Saturday, December 05, 2009

Age And Energy

As is my wont, I got a bit confused, and showed up at Ron Cisneros Dance Studio on a day when I thought a dance class was scheduled (but apparently not). So, instead, I started watching the Galena dance group go through their tap routines in rehearsal for what is probably their upcoming Christmas show.

The tweens and teens in Galena are pretty clean-cut. My understanding is that the group is pretty-heavily Mormon. The bond of faith helps provide another bond of cohesion for the group.

The kids' parents were pretty young: perhaps expected, given the Mormon emphasis on family, and starting families early. Indeed, the lobby was full of young parents, likely from a suburban background that L. once referred to, with a combination of condescension and foreboding, as "the normals".

One young woman smiled and shook her head wistfully. Referring to the dancers she said, "I wish I had their energy," and then added, as her voice trailed off, "but that was before the babies."

I looked at her with disbelief. I doubted she was much older than 27 years old.

Perhaps that was unfair. We tend to associate energy with youth, but a sense of energy depends mostly on other factors, like general good health, amount of sleep, proper diet, and proper exercise. I've been borderline anemic for portions of my life, and I remember episodes in my twenties of feeling desperately sluggish for no apparent reason.

Still, age is no excuse. I know there are older tap dancers who can dance rings around these upstarts.

"I know you have it in you," I replied.

Richard Vission & Static Revenger Ft. Luciana - 'I Like That'

Musty Address Book

I've been busy preparing Christmas cards for mailing (the earliest this year in a number of years!)

I've noticed a problem with my address book, however. It goes beyond the people whom I no longer keep in contact with, or the people whom I no longer can even remember. Perhaps it is best described as a problem of middle age: too many people in the address book are dead. They perished long ago from any number of ills, but they live on in my address book.

I'm superstitious: I'll send them Christmas cards anyway....

Friday, December 04, 2009

Nothing 'Junior' about This 'Annie'

Marie sends this (apparently not on Web Site yet):
Nothing 'junior' about this 'Annie'

By Ann Moylan Special to the Enterprise December 03, 2009 08:41

I attended the opening matinee of 'Annie Jr.' on Saturday, Nov. 21. Believe me, there is nothing 'junior' about this 'Annie'!

I was expecting that 'junior' probably meant it was a much-reduced version, that perhaps some of the songs and/or some of the scenes would be left out, shortened, morphed, you know, 'kidified.' What I found instead was a full production with far more power than I anticipated. Heck, I was crying in the opening scene!

To think that we have this level of production available to the children in our community; to realize that the children of Davis could pull this off so well; to imagine the level of confidence they were building, performing on stage for a live audience; to think of the devotion of the parents who put in the hours behind the scenes so their children could have this opportunity and the community could enjoy this production; to realize the talent of Jan Isaacson, director, producer and choreographer - oh my goodness, just think of it!

So what was 'junior' about this performance? Well, OK, there was not a full orchestra, but Chris Congdon did such great job on keyboard that I never even missed an orchestra. As for the sets and the costumes, nothing 'junior' was there either. Sets changed from the orphans' dormitory, to the orphanage office, to the streets of New York City, to Daddy Warbucks' mansion - each simple (easy for me to say!), yet complete and convincing, with an eye to detail. Set design was by Lea Ann Carlisle and Scott Dreyer.

And costumes were just what you'd anticipate and then some, from the orphans to Miss Hannigan, Grace, Lily St. Regis, Rooster and Oliver Warbucks and his staff. Costume design was by Mary Hickman.

But now we get down to the real reason you would not want to miss this performance of 'Annie.' Leapin' lizards, it's the kids! Emma Kehr is a wonderful and powerful Annie. How can an 11-year-old have such confidence and such a strong voice! And McKinley Carlisle as Miss Hannigan was simply superb: acting, singing, dancing ... basically everything she did was flawless. In fact, all of those cast as the orphans did a great job, as did the people of Hooverville and Oliver Warbucks' staff.

Katurah Johansson is a stand-out in her solo in the role of the star-to-be. Kelly Ragsdale had to be one of my favorites as Lily St. Regis. She really has the look and the voice to carry this off and she's not even in high school yet.

Chris Petersen is perfectly cast as Oliver Warbucks, and beautifully sang 'Something Was Missing,' among his many other numbers. I wish I could name every member of the cast, as they each deserve individual recognition.

So why is it called 'Annie Jr.'? It's just because of the age of the cast members - each is under 18.

Don't miss it! This show is a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit and is perfect for the entire family. Performances run for two more weekends: Dec. 5 and Dec. 12-13.

You Gotta Leggo That Eggo!

'Cause there's an Eggo shortage!:
There is a crisis in the frozen-food aisles of America.

After many miles and lots of bad impulse buys in the freezer section, I confirmed it.

In eight grocery stores across Maryland, Virginia and the District, I found warnings of a dire situation and a tough year ahead. Signs taped to the freezer doors warn of a "shortage" and allude to a "situation." A Giant supermarket in Rockville said it best in two, purple-markered words written next to a column of empty shelves: "Eggo problem."

Because of a flood in the Kellogs's bakery in Atlanta and ongoing repairs at their Tennessee waffle factory, Eggo waffles will be out of production until sometime next year, the company announced recently.

So of course, America reacts appropriately: A case of Eggos is going for $60 on eBay.

A Facebook page has folks posting eulogies to the American toaster breakfast, and wafflers trade their tales of woe.

"OH MY GODDD!!!!!!!! EGGO WAFFLES ARE GOING TO HAVE A SHORTAGE UNTIL MID 2010!!!!! I am gonna go CRAZY if I don't get my waffles!!!" one wrote.

Women 'should bare 40 per cent of their bodies to attract men'

(Via Shakespeare's Sister) Not 37%. Not 43%. FORTY frickin' percent! And don't forget the "tight clothing and provocative dancing" either:

Striking the right balance between revealing too much and being too conservative in how much skin is on show has long been a dilemma for women when choosing the right outfit for a night out.

However, a study by experts at the University of Leeds has come to the rescue by calculating the exact proportion of the body that should be exposed for optimum allure.

The findings were based on work by four female researchers, who discreetly observed women at one of the city’s biggest nightclubs from a balcony above the dance floor.

Using tape recorders hidden in their handbags, the researchers took note of what
female clubbers were wearing and how many times they were approached by men asking them to dance.

For the purposes of the study, each arm accounted for 10 per cent of the body, each leg for 15 per cent and the torso for 50 per cent.

Women who revealed around 40 per cent of their skin attracted twice as many men as those who covered up.

However, those who exposed any more than this also fared worse. Experts believe that showing too much flesh puts men off because it suggests they might be unfaithful.

Psychologist Dr Colin Hendrie, who led the study, told the Daily Mail: “Any more than 40 per cent and the signal changes from ‘allure’ to one indicating general availability and future infidelity.

“Show some leg, show some arm, but not any more than that.”

The study, published in the journal Behaviour, found that the most popular women combined the 40 per cent rule with tight clothing and provocative dancing. The 15 per cent that combined all three criteria were approached by 40 men each.

Falsification Of Credentials

The people at work are even more excited by this revelation than the CRU E-Mails.

I've long suspected that there might be a trouble with the statistics here - a bit of dissonance in the head, since the statistics seem to show outsized death rates - but I've never looked at the statistics myself. Nevertheless, despite protestations that the science is sound, it's time to take another look....:
A year ago, high officials of the California Air Resources Board learned that the author of a statistical study on diesel soot effects had falsified his academic credentials.

The CARB researcher, Hien Tran, acknowledged the deception and agreed to be demoted, but after his data were given another peer review, they remained the basis of highly controversial regulations that will cost owners of trucks, buses and other diesel-powered machinery millions of dollars to upgrade their engines. The Tran study concluded that diesel "particulate matter" was responsible for about 1,000 additional deaths each year.

Only recently, with the rules on the verge of final promulgation, did board officials formally acknowledge Tran's falsification, largely because one board member, Fresno cardiologist John Telles, did his own investigation and complained about an apparent cover-up.

Telles, in sharp letters to board officials and during last month's CARB meeting, said the chain of events casts a pall over the legitimacy of the vote to proceed with the new rules.

"Failure to reveal this information to the board prior to the vote not only casts doubt on the legitimacy of the truck rule, but also upon the legitimacy of CARB itself," Telles said, adding, however, that he doesn't question the validity of the science.

Industry critics have jumped on the revelation that Tran falsely claimed he received a doctorate from the University of California, Davis, but the board's staff rejects the complaints.

"What Tran did was bad," James Goldstene, CARB's executive officer, said Tuesday, "but the science was sound."

...In July 2008, Dr. S. Stanley Young, an official of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, complaining that "none of the authors (of the report) are professional statisticians." Four months later, California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams told Young – in a letter drafted by Tran – that the study team was qualified, citing Tran's UC Davis doctorate.

...As Telles says, the apparent cover-up casts a pall over the legitimacy of a very important – and very costly – state policy.

Frickin' Wildlife

I stepped outside my workplace's front door, heading on the way to lunch, but no more than ten feet from the doorway, I was dumped upon by a sparrow. The dropping landed on the tip of the finger next to the pinkie on my left hand, but it was a few seconds before I became aware of it - time enough to absent-mindedly touch my coat in a few places.


Bobby McFerrin And The Neuroscientists

Via Badtux

Bottom? I'm Not Persuaded

Rush Limbaugh To Marry On 4th Of July

Congratulations on marriage #4.

A Really Windy Place

The crew at the Coast Guard station on Attu Island was digging out Wednesday following a weekend storm packing hurricane-force winds that left 7-foot snow drifts and a thick layer of ice on just about everything.

The storm shook the Loran Station's 1-foot thick concrete walls. The sturdy station's wind meter peaked out early Sunday with a 178 mph-hour blast.

...Strecker, who has been at the station for seven months, said he's getting more used to the horrendous storms that rip through Attu Island, which is located at the end of the 1,200-mile Aleutian Island chain. He was even able to sleep through the weekend storm, but only because it wasn't pounding the wall next to his bed.

Even so, it was hard to ignore.

"There are no trees out there, so nothing blocks the wind," he said. "It just sounded like you were next to a train station and a train was going by. It kind of sounded like ongoing rumbling thunder and then there would be peaks where it sounded like something hit the building ... like somebody had bumped into the building with a truck or something."

When Strecker placed his hand on the wall during the storm, he could feel it vibrate. The sound of the storm came through the building's ventilation system. The level of the water in the toilets went up and down with each wind gust.

Strecker ventured up to the recreation deck to watch the storm out the one window that remained clear during the storm.

"It looked like you were going through a snowstorm in a jet," he said.

...By the time the storm ended, there was more than a foot and a half of new snow. One of the communication station antennas was gone.

The storm died down Sunday morning, enough to let the station's crew begin the huge job of digging out - even if winds were still gusting up to 80 mph.

"That seemed pretty tame," Strecker said.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Logarithms And Benford's Law

(Via Yglesias):

Benford's Law seems to imply we subjectively impose preconceived ideas of order on the Universe as a whole, even as we yearn for objective explanations:
Benford's Law (which was first mentioned in 1881 by the astronomer Simon Newcomb) states that if we randomly select a number from a table of physical constants or statistical data, the probability that the first digit will be a "1" is about 0.301, rather than 0.1 as we might expect if all digits were equally likely. In general, the "law" says that the probability of the first digit being a "d" is

This implies that a number in a table of physical constants is more likely to begin with a smaller digit than a larger digit. It was published by Newcomb in a paper entitled "Note on the Frequency of Use of the Different Digits in Natural Numbers", which appeared in The American Journal of Mathematics (1881) 4, 39-40. It was re-discovered by Benford in 1938, and he published an article called "The Law of Anomalous Numbers" in Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc 78, pp 551-72.

...Although there have been many lengthy and erudite "explanations" of Benford's Law, it seems to me it can be explained with a single picture:


Clearly the underlying premise of Benford's Law is that the subject population of quantities, expressed in the base 10 and more or less arbitrary units, will be fairly evenly distributed on a logarithmic scale. This is confirmed by the fact that the exponents on these constants are fairly uniformly distributed (at least over several orders of magnitude).

...Of course, we could have chosen units for our physical constants such that the leading digits were all 9's (for example), but evidently we have a natural tendency to choose units so that our numbers are evenly distributed by order of magnitude, rather than absolute value. This may be related to our basic impressions of hearing and sight (and earthquakes), since our sense impressions of loudness and brightness are logarithmic.

Jawohl - It's Scientific Fascism All Right!

Fascist, heal thyself!:
A row over leaked emails from a British scientist hinting at a global warming cover-up has reached the US Congress, where climate change skeptics are seeking to thwart key legislation.

British Professor Phil Jones has stood aside as director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, after his emails calling into question the scientific basis for climate change fears were leaked.

Hackers had penetrated the center's network and posted online thousands of emails from researchers, including Jones, ahead of a landmark Copenhagen summit which opens next week.

The leader of a US group of so-called "climatology skeptics", Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner, said "if the emails are genuine it is very disturbing because they call into question the whole science of climate change."

He told the House committee on energy independence and global warming that data from the East Anglia university had "been used as a basis for the IPCC report as well as for the US global research program."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC's) benchmarks for CO2 concentrations in a 2007 report serve as a guidepost for the UN-backed talks in Copenhagen.

The e-mails showed "an increasing evidence that scientific fascism is going on," Sensenbrenner added.

"As policy makers are making decisions about the state of the American economy for the next several generations, we have to have accurate science and it appears that there is enough questions on whether the science we have is accurate."

Now, there IS a backstory here!:
The incident to which Sensenbrenner is alluding in fact involves an admirable event in scientific history, when the scientific community successfully resisted attempts by Exxon-Mobil and Republicans to politicize and corrupt climate research.

In 2003, the journal Climate Research published a paper by astrophysicists Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon which argued that “the current global warming trend is not unique and that an even more dramatic episode occurred centuries ago, before widespread combustion of oil and coal.”

As illegally hacked emails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit indeed reveal, the publication of this paper shocked climate researchers, who discussed an array of responses in March, 2003, from a joint response explaining the paper’s flaws to asking colleagues to shun the journal or encouraging the journal to “get rid of the offending editor,” contrarian Chris de Freitas.

What Sensenbrenner and the other smear merchants fail to mention is that the researchers were correct in their concerns that the journal had been taken over by biased ideologues. Despite Sensenbrenner’s claim, no editors were fired because of the climate realists. Rather, the editor of Climate Research, Hans Von Storch, quit in July 2003 because he was suppressed by the journal’s publisher when he attempted to disown the paper’s “severe methodological flaws“:
A science journal editor who recently published an article questioning whether industrial emissions are driving up the earth’s temperature has resigned, saying he was not allowed to publish an editorial repudiating the article.
Five editors — half the editorial board of the journal — soon joined Von Storch in a mass resignation — while Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) held a hearing to promote the blatantly flawed paper during the debate on the McCain-Lieberman climate bill.

The Soon-Baliunas paper turned out to be crass Big Oil propaganda, “underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute and promoted by nonprofit organizations that receive support from energy interests, primarily ExxonMobil Corp.” Journal publisher Otto Kinne eventually admitted in August, 2003, that the Soon-Baliunas claims “cannot be concluded convincingly from the evidence provided in the paper” — but only after the paper had served its political purpose.

We return to the present day, where mainstream environmental reporters have abetted this new, disgusting character assassination campaign. Reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the Associated Press — among many others — have wrung their hands about the ethics of the scientific community while the Fox Business Network compares scientists to Hitler and Stalin and Andrew Breitbart’s compares them to Nazi eugenicists.

So, if I understand correctly, the story we get from the Republicans in Congress is that they will endeavor to destroy the reputation of anyone who disagrees with them. Nice!

Store Mascots

I was walking past the new ice rink at J and 20th Streets, heading towards the Subway sandwich shop, when I saw someone next to the ice rink dressed up in a green suit, in what appeared to be a chef's hat.

At first, I thought the fellow was dressed up as a green chili, but closer examination of the suit revealed little bumps - a cucumber, maybe. Just then, Lori from Subway saw me, crossed the street, and said hello.

"Who is that guy?", I asked. "Oh, that's Mr. Pickles" she replied. "He's my competitor - they make pretty good sandwiches!" "Well, you need to do something like that to keep your customers, don't you think?" She laughed, jumped up, and starting doing an impromptu dance, shaking her booty at the passing traffic on J Street, and singing "Look at me - I make sandwiches too!"

Very cute!

The Judge Is Not Persuaded

Open season on minority voters is closed. This "voter fraud" meme has never been anything but a Trojan Horse for minority-vote suppression:
The Republican National Committee will not be able to use election tactics that have been linked to suppression of voting by racial minorities without court supervision, a federal judge in New Jersey has ruled.

The measures, known as “ballot security” programs, were the subject of a lawsuit between the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee that ended with a consent decree in 1982. Under the agreement, some election tactics could only be used with court approval, including the creation of voter challenge lists, photographing voters at the polls and posting off-duty police and sheriffs officers at the polls in minority precincts.

The restrictions on the Republican National Committee were extended by the courts to cover the nation in 1987.

Last November, the Republican Party went to court seeking to end the decree, arguing in part that a rise in voter fraud required the change. A voting expert for the Republicans, Tom Josefiak, argued in court that the political landscape had shifted, with African-Americans serving as president and attorney general.

With such officials in place, Mr. Josefiak had testified, he found it hard to believe that laws on the books regarding voter fraud, intimidation and suppression were not “going to be actively pursued by this Justice Department.”

Mr. Josefiak also testified that the chairman of the Republican National Committee and its chief administrative officer are African-American, and that the party had no incentive to intimidate minority voters.

In an opinion issued on Tuesday, Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise of Federal District Court ruled that the Republicans failed to show that conditions had changed enough to justify changing the agreement.

“It does not appear that the R.N.C.’s incentive to suppress minority votes has changed since 1982,” Judge Debevoise wrote, citing statistics showing that most minority voters support Democrats. “It appears that the R.N.C. has been largely unsuccessful in its efforts to attract minority voters. Until it is able to do so, it will have an incentive to engage in the type of voter suppression that it allegedly committed in the actions that led to the enactment and modification of the consent decree.”

The judge dismissed arguments by Republican advocates that voter fraud is a growing problem, and said suppression of minority voters was a more serious issue.

In his ruling, which is likely to be appealed, Judge Debevoise did agree to narrow the scope of the consent decree somewhat. He agreed that some forms of poll watching would be allowed, narrowed the definition of ballot security program to include “only efforts that are aimed at preventing potential voters from casting a ballot” and set an eight-year expiration date on the agreement. He noted that the agreement could be extended if violations were proved.

Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles called the decision “a major development” in election law, since the judge found that Republicans still had electoral incentives to suppress minority votes even in the absence of “racial animus.”

The Democratic National Committee hailed the decision as “a resounding repudiation of the Republican Party’s trumped-up claims of voter fraud.”

A Day In The Life...

...of the dumbest man on the planet:
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) paid a surprise visit to the Heritage Foundation Thursday, dropping in for a panel discussion on his favorite subject: climate change. The Senate's most virulent global warming denier, Inhofe was greeted with cheers of "our hero!" at the conservative think tank. After launching in to his usual spiel about climate change as the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people, Inhofe went on to criticize President Obama's decision to address the upcoming climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen next week. He said he thought the Europeans must believe Obama is some sort of king they way they are gushing over his promise to commit the U.S. to reducing greenhouse gasses. "You would be shocked about how dumb some of these guys over there are," he said.

Happy Birthday, Britney Spears!

28 years old, Dec. 2nd. And that whole "Circus" circus kicked off about a year ago, too! And her "Circus" tours just ended too! Just a lot of Britney milestones in early December!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

RIP, Dottie Newman

So sorry to hear that she passed on. The WWII generation is passing, passing....

I-Phone Experiment

I've been very timorous about using this I-phone, but there is no question that it does have it's charms! Great YouTube video quality, for one thing. Plus, it looks like I'll be able to blog wherever I go, which sounds like progress to me!

Juan Cole's Take On Afghanistan

We're always preparing for the last war, and making false analogies, and otherwise getting everything bass-ackwards. So it has always been, and so it will always be!

Juan Cole writes from an informed Iraqi-centric point-of-view:
President Barack Obama’s just-announced plan for Afghanistan seems modeled less on Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy than on George W. Bush’s Iraq exit strategy. Or, at least it is modeled on the Washington mythology that Iraq was turned from quagmire into a face-saving qualified success by sheer indomitable will and a last-minute troop “surge.” But Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq, and the Washington consensus about its supposed end-game success in Iraq is wrong in key respects. Are think tank fantasies about an Iraq "victory" now misleading Obama into a set of serious missteps in Afghanistan?

Obama explicitly referred to the Iraq withdrawal as a model for Afghanistan, saying, "Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011." He was referring to the Status of Forces Agreement imposed on Bush by the Iraqi parliament in fall of 2008, which set a timetable for withdrawal. The SOFA has worked better than its critics expected, in part because the new Iraqi army is now capable of patrolling independently and is willing to stand and fight against popular militias, albeit with U.S. supplies and close air support.

Moreover, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gained control of his field officers, establishing forward operating bases that reported directly to him. He exaggerated his victory at Basra in spring of 2008 over the Mahdi army militia, and unfairly discounted the role of U.S. air power and troops in lending the operation crucial support. He and his American allies, moreover, seldom acknowledge the crucial mediating role of Iran in getting the Mahdi army to stand down. It is nevertheless true that the 275,000-strong Iraqi army can now face down most security challenges from militias.

...In contrast to his Iraqi counterpart, President Hamid Karzai is said by U.S. intelligence to control only about 30 percent of the country, while the Taliban control 10 to 15 percent. ... Meanwhile, Al-Maliki’s Islamic Mission (Da'wa) Party gained dramatically in popularity in last January’s provincial elections, suggesting that he has real popularity in the big Shiite urban centers. So the political situation in Iraq is much more promising than that in Afghanistan....

A major plank of Obama’s Afghanistan platform is a troop escalation -- another 30,000 on top of the 22,000 he dispatched last winter. It inevitably calls to mind the Iraq escalation that then-Sen. Obama opposed. The Washington consensus is now that Bush’s "surge" or troop escalation defeated "al-Qaida" in Baghdad and in al-Anbar province, allowing the new Iraqi military to begin patrolling and ultimately to do so independently, and thus paving the way for a "responsible" U.S. withdrawal. While it is certainly true that the steps taken by Gen. David Petraeus in spring and summer 2007 contributed to a substantial reduction of violence in Iraq, the actions of the U.S. military were only one piece of the puzzle.

The simple fact of the matter is that in 2006 and 2007 the Shiite militias and government troops decisively won the civil war in Baghdad. They ethnically cleansed the Sunni Arabs from the capital, creating a massive refugee problem in Jordan and Syria. Baghdad went from being a mixed city to being 85 to 90 percent Shiite, as a team at Columbia University recently charted. The killing thereafter was so much reduced because there were few mixed neighborhoods left. Even the willingness of Sunni Arabs to join pro-American Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq militias that took on Sunni extremist groups derived in some important part from this fear of being ethnically cleansed.

In Iraq, for all its acts of stupidity, the Bush-Cheney regime at least backed the majority, the Shiites. With 60 percent of the population, the Shiites were always likely to win the civil war produced by the power vacuum left by Washington’s defeat of Saddam Hussein and his feared Republican Guards tank corps.

In Afghanistan, the major allies of the U.S. and NATO have been the national minorities -- the Sunni Tajiks, the Shiite Hazaras and the Uzbeks. Admittedly, they are joined by pro-Karzai Pashtuns, but Pashtun support for the U.S. and NATO is clearly dwindling. Obama’s surge of U.S. troops into Helmand and Qandahar could easily provoke a Pashtun backlash. The Pashtuns are thus not analogous to Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. They are a plurality of the population, not a minority, and they have not lost the low-intensity civil war in which the country is embroiled. Nor have they been ethnically cleansed under the current government. The Sunni Arabs of Iraq threw in the towel, joined in elections, and even formed pro-American militias only as it became clear that the Shiites were routing them. The Pashtuns are not in that position.

Standing up an Afghanistan security force is a key element of Obama’s plan, as it was a central strategy in Iraq for the Bush administration and its allies. Doing so in Afghanistan, however, is a far more daunting task than in Iraq. Only 44 of the 127 units of the Afghanistan National Army surveyed for the U.S. Congress this fall were found capable of operating independently.

....The military is, moreover, anything but national. The new report to Congress reveals that the army is disproportionately drawn from and commanded by officers of the Tajik ethnic group, who are 41 percent of the trained troops but only a quarter of the population. (Tajiks speak a form of Persian and are more urban than other Afghans.) The Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group, at 42 percent, are only a third of the troops. There are virtually no Pashtun troops from Helmand and Qandahar provinces, the centers of guerrilla opposition to the Karzai government and to the foreign troop presence.

The implication is that often, when we speak of Afghanistan National Army troops patrolling Pashtun villages alongside U.S. or other NATO forces, we may well be speaking of Tajik troops doing so. Many Pashtun clansmen are fiercely proud and independent, and would be humiliated by having Tajik soldiers lord it over them. (In Afghanistan, Pashtuns often unfairly depict Tajiks as soft, urban and effeminate.) The only thing worse than Tajik dominance would be what the Tajiks brought along with them -- Western Christian soldiers outfitted like astronauts. Ironically, the Tajik dominance of the old 1980s communist government of Afghanistan, and their alliance with Russian troops, were among the reasons that impelled the Pashtuns to mount a Muslim insurgency in the first place.

If there are considerable problems with the Afghanistan army, the police, numbering around 93,000, are considered much worse -- poorly trained, undisciplined and held to be highly corrupt. But the main problem is that there are not enough of them. The entire province of Qunduz north of the capital only has 800 police for a population of nearly a million. In contrast, the similarly sized San Francisco has over 2,000 police officers and rather fewer armed militants.

...Obama is in danger of being misled by the inside-the-Beltway think tank consensus on what happened in Iraq, and of applying those "lessons" to Afghanistan. Even if the two actually resembled one another, the Washington story about Iraq is full of holes. But they are very different countries, societies and situations. Bush caught a break with his surge, inasmuch as it coincided with a massive shift in the local power balance. Obama will have to be very lucky indeed to catch a similar break in Afghanistan

Artificial Pork

Yum! But providing exercise for all that artificial pork will be a challenge. I picture immense factory gymnasiums, tended by illegal aliens, and full of pork slabs shaking and quaking to aerobics music:
SCIENTISTS have grown meat in the laboratory for the first time. Experts in Holland used cells from a live pig to replicate growth in a petri dish.

The advent of so-called “in-vitro” or cultured meat could reduce the billions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals — if people are willing to eat it.

So far the scientists have not tasted it, but they believe the breakthrough could lead to sausages and other processed products being made from laboratory meat in as little as five years’ time.

They initially extracted cells from the muscle of a live pig. Called myoblasts, these cells are programmed to grow into muscle and repair damage in animals.

The cells were then incubated in a solution containing nutrients to encourage them to multiply indefinitely. This nutritious “broth” is derived from the blood products of animal foetuses, although the intention is to come up with a synthetic solution.

The result was sticky muscle tissue that requires exercise, like human muscles, to turn it into a tougher steak-like consistency.

“You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals,” said Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, who is leading the Dutch government-funded research.

Post and his colleagues have so far managed to develop a soggy form of pork and are seeking to improve its texture. “What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue,” Post said.

“We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there. This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it.”

At present there is a question mark over the taste as laboratory rules prevent the scientists eating the fruits of their labour.

The Dutch experiments follow the creation of “fish fillets” derived from goldfish muscle cells in New York and pave the way for laboratory-grown chicken, beef and lamb.

A New Species In The Outback

From SFGate:

(Caption) Men at work: While many folks in Sydney haven't been able to find jobs, Luke Taylor (left), Paul O'Keeffe and Jeremy Davies can thank their stars that there still is a demand in Australia for men who impersonate kangaroos. They'll be performing at the Sydney Festival in January.

Photo: Rob Griffith / AP

Stormy Monday May Turn Into Stormy Week!

Next week looks like fun!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

David Sirota Asks A Few Questions....

For example:
  • Are we really expected to believe that massively escalating a war is the way to end a war? I mean, really? Like, is the public really looked at like we're that stupid? And a follow-up question: Are we really that stupid?
  • If Obama's Afghan War strategy about escalating a war to end a war was a self-help strategy for, say, alcoholics, wouldn't it prescribe drinking more whiskey to stop drinking - and wouldn't we all laugh at that?
  • Would the Obamaphiles now telling us to "give President Obama a chance" with this decision and/or defending Obama's escalation - would these same people be saying we should "give President McCain a chance" and/or defending President McCain's escalation if he was the one in office making this decision?
  • I'm confused: Is this hope or change?

Kookaburra Song Lawsuit

Think of Australia. Now think of a tune. "Waltzing Matilda" probably comes to mind. So might the popular nursery tune "The Kookaburra Song." Then there's Men at Work's "Down Under." That major international pop hit and "The Kookaburra Song" now reside at the center of a fierce intellectual-property battle raging in Australia. The copyright holder of "The Kookaburra Song" says it's unlawfully sampled in "Down Under."

So why is such an old pop hit, one that dates all the way back to 1981, suddenly the center of such controversy?

"Most Australians think it's a bit of a joke," says Matthew Westwood, arts editor of the newspaper The Australian. He says contestants on an Australian-music-themed TV quiz show called Spicks and Specks were asked to guess what children's song "Down Under" contained. No one could figure it out, at first. (Neither could I. Westwood had to show me, by playing the song and humming along.)

But after the TV show aired, Larrikin Music Publishing filed suit against Colin Hay and Ron Strykert — the two Men at Work members who wrote "Down Under" — and their former record label. A number of Australians, including Westwood, found this a bit much.

"It's an imaginative reusing of a well-known song that's almost a folk song in Australia," Westwood says.

Westwood says he sees sampling, and reusing musical motifs, as part of a long tradition of legitimate artistic license.

"The Kookaburra Song" was originally written by a Melbourne schoolteacher named Marion Sinclair in 1934, for the Australian version of the Girl Scouts. Westwood says the tune is onomatopoeic, in that it almost captures the sound of the kookaburra laughing.

"It's a very typical Australian sound — a bush sound," Westwood says. "That's why I think it's really mean-spirited to say, 'Hey, this is theft,' if it's something that comes from nature."

You'll hear no such romanticizing from Adam Simpson of Simpson Solicitors, who represents Larrikin Music Publishing in the lawsuit.

" 'Kookaburra' is a copyright work, just like any copyright work, and there are laws surrounding how it can be used," Simpson says.

Simpson says laws governing what we'd call fair use in the U.S. for sampling music are more restrictive in Australia. He argues that "The Kookaburra Song" appears significantly in "Down Under."

" 'Kookaburra' is a four-bar song," Simpson says. "Over half that song is used in 'Down Under,' which is the test of law."


Ah, fondly reminiscing about happier times, in 2003!

Here are selections of the transcript of Obama's speech last night, and my take on the speech:

Al-Qaeda's base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban — a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.
Yes, but remember, the Taliban has roots in Afghan and Pakistani political culture. It did not spring up out of nowhere. The Taliban was and is particularly strong in the Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.
Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy — and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden — we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al-Qaeda was scattered, and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope.
The Northern Alliance was most effective in throwing the Taliban out of power, but that Alliance was based on tribal interests: non-Pashtun tribes, for the most part.
Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of our men and women in uniform. Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance, we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.
Well, "leaving Iraq to its people"? - not if you believe the Sunnis! But at least Iraq is primarily in the hands of Shiites - the majority.
But while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al-Qaeda's leadership established a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it has been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an underdeveloped economy and insufficient security forces. Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al-Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
Reasonably true, which brings up the question of what Pakistan's approach will be now. Pakistan's ISI has been in league with terrorists: mostly those that have been causing so much trouble for India, mostly because of Pakistan's desire to aggravate the Kashmir situation, but also the Taliban to some extent. Pakistan has refused to exert control over its own border areas. An American surge won't mean much without firm Pakistan commitments to this project.
After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian effort.
This is not a narrow definition, Mr. Obama. There are extremist allies even within Pakistan's government! Can you defeat them too?
Since then, we have made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we have stepped up the pressure on al-Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation's army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution.
That's low expectations! The election was widely-seen as a failure.
This review is now complete. And as Commander in Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
So, it's a 'surge'. But defeating insurgencies generally require a deeper commitment. There is no assurance the Afghans will be ready in an 18-month time frame.
This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al-Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al-Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.
In the new world of terror, safe havens need not be required. After all, while some of the London bombers had visited Pakistan, those visits were hardly required. The bombers lived in London and vicinity, after all. They weren't really sent by anyone. Al Qaeda currently has a pretty-free rein in places like Yemen and Somalia. If Pakistan becomes difficult terrain for them, they can adapt.
Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al-Qaeda's safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al-Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.
But once again, the problem is more the Pakistani government's proliferation policies than Al Qaeda. According to Wikipedia: "Islamabad High Court on February 6, 2009 declared Dr. A. Q. Khan as a free citizen of Pakistan with freedom of movement inside the country. The verdict was rendered by Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Aslam. In September 2009, expressing concerns over the Lahore High Court’s decision to end all security restrictions on Khan, the United States has warned that Dr. Khan still remains a ’serious proliferation risk’."
To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.
So, these are the objectives. Tall order!
We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 — the fastest pace possible — so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

...Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
In and out fast! I don't believe it!
This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over.
No, no, the days of the blank check are just starting!
We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens.
This is where the blank check comes in handy!
In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.
So, Obama thinks he knows about Pakistani popular opinion? Not even the Pakistani military knows Pakistani popular opinion!
In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.
Unleashed towards India, perhaps?
First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now — and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaeda from a distance — would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.
Remember, U.S. intervention into Vietnam was done with the full blessing of the United Nations. International support is not much of a panacea. Also remember, support for the Taliban is strongest in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, so we are facing a "broad-based popular insurgency", at least in the south. Also note, if we can keep our involvement in Afghanistan small, we can maintain our involvement indefinitely. A surge invites defeat; retreat can turn into a rout. Saigon, 1975, anyone?
Second, there are those who acknowledge that we cannot leave Afghanistan in its current state but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to take over.
We may not be able to slow down a deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan - that shouldn't be our mission anyway: targeting Al Qaeda is our mission. So the Afghans really aren't in control, even now? Hmmm....
Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort — one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.
So, Obama sees the danger, but walks in anyway.
So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict. We will have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al-Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold — whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere — they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.
Sounds exactly like Donald Rumsfeld!
We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. That is why I have made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to pursue the goal of a world without them. Because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons — true security will come for those who reject them.
Good, but as noted, A.Q. Khan is sprung from prison!
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours.
What was the slogan favored by the U.S. Army early in the Iraqi occupation?: "Their sand; our oil!"
In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people — from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy, from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries, from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home, from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad, and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people and for the people a reality on this Earth.
One of the most disheartening episodes of American intervention in Afghanistan so far has been the way the Afghans themselves betray their own futures. Our Peace Corps volunteers will come back in coffins. It's that kind of place.
It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we — as Americans — can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment — they are a creed that calls us together and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people.

America, we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.
This is sentimentality, and it doesn't get you far in the Hindu Kush.

Rednex - Cotton Eye Joe

Wow! I've never seen this video before. This must be what taking drugs is like....

Irresistible Force And The Movable Object

Heading to Subway for lunch, I had to run to cross the railroad; a train was approaching. I stopped to watch the train; I love trains!

On the sidewalk on the other side of the street, a young woman rapidly-approached the rail crossing on a skateboard. Because of the intervening building, she couldn't see the train.

Hmmm.... She's wearing an i-Pod. She doesn't seem to know the train is there.... This should be interesting.....

Surprise! Fortunately, she saw the train in time!

And thus, an early end to what could have been a more interesting story....


Back in my caving days, I worried about this possibility. There are better ways to go:
SALT LAKE CITY — The popular Utah cave where a 26-year-old medical student died earlier in the week will be closed permanently and his body will not be removed, state and county officials said Friday.

Any effort to recover John Jones' body from the cramped underground chute where he became stuck with his head at an angle below his feet Tuesday night would simply be too dangerous, they said.

"If we put other people in that same location, they could get stuck or get hurt," said Lt. John Valentine with Utah County search and rescue.

Jones, of Stansbury Park, died just before midnight Wednesday — about 28 hours after getting wedged into a tight, unmapped passage of Nutty Putty Cave. Workers had tried feverishly to free him from the underground chute about 100 feet below the surface and about 400 feet from the cave's entrance.

Jones was trapped headfirst in a vertical shaft about 18 inches wide and 10 inches high. The 1,500-foot Nutty Putty cave is south of Salt Lake City.

Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said Jones' exact cause of death will probably never be known but contributing factors likely included his inverted position for a prolonged period of time and the cave's cold temperatures.

Democrats Start Coming Out From Under Rocks

It would be easier to take the Democratic Party seriously if they, like, had even an ounce of courage:
WASHINGTON — George W. Bush "turned tail" from the Afghan war to invade Iraq, leaving President Barack Obama a worsening war he must now try to turn around, a senior Democratic White House ally said Tuesday.

In unusually sharp comments, Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he was "angry" about former vice president Dick Cheney's latest attacks on Obama's handling of a bloody conflict now in its ninth year.

"Frankly, they turned tail. That's pretty tough language, but I get angry when I hear vice president Cheney talk about a job they started but didn't finish," Hoyer told reporters.

"They started something and didn't finish it, and they left it for this administration to clean up," he said. "We are clearly not making the same mistake the Bush administration made."

...On Monday, RAW STORY reported that Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) blasted the Bush administration for fouling up the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

"Look what happened with regard to our invasion into Afghanistan, how we apparently intentionally let bin Laden get away," Hinchey said. "How we intentionally did not follow the Taliban and al-Qaeda as they were escaping. That was done by the previous administration because they knew very well that if they would capture al-Qaeda, there would be no justification for an invasion in Iraq."
These comments could have been made YEARS ago. They might even have been useful, say, in May, 2003. But that would have meant having a backbone, and it was far easier to hide.

Myself, even though I think Congressman Hinchey's allegations are plausible, I don't think the Bush Administration deliberately let Osama bin Laden go. I think that that traitor George W. Bush refused to bomb al-Zarqawi's camp near the Iran-Iraq border in order to keep his planned Iraqi invasion on track, however, and keep al-Zarqawi in business. Bush only attacked Al Qaeda when it was convenient for Bush to do so. If we had followed that sort of approach with the Nazis, Hitler's grandson would be Fuhrer today.

Regarding the Tora Bora battle, however, I think incompetence was the problem. Stuck in Don Rumsfeld's Washington La-La land, the Bushies did not realize how many troops would be required to secure the mountainous area, and so they went in undermanned. Using local contacts and Saudi money, Osama bin Laden was able to escape.

(Never blame malice when incompetence will do).

And Steny Hoyer's comments are correct, as far as they go. But in 2003, he supported the Iraq War. Hello? It's easy to insult Dick Cheney NOW. Why didn't he insult Dick Cheney THEN?

Picking up after the Bushies, Obama's Afghan adventure is not likely to end much better than Leonid Brezhnev's did. The degree of backstabbing and corruption there in central Asia is awe-inspiring. The U.S. Army HAS learned some things from the Iraq War, and goes into Afghanistan better-prepared today than in 2002, but still, Afghanistan is NOT the same as Iraq. The Iraqis are lot more trustworthy!

We can briefly stabilize the area by spreading lots of money around, but we will corrupt the U.S. Army in the process. We'll be running protection on the heroin trade and running arms to the Taliban and Al Qaeda (and we're already paying the Taliban for safe passage). And the place will be no different when we leave than it was the day we arrived. A slightly-different fate than the Soviets experienced, but that's only because we have more money.

Former Miss Argentina Dies From Cosmetic Buttocks Surgery

Only 38 years old!

OK, scratch that from my Christmas wish list....

Meanwhile, Out Back In The Outback

Australia is back to its usual "if it's an El NiƱo year, we're drier than Mars."

And meanwhile on Mars, the rover Opportunity is trying to sneak up on a meteorite without being noticed....

Monday Storm!

And, gauging by the forecast so far, it's looking like it will be a helluva storm too! Put away the cats, 'cause they're gonna get blown into Nevada!

So, How's the 401K Doing?

Hmmm.... Not good. The recovery is plateauing. Doesn't Wall Street realize it's the Christmas season? Where's MY bonus?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Early Forecasts

Suggest a big ol' storm will roll in, starting Sunday evening!

Pretty Spider

Caption: The peacock spider is found in eastern parts of Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales. Photo: SOLENT

Wow, that's a real pretty spider!:
The tiny arachnid, found in Australia, shows off a rainbow of colours to impress nearby females.

It can raise a pair of legs and fan out two brightly patterned flaps at the back of its body.

Displaying its spectrum of shades in an attempt to attract the attention of the less vibrant brown spiders, the creature reveals hues of orange, yellow, green and blue.

Also known as a Maratus Vilans, amateur photographer Jurgen Otto originally spotted the colourful creature in the wild.

However, as it is only 4mm long, he found it easier to capture images in his Sydney home.

The spider also uses its third pair of legs in the mating display, raising them to show a brush of black hairs and white tips.

The spider can also jump, but the common belief that it can use its patterned flaps to glide through the air is an urban myth which has been debunked by the Australasian Arachnological Society.

The spider is found in eastern parts of Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales.

Rat-Eating Plant Discovered

The plant is among the largest of all pitchers and is believed to be the largest meat-eating shrub, dissolving rats with acid-like enzymes.

The team of botanists, led by British experts Stewart McPherson and Alastair Robinson, found the plant on Mount Victoria in the Philippines.

They were inspired to search for the plant after word that it is existed came from two Christian missionaries who described seeing a large carnivorous pitcher in 2000 after they climbed the mountain.

Mr McPherson, of Poole Dorset, said: "The plant produces spectacular traps which catch not only insects, but also rodents. It is remarkable that it remained undiscovered until the 21st century."

Michelle Bachmann's Feeble Grasp Of History

Michelle Bachmann is funnier than hell! It's as if she never, ever paid attention before!

No, Michelle, 100% of the economy has never been completely private. Ever. Just ask General Eisenhower where his troops came from, or where Pentagon spending goes, or about those Minnesota crop subsidies, or where federal contractors get their money. And since the Civil War, the feds have always indirectly controlled lots of the economy that is nominally private - Boeing, Lockheed, the big shipyards, etc. I bet if you traced where my home state of New Mexico's money comes from, I'd bet you'd find more than half is controlled by various agencies of the federal government. And it's a good thing too (otherwise NM would starve).

But, if you insist Michelle, 100 percent of the private economy remains private (whatever that might mean):
Bachmann told the Christian Examiner site: "I think it is jaw dropping when you think that under his watch, the federal government has taken ownership or control of the private economy. People know that something has really changed. The federal government now owns or controls 30 percent of the private economy. Just over a year ago, you couldn't say that. Just over a year ago, 100 percent of the private economy was private. Today, 30 percent is owned or controlled by government."

Pixie Lott Singing In Simlish

Just cute!

Two-To-One, Canadians Think Climate Change Is The Planet's Defining Crisis

Folks in the Great North worry, but in my view, if the planet has a single defining crisis, I would say instead that it is habitat destruction. Extinction is forever, after all:
OTTAWA — Most Canadians think climate change is the planet's defining crisis, a new poll suggests.

That belief is held most strongly in Quebec and less so in the Prairies, a survey conducted by Harris-Decima on behalf of the Munk Debates has found.

The poll asked Canadians if they agreed or disagreed with a resolution to be debated Tuesday during the fourth Munk Debate in Toronto, that: "Climate change is mankind's defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response."

Nearly two thirds of Canadians agreed while 31 per cent disagreed. A tiny fraction had no opinion.

"I think it shows the extent to which not just the environment, but the actual issue of climate change, has ascended up the public agenda to point where it is reminiscent of those other big causes that have shaped a lot of Canadian history," said Rudyard Griffiths, co-organizer of the Munk Debates.

Women were slightly more inclined to agree with the statement than men. Sixty-seven per cent of women agreed, compared with 63 per cent of men.

Across the provinces, more Quebecers and Atlantic Canadians agreed that climate change is the defining crisis, while people in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were less likely to agree.

They Came From The Desert

And they came, and they came, and they came!:
RESIDENTS in a small central Australian community are being held hostage by a herd of thirsty, marauding camels.

Docker River, 500km south west of Alice Springs, has been inundated by thousands of feral camels in recent weeks.

The Northern Territory Government today said it would conduct an emergency cull of some 6000 feral camels.

As well as the camels smashing water infrastructure in their hunt for moisture, the quality of drinking water in the town is being threatened by the decaying bodies of camels that have been trampled by their herd.

The camels have over-run the airport, making it near impossible for aircraft to land or for medical emergency evacuations to take place.

MacDonnell Shire Council chief executive officer, Graham Taylor said many members of the community were too frightened to leave their homes.

...Mr Taylor said residents were not overly concerned when about 30 camels came into the town looking for water a few weeks ago, but that fear had grown as numbers increased steadily day by day.

..."They're actually coming up to the houses taking water off the overflow from the rooftop air-conditioning.

"This is a very critical situation out there, it's very unusual and it needs urgent action.''

Mr Knight said the camel carcasses would be left in the desert to decay.

"We don't have the luxury of time because the herd is getting bigger.''


In this photo (taken in 1952), a busker is seen entertaining children in Covent Garden.

Wow, I didn't even know there was an English word for this! Shows you what I know about the English language! And the word comes from Spanish too! Just ignorant in every language here at Marc Valdez Weblog!:
Busking is the practice of performing in public places for tips and gratuities. People engaging in this practice are called buskers or street performers. Busking performances can be just about anything that people find entertaining. Buskers may do acrobatics, animal tricks, balloon twisting, card tricks, clowning, comedy, contortions & escapes, dance, fire eating, fortune-telling, juggling, magic, mime and a mime variation where the artist performs as a living statue, musical performance, puppeteering, snake charming, storytelling or recite poetry or prose as a bard, street art (sketching and painting, etc.), street theatre, sword swallowing, and general enjoyable entertainment.

Busking is a British term used in many areas of the English-speaking world. The place where a busker performs is called their pitch. People busk for a variety of reasons: for money, for fun, for attention, to meet people and socialize, for the love of their art, to practice their skills, or try out new material in front of an audience.

...Busking can be the bottom rung of the entertainment industry. Some of the most famous groups and superstars started their careers as buskers, such as Penn & Teller, Stomp, and Robin Williams. Many other buskers have also found fame and fortune.

...These performers have not always been called buskers. The term busking was first noted in the English language around the middle 1860s in Great Britain. Up until the 20th century buskers were commonly called minstrels and troubadours. The word busk comes from the Spanish root word buscar, meaning "to seek" – buskers are literally seeking fame and fortune. The Spanish word buscar in turn evolved from the Latin "buskin". A buskins were ornamental Roman sandals which were worn on celebration days. In obsolete French it evolved to busquer for "seek, prowl" and was generally used to describe prostitutes. In Italian it evolved to buscare which meant "procure, gain" and in Italy buskers are called buscarsi or, more simply, Buskers.

...The term busk is also used in music when a musician has to play something quickly from scratch, by ear or at sight, as in: I'll just busk it. Mariachis are Mexican street bands that play a specific style of music by the same name. Mariachis frequently wear ornate costumes with intricate embroidery and beaded designs, large brimmed sombreros and the short charro jackets. Mariachi groups busk when they perform while traveling through streets and plazas, as well as in restaurants and bars.

Busking is common among the Gypsies, also known as the Romani people. Mentions of Gypsy music, dancers and fortune tellers are found in all forms of song poetry, prose and lore. The Roma brought the word busking to England by way of their travels along the Mediterranean coast to Spain and the Atlantic ocean and then up north to England and the rest of Europe. In the US, medicine shows proliferated in the 1800s. They were traveling vendors selling elixirs and potions to improve the health. They would often employ entertainment acts as a way of making the clients feel better. The people would often associate this feeling of well-being with the products sold. After these performances they would "pass the hat".

...George Burns described his days as a youthful busker this way:

“ Sometimes the customers threw something in the hats.
Sometimes they took something out of the hats.
Sometimes they took the hats. ”

The first recorded instance of laws affecting buskers were in ancient Rome in 462 BC. The Law of the Twelve Tables made it a crime to sing about or make parodies of the government or its officials in public places; the penalty was death. Louis the Pious "excluded histriones and scurrae, which included all entertainers without noble protection, from the privilege of justice". In 1530 Henry VIII ordered the licensing of minstrels & players, fortune-tellers, pardoners and fencers, as well as beggars who could not work. If they did not obey they could be whipped on two consecutive days.

In the United States under Constitutional Law and most European common law, the protection of artistic free speech extends to busking. In the USA and most places, the designated places for free speech behavior are the public parks, streets, sidewalks, thoroughfares and town squares or plazas. Under certain circumstances even private property may be open to buskers, particularly if it is open to the general public and busking does not interfere with its function and management allows it or other forms of free speech behaviors or has a history of doing so.

Debating With My Brother-In-Law About The CRU E-Mails

My brother-in-law responds to my defense of the CRU thusly:
So, you imply that climate-change skeptics are doctoring data? Well, find the data. Or find their claims that they doctored data to show cool down of earth's climate. The skeptics cannot prove that they did not doctor data. You cannot prove a negative, eh?

Say, please explain this here "scientific method" terminology for me? I'm not a scientist.

No this is not PR problem. It is a problem of fraud. The contemporary 4 horsemen are academia, media, government, and science (aka politics).

Science = politics. Environmentalism = Religion = It can't be proved and you need a lot of faith.
I reply:
There’s actually an entire subfield of science devoted to processing and interpreting climate data records. The data are often averaged, smoothed, significant digits are sometimes lost, and sometimes the data are even adjusted to reflect changes in measurement conditions, locations, etc. And that doesn’t even count the ways that temperature data can be inverted (satellites don’t measure temperature directly, for example, but measure other properties, like IR radiance, and temperature has to be inferred indirectly from these readings). It can take years to gain facility with all the zillions of little things you need to know, and then you still probably don’t know enough.

My limited understanding of the CRU E-Mails is that some of the fellows noted that certain temperature trends could be enhanced or virtually erased based on the way they were averaged and presented. Anyone who ever spends much time with statistics will also note clever ways of presenting data to make an argument. There is always a temptation for scientists to alter data to suit preconceived notions. Professional scientists do their best to resist these temptations, because once reputation is lost, it’s hard to recover.

It’s a jungle out there!

What’s important for science is that if data are altered for any purpose, that they be done so in a clear, documented manner for a disinterested purpose.

So far as I know, no one is pointing at a specific paper and alleging fraud. I think people were disturbed by the cockiness of the climatologists, but that is mostly a reflection of their embattled status: trying to keep the zombie scientists at bay. The fossil fuel industries are currently busy creating faux think tanks whose purpose is to create uncertainty where there is none. Their purpose is not necessarily to corrupt climatology, but rather to derail regulation, but they do not care how much collateral damage they do to the field to achieve their ends.

An analogy is the pharmaceutical industry, which has ways to corrupt the regulatory process by virtually purchasing science to their liking. The problem is aggravated by the amount of knowledge involved, which means health scientists are spread too thinly to always mount an effective defense. As a result, we get things like the Vioxx scandal, which would not have happened had FDA scientists been more cocksure – more like the CRU climatologists. As shown by the CRU E-Mails, the climatologists are determined to make sure this kind of corruption does not occur (and sporadic instances already have occurred). Their circle of wagons will be tight! Hooray for the CRU!

Now, the regulatory side is a whole other beast. Myself, I disagree with most of the regulatory regimes being proposed, because I think regulation is a dull tool for CO2, which is accumulating – it can’t be easily reversed, say, by wearing sweaters in the wintertime. Unlike, say, chlorofluorocarbons, it’s hard to effectively regulate accumulating gases like CO2. We need a different approach, but we don’t have one, and the regulatory approach, which works fairly-well with more-reactive air pollutants will just create difficult problems instead.

But that’s politics for you.

If everyone comes to the party with clean hands, then there’s no reason we can’t all get along: the oil/gas/coal folks and the enviros in happy harmony. But these days, it’s more like Chicago, 1929.

Pixie Lott, "Boys and Girls" (Moto Blanco Remix)

Finding Dad

A woman tracked down her long-lost father only to find he is now a she:
"I had no idea what to do so I said, 'You look better than me... and I really like your shoes'"

Woman Waving A Knife

The other night, Jetta abruptly cut short a telephone call, because police and ambulances were swarming into her trailer court.

Later, over eggplant and vegebeefs, she explained that a neighbor man had allowed an unstable woman to take up residence in his trailer, mostly because he felt sorry for her. After months of sturm und drang, the unstable woman finally stabbed her benefactor with a butter knife and bit his arm, ostensibly for preparing a bad turkey sandwich.

Hmmm.... Now why would anyone allow an unstable woman given to waving knives to take up residence in his house?

(there but for the grace of God go I ....)

Backhanded Compliments: Derrick Bang's "The Road" Review

In the print edition of the Davis Enterprise, the subtitle of Derrick Bang's review of John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" proclaimed that the movie "served no useful purpose."

That made me laugh! What did Oscar Wilde say?:
The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it immensely. All art is useless.

'City Center' Preparing To Open

This will be interesting:

Dec. 1

Vdara will be the first property to open at CityCenter. This 57-story hotel is at the back of the development, just a few steps from the northern lobby of Aria Resort & Casino and linked to Bellagio by a covered walkway. Gaming- and tobacco-free Vdara will likely appeal to those who want the feel of Vegas without the noise and smoke.

Vdara's 1,495 suites, from 500 to 1,650 square feet, all with full kitchens, are available to rent by the night or to purchase.


Dec. 3

The eye-catching Crystals, a shopping and entertainment district that fronts Las Vegas Boulevard, features A-list stores, said general manager Farid Matraki.

"God knows that Las Vegas doesn't need another mall, so Crystals is going to be a very, very unique destination," Matraki said.

Mandarin Oriental

Dec. 4

Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas will be the Hong Kong-based chain's second West Coast property. (The other is in San Francisco.) The sky lobby on the 23rd floor divides the tower, with residential units above and hotel rooms and suites below.

The rooms feature modern, Asian-inspired design. General Manager Rajesh Jhingon expects the hotel to draw discerning customers who appreciate "the mystique of the [Mandarin] brand."

"Bellagio and the Aria and the Wynn -- etc., etc. -- are casino hotels with 4,000 to 5,000 rooms each. They have a different model," he said. "I have a 392-room hotel. It's got a totally different paradigm."

Aria Resort & Casino

Dec. 16

With 4,004 rooms, Aria is the largest hotel at CityCenter and the only one with a casino. Guests are welcomed at two bright and bold entries. The reception lobby features a Maya Lin silver sculpture of the Colorado River, and the northern lobby showcases four brightly illuminated translucent walls of water.

The hotel features nine restaurants, some of them by top chefs making their first forays into Las Vegas.

...Aria is also home to "Viva Elvis," Cirque du Soleil's seventh Las Vegas production-in-residence.

Veer Towers


The aptly named Veer Towers is CityCenter's sole "residents only" property and possibly its most architecturally interesting: The two structures lean in opposite directions. Architect Helmut Jahn designed them that way so the 37-story towers are infinitely more stable than their distant Italian cousin in Pisa.

Harmon Hotel

Late 2010

The lights are on at the Harmon Hotel, but nobody's home. With its curvilinear exterior of blue glass, it's a knockout. Originally planned to rise 49 stories, the hotel was downsized to 28 floors after building inspectors discovered improperly installed rebar on some of the upper floors. Hotel officials decided earlier this year to eliminate the Harmon's condo component, leaving a 400-room hotel.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Borders Books In The UK

Is closing.

Police Ambushed

This looks pretty spooky:
Troyer said the attack was clearly targeted at the officers, not a robbery gone bad.

"This was more of an execution. Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers," he said.
And it looks like former Arkansas Governor and potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will take a hit:
The man local police are seeking for questioning is Maurice Clemmons, 37, a man with a lifetime history of violence, burglary, aggravated robbery, theft and rape. Clemmons was serving what was essentially a life sentence in Arkansas before having his sentence commuted by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Big Leaf-Fall Weekend

On Saturday it was windy as all get out. I decided that was the perfect time to rake leaves.

"But Marc," you might say, "no one else is doing that. It's too windy! Why would you choose that moment to move leaves around?"

Well, who cares what everyone else is doing? Following the crowd isn't the way I roll (unless, of course, everyone is heading to see a show, in which case I fall into line like everyone else).

In any case, the wind was acting like a giant leafblower, which helped corral the leaves in big drifts and assisted me in creating a giant pile of leaves for the City of Sacramento to collect with their giant claw on Monday. True, the giant pile deflated a bit from the howling winds stripping leaves away, and someone else farther down the street no doubt faced a bigger leaf impact as a result, but like I say, causing other people problems is just part of the fun!

Not all is bright and fair in our 'City of Trees'. The City of Sacramento wants to substitute green waste containers - 90 gallon cans - similar to the 'toters' they use in Woodland, for Sacramento's current street disposal system for collecting green waste.

The Sacramento Bee, among other city worthies, urges that The Claw be abandoned, or at least diminished through the use of green waste containers:
Sacramento can take small but important steps to shore up its environmental reputation tonight with two ordinances before the City Council.

The first would allow voters to repeal a 1977 city charter amendment, "Measure A," that blocks the city from requiring container bins for green waste. That ordinance was passed when composting wasn't a household word and when residents clung to an age-old practice of raking leaves into streets, for the city to scoop up.

Much has changed since then. The city now composts all the yard waste it collects, and since 2004 it has urged residents in parts of the city to voluntarily use green waste containers.

Thousands have responded. Some 85,000 households now have the green bins, and another 30,000 will be offered bins by mid-2010.

So far, use of the green containers has been concentrated mostly in areas north of the American River. In the central city, the city continues to be prowled by The Claw – tractors fitted with triangular jaws that scoop up the green waste residents pile into the streets.

Some Sacramentans consider The Claw to be a sacred part of their heritage. But more and more residents see it as an artifact of a bygone era. The Claw trucks run on diesel, adding pollution to the air. Switching to green containers would require fewer trucks, saving the city money.

Piling leaves in the streets, as we know now, causes an array of hazards. It can endanger bicyclists and clog the city's aging storm drains. It also interferes with chemical agents the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District uses to battle mosquitoes in the storm drains, according to district officials.

Repealing the 1977 ordinance wouldn't directly lead to the end of The Claw and the start of green bins everywhere. The city would need to keep some tractors around to pick up tree branches and other material after big storms.

But there's no reason the city needs The Claw to run a weekly circuit. Mandating green waste bins could go a long way toward saving the city money while reducing its environmental footprint.
I don't know how that is going to work in the autumn, however, when every tree dumps tons of leaves and branches. I mean, this weekend, I moved about seven toters worth of leaves into the street (two toters worth which promptly headed downwind with the westerly gusts). One toter would simply be overwhelmed by the volume! And I don't even live in an area notable for its sizes of trees. Some of the older neighborhoods (e.g., the Fab 40) have bigger trees and many, many, many more leaves, and branches, and logs to dispose of!

No, we need to retain the Claw system. The rate that Sacramento has been charging for this service has been accelerating more than the rate of inflation anyway, so I don't know why is anyone complaining about the cost. We've already paid for this service!

Back in the day, when I walked my dog Sparky late at night, the green waste piles in the street provided a surreptitious and socially-acceptable way to dispose of dog droppings. Otherwise, all that dog stuff ends up in the garbage cans, where it bakes on warm summer days. In addition, garbage-pickers are likely to fling it back onto the street in an uncontrolled manner. Of course, I don't know if the green waste end-user approved of my use of the street piles for this purpose, but I definitely needed the service, as do many others today who own and walk dogs.

Sacramento's venerable green waste street-disposal system makes me feel like I am getting something worthwhile for my utility bill! Contrary to what the Sacramento Bee says, it is not antiquated to support what works best in a city filthy with trees. Abandon The Claw, and peasants like me will revolt! Do not repeal, but support "Measure A"!