Saturday, December 26, 2009

La Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris

I went and saw this tonight at the Crest. Wonderful, wonderful documentary! The imdb summary says just about all that anyone need know when going:
The film follows the production of seven ballets by the Paris Opera Ballet.
The film should be around for the next week at the Crest Theatre.

Ballet is nothing if not academically exacting, and the film shows that well. Much of the film is preoccupied with classes and small studio rehearsals, where the dancers learn the craft they do so well.

Towards the end of the film, the focus shifts to performances, where the lessons we have been privileged to watch are executed, sometimes nearly-unrecognizably so, once the elements of costume, music, and lighting are added.

I missed about 5 minutes of the film (a projector bulb apparently burned out and I took a break). Bizarre stuff on a Spanish theme greeted me on my return (Mats Ek’s The House of Bernarda Alba, in performance). Just the way I like it! Absolutely jarring!

Here is a portion of the San Francisco Chronicle review (by John Killacky):
"La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet," Frederick Wiseman's astoundingly beautiful documentary, has sumptuous delights to satisfy every balletomane. Clocking in at more than 2 1/2 hours, though, it is clearly a film for the committed dance lover.

...Underground labyrinths, backstage corridors, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios, sewing rooms, cafeterias, administrative offices and the personalities that inhabit them embody the film and are in stark contrast to the public's experience of the opulence of the gilded proscenium, scarlet velvet seats, Chagall ceilings, chandeliers and grand marble staircases.

Intimate rehearsal shots detail contemporary choreographers Wayne McGregor and Angelin Preljocaj developing and refining movement phrases step by step. Viewers also witness repertory classics such as "Nutcracker" and "Paquita" being remounted and taught to a new generation. What a pleasure to be brought into the creative process as dancers go about their work unself-consciously.

Juxtaposing scenes of extraordinary dancer-athletes refining their craft are those of administrators in labor negotiations, designing benefactor events and discussing repertory. Occasionally, a snippy remark is captured: "Suzanne Farrell's errors become everyone else's standards." However, we also see the machinations of a huge bureaucracy at work.
Another review (by Pamela Cohn):
But the evolution of story, of structure, of narrative, is clear. It is clear in the way [Wiseman] captures the language of the choreographer to the principal dancer, of the ballet masters and mistresses to the corps de ballet, tasking them, individually and as a group, to embody the unrelenting drive to achieve a perfection that transcends the human form. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, we watch pieces move from rehearsal studio to luxurious theater, replete with 2,200 scarlet velvet seats and Marc Chagall ceiling, all lovingly and meticulously vacuumed, scrubbed, and kept in pristine condition by a silent army of maintenance workers.

Interstitially, Wiseman inserts static portraits of the institution of the Palais Garnier, the 19th-century building that houses the company—cold, opulent, and solid like an ancient netherworld, almost ominous in its stillness and emptiness—and the city of Paris, shot aerially for the most part—staid, stony and gray—a bustling place seemingly oblivious to the microcosmic realm where the dancers, the choreographers, the administrative staff, the seamstresses, the food service workers, the cleaners and painters and musicians, live out their days working hard to keep a cultural institution alive and flourishing. These stills flesh out geography and story, and act as counterpoint to the sweating bodies, stretched tendons, pounding feet and corporeal sensuality of dancers entwined in impossible positions to illustrate the lust, vengeance and celestial love of these choreographed dramas. They all make it look “indecently easy,” as one ballet master describes the leaps and pirouettes of one male dancer who can suspend himself in mid-air with powerful lift and grace. Wiseman subtly, slyly, interjects snippets of a larger drama that is, at once, astonishing and exhilarating, routine and mundane, a hallmark of his and something that makes watching his films such a full and satisfying experience. This technique enables a viewer to, as Wiseman says, “think through their own relationship to what they are seeing and hearing.” As one fellow film lover put it to me after watching La Danse, “For the first time, I finally got ballet.”

The seven dances featured in the film, both in rehearsal and in performance, by a slate of the most exciting international choreographers, are: Pierre Lacotte’s Paquita, Rudolf Nureyev’s Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker), Wayne McGregor’s Genus, Angelin Preljocaj’s powerful and bloody Medea, Mats Ek’s The House of Bernarda Alba, Sasha Waltz’ Romeo and Juliet, and Pina Bausch’s exquisite Orpheus and Eurydyce.

It is a joy and a rare privilege—and not just for balletomanes—to watch these artists perform at the highest level of their craft, all captured in sound and motion by an artist working at the highest level of his.


Went with the DMTC folks Christmas night to see Rob Marshall's new movie "Nine".

Very Fosse-esque! More Fosse than Fosse! Indeed, now I'm left wondering if "All That Jazz" is just a rehash of Fellini's "8 1/2" (which I haven't seen, but if I can find it on VHS, I will). Given the subject material, it's no surprise that Rob Marshall ("Chicago") directed this film.

The quality was variable, but I certainly enjoyed myself.

The best number, in my view, was Kate Hudson singing “Cinema Italiano”, which, interestingly enough, does not appear to have been in the stage musical, but was apparently added for the movie, maybe just for Hudson. The musical numbers are so self-referential that having this musical number about something else than Guido Contini is all it takes to kick up the energy a notch. And switching black-and-white with color is awesome! As mentioned in reviews, Marshall's cutting back-and-forth is a problem for those trying to appreciate the choreography of the various musical numbers, but the linear structure of "Cinema Italiano", imposed by the fashion runway, defeats Marshall's attention-deficit-disorder.

Yeah, for me, the songs are the problems. Kind of forgettable tunes. If Rob Marshall improved the film by dropping in new songs, good for him!

I was a bit disappointed in Fergie – playing a sexy and now-easily-recognizable stock-Fellini character (but inarticulate: I’d hope she could do better than that). Nicole Kidman was fine – regal, sensitive. Penelope Cruz is very needy, but very sexy (won't kick her out of bed for eating crackers). Judi Dench is OK - cinema's answer to Jean Henderson. Sophia Loren is a bit creaky (but then she's 75). Marion Cotillard outshone everyone, as various reviews mention.

Who else? Oh yes, Daniel Day Lewis. He needed greater range of expression.

Like I say, variable quality, but not a wasted evening by any stretch.

Bruce sends the Washington Post review. It's supposed to be a scathing thumbs-down review, and I largely agree with it, except that I give the film a thumbs-up. As a movie, it's certainly better than lots of others out there:
"Nine" bounces into theaters as a bright, shiny bauble of cinematic self-reference and mythologizing, begging so insistently to be loved that it winds up pushing the audience away. Rob Marshall's frantic, fussy adaptation of the Broadway musical -- which itself was an adaptation of a classic film -- suffers all the distortion that its hall-of-mirrors provenance suggests. It's a film within a film about a film within a film, and seems to lose layers of authenticity with each iteration, finally becoming a profoundly alienating experience.

"Nine" is about Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a legendary Italian filmmaker who in 1965, on the eve of directing his latest picture, finds himself creatively blocked and preoccupied with the women in his life, madonnas and whores alike. An insurmountable flaw of "Nine" is that it asks viewers so blithely to identify with a protagonist whose overwhelming ego, insecurity and selfishness they're meant to confuse with artistic genius.

Guido, of course, was invented by Federico Fellini in his 1963 movie "8 1/2 ," a semi-autobiographical reverie on art, sex, obsession and forgiveness. But the characters and material that in Fellini's hands made for such a delicate, funny and self-aware meditation become in "Nine" a meaningless exercise in style for its own sake, whipped by Marshall into a nearly incomprehensible froth. It's a measure of how disjointed the movie is that, when a reel was shown out of order at a recent screening, no one appeared to notice.

The grabber about "Nine" is that it stars Nicole Kidman, Penlope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Kate Hudson, some of the screen's hottest actresses in both meanings of that word. Judi Dench and Sophia Loren are also on hand to lend gravitas, as well as Fergie, the pop-star outlier who delivers one of many brassy, bawdy set pieces, as a prostitute from Guido's past. Where that number goes out of its way to be sexually aggressive, by far the most crassly erotic performance goes to Cruz, who as Guido's mistress sings an ode to carnality using two ropes as the rough analogue to a stripper's pole.

Every actress gets her moment, each with a song that is more instantly forgettable than the last. In "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls," Marshall proved that he doesn't know how to film dancers, compulsively cutting away from movement rather than letting it play. Oddly, Marshall's edit-happy style matters less with "Nine," which doesn't feature dancing so much as metrically timed writhing, stomping, sashaying and posing. (The "Glee" kids would call it "hairography.")

Day-Lewis's singing voice is undistinguished, but his spoken voice, with its silken lower registers, is seductively musical; still, he can't imbue much interest in a portrait of the artist as a raging -- and aging -- narcissist. Of all his gorgeous co-stars, Cotillard alone delivers something that resembles a true performance, in a smoldering, heartbreaking turn as Guido's long-suffering wife.

Cotillard's moments slow the proceedings a bit, inviting viewers to contemplate a fleeting view of genuine human vulnerability. As for the rest of "Nine," it's crammed and crazy and ultimately kind of craven, baiting filmgoers with star power and showstoppers and delivering little more than pastiche.

Here's an idea: To experience all the joys of "Nine," do yourself a favor and rent "8 1/2 " and "All That Jazz." Pop some popcorn, plump up the couch cushions and settle in for a delicious, dazzling night at the movies.

Cruisin' For Videos

As I mentioned once before, Video Clearance Center on Howe Avenue is sort of a museum of VHS tapes. Circa 1990, it was the biggest show in town when it came to video sales, but when DVDs arrived they were stuck with a huge backlog of supply. They've been struggling ever since - gamely adding DVDs to their collection, but still having trouble moving the old VHS stuff.

Lately, they've been having an extended going-out-of-business sale (supposedly ending january 10, but may last longer, depending on sales). Some genres of tapes are as much as 90% off original price! Thus, cutting-edge technology aside, I've been stocking up on VHS videos.

Yesterday I watched Woody Allen's 1994 movie "Bullets Over Broadway". Very nice, amusing film!:
Woody Allen sends up the world of Broadway and the gangsters who love it in this Runyonesque comedy, one of his very best.

John Cusack is the Allen surrogate, a nebbish playwright who's struggling to remain true to his artistic vision amongst countless obstacles. Those obstacles include: a gangster's girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) who Cusack is forced to cast in a lead role; her bodyguard (Chazz Palmienteri), who reveals quite a few dramatic instincts; a high-maintenance diva (Dianne Wiest, uproarious); a leading man who eats too much (Jim Broadbent); and a dithery actress very much in love with her dog (Tracy Ullman).

Because Allen sets his movie in a world he knows well (NY theatre), this feels like one of his strongest and most realized screenplays. The whole thing is a riot. Between Wiest, Tilly and Ullman, I still can't decide who's funniest.
And part of the fun of watching this tape was watching trailers for upcoming 1995 movies that I don't remember ever hearing of, featuring cutting-edge actors that have left no trace....

Thursday, December 24, 2009


At dinner, discussion turned to hitting birds with baseball pitches. Seems unlikely, but apparently it has happened fairly recently:
In a freak accident on March 24, 2001, during the 7th inning of a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants, [Randy] Johnson threw a fastball that struck and killed a dove. The unlucky bird swooped across the infield just as Johnson was releasing the ball. After being struck by the pitch, the bird landed dead amid a "sea of feathers." The official call was "no pitch."

Decade's Best Movies

Slate has their list of the decade's best movies, made by putting together a consensus of other lists. So many lists to track!

Here at Marc Valdez Weblog, where ignorance is the rule rather than the exception, I have to report that I didn't even see most of the movies on this list. Nevertheless, if I had to rank the movies that I did see on Slate's list in order of quality, this is how I'd rank them:
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Billy Elliot (2000)
Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
WALL-E (2008)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Being John Malkovitch (2000)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Pirates Of The Caribbean (2003)
Mamma Mia! (2008)
And, of course, there were all the other movies that didn't make this list. Certain movies, like "Australia" and "Coraline" should be on this list too, and near the top!

Back To The Future

The article is short on specifics, allowing the mind to digress:
'I have no idea why they have a gun like this,' watchdog investigator says

Researchers at the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico accidentally blew up a building with a "Civil-war-like" cannon earlier this month, raising further fears about the safety of the facility that has seen more than its share of security breaches in recent years.

According to an "occurrence report" filed by the lab and obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, the accident took place on December 16 as researchers tested a gun that "acts like a Civil War cannon," according to a POGO press release. Though no one was injured in the incident, it did cause $3 million in damage.

The watchdog group reported:
The explosion blew the doors off the building -- which is described in the report as, "two doors were propelled off the facility."
The Facility Operations Director "declared a management concern due to the significant facility structural damage incurred resultant of the shot." Parts of the cannon were found outside the building.

"I must say that this is a new twist in the long history of screw-ups by Los Alamos," said POGO’s Senior Investigator, Peter Stockton, in a statement. “I have no idea in the world why they have a gun like this, let alone [are] testing it.”

As Rachel Morris notes at Mother Jones, "This is not the first time that Los Alamos has fallen short when it comes to safety and security matter." POGO's "long history of screw-ups" at Los Alamos is documented here. One recent case of note involved the theft of three computers from the laboratory where nuclear technologies are developed and tested.

A recent Inspector-General's report says that the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which oversees Los Alamos, has been delinquent in enhancing its cyber-security.

Despite the various security concerns, the private contracting team managing the facility recently had its contract extended by the government for another year. Among the companies managing Los Alamos is Bechtel, the engineering firm that landed lucrative contracts in Iraq following the US invasion.

Weird Christmas Season

Because I went to NM early and saw the family two weeks ago, as far as I'm concerned, Christmas is over - long over. So, this extended Christmas week feels like lonely tumbleweeds blowing through a silent ghost town of the Old West. Not even a lizard to distract from the emptiness!

So, as often happens when this sort of thing happens, my mind has turned to genealogy.

This week's finds include the surprising discovery that grandfather Felipe Valdez had a sister, named Felipa. Since she is absent from family lore, she must have disappeared early, but why that might have happened, I don't know.

Another surprising discovery is that father-and-son forebears on my mother's side participated in the Siege of Louisbourg, during the French-and-Indian War. The ethnic cleansing of the French from Acadia was a particularly horrible event in American history, and I've mixed feelings about family members getting all mixed up in that.

So far, those are the two most interesting Christmas presents. That, plus the logorrheic "The Clinton Tapes", which will take a while to read....

So, thankfully, Pam is teaching ballet this afternoon, and tomorrow afternoon. That's the real soothing balm.....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Meanwhile, Back In The Bermuda Triangle....

(toink, toink, toink....)

E.: MMMAAAARRRCCCC! There is a magnet in the game that is dragging the ball in-between the green brackets and making me lose! It's like a Bermuda Triangle! MMMAAAARRRRCCCC!

(toink, toink, toink....)

Running The Improv Workshop

Because I seem to be a dependable sort of fellow, I'm Michael Rowe's stunt Improv Workshop host when he can't make it. This week, and next, he's out-of-town, so I'm in charge.

Last night, just 2.5 people showed up (one was very late) and I ran them through the paces. Hard, but fun at the same time! We played simple exercises (Yes, and...; ABC, What are you doing?; Buzzers & Bells, Just questions, etc.) But we need more people....

(Tuesday evenings, basement of the Geery Theatre, 22nd & L, 7:00-9:00 p.m., $5.00, $2.50 for kids)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

REM Sleep, And Dogs

Crazy Amy

Sounds like Amy Winehouse would make a good SARTA judge:
Amy Winehouse could be facing another police investigation for assault.

The British singer allegedly attacked a theater staffer at a holiday pantomime show in Buckinghamshire, England, on Saturday night, according to a report in the Sun newspaper.

The British newspaper says Winehouse, 26, became boisterous and shouted obscenities at the cast of a production of Cinderella, which included Hollywood actor Mickey Rourke.

Staff tried to usher her into a private box, but the singer allegedly kicked and punched front-of-house manager Richard Pound before being dragged out by her own security staff.

A Winehouse pal tells PEOPLE: "Amy was invited by a friend of hers starring in the show," adding that no charges were brought against her. "She wasn't arrested, and she hasn't been questioned by the police yet."

Learning To Love Health Reform Without The Public Option

Jonathan Chait, 2009:
Does the Republican Party have any ideas? The query may have a familiar ring. Five years ago, the question of substance was demanded incessantly of the Democrats. Indeed, in one of those intellectual fads that periodically sweep through Washington, the political class became obsessed with the notion that conservatives had unambiguously won what everybody was calling “the war of ideas.”

Al Jazeera Report On Arturo Leyva's Death

Macabre and humiliating photos of Leyva's posed body have set the stage for revenge killings (that have already started).

Americans Continue To Restrain The Urge To Drive


Rat Jumps On Sinking Ship

Parker Griffith (D-AL) becomes a Republican, taking with him oodles of DCCC cash in the process. But the GOP's been waging a scorched earth campaign against him and the trouble is, the voters remember....

AZ I-10 Pileup

Winds in southern Arizona mean trouble:

At least four people have died in a multiple-vehicle crash caused by a heavy dust storm that has closed Interstate 10 just north of Casa Grande, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said.

The crash occurred just before 11 a.m. on westbound I-10 near milepost 190, where emergency crews found at least 20 vehicles involved in the wreck, said Officer Robert Lee Bailey, a DPS spokesman.

A commercial vehicle exploded and the DPS has dispatched a HAZ MAT unit to the scene, Bailey said.

Several vehicles have caught fire and become engulfed in flames, Bailey said. An unknown number of people were injured ranging from severe burns to traumatic injuries, he said.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"The Producers" - DMTC Rehearsal

While everyone else is thronging the malls and crowding the highways, the cast of DMTC's "The Producers" is learning how to use walkers....

And THAT'S Why They Are The German Skeptics Society!

Proven right again:
The German Skeptics Society has admitted all its members' predictions for 2009 were wrong.

The society said it checked out 140 forecasts for 2009 and every one turned out wrong.

Its members predicted the assassination of President Barack Obama and terrorist attacks in the German cities of Frankfurt and Berlin.

One of the few predictions which came true was the death of Michael Jackson.

But the society said this had been a "permanent prediction" by its members.

Little Boots - New In Town (Bimbo Jones Remix)

No Quarter

The loss of Senate collegiality, due mostly to simple cruelty.

Republicans give no quarter; no longer can they request it:
Another example came last night, when the ailing Robert Byrd was wheeled in at 1 a.m. to break a filibuster on the manager's amendment. Byrd's presence was not required, especially considering that he'd clearly telegraphed his intention to vote to break the filibuster. But Republicans forced him to travel to the chamber. Indeed, shortly before he arrived, Sen. Tom Coburn headed to the floor to propose a prayer. "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," he said. "That's what they ought to pray."

The Senate hasn't just lost a bit of its collegiality. It's become heartlessly ferocious -- a place where the death of an honored friend presents an opportunity to kill his legislation, and in which the infirmity of an ailing colleague is seen as a potential path to procedural victory.

It is, of course, a tough world out there. There are greater injustices than senators being mean to one another. But the Senate's rules are predicted on courtesy and cooperation. The body cannot function without unanimous consent, and procedures like the filibuster were included because the expectation was that the body could routinely discover consensus. At this point in its history, however, consensus is a laughable goal. Basic decency doesn't even seem achievable. And if the behavior of the Senate has changed, then so too must its rules.

Lost And Found

I was worried about this:
WARSAW, Poland – Polish police have recovered the infamous Nazi sign stolen from the former Auschwitz death camp cut into three pieces, and said Monday it appeared to have been taken by common criminals seeking profit.

Five men were arrested late Sunday after the damaged "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free") sign was found near one of their homes in a snowy forest outside Czernikowo, a village near the northern Polish city of Torun, on the other side of the country from the memorial site.

...Security guards patrol the 940-acre (200-hectare) site around the clock, but due to its vast size they only pass by any one area at intervals.

After occupying Poland in 1939, the Nazis established the Auschwitz I camp, which initially housed German political prisoners and non-Jewish Polish prisoners. The sign was made in 1940. Two years later, hundreds of thousands of Jews began arriving by cattle trains to the wooden barracks of nearby Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II.

...The grim slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" was so counter to the actual function of the camp that it has been etched into history. The phrase appeared at the entrances of other Nazi camps, including Dachau and Sachsenhausen, but the long curving sign at Auschwitz was the best known.

Domestication Of The Common Woman

Harder than herding cats:
Once burdened with physically demanding chores, exhausting farm work, and other unpleasant duties, man's quality of life dramatically improved after his successful domestication of the common woman.

Though for years women had roamed free throughout most of Asia, Europe, and Africa, experts estimate that by around 3,000 BCE men had begun putting them to work.

"A valuable commodity with seemingly endless uses, the woman has played a crucial role throughout human history," noted historian Alan Helbling said. "Not only could she be trained to perform a variety of tasks, but once her spirit was broken and her energies reined in, she could be taught to come whenever she was called."

"They're really quite magnificent creatures," Helbling added.

...For most of the 18th and 19th centuries, women continued their work in the field and at home, often showing little sign of their once liberated nature. However, by the mid-20th century, a number of strange occurrences were reported: Spooked by the growing civil rights movement and loud protests taking place across the country, hundreds of women suddenly broke free from their restraints and, for the first time in millennia, ran wild, joining four-year colleges and professional workplaces along the way.

The majority have yet to return.

"They'll come back—you'll see," cried Kentucky resident Dale Berring, who saw his woman leave for greener pastures almost 10 years ago. "And when they do, there'll be hell to pay."

Shrinking, But Still On The Move

The big iceberg that came so far north:
Icebergs frequently calve off Antarctica’s ice shelves, and they often get swept up in strong circumpolar currents that carry them around the icy continent. Occasionally icebergs drift northward, out of the continent’s orbit. Only rarely, however, do icebergs drift as far north as Australia without melting, which is why scientists were surprised to spot a city-sized iceberg, desginated B17-B, drifting toward Australia in December 2009.

...The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported that the iceberg shrank from roughly 54 square miles (140 square kilometers) to 44 square miles (115 square kilometers) over the course of one week and then broke into hundreds of pieces, many several kilometers long. B17-B was spotted some 1,054 miles (1,700 kilometers) off the south-southwestern Australian coast in mid-December 2009. In November 2009, New Zealand issued a shipping alert about iceberg B17-B.

Cops Overreacting

Arrogant D.C. cops acting inappropriately over a snowball fight.

Bruce Otis' Annual Christmas Letter

There is no greater joy at Christmas time than reading friend Bruce Otis' annual Christmas letter!

A number of years ago, Bruce hit upon a multiple-choice-answer format for his letter that is wry and whimsical and very enjoyable to read. I think we should all abandon simple Christmas cards for this improved format! (I tried it once, but I'm not as wry or whimsical a writer as Bruce.)

In a portion of this year's letter, Bruce discusses his and his daughter's (ultimately successful) efforts to launch a balloon into the Minnesota sky:
Dear Reader,

Oh No! The year of pain apparently is not yet over. Once again it's that time when you must endure those glowing Christmas letters that make you want to
(_) convert to Islam
(_) get off my Christmas letter list.
(_) get ripped then convert to Islam.
This letter provides relief as you decide how depressing or uplifting this letter will be.

Merry Christmas

The economic storm clouds that were gathering on the horizon as noted in last year's letter certainly came to fruition. Nowhere was this more evident than where I work. The first week of the New Year brought the first of many weeklong furloughs and devastating layoffs. To date we have lost about 60% of our folks. A furlough is
(_) an excuse to stay plowed all day.
(_) better than getting laid off.
(_) time off without pay.
(_) a great opportunity to perform volunteer work for the community.
Our economic struggles did not go un-noticed. Deep in the dark halls of the Capitol building in DC, our fine public servants were diligently putting together a stimulus plan that would surely
(_) fail.
(_) get votes.
(_) drive us further into financial ruin.
(_) come in handy.
While Congress was debating the bill, Danika and I made a 5-foot tall tissue paper hot air balloon and christened it "Stimulus 2009". We waited patiently for a quiet cold winter evening. Then on Jan 24th all systems were a go. The 150,000 BTU Nipco kerosene heater was fired up and in short order was glowing red. Danika and her buddy Anna grabbed the bottom corners of the balloon and directed it over the 90 degree elbow attached to the outlet of the heater. This quickly inflated the balloon an created so much buoyancy that the tissue paper started to tear. Subsequently I had to skip my big speech and the balloon was launched. With an outside temperature of -5 degrees F, it took off amazingly fast. The winds of change, however, immediately took the balloon into the neighbor's maple tree where it was destroyed in short order.

Not to be discouraged (or bored for that matter), I went to work on a second balloon - naturally christened "Stimulus II 2009". To avoid the errors of the last launch, we positioned the balloon much further away from the feared maple. With the balloon inflated, we waited for a breeze that would push the balloon north of the tree. When the conditions were right I gave a very short but upbeat speech and had Danika and Anna release the balloon. It took off with breath taking speed and flew right into the maple, and about 20 feet from the tattered remains of the first one. I was stunned and felt
(_) like chopping down the damn maple.
(_) I was littering big time.
(_) like Charlie Brown.
(_) that this was indeed an omen.
I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for chores to offer a distraction to my disappointment. At one point, by chance, I looked out the dining room window and was shocked to see Stimulus II 2009 rolling across the yard. Apparently the wind had changed direction and allowed the balloon to fall free from the grip of the dreaded maple. I ran outside to find, to my surprise, the balloon generally intact. The balloon was repaired and on the next day launched again. This time it
(_) caught on fire.
(_) flew pretty good.
(_) was sabotaged by right wind extremists.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Underwater Eruption Of West Mata Volcano

And some description:
Scientists funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation recorded the deepest erupting volcano yet discovered, describing high-definition video of the undersea eruption as “spectacular.” Eruption of the West Mata volcano, discovered in May, occurred nearly 4,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, in an area bounded by Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

Imagery includes large molten lava bubbles approximately three feet across bursting into cold seawater, glowing red vents explosively ejecting lava into the sea, and the first-observed advance of lava flows across the deep-ocean seafloor. Sounds of the explosive eruption were recorded by a hydrophone and later matched to the video footage.

“We found a type of lava never before seen erupting from an active volcano, and for the first time observed molten lava flowing across the deep-ocean seafloor,” said the mission’s Chief Scientist Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Washington who collaborates with NOAA through the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “Though NOAA and partners discovered a much shallower eruption in 2004 in the Mariana Arc, the deeper we get, the closer the eruption is to those that formed most of the oceanic crust.”

“It was an underwater Fourth of July – a spectacular display of fireworks nearly 4,000 feet deep,” said Co-Chief Scientist Bob Embley, a marine geologist based in the Newport, Ore., office of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “Since the water pressure at that depth suppresses the violence of the volcano’s explosions, we could get the underwater robot within feet of the active eruption. On land, or even in shallow water, you could never hope to get this close and see such great detail,” he said.

Mission scientists released the video and discussed their scientific observations at a Dec. 17 news conference at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco.

“For the first time we have been able to examine, up close, the way ocean islands and submarine volcanoes are born,” says Barbara Ransom, program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences. “The unusual primitive compositions of the West Mata eruption lavas have much to tell us.”

The West Mata volcano is producing Boninite lavas, believed to be among the hottest erupting on Earth in modern times, and a type only seen before on extinct volcanoes older than a million years. University of Hawaii geochemist Ken Rubin believes this active Boninite eruption provides a unique opportunity to study magma formation at volcanoes and how the Earth recycles material where one tectonic plate is subducted under another – a long-term goal of many Earth scientists.

Water from the volcano is very acidic, with some samples collected directly above the eruption measuring somewhere between battery acid and stomach acid. Julie Huber, a microbiologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, found diverse microbes even in such extreme conditions.

Tim Shank, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), found shrimp were the only animals thriving in the acidic vent water near the eruption. Shank is analyzing shrimp DNA to determine if they are the same species as those found at eruptive seamounts more than 3,000 miles away.

Mission scientists believe 80 percent of eruptive activity on Earth takes place in the ocean, and most volcanoes are in the deep ocean. Until this discovery, NOAA and NSF had sponsored research on submarine volcanoes for 25 years without observing a deep-ocean eruption. Scientists believe further study of active deep-ocean eruptions will provide a better understanding of oceanic cycles of carbon dioxide and sulfur gases, how heat and matter are transferred from the interior of the Earth to its surface, and how life adapts to some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

The science team operated from the University of Washington’s research vessel Thomas Thompson, and deployed Jason, a remotely-operated underwater robot operated by WHOI that is recognized as one of the most capable in the world. Jason collected samples using its manipulator arms and obtained imagery using a prototype still and HD imaging system developed and operated by the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab at WHOI.