Saturday, April 03, 2010

Mysterious AM/PM Call

On Friday night, after "Alice", I dropped over at the Broadway AM/PM, but the place was closed. It featured a sign saying "Store Closed". Strange, seeing that it was 9:30 p.m., but whatever.

As I was leaving the parking lot, a fire engine and ambulance pulled into the parking lot. Curious, I circled around and watched them work. The place was a beehive of activity for fifteen minutes, but what it was all about was never clear.

Progress Of The Seasons

It's Easter time, which means, at Casa Valdez, that it's time to put away the Christmas decorations.

Friday, April 02, 2010

If The Symptoms Fit, I've Lost My Wit

I wonder if I suffer from "Capgras Delusion" too. Sometimes I am under the impression former-liberal Barack Obama has been replaced by a conservative robot. And I can see 'them' watching me right now through the electrical sockets:
NEW YORK - A Cornell University doctoral student from New Zealand who is charged with slashing his wife's throat on a nature trail in central New York plotted the killing and tried to destroy evidence by setting their home on fire, a prosecutor said at his murder trial Thursday.

The defence doesn't dispute that Blazej Kot, 25, killed Caroline Coffey, a postdoctoral researcher at the Ivy League school. But Joe Joch, his lawyer, countered in opening statements that Kot suffered from a psychiatric disorder known as "Capgras delusion," which made him think his 28-year-old companion had been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.

...Born to Polish parents in Zaire, Kot moved with his family to New Zealand, attended the University of Auckland and came to Cornell on a student visa to pursue a Ph.D in information science. As a teenager, he had exhibited schizophrenia-type traits that left him "always wondering if someone might be watching him" through electrical wall outlets, his lawyer said.

Tim Burton's "Alice In Wonderland"

I went with several other DMTC folks to see Tim Burton's "Alice In Wonderland" this evening.

During the previews, I realized something was terribly wrong with the movie-going experience these days. The previews for several movies ("The Karate Kid"; "Prince Of Persia", etc.) - every single preview - involved variations of the same theme: a medieval-like setting wherein the Young Prince, either through discipline or accident or design, must complete a quest, or defeat enemies. This theme has always been a staple of movies, comic books, and novels, of course, but never more so than these days. (Why is that? Has the health care debate made everyone feel they they need superpowers to make it till bedtime? Are we that helpless?)

Anyway, Hollywood has apparently decided that they will cease making movies about any other topic. If it doesn't involve a Prince and a Quest in a Magical Kingdom the movie won't get made. This is an extreme decision, of course, but that's the kind of decision Hollywood likes to make.

Hollywood has done this sort of thing before, of course. In the late 50's and early 60's, Westerns were King. If it wasn't a Western, it didn't get made. Science fiction series like "Star Trek" barely made it on air, and only by consciously imitating Westerns.

The reaction was fierce too. Once toxic concentrations of Westerns were reached, audiences rebelled. By the late 70's, Westerns were gone, gone, gone; rarely to return. And that's too bad too, because the Old West was the setting for all kinds of riveting stories, almost none of which have yet been committed to celluloid. If we're not careful, the same thing will happen to the Young Prince On A Quest. Harry Potter, in permanent exile, along with the Karate Kid, and the Prince of Persia.

Anyway, I can't believe they shoehorned "Alice In Wonderland" into the same trite story pigeonhole. Except that it is Alice who is the Warrior Princess of Wonderland:
Alice, an unpretentious and individual 19-year-old, is betrothed to a dunce of an English nobleman. At her engagement party, she escapes the crowd to consider whether to go through with the marriage and falls down a hole in the garden after spotting an unusual rabbit. Arriving in a strange and surreal place called "Underland," she finds herself in a world that resembles the nightmares she had as a child, filled with talking animals, villainous queens and knights, and frumious bandersnatches. Alice realizes that she is there for a reason--to conquer the horrific Jabberwocky and restore the rightful queen to her throne.
It doesn't work. There are warrior elements in Lewis Carroll's stories, of course, but there is also a curious weightlessness in the stories appropriate for fantasy. For example, answer the question, 'Who killed the Jabberwock?,' Answer: The Beamish Boy! Certainly not Alice.

A very pretty movie, and well-acted, but with the suspect storyline, as mentioned. Johnny Depp is great as the Mad Hatter, as is Helen Bonham Carter as the Red Queen.

OK, since we will now have only one storyline permitted henceforth and forevermore in Hollywood, we have to change "Greenberg" so it's storyline fits into the pigeonhole too:
Court page Florence (Greta Gerwig) is required to play host to Sir Greenberg (Ben Stiller), who has wrestled with demons ever since he balked at accepting a court jestership 15 years before, but through mystical visions at the swimming pool and in the veterinarian's office, her true identity as the Warrior Princess of Lala-Land is finally revealed - and her Quest: slay the demons in Greenberg's head, and finally win self-worth in the process.
God, that's just dreadful! They couldn't pay me to see that movie! This new mandate to make everything like 'Harry Potter' has to be changed! I'm going to write my Congressman!

(Via Rotten Tomatoes) This reviewer wasn't impressed with "Alice in Wonderland" either:
It's all very well to have Alice be a strong-willed woman, even a budding feminist. But to launch her on her own as fiercely (and capitalistically, as she sails off in the name of imperial trade) as she is here is an anachronistic pipe-dream that even the Blue Caterpillar—lounging about as a Yoda figure for Alice—couldn't puff up from his hookah.

The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), slipping into Scottish brogue on occasion, ends up as a companion-in-arms, presumably because Depp should have more screen time. The Dormouse isn't sleepy but a swashbuckling female mouse-keteer, and it turns out, according to a scroll out of Epics Anonymous, that Alice is the knight who must slay the Jabberwocky. That fight finale at least hits some dizzying heights of drama.

Comedy and charming daffiness, though, are sorely lacking. It's mostly ashen doom and gloom, as when a Lilliputian-sized Alice travels to the Red Queen's huge castle, Wonderland being in the grip of firegrate-grey weather ever since Red (Helena Bonham Carter, pleasantly despotic at times) took over the land. (The Red Queen's made the same as the Queen of Hearts, though her malice shrillingly outshines the White Queen, who glides glacially along in a banal counter-realm of blank goodness.) The entrancing absurdity, wit and sunny nonsense in Carroll's episodic books are clouded over for a plot that becomes jerkily predictable on its Lord of the Rings route.

Lack Of Regulation Was Mandated

This article notes that the recent economic crisis didn't happen because of poor or lax regulation of the shadow banking industry, but because regulation was banned altogether:
Thanks to the The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (CFMA), the universe of structured derivatives were completely exempt from ALL regulation. Whether it was Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) or Credit Default Swaps (CDSs), the CFMA put them into the world of shadow banking.

How? The CFMA mandated it. No supervision was allowed, no reserve requirements for potential future payouts were mandated, no exchange listing requirements were put into effect, all capital minimums were legally ignored, there was no required disclosures of counter-parties. Derivatives were treated differently from every other financial asset — stocks, bonds, options, futures. They were uniquely unregulated.

Indeed, even state insurance regulators were prevented from oversight — including normal reserve requirements. That was how AIG Financial Products was able to ramp up their derivative exposure to more than three trillion dollars. This was directly due to radical deregulation.

Even the most basic reserves would have kept their derivative exposure to much more modest numbers. With absolutely zero capital requirements, AIG FP went wild. Tom Savage, the president of FP, summed up what the lack of reserve requirements meant to the firm: “The models suggested that the risk was so remote that the fees were almost free money. Just put it on your books and enjoy.”

To the tune of $3 trillion dollars.

All in all, this wasn’t so much a case of Washington DC failing to keep up with Wall Street, rather, it was a case of DC actively granting what Wall Street (Enron, AIG and other derivative traders) wanted — precisely zero oversight.

Nudity And Mumblecore - Like Comfort And Convenience

I liked this review regarding nudity and mumblecore movies, not so much because it's urgent topic that must be debated, or anything, but just because of the meandering, erotic edge.

Noel says Derrick Bang didn't like "Greenberg", and wrote about it in the Davis Enterprise, but mercifully my subscription has expired and so I cannot link.

Lovelock Interview

I was pleased by this interview with James Lovelock, a great scientist, but was disturbed that even he was misinformed regarding the Climategate E-Mails pseudo-scandal. It just shows the power of the Right Wing Noise Machine in creating zombie falsehoods that live on despite being debunked:
Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.

..."I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful."

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Lovelock, 90, believes the world's best hope is to invest in adaptation measures, such as building sea defences around the cities that are most vulnerable to sea-level rises. He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica, such as the Pine Island glacier, which would immediately push up sea level.

...Lovelock says the events of the recent months have seen him warming to the efforts of the "good" climate sceptics: "What I like about sceptics is that in good science you need critics that make you think: 'Crumbs, have I made a mistake here?' If you don't have that continuously, you really are up the creek. The good sceptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours. You need sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic."

Lovelock, who 40 years ago originated the idea that the planet is a giant, self-regulating organism – the so-called Gaia theory – added that he has little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – "I felt reluctant to pry" – but that their reported content had left him feeling "utterly disgusted".

"Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science," he said. "I'm not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever do. You've got to have standards."
What was reported in the press was not correct, of course, but merely the results of a well-executed smear campaign. Setting the record straight will take lots more work.

Jack FM Karaoke Contest At Thunder Valley

Jetta is a curious person. She is determined to make her skills in karaoke pay off and thus eagerly enters karaoke contests. She also eagerly hunts around for video contests along the lines of 'help the XYZ Corporation create a winning national television advertisement.' When I talk about the pleasures of community theater, however, Jetta wrinkles her nose at the idea of giving away the talent for free. And she was livid when our one commercial venture netted a pizza coupon. She's in it for cash (of course, I pleaded that there was nothing wrong with free pizza!)

So far, her commercial bias has had few outlets.

She has been eyeing the Jack FM karaoke contest at Thunder Valley's Falls Bar for several weeks, but balked at the idea behind the contest:
You already sing along to nearly every song we you can maybe get paid to do it. Join Web Guy Eddie at the Falls Bar inside Thunder Valley Casino every Thursday night at 9pm. If you sing a song selected by "Jack" you'll go into the running for the $100 cash prize, and if you win that, you'll be invited back for the $1,000 final! Beginning Thursday and for the next 10 weeks You'll sing what we want and we'll pay you off if you're the best!
Like many karaoke singers, Jetta quailed at the idea of being stuck singing a song she wasn't familiar with. Nevertheless, she overcame her reluctance. We decided to try it out.

I also mentioned to E. that we were going to make a trek to Thunder Valley Thursday evening, in the event she wanted a ride up there.

Thursday evening, though, E. was nowhere to be found, and wouldn't answer her phone. That was a bad sign. In the past that kind of behavior generally indicated she was already at Thunder Valley. And she just got paid too.

So, Thursday evening, Jetta and I drove up.

Fortunately the rules were more flexible than we had initially hoped. Jetta was able to turn down one Lenny Kravitz song, before accepting the second song offered: Pat Benatar's 'Heartbreaker'. Jetta's performance won lots of applause from the audience, and Jetta was flattered by the attention. Nevertheless, despite the presence of one excellent singer, the winner chosen was someone else who sang, more-or-less well, Amy Winehouse's 'Rehab'.

At one point, I was filming Jetta, when a hirsute young man in a straw hat, together with his girl friend, said hello. I was focusing on the camera work, and didn't notice the salutation, but Jetta did, and pointed him out to me. Who was this mysterious stranger?

It was community musical theatre's local favorite, David "Turtle" Akona! He had come for the contest, but was too late (only ten entries permitted). So, he came for the company and the ambience.

Indeed, E. was already at the casino - since 6:30 p.m., playing slots. I played blackjack, but the luck was wretched (loss $260.00).

Jetta and I left at 12:30 a.m. On the way back, I played 'Back to Black' by Amy Winehouse - a newer singer whom Jetta was unfamiliar with. I also played 'Rockferry' by the better singer Duffy - a newer singer whom Jetta was also unfamiliar with. They are both Brits, it's true, but they've had sufficient exposure here. So, why the ignorance?

I've always been troubled by the tendency people have to get stuck in certain eras of music: you've got to keep updated, always, or get swept aside by the flow of time. It's like surfing through one's own time. Get stuck in 'Classic Rock' or 'The 80's' or 'The 50's' and you are already half-dead.

E. rolled in about 5 a.m. I'm afraid to ask how bad the damage was.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Link To Searchlight, NV, Tea Party

J. sends this:
Reminds me of those gatherings of UFO hunters outside Roswell.
Looks fun, actually. I'd liked to have gone....

The Texas Example

The economies of Texas and the southern Plains states have weathered the recession considerably-better than the coastal states have, and this is an important reason why:
It’s one of the great mysteries of the mortgage crisis: Why did Texas—Texas, of all places!—escape the real estate bust? Only a dozen states have lower mortgage foreclosure and default rates, and all of them are rural places like Montana and South Dakota, where they couldn’t have a real estate boom if they tried.

No, Texas’ 3.1 million mortgage borrowers are a breed of their own among big states with big cities. Just less than 6 percent of them are in or near foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association; the national average is nearly 10 percent. Texas might look to outsiders an awful lot like Sunbelt sisters Arizona (13 percent) or Nevada (19)—flat and generous in letting real estate developers sprawl where they will. Texas was even the home base of two of the nation’s biggest bubble-era homebuilders, Centex and DR Horton (DHI).

...But there is a broader secret to Texas’s success, and Washington reformers ought to be paying very close attention. If there’s one single thing that Congress can do now to help protect borrowers from the worst lending excesses that fueled the mortgage and financial crises, it’s to follow the Lone Star State’s lead and put the brakes on “cash-out” refinancing and home-equity lending.

A cash-out refinance is a mortgage taken out for a higher balance than the one on an existing loan, net of fees. Across the nation, cash-outs became ubiquitous during the mortgage boom, as skyrocketing house prices made it possible for homeowners, even those with bad credit, to use their home equity like an ATM. But not in Texas. There, cash-outs and home-equity loans can’t total more than 80 percent of a home’s appraised value. There’s a 12-day cooling-off period after an application, during which the borrower can pull out. And when a borrower refinances a mortgage, it’s illegal to get even $1 back. Texas really means it: All these protections, and more, are in the state constitution. The Texas restrictions on mortgage borrowing date back to the first days of statehood in 1845, when the constitution banned home loans entirely.

...Subprime cash-out refinancings became a standard way for borrowers drowning in credit card debt to pay it off, boost their credit scores so they could qualify in a few months to refinance into a lower-rate prime mortgage, and get a big tax deduction in the bargain. Ex-New York Times Federal Reserve reporter Edmund L. Andrews recounts in his underappreciated book Busted how he conjured $50,000 this way via a mortgage from Fremont Lending & Investment.

Homeowners and mortgage brokers weren’t alone in their addiction to the cash that flowed from homes-as-ATMs. The entire U.S. economy was right there with them. One of Alan Greenspan’s lesser-known contributions to the annals of the credit crisis was a pair of studies he co-authored for the Fed, sizing up exactly how much Americans borrowed against their home equity in the bubble and what it was they were spending their newfound (phantom) wealth on. Greenspan estimated that four-fifths of the trifold increase in American households’ mortgage debt between 1990 and 2006 resulted from “discretionary extraction of home equity.” Only one-fifth resulted from the purchase of new homes. In 2005 alone, U.S. homeowners extracted a half-trillion-plus dollars from their real estate via home-equity loans and cash-out refinances. Some $263 billion of the proceeds went to consumer spending and to pay off other debts.

...But not in Texas. A borrower there can secure a home-equity line of credit from a bank. And she can refinance her mortgage or take out a home-equity loan. But the total amount of debt on a home cannot exceed 80 percent of its appraised value, and any proceeds cannot be used to pay off other debts.

Until 1998, Texans couldn’t take out home-equity loans at all. The roots of this fierce resistance to debt’s temptations go deep in Texas history. Seven years before the republic joined the union in 1845, a bank panic and resulting foreclosures lost many homesteaders their property. Drawing from Mexican codes protecting landholders—much beloved by flocks of U.S. debtors who had taken refuge from creditors by relocating to Texas homesteads—the new constitution of the state of Texas forbade lenders from peddling mortgages to homesteaders.

There are reasonable exceptions to the constitution’s restrictions on home-mortgage borrowing. Starting in the 1870s, homeowners could take out mortgages to buy a home, or pay for improvements or property taxes. And once a homeowner has paid down debts below 80 percent of a home’s value, they can borrow against that.

Not everyone loves the state’s rules. Financial services companies have periodically lobbied to scale back the restrictions on home-equity borrowing, noting that the costs of compliance increase borrowers’ interest rates. But another reason the loans are more costly is that the Texas rules are unique in the nation, giving borrowers less opportunity to shop around.

As Texas is now discovering, increased costs are a small price to pay for one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country. The home-equity restrictions have not only helped keep cash-out refinances a rare breed in Texas; other risky mortgages were scarce there, too. The home-equity borrowing restrictions helped keep home prices from overinflating, and homebuyers therefore didn’t need to turn to exotic mortgages with features like 2/28 ARMs, interest-only payments, or negative amortization in order to purchase a home. Even when they did, Texas law requires these risky features to be clearly disclosed. Fewer than 20 percent of Texas subprime mortgages included any of them.

That’s not to say that Texas borrowers didn’t get into bubble trouble. Plenty bought overpriced houses, which is why 1 in 8 Texans now owe more than their home is worth. And it was easy enough for lenders to get around the home-equity borrowing limits by using creative appraisals that pretend a home is worth more than it really is. But the casualties are orders of magnitude less than they would have been without the home-equity limits.

Samantha James - Waves of Change (Kaskade Remix)

I love Kaskade Remixes! Soundtracks of my life!

But First, A Word From Our Sponsors (The Feds)

Driving into the black night, I was listening to the hopelessly-retrograde "Jason Lewis Show" on 650 AM KSTE. Tonight's show was all about the supposed dangers of allowing card check into America's workplaces, making it easier to unionize them.

These appeals to the supposedly-independent working man leave me cold, particularly when compared to the blood-curdling stories out there regarding union-busting underway right now. For example, the situation in Boron, CA is a nightmare, and it's not very far away from here, and no one ever talks about it!

But I digress. What caught my attention was that so many of the advertisements were actually Public Service Announcements from the Feds: get your kids immunized for H1N1 says the CDC; sign up for Selective Service if you turn 18; be prepared for disasters says FEMA.

There was an ad from Overeaters Anonymous, which, even if it's not a non-profit group, likely doesn't have the deepest pockets (interestingly, it seems based in Rio Rancho, NM, not far from my old stomping grounds). There were also ads from computer folks promising to rid your computer of malware (if you've bookmarked this Web Site, too late!) Still, from the private sector, slim pickings for talk radio!

Conservative talk radio fans may yearn for action against the feds, but the feds are paying the bills, so I don't know how all that is going to shake out.

For First Time Ever, Bill O'Reilly Does Something Useful

Not always an ass:
Newsmax reports, "No. 1 cable news host Bill O'Reilly said Tuesday that he will personally write a check to cover $16,500 in legal costs for the father of a fallen U.S. Marine who sued the members of a church who picketed his son's funeral."

"On Friday, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered Snyder to pay $16,510 to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case as to whether the protesters are entitled to free speech at the funeral," the Associated Press reported. "Phelps conducted protests at Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder's funeral in 2006."

The two-page decision supplied by attorneys for Albert Snyder of York, Pa., offered no details on how the court came to its decision.

Attorneys also said Snyder is struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision adds "insult to injury," said Sean Summers, one of Snyder's lawyers.
Tuesday night, O'Reilly declared on his Fox News Channel show, "That is an outrage. I will pay Mr. Snyder's obligation. I am not going to let this injustice stand."

O'Reilly added, according to Newsmax, "It's obvious they were disturbing the peace by disrupting the funeral. They should have been arrested, but our system is so screwed up, so screwed up, that loons are allowed to run wild. Snyder is fighting the good fight, and he is taking his case to the Supreme Court as he should. We are behind him 100 percent."

Donuts Contain Pig Blood Too

If it makes me stop eating them, it doesn't matter whether it's true or not:
CIGARETTES may contain traces of pigs' blood, an Australian academic says with a warning that religious groups could find its undisclosed presence "very offensive".

University of Sydney Professor in Public Health Simon Chapman points to recent Dutch research which identified 185 different industrial uses of a pig - including the use of its haemoglobin in cigarette filters.

Prof Chapman said the research offered an insight into the otherwise secretive world of cigarette manufacture, and it was likely to raise concerns for devout Muslims and Jews.

..."I think that there would be some particularly devout groups who would find the idea that there were pig products in cigarettes to be very offensive," Prof Chapman said today.

..."It just puts into hard relief the problem that the tobacco industry is not required to declare the ingredients of cigarettes ... they say 'that's our business' and a trade secret."

The Dutch research found pig haemoglobin - a blood protein - was being used to make cigarette filters more effective at trapping harmful chemicals before they could enter a smoker's lungs.

Prof Chapman said while tobacco companies had moved voluntarily list the contents of their products on their websites, they also noted undisclosed "processing aids ... that are not significantly present in, and do not functionally affect, the finished product".

This catch-all term hid from public view an array of chemicals and other substances used in the making of tobacco products, he said.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

For The Tasteful Set

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
2 Girls 1 GOP
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Reform

Tea Partiers Lunge For That Third Rail

Don't touch that third rail! - Oh! too late!

Did They Even Notice?

Such a disproportionate display, just to impress the Iranian leadership! The Trident missile is the most-sophisticated weapon system ever devised. It is almost beneath the dignity of the U.S. to flaunt it so. Not even the Soviets got this privilege!

It makes you wonder if the U.S. has somehow lost faith in the ability of its armed forces to make any kind of impression on the Iranians at all. In his last months in office, Dick Cheney supervised the launches of aircraft from the same general area, just to impress the Iranians that they were dealing with Distilled Evil, The Grim Reaper, Dr. Death himself. Didn't seem to have caught the attention of the ayatollahs, however. If it did, they were too canny to say anything.

Perhaps we are going about this the wrong way. Evan McConnell quotes someone in "Son Of The Morning Star" that virtually all the Indian tribes of the Great Plains in the 19th Century could have been subdued peacefully, if, instead of sending cavalry, the U.S. had instead sent a travelling troupe of circus performers. For the Iranians, maybe we should send belly dancers? Lots of talented dancers in Sacramento! Maybe we could have a dance-a-thon in Qom? Just saying!:
CAIRO -- The United States test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads during a joint military exercise Wednesday with Saudi Arabia, a Western military official said.

...The U.S. has been strengthening missile defenses in allied Arab nations in the Gulf to help counter any potential missile strike from Iran. Like its nuclear work, Iran's missile program is of top concern to Washington and Arab nations wary of Tehran's growing influence in the region.

...The Western military official in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, said U.S. Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, attended the test launch.

...The Patriot missile systems, which originally were deployed in the region to shoot down aircraft, have now been upgraded to hit missiles in flight.

Saudi Arabia has long warned of the potential for a nuclear arms race in the Gulf region if Iran were to gain the bomb. Iran's assurances that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes such as power generation have failed to ease concerns.

On Monday Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan said Saudi and U.S. warplanes will carry out joint exercises soon.

Mercury Makes An Appearance This Week

In the western sky just after sunset:
This week, Mercury is emerging from the glare of the sun and making a beeline for Venus. By week's end, the two planets will be just 3o apart, an eye-catching pair in the deep-blue twilight of sunset.

The best nights to look are April 3rd and 4th.

The Recession Played Jiu-Jitsu With People's Expectations For The Future

Gated ghettoes. Didn't think buying a house meant enrolling in prison, but for some people, that's what happened:
Reporting from Hemet - The gated community in Hemet doesn't seem like the best place for Eddie and Maria Lopez to raise their family anymore.

Vandals knocked out the streetlight in front of the Lopezes' five-bedroom home and then took advantage of the darkness to try to steal a van. Cars are parked four deep in the driveway next door, where a handful of men rent rooms. And up and down their block of handsome single-family homes are padlocked doors, orange "no trespassing signs" and broken front windows.

It wasn't what the Lopezes pictured when they agreed to pay $440,000 for their 5,000-square-foot house in 2006.

The 427-home Willowalk tract, built by developer D.R. Horton, featured eight distinct "villages" within its block walls. Along with spacious homes, Willowalk boasted four lakes, a community pool and clubhouse. Fanciful street names such as Pink Savory Way and Bee Balm Road added to the bucolic image.

..."We loved how everything was family-oriented -- all our kids would run around together," said Lopez, a 41-year-old construction supervisor and father of seven. "Now everybody's gone."

Home foreclosures have devastated neighborhoods throughout the country, but the transformation from suburban paradise to blighted community has been especially stark in places like Willowalk -- isolated developments on the far fringes of metropolitan areas that found ready buyers when home prices were soaring but then saw an exodus as values crashed.

Vacant homes are sprinkled throughout Willowalk, betrayed by foot-high grass. Others are rented, including some to families that use government Section 8 vouchers to live in homes with granite countertops and vaulted ceilings.

When the development opened in 2006, buyers were drawn to the area by advertising describing it as a "gated lakeshore community." Now, many in Hemet call Willowalk the "gated ghetto," said John Occhi, a local real estate agent.

There are dozens of places like Willowalk, and they are turning into America's newest slums, says Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. With home values at a fraction of their peak, he said, it no longer makes sense to live so far from the commercial centers where jobs are concentrated.

"We built too much of the wrong product in the wrong locations," Leinberger said.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Grates - "Science is Golden"

A nice theme song for today from Brisbane's sweethearts:
What's the go with all these
New set of rules that you live by?
'Fraid you might die..
Watch 'em go by..

What's the go with all you
Scene sucking fuckers?
You're so high..
Yeah, you're so high..
Watch 'em go, watch 'em go, watch 'em go-o by..

Sleeping orders won't
Get you through the door
You want more..
Watch 'em go by..

Slippery lips aint done
Sinking ships in the meantime
You dream of lines..
Watch 'em go, watch 'em go, watch 'em go-o by..

I don't know why you lay me out to follow
I don't know why you lay me outside, because
Science is golden!
Science is golden!
Watch yourself, 'cause science is golden!

I don't know why you lay me out to follow
I don't know why you lay me outside, because
Science is golden!
Science is golden!
Watch yourself, 'cause science is golden!

Science, science, science is go-olden
Science, science, science is go-olden
Science, science, science is go-olden
Science, science, science is go-olden
Science, science, science is go-olden (Watch 'em go by)
Science, science, science is go-olden (Watch 'em go by)
Science, science, science is go-olden (Watch 'em go by)
Science, science, science (Watch 'em go by...)

I don't know why you lay me out to follow
I don't know why you lay me outside, because
Science is golden!
Science is golden!
Watch yourself, 'cause science is golden!

I don't know why you lay me out to follow
I don't know why you lay me outside, because
Science is golden!
Science is golden!
Watch yourself, 'cause science is golden!

Science, science, science is go-olden
Science, science, science is go-olden
Science is golden!
Science is golden!

Coercion And Censorship Works!

When I attended the University of New Mexico, I knew a strange graduate student in physics, an older student who wanted a degree in nuclear physics so he could speak with authority against the use of nuclear power. He was a 60's radical who's proudest moment was a front-page picture in the Denver Post leading an anti-war demonstration at the University of Wyoming.

My friend had one advantage, however, that William Ayers lacks. My friend controlled the megaphone. You see, you have to control the megaphone!

Academic freedom died a little today:
The University of Wyoming has canceled a speech by former 1960s radical William Ayers after it raised a slew of objections from citizens and politicians.

Ayers was scheduled to speak Monday on the Laramie campus about social justice issues and education.

He was invited by the UW Social Justice Research Center.

In a statement released by the university, UW President Tom Buchanan thanked the center for reconsidering its invitation to Ayers, which had caused intense controversy.

Buchanan says academic freedom is a core principle of higher education but the visit would have adversely impacted the public's confidence in the university.

Ayers is an education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Conservative Zeal Costs Money

When ideology and self-interest collide:
As of Friday afternoon, only 27 percent of Texas households had filled in and returned their census forms — well below the national average of 34 percent — according to computer data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Harris County, the response rate is 23 percent. Houston's returns are running at 21 percent.

Contrary to historical trends, some of the toughest challenges facing the agency responsible for measuring the nation's population are not from counting the traditionally undercounted groups such as African-Americans and Latinos. Instead, a new and growing threat to an accurate national head count is coming from anti-government conservatives who may not fill out their forms to protest against “Big Brother” in Washington.

...In Texas, some of the counties with the lowest census return rates are among the state's most Republican, including Briscoe County in the Panhandle, 8 percent; King County, near Lubbock, 5 percent; Culberson County, near El Paso, 11 percent; and Newton County, in deep East Texas, 18 percent. Most other counties near the bottom of the list are heavily Hispanic counties along the Texas-Mexico border.

There is a reason for the enthusiasm gap on the census: A number of prominent conservative and libertarian Republicans have been blasting the census for months.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., began the barrage last year when she asserted — incorrectly — that the information reported by Americans could be used for nefarious governmental ends, such as imprisonment in internment camps.

Earlier this month, Texas Rep. Ron Paul voted against a congressional resolution asking Americans to participate in the census.

“The invasive nature of the current census raises serious questions about how and why government will use the collected information,” the Lake Jackson Republican recently said. “It also demonstrates how the federal bureaucracy consistently encourages citizens to think of themselves in terms of groups, rather than as individual Americans. ”

...“People are concerned about the apparent intrusive nature of the census,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble. “People are very concerned that the government is going too far.”

Still, Poe said, he tells his concerned constituents that they should answer the census because “it's the law.”

What's more, he added, “it's very important for people to fill out the census because of reapportionment and redistricting — and Texas stands to gain four (House) seats.”

But Texas can only get those seats, and the congressional clout that comes with it, if Texans stand up to be counted. Any conservative revolt would only reduce the representation in conservative areas of the state, such as rural Texas and the outer rings of suburbs surrounding its largest cities.

...For every Texan missed, the state will lose an estimated $12,000 over the next decade in federal funding for transportation, agriculture, health, education, and housing, said Frances Deviney, director of Texas Kids Count, a nonpartisan group in Austin.

Deviney says Texas could lose “hundreds of millions of dollars in lost opportunities” because of uncounted residents.

“We've got that hard-to-count element, along with these fringe (anti-government) groups that are advocating resistance,” she said. “They think they are hurting the government. They are really hurting themselves and their communities.”

One Way That Ideological Coercion Is Being Deployed Against Climatologists

Jerry sent this last month. I immediately asked:
That's blogworthy. Do you mind if I post, or is it too sensitive?
Jerry initially balked, but today, he's had a change of heart:
You know what? Go ahead and post this if you want. I see no reason to coddle idiots!
The Department of Meteorology at San Jose State University was recently rechristened as the "Department of Meteorology and Climate Science". Recently, a link to a CO2 web site was added to the department homepage. In response, the department received this email:
We have always heard good things about your meteorology dept, and I even worked with some of your graduates over the course of my career. Now we are considering sending one of our employees on to graduate school in meteorology, and briefly considered SJSU, well, until we checked your web page and learned your understanding of CO2. Per your understanding of CO2 and your "global warming" beliefs, we will consider a different univeristy.
Good luck with that other university, thug! Every honest scholar in the world would rather eat nails than cater to your ignorance!

Nevertheless, I strongly suspect this E-Mail was not an honest inquiry at all, but rather, just a way to club scholars into submission.

Support your local climatologist!

Meanwhile, In The Oklahoma Senate...

Do unto yourself as you would do unto others:
In October 2009, President Obama signed into law a change to the US's protections against hate crimes that expanded protection to cover people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

That law, known as The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was opposed by some lawmakers in Oklahoma who feared it would "trample on the free speech rights of religious leaders who preached out against the lifestyle of the victim who was attacked," notes the Out in Oklahoma City blog.

But "in trying to strip gays and lesbians of protection, the Oklahoma State Senate inadvertently cited the wrong section of the US code," reports Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress. "The bill stripped rights under Title 18 US Code Section 245, but protections for sexual orientation and gender identity is actually under Section 249."

Section 245 protects people against hate crimes on the basis of "race, color, religion or national origin." Thus the very same religious leaders who worried that the federal hate crimes statute would criminalize their opinions are now in danger of losing hate-crimes protection themselves.

Cleaving The TV "Meteorologists" From The Real Meteorologists

Jerry asks:
Remember the "Weather Wrangler" and "Alfo"? Would you have wanted their opinions about ANYTHING?
This story makes me so sad. It just shows that even many college-educated people just have no grasp, after all that investment of time and money, of scientific truth. Ideology works like some kind of thought-stunting hormone!

To be clear, climatologists have usually worked in their fields far longer, and are required to demonstrate a higher degree of education, than TV weather presenters have done, or, for that matter, many other meteorologists. That's not a slam against meteorologists (of whom I'm one) - it's just a fact.

Listen, Mr. Populist Meteorologist, take it from a Ph.D.-level meteorologist (myself), just because you have a bachelor’s degree DOES mean you don’t know what’s going on!:
The debate over global warming has created predictable adversaries, pitting environmentalists against industry and coal-state Democrats against coastal liberals.

But it has also created tensions between two groups that might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters.

Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns.

...Such skepticism appears to be widespread among TV forecasters, about half of whom have a degree in meteorology. A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.”

More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found.

The split between climate scientists and meteorologists is gaining attention in political and academic circles because polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters — especially those on television — dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming far more than they trusted other news media or public figures like former Vice President Al Gore or Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate.

...“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups.

Mr. Henson added, “And the level of tension has really spiked in recent months.”

The reasons behind the divergence in views are complex. The American Meteorological Society, which confers its coveted seal of approval on qualified weather forecasters, has affirmed the conclusion of the United Nations’ climate panel that warming is occurring and that human activities are very likely the cause. In a statement sent to Congress in 2009, the meteorological society warned that the buildup of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to “major negative consequences.”

Yet, climate scientists use very different scientific methods from the meteorologists. Heidi Cullen, a climatologist who straddled the two worlds when she worked at the Weather Channel, noted that meteorologists used models that were intensely sensitive to small changes in the atmosphere but had little accuracy more than seven days out. Dr. Cullen said meteorologists are often dubious about the work of climate scientists, who use complex models to estimate the effects of climate trends decades in the future.

But the cynicism, said Dr. Cullen, who now works for Climate Central, a nonprofit group that works to bring the science of climate change to the public, is in her opinion unwarranted.

“They are not trying to predict the weather for 2050, just generally say that it will be hotter,” Dr. Cullen said of climatologists. “And just like I can predict August will be warmer than January, I can predict that.”

Three years ago, Dr. Cullen found herself in a dispute with meteorologists after she posted a note on the Weather Channel’s Web site suggesting that meteorologists should perhaps not receive certification from the meteorological society if they “can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change.”

Resentment may also play a role in the divide. Climatologists are almost always affiliated with universities or research institutions where a doctoral degree is required. Most meteorologists, however, can get jobs as weather forecasters with a college degree.

“There is a little bit of elitist-versus-populist tensions,” Mr. Henson said. “There are meteorologists who feel, ‘Just because I have a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on.’ ”

WIN Supposedly Claims Copyright Infringement

Why those craven bastards! WIN television had Peter Byrne's rant prior to the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Ului removed from YouTube, supposedly due to copyright infringement. Nevertheless, YouTube has not removed plenty of other videos featuring Peter Byrne and WIN TV in a more positive light.

Since I did not post the video I cannot protest for counter-infringement.

On this video, veteran TV weather presenter Peter Byrne had a "rant" about what he considered lurid journalistic exaggerations regarding the threat posed by Tropical Cyclone Ului. Unfortunately, the lurid exaggerations eventually proved to be true - TC Ului struck the Australian coast a week later. In hindsight, the video does not show WIN News at its best, and at worst might fuel thoughts of litigation from those lulled into a sense of complacency. WIN News can hardly claim concerns about copyright infringement when they have not tried to have many other videos of their newscasts similarly removed. WIN News' representations to YouTube about copyright infringement are thus likely false.

By acceding to WIN News request, YouTube is practicing a form of censorship! Erase the immediate past before anyone notices!

The bastards!

[UPDATE]: Meanwhile, I get no love from the Folks Who Keep An Eye On YouTube:

If WIN filed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube was obliged to remove the video -- the footage does belong to WIN, so there's a prima facie case to answer, and the video must be disabled until either WIN retracts their claim, or a court finds in favour of the uploader. Whether WIN had ulterior motives in filing the complaint is irrelevant: they had a right to file the complaint, it actually is copyright infringement unless and until it is found to be "fair use" or "fair dealing", and YouTube would have been breaking the law if they hadn't disabled it.

The uploader is free to defend himself by filing a counter claim if he so wishes.

>WIN News can hardly claim concerns about copyright infringement when they have not tried to have many other videos of their newscasts similarly removed.

Totally irrelevant, if it is theirs, they get to decide.

Wiccan Dagger

The latest weirdness from Albuquerque:
Police said a woman allegedly killed her lover with a Wiccan dagger near a hiking trail, then told others she'd been raped.

Albuquerque police were called out to the trail at the end of Copper Ave. just east of Tramway Blvd. around 5:45 p.m. Monday.

Police said someone told them a woman was getting assaulted along a bike path.

When police arrived at the location, they said they found the woman, and also the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The man died from trauma to his torso, police said.

Police accuse 30 year-old Angela Sanford, a self-proclaimed Wiccan, of stabbing her lover, Joel Leyba, to death. The couple met up on the trails Monday and started drinking, police said.

"She had decided she needed to go to the restroom," Albuquerque police cheif Ray Schultz said. "The male had asked if he could watch her go to the restroom."

"That's when police said Leyba then tied Sanford up with a rope, but Sanford was able to get the ropes free. Then, Schultz said, both Sanford and Leyba took their clothes off.

"While she was on top of him, she stabbed him multiple times," said Schultz.

Police said Sanford stabbed Leyba with a Wiccan dagger she always carries with her.

..."This is a time of Wiccan holiday, being the solstice," said Schultz. "We're still investigating to determine if that had something to do with this particular homicide."

"Carmina Burana" - Sacramento Ballet

On Sunday, I went with Sally to see Sacramento Ballet's signature masterpiece, "Carmina Burana". It was first presented by Sacramento Ballet in 1991, but this was the first time I've ever seen it.

I wasn't mentally-prepared for it, however. Afterwards, I felt dazed, like "what the hell just happened?" Certain things seemed to stand out immediately, like Stefan Calka is just the awesomest dancer ever. But I still have to work out what the piece is about.

"Carmina Burana" was preceded by Balanchine's "Theme and Variations", featuring the delightful couple, Amanda Peet and Timothy Coleman (It's interesting how so many of the Sacramento Ballet's dancers these days are from Down Under!)

At one point, Coleman had the slightest trouble executing a multiple pirouette. What caught my attention was that, even though I was hundreds of feet away from the stage, I could sense tension with the simpler pirouettes preceding the troubled one. I'm sure the tension was invisible to everyone else, wherever they sat, and even Coleman himself was probably unaware of it, but having dabbled in ballet a little bit myself, I could sense worry on some earthy, subliminal, low-frequency wavelength. One thing I've always liked about classical ballet is that it never, ever lies to you! Ballet is true! Ballet is unlike anything on Earth! It's the closest thing to God that people have ever achieved!

Monday, March 29, 2010

No One Ever Expects A Marching Band

Another Monday afternoon. Another deposit that needs to go to the bank.

Outside, another tedious afternoon on Sacramento's J Street. The sky, kind of a murky gray-blue. The same listless cab drivers looking for fares. The same incompetent skateboarders testing the elasticity of bone on concrete.

Then, suddenly, walking past the windows of the Sheraton Grand Hotel, I heard the sound of - a marching band? Inside, I could see - dancing cheerleaders? Curious, I stepped inside the hotel lobby....

Inside, down the stairs and below street level, a loud and boisterous marching band played rousing team-spirited pop tunes. A mascot of some sort, looking like a tall plant but capped with a top hat, danced around to the music.

What kind of plant is that? I grew suspicious. The edges of the felt 'leaves' had a familiar serrated look. Can it be? I can't believe it! It's a dancing pot plant!

On the stairs, another fellow pumped a pole up-and-down while encouraging the band below. The pole seemed to be capped with a "$".

Did I stumble into a NORML convention? Or does this have something to do with recent efforts to make the ownership of small amounts of marijuana legal (and therefore taxable) in California. But it's premature for a celebration, isn't it? It's not even law yet!

Everything that happens in Sacramento is political. This is the most cringeworthy and embarrassing public spectacle I've ever seen! I bet this is Schwarzenegger's idea! Probably about burnishing his legacy in office with some sorry, hemp-based stunt to close the deficit. I just bet there is a banner around here somewhere with "Live Free, With THC" on it. I hope there's no taxpayer money involved!

Then, I did something uncharacteristic. I asked someone what was going on.

The man answered, "We expect the Stanford Women's Basketball team to come down shortly for an appearance. They are playing tonight at ARCO Arena in the 2010 NCAA Women's Basketball Championships.

So the "$" on that pole is actually an "S". And the Stanford mascot is a Sequoia Tree!


Who knew?

[Update: Stanford defeated Xavier tonight.]

Cheerleaders, and Tree. Over the parapet and down the stairs, the marching band.

Left: Cameras help kick lines!

Below: Oh, no! Here comes that Sequoia again!

Left: Tubas momentarily take the field!

At one instant, the Tuba People faced off against the Trombone People within the narrow confines of an archway within the hotel lobby. I was trapped against the wall between the lines of battle like a helpless gecko.

The battle was reminiscent of the medieval Battle of Agincourt between the French and English. Chroniclers will record that, although the Battle of the Horns didn't last as long as the Battle of Agincourt, it was nevertheless much louder!

And What Do They Think In Zion?

Keep Greta, lose Ben:
"Greenberg" is supposed to be Ben Stiller's "breakout" role. Much like "The Truman Show" (1998) was for Jim Carrey and "Funny People," "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Reign Over Me" were all supposed to be for his fellow comic actor Adam Sandler.

...Yet it's not Stiller's performance — as competent as it may be — that's the interesting, watchable part of this otherwise uninteresting comedy-drama. It's the performance given by one of his co-stars, the relatively unheralded Greta Gerwig.

About halfway through you may find yourself wishing the camera would simply follow her and leave Stiller and the rest of the movie behind.

...At times, you'd swear the movie was improvised — especially judging by the clumsy, contrived and slapped-together third act.

As bad as the finale is, things would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of indie actress Gerwig ("Baghead"). As Florence, she's sweet and sympathetic.

Number 14 - Not Bad!

Boxofficemojo lists "Greenberg" at Number 14 for the weekend!

Iceland Ice Arena Burns Down

This is as bad as the Hindenberg disaster!:
The iconic art deco skate rink in North Sacramento outlasted the events of World War II, Sputnik, the 1963 presidential assassination and the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001.

But early Sunday, Iceland Ice-Skating Rink could not endure fire. As flames jumped high into the sky at 3:30 a.m., the roof collapsed, obliterating the ice rink that opened on Del Paso Boulevard in 1940.

...Officials estimated the blaze caused $1 million in damage; the actual ice rink and cooling system apparently survived. Founding family members said the building was too old to insure against fire loss.

...Sherri Kerth, another member of the founding family, reminisced: "We were here skating before school and after school. There were ice shows and ice competitions and weddings."

Over the years, thousands of people skated at the rink. It also was a center for youth hockey and other programs.

The ice skating rink became a great place for couples to meet, the Kerths said.

Sherri said her father, William Kerth Jr. – son of the founder – met his bride-to-be at the rink in 1945. Besides Rob and Sherri, the couple had four other children.

Rob Kerth said his parents weren't the only people to find romance at the rink.

"My aunt kept a list for many years of couples who met at Iceland and later married," he said. "There were several hundred names on it."

His grandfather, William J. Kerth Sr., started the American Ice Co. on Del Paso Boulevard in 1923.

When electric home refrigerators began to freeze out the old iceboxes in the 1930s, he used the ice plant's equipment to create an ice skating rink next door. Water from the ice plant also supplied the nearby neighborhood pool.

Iceland achieved some prominence in 1961 when it held a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs for the U.S. figure skating team. On Feb. 15, 1961, the plane from New York carrying the team, along with parents, coaches and judges, crashed on a failed landing in Brussels, killing all of them. They were on their way to the world championships in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Iceland was packed for the nationally televised event, Kerth said. With bleachers placed on the ice, the building could seat up to 900 spectators, he said.

Over the years, Kerth said, the rink ceased being a money-making proposition. "The ice rink has been for a long time a labor of love," he said. "There hasn't been any rent paid or money expected for at least 20 years.

"We think of it as our contribution to the community."

...Roland Allred, a lifetime Woodlake resident, said the rink remained a "place for kids to do something Friday and Saturday nights."

He said he was saddened by the loss. "For this neighborhood, it provided a wholesome activity for kids."

..."I think you ought to keep November 4 open on your calendar and come to the rink with ice skates," Kerth hinted broadly. "That will be our 70th anniversary.

"We won't be able to put the roof back on. But outdoor ice skating is pretty popular. I'm sure we'll have the same arrangement we do now, where everybody helps out."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Mayans Foresaw This, And Trembled

E.: Sometimes I think Chris and I should break up. He just doesn't have any money!

M.: But he's a nice guy, and that's more important than money.

E.: That's true.

M.: Is he still thinking about moving to Texas?

E.: I told him I didn't want to live in any place except California. This is the place I've lived longest and know more about than any other place! And if we moved, I wouldn't be able to see you, my Baby Brother!

M.: But his son is there.

E.: But his son has his own family, and his own life.

M.: That's true.

E.: Chris is thinking we should marry in a year-and-a-half.

M.: (*choking*) Year-and-a-half? Is that a proposal?

E.: I don't know - there's so little money. Still, the band will definitely play at the reception. But there is one problem. There is no one to give me away. Would you, my Baby Brother? Would you give me away?

M.: It would be my honor!

(Year-and-a-half? What's in a year-and-a-half? Thanksgiving, 2011? Is that when the Mayan Calendar actually ends?)