Saturday, February 06, 2010

SENSE Theatre Now At 'Magic Circle'

After working with DMTC last year to stage Disney's 'The Jungle Book', SENSE Theatre is now at 'Magic Circle':
SENSE Theatre - in collaboration with Magic Circle in Roseville, California - are now off to see the Wizard in their new musical production of Wizard of Oz. SENSE Theatre is a unique theatrical intervention research program designed to improve the social and emotional functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.

As Dorothy might say, there's no place like SENSE Theatre to provide a home to children with autism spectrum disorders. However, this is no ordinary trip down the yellow brick road -- this truly is a magical experience for children with autism. SENSE Theatre has partnered with Magic Circle Theatre, to put 15 children with autism spectrum disorders on the stage with 30 youth actors from the Master Class production, who serve as peer models and fellow cast members.

Founder, Blythe Corbett, Ph.D. exclaims, "We are grateful for the support of Magic Circle who is providing the stage, production costs and hospitality to bring the mission of SENSE Theatre center stage, which we hope to be the first of many collaborative productions." In her "day job," Corbett is an associate professor at the University of California, Davis M.I.N.D. (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute. Along with the SENSE lab, her team aims to show how art and science can merge to create an ideal environment to learn how to communicate, socialize and express themselves.
Watching the parents and kids and supporters last year at DMTC, it was easy to see that SENSE Theatre was filling an important, unmet need. Autistic children have many challenges in learning and socialization, which theaters alone seem to provide the children the means to tackle. Theaters provide a scripted environment where the messy chaos of the real world is muted, and where social interactions become predictable. It was easy to see why autistic children bloom there - they get social practice.

There was only one real problem I saw in SENSE's approach, encapsulated in the story above, and quoted again (emphasis added):
As Dorothy might say, there's no place like SENSE Theatre to provide a home to children with autism spectrum disorders.
No place like SENSE, indeed! Right now, SENSE Theatre is the only major theatrical initiative for autistic kids in the local area that I'm aware of. A monopoly. And like monopolies in any other field, it is subject to vices; vices which competition can help erode.

There need to be other outlets, perhaps many other outlets, for theater for autistic children: the demand is there for more. There is no particular need to couple theater with research: it's the theater itself that provides the benefits, not the research. Parents are sometimes close to desperation in finding programs that work for their children. Given a little leadership, they will move heaven-and-earth to overcome obstacles in setting up new programs - new programs that work!

Every major community musical theater in Sacramento should consider independent autistic theater outreach programs. Allowing SENSE to dominate this bailiwick is something of a disservice to local autistic children.

Learning From The Misfortunes Of Others

I DID NOT KNOW this freeway entrance was slick when wet. I go through here ALL THE TIME. I will tell myself, 'SELF, REMEMBER!):
Southbound Interstate 5 is closed near Sacramento International Airport following a collision between a California Highway Patrol car and a big rig truck. The roadway was reopened at about 5 p.m.

The accident occurred shortly before 9 a.m., said CHP spokeswoman Lizz Dutton. The officer was responding to a report of an accident on Highway 99 and was entering I-5 from Airport Boulevard on the southbound onramp. The road was slick and the patrol car slid into the freeway's slow lane, into the path of the big rig truck.

Dutton said the truck driver attempted to brake but struck the side of the patrol vehicle. The collision sent the two vehicles into the center divider, where the big rig jackknifed.

Dutton said the officer was trapped in the patrol car for about 20 minutes before rescue crews were able to free him. He was taken to UC Davis Medical Center with broken bones. The driver of the truck was not injured.

Murder At The Howard Johnson's - Bob & Ro Productions

Left: A nice set, meant to invoke just another room at the Howard Johnson's.

Three funny and experienced actors (Lee Marie Kelly, Dean Shellenberger, and Aurelio Martinez) portray three exceptionally-shallow characters that explore the various murderous permutations permitted by a love triangle. (I remember seeing Lee Marie Kelly in Magic Circle's 'Lost in Yonkers'.)

On Saturday night, several DMTC folks came to see, and support Bob and Rosemarie Gerould, in their new theatrical endeavour at the Studio Theatre.

The show was very funny and is well-worth seeing (it closes on Feb. 21).

By nature, I don't favor schisms in the Sacramento musical theatrical community, whatever the cause. I wondered whether I should even go, given recent troubles. Nevertheless, life goes on. The new effort is worthy and I'm glad I went. The best to Bob and Ro on their new effort!

MLK 365 Celebration 2010 @ Sac Convention Center

Nice videos, and nice choreography! I recognize a few people here, but most of the dancers are the younger crowd, and thus I have a harder time with the recognition.

Video 1 is the introduction. Keith Turk is the most recognizable dancer here, with his trademark bravura style. Is that Jake Montoya too, at 4:35, dancing with him?

Pepper Von appears briefly at 2:05, and is introduced at 7:00 (and Sherrika is there too!)

Video 2 is the dancing itself!

Friday, February 05, 2010


Picture 4 (left); Picture 5 (below)

Last week at B3ta, the Question Of The Week was:

The Soundtrack of your Life: Che Grimsdale writes: Now that Simon Cowell's stolen Everybody Hurts, tell us about songs that mean something to you - good, bad, funny or tragic, appropriate or totally inappropriate songs that were playing at key times.
This Question was similar to one in 2005, and I answered with the same story:


(a repost, but still haunts me)

I was playing Coldplay's "Clocks" while driving into a California sunset in September 2002, when I suddenly saw a strange contrail rapidly heading west into the sunset. It was the first time I ever saw such a thing: a Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile heading from Vandenburg Air Force Base to Kwajalein Atoll, located many thousands of miles away in the Pacific.The missile was many hundreds of miles away from my car, but because of good visibility in the gloaming, it was possible to see the rocket stage. The missile contrail changed from dense smoke into a translucent glimmering perfect cone, as the upper stages of the missile ripped into the mesosphere. It was gorgeous and scary at the same time.When I hear "Clocks", I sense nuclear annihilation is near and my time on this Earth is over.
A B3ta fan answered:

I like this because I like missiles...

...although I'm not such a fan of Coldplay.

I did some googling - is this the launch you saw?
I replied:

Excellent Googling!

I'm sure that's the correct launch! Santa Barbara is much closer to the launch site than I was and so this observer had the best of views. It looks like the observer played with the exposure in order to photograph into a bright sunset sky. Pictures 4 & 5 show the upper stage departing from the smoky, lower-stage contrail. The luminescent shimmering cone of the upper stage exhaust is harder to see in these images than I remember, probably because of blurring.The end is nigh! 'Clocks' are striking midnight!

2012 - The Movie

On Sunday evening, completely against my better judgment, I went to the bargain cinema at Sunrise Mall, and saw "2012". I didn't want to see it, because a previous visit to see "The Day After Tomorrow" turned into such a fiasco: I got furious about the Bad Science and started acting belligerently towards the chatterboxes in front of me, and ended up basically embarrassing everyone in my party. "2012" had the same director, and generally-similar premise, so there was cause to worry.

Nevertheless, "2012" was a better experience. Partly it was because the theater was emptier, and there were no chatterboxes to worry about. In addition, the Bad Science was mercifully brief: (Please! Neutrinos don't 'Mutate' - what crap! And deep-water tsunamis should be very small, not some kind of titanic, Hawaii 5-0-type wave on steroids.)

The Destruction of California is an application of special-effects animation technology at its very finest. No one ever worried about pancaking expressway (outside a few engineers) until Oakland's 880 collapse in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake's showed just how bad an event like that could be. Now, that's all anyone worries about. "2012" featured endless visions of pancaking expressways, wonderfully and lovingly rendered in the finest detail. Marvellous! And California sliding into the sea? What joy!

What made "2012" work better than "The Day After Tomorrow" was a much better script. Basically, the screenplay was a total rip-off of Philip Wylie's and Edwin Balmer's classic 1933 science fiction novel, "When Worlds Collide" (with its wonderful 1934 sequel "After Worlds Collide") - some of the best Sci Fi ever written! It's hard to go wrong when you are plagiarizing the very best out there!

With recent advances in special-effects technology, I'd love someone to remake "When Worlds Collide". The movie was made once, a fairly-forgettable 1951 version, but Roland Emmerich, et al., have poisoned that well for awhile: people would just say it was a bad remake of "2012". Still, here's hoping!

[UPDATE: They ARE going to remake "When Worlds Collide"! Oh joy! Hope it does great box-office, with that "2012" out there stealing the thunder!]

Here is the trailer for the 1951 "When Worlds Collide":


Jerry is nonplussed by the latest National Weather Service forecast for the Bay Area:
"Showers and possibly a thunderstorm before 4pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 4pm."
Jerry says: "The nature of the 4PM transition for tomorrow is not clear to me. I suspect that the nuances in the phraseology will be lost on the general public!"

Very nuanced! It escapes me too!

I remember Lou Battan (one of our former U of A meteorology professors) talking about forecasting for the Italian public. They apparently have no tolerance for nuance. A 50% chance of rain is a meaningless concept. Will it rain, or won't it? That's what they want to know.

And, truth be told, that's what we want to know too.

High-Speed Sac Pursuit

Well, this is cool. But I wonder what the context is?

Sure Enough, Video Clearance Center Is Still Open

At Howe and Hurley. It was supposed to close January 10th, with an uncertain twilight after that date.

Picked up "Network" this afternoon, and "Dancer, Texas", and some other obscurities.

"Glentanner Clydesdales" Jigsaw Puzzle

I got renergized by assembling the Edward Gorey jigsaw puzzle last month, so this time I tackled a jigsaw puzzle I picked up at a gift shop in Queenstown, New Zealand in 2008.

It's possible to pick up a print of "Glentanner Clydesdales" by Peter Morath here.

When assembling the puzzle, I was under a misimpression of where Glentanner is located. It turns out it's at the northern end of Lake Pukaki - east of the crest of the Southern Alps, rather than west. So, it turns out to be a morning rather than an evening painting. I'm so confused!

Lovely picture of Mt. Cook (aka Aoraki)! New Zealand has some wonderful scenery!

Yes, Tom Tancredo Is Going 'There'

Nothing like that good, old-fashioned racism to enable GOP candidates to compete:
In his speech Thursday to attendees, former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo invoked the loaded pre-civil rights era buzzword, saying that President Barack Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."
Well, what's wrong with that? We all need a little civic literacy before we vote; don't we?

THIS is what's wrong with that:
"Prior to passage of the federal Voting Rights Act in 1965, Southern (and some Western) states maintained elaborate voter registration procedures whose primary purpose was to deny the vote to those who were not white," a website for civil rights veterans explains. "In the South, this process was often called the 'literacy test.' In fact, it was much more than a simple test, it was an entire complex system devoted to denying African-Americans (and in some regions, Latinos) the right to vote."

"Because the Freedom Movement was running "Citizenship Schools" to help people learn how to fill out the forms and pass the test, Alabama changed the test 4 times in less than two years (1964-1965)," the site adds. "At the time of the Selma Voting Rights campaign there were actually 100 different tests in use across the state. In theory, each applicant was supposed to be given one at random from a big loose-leaf binder. In real life, some individual tests were easier than others and the registrar made sure that Black applicants got the hardest ones."

White applicants could be approved even if they didn't pass the test.

"Your application was then reviewed by the three-member Board of Registrars — often in secret at a later date," the site continues. "They voted on whether or not you passed. It was entirely up to the judgment of the Board whether you passed or failed. If you were white and missed every single question they could still pass you if — in their sole judgment — you were 'qualified.' If you were Black and got every one correct, they could still flunk you if they considered you 'unqualified.'"
If anyone ever came up with a fairly-administered civics and literacy test, I might go for it, because I know many Tea Baggers would fail the test. But there never was such a test, and there never will be one.

Yung Joc - It's Goin' Down

This song was part of the soundtrack in the Cardio Funk class tonight, and I thought it had the best hip hop beat ever. So, I tried to find a dance remix featuring dancers - but there are SO MANY REMIXES! That's what happens with a genuinely popular song.

So, I content myself with the original video.

"They Don’t Care About Us"

The folks at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center have done it again, with “They Don’t Care About Us”.

The Sky's The Limit

I belong to Anthem Blue Cross, but the HMO part, not an individual policy. But still, this shows better than any bar graph what this year's failure to pass single payer health care will allow in coming years. Call it the revenge of the GOP:
California's largest for-profit health insurer is moving to dramatically raise rates for customers with individual policies, setting off a furor among policyholders and prompting state insurance regulators to investigate.

Anthem Blue Cross is telling many of its approximately 800,000 customers who buy individual coverage -- people not covered by group rates -- that its prices will go up March 1 and may be adjusted "more frequently" than its typical yearly increases.

The insurer declined to say how high it is increasing rates. But brokers who sell these policies say they are fielding numerous calls from customers incensed over premium increases of 30% to 39%, saying they come on the heels of similar jumps last year.

Many policyholders say the rate hikes are the largest they can remember, and they fear that subsequent premium growth will narrow their options -- leaving them to buy policies with higher deductibles and less coverage or putting health insurance out of reach altogether.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Mark Weiss, 63, a Century City podiatrist whose Anthem policy for himself and his wife will rise 35%. The couple's annual insurance bill will jump to $27,336 from $20,184.

"I think it's just unconscionable," said Weiss, a member of Blue Cross for 30 years.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Dow Jones Go Boom

I still don't understand why it's so high. No place to go but down.


E.: MMMMAAAAARRRRCCCC! Help me understand this form!

M.: It's a medical records release authorization form.

E.: One of the girls at school was pushed by a boy. She fell and broke her wrist, and she needs a doctor's note to be excused from PE.

M.: So you need to fill out a medical records release authorization form in order to ask a doctor for a note for her to be excused from PE?

E.: Yes.

M.: Well, that sounds like overkill. It should be obvious that she needs to be excused from PE.

E.: I know. It's SSSOOOOO stupid! Things used to be nicer at the school, but now they messed it all up. Why did they do that?

M.: Everyone wants to make sure that everyone is completely covered.

E.: What does this line mean?

M.: It's a Revocation of Authorization. It means that if the doctor decides he's released too much information regarding the fact that she has a broken wrist he can change his mind and ask for that information back (with written notice, and excusing any actions taken in the meantime in light of that information). And it looks like the doctor can tailor the release of medical records. For example, he can decide to reveal information to you regarding her wrist, but keep information about her shoulder secret.

E.: It's SSSSOOOO stupid!

M.: You should complain.

E.: MMMMAAAARRRRCCC! Did I tell you the union is going to protest at the State Capitol next week? It's the last thing I want, but I'm supposed to go protest with them!

M.: You should complain to Schwarzenegger.

E.: I will tell him: "I am the Green Destiny!" (From the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon):
Who am I? I am... I am the Invincible Sword Goddess, armed with the incredible Green Destiny. Be you Li or Southern Crane, lower your head and ask for mercy. I am the desert dragon. I leave no trace. Today I fly over Eu-Mei. Tomorrow... I'll kick over Wudan Mountain!
M.: And what will Schwarzenegger say?

E.: (pretending to fire a machine gun) "Hasta la vista, baby!"

Lost Couple

It's hard to believe something so simple could result in death. Most of that area is lightly inhabited, but there are people in the vicinity - provided they had been alerted, or were themselves alert to odd goings-on. And it was all just for a little fun.

Presumably the elderly couple were ill-prepared for the cold, and perhaps unreasonably frightened. It can happen when you are lost.

I wonder exactly where this occurred and whether one can chalk it up as another Highway 16 statistic?:
Authorities say a 78-year-old woman died of hypothermia after she and her husband took a wrong turn in Northern California and got stranded.

Police say Harold and Raquel Labbe of Hayward set out for Cache Creek Casino on Jan. 27. They took a wrong turn onto a dirt road running through an orchard and got their car stuck in mud.

Police believe the couple ran the engine to stay warm, then sought help on foot after running out of gas.

The couple's son reported them missing Jan. 29, saying concern was high because his mother had Alzheimer's disease.

A farmworker found 76-year-old Harold Labbe unconscious Monday, about 50 feet from the car. Authorities found Raquel Labbe's body several hundred yards away.

Harold Labbe is recovering from hypothermia at a hospital.

Chicken Techno

Chicken Techno.

Journey Of The Turkey

A convoluted path:
Turkeys, the only domesticated animals from the New World that are now used globally, were actually domesticated twice -- once in Mesoamerica as was previously believed and once in what is now the southwestern United States.

The new findings, reported this week by Canadian and American researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, come from a DNA analysis of ancient turkey bones and coprolites, the polite name for fossilized excrement.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that both strains of domesticated turkeys are now extinct, replaced by more highly inbred strains. The turkeys we eat today, moreover, are not descendants of the North American turkeys, but of those from Mesoamerica, which in a convoluted journey were taken to Europe by Spanish explorers, then reexported to North America.

The findings "have really helped to clarify some of the questions archaeologists have been wondering about for a long time," said archaeologist Jonathan C. Driver of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, who was not involved in the research. It shows that the wild turkeys in the Southwest and Mesoamerica now "have nothing to do with the domestic turkey, that they are neither ancestor nor descendant."

It also shows that there was only one breed of turkey in the Southwest, "that it was traded quite widely, and that its breeding was carefully controlled," he said.

The history of turkeys is highly unusual in the context of other domesticated animals because it does not appear that they were originally raised in either region for their food value, as was the case with cows, sheep, pigs and other animals, said archaeologist Natalie Munro of the University of Connecticut, who has studied turkeys extensively. She too was not involved in the research.

Evidence of turkey domestication in the Americas appears in remains from at least 2,000 years ago, but evidence from the first 1,000 years of that period suggests that the birds were raised for their feathers and ritual value, not for their meat. Middens -- essentially garbage dumps -- from the period contain "lots and lots of turkey poop and very few turkey bones," said archaeologist Brian M. Kemp of Washington State University, a co-author of the study.

Bones found from the period are typically of intact birds buried under houses and elsewhere. All the evidence suggests, Munro said, that turkeys were raised for ritualistic purposes and for the use of their feathers for ornaments and in clothing, robes and blankets.

"It gets really cold at night in the Southwest," Kemp said, "and turkey feather blankets are thermally superior to rabbit fur."

A major change began about AD 1100. Turkey bones began appearing much more commonly in middens. Archaeologists believe that this change was associated with the increasing population density of the region and the hunting to near extinction of desirable prey animals such as deer and antelope.

By the 1200s, "turkey completely dominates the animal bones in middens," Driver said. The Pueblo people "were turning to an already domesticated animal and creating a new purpose for it."

The dynamic changed again 250 years later after the Spanish arrived and introduced sheep and chicken. Turkeys began disappearing from the middens and soon were replaced almost entirely by the imported animals, which required less care.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An Iranian Menagerie

I remember placing a jumping spider into the payload section of a model rocket and launching it into the sky when I was about 13. The spider didn't prepare well for the journey, clinging upside down on the bottom side of the nose cone. Sadly, the acceleration killed it.

I hope the Iranian animals made a safe trip.:
Iran announced Wednesday it has successfully launched a research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space -- a feat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said showed Iran could defeat the West in the battle of technology.

Ahmadinejad also unveiled the model of a light booster rocket that is being built and three new, Iranian-built satellites, touted as the latest in the country's ambitious space program.

The launch of the rocket Kavoshgar-3, which means Explorer-3 in Farsi, was announced by Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi to mark the National Day of Space Technology. It comes a year after Iran sent its first domestically made telecommunications satellite, called Omid, or Hope, into orbit for 40 days.

Getting Ready For That Fifteen Minutes

Greta Gerwig is almost there!:
Between June and December of 2006, Gerwig quickly made “Hannah Takes the Stairs” (by Swanberg), “Baghead” (by Jay and Mark Duplass) and “Nights and Weekends,” which she directed with Swanberg. Taken together, these on-the-fly essays in impressionistic filmmaking form a huge chunk of the mumblecore canon, and they’re sometimes laughably amateurish. “I’m kind of horrified by how many people have seen these movies,” Gerwig says. “I had no idea that people would have so many things to say about them. Had I known, I don’t think I would have been able to do all the weird things that I did.”

Last year, after she got the nod from Baumbach, Gerwig’s fortunes seemed to reverse. “It was like falling in love and getting broken up with by movies,” she says. “After ‘Greenberg,’ I came back to New York and I had gained 15 pounds for that part, so I was fat. I couldn’t get any new parts. And all of a sudden I was totally broke, overweight and massively depressed. The shift in my reality was quite stark,” she says. “There was a lot of emotion.”

With the “Greenberg” premiere set for March, things are looking up, and Gerwig has been spending time with her family in her hometown of Sacramento, where her thoughts naturally turn to the idea of becoming, with this next film, something of a celebrity. “At least my mom’s at peace with it,” Gerwig says. “We didn’t have cable for a long time, but now she says she needs it so she can watch E!”

Calling Out Judicial Activism To Its Face

(Image posted on Old Hippie's Groovy Blog).

E.J. Dionne makes some good points regarding the Supreme Court's brazen overreaching.

As I've said, if campaign donation disclosure is rapid, the new system need not be a fiasco. Nevertheless, no one has said disclosure will be rapid, so voter beware!:
The nation owes a substantial debt to Justice Samuel Alito for his display of unhappiness over President Obama's criticisms of the Supreme Court's recent legislation -- excuse me, decision -- opening our electoral system to a new torrent of corporate money.

Alito's inability to restrain himself during the State of the Union address brought to wide attention a truth that too many have tried to ignore: The Supreme Court is now dominated by a highly politicized conservative majority intent on working its will, even if that means ignoring precedents and the wishes of the elected branches of government.

Obama called the court on this, and Alito shook his head and apparently mouthed "not true." His was the honest reaction of a judicial activist who believes he has the obligation to impose his version of right reason on the rest of us.

The controversy also exposed the impressive capacity of the conservative judicial revolutionaries to live by double standards without apology.

The movement's legal theorists and politicians have spent more than four decades attacking alleged judicial abuses by liberals, cheering on the presidents who joined them in their assaults. But now, they are terribly offended that Obama has straightforwardly challenged the handiwork of their judicial comrades.

...[W]hy do they think it's persuasive to argue, as Georgetown Law professor Randy Barnett did in The Wall Street Journal, that it's fine for a president to take issue with the court, except in a State of the Union speech? Isn't it more honorable to criticize the justices to their faces? Are these jurists so sensitive that they can't take it? Do they expect everyone to submit quietly to whatever they do?

In fact, conservatives have made the Supreme Court a punching bag since the 1960s, when "Impeach Earl Warren" bumper stickers aimed at the liberal chief justice proliferated in right-wing precincts.

...As for the specifics of Obama's indictment, Alito's defenders have said the president was wrong to say that the court's decision on corporate political spending had reversed "a century of law" and also opened "the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations."

But Obama was not simply referring to court precedents but also to the 1907 Tillman Act, which banned corporate money in electoral campaigns. The court's recent ruling undermined that policy. Defenders of the decision also say it did not invalidate the existing legal ban on foreign political activity. What they don't acknowledge is that the ruling opens a loophole for domestic corporations under foreign control to make unlimited campaign expenditures.

Matt Darey's "Urban Astronauts" - 'No Submission' (Singapore)

Sliding Back Into A Rainy Period Again

Good! Keep it coming!

Information Technology Makes Many Good Things Possible

And to tell the truth, the old system was chaos - just chaos:
Ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan is preparing to roll out a new system under which the millions of sheep residing in the mountainous state will receive their own high-tech passport, state television reported Monday.

First Deputy Prime Minister Akylbek Japarov said in an address to parliament the government has drafted a bill to deliver a cutting-edge passport to the nation's sheep.

"We are ready to make a passport for each sheep. That is, from their birth to their slaughter, it will be possible to recognise a sheep's pedigree by using laser scanning," he said.

Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished Central Asian country bordering China and Kazakhstan, is home to 4.25 million sheep, according to official government statistics.

Dzhalalidin Gaybulin, head of the National Center of Quarantine and Infectious Diseases of the Ministry of Health, told reporters the passports would help contain disease and urged authorities to go one step further.

"In Kyrgyzstan, every cow must obtain a passport in order to prevent the spread of dangerous infection to humans," he said.

The proposal also includes a system of insurance for sheep, which can be a major source of income for families in the mostly rural country.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

White Phosphorus

I want to see what the War Nerd from Fresno thinks about this, but he seems to be too busy to do anything but post old classics about war subjects that are still too timely and that Americans don't like to think about anyway, because it's just too damned uncomfortable (like the upcoming demise of the aircraft carriers).

Of course, it's hard to blame the UN for being pissed off about Israel's admission regarding what everyone already knew was true anyway. No matter. What the War Nerd admired most about last year's Gaza operation was it's honest, straight-forward brutality:
Buried in paragraph 108 of the Israeli foreign ministry's report to the UN on Gaza is the key fact of the document.

Two senior officers - one the commander of the Gaza ground operation, no less - were reprimanded for failing to follow their own rules of engagement.

The document was slipped out late on Friday night in an attempt, presumably, to minimise its impact.

But it is no surprise that this morning one Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, is leading on the story and others give it prominence.

This is an explosive admission, especially after Israel had said earlier - after an investigation by a senior general - that white phosphorus was not misused during the Gaza conflict.

As Ha'aretz says, this is the first time that Israel has acknowledged, at least in part, allegations by the UN and other international organisations that civilians were jeopardised by the misuse of artillery near the UN warehouse in Gaza City.

And this is in relation to one of the most notorious incidents of the conflict, the burning of the main UN warehouse in Gaza City with white phosphorus shells.

UN officials are, though, privately sceptical of the process by which this admission of wrongdoing emerged.

"This is the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] investigating the IDF," said one UN official who was in Gaza at the time.

The two officers have just been disciplined - they apparently keep their rank and pay - and will not face criminal prosecution.

That is something the Israeli political-military establishment is desperate to avoid.

They fear it would be disastrous for morale and would damage the ability of Israel's army to fight the next war.

However, Israel's problem is that if its own investigations appear to the outside world to be a whitewash designed to avoid action in the courts, the UN is all the more likely to order a special tribunal at The Hague.

Funny Beer Commercials From Around The World


Move For Me - Kaskade & Deadmau5

I hadn't seen the video - nice work!

A Word On Behalf Of Your Oppressed, Neighborhood Banker

Campaign fundraising literature can be fun to read, particularly if you belong to the wrong audience for the message. I absconded with a message meant for bankers:
The banking industry continues to be under assault in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Bankers need a voice in the political process. This is especially critical in the current economic and political environment.

That's where California Bankers Association's Political Action Committee (CBA Federal PAC - formerly known as CALBANKPAC - and CBA State PAC) come in - to protect us from misguided public policies and unfair laws that not only affect the way [we] conduct business, but the extent to which our business and community grow and prosper.

CBA PAC's act as the collective voice of hundreds of California bankers - combining small and large contributions from banks and bankers and allocating these contributions to carefully chosen candidates who support our banking system.


Credit union members and consumer activists are mobilizing their powerful grassroots organizations to advance their interests. The banking industry is their target, and we need to fight back.


With your support, the banking industry can have an even greater voice in today's critical public policy debates.
Well, bankers DO have some clout in our governmental capitals. All that TARP money, for example, went into their coffers. Still, bankers feel invisible, under appreciated, perhaps even a bit powerless. There are sharks on every side.

There was some accompanying literature to the fundraising letter:
The stresses and strains placed on the banking industry in California by federal decision makers are increasing in dramatic fashion. All these decisions are taking their toll and the future of the industry hangs in the balance. More must be done to educate decision makers on your industry's concerns and perspectives, but few are answering the call. California's bankers must understand that getting more involved, whether that is through developing relationships with key lawmakers through California Bankers Association's grassroots program or supporting appropriate candidates through contributions, it is not about doing the right thing or pitching in to help your industry. It is about the survival of our industry from the political and regulatory storm that threatens its vitality.

Make no mistake: Getting more involved in the political arena is a business necessity. Each and every year, our political opponents work long and hard to put the banking industry on the chopping block. Every year, a non-bank competitor seeks to take away part of our market; a politician proposes a way to make banks pay more than their fair share; and every year more and more burdensome regulations are proposed under the guise of "consumer protection."

For a greater understanding of where banks rank in the political landscape consider that the banking industry is consistently outspent by other major industries when it comes to PAC money spent on California congressional and Senate races.
There was a bar graph on the pamphlet showing that while banks contributed almost $4 million in 2008 PAC contributions to California representatives, insurers contributed $8 million and realtors more than $10 million. So, if the phone system in a typical California representative's office lights up, with a realtor on line 1, an insurer on line 2, and a banker on line 3, guess whose calls go directly to voicemail? No wonder bankers feel so isolated!

So what do bankers feel is so wrong with things these days?
In the last several years, Congress has proposed to:
  • Restrict the way creditors use consumer credit reports or credit scores when making a decision about setting an individual's annual percentage rate;
  • Increase notification requirements and prohibit change in terms to a customer credit card contract;
  • Impose price controls and regulate the terms for electronic payment system contracts;
  • Prohibit financial institutions from assessing an overdraft protection fee to cover any check or debit for which there are insufficient funds, unless the consumer gives his/her specific written consent and the fee is separately and conspicuously disclosed each time the fee is imposed, even at ATM and point of sale terminals.
  • Also is a concern is the interest in changing existing pre-emption authority. Efforts to end federal pre-emption are likely to continue. If pre-emption is overturned, national banks would be subject to hundreds of consumer protection laws in California and differing laws in other states, which would triple current compliance costs.

But the real coup d'grace is:

  • Astonishingly, regulatory costs account for 12 to 15 percent of banks' non-interest expense. The American Bankers Association estimated that bank CEOs (in the aggregate) spend more than 5.5 million hours per year on compliance.
Now, I thought that maybe since many banks these days are doing little more than sit on their TARP money, rather than lending it out to small businesses, that maybe the CEOs had plenty of time for other things, like preparing quarterly reports for regulators. But what do I know?

So, say a small prayer for your oppressed, harrassed neighborhood banker: your undervalued, overridden, outspent, overworked, outhustled neighborhood banker. May they once again command the heights of the economy, and steal away those precious seconds of California-representative time from realtors and insurers (whom I'm sure have no real problems of their own).

Wondering About Those Mail Order Brides

Random Homeless Person (HP) with long legs and a big stride comes up from behind me while walking down the sidewalk and starts talking to me (M), forcing me to pick up the pace:
HP: Do you know what I'm saying? You have to take the negative things in life, the negative situations and make something positive out of it. Do you know where there is a laundromat?

M: There is 'City Suds' at 19th & L Streets. Are you going there now?

HP: 'City Suds' - yes, I have heard of it. I have these shrink-to-fit jeans that I got at Loaves and Fishes and that I have to wash. I have a house in Davis, and another one in Citrus Heights, where I could wash them, but they are too far away. Is there enough business in downtown for a laundromat?

M.: Ten years ago, I would have said no, but a lot of young people who work at the Capitol have moved downtown.

HP: It makes no sense to me. It's just throwing equity away, these places with no yards. Why would they do that?

M.: It's OK if they're just going to be doing it for a few years.

HP: It seems strange that the Republicans and the Democrats, who should be so close together as to be almost identical, are somehow so different.

M.: Well, Democrats are mostly lawyers and Republicans are mostly business people. They see the world differently.

HP: There is so much going on in the world that has nothing to do with politics. People have a Catholic, or Catholic-like, or a Christian-like viewpoint. For example, do you want to know what happens with the people who immigrate here - the Russian mail-order brides? They make their own little households, their own little worlds, just like the people; just like the women I knew when we were growing up. Or, just like I knew when I was growing up. Are you Jewish?

M.: No, but everyone says I look it.

HP: My girlfriend was Jewish. Her mother was SO Jewish. But if you aren't prepared to have an income they really don't want you to hang around their daughter. We dated 13 years, but never married.

M: (arriving at my destination) Well, I must leave. 'City Suds' - turn right at the light, then another two or three blocks....

Six More Weeks

Fie on all of you! So sayeth the stressed, ground-dwelling but non-hibernating mammal:
The groundhog has spoken. And it's bad news.

Punxsutawney (puhnk-suh-TAW'-nee) Phil has emerged to see his shadow before chilly revelers in Pennsylvania, meaning winter will last another six weeks.

The Minister Of Silly Walks, Indeed!

Sirocco gets a plum government job:
The New Zealand prime minister has given the country’s most famous parrot a job in his government, it has emerged.

An endangered kakapo parrot, named Sirocco, which rose to fame last year after it attempted to mate with the head of Mark Carwardine, the wildlife presenter, during the BBC’s 'Last Chance to See' series, has been appointed by John Key as the world’s first “spokesbird for conservation”.

Footage of the incident attracted more than half a million hits on the video-sharing website, YouTube.

Mr Key claimed that the notorious and rare bird will be the ideal ambassador for conservation.

“He’s very media-savvy, he’s got a worldwide fan base – they hang on every squawk that comes out of his beak. He’ll be a great official spokesbird for New Zealand,” he said.“Sirocco can speak very loudly on this topic and by the end of this campaign people will be a lot more aware of what’s going on.”

Kakapos are endemic to New Zealand – there were only 51 known kakapo in 1995 but thanks to extensive conservation efforts the number has risen to 124. Some 33 chicks have been transferred to sanctuary islands in southern New Zealand, where it is hoped they will continue to boost the recovery of the species.

“New Zealand is home to the world’s only flightless and nocturnal parrot, the last surviving member of a dinosaur family and the world’s smallest marine dolphin. This is our biodiversity to protect and Sirocco can help spread that message,” said Kate Wilkinson, New Zealand’s conservation minister.

Just A Little TOO PC For Me

Robots. Robots. Why not something cool, like an enormous animatronic dinosaur, to come out of an enormous Pennsylvania cavern, in order to forecast the weather (prior to stampeding through Gobbler's Knob?):
With Groundhog Day just a few hours away, eyes turn toward Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania. Tuesday, Punxsutawney Phil will waddle from his hole, look for his shadow, and announce whether winter will tighten its grasp or step aside for Spring.

But this year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) thinks it's time for the nation's hairiest weatherman to enjoy an early retirement. PETA's proposal: instead of parading and manhandling the wee groundhog, replace ol' Phil with a robot.

It's time to consider "retiring Phil to a sanctuary and replacing him with an electronic groundhog," says the official PETA blog. "Phil is forced to be on display year round at the local library and is denied the ability to prepare for and enter yearly hibernation.... Add to that the displeasure of large, screaming crowds, flashing lights of cameras, and human handling."

...Yet, won't a Phil-bot lack the cuddly charm of a real groundhog?

One PETA commenter thought so: "I think retiring Phil is not the best idea. Is living at a library with children who love him and show him affection that horrible?" asks Adam in response to the post. "He would suffer more hardship back in the wild then continuing what he has been doing his whole life. Also when you say screaming crowds, who is screaming? He's not Bono."

...PETA's animals-in-entertainment specialist, Gemma Vaughan, wrote to Mr. Deeley that "These normally shy animals -- who are constantly on alert when they are out of their burrows -- become stressed when they are exposed to large, screaming crowds; flashing lights from perhaps hundreds of cameras; and human handling.... Other popular exhibitions have featured robotic penguins and dolphins who swim and communicate just like real animals do, and we think that an animatronic groundhog would similarly mesmerize a crowd full of curious spectators in Punxsutawney."

Just Clobber The Shark

Gripping TV News interview from the southern shores of sunny New Zealand:
A 14-year-old girl's quick-thinking enabled her to escape serious injury after a shark lunged at her in waist-deep water at Oreti Beach, near Invercargill, last night.

Fiona Ward said her daughter Lydia was body boarding about 6.30pm when the shark attacked, wrapping its jaws around her hip.

The teenager reacted by furiously whacking the shark on the head with her body board until it let her go, Mrs Ward told the Southland Times.

Lydia thought she had stood on the shark, tried to move away and stood on it again, she said.

"It just came right out of the water and bit her."

Her brother, who was swimming next to her, estimated the shark was about 1.5m long.

Lydia was treated for her wounds at home but was later taken to Southland Hospital to get the deeper of two wounds examined, Mrs Ward said.

"The Producers" Closes

Final bows.

Left to right: Richard Spierto, Scott Griffith, Joseph Boyette, Steven Mo, Martin Lehman, Elizabeth Fernandez, Steve Isaacson (Director), Christina Rae, Andy Hyun, Nate Mack, Mary Young, Amy Jacques-Jones, Chris Petersen, Eimi Stokes.

In The Company Of Friends - A Hometown Cabaret

Using my little Samsung camera, I recorded video from several of the songs at Saturday afternoon's concert at DMTC: "In The Company Of Friends - A Hometown Cabaret". My recording efforts weren't comprehensive (some songs I wish I had made the effort, rather than just sitting there enjoying the music), and the quality isn't superb, but it was all very touching!

Laura Wardrip (in white), Alison Rose Munn (in blue), and Erik Daniells on piano.

Laura Wardrip and Alison Rose Munn, with Erik Daniells on piano.

Alison Rose Munn, accompanied by Erik Daniells.

Alison Rose Munn and Jennifer Douglas, accompanied by Erik Daniells.

Alison Rose Munn and Jessy Rose Stein Nanoff, accompanied by Erik Daniells.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Cramped Space, Loud Music

Fun to see what Sylvia Tosun does in NYC.

Restoration Ecology In New Zealand

Hopeful efforts to reverse the damage caused by introduced species.


The Perils Of Globalization

Learning to live in a world where we can be the vulnerable ones.

There is a danger when John McCain blusters on about us "all being Georgians now," as he did during the 2008 campaign - to our immediate financial peril - a point Vladimir Putin sought to emphasize:
Russia urged China to dump its Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008 in a bid to force a bailout of the largest U.S. mortgage-finance companies, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said.

Paulson learned of the “disruptive scheme” while attending the Beijing Summer Olympics, according to his memoir, “On The Brink.”

The Russians made a “top-level approach” to the Chinese “that together they might sell big chunks of their GSE holdings to force the U.S. to use its emergency authorities to prop up these companies,” Paulson said, referring to the acronym for government sponsored entities. The Chinese declined, he said.

Russia’s five-day war with U.S. ally Georgia started on Aug. 8, the same day as the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Games. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush during those ceremonies that “war has started,” according to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman.

“The report was deeply troubling -- heavy selling could create a sudden loss of confidence in the GSEs and shake the capital markets,” Paulson wrote. “I waited till I was back home and in a secure environment to inform the president.”

...Paulson said he was surprised not to have been asked about the Fannie and Freddie bonds during a trip to Moscow in June. “I was soon to learn, though, that the Russians had been doing a lot of thinking about our GSE securities,” he said of his meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin in the Kremlin the previous month.

Putin kept Paulson waiting before their meeting at the government’s headquarters and made the conversation “fun” by being “direct and a bit combative,” Paulson said. “He never took offense and we could spar back and forth,” he said.

Larry's Brother

The Sobbing Homeless Man came and went before I felt confident enough to place aluminum cans in the recycle container in the alley. Just then, Larry's Brother came along. He rifled through my recycle container, then brazenly entered the neighbor's yard to rifle through their cans, before asking me if I had some work for him. I put him to work doing a bit of sweeping outside the yard, in the alley, under the hedge, and also in the DMV parking lot, where debris from my tree ends up and where waste bird seed gathers.

I paid Larry's Brother more than he expected, to help gain his confidence. I caught his curiosity by mentioning the Sobbing Homeless Man. Larry's Brother brightened up. "I saw that guy," he said, shaking his head. "He was crying! I saw it! Strange! You don't know about people like that. They can go one way, or the other." I asked how Larry was doing, and Larry's Brother was evasive: "Oh, he's been busy."

Then I asked whether Larry was in prison. I explained that I had been receiving mysterious phone calls from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (calls that continued despite turning off my phone service, until I physically detached the phones from their phone lines), but as far as I knew, no one I knew was in prison.

"Oh, Larry's not in prison," Larry's Brother replied. "In fact, we bicycled past about 7:30 a.m. this morning, but it was a bit early to ask for work." I explained that I never get up earlier than noon. Larry's Brother laughed, and shook his head, before departing down the alley.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Credit Terrorist

About time, I say:
The phone rings, and he answers with a soft voice. It's just a friend, and soon he hangs up. He's waiting for a particular type of phone call—one from a representative of a debt collection agency or a credit card company, whom he'll try to ensnare like a Venus fly trap. It's not unlikely that Cunningham's next call will be from a bill collector, since he's between jobs—except for being in the Army Reserve—and owes $100,000 in debts.

While most Americans with unpaid bills dread the collector's call, Cunningham sees them as lucrative opportunities. Many collection and credit card companies, intentionally or not, violate little-known consumer rights laws, and Cunningham's favorite pastime is catching them doing so and then suing them. In fact, it's a profitable side job.

Call it ironic, but the only house on the block that appears to be the foreclosed end to some sad financial story is in fact the home of one of the debt collection industry's emerging and persistent threats. Cunningham calls himself a private attorney general—someone who files private lawsuits in the public interest. Debt collectors call him a credit terrorist.

Patrick Lunsford, who edits InsideARM, a trade magazine for the debt collection industry, knows the term. "There is a sub-group out there that does actually advise people on how to bait [collectors]," he says. "That's something that really gets under the skin of, well, obviously, collectors."

Cunningham beats the debt collectors at their own game. He turns their money-making practice into a financial liability. He is a regular guy who has become a radical enemy of the banking system.

In 2005, two foreclosures pushed Cunningham near financial ruin. Like many Americans, he fell enchanted by the siren's song of easy credit and borrowed more than $100,000 to bet on risky, high-yielding investments, such as stock in the now vilified sub-prime mortgage industry. Then, while stationed with the Army in El Paso, he attempted to become an absentee landlord and got zero-percent-down sub-prime mortgages to buy low-income four-plexes in Houston and Dallas. With the interest earned on his high-yielding stocks he was paying back his low-interest credit card debt; now, he was using the mortgages to borrow even more.

Then, the bottom fell out. Investors like Cunningham fell the fastest. He sold his Houston homes, but his Dallas properties were foreclosed on. The collection calls started. He was running scared.

Desperation took him online in a search of anything that could save him from his own $100,000 in bad choices. One afternoon while sitting on his couch in his El Paso home, he found a way to fight back. He stumbled across hundreds of other distraught consumers like himself on credit message boards, each with some different version of the same story of bad choices and greed. And, he found a new way to deal with his debt: He could hide behind the law.

His new online friends pointed him to a number of federal and state statutes protecting consumers like him against overly aggressive and abusive debt collectors and a credit system stacked against the little guy. If you knew your rights, he learned on the message boards, you were very likely to catch a collector violating them. Then you could sue.

Cunningham armed himself with this knowledge, and the next time a debt collector called, the trap was set.

It didn't take long. Cunningham had canceled a home alarm service with ADT Security after two months, and the company had billed him a $450 early termination fee, which he disputed. ADT sent his account to Equinox Financial Management Solutions, a third-party debt collector. The collection agency sent him a letter asking that he call back immediately. He dialed, armed with a voice recorder.

"Can you garnish my wages if I don't pay?" he asked.

"Yes," the voice on the other end of the line said.

"Can you put a lien on my house?"


Wrong answers. Turns out, Texas consumer rights laws are some of the most consumer-friendly in the country. And according to a federal consumer protection law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collectors are prohibited from threatening legal action that would violate state laws. In this case, garnishing wages or putting a lien on Cunningham's house would violate the Texas Debt Collection Act.

Cunningham knew he had a good enough case to file a lawsuit against the debt collection agency, and for his first lawsuit, he decided to enlist the help of a lawyer. Two months later, he had a check in his hand for $1,000.

"It's like discovering fire," says Cunningham, thumbing through the stack of lawsuit papers on his table.

He immediately started devouring as much information as he could about the three chief federal laws that protect consumers from collectors: the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). In the next four years, Cunningham accused debt collectors of misrepresenting the amount he owed (an FDCPA violation that entitles a consumer to collect up to $1,000). He sued over prerecorded and auto-dialed calls to his cellular phone (a TCPA violation worth up to $1,500 per call). He also filed complaints that agencies failed to investigate his claims that his credit file contains inaccurate information, a breach of the Fair Credit Reporting Act worth up to $1,000 per violation. All told, he filed 15 other lawsuits in federal court without the help of a lawyer, earning himself settlements totaling more than $20,000.

"Most people hear about the abuses that debt collectors do, but you just didn't hear about the second part of it, where people sue the collectors," he says.

Cunningham is one of thousands of hounded debtors who are trading in their paralyzing fears and learning to stand up for themselves. Americans as a whole owe some $2.5 trillion in consumer debt, according to the Federal Reserve, a figure that doesn't include home mortgages. Nearly four in five Americans have credit cards and half carry a balance, according to the Obama administration.

...Debtors, either because they feel morally obligated or because they don't know their options, get backed into a corner by their creditors and believe they have to repay their debts, he says. Not so with Cunningham. "I don't have to do anything but stay black and die," he says, a small, smug smile on his lips.

...Cunningham had no problem spending all the money anyone would loan him, but he needed to pay off some of the accrued debt to maintain his credit score. He knew his military loan did not get reported to any of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. So, by paying off his credit card debt with money from that loan, he artificially maintained his credit score and continued to be approved for high credit. Sounds fishy, but Cunningham didn't feel that he was taking advantage of the system, at least not anymore than the next guy or the brokers and bankers at the time.

"It's their system," says Cunningham. "I didn't make the rules. I'm just learning what the rules are."

...The Dallas properties were foreclosed, and his obsessively maintained credit score seemed wrecked. Cunningham returned to the online credit board for help. This time, however, he wasn't looking to add an artificial shine to his credit score, he was looking for a way out of the ashes. Cunningham discovered a whole other world of consumer-generated knowledge. This was a rogue group of disgruntled consumers who were trying to save themselves and their credit by filing lawsuits when the collection industry screwed up the mechanics of debt reporting and collection. What he found was an instrument not of repair or reconciliation, but of vengeance.

"All the conventional wisdom, all the right people say, 'Pay your bills on time and work with your creditors,'" Cunningham says, recalling his thoughts at the time. Yet he had discovered a new set of people who posted their credit reports on line and their successful lawsuits, showing how much money they won in settlements that simultaneously removed a bad debt from their credit report. "I said, 'Maybe there's another way.' Again, just revolution. I never even thought about it."

The knowledge on these boards originated from consumers testing the boundaries of the credit system through their own experiences. The nature of this information, from the beginning, was a mixture of anarchistic tendencies, vengeance and greed. Now the wisdom of the boards has been distilled into an e-book published in January. Debtsmanship was written by Steven Katz, a former New York debt collector turned consumer advocate, who now lives in Phoenix. In 2005, Katz founded a message board called "Debtorboards," with the slogan "Sue your creditor and win!"

Katz doesn't believe that people are morally obligated to pay back their debts. That notion was invented by debt collectors as a way to beat people into submission, he says. "Bill collectors would love for you to send them a check and then explain to your kids because you have the moral obligation to pay your debt they're not eating this week," he says. "But they don't see the moral obligation to feed your children or yourself.

"People are brainwashed to think that paying a credit card is more important than paying for the necessities of life," Katz says. "If you're in a position where you have to make a choice, my argument is food, clothing and shelter come first... Nobody ever went to hell for not paying a debt."

"Fight back" is the take-away message from a visit to Debtorboards, which is intended to help consumers who wish to file lawsuits without the help of lawyers. Debtorboards outlines steps consumers can take to deal with bothersome debt collectors. For example, if a debt collector is only bothering you, you could send them a letter or sue them. However, if you're so far in debt that you see no way out but bankruptcy, then you can check out the board's "frustrating the skip tracer" technique. There, you'll find tips on how to run and hide from a collector.

...Up until now, everything was about making easy money for Cunningham. Now, it's about justice—or at least what he sees as justice.

"When you or I make a mistake, they say, 'Hey, tough nuts, be smarter next time, you know, bad luck, didn't work out for ya," he says. "When the fat cats on Wall Street make a mistake, they say, 'Oh, national emergency! We've got to bail these guys out."

Since nobody has showed up to bail Cunningham out, he's decided some of the $100,000 debt he once amassed will never get paid back.

"I already paid them off," he says. "The government took my money without asking me and gave it to the banks. And since I owe the banks money, but they already got my money from the government, I say we're even."

Runaway Stage Productions - 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

At the show's end, RSP appealed on behalf of 'Doctors Without Borders' for donations to help Haiti Earthquake victims.

Left to right: Leaf Coneybear (Tristan Rumery), Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Danielle Hansen), Marcy Park (Marcy Goodnow), William Barfee (Tony Wichowski), Olive Ostrovsky (Christina Day), Chip Tolentino (Scott Woodard), Rona Lisa Peretti (Kristen Wagner), Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Dan Masden), Mitch Mahoney (Rudy Brown), and Stage Manager Kaitlin Flint.

This show brought back vivid memories. I remember participating in the Taylor Junior High School Spelling Bee, in Alameda, just north of Albuquerque, NM, in the late 1960's. From an undistinguished start in 6th grade, I managed a stellar third place finish in 7th grade. I was determined to win 1st place in my last year of eligibility, 8th grade (1969).

Taylor Junior High School had an elementary school appended to it (Laguna Elementary School). In my last year at Taylor, the school's spelling bee was actually held in Laguna Elementary School's library.

There was another fellow participating in the spelling bee named Frank Buttons. As I recall, he was as undistinguished as students came - sloppy, uninterested, playing the clown without actually being funny. He was the second student to stand at that year's spelling bee, and to no one's surprise, he was the second student dismissed from that year's spelling bee.

Then it was my turn - the third student to stand. The word was: weird. Well, that was easy enough: w - i - e - r - d.

It came as a vast surprise to discover that I had missed the correct spelling. I was summarily dismissed.

Outside, in the hallway, Frank Buttons had dallied. He was surprised to see me so soon, but happy to have someone to talk with as we walked back to our classes. For myself, I was horrified. For all the world to see I was now Frank Buttons' equal. I would never live this down. I've been looking for spelling redemption ever since.

Saturday night, I thought redemption was to be had. Anne-Marie Pringle was gathering signatures for volunteers to participate in RSP's production of the "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". At last, I could show my spelling mettle! I AM better than Frank Buttons! I AM somebody!

Alas, not to be. The volunteers chosen were generally in the same age range of the actors - you understand, to make the show more believable. Time wounds all heels, as Dorothy Parker used to say (well, I must admit, 41 years is a long time to wait for spelling redemption).

Spelling bees are interesting exercises, because (unlike life itself) there ARE correct answers. The students who excel at spelling bees must put in many social-skill-stunting hours to reach their high levels of performance.

RSP's production was excellent, featuring winning performances by all involved. The budding friendship between William Barfee (Tony Wichowski) and Olive Ostrovsky (Christina Day) forms the emotional core of the story. Christina's winning personality shone through her characterization of Olive, melting William's idiosyncratic heart.

Startled by biological distraction into error, Chip Tolentino (Scott Woodard) could not accept his dismissal, and his utterly juvenile rebellion against authority was immensely-funny (My Unfortunate Erection, or Chip's Lament).

Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Danielle Hansen) represented one extreme - over-parenting by two 'dads', and Olive Ostrovsky (Christina Day) represented the other extreme - absent parents. Leaf Coneybear (Tristan Rumery) represented one other feature of brilliant kids - non-sequiturs ("I have cats!") William Barfee (Tony Wichowski) represented the genuine independence that such kids sometimes possess.

The most-difficult role fell to Marcy Park (Marcy Goodnow). Brilliant kids often fail to make space for the casual errors of humankind, and Marcy launches into an entire song to express her - disdain? - that Rona Lisa Peretti (Kristen Wagner) announced to the audience that Marcy speaks five languages, when the correct number is six. Six languages; not five. Got that?

Marcy Park's character has unattractive qualities - pouting, demanding, poised to deliberately fail in order to avoid stress - but I recognize the character: reminds me of my ex-wife! Yes, I recognize Marcy Park's salient characteristics very well. And Marcy Goodnow 'gets' the character remarkably well. She is to be congratulated for her acting skills (makes me wonder if I should have married Marcy instead?).

Rona Lisa Peretti (Kristen Wagner), Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Dan Masden), and Mitch Mahoney (Rudy Brown) represent the adults who, for their greater age, are scarcely more-mature than their charges.

There is a sequence in the show where time is alternately sped up and slowed down for theatrical effect. I liked RSP's interpretation of this sequence - fine work!

The show closed today, but I'm glad I went!

In The Company Of Friends - A Hometown Cabaret

Nice concert, featuring two close friends from DMTC's YPT in the late 90's, Laura Wardrip and Alison Rose Munn, with Erik Daniells on piano.

Turnout was about 65, or 70.

I had never seen Alison Rose Munn perform before. Wonderful energy!