Friday, December 31, 2010

A Dyno Is Like A Treadmill

I had to get my car smogged, and I fell into conversation with the shop owner:
"The dynamometer is just like a treadmill. It puts a load on the engine - whether a car's engine, or the engine of the body, the heart.

The treadmill saved me. I had chest pains for months, but otherwise felt fine, and I kept passing all the heart tests at the doctor. I didn't have a heart attack - the heart itself was strong. The angiogram will tell the doctors for sure if you have a problem, but the insurance companies won't let you take it unless you fail one of the other heart tests first. Finally, I failed the treadmill test. Two arteries, 99% blockage! One of the blockages was what they call a "widowmaker." I could have died any second. It's a wonder I survived until surgery. Look at me now! Healthy!

Don't ignore chest pain! Be persistent with the doctors! Lose weight! You have two kidneys, and two eyes, and two arms, but just one heart!"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Meanwhile, Southern California Worries

Southern California took the brunt of recent West Coast rains:
The wettest December since 1889 has left hillside areas across Southern California dangerously saturated, bringing a heightened risk of landslides and further flooding in the next few months.

...Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, said there's ominous similarity between this early winter and that of 2004-05: Both brought eye-popping amounts of rain. In fact, December 2004 brought so much that it set a record for December rainfall for the 20th and 21st centuries — but this month's more than 10 inches of rain topped even that.

During that memorable winter six years ago, the rains kept coming, fueled by an El Niño that pounded the region into the new year, provoking destructive debris flows, floods and landslides across the region. Downtown L.A. saw more than 37 inches of rain that year, well above its average of 15.

But this year, the opposite of El Niño — a La Niña, or a cooling of waters in the central Pacific — could assert itself and bring drier conditions in January and February.

Still, for now, rain is the name of the game, Patzert said: "The bottom line is, something is imminent if the rains continue like this."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Epic Queensland Floods

Few parallels, ever! And look at the pictures! The Condamine River will peak at over 15 meters!

Photo: From Luke Sorensen

RECORD flood levels in Queensland towns will take weeks to recede, sparking fears the disaster could lead to a disease outbreak with hundreds of homes inundated with contaminated water.

Dozens of communities remain isolated with unprecedented widespread flooding affecting Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Emerald and a string of smaller towns as thousands of people were forced out of their homes.

A compulsory evacuation is under way in the Darling Downs town of Condamine, with all 100 residents to be flown out by this afternoon.

Three helicopters are being used to evacuate the town after the Condamine River reached a record peak of 14.25m.

It is expected to peak at over 15m, which Western Downs Mayor Ray Brown said would put the entire town under water.

"It's 100 people, effective immediately," Mr Brown said.

"We'll have them all into Dalby early this evening."

He said it was anyone's guess how long they'd have to remain there.

"We've got a water network that is full, right through, and we just had a peak go through Dalby, and it will be a week before that peak gets to Condamine again."

...In Emerald the grim news was written all over the worried faces of evacuated children and parents by lunchtime today.

A record-breaking Nogoa River peak of 16.2m was predicted to smash the town tomorrow.

Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire estimates 90 per cent of properties will be under water tomorrow.

But already 50 per cent of the town, west of Rockhampton and home to 13,000 people, is under water.

More than 2500 people have been flown out with more to come, and hundreds are in evacuation centres.

"I've got a map of the area that's supposed to go under water and, unfortunately, it indicates most of the town's going to go under water," prominent local businessman Victor Cominos said.

"It's in the lap of the gods."

AERIAL VIEW: Floodwaters near Rockhampton. Picture: Tim Marsden

...Up to 1000 homes are at risk of flooding from the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton, where the mayor fears a repeat of the devastating 1991 floods.

The Bureau of Meteorology said: "Rockhampton is expected to reach about 9.4 metres by Tuesday with possible further rises.

"This is similar to the 1991 (9.3m) and 1954 (9.4m) flood levels. Rockhampton river levels are expected to remain above 9 metres for up to 10 days.''

The record peak is 10.1m, set in 1918.

Photo: An aerial photo of the submerged town of Chinchilla. Reader picture supplied by Kay Ainsworth.

...Farms on the outskirts of Chinchilla have also been hit, with authorities evacuating rural families as the Condamine River rises ahead of an expected 15m peak later today.

Western Downs Regional Council director of community services Ed Hoffmann, who is manning the town’s disaster headquarters, said it was “chaos out there today” as the river steadily rose from 13m yesterday to 14.77m around midday today.

“The phones have been running hot and we’ve had people getting caught out, a couple of aerial evacuations,” he said.

Dec 27: A car abandoned in floodwaters at Clifton on the southern Darling Downs. Pic: Fiona Meara

Photo: Water rushes over the spillway of Moogerah Dam near Boonah. Reader picture: Kym Howard

An aerial view of the Thompson River in flood near Stonehenge in western Queensland. Reader picture: Laurie Shaw

Photo: A milk tanker tries to drive through flood waters on Mt French Rd at Dugandan near Boonah. Reader picture: Kym Howard

Photo: Flood gates opened at Wivenhoe Dam. (Reader picture)

Photo: Bundaberg resident Brayden Burton,15, crosses a flooded Wondoona St, Bundaberg. Picture: John Wilson

...Bundaberg residents were out in force this morning to see the raging Burnett River which peaked at 7.9m overnight.

Bundaberg's main street was spared, while low-lying businesses and caravan parks weren't as lucky.

Parts of the town are cut off and bridges are closed, but residents are relieved to see patches of blue sky.

There have been rooftop rescues in Bundaberg overnight.

North Bundaberg was hardest hit and residents were evacuated to emergency shelter at North Bundaberg High School. Rescue helicopters plucked two residents to safety this morning from the top of a shed

Does Wikileaks Mean The End Of Big Business And Big Government?

One can hope! Nevertheless, I don't think so. The need for uniformity of service probably means the "Bigs" are here to stay. I find it hard to picture providing services on a large scale in a manner more suited for running a conspiracy. But some disagree:
The Wikileaks revolution isn’t only about airing secrets and transacting information. It’s about dismantling large organizations—from corporations to government bureaucracies. It may well lead to their extinction.

At the most basic level, organizations have two functions: They make stuff (loosely defined) and they coordinate the activities of makers of stuff. The efficiency with which they do these things helps determine the organization’s size. So, for example, IBM can produce its own keyboards, or it can outsource its keyboard-making. Which option it chooses depends on whether IBM can produce keyboards more cheaply than a supplier can; and on whether it’s harder for IBM to coordinate with the supplier—getting the keyboards built correctly and on time—than to sort out those details internally.

...A government agency faces a roughly analogous choice. The State Department, say, can focus entirely on managing relationships with foreign governments. Or it can perform other tasks on top of that, like providing development aid. Because it’s generally easier to work with people who operate from similar assumptions, rely on the same data, and share a common set of goals and values—which is to say, it’s easier to coordinate with co-workers than with outsiders—organizations often perform these functions in-house. Indeed, that’s one reason they’ve historically grown so large. This has even been true over the last generation, when many business gurus predicted that information technology would make outsourcing nearly frictionless.

Now consider what happens when you plug Wikileaks into this equation. All of a sudden, the very same things that made it more efficient to work with your colleagues—the fact that everyone had a detailed understanding of the mission and methodology—become enormous liabilities. In a Wikileaks world, the greater the number of people who intimately understand your organization, the more candidates there are for revealing that information to millions of voyeurs.

Wikileaks is, in effect, a huge tax on internal coordination. And, as any economist will tell you, the way to get less of something is to tax it. As a practical matter, that means the days of bureaucracies in the tens of thousands of employees are probably numbered. In a decade or two, we may not only see USAID spun off from the State Department. We may see dozens of mini-State Departments servicing separate regions of the world. Or hundreds of micro-State Departments—one for every country on the planet. Don’t like the stranglehold that a handful of megabanks have on the financial sector? Don’t worry! Twenty years from now there won’t be such a thing as megabanks, because the cost of employing 100,000 potential leakers will be prohibitive.

Alien On The Roof

C. got E. a High-Def TV for Xmas, and today the DirecTV people came over to install it.

Which means I'm back in Mainstream America (aka TV Land) again.


Microfinance Fail

Striking the right balance is hard. The minute microfinance moved into the world of IPOs, it failed, and spectacularly:
More than 70 people committed suicide in the state from March 1 to Nov. 19 to escape payments or end the agonies their debt had triggered, according to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, a government agency that compiled the data on the microfinance-related deaths from police and press reports.

...As India struggles to provide decent education, health care and jobs to millions still locked in poverty, microlending -- the loaning of small sums to the world’s neediest people to help them earn a living -- has taken a perverse turn.

Microcredit has become “Walmartized” by unrestrained selling of cheap products to the poor, says Malcolm Harper, chairman of ratings company Micro-Credit Ratings International Ltd. in Gurgaon, India.

“Selling debt is like selling drugs,” says Harper, 75, the author of more than 20 books on microfinance and other topics. “Selling debt to illiterate women in Andhra Pradesh, you’ve got to be a lot more responsible.”

...“Microfinance was supposed to empower women,” he says. “Microfinance guys reversed the social and economic progress, and these women ended up becoming slaves.”

...The upheaval in Andhra Pradesh is a long way from the vision of Muhammad Yunus.

The former economics professor won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in Bangladesh providing small sums to entrepreneurs too poor to get bank loans.

Yunus, 70, discovered more than three decades ago that when you lend money to women in poverty, they can begin to earn a living, and most of them will pay you back.

Yunus started the Grameen Bank Project in 1976 to extend banking services to the poor. Since then, it has lent $9.87 billion and recovered $8.76 billion; 97 percent of its 8.33 million borrowers are female.

Yunus says he’s not against making a profit. But he denounces firms that seek windfalls and pervert the original intent of microfinance: helping the poor.

The rule of thumb for a loan should be the cost of funds plus 10 percent, he says.

“Commercialization is the wrong direction,” Yunus says, speaking in a telephone interview from Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka. “An initial public offering is the triggering point for making a lot of money personally as well as for the company and shareholders.”

David Gibbons, chairman of Cashpor Micro Credit, a nonprofit microlender to the poorest women in India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states, says public, for-profit lenders face a conflict.

“They have to decide between the interests of their customers and interests of their investors,” he says.

Gibbons, 70, says he learned that lesson when he tried to raise 4 million pounds ($6.2 million) from two wealthy London- based nonresident Indian investors in November 2006.

Talks failed because of differences over expectations for returns on equity and other contract terms, he says.

“That’s what made me think this just can’t be done,” he says.

...Overlending in Andhra Pradesh calls to mind the U.S. subprime crisis, says Lakshmi Shyam-Sunder, director of corporate risk at International Finance Corp. in Washington, which invests in microlenders.

“Subprime lending was initially seen as extending homeownership to poorer people, doing good,” Shyam-Sunder says.

Dead Sparrow

Around the garbage cans at home. I wonder what happened? Looked a bit battered.

Lady GaGa - Bad Romance (DJ Paulo's GaGa Oo-La La Radio Edit)

This is my favorite, and most danceable, of the variety of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" remixes out there.

"Chess" - DMTC - Tuesday Night Rehearsal

Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly and Andrea Eve Thorpe

Roger Clark and Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly

The New Normal


Last night, I was supposed to rendezvous in Vacaville with Mary Young, Ron Cisneros, and Linda Abrille to see "Burlesque", but because of the intense rain it was only Mary Young and myself.

I liked Burlesque quite a bit. The beginning was a bit trite: the old formula of girl-cuts-all-ties-to-find-her-fortune-in-Hollywood doesn't work nearly as well these days, with the ubiquity of cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter. I mean, a Hollywood gypsy these days would keep all her friends back in Iowa breathlessly apprised of every tale of California excess. But apart from the beginning, it was a fine movie: excellent dancing, simple story, fine lighting & costumes & singing.

Robin Antin (Pussycat Dolls) is listed at the very end of the credits, but I suspect she had a huge part in putting the picture together.

Steve Antin is the Writer and Director. Are they related? Yes, brother and sister!

Science As Gambling

Anyone who ever became a gambling addict is familiar with this sense of betrayal: that the Laws of the Universe changed when one wasn't looking.

Happens in Science too:
Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested and tested again. Different scientists in different labs need to repeat the protocols and publish their results. The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable.

...For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe? Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to “put nature to the question.” But it appears that nature often gives us different answers.

...Schooler tried to put the problem out of his mind; his colleagues assured him that such things happened all the time. Over the next few years, he found new research questions, got married and had kids. But his replication problem kept on getting worse. His first attempt at replicating the 1990 study, in 1995, resulted in an effect that was thirty per cent smaller. The next year, the size of the effect shrank another thirty per cent. When other labs repeated Schooler’s experiments, they got a similar spread of data, with a distinct downward trend. “This was profoundly frustrating,” he says. “It was as if nature gave me this great result and then tried to take it back.”

...One of the first demonstrations of this mysterious phenomenon came in the early nineteen-thirties. Joseph Banks Rhine, a psychologist at Duke, had developed an interest in the possibility of extrasensory perception, or E.S.P. Rhine devised an experiment featuring Zener cards, a special deck of twenty-five cards printed with one of five different symbols: a card was drawn from the deck and the subject was asked to guess the symbol. Most of Rhine’s subjects guessed about twenty per cent of the cards correctly, as you’d expect, but an undergraduate named Adam Linzmayer averaged nearly fifty per cent during his initial sessions, and pulled off several uncanny streaks, such as guessing nine cards in a row. The odds of this happening by chance are about one in two million. Linzmayer did it three times.

Rhine documented these stunning results in his notebook and prepared several papers for publication. But then, just as he began to believe in the possibility of extrasensory perception, the student lost his spooky talent.

...Schooler was fascinated by Rhine’s experimental struggles. Here was a scientist who had repeatedly documented the decline of his data; he seemed to have a talent for finding results that fell apart.

...The most likely explanation for the decline is an obvious one: regression to the mean. As the experiment is repeated, that is, an early statistical fluke gets cancelled out. The extrasensory powers of Schooler’s subjects didn’t decline—they were simply an illusion that vanished over time. And yet Schooler has noticed that many of the data sets that end up declining seem statistically solid—that is, they contain enough data that any regression to the mean shouldn’t be dramatic. “These are the results that pass all the tests,” he says. “The odds of them being random are typically quite remote, like one in a million. This means that the decline effect should almost never happen. But it happens all the time! Hell, it’s happened to me multiple times.” And this is why Schooler believes that the decline effect deserves more attention: its ubiquity seems to violate the laws of statistics. “Whenever I start talking about this, scientists get very nervous,” he says. “But I still want to know what happened to my results. Like most scientists, I assumed that it would get easier to document my effect over time. I’d get better at doing the experiments, at zeroing in on the conditions that produce verbal overshadowing. So why did the opposite happen? I’m convinced that we can use the tools of science to figure this out. First, though, we have to admit that we’ve got a problem.”

Martin Peretz Profile

The New Republic was once Washington D.C.'s most-influential periodical. By 2004, mostly because of its dalliance with neoconservatism, TNR bordered on a joke. Martin Peretz was largely-responsible for this sad development and his continued association, in any capacity, with TNR prevents meaningful change.

New York Magazine profiles Peretz:
Peretz is a born belligerent. He was anti-Stalin by the age of 7; spent half a century defending a controversial brand of Zionism in the obscure, fratricidal fights of the ideological left; and retains a decisive eye for an enemy.

...The fight, for Peretz, has always been about Israel first, and it has become particularly wrenching recently. As the Palestinian Authority began its first halting steps toward modernization, Israeli politics and society have pivoted to the right. The country’s refusal to stop construction of new settlements; its growing hostility toward the international community and the Obama administration; its storming of an aid flotilla off the Gaza Strip in May—these postures and incidents have led some of the liberal intellectuals who have historically defended Israel to begin to edge away. This summer, Peter Beinart—once a protégé of Peretz’s—published an influential essay in The New York Review of Books arguing that liberalism and Zionism were becoming incompatible and noting that fewer and fewer secular, progressive American Jews feel a stake in Israel at all.

Throughout, Peretz has seemed to grow only more resolute, his constitutional truculence more evident. In September, writing on his New Republic blog The Spine, Peretz homed in on a familiar villain: Islamic terrorists who target other Muslims. “Frankly,” he wrote, “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” He got himself wound up: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” Nicholas Kristof began his Sunday New York Times column by denouncing the post; Peretz’s sentiments, he wrote, showed how “venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become.” The Atlantic’s James Fallows, arguably the most reasonable man in liberal American letters, reviewed the evidence and concluded that Peretz is “broadly considered … a bigot.” Peretz had published many similar slanders in the past, but suddenly there were protests bent on a reckoning: a loud demonstration at Harvard, public letters demanding his condemnation, profound indignation across the left. The day after Kristof’s column, Peretz apologized for suggesting First Amendment privileges be revoked for Muslims. It was “a stupid sentence,” he now says. The rest he defended; it was what he believed.

Peretz’s beef with the world is broad. “He is grumpy about modernity—there is an oldness about him,” says Fouad Ajami, the conservative Middle East scholar at the Hoover Institute at Stanford and a close friend of Peretz’s. ...Ajami says the Arab world, unexpectedly, suits Peretz. “Arabs understand Marty. He has that Middle Eastern quality: me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world.”

Feeling For Kenneth Feinberg

If paying for 9/11 was a walk in the park, paying for the BP oil spill is the Tale of Sisyphus:
When Feinberg took over in August, he promised an array of changes that would speed payments and expand eligibility for compensation.

It soon become clear that one of his main promises, his pledge to pay fully documented claims within two days for individuals and one week for businesses, was too optimistic.

...In September and early October, Feinberg made two changes that led to a rapid increase in payments: He created industry-specific formulas for judging groups of similar claims, and he announced that he would no longer apply a geographic test to assess claimants' eligibility.

However, some claimants continued to report delays, and we reported that many applicants were unable to get basic information from Feinberg's operation about what was happening with their claims.

...Feinberg recently pledged another slate of improvements. He said he would implement his previous transparency promises within weeks by sending staff to the Gulf to assist claimants and that he would disclose to the public his methodology for deciding claims.

...However, some claimants are still struggling to get checks and to get answers about their claims, and it is unclear how far Feinberg's latest promises of reform will go toward easing their hardship.

The Villain Of The Year

The Question Of The Week over at B3ta is:

Who do you have as 2010's scoundrel and why?
I'm not sure what to say about this, except - I feel a bit strange....

Bill Richardson Places Himself In Center Of Controversy

And the center of controversy is where Bill Richardson likes it! But it's no wonder 19th Century Governor Lew Wallace "balked under political pressure." Few people like, or liked, pardoning the killing of a sheriff performing his official duties!:
With his tenure as New Mexico governor running out this week, Bill Richardson says he is still mulling a pardon for Billy the Kid, with public sentiment leaning in favor of the pardon, according to an aide.

Billy the Kid, who also went by the name William H. Bonney, was convicted of murdering Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady in 1878. Lew Wallace, the governor of territorial New Mexico in the late 1870s, purportedly offered the Kid a pardon if he testified against other members of Billy Campbell's posse in a separate murder case. The Kid testified, but no pardon was granted.

...Richardson set up a website this month and asked New Mexicans if they believed the Kid should be pardoned for the Brady murder. In the process, he incited a debate in a place where frontier history still resonates with many.

Slightly more than half of the roughly 800 respondents said the pact should be honored and the pardon granted, said Eric Witt, deputy chief of staff for Richardson. Others, including descendants of Wallace and Garrett, argued that pardoning a criminal like the Kid would sully the reputations of the territorial governor and the lawmen who chased the Kid down.

...McGinn sought absolution for the Brady murder, but not to wipe the slate clean of the Kid's every crime. "It's only to enforce one promise the governor made," she said.

She said historians were finding that Wallace did indeed make a genuine offer, but that he balked under political pressure.

William N. Wallace, the great-grandson of Lew Wallace and a retired New York Times reporter, said the pardon would reduce the governor from an American hero to a "dishonorable liar."

"This is not a petition," Wallace wrote in a letter to Richardson. "It is a deceit."

A pardon for Billy the Kid, he added, would "desecrate, defile, debase and dishonor an American hero in favor of a convicted murderer."

Witt said the governor had yet to make up his mind. Richardson has a narrow window: His term ends Friday when the clock strikes midnight.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Skeptical About Global Warming Skeptics

I got an interesting comment on my post regarding "Republican Scientists" . I thought the matter merited more attention:
It would appear from your blog that you believe science and skepticism about global warming are incompatible. As a conservative who teaches the scientific method applied to social science I would remind you that science is inherently skeptical. The concept of "settled science" is a contradiction in terms. I encourage you to google Girma Orssengo's "Predictions of Global Mean Temperatures & IPCC Projections." I would love to hear your response to his paper. Is he not a scientist?
Science and skepticism go together well, but there are limits. Science is all about the search for universal laws, and applying those laws where appropriate. When current research collides with well-understood and well-known universal laws it's usually the current research that perishes first.

Regarding my particular blog post, I don't know what my conservative friend's current opinion regarding Global Warming happens to be (it's been years since I've spoken to him), but I know, whatever that opinion is, it will be a nuanced and well-educated opinion, largely-independent of any conservative political predilections he has, because he has the advantage of several decades of experience in the field. Experience is a plus!

As you requested, I took a look at Girma Orssengo's "Predictions of Global Mean Temperatures & IPCC Projections." I was horrified! Without justification, the author uses a cosine fit (which necessarily oscillates) to model global temperatures (which need not oscillate in the same way). The paper also suffers from poor editing. It is a terrible work to rely upon! (As a side note, I note that the author comes from India. Based on my experience in graduate school, there seems to be something immature about Indian scientific academic culture that makes them prone to taking rash stands - not everyone, of course, but some - enough to be worrisome.)

But skepticism works both ways too. I remember reading a paper ascribing recent temperature increases in Bullhead City, AZ, to Global Warming, plus the Urban Heat Island Effect. The paper did not mention the move in temperature-measurement location from a lawn to a barren field in 1982, which would necessarily change the measured temperatures, rendered the analysis moot. The only reason I knew of the shift was that it made headlines in AZ that year (where I happened to be living) because the abrupt jump in temperatures made Bullhead City the new, hottest city in AZ - from 3rd place, to 1st! The author may not have known about the shift in location, but they got a published work anyway! Foolish scientist! Science is not perfect! There is plenty of skepticism for everyone!

In my experience, there are many scientists in slightly-related fields to climatology who love kibitzing in the field for fun and ideological interests. I had a boss who specialized in Cloud Microphysics who signed a widely-publicized letter expressing skepticism regarding Global Warming. He felt his decades of experience in Meteorology and a number of related physical sciences gave him sufficient license to comment on the work of Climatologists. It did not. My boss was a Technological Triumphalist already inclined to disdain Global Warming concerns, and he was happy to lend his name to the cause. That's why I believe it’s important to turn skepticism upon Global Warming Skeptics. I have yet to meet a real Climatologist, or someone working in a directly-related field, who was also a Global Warming Skeptic. They may not exist. And for good reason! Too much contact with the temperature records may be fatal to Global Warming Skeptic faith!

I trust Climate Science most to people who work directly in the field, or in fields that are directly applicable. I do not trust Meteorologists (my training is Atmospheric Sciences, and I work as an air pollution dispersion modeler and I know too many opinionated, half-assed Meteorologists with axes to grind). I do not trust Consultants, or Think Tank People, or TV people, or UN people, for that matter. I trust most people who live and breathe weather records, and people who understand climate, and who have few ideological sacred cows to preserve. As a practical matter, I "believe science and skepticism about global warming are incompatible" because everywhere they look, climate people see signs of rising temperatures, which could well be linked to rising levels of CO2 (315 ppm when I was born; 385 ppm now) and other greenhouse gases. People with different explanations are free to offer their thoughts, but they shouldn't whine when they experience the lash of skepticism too.

I KNOW I Will Regret This, But....

The end is nigh:
E.: MMMMMMMAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRCCCCCCCC! C. got me DIRECTV for Christmas! Isn't he considerate? But I can't get it installed without a major credit card!

M.: (grumble) OK! The credit card number is....
Peace and quiet since 2004, since I made sure the FOX bastards got kicked out the house. Now they'll be sneaking back into the house again!

Rainy Queensland - Land Of Extremes

When I visited Chinchilla in 2006, and looked into the nearly-dry Condamine River, I was horrified what a wreck the epic drought had made of the place. Even by riches-to-ruin Australian standards, things were in a very, very bad way.

Times change:
THE state's southeast is escaping the worst of the wet weather, though it looks like the strong summer rains may see out the school holidays.

The gloomy forecast came as residents in Emerald, Bundaberg, Chinchilla and Rockhampton faced rapidly rising rivers, with 1000 people already forced from their homes.

...The strong La Nina system responsible for the deluge will be around for the rest of the summer, he said.

..."This is a very significant event, with many areas already experiencing record floods or near-record floods," Emergency Management Queensland boss Bruce Grady said.

...Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire said Rolleston was experiencing the worst flood in its history, while Emerald was bracing for a repeat of the devastating 2008 floods.

Chinchilla is not out of danger either, with flood levels set to worsen. The Western Downs Regional Council expects up to 400 people - 10 per cent of Chinchilla's population - will be affected in the next two days as the deluge moves down the Condamine River and Charleys Creek system.

Time To End This Rubbish About "Reforming" Social Security

The Baby Boomers have paid into Social Security their entire working lives. "Reforming" Social Security is all about making sure they don't get back what they deserve: the biggest bait-and-switch in the History of the World:
Rather than attacking Social Security, how about attacking the government that has borrowed against it in order to fund two wars and massive tax cuts for the wealthy? And how about this? Have the government actually ... you know ... pay back what it's "borrowed"? Through raising taxes, maybe, on those who've gotten decades of tax breaks through "borrowing" from it?

Bristol Palin, ASU, And All That

When I first heard Bristol Palin was buying a house in Arizona, my first thought was: "How can she afford that? Does DWTS pay that well? Is her mom helping her out? Who knows?" Then, when I heard it was a house that had been foreclosed upon, I thought: "Well, good, that's another house off the market."

Then I heard she was going to be attending ASU (where I was a post-doc back in 1988). I thought: "Well, she'll fit right in. Another upwardly-mobile Republican type in the Valley of the Sun. They are everywhere there. ASU is one of the major centers of the GOP collegiate universe."

But then I heard the house was in Maricopa, and thought: "That's too far away from both Tempe and the metropolitan area. She'll be on the road a lot. Or, maybe not. Maricopa only makes sense if you are going to hunker down with the suburban family for, oh, twenty years, or so. And I guess that's her plan!"

Earlier this year, I posted about a fascinating article about the distressed housing market in Maricopa and its effects on the community. Myself, I wouldn't want to live there. But where some people see problems (short-sighted people like myself, for one), others see opportunity. Like they say, one person's trash is another person's treasure! And Bristol Palin isn't waiting for someone else to seize the moment. She has cash, and she's taking the leap!

And she's going to study broadcasting! Just like her mom!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunset Catches Lady Gaga And Yoko Ono By Surprise

Always finding an edge:
She performed with me on stage wearing a see-through lace catsuit and people thought it was an insult because you could see her bottom. I’m the lady who did an exhibition of bottoms. How could hers offend me? She has a very lovely bottom. I think she’s wonderful. John would have loved her, because she’s an artist, she’s fearless and she pushes every limit, which we both always adored. She has played on John’s white piano and I think that’s wonderful. Life moves on and you embrace it.

Would You Buy a Used RV From This Guy?

The mystery is: why?:
THOUSAND OAKS (KTLA) --A local RV dealer faces federal charges and up to 20 years in prison for allegedly dropping the anchor while on a cruise from Mexico to Florida.

44-year-old Rick Ehlert of Thousand Oaks was a passenger on Holland America's MS Ryndam early Saturday.

He was arrested after admitting he entered a restricted area and released the ship's rear anchor, an act that could have damaged or even sunk the ship, according to an FBI affidavit.

Surveillance video showed Ehlert wearing work gloves and deploying the anchor, according to the affidavit.

Ehlert can be seen wearing the same clothes when photographed earlier that night with his girlfriend.

Customs agents found the clothes in his luggage, authorities said.

...Ehlert is the owner of Conejo Wholesale Auto & RV at 299 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. He did not return messages left Tuesday at the business.

In his defense Ehlert told agents he was drunk at the time, and explained that the cruise ship's anchor system was similar to the system on his own 50-foot boat.

La Niña, And Where The Rain's Been This Month

I always like these sorts of maps. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology produces real nice maps (under Climate Information), and it looks like we are finally catching up with good presentational technology too.

This map shows the percent of normal precipitation for the last month in the United States. Living in California, I am under the impression the entire world is drowning, but that is not true. You can clearly see the places where the rainfall plume from the Pacific has visited the last month, and the places it has shunned. Indeed, you can draw lines from Yuma, AZ to Albuquerque, NM; then north to Bozeman, MT, along the Rocky Mountains, then across to Chicago, IL, and that pretty much defines those areas. Places like the Southern Great Plains, Texas, and the lower Rio Grande Valley look they are in rain exile at the moment. That's La Niña for you!

And speaking about La Niña, how is she doing?

Wow, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is above 20! That is a full-blown, full-on, no-holds-barred La Niña state, for sure, no doubt about it!

And where are the waters cooler than normal? Along the equator, of course!

Interestingly, in the northern Pacific, you can draw a line separating the warmer-than-usual waters (to the north) from the cooler-than-usual waters (to the south), from New Guinea to San Diego, and that line seems to parallel the aforementioned line from Yuma, AZ to Albuquerque, NM, at least until the rain shadow in the lee of the Rocky Mountains is encountered.

It's as if the air flowing into the Southwest, from the southwest, retains a memory of where it's been over the Pacific waters, probably carried along with the air in the form of humidity, and it affects the amount of precipitation that can be wrung from the air as it passes over the Southwestern mountains. In meteorological terms, 'fetch' is important (the distance the air passes over an area), and the fetch here spans the entire width of the Pacific Ocean! Actually, given all the variables in play, I'm surprised the effect seems to be so distinct and so apparent, particularly since the equatorial air is still warmer and more humid than the mid-latitude air. But that's the way it looks! I'm no climatologist, just your average meteorologist, but it sure looks like a distinct signal!

At nine-months old, this La Niña is getting pretty long-in-the-tooth by now. When will her brother, El Niño, take over? It may be a while yet - she is showing little sign of weakness just yet!

A Brief Respite - Then More Rain!

Tuesday; Wednesday - rain!

Sac Bee says:
After a 7-day stretch in which nearly four inches of rain fell, the forecast is for a day of sunshine before another storm arrives.

The prediction for today of mostly sunny weather, is a respite from the rainfall that has soaked lawns and helped strip even the most stubborn leaves from Sacramento trees. For the week, 3.78 inches of rain fell in Sacramento.

A total of 9.56 inches of rain has fallen this season in Sacramento, which is 152 percent of normal. Look for more to come on Tuesday.

...The Sacramento forecast:

...Tonight: A 10 percent chance of rain after 4 a.m. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 46. Light north northwest wind.

Tuesday: Rain likely, mainly after 10 a.m. Cloudy, with a high near 55. Calm wind becoming south southeast around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent.

Tuesday night: Rain. Low around 46. South southeast wind between 9 and 18 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%.

Wednesday: Showers likely, mainly before 10 a.m. Partly sunny, with a high near 53. South southeast wind 10 to 14 mph becoming northwest. Winds could gust as high as 21 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent.

Wednesday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 31.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Solitary, Crabby Christmas

Well, not quite a solitary Christmas: I did go to the Isaacson's for Christmas Eve, and that was fun. But it was mostly a solitary Christmas (I think one of the side effects of my new weight-loss diet is a sort of depressing Germanic sobriety, coupled with Greta-Garbo syndrome: "I vant to be left alone!") No one was around on Christmas. Even E. was off with her boyfriend, most of the time. Just alone. Just me and some strange, hooded birds (Oregon Juncos, perhaps? I was unaware there was a controversy regarding the classification of these birds, but whatever they are, they seem to like the area around my birch tree.)

On Christmas (and part of today too), I tried to organize the basement. Like organizing DMTC's Scene Shop, this is a perennial, periodic job. Like DMTC's Scene Shop after every show opens, my basement will just get disorganized next year and have to be reorganized again. But at least it's in fairly-good shape, for now!

On Christmas Eve, I used a chain saw to chop three branches out of the big oak tree that looms above my house. (I worry about this oak tree because so much of it hangs directly above my house, and it gets bigger and heavier and potentially more of a threat every year.) This was a scary job, since the pinnacle of the pitched roof of the house is about three floors above the ground. Dangling an electrical cord from the chain saw and trying to keep my balance on the pitched roof as I waved the chain saw about, I felt vulnerable. Nevertheless, making so much noise that extended for blocks in every direction, I felt positively bitchin'! I could have chopped more branches down if I was daring, but I was timid, and three branches will do for this year.

Sally used to have a little crab that would climb to the highest place it could reach in its aquarium (on top of the bubbling air filter) and wave its big claw around at the passing fish. Standing on top of my rooftop, and waving my chain saw around at the passing birds, I felt very much like that crab.

E. worried about me prancing on top of the roof. At one point, she came out of the house, shook her head, and said: "You live a life of mystery and danger!"

Exactly right!

Despite the late date, there are still leaves on the pecan tree next door. Unlike previous years, this year, I won't blame Global Warming: it was a cold year in general, among the coolest recorded in California history! I wonder if the cool weather just made everything occur later this year, including the leaf fall?

I still need to chop branches out of the oak tree looming over the alley behind my house. Those branches pose a mild threat to the electrical lines that serve the lights in the parking lot. Deadline for finishing that job: Jan. 7th.

"The Pirates Of Penzance" - Opera Australia

When I visited Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, and vicinity, in late November and early December 2006, I saw a wonderful performance of Opera Australia's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates Of Penzance" at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). (I was particularly interested in seeing this show, since I already knew DMTC would be doing "Pirates of Penzance" in the fall of 2007, and I had never seen the show).

Very interestingly, when Opera Australia had performed "The Pirates Of Penzance" at the Sydney Opera House the month before, they had filmed the performance for the purposes of producing a DVD, which is now (and has been for some time) available on I did not know this until now! Thus, I no longer have to do inadequate semaphore to convey to you what a wonderful production this was: you can see for yourself!

Anthony Warlow modeled his look of 'The Pirate King' on Johnny Depp's 'Jack Sparrow' from the very-popular movie series "The Pirates Of The Caribbean". This was a good choice! My only regret is that 'With Cat-Like Tread....' doesn't appear to be on YouTube yet (although versions by other groups are). I thought Opera Australia did a marvelous job with it! Oh well! Guess I'll have to buy the DVD!

It's truly astonishing how popular "The Pirates Of Penzance" (debuted on New Year's Eve, 1880) remains in the English-speaking world. Gilbert and Sullivan go into the Pantheon of theatre along with Shakespeare for consistently-popular and enduring works!

Anthony Warlow - "... I Am A Pirate King!"

John Bolton-Wood - (a portion of) "I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General"

Anthony Warlow (Pirate King), David Hobson (Frederic), and Suzanne Johnston (Ruth) - "My Eyes Are Fully Open", aka "Matter Patter"

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Body Image, And Christmas Shopping 2010

Left: I KNEW there was a trick to all this!

I spent some time at the Arden Fair Macy's on Dec. 23rd. Didn't buy anything, but it was my patriotic duty to be there, encouraging everyone else there to be spendthrifts. Instead, I spent my time ambling through the aisles, E-Mailing my sister about her fondness for "New Moon", and stepping on the feet of elderly Filipina women shoppers as I did so.

On Dec. 21st, I was at the Truxel Wal-Mart. Fairly quiet there, except for an exchange between a very slender three-year-old girl, and her five-year-old brother:

Three-Year-Old Girl: I'm fat!
Her Baffled Brother: No, you're not!
Three-Year-Old Girl: Yes, I am!
Her Baffled Brother: No, you're not!
Three-Year-Old Girl (running down the aisle of Wal-Mart): I'm F-A-A-A-A-A-A-T!
Not sure what it all means, except maybe that consciousness about body image starts pretty early in our consumer society!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Ketones Reared Their Ugly Head, Friends And Family Turned Tail And Fled

Thinking, once again, about ketones:
They are called ketones, and entering into a fat-burning state of ketosis is the hallmark of the Atkins diet.

..."Carbohydrates aren't readily available, so you start to use other fats and proteins as your source of energy, and as a result you are going to get a breath problem," explains Kenneth Burrell, DDS, the senior director of the council on scientific affairs of the American Dental Association.

NOW He Tells Us....

Pat Robertson goes all soft and squishy about pot. About time:
Opening a segment on faith-based prison rehabilitation on his show The 700 Club this week, Robertson noted that many conservatives look at drug addicts and "think 'lock 'em up, throw away the key,' after which he played a segment highlighting how religious influence could help rehabilitate criminals that regularly end up behind bars. "We're probably spending more on prisons than on education," the segment notes, and argues that, given the "50% failure rate" of the prison system (a statistic based on one claiming that 50% of all prisoners end up committing a second crime), it's time for a change in the way prisoners are handled, this time with less "secular" appeal and with more of a biblical approach.

At the end of the segment, Robertson rails against conservative politicians who he says run on a "tough on crime" philosophy that wins votes but is ultimately "not the answer." Beyond putting criminals behind bars, he argues, "we've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes":

Julian Assange, Planetary Hacker

Bruce Sterling has written the best essay of the year. Just a few excerpts:
Way back in 1992, a brainy American hacker called Timothy C. May made up a sci-fi tinged idea that he called “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto.” This exciting screed — I read it at the time, and boy was it ever cool — was all about anonymity, and encryption, and the Internet, and all about how wacky data-obsessed subversives could get up to all kinds of globalized mischief without any fear of repercussion from the blinkered authorities. If you were of a certain technoculture bent in the early 1990s, you had to love a thing like that.

...Later, May described an institution called “BlackNet” which might conceivably carry out these aims.

...Now, Tim May and his imaginary BlackNet were the sci-fi extrapolation version of the NSA. A sort of inside-out, hippiefied NSA. ... Creating a BlackNet is like having a pet, desktop NSA. Except, that instead of being a vast, federally-supported nest of supercomputers under a hill in Maryland, it’s a creaky, homemade, zero-budget social-network site for disaffected geeks.

...Now we must contemplate Bradley Manning, because he was the first to immolate himself. ... It did not occur to his superiors that a bored soldier in a poorly secured computer system would download hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables. Because, well, why? They’re very boring. Soldiers never read them. The malefactor has no use for them. They’re not particularly secret.

...Instead, he’s very like Jerome Kerviel, that obscure French stock trader who stole 5 billion euros without making one dime for himself. Jerome Kerviel, just like Bradley Manning, was a bored, resentful, lower-echelon guy in a dead end, who discovered some awesome capacities in his system that his bosses never knew it had.

...The reason this upsets me is that I know so many people just like Bradley Manning. Because I used to meet and write about hackers, “crackers,” “darkside hackers,” “computer underground” types.

...Instead, Bradley had to leak all over the third rail. ... He’s got about as much to do with the political aspects of his war as Monica Lewinsky did with the lasting sexual mania that afflicts the American Republic.

That is so dispiriting and ugly. As a novelist, I never think of Monica Lewinsky, that once-everyday young woman, without a sense of dread at the freakish, occult fate that overtook her. ... Monica, too, transgressed in apparent safety and then she had the utter foolishness to brag to a lethal enemy, a trusted confidante who ran a tape machine and who brought her a mediated circus of hells. [T]hink of the quotidian daily horror of being Monica Lewinsky, and that should take a bite from the soul.

...Then there is Julian Assange, who is a pure-dye underground computer hacker. Julian doesn’t break into systems at the moment, but he’s not an “ex-hacker,” he’s the silver-plated real deal, the true avant-garde. Julian is a child of the underground hacker milieu, the digital-native as twenty-first century cypherpunk. As far as I can figure, Julian has never found any other line of work that bore any interest for him.

...I can recognize him as pure triple-A outsider geek. Man, I know a thousand modern weirdos like that, and every single one of them seems to be on my Twitter stream screaming support for Assange because they can recognize him as a brother and a class ally. ... He didn’t just insult the captain of the global football team; he put spycams in the locker room. He showed the striped-pants set without their pants. This a massively embarrassing act of technical voyeurism. It’s like Monica and her stains and kneepads, only even more so.

...Unfortunately for the US State Department, they clearly shouldn’t have been messing with computers, either. In setting up their SIPRnet, they were trying to grab the advantages of rapid, silo-free, networked communication while preserving the hierarchical proprieties of official confidentiality. That’s the real issue, that’s the big modern problem; national governments and global computer networks don’t mix any more.

...Now the US State Department has walked down the thorny road to hell that was first paved by the music industry. Rock and roll, baby. ... Diplomats have become weak in the way that musicians are weak. ... The one grand certainty about the consumers of Cablegate is that diplomats are gonna be reading those stolen cables ... because they were supposed to read them anyway, even though they didn’t. Now, they’ve got to read them, with great care, because they might get blindsided otherwise by some wisecrack that they typed up years ago.

...This stark fact makes them all into hackers. Yes, just like Julian. They’re all indebted to Julian for this grim thing that he did, and as they sit there hunched over their keyboards, drooling over their stolen goodies, they’re all, without exception, implicated in his doings. Assange is never gonna become a diplomat, but he’s arranged it so that diplomats henceforth are gonna be a whole lot more like Assange. They’ll behave just like him.

...Diplomats are people who speak from nation to nation. They personify nations, and nations are brutal, savage, feral entities. Diplomats used to have something in the way of an international community, until the Americans decided to unilaterally abandon that in pursuit of Bradley Manning’s oil war. Now nations are so badly off that they can’t even get it together to coherently tackle heroin, hydrogen bombs, global warming and financial collapse. Not to mention the Internet.

...But the American diplomatic corps, and all it thinks it represents, is just collateral damage between Assange and his goal. He aspires to his transparent crypto-utopia in the way George Bush aspired to imaginary weapons of mass destruction. And the American diplomatic corps are so many Iraqis in that crusade. They’re the civilian casualties.

...For diplomats, a massive computer leak is not the kind of sunlight that chases away corrupt misbehavior; it’s more like some dreadful shift in the planetary atmosphere that causes ultraviolet light to peel their skin away. ... It’s the damage to the institutions that is spooky and disheartening; after the Lewinsky eruption, every American politician lives in permanent terror of a sex-outing. That’s “transparency,” too; it’s the kind of ghastly sex-transparency that Julian himself is stuck crotch-deep in. The politics of personal destruction hasn’t made the Americans into a frank and erotically cheerful people. On the contrary, the US today is like some creepy house of incest divided against itself in a civil cold war. “Transparency” can have nasty aspects; obvious, yet denied; spoken, but spoken in whispers. Very Edgar Allen Poe.

House Washes Away In Littlefield, Arizona

Extreme northwest Arizona, along I-15 between Las Vegas, NV and St. George, UT.

10,000th Post

According to Blogger, my 'Foolish Optimist' post was my 10,000th post since I started this blog on October 13, 2002 (making it older than Facebook, and it hasn't generated a nickel yet, but it's still an abiding interest!)

Social Network parody (Facebook) - uShip Shipping Network

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Next Storm

The storm coming in on Christmas Day will have the sense to wait until after sunset to arrive.

Good To Get It All Out The System Before The New Year

Foolish Optimist

President Barack Obama:
"We are not doomed to endless gridlock"
With the new Congress, yes we are! Two solid years of it, leading up to 2012! But with the cudgel of the Dream Act and the growing importance of Hispanic voters in some locations there might be some limited progress over the next two years. Obama again:

"Maybe my biggest disappointment" was failure of the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. ...

"I'm persistent," Obama said. At a minimum, "we should be able to get the Dream Act done."

Stuck With A Bunch Of Loser Positions, GOP Caves At Last Possible Instant

Don't know where they thought they were going with all of this, but they finally realized they were boxed in:
Today in the Senate, they passed (by unanimous consent) the defense authorization bill that Republicans held up over objections to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell just two short weeks ago; they passed by a voice vote the 9/11 First Responders Health bill that had been the subject of so much drama and debate; and they passed by a 71-26 vote the START nuclear treaty with Russia despite Republican objections to that as well.

And, for good measure, they are currently voting to confirm Mary Helen Murguia to be a judge in the Ninth Circuit.

Update: At 3:40, they confirmed Murguia.
And this video is fun too. Barney Frank responds to the weighty question about gay and straight soldiers showering together in the military:

Plus, Barney Frank speaks to the "radical homosexual agenda":
“Four years ago, a Republican running for Congress in Indiana said don’t vote for his Democratic opponent because if he won, Nancy Pelosi would become speaker and she would let me enact the radical homosexual agenda,” Rep. Frank told the audience on Tuesday.

“So, let me own up to that agenda. It’s to be protected against violent crimes driven by bigotry. It’s to be able to get married. It’s to be able to get a job and it’s to be able to fight for our country. Hey, for those, for those who are worried about the radical homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice – two down, two to go.”

Senator Harry Reid Returns Lt. Dan Choi's Ring Upon Repeal Of DADT

DADT was a misbegotten policy that required people to lie as a part of their jobs, and thus was at odds with sound military discipline.

Jerry Brown, Neighbor

Wei noticed the KCRA Channel 3 TV truck, and checked it out. Apparently, Jerry Brown will take up residence just two blocks from where we both work. It is conceivable we might see him out-and-about town:
Gov.-elect Jerry Brown and his wife have chosen an upscale, midtown loft for their Sacramento residence.

The one-bedroom unit is at 16th and J streets, near the Capitol and across from Memorial Auditorium, a source said.

Brown was spotted last week visiting the 1530 J St. building, a renovated, one-time automobile dealership building. On the ground floor are two restaurants, P.F. Chang's China Bistro and Mikuni Japanese Restaurant.

Twenty-Six Republican Nihilist Senators

From Wikipedia:
An important sub-branch of political nihilism advocates a dissolution of the current power systems, as in the previously described political nihilism, but then asserts the need for new systems to be remade from scratch.

Something about Russian dissidents in 1842 espousing nihilistic viewpoints. Here is a relevant quote Russian Nihilist Dmitri Pisarev:
"Here is the ultimatum of our camp. What can be smashed must be smashed; whatever will stand the blow is sound, what flies into smithereens is rubbish; at any rate, hit out right and left, no harm will or can come of it."
and another summary one "the negation of what exists ... for the benefit of the future which does not exist" - Russian anarchist Bakunin, 1842.

Having TWENTY SIX U.S. Senators who place partisan Republican loyalty above their loyalty to the United States of America is a real problem for the country - far more problematic than a few terrorists running around with plastic explosives in their underwear. John Kerry speaks:
I would say to my friend from Kentucky: Just because you say it, doesn’t make it true. Our friends on the other side of the aisle have a habit of repeating things that have been completely refuted by every fact there is. ... The facts are that this treaty is not being rushed.

This treaty has been delayed at the request of Republicans. It was delayed 13 times... to have more time to deal with the modernization issue, which the administration has completely, totally, thoroughly dealt with in good faith. I’d like to know where the good faith comes from on the other side. They [the administration] put extra money in, they sat and negotiated, they sent people to Arizona to brief Senator Kyl personally. For weeks we delayed the process of moving forward on this treaty in order accommodate our friends on the other side of the aisle. And now fully accommodated, with their requests entirely met, they come back and say ‘oh its being rushed.’ Well Mr. President today marks our sixth day of debate on the New START treaty. That’s a fact. ... I mean is there no shame.

Fun On Twitter

My recent post on "The Runaways" seems to be popular on Twitter today. Kristen Stewart seems to have a big following of fans spanning the entire Earth that I knew nothing about heretofore.

This is the first time I've had any real contact with Twitter. I've never had much interest in Twitter: the tight constraint on characters seemed a big turnoff to a stream-of-consciousness guy like myself. But tight constraints are a spur to artistic innovation. I suppose Twitter is the Web's equivalent to haiku!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"No Strings Attached" Movie Trailer

Movie with Sacramento's Greta Gerwig about to hit the theaters. I don't think I approve of the lame concept (which just probably means it will be a hit).

The Secret Of Why I Recently Went To Mexico Is Out!

Like Julian Assange has been demonstrating, it's hard to keep a secret forever! The cruise-ship trip was just a cover!

But, wait a minute, I thought I was one of the more "Viva Aztlan!" type of folks. This write-up suggests otherwise. I dunno, I guess I'll just have to read the book:
Dallas Police Detective Mark Valdez isn't just any cop - he's a psychic who knows that the cattle mutilations and torture murders he's been investigating are somehow tied together. He also knows that his meager psychic abilities aren't enough to identify the killers, much less stop them.

Luckily, Mark has an ace up his sleeve: an attractive young romance novelist who happens to be a practicing witch. And not just any witch, either - Diana Tregarde is a Guardian, charged with protecting the Earth and all its creatures.

Using modern science and ancient magics, Diana and Mark discover that they are tailing no ordinary serial killer but the awakened avatar of an Aztec god. Tezcatlipoca and his four beautiful hand-maidens are preparing for a great sacrifice that will transform North America into a new Aztec realm.

Diana isn't sure her powers are strong enough to take on those of a risen Aztec god, but she has no choice. As a Guardian, she is sworn to protect mankind, even at the cost of her own life. Luckily, she does not stand alone. Mark Valdez is more than just a cop. And Tezcatlipoca is not the only Aztec god walking in the world.

The Legacy Of Racism, And Haley Barbour's Comments

Yglesias summarizes what Haley Barbour was trying to say:
I think both what Barbour said and the context were pretty clear. In Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s most white people were white supremacists. And within the large and powerful white supremacist community, there was a split between more moderate and more radical factions. The moderates pursued a strategy of economic coercion and the radicals pursued a strategy of violence. There was also a small minority of white proponents of racial equality. In Barbour’s home town of Yazoo City, Mississippi the moderate faction of white supremacists had the upper hand. And Barbour thinks the strength of moderate white supremacists helped create a beneficial political atmosphere in his hometown.
Barbour may well have been correct that the Citizens Councils helped keep the peace in Yazoo City, but it's important to remember what kind of (unjust) peace that was, and who benefitted most from that kind of peace (namely, white folks like Barbour).

The legacy of racism lives on, coming alive in any number of ways, even when least expected. Like William Faulkner said:
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
The White Supremacists of the South are older now, and their numbers have dwindled with time, but in many cases they are still alive, or they have left their educational legacies through their children. It takes a long, long time for that history to pass away....

I remember about 25 years ago, when I lived in Tucson, being invited to the cabin of a fellow I knew, Dr. T., and discovering that he possessed an entire library of segregationist literature. Wow! I had no idea how vast a field white supremacist literature covered, or how many titles there were! So many cover illustrations dwelled on Big Lips! Kinky Hair! Outside Agitators! Egads!

I knew Dr. T. had been born in Alabama, but apart from a few clues, I didn't realize how he still felt about race, as well as some of modern life's other, more-questionable innovations. (Some things tickled his fancy, like his discovery one day that a local punk-rock band's acronym - UPS - stood for Useless Pieces of Shit. He laughed about that for months....)

I remember one hot summer day when I was trying to fix my VW Bug, and I had stuck my head into the engine compartment to check the carburetor. I thought there might be a blockage there, so I stuck my lips into the carburetor's intake, to make a better seal, and I was blowing hard into it. Dr. T. came up from behind me to ask a question. I spun around with a serious expression on my face. The dirty carburetor intake had left a perfect dark ring all around my dour, white-person lips, creating something of a Reverse, or Negative Blackface Effect. No happy tune from this unsuitable minstrel! Dr. T. gasped with surprise and fell into heap, he was laughing so hard.

Racism lives on, sometimes in the strangest of ways!

Don't We All

Julian Assange:
"I just really like women."


The Land of Enchantment gets crowded:
[D]ata released Tuesday by the Census Bureau, ... lists New Mexico's population at 2,059,179 residents. Census officials say that figure reflects a 13.2 percent increase over the population in 2000, which was 1,819,046.

The increase in New Mexico followed a national trend that showed 13.8 percent growth in Western states.

Architects Survey The Damage

The Cleveland Clinic (under construction in this October, 2009 photo), which will focus on the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's Disease.

Vast empires that crash always leave fanciful debris in their wake. Most of the debris is terrible to look at, but they are right regarding the aesthetic challenge and beauty of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: it's a wonderful creation!:

Robert Fielden, who moved to Las Vegas to be an architect in 1964, isn’t bitter about what has happened to his city. For the most part, when he passes the half-finished eyesores and fully finished absurdities that dot the landscape, he points and gives a hearty laugh that comes from his West Texas belly.

...A Hong Kong developer has blasted the once scenic Henderson mountains to create luxury home sites, although there’s no building going on, and the developer says there are no immediate plans to begin selling lots.

Fielden likens it to an empty mining camp.

“It’s just a shame. Ruined those beautiful mountains,” he says. “Puts tears in my eyes.”

...He’s on a rant about a pet peeve. “Where does the sun track?” He gestures with his hand. “Look at all that glass. Exposed.” Only the north side of the structure will be spared the brutal sun. “East side. West side. South side. Glass!” Laughter.

...We drive west and then north on I-215 and stand looking at the half-finished Shops at Summerlin Centre, which halted construction in 2008, suspending 1 million square feet of retail, office and condominiums in an “urban village” atmosphere. Now, it’s like a massive, wildly overpriced avant-garde sculpture of steel and concrete.

...He laments the constant pattern, enabled by failed growth policies and myopic public officials, wherein a shiny new mall goes in, which cannibalizes a different mall, simply moving value from one place to another. In the end, we wound up with retail vacancy rates, for instance, of more than 10 percent.

...We drive east on 215 to ManhattanWest on Russell Road, another half-finished mixed-use development. Dense, high-rise urbanism plopped down in the suburbs, its name a great irony. Some windows are covered with plywood, like an abandoned property in a city that suffered a natural disaster.

It’s like a Hollywood set. But of what? It imagines that it’s supposed to look this way because somewhere, there’s something that’s cool and authentic and looks like this, perhaps? But there is no such place. This cardboard, Potemkin-village effect is only exacerbated by the surroundings.

...Then there’s the faux porches, which are meant to replicate a common feature of homes in the South or East, a place where families and neighbors swap gossip and tell tales. But these porches aren’t big enough for a single chair. “It’s decoration. They’re selling you something you’re not receiving,” Fielden says. In short, aside from a small grassy common area, the design elements encourage people to stay inside.

...We’re standing outside a complex filled with three-story single-family homes that Fielden approximates are a mere 6 feet 8 inches apart. Magic Johnson couldn’t lie down between them. And yet, just over the obligatory concrete wall sits a half-finished road and fields of rocky desert debris. The people live on top of one another, but still, they have to go to their garages and hop in their cars to do anything.

Roberts says this was typical. “We’re going to build all these and make these promises, sell houses and turn a profit, and eventually someone will deliver services.” Living in Southern Highlands, however, he waited years for a grocery store.

...Even for fans of Southern California, there was a downside. As Fielden and other Las Vegas architects point out, in Orange County, the houses face west, for gentle sunsets over the Pacific. As for faux Tuscany, it makes some sense in California, which is similar in many respects to the Mediterranean.

But here? The Western sun is the enemy. And the faux Tuscany here can allow heat to gather and leach into homes. But that has rarely been a consideration to developers.

...He tells an anecdote to properly sum up the building boom and what it wrought: He and about 50 others in the building community took a bus to Phoenix to see projects there. Suddenly someone at the back of the bus, with much commotion, yelled out, “We just passed my street! That’s my house!” Even the street name was the same in Phoenix as in Las Vegas.

...One outsider, one star, who has given us a significant building, Strain thinks, is Frank Gehry, calling his Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health building an important milestone for its civic and aesthetic provocation.

[Regarding UNLV:] Long stretches on campus have nowhere to sit. And although it may seem like nothing, Strain’s question is quite trenchant for a college campus: “Where do you throw a Frisbee?”

...But the library opens on to another quad that some paving contractor made a fortune on because it’s all concrete. “This, this is hideous. It’s like a runway. I’m surprised planes haven’t mistaken it for McCarran.”

Big Solar Energy Project Approved NW Of Tonopah

Lots of available land and sun out there!:
The 110-megawatt Crescent Dune Solar Energy Project, based in Nye County, is the design of California-based developer SolarReserve, and is expected to produce enough energy to power up to 75,000 homes during peak demand seasons.

It's unique among the state’s existing solar plants because of a heat storage technology that allows the turbines to keep working even after the sun has set. Slated to be completed in 2013, the project will eventually cover about 3,000 acres near Tonopah. NV Energy is expected to purchase whatever power is generated for distribution.

“Clean energy projects like Crescent Dunes not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but put Nevadans back to work,” Reid said. “I will continue leveraging my position as Majority Leader to make certain that Nevada always leads the nation in the creation of clean energy jobs.”

Las Vegas History - Where Are The Original Springs?

Interesting history of a pretty-dry place.


(Map here.)

Our population shifts south and west!

Some liberal commentators fret about the resulting loss of liberal power, but so be it, if that's where the people are. I certainly don't worry about it. And in any event, the loss of liberal power may be only temporary, since much of the population shift is between cities, and next to the regional North-South split, the urban-rural, liberal-conservative divide remains decisively important in American politics, as it has for at least the last 140 years, and especially so in the 1920's and 2000's.

(Interestingly, this MSNBC page doesn't mention Nevada's pick-up.) It's also important to emphasize that Nevada's gain of a Congressional seat in this census may prove only temporary if an improvement in Nevada's unemployment rate isn't forthcoming in a timely manner.:
WASHINGTON — After knocking on 50 million doors and handling tens of millions of surveys, the Census Bureau on Tuesday announced that the official population of the United States is now 308,745,538.

The 2010 census also shows America's once-torrid population growth dropping to its lowest level in seven decades.

The new number, based on the surveys taken on April 1, 2010, is a 9.7 percent increase over the last census, 281.4 million residents in 2000.

But that's slower than the 13.2 percent increase from 1990 to 2000. And it's the slowest rate of increase since the 1940 census. That is the decade in which the Great Depression slashed the population growth rate by more than half, to 7.3 percent.

The Census figures will be used to reapportion the 435 House seats among the 50 states. The numbers trigger a high-stakes process wherein the dominant party in each state redraws the election map, shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.

In Congress, the steady migration to the South and West should be a boon for Republicans, with GOP-leaning states led by Texas picking up House seats.

The U.S. is still growing quickly relative to other developed nations. The population in France and England each increased roughly 5 percent over the past decade, while in Japan the number is largely unchanged and in Germany the population is declining. China grew at about 6 percent; Canada's growth rate is roughly 10 percent.

...The most populous state was California (37,253,956); the least populous, Wyoming (563,626).

The state that gained the most numerically since 2010 was Texas (up 4,293,741 to 25,145,561); the state that gained the most as a percentage was Nevada (up 35 percent to 2,700,551).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Digby, teh Funny!

She makes me laugh:
It just doesn't get any more obvious than this. From today's Hardball:
Matthews: Here it is. A new CNN poll shows President Obama approval rating among moderates rose five points since last month and it dropped eight points [among liberals.] Fair enough. It looks like the moderates were watching and the liberals were watching. He moved to the center.
...That amazing analysis was based on the fact that Obama lost 8% of liberals and only gained 5% of moderates. How that adds up to a big win I don't know. I guess liberals are only worth three fifths of a moderate in American politics.

...The Tea Party has shown that successful primaries against stalwart conservatives gives them power. Do the Villagers think the left didn't notice that? Do they think that the liberals in congress didn't notice it either?

Miscellany Of Mexican Pictures

When I went on the Mexican cruise at the end of November, I sometimes drove my primary digital Samsung camera to power exhaustion, so I had to rely on backup digital cameras (the old Olympus camera with the damaged CCD and my i-Phone's camera) in order to take photos. I'm just uploading those pictures now, and I hope to update previous posts incorporating these photos....

'El Tio Sam' - A store in Puerto Vallarta capitalizing on the imagery of Uncle Sam. Particularly since the modern symbol came into use in World War I, Uncle Sam has become a patriotic symbol in the United States, but in Mexico it has no such status and thus has apparently become a commercial symbol.

These rooftop water units on an apartment building in Ixtapa -manufactured by Rotoplas - maintain steady water pressure for household use. This part of Mexico doesn't necessarily require rooftop rainwater tanks for drinking water like they have in Queensland, Australia - it rains enough here - but water pressure is apparently a problem. And water purification too, of course.

A big Mexican prison near Ixtapa. This is apparently the CEINJURE (Centro Integral de Justicia Costa Norte) jail (800 male, 100 female capacity).

Ixtapa scene (population of Ixtapa about 24,000).

Mazatlan's 'Zona Dorada' (Golden Zone) as seen across the older downtown district from the distance of the docked cruise ship.

Not sure what this structure in Mazatlan is - a church? - but it looks nice!

Royal Caribbean's "Mariner of the Seas" as seen looking aft from the Sapphire Princess at Mazatlan.

Mazatlan's Cerro del Creston at sunset, with a Baja Ferries ship firing its engines up.

This gold-painted actor posed mannequin-style at the Cabo San Lucas marina, for tips (sadly, I forgot to tip, but he seemed to be doing well, nonetheless).

Mazatlan's Cerro del Creston.

A map of the trip.

Map in closer detail - north

Map in closer detail - middle

Map in closer detail - south

Left: Detail of map in the Punta Eugenia area.

In a display case on the Sapphire Princess a Wikipedia article was reproduced describing the distance to the horizon. This is a useful approximation: given a distance h (in feet) above the surface of the Earth of the human eye, the distance to the horizon (in miles) is about: d (miles) = SQRT(1.5 * h (ft)). The Sapphire Princess height is about 54 meters (nearly 18 floors tall). So that means pictures from the Sport Deck (floor 15?) will be about 149 feet above the surface, so the horizon will be about 14.9 miles away!

Here is a Web Page describing basic facts about the Sapphire Princess. The Princess Theater can seat 705 people!

Wikipedia describes the source of the propulsion power:
The diesel-electric plant consists of 4 diesel generators and a gas turbine generator. The diesel generators are Wartsilla 46 series common rail engines, two of the straight 9 cylinder configuration, and two of the straight 8 cylinder configuration. The 8 and 9 cylinder engines can produce approximately 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 MW of power respectively. These engines are fueled with Heavy Fuel oil (HFO or bunker c) and Marine Gas Oil (MGO) depending on the local regulations regarding emissions, as MGO produces much lower emissions but is much more expensive. The gas turbine generator is a GE 2500, producing a peak of 25 MW of power and being fueled my MGO. This generator is much more expensive to run than the Wartsilla generators, and is used mostly in areas, such as Alaska, where the emissions regulations are strict. It is also used when top speed is required to make it to a port in a short time period.

Regarding the power plant in Mazatlan with the amazingly-dirty exhaust, here is some encouraging news:
In the late summer of 2009 the oil-fired power plant near Mazatlan operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) awarded a contract to Altrom Power to install air quality control systems. Alstrom is a Swiss based company that specializes in power development and clean air technology around the world. The work began with design and engineering to install electrostatic precipitator technology to capture and remove the larger particulate emissions (much of the “black stuff”) that is so readily visible from Estrella del Mar. The equipment installation is planned to be finished in 2011. The precipitators will filter the plant’s flue gas, greatly reducing particulate output to about one tenth of the current emissions.