Friday, January 29, 2010

More Buzzwords Than Grasshoppers Per Square Inch

Bruce sends this from Albuquerque.

One reason that technical people like me should never belong on the Board of any arts organization is that we can't swing the Buzzwords with confidence. People like me are mucking around amongst the node fragments, like the poor people in this redundant Arts Alliance they speak of, rather than trying to coordinate the shattered nodes like iron filings around a magnet. Language like this strikes us as all icing; no cake. And I suppose I'm probably more a part of the problem than the solution:
Creative Albuquerque, the renamed and repurposed former Arts Alliance, has selected a new executive director.

Regina Chavez will work with the board to lead the rebranded organization on its mission to be a hub for the creative economy in Albuquerque. The group’s motto is “economic development through art, education and culture.”

The arts and cultural industries bring in $1.2 billion in revenue annually to Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, according to a 2007 report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico. Chavez was one of the primary forces behind that study when she was with the city of Albuquerque’s Economic Development Department.

...The former Arts Alliance did many good things, but it ran its course, Chavez said.

“My job, with the board, is to create a new vision,” she said. “The creative economy is about expanding beyond the arts to include film and digital media, social networking, the humanities. It’s all about ideas and innovation. And that’s a big task, but people are doing it everywhere and it’s time for Albuquerque to get on board with that.”

The BBER study found that the economic potential of the arts and cultural industries sector was hampered by its highly fragmented nature.

“I see Creative Albuquerque as a network management organization to be able to develop a network between these different segments, different nodes, so they can better support each other, share ideas, create jobs, create more interesting jobs,” Chavez said. “That benefits everyone.”

The organization should also be a convener, she added, with events such as quarterly lunches with speakers from around the country.

Busy Week At Work Means Bad Blogging

It's a tradeoff: no work means brilliant blogging, but a 20% cut in salary, for starters. So, it's time to set things on a more-even keel and put these folks in my debt, for a change. So, bear with me....

Accumulating H2O Affects Aesthetics

A week of rain slowly alters things.

On Wednesday, the jazz dancers entering the workout room after our fitness class at Pepper's crinkled their noses and said "it smells kinda like dishrags - sour dishrags!"

Well, um, yeah.... It didn't help either that sweaty me was standing near the door....

On Thursday, I forgot my T-Shirt for the Cardio Funk class, so I had to work out as-is, in my regular long-sleeve shirt. Nothing calls out the Urban Aesthetic, nothing echoes Hip-Hop, nothing shouts Funk like office wear! But one must be bold in one's fashion statements!

Ice Rink Evaporates

And as quickly as it came, it departed. Today, there is a front-end loader removing gravel from the former location of the ice rink at 20th & J Streets.

I wonder what's up with that?

Osama bin Laden, Populist

It looks like bin Laden is prepared to parcel out blame for Climate Change. And apparently he doen't like all the bailouts either. And with just a little push he might become a goldbug too. And although he's a Chomskyite, and most people aren't, at least he has an opinion. In other words, he's not THAT different from you or I:
The terror mastermind purportedly behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has a new message for America: it's your fault the world is getting hotter.

In a new audiotape aired by Al Jazeera, Osama bin Laden bemoans climate change and blames President George W. Bush, Congress and multinational corporations.

"This is a message to the whole world about those responsible for climate change and its repercussions - whether intentionally or unintentionally - and about the action we must take," bin Laden is quoted as saying. "Speaking about climate change is not a matter of intellectual luxury - the phenomenon is an actual fact."

..."All the industrial states" are to blame for global warming, he says on the tape, "yet the majority of those states have signed the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to curb the emission of harmful gases."

..."George Bush junior, preceded by [the US] congress, dismissed the agreement to placate giant corporations. And they are themselves standing behind speculation, monopoly and soaring living costs," bin Laden reportedly said. "They are also behind 'globalisation and its tragic implications'. And whenever the perpetrators are found guilty, the heads of state rush to rescue them using public money."

..."Noam Chomsky [the US academic and political commentator] was correct when he compared the US policies to those of the Mafia," the al Qaeda chief remarked. "They are the true terrorists and therefore we should refrain from dealing in the US dollar and should try to get rid of this currency as early as possible.

The Urge To Merge

Sarah Palin talks about merging:
Former vice presidential candidate and current Fox News contributor Sarah Palin said last night that the Republican Party should merge with tea partiers.

Fox's Greta Van Susteren asked if tea party candidates would end up siphoning votes from GOP nominees, or if the movement will "merge with the Republican Party."

"They need to merge," Palin said. "Definitely, they need to merge. I think those who are wanting the divisions and the divisiveness and the controversy -- those are the ones who don't believe in the message. And they're the ones, I think, stirring it up."
My California perspective is that merging two entities that were never separated in the first place (since the California Tea Parties are a GOP lobbyist creation) should prove no problem. In other parts of the country, however, the Tea Parties seem to be less-obedient to Central Control.

No matter. Pink Floyd understands this dynamic better than most:
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been
You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time
Provided with toys and Scouting for Boys
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn’t like school, and you know you’re nobody’s fool
So welcome to the machine
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine
What did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar
He always ate in the steak bar
He loved to drive in his Jaguar
So welcome to the machine

January Rains

I'm surprised to learn that 4.76 inches have fallen in Sacramento since the beginning of January. At SMF, the closest station to my house, 4.02 inches have fallen, bringing the water year there starting Oct. 1st to 9.41 inches. A significant amount of rain, but well-distributed, so no grave inconvenience.

Now, if this was Australia, all this rain would have fallen on one afternoon. Semi-tropical places are like that, somehow: no rain, for eons, then massive flooding. So, thank goodness we are in the equable mid-latitudes!

And so far, for the all-important Northern Sierras (pink line), we are about as close to normal as it's possible to get.

Three cheers for even more rain to fall!

The drought in the American West is starting to ease a bit. Instead of Arizona being abysmal, now it's just awful. I hope the Gila Monsters can hold on.....

And there are forecasts for significant amounts of more rain in California in about a week.

Even In Kansas, Murder Is Murder

Fanatics take note:
Reporting from Wichita, Kan. - In a trial that never became the referendum on abortion that some abortion foes wanted, Scott Roeder, a 51-year-old airport shuttle driver, was convicted today of murdering George Tiller, one the nation's few physicians who performed late-term abortions.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for only 37 minutes. Roeder faces life in prison after being convicted of first-degree murder.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Almost Forgot

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary (year 1977) of the purchase of my first car: a dark green, 1970, automatic stick shift Volkswagen Beetle, purchased from Galles Used Cars in Albuquerque, NM. Drove it until 1990!

Getting Him Off The Tracks

Kern Co. deputy pulls drunken, suicidal man off the tracks just in time (with chopper video).

Judge Alito, Partisan Politician

These Republican judges who urge judicial restraint are the biggest bunch of hypocrites who ever strode the Earth!:
[T]he behavior of Justice Alito at last night's State of the Union address -- visibly shaking his head and mouthing the words "not true" when Obama warned of the dangers of the Court's Citizens United ruling -- was a serious and substantive breach of protocol that reflects very poorly on Alito and only further undermines the credibility of the Court. It has nothing to do with etiquette and everything to do with the Court's ability to adhere to its intended function.

There's a reason that Supreme Court Justices -- along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- never applaud or otherwise express any reaction at a State of the Union address. It's vital -- both as a matter of perception and reality -- that those institutions remain apolitical, separate and detached from partisan wars. The Court's pronouncements on (and resolutions of) the most inflammatory and passionate political disputes retain legitimacy only if they possess a credible claim to being objectively grounded in law and the Constitution, not political considerations. The Court's credibility in this regard has -- justifiably -- declined substantially over the past decade, beginning with Bush v. Gore (where 5 conservative Justices issued a ruling ensuring the election of a Republican President), followed by countless 5-4 decisions in which conservative Justices rule in a way that promotes GOP political beliefs, while the more "liberal" Justices do to the reverse (Citizens United is but the latest example). Beyond that, the endless, deceitful sloganeering by right-wing lawyers about "judicial restraint" and "activism" -- all while the judges they most revere cavalierly violate those "principles" over and over -- exacerbates that problem further (the unnecessarily broad scope of Citizens United is the latest example of that, too, and John "balls and strikes" Roberts may be the greatest hypocrite ever to sit on the Supreme Court). All of that is destroying the ability of the judicial branch to be perceived -- and to act -- as one of the few truly apolitical and objective institutions.

Justice Alito's flamboyantly insinuating himself into a pure political event, in a highly politicized manner, will only hasten that decline. On a night when both tradition and the Court's role dictate that he sit silent and inexpressive, he instead turned himself into a partisan sideshow -- a conservative Republican judge departing from protocol to openly criticize a Democratic President -- with Republicans predictably defending him and Democrats doing the opposite. Alito is now a political (rather than judicial) hero to Republicans and a political enemy of Democrats, which is exactly the role a Supreme Court Justice should not occupy.

...Right-wing criticisms -- that it was Obama who acted inappropriately by using his SOTU address to condemn the Court's decision -- are just inane. Many of the Court's rulings engender political passions and have substantial political consequences -- few more so than a ruling that invalidated long-standing campaign finance laws. Obama is an elected politician in a political branch and has every right to express his views on such a significant court ruling.

...What's most disturbing here is the increasing trend of right-wing Justices inserting themselves ever more aggressively into overtly political disputes in a way that seriously undermines their claims of apolitical objectivity. Antonin Scalia goes hunting with Dick Cheney, dubiously refuses to recuse himself from a lawsuit challenging the legality of Cheney's actions, and then rules in Cheney's favor. Scalia has an increasing tendency to make highly politicized comments about purely political conflicts, most recently defending torture in an interview with 60 Minutes. As part of Clarence Thomas' promotional efforts to sell his book, he spent substantial time building his conservative icon status with the furthest right-wing media elements -- even parading himself around on Rush Limbaugh's radio program -- and turned himself into the food fight of the week between Democrats and Republicans.

It was clear from Sam Alito's confirmation hearing and his record of appellate opinions that he is a dogmatic, state-revering, right-wing judge. But last night, he unmasked himself as a politicized and intemperate Republican as well. Much of the public will view his future "judicial" and "legal" conclusions -- and those of his fellow Court members -- with an even greater degree of cynicism. And justifiably so. Whatever impulses led him to behave that way last night, they have nothing to do with sober judicial reasoning or apolitical restraint.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rehabilitating U.S. Grant

For decades, historians put Ulysses S. Grant in the basement of American Presidents, but maybe that judgment was a bit harsh:
Waugh describes how the estimation of Grant, especially as a political leader, has itself had a curious and telling history. That his presidency has ranked so low for so long—his current, somewhat improved standing places him roughly on a par with Calvin Coolidge and Gerald Ford—says practically nothing about Grant’s public reputation during, and especially just after, the Civil War. Immediately after Appomattox, Grant was of course hailed in the North as a savior; and then, following Lincoln’s assassination, he became the greatest living hero of the war.

...During his presidency, to be sure, the Democratic press condemned Grant as at once feeble, conniving, and imperious—attacks similar to those that the Democrats had made on Lincoln. But even nastier rebukes came from members of Grant’s own party, the so-called Liberal Republicans, including Charles Sumner and Carl Schurz, who for a combination of reasons—displeasure with Grant’s executive appointments, disgust at his friendliness with party organization polls, opposition to his resolute Reconstruction policy, all of it colored by a snobbish hauteur—came to despise the president. The most famous slurs emanated from Henry Adams, who lived just across Lafayette Square, and who WASPishly joked that Grant’s initials stood for “uniquely stupid.” Many years later Adams observed that “the progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone enough to upset Darwin.” The bien pensants at the Nation called Grant “an ignorant soldier, coarse in his taste and blunt in his perceptions, fond of money and material enjoyment and of low company.” When Grant died in 1885, the New York Tribune praised his military career, but charged that “the greatest mistake of his life was the acceptance of the presidency.”

But as Waugh shows, Grant’s admirers greatly outnumbered his detractors, and his death brought a tidal wave of emotional eulogizing.

...Grant’s standing began to erode drastically after 1920 owing to several currents, cultural and intellectual, that emerged from diverse quarters. First, the rising racist, pro-Southern, so-called “revisionist,” or “Lost Cause” school of American historians, pioneered at the turn of the century by William Dunning of Columbia University, portrayed Grant as a sociopathic killer during the war and a tyrant during Reconstruction. General Robert E. Lee, the man whom Grant had defeated on the battlefield, now became widely viewed as the war’s supreme military genius, lionized in the South and respected in the North as the gentleman-soldier who supposedly embodied the courage and the gallantry of the doomed Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln became the true giant of the Union cause, regarded even by some in the South as the compassionate patriot who, had he lived, would have spared the country the folly and (for Southern whites) the humiliation of Reconstruction. But Grant, by contrast, seemed to possess not an ounce of decency or forgiveness. Demonized as an inept, even crooked president, he emerged from these accounts as the lowlife who presided over what Dunning crudely called the “blackout of honest government” during the Reconstruction years, and who personally ushered in the crimes and excesses of the Gilded Age.

The disillusionment among the American intelligentsia over World War I—and over the claims that waging war advanced democracy—further damaged Grant’s image during the 1920s, a view later reinforced in the public mind with entertainment spectacles like the book and film versions of Gone With the Wind. The leftist climate of the 1930s led to renewed attacks on Grant’s presidency as an emblem of Gilded Age dishonesty. And the rising historians of the 1940s and 1950s, even as they challenged both the Dunning School and Depression-era leftist simplicities, affirmed that Grant’s political career was disastrous. Richard Hofstadter, among the most respected new historians, could write in 1948, without fear of contradiction, that “Grant’s administrations are notorious for their corruption.”

...The civil rights and Vietnam War era brought renewed sharp attacks on Grant, most skillfully in William S. McFeely’s acclaimed work Grant: A Biography—as a vicious Union commander and, at best, a half-hearted defender of the ex-slaves during Reconstruction, whose unenlightened views on race led him to waver and finally to retreat from resisting the violent forces of white supremacy. Curiously, in the 1960s and 1970s, even after an outpouring of new scholarship had finally overturned the racist, anti-Grant interpretations of the Dunning School, Grant himself remained an object of contempt. “Sensitive intellectuals, then and since,” the distinguished Civil War historian Charles Royster observed in 1992, “have looked at Grant’s career and marveled that he could hold his head up without shame or remorse.”

...Waugh leaves it to others to advance what she calls the recent upswing in Grant’s standing, which has included the renovation of Grant’s Tomb in 1997 as well as a refreshingly fair-minded PBS documentary in 2002. The imminent Civil War sesquicentennial of 2011 to 2015 augurs a full recasting of popular as well as scholarly understanding of the war and its major figures, including, inevitably, Grant. Perhaps then, Waugh concludes, visitors to the tomb “may be able to see all the tangled, complicated, but ultimately inspiring dimensions of a man who truly is both an American hero and an American myth.”

If indeed justice is done and truth is served, those visitors will be inspired by far more than certain particular dimensions of Grant. A superb modern general who, with Lincoln, finally unleashed the force required to crush the slaveholders’ rebellion, Grant went on, as president, to press vigorously for the reunification of the severed nation, but on the terms of the victorious North and not of the defeated South. Given all that he was up against—not simply from Confederates and Southern white terrorists but, as president, from high-minded factional opponents and schismatics from his own Republican Party—it is quite remarkable that Grant sustained his commitment to the freedmen for as long and as hard as he did. The evidence clearly shows that he created the most auspicious record on racial equality and civil rights of any president from Lincoln to Lyndon B. Johnson. He also formulated some remarkably humane and advanced ideas on subjects ranging from federal Indian policy to public education. Given the limitations imposed on executive power by the Constitution, it is all the more remarkable that he acted as boldly as he did.

On The Upcoming Book Regarding John Edwards

Various snippets from Andrew Young's book on John Edwards.

I really liked John Edwards. I thought he had the appropriate spirit to handle the presidency - better than Obama's detachment or Clinton's self-focus. Even after all the dreadful stuff, I suspect that's still true. The Republicans are worse, of course. And it shows you how bad our choices in leaders really are these days. Days of decadence and decay.

Some of this stuff is pretty funny:
Donations: “S–t, they love me — they would do anything for me,” John Edwards would say after getting a big donation, Young writes. If refused, he would say, “What the hell — why are they wasting my time? I’m going to be president. I don’t have time for this s–t. Everyone wants to give me advice. I don’t want their advice. I want their money.”

Made in USA: Young says Edwards is an Atkins-dieter who hated making appearances at state fairs where “fat rednecks try to shove food down my face. I know I’m the people’s senator, but do I have to hang out with them?” Before a SEIU candidate forum in Las Vegas, Young says Edwards made him cut out a “made in the USA” label from Young’s own suit to sew in place of Edwards’s “made in Italy” label.

Edwards’ hair: “Naturally thick and lustrous, his hair was a fixation with him. He insisted on using just one kind of shampoo — HairTec Thick & Strong Shampoo for Fine, Fragile Hair,” Young writes. He says that for years he or Edwards personally paid for the expensive haircuts rather than publicly list them as campaign expenses. He blamed the gaffe – Edward’s campaign committee picked up the tab for two $400 haircuts — on “new, inexperienced staff.”

Legacy Of Incredibly-Stupid Bush Administration Decisions

One thing that really chafes military folks in wartime is having to comply with onerous federal requirements regarding the disbursement of money. The procedures just aren't suited for rapid, on-the-fly decision-making, like which tribal chieftain is going to get bribed, or which family of unintended victims is going to get instant restitution.

And you can understand, of course. Despite the desire of corraling corruption, paperwork is just too hard!

So planeloads of cash - cash! - were sent to Iraq in 2003, to give military commanders some walking-around money for contingencies that might arrive, and for contractors to pay workers. And no paperwork either! Nice!

Surprisingly, however, a lot of that cash disappeared.

Whatever happened to that cash anyway? Here's part of the answer:
A former employee of a New Mexico construction company with contracts in Iraq has pleaded guilty to illegally bringing more than $800,000 into the United States.

The Albuquerque Journal reports in a copyright story Wednesday that Ishmael "Mike" Salinas admitted to bulk cash smuggling and failing to make a required report on currency brought into the country from Baghdad.

Salinas also agreed to forfeit $804,000 found on him, at his home or at his mother's home in Odessa, Texas.

The newspaper says Salinas formerly worked for Laguna Construction Co., whose principal owner is Laguna Pueblo. Salinas, who was arrested last January, left the company in mid-2008 to work for another firm.

Trying To Catch Mark Levin Saying Something Stupid

Yesterday afternoon, as is my wont, I was listening to right-wing radio, specifically Mark Levin, regarding this news story:
SOMERVILLE, N.J. — A call from a convenience store clerk about a suspicious person led to an arrest and a frightening discovery: The man was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a loaded assault rifle and four magazines of ammunition.

Back in the man's motel room, authorities found a grenade launcher, more rifles, a night-vision scope and, ominously, a map of the Fort Drum Army base in upstate New York.

Prosecutors have not said what 43-year-old Lloyd Woodson was doing with the arsenal. The FBI said Woodson did not appear to have any connection to terrorist groups.
Levin was aghast at the FBI's naivete. Dripping acid, Levin could not fathom how the FBI would conclude there was no connection to terrorism when even a child could see the connection. (I've tried to locate a transcript, but one isn't up on the Web yet).

So much for innocent until proven guilty! I hope Levin never sits on a jury!

But Levin should realize that there need not be any connection to Al Qaeda, or any terrorist group. Al Qaeda has helped usher in an era of do-it-yourself terrorism, where anyone can simply decide on their own to shout "Allahu Akbar!" or "Liberty, or Death!" and mow down random people with heavy weaponry. Even with Major Hasan in Fort Hood, Texas, there is no evidence that I'm aware of that Al Qaeda issued orders to him. No, Major Hasan was receiving inspiration from them. There is a difference! As far as Al Qaeda was concerned, what Major Hasan did was Major Hasan's business. But, if pressed, Al Qaeda might take credit after-the-fact for Major Hasan's actions. Because it's good for Al Qaeda morale to do so. Another plaster saint on Al Qaeda's mantelpiece. Might help with recruiting.

Viral terrorism of this sort is infinitely more dangerous than old-style, top-down terrorism, because it's much harder to anticipate when and where it might occur. Instead of insulting the FBI, Mark Levin ought to grow up and lose a bit of his own naivete.

Tar-Babies Of The Right

All those pesky connections:
Conservative new media figure Andrew Breitbart revealed last night on Hugh Hewitt's radio show that he pays a salary to James O'Keefe, the filmmaker who was charged yesterday in an alleged attempt to tamper witt the phones of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

But Breitbart, who runs the Big Government site where O'Keefe's now-famous ACORN sting videos were posted, is maintaining that he had no "connection to" the incident at Landrieu's New Orleans office.


So, from the vantage point of North Texas, what movies look like they might be fun to watch? Well, "Babies", for one:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PG&E Can't Wait For The SmartMeters

Makes the nasty process of shutting off the power more clinical:
More Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers who fall behind on their bills will have their power shut off once the utility installs SmartMeters throughout its territory, the company predicted in a recent government filing.

The advanced, digital meters allow San Francisco's PG&E to turn service off or on without sending a crew to a customer's home. As a result, PG&E expects to shut off 85 percent of the customers eligible for disconnection in 2011, according to the company. In 2008, just 37 percent of customers eligible for disconnection actually lost service.

The number of disconnections could approach 380,000 in 2011, according to a document PG&E filed last month with the California Public Utilities Commission as part of the company's latest rate-increase request. Last year, the commission reported that PG&E shut off service to 298,020 delinquent customers in the 12-month period that ended in August.

The prediction comes at a sensitive time.

The number of Californians losing electricity and gas service has jumped as the recession ravages household budgets. At the same time, PG&E's SmartMeters have come under fire from some customers who say their utility bills soared after the new meters were installed.

Mark Toney, with The Utility Reform Network, said PG&E customers should be allowed to refuse having SmartMeters installed at their homes. The utility, California's largest, has installed 4.6 million SmartMeters so far.

"Really, it's our worst fears being realized, that PG&E sees these SmartMeters as a collections weapon to put more pressure on people by being able to shut them off so easily," said Toney, TURN's executive director.

With older gas and electric meters, utilities had to send a technician to each customer's house in order to switch service on or off. The time and expense involved gave utilities a strong incentive to negotiate payment plans with delinquent customers, rather than disconnecting service, Toney said.

"With SmartMeters, that incentive is gone," he said. "There's no expense to flipping a switch."

Back In Watergate Country Again

Righteous Republicans cross the threshold into crime:
Alleging a plot to tamper with phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's office in the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown New Orleans, the FBI arrested four people Monday, including James O'Keefe, 25, a conservative filmmaker whose undercover videos at ACORN field offices severely damaged the advocacy group's credibility.

Also arrested were Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, who is the acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. All four men were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

An official close to the investigation said one of the four was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator's offices. He spoke on condition of anonymity because that information was not included in official arresting documents.

According to the FBI affidavit, Flanagan and Basel entered the federal building at 500 Poydras Street on Monday about 11 a.m., dressed as telephone company employees, wearing jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts and hard hats. When they arrived at Landrieu's 10th-floor office, O'Keefe was already in the office and had told a staffer he was waiting for someone to arrive.

When Flanagan and Basel entered the office, they told the staffer they were there to fix phone problems. At that time, the staffer, referred to only as Witness 1 in the affidavit, observed O'Keefe positioning his cell phone in his hand to videotape the operation. O'Keefe later admitted to agents that he recorded the event.

After being asked, the staffer gave Basel access to the main phone at the reception desk. The staffer told investigators that Basel manipulated the handset. He also tried to call the main office phone using his cell phone, and said the main line wasn't working. Flanagan did the same.

They then told the staffer they needed to perform repair work on the main phone system and asked where the telephone closet was located. The staffer showed the men to the main General Services Administration office on the 10th floor, and Flanagan and Basel went in. There, a GSA employee asked for the men's credentials. They said they left them in their vehicle.

The U.S. Marshal's Service apprehended all four men shortly thereafter.

Landrieu said: "This is a very unusual situation and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purposes of committing a felony. I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward."

...O'Keefe on Thursday gave a speech to the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a libertarian group in New Orleans.

Last fall, O'Keefe was hailed as a conservative hero for dressing as a pimp and taping ACORN employees offering advice on how he and a partner could get away with running an international underage prostitution scheme.

The New Orleans event was promoted with this glowing statement about O'Keefe by the Pelican Institute: "James has been a pioneer in the use of new media to drive these kinds of important stories. He will discuss the role of new media and show examples of effective investigative reporting."

The four men appeared in federal magistrate court Tuesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Louis Moore wearing red inmate jumpsuits from St. Bernard Parish Prison. Moore is allowing the men to be released on $10,000 bond each.

...According to the Phillips Foundation's Web site, Dai was the editor-in-chief of the GW Patriot, an alternative conservative student newspaper, when he attended The George Washington University in 2006. According to information Dai posted in September 2007 on the university's online alumni directory, he lived in Naperville, Ill., helped run a "Defense Deparment regional defense counterterrorism/irregular warfare program" and then became assistant director of the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Trinity Washington University, which prepares undergraduates for careers in intelligence.

On Tuesday at 4:40 p.m., O'Keefe, Dai and Basel were released from the jail and were waiting for a cab. Asked to comment, O'Keefe said only, "Veritas," which is Latin for "truth." O'Keefe's biography on the blog site says he works at, although that site does not appear to be functioning.

O'Keefe spent most of the time in the men's room off the jail's lobby, then hustled to the cab when it arrived. As he ran into the back seat, he called out, "The truth shall set me free."

Robert Flanagan's attorney, J. Garrison Jordan, said he believes his client works for the Pelican Institute. Asked the motivation for the alleged wiretap plot, he said: "I think it was poor judgment. I don't think there was any intent or motive to commit a crime."


Knowing Me, Knowing You, all you want to know is when ABBAWORLD is open!:
The Swedish quartet have lent their support to a new museum-cum-theme park in London, which is scheduled to open in London Wednesday Jan. 27, 2010, and which has enough music, mementoes and memory-lane appeal to satisfy even the most fervent ABBA fan.

...ABBAWORLD's Swedish organizers promise the exhibition — which opens to the public on Wednesday — will be "a place for total interaction" with the band. The celebration kicks off Tuesday night with a party attended by band members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anna-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad.

"It started with, 'How do we give the visitor a big hug in each room?'" said Magnus Danielsson, president of Touring Exhibitions, the company behind ABBAWORLD. "This is going to be more like going to 'Mamma Mia!' than going to an exhibition. We want people to sing and dance."

Obama, Republican-Lite

It took a year, but Obama's going from bad to worse to pretty appalling:

Maddow made the same point Robert Reich and Andrew Leonard did on Salon: Imposing a spending freeze during economic hard times is felony stupid. It's Roosevelt in '37. Bernstein quickly reassured Maddow she'd gotten her facts wrong: The administration will cut some programs, Bernstein said, but they'll increase funding for others. The freeze wouldn't apply to health care programs, the already passed stimulus, and certainly not to the package of middle class assistance programs Obama and Biden released the same day, Bernstein insisted.

But wasn't just the Maddow show; apparently Obama advisors briefed the liberal blogosphere to reassure folks that this freeze won't hurt at all. As Marc Ambinder explains:

"The freeze is irrelevant to health care because Medicare, Medicaid and taxes are all mandatory. So too are many of the programs for the neediest, such as unemployment insurance and Pell Grants. And many of the other programs were plussed up recently so the White House is freezing them at a very high level. A second stimulus package wouldn't be included either."

So who do they think they're fooling? If they're telling the truth, and dozens of social programs will be exempt from the freeze, or even increased -- hey, we can even pass a second stimulus! -- then why is Obama selling what he's doing as a freeze? To win Republican support? Not gonna happen. To make Evan Bayh happy? (The freeze is exactly what Bayh recommended to Bloomberg's Al Hunt on Friday.) Who cares?

And do they think all Republicans are stupid and/or completely cut off from the liberal blogosphere, so they won't learn that this is just a pretend freeze, that will let Democrats grow social spending for their priorities? Bernstein said it would let Obama cut "wasteful spending" and thwart the lobbyists who defend every imaginable government program. Really? If everyone knows the freeze isn't real, and it's just about proving your program is important to the recovery or health care or some other protected priority, it will be a lobbyists' free for all anyway.

Checking In with Sylvia Tosun

I haven't looked in on Sylvia Tosun for awhile, so I wondered if there was anything new.

While not precisely new, I haven't seen these videos.

A new, alternative remix of "5 Reasons"!

It's still true - this is the BEST dance video of 2009, and one of the best dance videos ever made! And the remix is great too!

Of course, as you all know, I am a big Kylie fan, so I mean it as a compliment that I consider Sylvia Tosun to be Kylie's eventual natural successor as the reigning diva of Dance Culture. No one else pays attention to the little details!

Sylvia Tosun (+ dancers) perform several of her hits at her album release party last year.

Praying For The Bats

The Sacramento Bee featured an article regarding the white-nose fungus that is wiping out bats in the Northeast U.S.

Bats here are still healthy, but plagues spread. I hope they can get a grip on this one.:
Across the Northeast, something is wiping out hundreds of thousands of bats. Biologists, shaken by the destruction, bring back harrowing accounts from caves where they had long studied thriving populations.

...As best anyone can tell, the bat deaths started slowly. They spread quietly from the suspected epicenter of Howe's Cave, west of Albany, N.Y. By January 2008, reports began to trouble government and research biologists. In New York and Vermont, something unusual was driving bats out of hibernation before their normal time. They would collapse on the snow, emaciated, and die. A pale, whitish fungus grew on their bodies. Genetic tests are still ongoing, but the fungus appears identical to one found in Europe. There, it was seen growing harmlessly on some hibernating bats as long ago as the 1980s. Some speculate that those bats have evolved to tolerate it. Others suggest the fungus in America has mutated into some more virulent form.

The first time DeeAnn Reeder saw a faint powdering of pale fungus growing on bats' noses in one of her own research caves, her stomach plunged. It felt as if she were going to throw up. Then it got worse.

"You would look at bats on the cave wall and know they were going to die," Reeder said, "Just pathetic looking, horrible looking animals." Fungus grew all across their faces. They were so thin and dehydrated that they seemed almost crispy. Some clung to the wall by only one foot.

...So far, white nose syndrome has rampaged through six bat species, striking the little brown bat and the tri-colored bat especially hard. Researchers tracking the syndrome believe it could drive some endangered species into extinction and slash the populations of others. It could also drastically change the patterns of which bat species can thrive in colder climates. Migrating bats are likely to survive, but hibernating species could take decades to rebound, if they ever do, because they breed slowly, often producing just one pup a year.

...Meanwhile, researchers are pleading with people to stay out of caves and mines that might be infected. Geomyces destructans can survive at least a week at warm temperatures, long enough to hitch a ride on muddy shoes or caving gear, through an airport and to another cave thousands of miles away. The word has mostly gotten out to biologists and serious cave enthusiasts, who can follow frequently updated online advice about the best precautionary measures. Tougher to reach are the amateur hobbyists, the casual church or scouting groups that might visit an infected cave and never know what they have done.

If white nose syndrome spreads only bat to bat, it's difficult to say if or when it would cross the Rockies. Before diseased bats could reach the mountain range, the infection might be stopped or slowed in regions with fewer caves and lower bat population densities. One of the leading theories about white nose syndrome, though, is that this fungus has already crossed the Atlantic with human help. To spread the syndrome to the West, Reeder says, "All it will take is one careless caver to take their caving gear into California or into Colorado."

Mutaytor Coming To Harlow's

Mutaytor looks like a really interesting group - a durable child of Burning Man.

I don't know precisely what Mutaytor is. A latter-day Grateful Dead perhaps? Or an Everyman's Cirque du Soleil? But whatever it is, it's very countercultural, and filled with performance art, and will be at Harlow's on Thursday. (If it wasn't for rehearsal, I'd be there.)

Here is more from the Sacramento Bee:
Forged at Burning Man in the same collective spirit that fuels that annual gathering in the northern Nevada desert, the Mutaytor wants to erase the line between performer and audience.

"Just because you are not playing an instrument doesn't make you any less important in the process of experiencing music," said Buck Down, ringmaster and one of two principal songwriters for the Mutaytor, a group of musicians, dancers and circus-style visual artists performing Thursday night at Harlow's nightclub in Sacramento. "(The audience) dancing is just as important to the experience. … At the risk of sounding hippie-ish, it is all energy."

A communal vibe should be easy to achieve at Harlow's, the modest size of which is likely to inspire a Mutaytor spillover into the crowd. Though trimmed for the road from its 30-person roster, the group still will boast 15 or 16 members.

"The Mutaytor is very modular – it is like a goldfish in that it can fill up whatever venue it is in," Down, a veteran indie musician who writes the group's songs with fellow member Atom Smith, said by telephone from Los Angeles.

Formed more than a decade ago, the techno- and drum-based group showed adaptability early in producing elaborate shows at Burning Man sites lacking in electricity or any other measure of infrastructure. At Harlow's, the Mutaytor will feature a nine-piece band, a tribal belly dancer and a fire performer who will wow via glow-stick effect instead of real flames.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Merciful Olga

Well, this is no good for a blogger. I expect Cyclones to bring Chaos. Horizontal palm trees, at the least. There is still opportunities for destruction, but an Apocalypse appears unlikely:
UPDATE: FAR north Queensland residents had a last-minute reprieve from destructive winds as Tropical Cyclone Olga dropped in intensity shortly before crossing the coast.

Olga crossed the coast north of Port Douglas about 1pm today as a category one cyclone, far weaker than the category two system, with winds of up to 140km/h, that had been expected.

"We haven't had strong winds over land, however there have still been some fairly strong winds further out to sea,'' forecaster Tony Auden from the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in Brisbane said.

There was little evidence of cyclonic activity in Port Douglas as Olga passed over.

Shops and restaurants remained open, while the band played on at the local Court House Hotel.

Authorities said the cyclone caused little damage and congratulated north Queensland residents for their preparations for the bad weather.

"After the cyclone crossed the coastline there was little to no requests for assistance to the State Emergency Service (SES) however this could possibly change with heavy rainfall expected to continue in the region over the coming hours,'' Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ) regional director Wayne Coutts said in a statement.
...The Bureau of Meteorology has warned residents between Cooktown and Mackay to expect heavy rainfall as Olga and ex-cyclone Neville continue to lash the north Queensland coast overnight.

Premier Anna Bligh said rainfalls of up to 300mm in some regions were predicted and localised flooding could be expected.

PC In The Southern Hemisphere

A lot like PC in the Northern Hemisphere:
AN advertisement for a "midget" or "large-chested woman" to act as a beer wench has landed some New Zealand sports fans in controversy.

The men placed an ad for a "beer bitch" to fetch cold drinks for them at the Rugby Sevens in Wellington next month. The lucky woman would be rewarded with "cuddles and shoulder rides", wrote the men, who run a blog called When in Rome Bro.

The ad outraged the organisation Little People of New Zealand, with spokeswoman Caela Brackenbury telling The Dominion Post newspaper it was hurtful to refer to small people as midgets.

...It seemed many others agreed. The ad was pulled off website Trade Me after 27 complaints were received.

But 11 women found no fault with it, enthusiastically applying for the gig with photographs and blurbs about their "bubbly" nature.

...The men behind the ad said they were shocked by the venom among the complainants. "One called us a bunch of pigs," Wellingtonian Daniel Herbison siad.

In fact, they had received so many "scary threats" they had revised the ad to seek a "beer delivery person" and had apologised.

"We never meant to cause offence," Mr Herbison said.

That did not stop the group splashing photos of the semi-clad applicants on their site, calling for comments on which "midget" would best suit the job.

Falling For Pablo Picasso

One of the consequences of having a large body of work is that more accidents happen. First, Steve Wynn's Picasso accident, and now this:
A significant Pablo Picasso painting was damaged after a woman attending art class lost her balance, fell into "The Actor" and tore it, The Metropolitan Museum of Art said.

Rofflcopter Of The Day - Origins Of The Chicken-Little Forecast

Jerry sends this:
Some interesting info concerning that alarmist weather forecast that was making the rounds a while back:
HA! HA! HA! That is SO funny! What's that they call it? A rofflcopter!

Mr. Swain was deeply impressed about the potential of the approaching storms, and the storms have proven strong. Unfortunately, he chose florid language to convey his excitement, which conveyed the impression that the storms would be nearly-unprecedented in strength. We all do the same from time-to-time. We just need to be careful. Weather forecasters are out there on the bleeding edge. Weather forecasters, in particular, need to be careful:
As a rule, I like rain. Unlike many Californians, I could live happily in Seattle, curled up with a book in a coffee bar while the deluge swirls around me.

But as a longtime Mercury News reporter, I helped cover the great storms of 1982, which caused serious mudslides and vast chaos in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

That's made me more aware of the dangers of weather and of certain words used by forecasters. One of those words is "pineapple."

The "Pineapple Express," as it's often called, is no sweet breeze. The media uses it to describe a strong and punishing weather front headed toward the Pacific coast from Hawaii.

The storms of 1982 reflected the Pineapple phenomenon. And so when I came across a widely distributed forecast on the Internet that mentioned the word, I stood straight up.


The author sounded an alarm we know too well. He wrote that the models were virtually unanimous in identifying a reloaded jet stream with a "persistent kink" — the nexus of a storm front — 2,000 to 3,000 miles to our southwest.

"This is a truly ominous pattern, because it implies the potential for a strong Pineapple-type connection to develop," the author wrote, predicting copious warm rains beginning this week.

"The potential exists for a dangerous flood scenario to arise at some point during this interval, especially with the possibility of a heavy rain-on-snow event," the writer continued.

Adding credibility to the threat was the name at the bottom. On blogs and message groups, the Jan. 12 memo was attributed to Samuel Y. Johnson with the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz. Here we go again, I thought.

Johnson, however, did not write the memo. From Japan, he wrote to say he was simply forwarding a forecast sent to him by someone at Cal Fire.

The people at Cal Fire told me the memo did not originate with them — and instead was lifted from a Web site,, which is run by a University of California-Davis junior, Daniel Swain.

In part because many people believed that Johnson was the author — and in part because we are often willing to accept the worst — the prediction went viral.

Fear and loathing

I'm willing to bet it caused serious fear and loathing in Bay Area households — and a rush on sandbags. "I've never seen a weather document circulated like this," said Jan Null, a certified meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services.

The forecast, however, was wrong — which, let's face it, is an occupational hazard rather than a plot against humanity.

Null thinks the author misjudged the storms of the last week, which featured breaks rather than the continuous pounding of a Pineapple-like storm.

"There's a lot of misstatements of information," Null said. "The pattern we've had this past week is not a Pineapple connection."

Since 2000, Null added, there have been six other periods with the level of rain that we've had over the last week.

What does UC-Davis student Swain have to say about this? He acknowledges Null is right.

"The way the pattern actually evolved was somewhat different than it might have evolved," he told me. "What I was referring to was a potential for a warm pattern to develop over the next week. Right now, there's no indication of any Pineapple Express storms."

But even he is bemused by how widely the misattributed forecast spread. "It was kind of mind-boggling," he said.

Property Of Ladies Coffee Hour - 1964

Interesting graffiti from the cabinet inside the clubhouse of Camellia Gardens trailer park.

Convivial get-together with a bunch of strangers. Played "Boggle", plus other board games, at this potluck.

We were also forced to play a variety of games in order to introduce ourselves to each other. The hostess had absented herself at the beginning of the get-together in order to do an errand, and while she was gone we strangers had managed to introduce ourselves to each other without the assistance of games. Upon her return, however, our pleas not to reintroduce ourselves fell on deaf ears (she who must be obeyed; yada, yada, etc.)

I know, I know; it's not the Bataan Death March, or anything. Still, hostesses should listen to their guests' appeals not to get stuck in some kind of Groundhog Day introductory DO Loop. They don't even do that at AA meetings.

Otherwise, fun!