Saturday, December 12, 2009

NM Miscellany

A test! Oh no! I didn't study!

Here is the fairly-newly-remodeled "Big-I" (where Interstates 25 and 40 cross) at evening rush hour. The three primary volcanic cinder cones of the West Mesa are clearly visible.

West Side ABQ traffic is horrendous at Friday night rush hour. Still, gazing east from Coors Rd. near Montano, the sunset reveals the ribbed walls of the Sandia Mountains' La Cueva Canyon (right in the middle of this photo).

Later this evening, my sister Michelle and I watched "The Strangers" starring Liv Tyler on HBO. Scary!

Watched George Lopez too. Funny, but extrememly crude.

The Genealogist

At first I was going to go shopping, but decided instead to visit the APS genealogical collections at Edith & Central: the old public library, back in the day, across from Pup 'n Taco (which continues to remain in business since just about forever - I remember hanging out there back in high school).

There was a nice, convivial club of genealogical freaks at one of the tables.

I picked up a book on Las Vegas, NM marriages, and noted a man standing within my personal space staring at me. He was from the club, but he made me uncomfortable. He left, but then returned again, and asked me what I was looking for. I told him, and he asked for an ancestor's name, then bid me to return to his table, and his laptop computer.

Not only did this fellow have the book on Las Vegas, NM marriages on his laptop, but another one on Las Vegas baptisms. He found about 15 or 20 of my relatives within five minutes. He E-Mailed both books to me. He asked me to send my data bases to him - he has a collection of dozens. His own database contains 166,000 names (mine maybe have five to ten thousand). He said "maybe we're related," and started checking. Another club friend heard part of the conversation, smiled and said: "Your related to him? That's too bad!" Turned out, a computer check discovered no relation. Or no relation - YET! More work needs to be done!

The everlasting appeal of northern New Mexico for genealogists is that New Mexico's historical poverty and isolation made it a fairly-closed society that lasted for hundreds of years (the only other parallel in the Americas may be Quebec). Everyone knows that everyone has to related to everyone else, if only in the most fleeting way. In short, we're all cousins, however distant.

And now, through the good graces of this nosy individual, I now have an entree into the vast gray literature of northern New Mexico genealogy.

Catching Up With Bruce

Unemployment, bad; arrival of Filipino bride next month, good.

Dottie Newman's Memorial Service

In the morning, Southwest Airlines called with the news that my bag had finally arrived. After breakfast at Denny's, I went back to the airport to retrieve it.

French's Mortuary has several funeral service locations at town. Last week, when my sister Marra informed me where the services were to be held, she specified the location "on Lomas." My weak brain understood one of the older French locations, on University, near Lomas. So, I arrived early, to discover I had arrived at the wrong site. So, a hurried drive followed, with a change into my suit, so I arrived a few minutes at the funeral chapel.

Service and reception followed. It was nice to see the folks on the Newman side of the family.....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Mysteries Of Air Travel

Left: Whimsical 99-cent-store display at LAX.

I'm being rerouted through LAX.

... Now I'm in LAX. Seems nice enough...

Can't figure out how to post photos yet...

ABQ flight is coming up...

Boarding in LA, a buzzer went off as the person in front of me charged down the gangplank to the 737. He had to be recalled. 'Dylan,you are going to Oakland; this is for Albuquerque.'. 'Oh,' the abashed Dylan said.

The flight was less than half full, and uneventful. But in ABQ, SW Airlines were unable to produce my bag. I had to pass the night without my meds. The tired young pharmacist lady at the 24-hr CVS refused to provide spares (apparently there is lingering benefit from previous pills, so she saw no urgency. And fortunately it's not that cold either, so no extra clothing was required overnight.

Today, the memorial service....

New Mexico Hiatus

Flying to New Mexico this evening for Dottie Newman's memorial service. I will blog (even from my i-Phone!) as circumstances allow.....

Eerie Parallels

That's interesting: Barack Obama's approval rating is almost precisely the same as Ronald Reagan's approval rating at this point in his term.

Doughnut Sludge

If Krispy Kreme can plug sewers, imagine what it does to your arteries:
The company operates a plant in the Gunston Commerce Center industrial park in Lorton, Va., in suburban Washington. In May, Fairfax County sued Krispy Kreme, alleging that it had damaged the sewer system in much the same way as it damages human arteries. The county sought $2 million in damages, plus $18 million in civil penalties.

But Krispy Kreme managed to settle the whole thing for $750,000.

The Washington Examiner has been all over this story from the start (though it apparently hasn't yet covered the settlement). Leder was indeed correct about the doughnut sludge. In its lawsuit, the county alleged that "excessive quantities of highly corrosive wastes, doughnut grease and other pollutants" wrecked the surrounding sewerage. The company blamed the "faulty design and construction" of the sewer system.

Before this month's settlement, the dispute grew heated, with county officials saying Krispy Kreme belonged on the Clean Water Act's "Hall of Shame list," and with the company basically calling county officials a bunch of liars.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Lie Can Travel Halfway Round The World While The Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

What's this?:
ACORN employees caught in those undercover videos advising a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute on how to break the law acted unprofessionally and inappropriately, but did nothing illegal, a report commissioned by ACORN and conducted by an independent investigator has found.
That's interesting, but I thought they had videotapes on this?:
The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O'Keefe's and Ms. Giles's comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.

Agriculture As A Model For Health Care Reform

Fascinating article!:
Health-care costs are strangling our country. Medical care now absorbs eighteen per cent of every dollar we earn. Between 1999 and 2009, the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family insurance coverage rose from $5,800 to $13,400, and the average cost per Medicare beneficiary went from $5,500 to $11,900. The costs of our dysfunctional health-care system have already helped sink our auto industry, are draining state and federal coffers, and could ultimately imperil our ability to sustain universal coverage.

...So what does the reform package do about it? Turn to page 621 of the Senate version, the section entitled “Transforming the Health Care Delivery System,” and start reading. Does the bill end medicine’s destructive piecemeal payment system? Does it replace paying for quantity with paying for quality? Does it institute nationwide structural changes that curb costs and raise quality? It does not. Instead, what it offers is . . . pilot programs.

This has provided a soft target for critics. ... The strategy seems hopelessly inadequate to solve a problem of this magnitude. And yet—here’s the interesting thing—history suggests otherwise.

At the start of the twentieth century, another indispensable but unmanageably costly sector was strangling the country: agriculture. In 1900, more than forty per cent of a family’s income went to paying for food. At the same time, farming was hugely labor-intensive, tying up almost half the American workforce. We were, partly as a result, still a poor nation. Only by improving the productivity of farming could we raise our standard of living and emerge as an industrial power. We had to reduce food costs, so that families could spend money on other goods, and resources could flow to other economic sectors. And we had to make farming less labor-dependent, so that more of the population could enter non-farming occupations and support economic growth and development.

...You might think that the invisible hand of market competition would have solved these problems, that the prospect of higher income from improved practices would have encouraged change. But laissez-faire had not worked.

...The United States did not seek a grand solution. Private farms remained, along with the considerable advantages of individual initiative. Still, government was enlisted to help millions of farmers change the way they worked. The approach succeeded almost shockingly well. The resulting abundance of goods in our grocery stores and the leaps in our standard of living became the greatest argument for America around the world. And, as the agricultural historian Roy V. Scott recounted, four decades ago, in his remarkable study “The Reluctant Farmer,” it all started with a pilot program.

In February, 1903, Seaman Knapp arrived in the East Texas town of Terrell to talk to the local farmers. He was what we’d today deride as a government bureaucrat; he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. Earlier in his life, he had been a farmer himself and a professor of agriculture at Iowa State College. He had also been a pastor, a bank president, and an entrepreneur, who once brought twenty-five thousand settlers to southwest Louisiana to farm for an English company that had bought a million and a half acres of land there. Then he got a position at the U.S.D.A. as an “agricultural explorer,” travelling across Asia and collecting seeds for everything from alfalfa to persimmons, not to mention a variety of rice that proved more productive than any that we’d had. The U.S.D.A. now wanted him to get farmers to farm differently. And he had an idea.

Knapp knew that the local farmers were not going to trust some outsider who told them to adopt a “better” way of doing their jobs. So he asked Terrell’s leaders to find just one farmer who would be willing to try some “scientific” methods and see what happened. The group chose Walter C. Porter, and he volunteered seventy acres of land where he had grown only cotton or corn for twenty-eight years, applied no fertilizer, and almost completely depleted the humus layer. Knapp gave him a list of simple innovations to follow—things like deeper plowing and better soil preparation, the use of only the best seed, the liberal application of fertilizer, and more thorough cultivation to remove weeds and aerate the soil around the plants. The local leaders stopped by periodically to confirm that he was able to do what he had been asked to.

The year 1903 proved to be the most disastrous for cotton in a quarter century, because of the spread of the boll weevil. Nonetheless, at the end of the season Porter reported a substantial increase in profit, clearing an extra seven hundred dollars. He announced that he would apply the lessons he had learned to his entire, eight-hundred-acre property, and many other farmers did the same. Knapp had discovered a simple but critical rule for gaining co√∂peration: “What a man hears he may doubt, what he sees he may possibly doubt, but what he does himself he cannot doubt.”

The following year, the U.S.D.A. got funding to ramp up his activities. Knapp appointed thirty-three “extension agents” to set up similar demonstration farms across Texas and into Louisiana. The agents provided farmers with technical assistance and information, including comparative data on what they and others were achieving. As experience accrued, Knapp revised and refined his list of recommended practices for an expanding range of crops and livestock. The approach proved just as successful on a larger scale.

The program had no shortage of critics. Southern Farm Magazine denounced it as government control of agriculture. But, in 1914, after two years of stiff opposition, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, establishing the U.S.D.A. Cooperative Extension Service. By 1920, there were seven thousand federal extension agents, working in almost every county in the nation, and by 1930 they had set up more than seven hundred and fifty thousand demonstration farms.

As Daniel Carpenter, a professor of government at Harvard, points out, the demonstration-farm program was just one of a hodgepodge of successful U.S.D.A. initiatives that began as pilots.

...What seemed like a hodgepodge eventually cohered into a whole. The government never took over agriculture, but the government didn’t leave it alone, either. It shaped a feedback loop of experiment and learning and encouragement for farmers across the country. The results were beyond what anyone could have imagined. Productivity went way up, outpacing that of other Western countries. Prices fell by half. By 1930, food absorbed just twenty-four per cent of family spending and twenty per cent of the workforce. Today, food accounts for just eight per cent of household income and two per cent of the labor force. It is produced on no more land than was devoted to it a century ago, and with far greater variety and abundance than ever before in history.

...Much like farming, medicine involves hundreds of thousands of local entities across the country—hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, home-health agencies, drug and device suppliers. They provide complex services for the thousands of diseases, conditions, and injuries that afflict us. They want to provide good care, but they also measure their success by the amount of revenue they take in, and, as each pursues its individual interests, the net result has been disastrous. Our fee-for-service system, doling out separate payments for everything and everyone involved in a patient’s care, has all the wrong incentives: it rewards doing more over doing right, it increases paperwork and the duplication of efforts, and it discourages clinicians from working together for the best possible results. Knowledge diffuses too slowly. Our information systems are primitive. The malpractice system is wasteful and counterproductive. And the best way to fix all this is—well, plenty of people have plenty of ideas. It’s just that nobody knows for sure.

The history of American agriculture suggests that you can have transformation without a master plan, without knowing all the answers up front. Government has a crucial role to play here—not running the system but guiding it, by looking for the best strategies and practices and finding ways to get them adopted, county by county. Transforming health care everywhere starts with transforming it somewhere. But how?

...Recently, I spoke with the agricultural extension agent for my home town, Athens, Ohio. His name is Rory Lewandowski. ... I’d caught Lewandowski in his office on a Saturday. ... Mostly, the farmers come to him—for guidance and troubleshooting. ... I asked him if he has had any victories. All the time, he said. But he had no illusions: his job will never end.

Cynicism about government can seem ingrained in the American character. It was, ironically, in a speech to the Future Farmers of America that President Ronald Reagan said, “The ten most dangerous words in the English language are ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ” Well, Lewandowski is from the government, and he’s here to help. And small farms in Athens County are surviving because of him. What he does involves continual improvisation and education; problems keep changing, and better methods of managing them keep emerging—as in medicine.

In fact, when I spoke with Lewandowski about farming in Athens, I was struck by how much it’s like the health-care system there. Doctors typically work in small offices, with only a few colleagues, as in most of the country. The hospital in Athens has less than a tenth the number of beds that my hospital in Boston has. The county’s clinicians could do much more to control costs and improve quality of care, and they will have to. But it will be an ongoing struggle.

...Surely we can solve such problems; the reform bill sets out to find ways that we can. And, in the next several years, as the knowledge accumulates, I suspect that we’ll need our own Seaman Knapps and Rory Lewandowskis to help spread these practices county by county.

We’ll also need data, if we’re going to know what is succeeding. Among the most important, and least noticed, provisions in the reform legislation is one in the House bill to expand our ability to collect national health statistics. The poverty of our health-care information is an embarrassment. At the end of each month, we have county-by-county data on unemployment, and we have prompt and detailed data on the price of goods and commodities; we can use these indicators to guide our economic policies. But try to look up information on your community’s medical costs and utilization—or simply try to find out how many people died from heart attacks or pneumonia or surgical complications—and you will discover that the most recent data are at least three years old, if they exist at all, and aren’t broken down to a county level that communities can learn from. It’s like driving a car with a speedometer that tells you only how fast all cars were driving, on average, three years ago. We have better information about crops and cows than we do about patients. If health-care reform is to succeed, the final legislation must do something about this.

Getting our medical communities, town by town, to improve care and control costs isn’t a task that we’ve asked government to take on before. But we have no choice. At this point, we can’t afford any illusions: the system won’t fix itself, and there’s no piece of legislation that will have all the answers, either. The task will require dedicated and talented people in government agencies and in communities who recognize that the country’s future depends on their sidestepping the ideological battles, encouraging local change, and following the results. But if we’re willing to accept an arduous, messy, and continuous process we can come to grips with a problem even of this immensity. We’ve done it before.

Canary Island Endangered Species Put At Massive Risk

Exceptionally-rare, and special animal and plant species often develop on isolated islands. Habitat destruction is hard to prevent once people move in, however, and the rare species often decline. Thus, it is disturbing to read that the government of the Canary Islands wants to essentially wipe out numerous species just for new homes and golf courses:
Ecologists branded the plan by the regional government of the Spanish Atlantic islands a "crime" and called on the central government in Madrid to intervene.

The unique biodiversity of the Canary Islands has long been recognised as a haven for wildlife and is home to about 4,000 species and sub-species that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

The unusual evolutionary habitats of the volcanic archipelago off the north-west coast of Africa fascinated Charles Darwin two centuries ago and continue to attract nature lovers to its shores.

But the Canary Islands government approved a bill that will see the removal of the more than half of the named species from the protected list.

The proposed alterations to the Catalogue of Protected Species envisage 226 species removed from the list, 131 reclassified with lesser protection and a further 94 given limited preservation status.

It will mean that vast areas previously protected from urban development could now receive planning permission.

The existence of protected birds such as the hoopoe (Upupa epops), pale rock sparrow (Petronia Petronia), and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus), have previously prevented development in areas where they are known to breed.

But under the new bill, those species will be removed from the protected list despite the fact that their numbers have declined since they were given special status.

Even the blue chaffinch (Fringilla Teydea), which evolved in isolated pockets of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, will see its protected status downgraded under the new law.

The bird, which nests in pine forests, is listed as "near threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List and is thought to number less than 300.

The Houbara Bustard (chlamydotis undulata), which serves as the symbol for the island of Fuertaventura, will no longer appear as a bird in "endanger of extinction" on the new catalogue but has been downgraded to "vulnerable" even though loss of its desert-like habitat has resulted in a decline in numbers.

A rare snail, giant grasshopper and species of sea-grass native to the Canary Islands could also be removed from the protected list.

Opponents claim the proposal aims to remove obstacles that have impeded the development of tourist resorts across the islands.

"The Canarian coalition is brazenly removing 'nuisance species', such as the extremely endangered grasshopper (Acrostira euphobiae), which lives in an area of La Palma where they want to build a golf course," said Professor Juan Jose Bacallado, director of the islands' Natural Science Museum.

Alberto Brito, professor of marine biology at the University of La Laguna on Tenerife, told the newspaper El Pais: "We are talking about a crime, an attack on biodiversity and natural resources."

The scientific community of the islands have joined conservation groups to lobby against the new proposal and have complained to the central government in Madrid.

They have threatened to take their case to the European Parliament claiming the new bill is in violation of European Laws on the protection of endangered species.

Orrin Hatch's Hanukkah Song

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Nice, upbeat song! Interesting tale too:
Ten years ago, I visited Orrin Hatch, the senior senator from Utah and a prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Capitol Hill. I was writing for The New York Times Magazine and Hatch was thinking of running for president. We talked about politics for a few minutes, and then he said, “Have you heard my love songs?”

No senator had asked me that question before. It turned out that Hatch was a prolific songwriter, not only of love songs, but of Christian spirituals as well. We spent an hour in his office listening to some of his music, a regular Mormon platter party. After five or six Christmas songs, I asked, him, “What about Hanukkah songs? You have any of those?”

I have always felt that the song canon for Hanukkah, a particularly interesting historical holiday, is sparse and uninspiring, in part because Jewish songwriters spend so much time writing Christmas music. Several years earlier, as a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, I sponsored a Write-a-New-Song-for-Hanukkah contest. I received more than 200 entries. Most were dreck. The songs I liked best were the ones uninfected by self-distancing Jewish irony, songs that actually wrestled with the complicated themes of Hanukkah—religious freedom, political extremism, the existence, or non-existence, of an interventionist God—in a more earnest way.

Hatch lit up at my suggestion. He asked me to jot down some possible themes, which I did. Then he got sidetracked by his presidential campaign. (He didn’t win.) Still, time went on, and no song.

I never forgot about it, though. My interest in the Hanukkah story has stayed with me. I’m even writing a biography of Judah Maccabee for Nextbook Press. Last December, while reading From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees, by Elias Bickerman, my mind wandered back to Orrin Hatch’s promise, and so I reminisced on my Atlantic blog about the time Hatch nearly wrote a Hanukkah song for me. A couple of days later, I received an email that read, “Dear Jeff, I know it’s nine years too late, but I hope you will like some of the following ideas.” What followed were five verses of a sincerely felt Hanukkah song.

I didn’t quite believe it was Hatch writing me, so I wrote back, asking this alleged Hatch to call.

The next night was Christmas Eve, and my family and I were wandering the aisles of the Martinsburg, West Virginia, Wal-Mart. (Don’t ask.) My children had just discovered something miraculous—a display case filled with kosher products. We had never seen this before. I began to deliver a lecture in the kosher food aisle, explaining that what we were seeing was further proof indeed that America is a Promised Land for our people, a place where even the Wal-Mart in Martinsburg, West Virginia, carries Manischewitz matzo-ball mix. It was at this moment that my cell phone rang.

“Jeff, it’s Orrin,” I heard over the phone. “What do you think of the song?” It was, indeed, Hatch. The second miracle of the night.

“Senator Hatch,” I said. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

“Yes, it is!” Hatch replied. “What about the song?”

“Senator,” I said, “I love the song.”

...Hatch, like many Mormons, is something of a philo-Semite, and though he is under no illusions about Jewish political leanings in America—he told me that though he likes Barbra Streisand very much, he’s fairly sure she doesn’t like him—he possesses a heartfelt desire to reach out to Jews.

Hatch said he hoped his song would be understood not only as a gift to the Jewish people but that it would help bring secular Jews to a better understanding of their own holiday. “I know a lot of Jewish people that don’t know what Hanukkah means,” he said. Jewish people, he said, should “take a look at it and realize the miracle that’s being commemorated here. It’s more than a miracle; it’s the solidification of the Jewish people.”

He’s right. Without Judah Maccabee’s militant intervention in 167 BCE, the Syrian program of forced Hellenization might have brought about a premature end to the Jewish story. But, for such a pivotal figure, Judah Maccabee is one of the more misunderstood leaders in Jewish history. He was not, for one thing, a paragon of tolerance. One of contradictions of Hanukkah—an unexplored contradiction in our culture’s anodyne understanding of the holiday—is that the Maccabee brothers were fighting not for the principle of religious freedom but only for their own particular religion’s freedom. Their understanding of liberty did not extend even—or especially—to the Hellenized Jews of Israel’s coastal plains. The Maccabees were rough Jews from the hill country of Judea. They would be amused, if they were capable of amusement, to learn that their revolt would one day be remembered as a struggle for a universal civil right.

But Hanukkah doesn’t belong simply to Judah Maccabee. Each generation finds new meanings in this holiday. The Zionist revolution, for instance, led to a revolution in the way the story of the Maccabees—previously a source of ambivalence in the Diaspora—was interpreted. And of course, the Hanukkah story doesn’t belong merely to Jews. Judah Maccabee is a hero to many Christians: If there had been no Judah, Judaism might have disappeared; no Judah and no Judaism would have meant no Jesus.

And no Judah would have meant no Mormon senator in a studio with an Arab singer and a bunch of New York Jewish background vocalists recording a Hanukkah song of his own making. To my mind, at least, this counts as a minor American miracle.

'Summer Nights' - "Grease" - Greymouth High School 2008

When I visited a year ago, Saturday night in Greymouth, New Zealand (population: about 13,500) seemed painfully slow. What do people do for excitement here?

Well, if you're fortunate enough to be in high school, you stage musicals!

Performance Poetry: Christopher Walken Reads Lada Gaga's "Poker Face"

Single, Male Kakapo Desires Companionship

My i-Phone flagged this as a very popular video. And I can see why! It's utterly absurd!

How many kakapos are there left in New Zealand? Ninety? And there used to be just fourteen?

New Zealand wildlife is rare and all the more precious!

NM Is A Foreign Country, You Know

It's one of those velvet rope situations! I'm flying to NM this weekend, and I'm bringing my passport! It'll be just me and Governor Richardson behind the security barriers! And Val Kilmer and Shirley MacClaine too! And Ted Turner! And we'll be safe, safe, safe from the chili-eating hoi polloi!:
Finally, the states and Homeland Security appear to be in the middle of some kind of cross between a game a chicken and a power play, with travelers caught in the middle. Napolitano wants Pass ID to be approved and is using the threat of paralyzing travel through the entire United States of America in order to encourage the Senate to move the Pass ID bill along.

Since many states have problems with the provisions of Pass ID (despite the support of the governors association), this would be one way to ram through a piece of unpopular legislation.

Should the states capitulate? Is Homeland Security trying to ram through Pass ID? Who should make the determination of what constitutes a secure driver’s license system? The state, or the federal government?

Finally, according to an AP wire service report issued today, December 7th, Jim Abrams notes that congress is already behind on spending legislation and has a passel of must-pass bills already clogging up the process. Abrams notes: ... with the Senate devoting all the next two weeks to a health care bill, the year-end pileup has reached new dimensions.”

And Napolitano thinks the Senate should drop everything to pass Pass ID?

Sounds a bit crazy - what do you think?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Gold Bug

So many hats; so little time:
Glenn Beck's dual embrace of gold -- as an investment vehicle for his listeners and a personal moneymaking opportunity for himself -- has drawn boos from various journalism watchdogs. And now it looks like the talk-show host's close relationship with one purveyor of gold coins has gotten him in a bit of trouble with his employer Fox News.

Beck is prominently featured on the website of Goldline International, a vendor of "gold, silver, and platinum coins and bars as well as rare and collectible numismatic coins." According to the site, Beck is a "paid spokesman" for the company. "This is a top notch organization," a thumbnail photo of Beck's head declares.

Beck regularly does "live reads," or live commercials, for Goldline on his syndicated radio show, and has even interviewed Mark Albarian, Goldline's president and CEO, twice on the show, most recently on Nov. 12, 2009.

Critics including Media Matters say it's a major conflict of interest for Beck, who has often advised the viewers of his Fox News program to buy gold to protect themselves against the collapse of the dollar -- and of Western civilization -- without informing them of his Goldline deal. (Politico recently took an in-depth look at Beck and other right-wing talkers gold ties.)

Like other news organizations, Fox News prohibits its on-air personalities from making paid product endorsements. But it makes an exception for its commentators who are also radio hosts, who are allowed to perform live reads, says Joel Cheatwood, senior vice president for development.

"When we hired Glenn at Fox News, we hired him with the understanding that he had a well-established, burgeoning radio business, and we had to be accepting of certain elements of that," Cheatwood tells DailyFinance, noting that Beck's relationship with Goldline dates back to his time at HLN, CNN's sister network.

The same understanding applies to Don Imus, who recently started simulcasting his radio show on Fox Business Network. (An MSNBC spokesman says his network has a similar policy in place, while a spokeswoman for CNN said only, "CNN/US anchors and correspondents are prohibited from participating in any paid endorsements of products and services.")

But the exemption is meant only to apply to live reads, not to the kind of broader spokesmanship Beck, to all appearances, provides Goldline. In particular, Beck's ubiquity on the Goldline website is not in keeping with Fox's rules. A Fox spokeswoman said the network's legal department is taking up the matter with Beck's agent, George Hiltzik.

Cramdown Means You Guys Lose

Not only that, cramdown is difficult to manage at the financial services level. No wonder they hate it.

Too bad. Someone has to lose, after all. "Innovation" in the financial services industry helped destroy the economy, and the malefactors shouldn't be able to just walk away scot-free from the damage they helped create. Cramdown merely empowers judges to administer bankruptcy and to tailor bankruptcy to individual circumstances. Consider "cramdown" to be another "innovation" if you please - instead of inflating housing values, it makes them crater. Which is good for young families just entering the market!

Economies stagnate unless there is an efficient bankruptcy mechanism - just ask the Japanese, with their "lost decade" of the 90's:
Financial industry groups are launching a broadside against an amendment to financial overhaul legislation that would empower bankruptcy judges to alter home mortgages.

The industry for years has fought against the policy, which it calls "cramdown", and argues that the change would hamper the housing market's ability to recover. Supporters, including a range of consumer advocacy groups, say it is a necessary shift to force mortgage lenders and servicers to rewrite the terms of mortgages and reduce the foreclosure rate.

...A wide range of financial industry interests is urging lawmakers to oppose the measure. "These provisions will harm the housing market, increase bankruptcy filings and abuse of the bankruptcy system, and increase the cost and availability of credit for new home buyers and those that want to refinance their mortgages," ten industry groups wrote on Tuesday.

The groups include American Bankers Association (ABA), Financial Services Roundtable, Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA).

The two main lobbying associations for credit unions are also pressing lawmakers to oppose the measure.

"This proposed amendment stands to have a detrimental impact on credit unions and the mortgage market and we cannot support it," the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) said in a letter.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) said in a letter that the amendment could lead it to oppose the broader financial regulatory bill.

"We are deeply concerned that consideration of the Conyers amendment could upset the balance that we feel has been achieved," in the overall bill, said Dan Mica, president of CUNA. "And its adoption as part of the legislation would force credit unions to strongly oppose the broader regulatory restructuring bill."

Maloofs Sell NM Beer Distributorship

The basis of the family empire disappears! Now it's the Kings, the Palms, and a few other fickle ventures - not so dependable as beer!

I remember my Dad saying he once helped out Old Man Maloof (probably back in the 50's). My Dad stopped to assist him after he got a flat tire just south of Bernalillo, NM, on Highway 85. Old Man Maloof reached into his trunk and pulled out a case of Coors, and handed it to my Dad as a reward.

It's harder these days for a small guy to be of service to the big guys....:
Two weeks after folding the Monarchs, the Kings' owners have agreed to sell a New Mexico beer distributorship that's been the foundation of the family's business empire since 1937.

Joe and George Maloof said Monday the family is selling the Joe G. Maloof Co. beer distributing business for an undisclosed sum. The purchaser is a wholesaler in Wyoming.

The sale follows the recent shutdown of the Monarchs WNBA franchise and, earlier this year, payroll reductions throughout the Maloof organization. Joe Maloof and his mother, Colleen, have sold multimillion-dollar homes in the Los Angeles area in recent months.

But the Maloof brothers said the family isn't retrenching in the face of a weak economy. Instead, the Maloofs are "prioritizing our businesses" around the Kings and a few other enterprises, said Joe Maloof.

"We want to concentrate on our other businesses in Sacramento, L.A. and Las Vegas," said Maloof, who runs the Kings with his brother Gavin. Among other things, he sees great promise in the Maloof Money Cup, a 2-year-old skateboarding championship the family sponsors.

Despite the family's lengthy history with the distributorship, the family has fielded numerous offers for the beer company over the years. The sale "was a good deal for us, frankly," said George Maloof.

...The family also faces a tough economy in Las Vegas, where the value of its Palms Casino Resort has fallen from $386 million to about $20 million in the past two years, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings by minority partner Station Casinos Inc. The Maloofs have said Station's figures woefully underestimate the true value of the Palms, which they say has held its own despite the rough economy.

...But Bellas said the Maloofs' company, which holds exclusive rights to distribute Coors products in New Mexico, has probably held up pretty well. He said the company's annual revenue is likely well more than $100 million.

The company's monopoly status has helped it weather the recession. "They were not (under) any pressure at all to sell," said Harry Schuhmacher, publisher of trade publication Beer Business Daily.

...Until the beer distributorship came along, the Maloof business consisted of a general store in Las Vegas, N.M., east of Santa Fe. In 1937, four years after the repeal of Prohibition, the family obtained one of the first Adolph Coors Co. distributorships outside of Colorado. A decade later, the family obtained the Coors franchise for the entire state and eventually started a trucking business to haul product from Coors' headquarters in Golden, Colo. In the 1960s, the family expanded into wine and hard liquor.

Despite this history, Joe Maloof said the family's ties to the distributorship had waned in the past decade.

"We haven't been back to the state in many years," he said. "Since we bought the Kings, we haven't really been involved in the beer business." The Maloofs became majority owners of the Kings in 1999.

He said it isn't unusual for the Maloofs to sell off a business. The family once owned 10 hotels and an Albuquerque bank.

"We've been in business for a long time," said George Maloof, who runs the Palms. "We buy and sell businesses."

Mileage Addicts

I know Andrew is a mileage addict, and I could be too - nice perks! - if I could ever understand the system!:
Enthusiasts of frequent-flier mileage have all kinds of crazy strategies for racking up credits, but few have been as quick and easy as turning coins into miles.

At least several hundred mile-junkies discovered that a free shipping offer on presidential and Native American $1 coins, sold at face value by the U.S. Mint, amounted to printing free frequent-flier miles. Mileage lovers ordered more than $1 million in coins until the Mint started identifying them and cutting them off.

Coin buyers charged the purchases, sold in boxes of 250 coins, to a credit card that offers frequent-flier mile awards, then took the shipments straight to the bank. They then used the coins they deposited to pay their credit-card bills. Their only cost: the car trip to make the deposit.

Richard Baum, a software-company consultant who lives in New Jersey, ordered 15,000 coins. "I never unrolled them," he says. "The UPS guy put them directly in my trunk."

Patricia Hansen, a San Diego retiree who loves to travel, ordered $10,000 in coins from the Mint. "My husband took them to the bank," Ms. Hansen says, and she earned 10,000 miles toward free or upgraded travel.

That's small change compared with what some mile collectors did. The coin program was a popular play on, an online community where frequent travelers and mileage mavens share travel tips and profitable mileage plays. One FlyerTalker, identified by his online moniker, Mr. Pickles, claims to have bought $800,000 in coins. He posted pictures of the loot on FlyerTalk.

He says his largest single deposit was $70,000 in $1 coins. He used several banks and numerous credit cards. He earned enough miles to put him over two million total at AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, giving him lifetime platinum-elite status -- early availability of upgrades for life and other perks on American and its partners around the world. He also pumped miles into his account at UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and points into his Starwood Preferred Guest program account.

...The allure of frequent-flier miles, which were introduced by American in 1981, was that they offered something for nothing. The miles rewarded loyalty and proved to be an extremely powerful marketing tool.

Now, airlines have turned miles into more than a competitive device; they have become a currency that airlines can sell, usually at less than a penny a mile, to other merchants to generate revenue. More miles are put into circulation by companies -- including credit-card issuers, hotels, mortgage servicers, and florists -- than are given to travelers for flights.

The mile is such a cherished commodity that airlines have even bolstered their balance sheets by preselling billions of miles. Citigroup Inc., which gives away American AAdvantage miles to credit-card customers, agreed to lend American $1 billion in September. The loan is to be repaid between 2012 and 2016 -- not in cash but in miles.

Pushing miles into everyday commerce has created unique opportunities for mileage addicts. For many, chasing miles is a way to vastly improve their travel. Accumulate enough miles to land elite status, and you get early boarding, better seat selection, access to upgrades, premium check-in and security lines, and sometimes use of fancy airport lounges on international trips. It goes far beyond just tallying miles for free tickets.

The Mao Hat Tour

Gun cultists span the world's cultures:
"Power flows from the barrel of a gun"
Mao Zedong

"I am a lifetime member of the NRA, I support our Constitutional right to bear arms and am a proponent of gun safety programs for Alaska’s youth."
Sarah Palin

Cholos In Their Natural Habitat

Well, I suppose it's no worse than in the 60's, when they used to run bus tours of the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, for people to gawk at hippies.:
A group of civic activists, united by faith and a belief that the poor economy in the interior of Los Angeles is a social injustice, is preparing to offer bus tours of some of the grittiest pockets of the city, including decayed public housing, sites of deadly shootouts and streets ravaged by racial unrest.

After a VIP preview last weekend, L.A. Gang Tours expects to open to the public in January, giving tourists a look at the cradle of the nation's gang culture -- the birthplace of many of the city's gangs, including Crips and Bloods, Florencia 13 and 18th Street.

...The nonprofit group plans to offer two-hour tours at an initial cost of $65 per adult, with profits funneled back into the community through jobs, "franchised" tours in new areas and micro-loans to inner-city entrepreneurs. Early routes will focus largely on South L.A., with forays through Watts and Florence-Firestone.

The concept appears to have no equal in L.A. -- for good reason, some might argue. It seems to echo, more than anything, the "slum tours" of such sites as India's Dharavi township and Rio de Janeiro's favelas. Those operations have been lauded as innovative economic tools and mechanisms for humanizing poverty -- and also attacked as exploitative and voyeuristic.

...Other aspects may raise eyebrows. Selling shirts painted on the spot by a graffiti "tagger" is one thing. But one backer said he also hopes to stage dance-offs between locals; tourists would pick a winner and fork over a cash prize. It wasn't long ago that organizers decided against a plan to have kids shoot tourists with water pistols, followed by the sale of T-shirts that read: "I Got Shot in South-Central."

"It's going to be fascinating -- but really controversial," said Francisco Ortega, a field staffer with the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and a respected mediator and neighborhood advisor in South L.A. Ortega said there could be great value in "sensitizing people, connecting them to the reality of what's on the ground."

"But the other side is that it could come across like a zoo or something," Ortega said. "You're being carted about: 'Look at that cholo over there!' It could be perceived as demeaning for the people who are living in these conditions. I don't know how they're going to manage those perceptions."

Kylie Minogue/ Akshay Kumar/ Chiggy Wiggy/ Blue

KM goes Bollywood!

Bubble Watch

All that speculative money just sloshing around out there:
A bubble has formed in commodities as "speculative fervor" returns to markets after the global financial crisis, veteran Wall Street economist Henry Kaufman said on Monday.

"There are bubbles in commodities," and probably in the gold market as well, Kaufman, president of financial consulting firm Henry Kaufman & Co Inc in New York, told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit in New York. He cited the return of leveraged bets as one driver.

Because commodity markets are small compared with some other financial markets, comparatively modest shifts out of other assets could increase the risks in commodity markets, he said.

Kaufman also cited some risks to the U.S. dollar and said it is debatable whether the dollar is bottoming, though he added that the currency's retreat has so far been orderly, and that inflation is not likely to be a problem for the foreseeable future.

However, the "speculative fervor" where participants are borrowing heavily in short-dated markets "might be a risk for the dollar," Kaufman said.

Investors, spurred by near-zero U.S. interest rates and easy availability of funds, have borrowed huge sums of money in dollars in recent months to purchase higher-yielding assets in so-called "carry trades."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Every Industry Needs A Karaoke Night!

Even one devoted to salacious videos:
The club, in fact, offers Family Fridays when parents can bring their children. On Mondays, people play Rock Band 2 while they sing. On Wednesdays there are trivia games.

But on Tuesday nights, when just about everybody else is getting ready for bed in this quiet suburb on the edge of Los Angeles, Sardo's becomes the place to be for anyone who has ever been, or who wants to be, connected with the porn business.

"Nuncrashers" - Lambda Players

I knew that Carolyn Gregory had recently auditioned for, and been cast in, "Nuncrackers" at Lambda Players, so I decided to surprise her today by coming to see her show. I had never seen a Lambda Players show before: a visit to Sacramento's premier LGBT theater was long-overdue!

To my surprise, though, Carolyn wasn't in the cast. Wha-wha happened? The program for "Nuncrashers" provided a clue:
Three weeks into rehearsal for our planned production of "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical", we felt a sense of doom. Scripts arrived late from the publishing company. We couldn't secure a pianist for our show during the very busy holiday season. Half the cast left the show out of frustration. But the six actors that you will see perform tonight became more determined than ever to bring a holiday-themed show to the stage. Not only did they inspire us, they truly epitomized the meaning of the word "community". A new concept was created which resulted in an original script (written in a period of 24 hours). For the last ten days, our cast and production team have worked non-stop around the clock to make this show a reality. Never have we witnesses such hard work, dedication and risk-taking as these artists have exemplified....
Hmmm..... Interesting! Putting on musicals is a risky undertaking, because so many people and efforts have to come together, and mesh. Every show poses at least some risk, even at the most established theaters. It's almost like racing in a sports car on a winding mountain road. Every blind turn promises either a thrill, or death!

So, this show is what happens after the sports car breaks through the guardrail, plunges down the embankment, and tumbles end over end! You pick up what remains and continue forward!

I did recognize local community musical theater veteran Bethany Hidden-Cauley in the cast, however. She has lots of energy and talent, and I knew she wouldn't disappoint.

"Nuncrashers" is a strange, campy Christmas show that starts just outside a high school dance, where Rita (Roya Bryant) and Sally Anne (Bethany Hidden-Cauley) cannot puzzle out why their dates seem to prefer hanging out together rather than with them. Rita hypothesizes that ethnicity differences explain her date's lack of interest: "because he's Mexican". Needless to say, given the circumstances, being Mexican has nothing to do with it!

The girls' dates are expelled from their school after an unfortunate grease fire in their Home Economics class (while making tacos) and enroll instead a Catholic Boy's School. Seeking to puzzle out the lack-of-chemistry mystery, their dates follow them, dressed as nuns to escape detection.

Many hijinks ensue.

I have no idea how much of "Nuncrackers" is in "Nuncrashers", but my guess is: not much.

The music is an odd melange of Christmas tunes with 60's-through-80's karaoke pop tunes. Occasionally, the show creaks forward due to slow pre-recorded song introductions. Nevertheless, the 1.5 hour long show is all quite entertaining and enjoyable, provided camp is your thing.

Three cast members stand out for their energetic performances: Roya Bryant as Rita, the aforementioned Bethany Hidden-Cauley as Sally Anne, and Joseph Ramos as Johnny.

Support Lambda Players' grit this holiday season!

The Eclipse Of MySpace

I was hoping this article would shed some light on Rupert Murdoch's faltering business sense, but I don't think it does that. Instead, it's a tale of the demise of entrepreneurial vision when a brilliant (but small) business has to become just another dependable cog in a business empire. We all love the romance of entrepreneurial risk in a capitalist economy - risk is edgy and cool - but Big Business hates risk with a passion:
In summer 2005, having spent the best part of four decades ­building a newspaper, film and television empire, Rupert Murdoch decided that the time had come to get serious about the internet.

...The way in, it was decided after much deliberation among the News Corp top brass, was to buy Intermix, a Los Angeles-based company whose main asset was MySpace, a website that had been adding an astonishing 70,000 new users every day.

...To say MySpace was a hot property back in 2005 is something of an understatement. ... Millions of teenagers across the world adored MySpace, spending hours every day connecting with each other online and fine-tuning ­personal profile pages that reflected their tastes and personalities. News Corp had new-found cultural cachet thanks to them – and to the popularity of MySpace with new filmmakers and musicians such as the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen, who became sensations on the site, releasing songs to fans before their first albums appeared.

...But by the beginning of 2008, things began to sour. Facebook, a rival social network that was simpler and easier to use, was gaining momentum and starting to grow more quickly than MySpace. Murdoch confidently told the world that MySpace would make $1bn in advertising revenues in 2008 – but the company missed its target. Users began to desert the site, which had become cluttered with unappealing ads for teeth straightening and weight-loss products. News Corp executives could hardly hide their displeasure, and in April this year, DeWolfe left, closely followed by most of his senior management team.

Since then, MySpace has shed 40 per cent of its staff, closed many of its international offices and publicly given up trying to match Facebook in the race to become the world’s biggest social network. (MySpace has more than 100 million regular users, Facebook more than 300 million.) A move by MySpace and other News Corp digital businesses into the biggest new office development in Los Angeles was scrapped – after the $350m, 12-year lease had been signed – leaving the company paying more than $1m a month for an empty building. The number of people using the site has also dropped precipitously this year: MySpace’s share of the social networking market has tumbled from 66 per cent a year ago to 30 per cent, according to the online research company Hitwise. The situation is so dire that MySpace recently revealed that it had failed to attract enough online traffic to meet targets set in its advertising deal with Google and as a result would lose $100m this year. An acquisition that had initially covered Murdoch in glory and offered so much promise was becoming an embarrassment to the News Corp chairman and a liability for his company.

...As long as MySpace was growing exponentially, Murdoch and Chernin seemed happy to let Anderson and DeWolfe run it how they pleased. The MySpace team and Levinsohn continued to clash, and Levinsohn left News Corp to be replaced by his cousin, Peter, a veteran of Fox’s TV business. MySpace continued to add users at a terrific rate and was also attracting huge volumes of advertising from movie studios and consumer brands. That meant two things: one, the young team would have to learn to balance users’ and advertisers’ needs, and two, the top brass would have trouble resisting the temptation to get involved.

Murdoch himself was responsible for dealing the company the first in a series of blows. On a 2007 News Corp earnings call, a punchy Murdoch told analysts that Fox Interactive Media would generate $1bn in revenues for the 2008 fiscal year (up from about $550m in 2007). With MySpace representing almost all of Fox Interactive’s revenues, the implication was clear: Murdoch thought MySpace’s meteoric rise would continue. There was only one problem: the MySpace management team had no idea Murdoch had set them a new target until he opened his mouth. “It came out of thin air,” says a former MySpace executive. At a stroke, the site’s free-wheeling, entrepreneurial days were over: it had to perform exactly as expected – or else.

...The company also prided itself on being able to respond quickly to the needs and demands of its community, but once Murdoch had set the $1bn revenue target, putting the MySpace community first became more ­difficult. According to former MySpace executives, the advertising on the site was making it less compelling for users. Meanwhile, any innovations or changes that might have cut the number of page views – and therefore advertising revenues – were likely to fall foul of News Corp.

...The two sides differ profoundly over where responsibility lies for the site’s decline. Former MySpace executives say News Corp dragged its feet over implementing Ajax, a program that allows users to send a message, an e-mail or to post a comment on their friends’ pages without having to open a new browser window. Facebook was quick to embrace Ajax but MySpace did not follow suit, partly because to do so would have reduced the number of page views the site generated and therefore its advertising revenue. “It would take five steps to post a comment or send a message, so five different pages would open,” explains another former executive. “There would be ads on each of those pages, so we were making money. We went to News Corp and said: ‘We want to change this but in the short term our revenues will drop.’ It became a long back and forth. [They] were pushing back – they wanted to make sure we weren’t going to drop our revenue numbers.”

News Corp, meanwhile, contends that the request to adopt Ajax came at the beginning of 2009 – when Facebook had already established its supremacy. In other words, it was too little, too late.

...One of the other tools that made Facebook so effective was an e-mail address importer that immediately sent invitations to the user’s friends to sign up to the site. Another ex-MySpace executive says Anderson waited too long to introduce a similar function on MySpace.

...None of this was a problem while Murdoch remained deeply interested in progress at MySpace. But in 2007, two years after buying it, the man who was DeWolfe’s biggest ally became distracted by a new deal that required much of his time and attention: News Corp’s pursuit and eventual $5bn purchase of Dow Jones, the company that owns The Wall Street Journal.

“The bureaucracy crept back in when he bought the Journal [and] Murdoch became less interested in MySpace,” says a former MySpace executive. “Then the recession hit and every finance guy at News Corp became involved in what we did so we had to spend all our time doing PowerPoint demonstrations.”

Another former executive puts it more bluntly. “Rupert took his eye off the ball on the internet. He got obsessed with Dow Jones and stopped ­paying attention to MySpace. That’s when all the trouble really started.”

...But is it too late to reverse what looks like inexorable decline? “It’s an amazing company and an amazing asset,” argues Van Natta. He has spent the past six months streamlining the site, reducing the number of products in development and focusing on music and film. The company has also removed certain web pages that Van Natta thought were hindering the user experience. But the axed material generated all-important page views, which generate ad revenue. The result of the “self-inflicted” pain, as one executive puts it, will lead to an even more painful loss of revenue.

Van Natta and Miller, who decline to comment, are convinced MySpace must be a leaner, more appealing site that draws in users and encourages them to linger. Van Natta says the company is no longer interested in competing with Facebook – “we’re very focused on a different space” – and claims MySpace will be “the place where content gets socialised”. “If you and I had never met before but had similar tastes in music I can connect with you on MySpace and discover that you like movies and TV shows that I hadn’t discovered yet,” he says. “MySpace can foster discovery [of music, films and TV] in a way that others can’t.”

There were encouraging signs recently that the site continues to strike a chord with young users. The premiere of New Moon, the sequel to ­Twilight, was streamed live on MySpace and attracted close to three ­million viewers – far more than watched a Shakira music video that ­premiered on Facebook around the same time.

...The boss has plenty of other worries to distract him, after all: a soft advertising market and the future of his beloved newspaper industry are just two. If MySpace is to recover and prosper, it also needs to deepen its engagement with young internet users. No one, however, matters more than a certain 78-year-old.

Support In A Difficult Age

Image from yanmania at B3ta.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Those Wacky South Koreans!

They apparently had a spare jumbo jet that they didn't know what to do with, so they turned it into a restaurant, at least for a time. Today, it's more-or-less abandoned.

Too bad....the restaurant idea is actually pretty cool. For 'Twilight Zone' style amusement, the waiters could dress up as demons and pull metal from the wings as you eat, watch, point and laugh!

"Annie, Jr." - DMTC's YPT

Left: Emma K. as Annie.

I didn't see the entire show on Saturday afternoon: just from "NYC" forward, but there were still many opportunities for photos.

(Too many photos, actually - too many good ones....)