Saturday, February 20, 2010

Can't I Just Sit In Someone's Lap?

I tried to walk into California Stage and secure a seat for "Threepenny Opera" this evening, but the show was sold-out. Their run is being extended until March 14th, but with "Kiss Me, Kate" opening soon, I don't think that does me any good.

Commercial Real Estate Difficulties To Come

People have been warning about a commercial real estate crisis - and I keep looking for it - but there is a bit of 'Waiting for Godot' as the clock ticks on. Just when I stop looking for it, that'll be when it happens:
The new round of financial pain, which some had anticipated but hoped to avoid, now seems all but certain. "There's been an enormous bubble in commercial real estate, and it has to come down," said Elizabeth Warren, chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel, the watchdog created by Congress to monitor the financial bailout. "There will be significant bankruptcies among developers and significant failures among community banks."

Unlike the largest banks, such as Citigroup and Wachovia, that got into so much trouble early on, the community banks in general fared better in the residential mortgage crisis. But their turn is coming: Not only did community banks issue a higher proportion of commercial loans, but they also have held on to them rather than sell them to other investors.

...In Washington, the number of troubled properties has multiplied at a phenomenal rate, with the value growing from only $13 million in 2007 to $40 billion now, according to CoStar Group, a Bethesda real estate research company. The region trails only South Florida and metropolitan New York in the per capita value of commercial real estate assets in foreclosure, default or delinquency, according to the research group Real Capital Analytics.

...Whether the commercial real estate bubble bursts in a catastrophic event or subsides slowly and less dangerously will be determined during the next year. An immediate crisis was postponed when domestic and foreign investors began snatching up troubled properties at bargain prices. And banks more and more are renegotiating loans, extending the terms by a year or two in the hope that conditions will improve rather than calling in mortgages that cannot be paid.

...Nationwide, at least $1.4 trillion in commercial real estate debt is expected to roll over during the next three years. Warren said that half of commercial real estate mortgages will be underwater by the beginning of 2011. A fifth of residential mortgages are underwater now, she said.

Unlike residential mortgages, which often can be paid over 30 years, commercial real estate mortgages typically must be paid off or refinanced within five years. Commercial properties mortgaged in 2005, 2006 and 2007, at the height of the boom, are reaching their maturity date. "Do the math on this," Warren said. "This is a significant problem."

That Down Syndrome Girl

There's room for everyone here. The "Family Guy" folks are jackasses and Sarah Palin is one grim wench:
There's been hoo-hah galore this week over "Family Guy's" crass subplot featuring a Down Syndrome character whose mother is the "former governor of Alaska." And predictably, no one's been more vocal than the former Alaska governor and mother of a Down Syndrome child herself, Sarah Palin, who called the episode "a kick in the gut."

But the story took an interesting turn Thursday when the actress who voiced the "Family Guy" character, Andrea Fay Friedman, fired off an email to the New York Times defending the episode. Friedman, who has Down Syndrome, said, "I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor. I thought the line 'I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska' was very funny. I think the word is 'sarcasm.' In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life."

Speaking of senses of humor, as both Gawker and the Palingates blog were quick to point out, the Paper of Record somehow saw fit to excise the kicker from Friedman's missive – "My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes." Boom! Roasted!

It's That Hopey, Changey Thing

Last night, I dreamt that I was dating Sarah Palin. All I remember are the good times.

Friday, February 19, 2010

This Is Why The Former Republics Of The USSR Should Never Be A Part Of NATO!

By design, NATO is a defensive alliance, and has usually acted in that way. Even the current Afghanistan intervention ultimately is based on self-defense.

Georgia has long sought membership in NATO, but it also has long been interested in direct military action against Russia. A lot of the Caucasian Republics have a history of cross-border raiding that remains very active today, despite being sadly-antiquated in an era of ballistic missiles. Georgia seeks NATO membership, in part, so it can safely carry out raids against Russia.

In 2008, Georgia attacked South Ossetia, which was under Russia's protection precisely because the South Ossetians feared Georgian attack. If Georgia had been a member of NATO, Dick Cheney would have gotten his way, called out the B-2 bombers, and Russia and the USA would immediately have been embroiled in war, with nothing - NOTHING - to stop escalation to nuclear conflict. If John McCain ("we are all Georgians now") had been President in 2008, Washington D.C. might well be a blackened nuclear crater.

The folks in the Caucasus and the Baltics might not like it, but it safer for them, and safer for the world, if they NEVER become part of NATO. It is not the job of NATO to protect people who want to carry out attacks against Russia.:
A new book suggests Vice President Dick Cheney pushed for the US to engage militarily with Russia when Russia invaded the US-allied Georgian republic in 2008.

Ronald Asmus' A Little War that Shook the World, published last month, says that in August 2008, as the South Ossetia War between Russian and Georgia was raging, the White House looked at the possibility of taking military action to prevent Georgian forces from being routed by Russian troops.

Georgia's leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, was seen as an ally of Washington and had pushed for NATO membership for his country.

"The sheer scale of the Russian attack did lead several senior White House staffers to push for at least some consideration of limited military options to stem the Russian advance," Asmus wrote. "The menu of options under discussion foresaw the possibility of bombardment and sealing of the Roki Tunnel as well as other surgical strikes to reduce Russian military pressure on the Georgian government."

Asmus paints a scenario in which Cheney appears to be the most vocal proponent of the idea of engaging in the South Ossetia conflict, even as other members of the administration, including the national security adviser and the president, resisted the idea.

Asmus writes that there was disagreement on the issue between Bush administration National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Cheney. Hadley “thought Russia was focused only on Georgia," while "Cheney had a different and harder-edged view of Moscow’s goals. Both Hadley's and Cheney's staffs had also raised the question of considering limited military options."

Asmus suggests Hadley argued against the idea that the US should intervene militarily. "Hadley had pushed them to think hard about the consequences of any proposed military steps and where they could lead. He was convinced they would lead quickly to a US-Russian military confrontation."

The book indicates that President Bush was told of the suggestion that the US should interfere militarily in Georgia, and rejected it.

"At a meeting of the Principals Committee on Monday, August 11 [2008], Hadley ... put the military option on the table to see whether there was any support for such steps to help the Georgians repel the Russians. There was not."

Asmus added: "There was a clear sense around the table that almost any military steps could lead to a confrontation with Moscow, the outcome of which no one could predict, and which was not in the US interest."

...The pro-Western Saakashvili came to power in 2004 when then-Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze resigned, in what came to be known as the "Rose Revolution." Saakashvili had strong relations with the West until 2008, when many Western leaders quietly blamed him for the conflict with Russia.

The South Ossetia war of 2008 had to do with two disputed provinces of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose inhabitants are generally either ethnically Russian or pro-Russian in their politics. Both provinces had had de facto independence from Georgia for years, though their governments, while backed by Russia, were not internationally recognized.

On August 7, 2008, Georgia launched a military campaign to reclaim parts of the breakaway territories. Russia responded with an air assault and ground invasion. Over the next week, Russian forces penetrated deep into Georgia. After a ceasefire was signed on August 12, Russia withdrew from Georgia proper but kept troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and set up buffer zones between those territories and Georgian forces. The military campaign was generally seen as a significant success for Russia.

Does Belated Direct Action Work In Politics?

In his manifesto, Andrew Stack stated "nothing changes unless there is a body count." Perhaps he has a point. And perhaps he had a legitimate grievance too:
That 1986 change in the tax code that Joe Stack, the suicidal pilot who crashed his plane into an IRS building on Thursday, cited as a primal grievance in his online manifesto? According to David Cay Johnston, writing in the New York Times, Stack's beef was legit: the law "made it extremely difficult for information technology professionals to work as self-employed individuals, forcing most to become company employees."

And the original reason for the law, well, one can understand why some people would find it a little crazy-making.
The law was sponsored by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, as a favor to I.B.M., which wanted a $60 million tax break on its overseas business.

Under budget rules in effect at the time, any tax breaks had to be paid for with new revenues. By requiring software engineers to be employees, a Congressional report estimated, income and payroll taxes would rise by $60 million a year because employees had few opportunities to cheat on their taxes.

Within a year, however, Moynihan changed his mind, and unsuccessfully sought for the law's repeal.
The Times inexplicably does not link back to Johnston's much longer article exposing the law in 1998. In that piece, Johnston extensively documented the devastating effect the law had on software programmers who wanted to set up their own shop.

...It doesn't need belaboring that 99 percent of the software engineers negatively affected by Moynihan's amendment to the tax code did not end up as tax protesting kamikaze pilots. But the final kicker to Johnston's update of the story nevertheless provokes a chill.
On Wednesday, the day before Andrew Joseph Stack III left his suicide note and crashed the plane into the building in Austin, the Obama administration proposed a widespread crackdown on all types of independent contractors in an effort to raise $7 billion in tax revenue over 10 years.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Tax Reform Act Of 1986 Returns To Bite Austin, TX, On The Ass

I wonder how many other arcane grievances there are in the Big World out there?:
The litany of grievances recorded in Joseph Stack's suicide manifesto is so vast and all-encompassing that it puts your average paranoid conspiracy theorist to shame. Few targets escape his disgust and hatred: The government, the drug and insurance companies, "the joke we call the American medical system," the "vulgar, corrupt Catholic church" and equally "corrupt unions," the "sleazy executives" of accounting firm Arthur Andersen and Detroit's auto companies, savings and loans firms, the city of Austin, wealthy bankers, "pompous political thugs and their mindless minions" and of course, the ultimate target of his wrath, "Mr Big Brother IRS man."

...In the early 1980s, writes Stack, he was a "wet-behind-the-ears " contract software engineer in southern Calfornia. As such, he fell into a class of worker that has always enjoyed (or suffered) from ambiguous tax status. A truly independent contractor is responsible for his or her own taxes and other expenses -- such as health care -- and many libertarian-minded software geeks have always liked it that way.

But just as many corporations in the high tech world have consistently sought their own advantage in pretending that full-time employees were actually independent, and thus could be denied worker benefits.

Somewhere in between were true independent contractors who had long-standing relationships with single companies, and for a while, the tax code recognized this explicitly. There's a nice (and speedily assembled) treatment of this point in the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy blog written by Joseph Henchman.

In 1978, Congress passed a moratorium that allowed high tech workers who had previously considered themselves independent contractors to continue doing so. But then came Stack's nemesis, Section 1706 of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which removed that protection from certain "technical personnel" -- specifically singling out those who provided services as a "engineer, designer, drafter, computer programmer, systems analyst, or other similarly skilled worker."

As part of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, that moratorium was abandoned for high-tech consultants, who then faced the same employee/independent contractor test as everyone else. High-tech consultants were targeted because there was strong evidence that they were abusing the moratorium as a tax shelter and because it fit a need to offset a separate unrelated tax change in the Act that would result in a revenue reduction.
Was Joe Stack abusing the moratorium as a tax shelter? Or was the amendment to the tax code just a naked government grab for cash from the hard-working pillars of the high tech economy? Perhaps the avalanche of reporting to come in the days ahead will enlighten us.

Feeling Sorry For Tom Friedman

Jerry writes:
A gem from your favorite columnist:
"Avoid the term global warming. I prefer the term global weirding"
I reply:
I wonder what Friedman's nemesis, Matt Taibbi, would say to that turn of phrase? (A couple of links (1, 2) to Matt's classic work).
Jerry responds:
And he's apparently repeating himself.
I reply:
That's not so bad. Columnists are under intense deadline pressure to say something pithy, often in several different venues. Almost makes you feel sorry for poor Tom. God knows, Tom's not very bright, and he constantly has to fend off criticism from better writers like Taibbi. A lot of the time his heart is in the right place, but his shoes are mired in discarded chicken wire (trying to mix my metaphors here).

Critic Roundup

"Greenberg" at Berlinale.

Roger Ebert, Movie Critic

I had no idea how he was doing. Amazing story!:
It has been nearly four years since Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. Now television's most famous movie critic is rarely seen and never heard, but his words have never stopped.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Day In The Life Of A Telephone Man

People At The South End Of The North Island Suggest That People At The North End Of The North Island Stop Complaining About The Weather

Apparently it has been muggy in Auckland:
MetService forecaster Ramon Oosterkamp said the extremely humid air would be gone by tomorrow after hanging around for close to a week.

...Mr Oosterkamp - who works in Wellington - said the humidity had been caused by "air that has come down from the tropics and has dragged itself over you guys".

...He said it was not unusual for Auckland to have humid weather at this time of year, and joked that Aucklanders should stop complaining, as Wellington had hardly experienced summer this year.

"Can we have some of your toastiness, please?"

Forthcoming Wedding

Congratulations to Bruce Warren and Richel Cano on their upcoming nuptials, in Albuquerque, NM, on March 7, 2010! (I will be in a performance of "Kiss Me Kate" on that date, however, so I can't attend the wedding service).

A Dove's Glee

People pushing for a war with Iran have, of late, been surprised by the endurance of the regime in Tehran, and have lashed out at their dovish opponents for being 'gleeful' at the regime's stability. This blogger explains what a dove's glee means - it's sinful, of course, but it's just the joy of knowing that, once again, the hawks are wrong:
We doves got accused of glee-like emotional activities a lot from 2003-7, for the offense of demonstrating that hawks were fools and knaves. Hawks prated about “glee” because they didn’t have any better arguments. All they could do was slander their opponents. It had always been their core competence anyway.

But it would be a lie to pretend we doves never enjoyed our work. Do you think I didn’t have any fun at all explicating the absurdity of the arguments for starting and continuing the conquest of Iraq, digging into the monthly electricity statistics, cataloguing the endless examples of RSN [Real Soon Now] Syndrome or explicating the government’s transparent lies about torture and treatment of civilians? People. I did that for six years. Nobody puts that much effort into something that isn’t satisfying on some level. Of course it was fun, for certain grim and bitter kinds of “fun.”

The above is the paragraph that hostile critics could excerpt out of context if such people still bothered to read me. Here’s the rest of the story. The kind of “glee” I discuss above is inescapably endemic to intellectuals, where an “intellectual” is merely someone who cares enough about ideas to bother arguing about them on a sustained basis. We do this because disputation about ideas lights up the SEEKING circuits. This has been as true for 21st-century doves as any group of people motivated enough to engage any side of any intellectual, cultural or political issue. It applied to the dispute over the New Formalism in poetry. It was as true of the hawks luxuriating in their outrage over the Madrid bombings or, before the war, spending hours upon hours assembling photo links from the aftermath of Halabja. There is nothing, nothing, quite like the combination of satisfaction and aggression that comes from being right about something you care a great deal about, and we were right. You bet your ass that was “fun.”

This is not praiseworthy, because what we were right about was human evil, folly and suffering, so our satisfaction necessarily stemmed from a record of failure and misery. In Christian terms, it’s a sin of pride. (In secular terms, it’s just obnoxious.) But it’s how intellectual work ever gets done. And it not only “isn’t the whole story,” it’s not the whole story in important ways.

The reason doves engaged this particular issue was because doves wanted to prevent war crimes and the moral degradation and human waste that attend them, and then to contain and curtail those things – to prevent an illegitimate and stupid war in Iraq; failing that, to end it and avoid repeating it elsewhere. Doves did not want soldiers to be reft from their families, civilians gunned down at checkpoints, cities gutted by artillery shells and white phosphorus, hundreds of billions of dollars wasted or stolen, millions of people displaced from their homes, one nation devastated and another manic with aggression and self-pity. All this will come to pass, doves warned, and were laughed at, and then it came to pass. The petty satisfaction of “I told you so” was real, but bitterly inadequate to the grief and rage at seeing what we’d tried to prevent, happen.

Our sin was to feel an unworthy emotion at being proven right about the full consequences of unjustified aggression. Our real opponents’ sins were to perpetrate unjustified aggression in the first place – our real opponents were always the people with actual power – and then to evade responsibility for the full consequences. Our debating partners’ sins – the people who cheered on the people in power – were to cheer on unjustified aggression early and try to evade responsibility late. In each case and at every phase both sets of miscreants based much of their case on our real and imagined inadequacies, including the fact that, like anyone else in the world, we took some pleasure in being correct.

The idea was that unless we were perfect in every emotion and attitude, we had no standing. This maneuver worked! Because the hawks in fact had the real power and controlled the discourse. That was so infuriating that it added another layer of vindictive satisfaction at seeing events show them for fools. Which was of course, more bad attitude on our part. Which just further “proved” our unseemly glee at the ruin they made of the world. Which, since they still had the actual power and still controlled the discourse, just further entrenched them. Which is, I promise you, even more infuriating. So when the same people, having devastated both ends of Central Asia and the American fisc, continue to hold fora to urge more of the same in Iran and Yemen and somewhere else next month, it galls us yet further. It’s a nice racket. I’ve seen that term before in this very context.

Lastly and most importantly, it doesn’t matter how awfully gleeful doves are or aren’t. It doesn’t matter how gleeful Larison and I were or weren’t about being right about the disaster the Iraq War became, or how happy the Leveretts are or aren’t to have the better case about the strength of the Green Revolution in Iran. It doesn’t matter exactly how much that intellectual pleasure is swamped by horror at the suffering of the victims. The premise of liberal society is that arguments stand or fall on their merits, not the state of the souls of the arguers. It is more important that the Iraq hawks were wrong then and the Iran hawks wrong now than how any of us feel about it. And it’s vastly more important that the hawks were and are wrong than how any of us in the policy argument feel about each other.

European Theaters Might Boycott 'Alice in Wonderland'

Theater owners appalled at DVD release plans:
Walt Disney Pictures' decision to accelerate the release of its upcoming 3-D film "Alice in Wonderland" on DVD has sparked a revolt among movie theater owners in Europe.

Major chains in the U.K. and the Netherlands have threatened to boycott the movie when it hits theaters March 5, a move that could cut into box-office revenue.

...Disney said it intended to release the "Alice" DVD about three months after the movie appears in theaters, compared with the typical four- to six-month window. Like other studios, Disney is experimenting with shorter windows in response to declining DVD sales. Theater owners, especially in Europe, fear that will discourage consumers from going to theaters amid a period of record revenue. Exhibitors are also upset because they have recently spent millions of dollars upgrading thousands of screens to show 3-D movies.

..."I'm getting e-mails from my colleagues all across Europe and everyone says. . . . this is one step too far," said Ad Weststrate, president of the International Union of Cinemas in Europe. "The guys are really fanatic now."

...Theater owners in Italy and other European countries are mulling similar action, said Weststrate. Some European exhibition executives complained that, unlike their counterparts in the U.S., they were not consulted by Disney executives until recently.

"It was represented like 'take it or leave,' " said one high-level European exhibition executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussions. "It was done brutally."

...Britain is the second-largest international market for American movies after Japan, but its potential for "Alice" is even larger, given that the movie, which cost about $150 million to produce, is based on a classic English story and features Johnny Depp and a mostly British cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman. In addition, director Tim Burton, Bonham Carter's partner, lives in England.

"Anything that would prevent maximizing 'Alice' for the U.K. would be horrible," said Joe Roth, a producer of the film. "This would be one of the biggest pictures of the year in the U.K. But I honestly think this will be worked out."

Sometimes These Things Are Hard To Notice

It was hidden from view!:
A garda [Irish Police] investigation has been launched into how a post mortem at one of the country’s biggest hospitals failed to notice that a golf ball was lodged in a dead man’s throat.

...The post mortem failed to establish a cause of death and the man’s remains were removed to a funeral home. Staff there made an incision in the man’s upper chest and neck as part of the preparation of the remains for burial and discovered the golf ball lodged in his throat.

Premiere des Film "Greenberg" mit Ben Stiller und Greta Gerwig

Palo Alto Plane Crash

Oh, what a mess - Cessna hits power lines and causes lots of trouble:
Kate McClellan, 57, said she was walking her dog when she saw a plane descend from the foggy sky and strike the tower, causing power lines to swing wildly in the air.

"It burst into flames, and then it kept flying for bit before it hit some houses and exploded," McClellan said.

So, Whassup In My Neighborhood?

Sleeping away in happy oblivion, I missed all this:
A large manhunt for a burglary suspect has ended in Curtis Park where officers tracked down the suspect in the backyard of a home.

The hunt began about 7:00am when a Curtis Park homeowner caught a man in his garage. The homeowner tussled with the burglary suspect before the burglar fled.

Several police officers including K9 units began searching the area. About an hour into the search, the suspect was spotted in the backyard of a Curtis Park home and arrested.

And Inside The New Leaf Gallery....

"The Connection" by Andrew Myers.

Yearning for those shoes!

Gotta have those shoes!
Washcloth sculpture. Verisimilitude!
Interesting bench.
"Roto" by Bella Feldman.
"Nanosys" by Stan Dann.

Mobiles, Stabiles, Gardens And Sculptures At 'A New Leaf' Gallery' In Sonoma

Cornerstone Gardens features several galleries, along with the experimental garden associated with "The New Leaf Gallery". We wandered the gardens and enjoyed the beautiful spring day.
Here at A New Leaf Gallery, we find ourselves fortunate to be located at Cornerstone Sonoma. Chosen as one of the 100 Gardens to See Before You Die, Cornerstone features 22 installations created by renowned landscape designers. The gardens and the sculptures within them demonstrate the seamless integration of art and nature. Both owe their beauty to the elements and in some cases, to the wind in particular.

This reminds me of one of those moments from "The Prisoner", when one is advised to run, not walk!
Interesting interplay of light and shadow!
Left: The child in me loves a beckoning tube!

Below: No garden is complete without politics!

Grapes, parsley, and strawberries in a cozy and private little setting.
As their Web Site states:
One especially intriguing garden is the work of San Francisco designer John Greenlee. Mediterranean Meadow consists entirely of undulating hills and valleys blanketed in tall grasses, native wildflowers and perennials. John conceptualized the garden as a nod to Sonoma’s traditional grasslands. Where grapevines now march acre upon acre across the rolling hills, cattle and sheep used to graze by the thousands.

"Blue Tree" by Claude Cormier. 80,000 plastic balls decorate this dead tree previously scheduled for removal.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Battered Brand

Hoping (maybe against all reason) for that foreign money:
The Federal Reserve is scheduled at the end of March to halt its purchases of mortgage-backed securities, a move that could drive up the low interest rates that have helped the housing market show new signs of life. The Fed is gambling that private investors will step in to buy the securities, helping to keep rates from spiking. Senior officials in the Obama administration and at the Fed say they are counting in part on foreigners to keep the housing market funded.

But financial analysts and advisers familiar with foreign government funds, known as sovereign wealth funds, predicted that the United States will get limited relief from abroad.

"I don't think it will be enough to fill the hole," said Ajay Rajadhyaksha, head of fixed-income strategy for the United States at Barclays Capital.

..."A lot of sovereign wealth funds have a vested interest in seeing the U.S. stabilize," said R.P. Eddy, whose Ergo consulting firm advises foreign funds on U.S. and global economic issues. "But some wealth fund coming in to save the day? That is not going to happen."

...The Fed's departure from the market for mortgage-backed securities is only one step being taken to wind down the emergency measures put in place by the U.S. government during the financial crisis. But it is one that could have a direct effect on homeowners and potential buyers and on the tentative recovery in the real estate market.

...Asian wealth funds in particular are looking to tap into economic growth in their region as a broad new class of consumers emerges, offering fresh opportunities while consumption spending in the United States and Europe plateaus, said Jan Randolph, head of sovereign risk analysis at the IHS Global Insight consulting firm.

Not only is the United States seen as a slower-growth region, he said, but some funds are looking for non-dollar investments to guard against the currency's possible decline and are still hesitant about the U.S. mortgage industry.

Advance Press On "Greenberg" Looks Great!

Image from Zimbio by

Reviewer sees "Greenberg" in Berlin:
But the one picture I've seen thus far that has truly surprised me is Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg." I've found Baumbach's more recent films frustrating. "Margot at the Wedding," in particular, made me wonder if we'd lost Baumbach for good -- I found it hard to care about a group of characters so rapturously in love with their own quirks; they, and Baumbach, were more fascinated by their own problems than I was.

"Greenberg" features more characters with problems: There's Ben Stiller's fortyish Roger, the Greenberg of the title, who's just been released from a mental hospital in New York and who now finds himself housesitting at his brother's tony digs in L.A. While he hangs out there, acting strangely and often irresponsibly, spending his numerous spare moments writing kvetching letters to Starbucks, the New York Times, and American Airlines, Roger meets his brother's assistant, Florence (played by mumblecore veteran Greta Gerwig). Florence, insecure but strangely forthright, takes a liking to Roger, even though he does everything in his power to rebuff her, often treating her cruelly, or at least thoughtlessly.

I know this sounds like one of those "damaged people fumbling toward love" movies and, well, it is. (The script is by Baumbach, from a story he co-wrote with Jennifer Jason Leigh.) And for much of the movie I couldn't tell if these characters were driving me nuts or affecting me deeply. But in the end, "Greenberg" got me. For the first time in a long time, Stiller actually gives a performance instead of simply clamoring for attention. His Roger is skeletal, enervated; his eyes, hollowed out and pleading, look both dangerously intelligent and desperate. But Gerwig is the marvelous surprise here. Her Florence is one of those seemingly lost girls who wanders through the world looking gangly and awkward and who is yet, strangely, wholly at home within herself (even though she herself doesn't know it). Her spaciness is the down-to-earth kind. "Greenberg" is self-conscious and knowing, and, as we'd expect from Baumbach, sharp-witted. But its self-involvement is capacious enough to include us. "Greenberg" has a soul, a heart, and most importantly a sense of humor -- not just about the world, but about itself.

Baffling Bayh Missed An Opportunity

The puzzling Evan Bayh is whining about American politics:
In an interview on MSNBC this morning, newly retiring Sen. Evan Bayh declared the American political system "dysfunctional," riddled with "brain-dead partisanship" and permanent campaigning. Flatly denying any possibility that he'd seek the presidency or any other higher office, Bayh argued that the American people needed to deliver a "shock" to Congress by voting incumbents out en masse and replacing them with people interested in reforming the process and governing for the good of the people, rather than deep-pocketed special-interest groups.

Bayh's announcement stunned the American political world, as up until just last week he looked to be well on his way to an easy reelection for a third term in the Senate, and his senior staff was aggressively pursuing that goal.

But Bayh had apparently become increasingly frustrated in the Senate. In this morning's interview he noted that just two weeks ago, Republicans who had co-sponsored a bill with him to rein in the deficit turned around and voted against it for purely political reasons. He also stated repeatedly that members of his own party should be more willing to settle for a compromise rather than holding out for perfection.

"Sometimes half a loaf is better than none," Bayh insisted.
Perhaps we have reached the reducto ad absurdum of the permanent campaign mentality, whereby the only people who can manage the fundraising - the only people who can win office - have absolutely no time left for legislating because fundraising is all they have time for. It's like former Governor Gray Davis (California's amazing fundraising phenomenon, who proved ultimately to be paralyzed in carrying out his chief-executive responsibilities when it really counted), but on the national stage.

The trouble, of course, is that campaigns are almost always won by the candidate who gathers the most money for TV advertising. No form of spending is more important and all other costs pale in comparison.

There is a solution, of course: voluntarily pledge not to do any television advertising in any future campaign. It's something like voluntary nuclear disarmament. It's so risky, of course, but all that energy and time gets released for more productive pursuits. The public might even like it; actually having a legislator!

Evan Bayh could have forged a new path here - he could have been a leader - but instead, he's decided to say the hell with it all.

The absence of leadership at the nation's helm because of excessive campaign fundraising has hidden costs. America's poor leadership is slowly ruining the nation's future. But if folks like Evan Bayh decide that they are more 'the problem' than 'the solution', perhaps it is better that they leave.

Sympathy For The Palins

"Family Guy" sure knows how to gussy up cruelty in an attractive package:
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol have issued a statement on Facebook blasting Fox's TV network for running a show that makes fun of individuals living with Down's Syndrome.

On Sunday's Family Guy, the character Chris Griffin dates a woman suffering from Down's Syndrome. The woman says her mother was the former governor of Alaska, suggesting she's making fun of Palin's youngest son, Trig, who has the condition.

"My dad's an accountant, and my mom's the former governor of Alaska," the mentally challenged character quipped.

In a Facebook statement, Sarah Palin called "yesterday’s Fox show" "another kick in the gut," and asked, "when is enough, enough?"

The Eraser Dance

YPT's E. has been experimenting with stop-motion animation.

El Niño Is A Strange Beast

Hmmm. Interesting! The 30-day moving Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is at an extreme. This is about as El Niño-ish as things get!

Yet, lots of rain is falling in western NSW and NE South Australia, places that got almost no rain at all last month. Lots of rain for the Murray River Basin, Australia's breadbasket. It's even beginning to rain around Melbourne, which has been dry, and, with a little luck, rain might fall around Adelaide too.

Plus, all the rain that swamped Brisbane yesterday!

Whether in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, El Niño seems to favor the development of belts of intense precipitation. If you are lucky (or unlucky) that intense precipitation can strike you! If it doesn't strike you, it's very dry! El Niño favors a climate of extremes.

El Niño is one strange beast!

Flash Floods Sweep Brisbane, AU

Bureau of Meteorology shows 121.4 mm (4.78 in) fell in last 24 hours. That semi-tropical climate is dry - except when it isn't!


VIDEO: Flood frenzy

Slipping Below Normal, Starting About Today

We're in a bit of a dry phase right now, and starting about today (pink line) we're starting to slip below normal:
California Northern Sierra Precipitation: 8-Station Index, February 16, 2010

The average of eight precipitation stations serves as a wetness index for the Sacramento River hydrologic region.

It provides a representative sample of the region's major watersheds: the upper Sacramento, Feather, Yuba, and American rivers, which produce inflow to some of California's largest reservoirs - the source of much of our water supply. The eight stations are: Blue Canyon, Brush Creek Ranger Station, Mineral, Mount Shasta City, Pacific House, Quincy Ranger Station, Shasta Dam, Sierraville Ranger Station.

Bite The Hand That Feeds You

Digby says watch this video to understand America's political system.

I didn't understand what she meant until I read this news story regarding Joe The Plumber.

Bite hard!:
Joe, also known as Sam Wurzelbacher, told an audience in Pennsylvania this week that McCain "is no public servant."

"McCain was trying to use me," Wurzelbacher said, according to public radio correspondent Scott Detrow. "I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy.”

"I don’t owe him s—," Wurzelbacher continued. "He really screwed my life up, is how I look at it.”

In fact, Wurzelbacher's dislike for McCain is so strong that he no longer supports Sarah Palin simply because Palin will campaign for McCain's re-election.

As for Obama: "I think his ideology is un-American, but he’s one of the more honest politicians. At least he told us what he wanted to do."

Flouting The Law

Dick Cheney, War Criminal:
Dick Cheney went on ABC News this weekend and boasted of the role he played in ordering the waterboarding of detainees. Andrew Sullivan has written several posts accurately describing this statement as a "confession of committing a war crime on national television." Harper's Scott Horton identifies the specific criminal statute Cheney confessed he violated, makes clear that -- as the Attorney General himself previously said -- there is no reasonable debate possible regarding the criminality of waterboarding under U.S. and international law (notwithstanding the efforts of Politico and friends to pretend otherwise), and then asks: "What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it?"

B of A, Your Friendly Neighborhood Bank

The bank that ate America:
Foreclosures have been at record highs in the past couple of years, and some warn that a new wave of foreclosures may be coming. So, it's certain that Bank of America (BAC) has lots of properties it could legitimately seize. Nonetheless it chose to go after a Massachusetts couple's future retirement home in Florida, for which the couple had paid cash. Despite protests from the couple, which learned about the action before it occurred, the bank came in, removed the couple's belongings, changed the locks and turned off the utilities. The couple has sued for trespass and defamation, and is seeking damages and an apology from BofA.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Slow Children

Support public education, to avoid problems down the road!

New Mexico Comes Up With New Ways To Make Diners Want To Stay Home

The Land Of (dis)Enchantment:
In a puzzling and little-reported move Friday, New Mexico's state senate approved a law allowing residents to take concealed guns into restaurants serving wine and beer -- in an effort to reduce crime.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. George Munoz, would allow individuals with concealed handgun licenses to take weapons into restaurants serving beer and wine. It would, however, remain illegal to bring concealed weapons into establishments with full liquor licenses.

Munoz said the law "could help reduce crime because people have handguns stolen when they leave them in a vehicle to go into a restaurant," according to the Associated Press.

The Senate approved the bill 27-to-15. It now goes to the New Mexico House. The House declined to take up the bill last year.

A similar law passed in Tennessee, which allowed residents with handgun permits to be armed in bars and restaurants was struck down by a judge who said it was unconstitutionally vague.

Tennessee chancellor Claudia Bonnyman said the law was "fraught with ambiguity."
In Tennessee, there's no legal distinction between bars and restaurants.

...Attorneys argued that because the distinction between restaurants and bars was vague, citizens would be unclear as to whether they'd be violating the law by carrying a gun.

...The earlier article about Tennessee's law being struck down can be read at this link.

Cornerstone Gardens Valentine's Day

In Sonoma, on Valentine's Day Sunday, several interrelated events were held at Cornerstone Gardens:
(SUNDAY) Olive Oyl & Focaccia at Cornerstone Sonoma: Celebrate the Olive Season Finale with warm rosemary, olive oil and dried tomato focaccia, baked in an outdoor pizza oven. Then, wander among the shops where owners have devised their own recipes. Free admission. Cornerstone Gardens, 23570 Highway 21, Sonoma.

The amazing gardens at the New Leaf Gallery were a perfect place for Valentine's Day!

For the daring, biplane rides were available!

Valentine's Day In Sonoma

Sally and I headed to Sonoma on Valentine's Day, to see what they do over there.

Wineries dot the route.

Just SW of Sonoma

Left: Pleasant walkway, with murals and lights.

Sonoma City Hall.

Sonoma Plaza was crowded with couples of all sorts, shopping and enjoying the sun. The couple I liked the best was two fellows who apparently decided to split the difference regarding day-appropriate wear: one wore the fluorescent-pink shirt, and the other wore the fluorescent-pink pants.

Lots of dogs were getting walks too. Lots of Shih Tzus, and Poodles, and Dachsunds, and even a Blood Hound!

We ate Mexican food at "La Casa". We were at the leading edge of the lunch rush, so the restaurant was mostly-empty when we started eating. Music quietly played in the background: 'Amazing Grace', on bagpipes. The music and the setting were - how shall I say? - totally incongruous, but it was fine anyway.

Tickling Lady Luck's Foot

Left: Travelling down the new walkway between the new parking garage and the entrance to Thunder Valley's casino, in the corner, there is a puzzling new blow-up figure. The figure looks vaguely Japanese, but how that helps with the Asian (Chinese, Filipino, everything but Japanese) clientele escapes me. The figure is holding a golden anvil, or something. The meaning is probably something like "bring us your treasures and make us smile!"

Since I was already in Roseville, after "Anything Goes", I decided to drop into Thunder Valley Casino to see what was new up there.

They've completed a parking garage up there, and that was new. They seem to be advancing again on new hotel construction, promising "truly decadent" hotel rooms by Summer 2010.

For two hours, the blackjack was pretty good: one of the fellows at the table I was at kept getting numerous blackjacks in a row. Since luck in a casino trickles down to others at the same table, I benefitted. I started collapsing, however, but wisely withdrew and took a break while $50 ahead, taking time to eat dinner.

Instead of leaving after dinner, however, I persisted in playing. I entered a death spiral of bad luck.

Loss: $130.00.

"Anything Goes" - Magic Circle Theatre

Left: Final bows.

Saturday night was the final performance of "Anything Goes" at Magic Circle. Because of all the Big Troubles last year, I hadn't seen Lauren Miller perform recently, nor had gone to Magic Circle at all, and so I wanted to correct that.

Tev Ditter played Sir Evelyn Oakley with a winning combination of sincerity and foppishness. Mark Ettensohn was crisp and energetic as Billy Crocker. Brent Null clearly enjoyed playing Moonface Martin. Interestingly, I noticed a ripple of sympathetic pleasure in the audience regarding Brent's performance: he was clearly connecting to the audience in an instinctive way. Christi Axelson was fun as Bonnie, and Jenna Cook played Hope Harcourt well. Lauren was fabulous, of course, and looked radiant in her gold lame dress.

Saw several friends in the audience I recognized: Jackie Clauson, Eileen Beaver, and Rick Wennstrom.

Happy Birthday, Jetta!

Number which, she failed to say (probably on purpose).

Nice party, though, with the folks playing board games.

Talk turned to maid services, particularly services by semi-naked maids. I didn't know about that, but I had recently picked up Outword, or MSM, and noticed an advertisement for a maid service, of a sort, called 'Fag With a Rag'. All the women wanted to know just one thing: was he good-looking? I don't know about that either.

Saturday Evening Sacramento Fire

Left: View showing two first-response vehicles. Looking west down the alley behind the Post Office (95818), near 21st & Broadway, about 7:30 p.m., Saturday February 13, 2010, in Sacramento.
BOOM! Pop! Bang!

I was heading out about 7:15 p.m. Saturday evening, but it was hard to ignore the sirens, and it was particularly hard to avoid noticing the explosions coming from the direction of Highway 50. Not far away I could see a big smoke plume with flickering orange light reflecting off of it.

At first, I thought maybe a semi-truck trailer carrying a load of toxic chemicals must have made a bad lane change up on that elevated portion of Highway 50 near 21st Street, but after staring at the smoke I realized it was actually located closer to my house. Let's see: it didn't appear to be the Catholic Center. It had to be coming from between X Street and Broadway. So, what was on fire? The Post Office? The Antique Store? Pancake Circus? Given the explosions, I thought the Antique Store was most-likely victim, followed by Pancake Circus, and unless a terrorist had run amok, or something, it was unlikely to be the Post Office.

Bang! Pop! BOOM!

The fire was actually located in an out-building, fronting the alley behind the Post Office, and squarely in-between the three aforementioned establishments. The Fire Department arrived quickly and set to work putting the fire out.

I went down Broadway to the ATM machine to get cash. I saw the TV News-10 truck heading toward the scene. Good! Like they say, if it bleeds; it leads! Nevertheless, today, no one seems to have anything in the press regarding this fire. It's almost as if the fire never happened! Fires happen all the time, I suppose, and Sacramento's focus at the moment appears diverted to criminal activities, like stabbings. So, the neighborhood drama loses out in comparison.

Driving along X Street, just on the other side of a house from the fire, I saw two people on the sidewalk: apparently an attendant, and a person in a wheelchair. They had hustled themselves out of the house in a hurry, but they looked bewildered: there was nowhere else to go, for the moment. They looked lost: refugees, for an instant. I'm sure they are OK, but it underlines just how fast things can change in life!

Evan Bayh Drops Out

What can this mean? Dan Coats isn't a strong challenger, so no reason for Bayh to panic. Liberals hate Evan Bayh, of course, but since when does liberal hatred mean much to a Blue-Dog-type? Maybe he has ultra-thin skin? Quien sabe?:
INDIANAPOLIS -- Citing partisan rancor in Congress, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, said today he will not seek a third term this year, opening up a potentially huge battleground in the conservative Hoosier State, The Indianapolis Star is reporting here.

...Bayh, a moderate who has never lost an election and occasionally flirted with running for president, was facing a challenge from Dan Coats, a former Republican senator. Analysts such as Cook Political Report had listed the race as leaning Bayh's way and so his announcement comes as a surprise.

Bayh had been raising campaign cash at decent clip and had nearly $13 million in cash on hand. According to USA TODAY's Fredreka Schouten, Bayh's bankroll put him in third place for campaign money among senators up for election this year.

"Running for the sake of winning an election, just to remain in public office, is not good enough," Bayh told The Star. "And it has never been what motivates me. At this time I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor."

...Coats announced this month that he would explore a run against Bayh. He immediately came under attack from Democrats because of his work as a lobbyist after leaving Congress and because he had been living in Virginia.