the person was not a young girl, but an FBI informant.

You Aren't Chugging The Wine Anywhere Near Fast Enough

Australian wines are in big trouble, but trouble there means trouble everywhere. Worldwide, vineyards have been expanding rapidly, but are there enough people in the world drinking wine? And can they possibly keep up with the supply?:
The report was issued yesterday in the form of a joint statement by four industry groups, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, Wine Grape Growers of Australia, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation and the Wine Research and Development Corporation. It went out to all winemakers in Australia and will be followed by regional meetings in the coming weeks and months. The statement makes sobering reading.
Structural surpluses of grapes and wine are now so large that they are causing long-term damage to our industry by devaluing the Australian brand, entrenching discounting, undermining profitability, and hampering our ability to pursue the vision and activities set out in the Directions to 2025 industry strategy.

Coupled with inefficient and/or inappropriate vineyard and wine operations, oversupply is amplifying and exacerbating fundamental problems in the industry, notably our decreasing cost competitiveness. As such it is compromising our ability to adopt new pricing structures and market solutions and adapt to changing market conditions.

Comprehensive analysis and consultation suggests at least 20% of bearing vines in Australia are surplus to requirements, with few long-term prospects. On cost of production alone, at least 17% of vineyard capacity is uneconomic. The problems are national – although some regions are more adversely affected – and are not restricted to specific varieties or price points. The industry must restructure both to reduce capacity and to change its product mix to focus on sales that earn viable margins.

Bailouts are not an option and neither governments nor industry bodies should be expected to provide the answers; tough, informed decisions must be made by individual growers and wineries, from as early as the 2010 vintage.
Mountains of Wine

Australia has an accumulated surplus of 100 million cases of wine that will double in the next two years if current trends continue, according to the report. The annual surplus is huge – equal to all UK export sales and there is no clear prospect of finding additional demand, either domestic or foreign, to fill this gap.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I understand, is now the best-selling white wine in Oz. Not the best selling import, but outselling any category of Australian white wine!

In fact, wine exports have fallen by 8 million cases or more than 20 percent in the last two years, according to the statement, with the largest declines in the high value wines that Aussie winemakers hoped would be their future.

Inexpensive and bulk wine sales have grown, but at prices that are unsustainably low. One of the messages here is that a great deal of the Australian industry is the red, unable to meet operating costs. Even the domestic market is under attack, with falling consumption and rising imports.

The problem is structural, not cyclical or temporary. The surplus won’t be cured by a return to global economic prosperity, for example. The demand is not responsive enough to rising income.

Better weather will make the surplus worse, of course, by increasing supply and not even bad weather will make much of a dent in it. Drought, water shortages, global warming – these factors that continue to plague Australia — would reduce the surplus by 10 percent at best.

Continued over-production will put further pressure on price, the report says, making all the problems worse. There is only one solution: restructuring.

And So, How's Retail Doing These Days?

According to the postings on the Housing Bubble Blog, things look bleak:
Commercial real estate -- including shopping centers, office buildings and industrial property -- will hit a low point in 2010 not seen since the Great Depression, according to a national survey of real estate executives.

Values and rents will plunge, and vacancies and defaults will soar across all types of commercial property before the market rebounds slowly, according to the survey and forecast compiled by the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC.

"2010 looks like an unavoidable bloodbath for a multitude of borrowers, investors and lenders," the report said. "The shake-out period may extend several years as even some conservative owners with well-underwritten loans from the early 2000s see their equity destroyed."

The annual report, released Wednesday at a University of Michigan real estate conference, is the gloomiest in its 31-year history.

Metro Detroit and the Rust Belt fare the worst, according to the study based on a survey of 900 real estate executives.

Detroit ranked dead last among 50 major markets for anticipated commercial investment and development.

Michigan will "have lots of foreclosures," said Dennis Bernard of the Bernard Financial Group, the state's largest commercial mortgage banking firm. "We have so many foreclosures of downtown office buildings already.

"What will happen next year is many banks will take control of those buildings and sell them at very low prices. And then you will have many businesses go into those buildings," because of likely lower rent, said Bernard, who spoke at the Ann Arbor conference Wednesday.

The office vacancy rate in Metro Detroit is at 24.4 percent, according to Grubb & Ellis Co., a commercial real estate service firm.

The struggling auto industry is the main reason Metro Detroit fares the worst among all major markets. Says the report: "No one can sugarcoat how domestic manufacturers continue to relocate away from union-dominated areas in colder, northern interior locations and move to right-to-work, 'more business friendly' states in the Southeast."

By the end of next year, the study predicts commercial real estate values nationwide will have fallen an average of 40 percent from their peak in mid-2007. That eclipses the 1990s savings-and-loan crisis.

Researchers blame the ongoing credit squeeze and cautious consumers for the poor outlook. Banks that have been holding off on foreclosing or restructuring debt will start to do so as they build up reserve funds with government capital, respondents predicted. More than $250 billion in commercial mortgage debt will come due next year, followed by higher amounts in 2011 and 2012, said the report.

The report expects owners will have trouble refinancing their commercial properties because lenders are curtailing credit, and falling real estate values mean an increasing number of properties are worth less than the debt owed on them. More than 88 percent of U.S. survey participants expect lending standards to be "very stringent."
In Palo Alto, yogurt shops are said to be the rage, but no one seems to say anything about the biggest rage ever (well, at least here in Sacramento) - tattoo parlors!:
Strolling down University Avenue, shoppers can easily see there aren't as many places to shop as there were a year ago.

"For rent" signs seem to be multiplying like bunnies -- and staying up for months and months.

"There's a widely held perception that if the landlord weren't so greedy all the spaces would be leased," said Jonathan Goldman, senior vice president of Premier Properties Management, Palo Alto.

But Goldman, who's been in the business for 13 years, disagrees.

He points to the space vacated by Stanford Bookstore two years ago that sat and sat.

"We just leased it for significantly under the going rate," he said, noting that he's never seen rents advertised for under $3 to $4 a square foot.

"We could have taken a tenant a year ago for $2 but there were no tenants," he said.

...All told, about 16 percent of the 600,000 square feet of space is vacant in the downtown "core" zone, along University Avenue from Alma to Cowper streets, including the little side streets and parts of Lytton and Hamilton avenues, Goldman said.

That's of concern to Palo Alto officials. The city has an ordinance that states retail space can be rented out as office space when the vacancy rate exceeds 5 percent. But retail tends to draw shoppers to the business district.

...Goldman isn't advocating turning retail space into offices, but he is circumspect.

"If (office space) is the only thing that can survive, you need to do something. You don't want boarded up buildings in your neighborhood," he said.

"We're all scared -- landlords, tenants -- of University Avenue converting to office" because no one's going to shop at a store in the middle of a block of offices, he said.

Ultimately, he says landlords make more money from retail on University Avenue than office. But, "the reality is, it doesn't matter how cheap you make it, there are a lot of people who really can't afford to pay the rent," he said.

Goldman said vacancies sometimes occur because businesses become obsolete or marginalized.

"The Bead Shop is a perfect example," he said, noting that much of the bead business is conducted online today.

Pointing to downtown vacant storefronts, Goldman said, "Some were victims of the economy, others of a changing world. The problem is there's no new trend."

In 2001, it was nail salons and yoga studios.

"Other than yogurt, we're not seeing any growth industry. We're not seeing national retailers. It's been bleak," he said.

RIP, Bruce King

(Image of Bruce King cadged from Joe Monahan's blog)

New Mexico's longest-serving Governor, Bruce King, has passed away:
Former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King, a folksy cattle rancher who served more time as governor than anyone else and became an institution in state politics, died Friday. He was 85.

...King was a Democrat who served three terms that spanned three decades. He was in office in 1971-74, 1979-82 and 1991-94.

King was with family members at his ranch in Stanley when he died Friday morning. His death comes less than a year after the death of his wife of 61 years.

...Gov. Bill Richardson ordered flags flown at half-staff, saying King's death "leaves a huge void in our state."

"Bruce King was an innovative, farsighted governor who knew the state better than any living New Mexican," Richardson said. "He was as genuine and colorful as his cowboy boots. I can just hear him say 'mighty fine' as he shook another hand."

King was known for the sharp political mind behind his country-boy manner. He was famous for entering restaurants and greeting people table-by-table with a vigorous handshake and a down-home, "How y'all doing? Fine. Fine."

He also was known for his malapropisms, once telling a lawmaker that the lawmaker's proposal could "open up a whole box of Pandoras."

King told The Associated Press in 2005 at a Moriarty restaurant, where he and family members met for morning coffee for decades, that he was happy to be known for working with New Mexico's diverse groups and political parties.

He retained programs he liked from governors who preceded him, occasionally keeping key personnel, whether from a Democratic or Republican regime.

King said he was proudest of his economic development accomplishments, particularly an Intel Corp. computer chip plant in Rio Rancho. But he also was governor during one of the most horrific events in New Mexico history: a 1980 prison riot at the old main penitentiary near Santa Fe. Thirty-three inmates were butchered by other prisoners.

King said in 2005 that he resisted advice from around the country to storm the prison immediately. The slain inmates were killed in the early hours of the riot, and King said his concern was to keep alive a dozen prison workers taken hostage. None of the employees was killed.

The situation at the penitentiary before the riot was "kind of like the guy who was going to control the tea kettle by just putting Scotch tape and taping over the spout and lid," King said. "And as he heated it up, well, it just has to give. That's kind of where we were."
I never liked Bruce King's efforts to develop Rio Rancho. My understanding is that he had a hand in Sandoval County insisting, circa 1964, that the entire area of Rio Rancho be graded for roads - an area larger than Albuquerque. That grading was an environmental disaster all on its own.

Nevertheless, in his own way, Bruce King was bigger than life. I remember seeing him speak at the University of New Mexico during his 1978 gubernatorial campaign. It was lunchtime, just outside the Student Union building.

King was well-known for his interminable sentences - paragraphs and paragraphs of words, piled page after page, and no periods anywhere - within which entire Hindenbergs of political caveats, a vast flotilla of Trojan Horses, could be cleverly buried. Subtle minds devoted much effort to divine his real intentions from his twisted grammar; like a Southwestern form of Kremlinology.

I decided to pay the strictest attention to exactly what he was saying at that UNM campaign speech. He was speaking on environmental matters, for which he cared little, to a college-educated group that was skeptical of his intentions.

In summary, Bruce King stated that he cared about air pollution, because his Stanley ranch was exactly the same distance from the crest of the Sandia Mountains as UNM was; just on the opposite side.

And there you have it!

New Mexico won't be the same place without him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DMTC's "Carousel" - Wednesday Night Rehearsal

A few pictures from the last half of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2.....

"Blow High, Blow Low"
Nathan Mack as Jigger and Matt Provencal as Billy Bigelow.
Mrs. Mullin (Marguerite Morris) and Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal).
Julie Jordan (Karina Summers).
Mrs. Mullin (Marguerite Morris) and Jigger (Nathan Mack).
Mrs. Mullin (Marguerite Morris) and Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal).
Mrs. Mullin (Marguerite Morris) and Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal).
Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal).
Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal) and Jigger (Nathan Mack).
Carrie Pipperidge (Eimi Stokes), Mr. Snow (Jason Hammond), and Nettie (Deborah Douglas Hammond).
Nettie (Deborah Douglas Hammond) and Carrie Pipperidge (Eimi Stokes).
Jigger (Nathan Mack) and Carrie Pipperidge (Eimi Stokes).

Mr. Snow (Jason Hammond) leads the ensemble.
Jennifer Berry.
Island idyll.

Looking For That Lost Key

Someone, somewhere said (and who knows if it's true) that we spend six months of our lives looking for lost things.

Wednesday night, at the theater, I lost the key to the paper towel dispenser. I was convinced I threw the key away in one of four large plastic bags of trash I had just thrown in the dumpster. So, I went to work retrieving the bags from the dark dumpster, ripping them open, and pawing through stale hamburgers, droopy french fries, sodden coffee grounds, and sticky gum.

Meanwhile, someone in the theater found the key amongst the theater seats and dutifully returned it to Jan.

Keys - the curse of the world.....

Lou Dobbs, Gone

I thought Lou Dobbs did great work covering outsourcing as a political issue, but his anti-immigration coverage went way, way over the line into anti-Latino xenophobia. And the Birther stuff sent him off the deep end into conservative la-la fantasyland.

So, goodbye. Like they say, you are the weakest link.

Crazy Guggenheim

A Google search landed at my blog, asking "why did the guggenheims abandon valdez?"

I don't know. Wounds me to this day. Maybe just as well.

On Accutane's Withdrawal

I was both happy and sad to hear that Accutane was being pulled from the market in the U.S.

Particularly in my early teens, I suffered the worst kind of acne, and the most frustrating thing thing was that there was little that could be done to combat it. Circa 1970, popular literature on what acne is and how to control it was in the Dark Ages - virtually barbaric. Masturbation was sometimes blamed for the condition, or poor hygiene, or poor diet, by unfeeling so-called 'experts', right through the 60's, and into the 70's as well.

Diet control wasn't terribly effective, and ultraviolet treatments were so-so. In my late teens, treatment with antibiotics seemed most-effective, when combined with exfoliating scrub containing benzoyl peroxide. But even that was only partially helpful.

Besides, by the late teens, all the serious damage had been done.

Nevertheless, in the early 80's, Accutane came along, a true wonder drug. In 1988, I ventured to the U of A Medical Center to get me some.

By 1988, reports of birth defects were already available. In response, the U of A doctors would not prescribe the drug to women under any condition - whether they were taking birth control, whether they had their tubes tied, whether they were decapitated below the navel.

Plus, by age 32, my problem was no longer quite as severe as it had been. I tried to squeak through, as an older afflicted male, but they just laughed at me and told me to get lost.

Maybe just as well. Accutane kicks the liver around like a football. Who knows what damage might have resulted?

But then again, who knows how much further acne trouble I might have avoided?
Swiss-based Roche Holding quietly pulled its blockbuster drug Accutane off the market in June amid early signs that the drug may be linked to inflammatory bowel disease. And last week, a study was released that quantified those risks, finding that users of the medication have almost twice the odds of developing a serious bowel disorder as nonusers.

For now, generic versions are still available, but the latest troubles could lead to the withdrawal of the controversial medication considered the treatment of last resort for acne so damaging it can lead to pitting of the face and a lifetime of anguish.

In its tumultuous 27-year history, the drug, also known as isotretinoin, has been found to cause serious birth defects if taken during pregnancy and to possibly increase the risk of depression, including suicidal behavior. Women who take it must register with the government, sign a consent form saying that they understand the medication's risks, use two forms of birth control, and submit to monthly pregnancy tests.

The fact that it's still on the market puzzles some former users and consumer advocates -- and reflects the profound lengths to which doctors, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, regulatory agencies and patients have gone to ensure its survival.

"It would be a true disaster if this medication would become unavailable," said Dr. Steven Stone, chairman of an American Academy of Dermatology committee that has reviewed the drug's safety.

"People don't die of acne, so it's easy to say, 'This is a drug that causes inflammatory bowel disease; let's take if off the market.' But that ignores the psychological harm of severe acne."

A form of vitamin A, isotretinoin is usually taken daily for three to six months, resulting in lasting improvements in 99% of patients and a cure in about 70%.

It is also used occasionally for psoriasis, lupus and cancer.

Accutane has been used by more than 13 million people worldwide and was one of Roche's best-selling drugs, with about $200 million a year in sales before its patent expired in 2002.

When approved in 1982, the drug was known to cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy and was labeled with warnings to that effect. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration implemented the stringent iPledge program, requiring patients, doctors and pharmacists to join a risk-management registry to try to ensure that women didn't become pregnant while on the drug.

The program has kept isotretinoin on the market, although the system is so cumbersome that some doctors and patients have given up trying to obtain the medication, says Dr. Amy Forman Taub, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at Northwestern University in Chicago.

"This drug has had so many fears associated with it over the years," she said. "There are no other medications other than thalidomide where there is a registry. But we've mastered it, and it works."

Isotretinoin can cause other side effects, including increased sensitivity to the sun, joint and muscle pain, headaches, thinning hair, elevated cholesterol and liver toxicity.

The drug has been publicly and emotionally linked to an increased risk of depression, including suicides, and some families of suicide victims have pressed the FDA for its removal -- among them Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), whose teenage son committed suicide after taking Accutane.

A study published in January in the Annals of General Psychiatry, however, found that the relationship between isotretinoin and psychiatric problems is unproved. Now research has found a possible link to inflammatory bowel disease. Last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in San Diego, researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, presented evidence showing a higher rate of bowel disorders in isotretinoin users. Before the study, the connection was largely anecdotal.

In inflammatory bowel disease, the intestines become chronically red and swollen, producing pain, cramping, diarrhea, weight loss and bleeding. Surgery to remove all or part of the colon is sometimes required.

..."The absolute risk of getting inflammatory bowel disease is very low," he said. "So if someone has disfiguring acne that was affecting their quality of life, it might be a risk they are willing to take."

Learning About My Middle-Aged Body

Say, what's that, down there....?

On the weekend, I became neglectful, and didn't take quite so much of the potassium chloride (KCl, or potash) I've been prescribed. My diuretic blood pressure medication helps strip potassium from the blood; hence the need for extra potassium, in the form of potash.

Generally these medications are pretty benign. After years, I slowly became aware that a certain kind of headache could be associated with insufficient blood pressure medication, but I had never associated any ill effect with lack of potash.

Until Sunday, that is. Sunday afternoon I began feeling all woozy, like I was going to faint. A peculiar headache ensued as well. All Sunday evening, I was in a woozy state, and wondered if I was having a heart issue (low potassium affects the heart most of all). I was alone, at work, and worried that if I fainted, it would be hours before anyone found me.

Then I finally took some potash, and ....Voila! I was back to normal.

It's probably good to know what it feels like to be undermedicated, for future reference....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Glad I'm Not A Porpoise

It's tough out there:
MOSS LANDING, Calif. -- Marine biologists have figured out why a growing number of dead harbor porpoises have been found on California beaches in recent years: dolphin attacks.

Now they're trying to determine a reason for them.

Okeanis, a Moss Landing-based conservation group, shot video of bottlenose dolphins fatally attacking a porpoise. It helps explain why carcasses were found with internal bleeding, rake marks and broken bones.

"We saw severe beatings," said Okeanis Chief Scientist Daniela Maldini. "It was a mob of dolphins."

The video shows male dolphins coralling the porpoise, ramming it and drowning it, then bringing the carcass to researchers on a boat and swimming away.

...Dan Costa, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, said such an act of violence is not as unusual as it might seem in the wild.

"Everybody thinks flipper is this nice, mellow animal," Costa said. "In the wild, there's interactions that occur and not all of them are friendly."

Scientists say about 74 dead porpoises washed up last year in the state.

...One possible explanation for the violence, according to Maldini, could be pent up sexual angst on behalf of male dolphins.

"It could be a little sexual frustration," she said, "and a lot of males around for very few females. That's my favorite in terms of an explanation, but at this point we're fascinated by the behavior and trying to figure it out."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

DMTC's "Carousel" - Monday Night Rehearsal

From early in the rehearsal....

Gerald Shearman does the juggling.
Marguerite Morris (Mrs. Mullin) does the Box Office.
Mrs. Mullin keeps a sharp eye out for 'chippies'.
Harem girls (Laura Sitts, Jennifer Berry, and Christina Rae?).
Mrs. Mullin (Marguerite Morris), Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal), Julie Jordan (Karina Summers), and Carrie Pipperidge (Eimi Stokes).
Julie Jordan (Karina Summers) and Carrie Pipperidge (Eimi Stokes).
Carrie Pipperidge (Eimi Stokes) and Julie Jordan (Karina Summers).

Julie Jordan (Karina Summers) and Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal).
Billy Bigelow (Matt Provencal).
Men's ensemble.
More clams
Deborah Douglas Hammond as Nettie.
Levitating men.
Julie (center) admits something dark to Carrie (left).
Carrie and Julie share a joke.

What A Difference A Month Makes!

After record September warmth! Arizona is still in bad shape, though:
The USA just slogged through its wettest October on record, the federal government's National Climatic Data Center announced Tuesday.

The nationwide precipitation of 4.15 inches was nearly double the long-term average of 2.11 inches, the center noted in an online report. Precipitation was most extreme in the central USA, where three states — Iowa, Arkansas, and Louisiana — saw their wettest October ever.

Only three out of the 50 U.S. states had below-average amounts of rain and snow: Florida, Utah, and Arizona.

In addition to the damp, October was also extremely cool, measuring the third-coldest since records began in 1895. The average national temperature of 50.8 degrees was 4 degrees below average. Only the Octobers of 1976 and 1925 were cooler.

Oklahoma shivered through its coldest October on record, while Nebraska and Kansas were the second-chilliest ever.

In the report, the center noted that the the month was marked by an active weather pattern, which reinforced unseasonably cold air behind a series of cold fronts. Temperatures were below normal in eight of the nation's nine climate regions, and of the nine, five were much below normal. Only the Southeast climate region had near normal temperatures for October.

The soggy October helped ease drought conditions across the USA. The National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., reported last week that the nation is in its best shape of the decade, in regards to drought.

"This is the least amount of the country that's been in drought in the past 10 years," according to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the center.

For the year-do-date, many states along the mid- and Lower Mississippi Valley are having their wettest years on record, according to the climate data center.

Happy Birthday, Mikhail Kalashnikov

I think:
MOSCOW — Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the globally popular AK-47 assault rifle, on Tuesday declared himself a "happy man" as he celebrated his 90th birthday with a burst of poetry.

Lavished with honours for designing the iconic rifle, Kalashnikov said he had never intended for it to become the preferred weapon in conflicts around the world.

"I created a weapon to defend the fatherland's borders. It's not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn't have been. This is the fault of politicians," he said during an award ceremony at the Kremlin.

Kalashnikov was handed the prestigious Hero of Russia prize by President Dmitry Medvedev, who hailed the AK-47 as "a brilliant example of Russian weaponry" and "a national brand which evokes pride in each citizen."

...Kalashnikov is considered a national hero in Russia for designing the AK-47, a rifle whose name stands for "Kalashnikov's Automatic" and the year it was designed, 1947.

Also called the "Kalashnikov", the rifle and its variants are the weapons of choice for dozens of armies and guerrilla groups around the world.

More than 100 million Kalashnikov rifles have been sold worldwide and they are wielded by fighters in such far-flung conflict zones as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

But their inventor, a World War II veteran, has barely profited financially from them and lives modestly in Izhevsk, an industrial town 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) east of Moscow.

Part of the problem, according to Izhmash, is that "counterfeit" AK-47s are produced in Bulgaria, China, Poland and the United States, costing the company 360 million dollars (261 million euros) annually.

...Wounded during combat in 1941, Kalashnikov started working on his rifle in 1947, driven to design by Soviet defeats in the early years of World War II at the hands of far better armed German soldiers.

The rifle quickly became prized for its sturdy reliability in difficult field conditions.

Kalashnikov remains surprisingly healthy for his age, speaking regularly at conferences devoted to Russian weapons. He told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that he had slowed down recently, but still goes moose hunting once a year.

Pot O' Gold At The End Of The Rainbow?

Or is it something else? So far away, it's hard to see....

Andrew is suggesting that I should, for a time, move to New Zealand, do some work down there, and enjoy the scenery. And he is offering to pay....

Hasan's Betrayal

Ft. Hood had a memorial service today for its fallen and speculation continues regarding Major Hassan's motives:
The Army psychiatrist is believed to have acted alone despite repeated communications -- intercepted by authorities -- with a radical imam overseas, U.S. officials said Monday. The FBI will conduct an internal review to see whether it mishandled early information about the man accused in the bloody rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 29.

President Barack Obama was joining grieving families and comrades of the victims Tuesday at a memorial service at the sprawling Texas Army base. Hasan, awake and talking to doctors, met his lawyer Monday in the San Antonio hospital where he is recovering, under guard, from gunshot wounds in the assault.

In Washington, an investigative official and a Republican lawmaker said Hasan had communicated 10 to 20 times with Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam released from a Yemeni jail last year who has used his personal Web site to encourage Muslims across the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Despite that, no formal investigation was opened into Hasan, they said.

Investigative officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case. Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said it was his understanding Hasan and the imam exchanged e-mails that counterterrorism officials picked up.

Officials said Hasan will be tried in a military court, not a civilian one, a choice that suggests his alleged actions are not thought to have emanated from a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Hasan warned his medical colleagues a year and a half ago that to "decrease adverse events" the U.S. military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors instead of fighting in wars against other Muslims. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, made the recommendation in a culminating presentation to senior Army doctors at Walter Reed Medical Center, where he spent six years as an intern, resident and fellow before being transferred to Fort Hood.

"It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims," Hasan said in the presentation, a copy of which was obtained by the Post.

FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered the inquiry into the bureau's handling of the case, including its response to potentially worrisome information gathered about Hasan beginning in December 2008 and continuing into early this year.

Based on all the investigations since the attack, the investigators said they have no evidence that Hasan had help or outside orders in the shootings.

Even so, they revealed the major had once been under scrutiny from a joint terrorism task force because of the series of communications going back months. Al-Awlaki is a former imam at a Falls Church, Va., mosque where Hasan and his family occasionally worshipped.

In 2001, al-Awlaki, a native-born U.S. citizen, had contact with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and on Monday his Web site praised Hasan as a hero.

Military officials were made aware of communications between Hasan and al-Awlaki, but because the messages did not advocate or threaten violence, civilian law enforcement authorities could not take the matter further, the officials said. The terrorism task force concluded Hasan was not involved in terrorist planning.

Officials said the content of those messages was "consistent with the subject matter of his research," part of which involved post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A law enforcement official said the communications consisted primarily of Hasan posing questions to the imam as a spiritual leader or adviser, and the imam did respond to at least some of those messages.

No formal investigation was ever opened based on the contacts, the officials said.
I remember taking a class on the French Revolution. The instructor philosophized that oppressed people of any sort never rebel: it's too dangerous. It's only when hope is raised for a change, and the change doesn't come, or is reversed, that people get violent. Things had been getting better for the lower classes in France in the mid-18th Century. The abrupt reversal of that improvement in the 1780's set the stage for violence.

Hope has been raised by the election of Barack Obama that U.S. troops would soon leave Muslim lands. But the slow withdrawal from Iraq, coupled with troop increases in Afghanistan, dashed hope in general, and when coupled with Major Hasan's imminent deployment to Afghanistan, created a crisis for Major Hasan in particular. Hope was coming too late for Major Hasan, oppressed as he was by conflicting loyalties. He responded violently.

A lot of Muslims, and Americans too, have been trying to cast America's entry into Iraq and Afghanistan as a war between faiths, between Christianity and Islam. People of good sense have been trying to avoid that characterization, because if that's the way the battle is framed, we lose: there are just too many Muslims. But people keep swinging away (Michelle Malkin, Ahmed Ahmedinejad, and many, many others), and some people eventually adopt that point of view.

In addition, the military is critically dependent on Muslims for intelligence throughout the Middle East. They speak the languages, after all. A purge of Muslims would willfully blind us to the dangers there. The military would be hobbled.

We seem to be sensitive to foreigners directing violence towards the U.S., but less ready to deal with people in the U.S. betraying the U.S. of their own volition. After all, we haven't had to consider betrayal for a long time. Betrayal was a big issue in WWII because so many soldiers were the children of recent immigrants. The success of acculturation helped immensely with the German- and Italian-cultured soldiers: less so with the Japanese (but that was more our failing). Betrayal was hardly a factor in Vietnam, though. But as we depend more and more on Muslims for critical information and critical tasks, betrayal becomes a problem again.

Al Qaeda isn't just a military wing, but an extension of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Philosophy lies at its base. In addition, Al Qaeda operates on almost a franchise basis - you don't have to get direction from the top. Its viral cellular structure is more robust, and thus more dangerous, than communist cellular structure ever was, because no links to a central command are required.

The FBI says the connection between Maj. Hasan and the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki appeared fairly-innocuous, and it probably was. It didn't matter that Major Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki didn't speak about politics, per se. They could have spoken about the weather, for all that mattered. What mattered was militant Islam had become more appealing than continued service in the U.S. military. Even casual contact with the cleric steeled Hasan's resolve.

Today on NPR, a woman telephoned in from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and talked about the insecurity that she now felt on base. American military bases are their own special communities, where children are present and ordinary life goes on. She was prepared for American soldiers to be shot at overseas, but not at home; not on base in the U.S.; not by someone with a pass on base.

Unfortunately, the longer we have troops in Muslim lands, the more troops we have there, and the deeper they become ensconced, the greater our insecurity will become. If we were content to have just small bases there targeting just our worst enemies (the initial involvement in Afghanistan), that would be one thing. Even large interventions for a short time are somewhat tolerable. (Academic Juan Cole has written, with surprise, just how tolerant most Iraqis have been of U.S. troops there.) But extended, large interventions are just the worst. Mission creep in the Middle East appears almost impossible for politicians to resist, whether Dick Cheney or Barack Obama. And U.S. troops will inevitably pay a price, sometimes when they least expect to.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Punk On Bike

I like sitting in the corner of the sandwich shop at J & 8th Streets, because the street scene there is fairly gritty (one fellow described the passing people as 'animals', but I think he was a bit too harsh). Behind the glass window panes I see lots of colorful things I don't understand.

Today, a young black woman came up to the door. A punk on a bike quickly parked and said something to her I didn't understand. She ignored him. He gave her a dirty look and rode off. She made a purchase and as soon as she left the shop the punk reappeared as if from nowhere and started mouthing off to her (once again, I couldn't hear what he said). She ignored him again. He rode off, all the while mouthing off. It didn't look like a very nice scene at all.

Young women have always borne the brunt of punks mouthing off to them. Young black women, in particular, have borne that weight.

After I left the shop, I was surprised to see the young woman at another street corner. Perhaps this scene was more complicated than I thought. She crossed the street while talking on a cell phone, and entered a check-cashing establishment. I would have watched further, but at some point voyeurism crosses over into stalking, and so it was time to move on....

The Missing Plates

(This weekend, I did some cleaning in the basement, and, for once, I had E.'s cooperation - for awhile.....)

After much rummaging...

E.: MMMMAAAAARRRRCCCC! The psychopattic stole my plates!
M.: Maybe they are in this box over here....
E.: I looked in that box last week! The psychos took everything!
M.: There are still some boxes over here.....
E.: No, I looked everywhere! You let everyone in the house and they took all my stuff!
M.: No one is interested in your stuff....
E.: They are valuable things! They come from Europe. I hope Psycho #1's hands fall off!

To top it off, I discovered two boxes of E.'s papers from the 90's, filed according to her primitive system of saving every advertisement that ever came in the mail, plus the bills and assorted papers, that will have to be recycled, or shredded and recycled, or filed. But at least the paper will be gone.

Along with the 'valuable' plates, wherever they are. If I can't locate them in a box, maybe I'll find them in a pawn shop somewhere....

Sunday, November 08, 2009

DMTC Poker Tournament Night

The DMTC lobby was set up with tables, cards, chips, and spirits for this first-ever poker tournament fundraising night.

Entertainment at break time was provided by several YPT girls singing and dancing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler".

Whittling down the participants.

The final table.

And the winners are, from right to left:

First - Jason Ewing;
Second - Adam Sartain;
Third - Kevin Johnson;
Fourth - Mitch Heller.