Saturday, April 10, 2010

Eavesdropping Under The Antarctic Ice

In case you want to hear what's happening in the ocean under the Antarctic ice right this instant, this Web Site is for you.

Different Parties Apprehend Reality Differently

After the economic collapse of 2008, Las Vegas' CityCenter's continued construction seemed almost to defy reality. Then reality struck back:
The country's largest private development, MGM Mirage's CityCenter, was sued by its general contractor for $490 million in unpaid construction bills.

On March 25, Perini Building Co., a unit of Tutor Perini Corp., Sylmar, Calif., sued several entities controlled by property owners MGM Mirage Inc. and Infinity World Development Corp., a unit of Dubai World, the investment arm of the Persian Gulf state. Las Vegas law firms McDonald Carano Wilson LLP and Martin & Allison Ltd. filed the lawsuit in Clark County District Court.

"We are doing whatever we have to do to protect ourselves and our subcontractors," Tutor Perini Chairman and CEO Ronald Tutor said. "They simply stopped making payments and started offering excuses. Their position is absurd."

The 13-page complaint says the construction contract grew from $3.5 billion to $6.8 billion because of "numerous design changes and substantial project modifications" that added more than 3 million square feet to the development. MGM/CityCenter delivered those changes between 132 and 520 days late, the lawsuit says, and continued making changes "well after the agreed-upon dates" that added another $500 million to the project tab.

...On March 23, MGM/Infinity demanded "that Perini cease all construction activities at the Harmon," and directed security to escort the contractor off site and change the locks, the lawsuit alleges. The oval-shaped glass tower was scheduled to open later this year. A timely completion now seems unlikely since "MGM/CityCenter is delaying the ability of Perini to complete its work under construction agreement," the lawsuit alleges.

The Harmon was scaled back from 48 stories to 26 stories in January 2009. MGM Mirage eliminated 200 high-end condominium residences, of which only 44 percent had sold, but retained the 400-room hotel component. The building reduction also stems from expensive repairs needed to fix botched construction work stemming from "certain issues relating to the lack of constructability of the design, as well as negligent third-party inspection," the lawsuit says.

The move saves an estimated $600 million in construction costs, and defers another $200 million for interior finishes.

"By canceling the Harmon condominium component, we will be able to avoid the need for substantial redesign of the Harmon resulting from contractor construction errors," CityCenter President and CEO Bobby Baldwin said in a previous statement. It also keeps the project focused on "maximizing" sales at CityCenter's other condo towers, he added.

But the lawsuit claims the owner admitted the condominium portion was being "eliminated due to market conditions and cash flow considerations, rather than any alleged construction defect."

Mocked By The Dandelions

For the last several years, whenever I would clean the gutters, I never got over to the gutters on the east side of the house, because leaves accumulate slower over there (no trees above them, unlike the west side of the house). The east side will pretty much take care of itself.

Nevertheless, for the last several weeks, gazing from the driveway, I've noticed dandelions growing from the gutter on the east side of the house. That can't happen, of course, unless they have lots of soil to grow in. *Sigh* An embarrassment! Those dandelions are mocking my laziness!

So, this afternoon I finally cleaned that east-side gutter (probably the first time in three years). Full to the brim with good soil!

Now, Act II.... In addition to addressing the chaos in the basement....

E. has lost or misplaced her W-2 form. We must find it, and fast, since April 15th is just a few days away, but she's a little hoarder, and it will be a hard task.

Speaking of hoarding, this is an interesting article:
Shortly after trying (and mostly failing) to throw out some of my dad's old stuff, I began hoarding TV shows about hoarders and hoarding. There's something creepily cathartic about watching the extreme attachment some people have to their stuff. Each time I tune in for A&E's "Hoarders" and TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive," it sends me into a cleaning frenzy, rifling through my closets and driving big bags of old stuff to Goodwill. But what else can you do when the camera pans over a house filled with boxes and stacks and piles of useless stuff, clothes and papers and old dishes and stuffed animals and costume jewelry, all of it clogging up the hallways and rooms and kitchens until dust starts to accumulate and bad smells rise up from the junk and communities of flies and parasites and bed bugs move in, keeping adult children from ever visiting their parents and forcing one family with small children into a tent in the backyard?

Despite my own hoarding impulses and my reluctance to get rid of my father's things, my immediate response to this madness -- the mountain of stuff that's ruining these people's lives, separating them from each other, complicating simple day-to-day activities, requiring constant hurdling and reshuffling and restacking -- is to scream at the TV screen, "For God's sake, light a match and say goodbye to all of it! Go away for a weekend and hire someone to drag it away! Just get rid of it!"

But soon it becomes obvious that all of that stuff is a reflection of some great loss -- a husband who fell ill with heart cancer and died while awaiting a heart transplant, a fiancĂ© who committed suicide unexpectedly, a lover who died in a car accident – then the difficulty of simply throwing it all out becomes clear. Instead of mourning the loss fully, the hoarder puts off saying goodbye.

And once the dead person's things don't leave the house, neither does anything else. The hoarder is stuck in a holding pattern. Perversely, though, new purchases are made to get the hoarder focused on new possibilities, each new thing representing a new escape fantasy: "We'll bake cookies together, me and the girls, and life will be the way it was." "We'll set up lounge chairs by the pool, and a table, and friends will come by and relax, just as Tom and I always planned we'd do when we retired." "I'll finish knitting this skirt." "I'll read this magazine article about cake decorating." "I'll learn more about Sudoku." The piles of stuff reflect a past that's lost and gone forever, but also hint at a hazy, imagined future that is constructed more from fantasy than from a practical sense of what's possible.

What's missing, for the hoarder, is the present. The present is a house packed with oozing piles of crap. The present is nothing but failure and shame and self-doubt and learned helplessness.

...Of course, Christina's resistance only gets worse when the professional organizer and the psychologist and the army of junk-removers driving big trucks converge on her house. Instead of remembering how much better it would be if her "house just burned down," she starts sorting through bags of trash, item by item, while everyone stands around and waits. It's this part of hoarding shows, when the hoarder in question sighs and wrings her hands and insists that she really does need that old magazine or this little girl's sweater or that box of knitting needles or this bag of 20-year-old shoes, that fills me with such palpable dread. Suddenly I think of the storage bin filled with old size-4 pants under my bed (who am I kidding?), among the dust bunnies. Suddenly I consider all of the sweaters I'll probably never wear again and the books I'll probably never read and the boots I haven't worn since I was 27 and the old rings in my jewelry box that I never liked in the first place.

At this point I inevitably turn off the TV and start rifling through my things, filling up bags with junk that I've held onto because I was feeling sentimental or because it seemed wasteful to give it away when I might need it someday, or my daughter might use it, or I might find some other hoarder to take it off my hands.

Thanks to hoarding shows, I've sloughed off stuff that I've been moving from one residence to another for well over a decade: SyQuest cartridges and old mix tapes and skirts that never fit right and old suitcases I don't use anymore. How could it have taken so long to get rid of such worthless junk? I haven't been accumulating that much new stuff, really, I've just been putting off making a final decision on the stuff that I'd mindlessly packed and unpacked and reshuffled for years without just saying: I don't need this, and I will never need this.

...Then again, our inability to get rid of certain things is sometimes tied to our hesitation to give up on some idea of ourselves: "I might still be a size 4 someday," says the 40-year-old size-8 mother. "I might still train for a marathon following this program in this 1998 issue of Runners' World Magazine, I might still learn something from my old philosophy books from college, I might still break out my old acrylic paints and read all of these back issues of the New Yorker." We all want to feel that our lives are filled with endless possibilities, that we have all the time in the world. Hoarding can be a way of denying that there's an end point to your timeline or boundaries around your opportunities.

But when I watch these hoarders, kvetching over this bag of yarn or that muffin tin, I think about the old black-and-white photographs you sometimes find at flea markets and estate sales, photos of a couple smiling on their couch, or of a gathering of women in a backyard, holding a miserable-looking baby, or of a girl sitting on a swing, a dog wandering through the grass nearby. These are someone else's memories that were packed away in boxes, in an attic or a basement, and when that person died, no one wanted them. No kids, no sisters, no spouse, no second cousins showed up and dragged these photographs away -- they were left in a pile somewhere, and now here they are, being sorted through by total strangers. How much stuff will I force my kids to sort through? How much of it will immediately be identified as worthless? How much of my stuff might end up like this, drifting through the hands of strangers? When you think about your stuff that way, 90 percent of it suddenly begs to be boxed up and driven to Goodwill immediately.

"Richard III" - Big Idea Theatre

Richard III's Director Justin Chapman (at right) leads the cast in a question/answer session after the opening night performance.

I certainly don't know much about Shakespeare, but I knew enough that "Richard III" would prove one interesting play (plus we wanted to see what Mariana Seda was up to). I was not disappointed! The reign of Richard III is the bloody template for political theater to the present day. Brian Harrower (with fedora) is one twisted king. Long live the king (if he is able)!

Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly (at left) talked about how he uses language rhythms to help memorize lines, and how learning Shakespeare is different than other plays because the rhythms are already built-in into the script by William Shakespeare. Other actors, such as Nina Breton (Queen Margaret - red slacks at left) concurred, and talked about what excellent word choices were made by Shakespeare, how natural the speech rhythms feel, and how rich the language is.

"Big Girls Don't Cry" - Fergie And The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena

"Big Girls Don't Cry" - Fergie And The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010.

Friday, April 09, 2010

"Freestyle" - And The Black Eyed Peas

"Freestyle" - and The Black Eyed Peas -The E.N.D. Tour - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010.

"Fergalicious" & "Glamorous" (featuring Ludacris) - Fergie & The Black Eyed Peas

"Fergalicious" & "Glamorous" (featuring Ludacris) - Fergie & The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena - Sacramento, CA, USA - April 7, 2010.

Glacier National Park Shedding Those Pesky Glaciers

Going, going....:
The park's glaciers have been slowly melting since about 1850, when the centuries-long Little Ice Age ended. They once numbered as many as 150, and 37 of those glaciers eventually were named.

A glacier needs to be 25 acres to qualify for the title.

If it shrinks any smaller, it does not always stop moving right away. A smaller mass of ice on a steep slope would still continue to grind its way through the mountains, but eventually disappears completely.

The latest two to fall below the 25 acre (10 hectare) threshold were Miche Wabun and Shepard. Each had shrunk by roughly 55% since the mid-1960s. The largest remaining glacier in the park is Harrison Glacier, at about 465 acres (190 hectares).

"My Humps" - The Black Eyed Peas - ARCO Arena

The Black Eyed Peas, featuring Fergie and, sing "My Humps", at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, CA, USA, April 7, 2010.

Marc's Amazing Weight-Loss Program Continues

I think I lost five pounds in two weeks! Nothing beats eating just one chocolate-covered Easter egg every other day, rather than eating two a day, as is my wont. Where did that all that thunderous weight go?

(Oh, I think it swung around and landed on my ass.... What's the point of squeezing into Speedoes by June if I look like a light bulb?)

As Andrew Lemons and Alex Powell so rightly pointed out when we were doing "Titanic" at DMTC in 2006, "My Humps" is the most important song in the history of Western Civilization (particularly Alanis Morissette's version, which was so awesome that Fergie graciously sent her with an ass-shaped cake):
Whatcha gonna do with all that junk
All that junk inside that trunk..
I'ma get get get get you drunk
Get you love drunk off my hump
Whatcha gonna do with all that ass
All that ass inside them jeans
I'ma make make make make you scream
Make you scream make you scream

Playing With Formats

It's interesting how much information gets lost converting from MTS to mp4 video format. I've been trying to process one file in particular: Ludacris' "Rewind It Back". Such a great hip hop number!

On the video camera, the video quality is gorgeous. The mp4 version, however, is complete junk.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

"Richard III" Preview Tonight!

Mariana Seda sends a sweet note:
Hello lovely people!!!!

How I've missed ye all. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their new shows/free nights whichever it is you opted for! Well, many of you asked me to let you know when my other show opened so here's the deal:
(NOTE: TONIGHT'S SHOW IS ONLY $5! Sorry for the late notice on that :))

Richard III
By William Shakespeare

Directed by Justin L. Chapman

Performing April 9 - May 8, 2010

Tickets $12 - $15
Group (10 or more) $10

Includes wine, light refreshments, a meet and greet with the cast and crew and live music featuring local artists.
All opening night tickets $20.

PREVIEW Thursday April 8... (only $5!)

Shakespeare's spellbinding play tells the tale of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, one of theatre's most memorable villians, as he gleefully murders his way to the top. Richard is a man with an eye for the crown and a heart of flint who is bent on seizing power, no matter the cost.

Tickets and info at
It's dramatic, it's intense, it's cruel, scary, and above-all it's Shakespeare so be prepared to have your faces iambically pentamified!

Love and MIss you all,

Time For The Climatologist/Meteorologist Gladiators!

Anna at sends a nice note:
I was reading your post about the climatologist/meteorologist debate, and I thought you might be interested in this video.

Like your weblog, the video points out the influence of TV weathermen and women. It also presents different opinions from both sides of the debate, but it goes beyond that to ask why are there these differences. I hope you might consider embedding this video in your blog.

Newsy is a site that collects information from news outlets across the web and television. It covers everything from U.S. politics to environmental news. The site weeds out bias in the media and allows viewers to make their own opinions about leading headlines.
There is no inherent conflict between meteorology and climatology (there had better not be!) Nevertheless, since weather is part of news and news is apparently part of entertainment these days, perhaps we had better stage a fight, just for show. Like professional wrestlers, no one gets (seriously) hurt. I picture something like Mexican Midget Wrestling, or the like.

Black-Eyed Peas, Ludacris, and LMFAO - ARCO Arena, Sacramento - April 7, 2010

ARCO Arena was the setting for three pop music acts on Wednesday night: LMFAO, Ludacris, and the Black Eyed Peas.

I got quite a bit of footage that may be suitable for YouTube videos. I'll try to get them uploaded in the next few days.

Since I'm not a huge fan of any of the groups it didn't particularly bother me that Sally and I were way up in the upper tier. Still, these seats were better than I expected (maybe I lied: the Black Eyed Peas are great!)

Left: The Black-Eyed Peas take the stage. That's Fergie, second spotlight from the right!

When we entered the seating area, LMFAO was already singing the only song of their's that I know: "I'm In Miami Trick". They seemed heavily dependent on the vocoder, but seemed pretty lively.

Ludacris was very energetic!

In the March 2010 issue my neighborhood's newspaper, Viewpoint, (link should eventually reside here) there is an interesting profile regarding someone who grew up in my neighborhood:
Taeko Carroll, daughter of Fusae and Tom Carroll of Curtis Way, will perform April 7 as one of four backup dancers for Ludacris, the opening act for the Black Eyed Peas at Arco Arena. Taeko grew up in the Japanese and American cultures and is equally fluent in both languages. She played many youth sports as well as studied piano, violin, and dance.

Dance became her first love, a love she shares with her mother, who teaches dance. Of all the dance styles she has studied (Balkan, ballet, jazz, modern and tap), her favorite is hip hop. A 2004 graduate of Sac High's arts program, Taeko is the founder and director of her own hip hop crew Beast Mode, which is based in Hollywood. Find more about her at
A big shout out to Taeko!


The Black Eyed Peas had great lighting infrastructure undergirding everything they did.


For an instant, the concourse seemed dangerously-crowded. Then, the crowds passed.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Juggalos Just Amazed By The Universe

Who Do You Believe, Goldman Sachs Or Your Lying Eyes?

Goldman Sachs makes some up-is-down claims today. This fellow tries to interpret:
On Goldman’s betting against its clients, the firm mentions only in passing that it used CDOs to lay off mortgage risk. The reason the use of a CDO is important is that, while the offering documents contemplated all sorts of outcomes, investors would assume that Goldman was acting as an intermediary and had devised its CDO merely to satisfy market demand and lay of mortgage pipeline exposure, acting as an intermediary. But in using a CDO to create a short position, Goldman would have the incentive to dump the very worst dreck possible into the CDO. And had Goldman disclosed its role, investors would have looked at the deal much harder.


This writer tries to get to the root of what bothers him when he hears Sarah Palin speak. And it occurs to me this problematic way of speaking is more common now than ever. It's probably the fault of that damned Internet again. Or, if not the Internet, maybe Windows Explorer (people tend to browse these days, rather than think):
What truly distinguishes Palin’s speech is its utter subjectivity: that is, she speaks very much from the inside of her head, as someone watching the issues from a considerable distance. The there fetish, for instance — Palin frequently displaces statements with an appended “there,” as in “We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there...” But where? Why the distancing gesture? At another time, she referred to Condoleezza Rice trying to “forge that peace.” That peace? You mean that peace way over there — as opposed to the peace that you as Vice-President would have been responsible for forging? She’s far, far away from that peace.

All of us use there and that in this way in casual speech — it’s a way of placing topics as separate from us on a kind of abstract “desktop” that the conversation encompasses. “The people in accounting down there think they can just ....” But Palin, doing this even when speaking to the whole nation, is no further outside of her head than we are when talking about what’s going on at work over a beer. The issues, American people, you name it, are “there” — in other words, not in her head 24/7. She hasn’t given them much thought before; they are not her. They’re that, over there.

This reminds me of toddlers who speak from inside their own experience in a related way: they will come up to you and comment about something said by a neighbor you’ve never met, or recount to you the plot of an episode of a TV show they have no way of knowing you’ve ever heard of. Palin strings her words together as if she were doing it for herself — meanings float by, and she translates them into syntax in whatever way works, regardless of how other people making public statements do it.

You see this in one of my favorites, her take on Hillary Clinton’s complaint about sexism in media coverage:
When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'Man, that doesn't do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country.
For one thing, the that again. And then “that” use of perceived: properly it would be “perceived criticism,” wouldn’t it, rather than a “perceived whine”? All whines worthy of note, we assume, are perceived -- whines unperceived don’t make the news and thus do not require specification as such. There are two explanations for how Palin used perceived here.

...Then if you read the quote straight it sounds like she means women shouldn’t progress. But what happened is that she thought first of the complaint, and then tacked on a reference to women progressing; in her own head she thinks of it as something good, but she perceived no need to make that clear to those listening. She in there, in her head.

...Palinspeak is a flashlight panning over thoughts, rather than thoughts given light via considered expression.

Michael Lewis Discusses "The Big Short"

These are a very interesting, hours-long series of eight video segments where Michael Lewis discusses his new book "The Big Short": the stories of a handful of Wall Street traders who saw the big financial collapse coming, and bucked conventional understanding by risking big money according to their new understanding. Lewis also discusses what he would do if he was God and could rewrite the rules to prevent it from all happening again.

Vanity Fair publishes Michael Lewis' article in their April edition:
Michael Burry always saw the world differently—due, he believed, to the childhood loss of one eye. So when the 32-year-old investor spotted the huge bubble in the subprime-mortgage bond market, in 2004, then created a way to bet against it, he wasn’t surprised that no one understood what he was doing.

...In early 2004 a 32-year-old stock-market investor and hedge-fund manager, Michael Burry, immersed himself for the first time in the bond market. He learned all he could about how money got borrowed and lent in America. He didn’t talk to anyone about what became his new obsession; he just sat alone in his office, in San Jose, California, and read books and articles and financial filings. He wanted to know, especially, how subprime-mortgage bonds worked.

...Every mortgage bond came with its own mind-numbingly tedious 130-page prospectus. If you read the fine print, you saw that each bond was its own little corporation. Burry spent the end of 2004 and early 2005 scanning hundreds and actually reading dozens of the prospectuses, certain he was the only one apart from the lawyers who drafted them to do so—even though you could get them all for $100 a year from

...But as early as 2004, if you looked at the numbers, you could clearly see the decline in lending standards. In Burry’s view, standards had not just fallen but hit bottom. The bottom even had a name: the interest-only negative-amortizing adjustable-rate subprime mortgage. You, the homebuyer, actually were given the option of paying nothing at all, and rolling whatever interest you owed the bank into a higher principal balance. It wasn’t hard to see what sort of person might like to have such a loan: one with no income. What Burry couldn’t understand was why a person who lent money would want to extend such a loan.

...He now had a tactical investment problem. The various floors, or tranches, of subprime-mortgage bonds all had one thing in common: the bonds were impossible to sell short. To sell a stock or bond short, you needed to borrow it, and these tranches of mortgage bonds were tiny and impossible to find. You could buy them or not buy them, but you couldn’t bet explicitly against them; the market for subprime mortgages simply had no place for people in it who took a dim view of them.

...A couple of years earlier, he’d discovered credit-default swaps. A credit-default swap was confusing mainly because it wasn’t really a swap at all. It was an insurance policy, typically on a corporate bond, with periodic premium payments and a fixed term. ... “Credit-default swaps remedied the problem of open-ended risk for me,” said Burry. “If I bought a credit-default swap, my downside was defined and certain, and the upside was many multiples of it.”

He was already in the market for corporate credit-default swaps. In 2004 he began to buy insurance on companies he thought might suffer in a real-estate downturn: mortgage lenders, mortgage insurers, and so on. This wasn’t entirely satisfying. A real-estate-market meltdown might cause these companies to lose money; there was no guarantee that they would actually go bankrupt. He wanted a more direct tool for betting against subprime-mortgage lending. On March 19, 2005, alone in his office with the door closed and the shades pulled down, reading an abstruse textbook on credit derivatives, Michael Burry got an idea: credit-default swaps on subprime-mortgage bonds.

The idea hit him as he read a book about the evolution of the U.S. bond market and the creation, in the mid-1990s, at J. P. Morgan, of the first corporate credit-default swaps. He came to a passage explaining why banks felt they needed credit-default swaps at all. ... It struck Burry: Wall Street is bound to do the same thing with subprime-mortgage bonds, too. Given what was happening in the real-estate market—and given what subprime-mortgage lenders were doing—a lot of smart people eventually were going to want to make side bets on subprime-mortgage bonds. And the only way to do it would be to buy a credit-default swap.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Corrales Home

When Marcial Valdez, my father, passed away last year, we had French's Mortuary in Albuquerque assemble a DVD from pictures we had of his life. I don't possess the original photos, but I do have the DVD, from which I can take screenshots.

This series of photos were taken in about 1960 by a photographer with the Sandia (and Livermore) Labs weekly newspaper, and were featured on its front page. The pictures show Marcial Valdez's pride, the adobe home where I grew up, under construction, in Corrales, NM.

A few years later (about 1963), a loose bull came through these French Doors into the living room on a hot summer's day, to rest for a spell in the shade.

Coming into the living room, I noticed the bull. Having heard on the school bus that making faces at bulls would make them charge, I made faces at the bull, but the peaceable bull did nothing. Disappointed, I finally alerted my mother, who shooed the bull back outside with a broom.

Living room, looking east.

Living room, looking southwest.

Hand-pump well (used before electricity became available at this location), plus the back door (featuring many small windows, in the French style).

That back door brings back memories.

When I was a preschooler, nothing frightened me like the road grader, a big, yellow, dirty monstrous machine that Sandoval County employed to keep Corrales' dirt roads' washboard surfaces passable in dry weather, and to fill in muddy low spots during wet weather.

As became her custom during one endless and bucolic summer, my mother locked me and my sister outside every noontime so she could take an hour's nap in peace.

One dreadful day, when locked outside the house, the road grader came down the road. I quailed in fear of this noxious engine from hell. Then, the worst thing imaginable happened: the road grader turned into our driveway (in order to turn around, but I didn't know that). Utterly exposed, fearing for my life, and in an absolute panic, I shattered one of the small windows in the back door and swiftly squeezed through the tight and jagged space so I could find shelter inside the house.

After that, my mother decided that locking us outside probably wasn't the smartest thing, and started letting us stay inside during noontime.

View of the Sandia Mountains (circa 1960), with a loose horse grazing the alfalfa.

Hoarding, And The End Of Print Journalism

How Will The End Of Print Journalism Affect Old Loons Who Hoard Newspapers?

Walt Visits The 2010 Master's Tournament

It sounds very civilized:
People can get very close to the players. We were about 20 feet way from Tiger Woods and other golfers, several times. We saw a lot of the big shots: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Angel Cabrera, Larry Mize, and others. Since they were practicing, and not playing for real, they spent a lot of time putting in various directions. They put tees in the ground at different places on the green, and putted towards them. It’s because during the actual tournament, the hole gets moved around, so the players don’t know where it will be from day to day. So they were practicing putting at various places.

Tiger Woods had three security guys walking with him. I heard that at the 3rd hole, somebody in the crowd hollered out a rude remark, and the guy was immediately removed. So if other people didn’t like Tiger, they kept quiet. A lot of people applauded Tiger and the other golfers.

Every golf course I’ve ever been to had lots of divots around the tee-off places. However, these guys at the National don’t hit the ground with their clubs. There were no divots in the green, anywhere. On one hole, I think #16, there was a long pond covering at least half the space between the tee-off place and the green. Most of the golfers intentionally drove the balls into the pond, and the balls skipped like a stone across the water and landed on the green beyond. That was something really cool to see.

Hannah Collins Joins The Navy

Sacramento dance scene's loss is the military's gain.

Roger Sanchez - 2Gether (Original Mix)

Kate Gosselin On "Dancing With The Stars"

Some celebrities *get* dancing, while others apparently don't. And the celebrities we follow say a lot about us - about our dreams and desires. At the risk of sounding "presumptuous, pompous and awkward," I think we need some new celebrities.

Underwater Walrus

Today, the left blogosphere's teacup is all in a tempest trying to fathom the implications of Chris Matthews calling Rush Limbaugh an "underwater walrus".

Black Helicopter Time In The Arizona Strip?

This is bound to put the communities there on edge:
Colorado City, Ariz.» Utah and Arizona law enforcement officers served search warrants Tuesday on the fire department serving a polygamous community that straddles the two states' borders.

Approximately 25 officers and investigators arrived in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., around 7:30 a.m. MST and served six warrants on the Colorado City Fire Department station, three substations and homes of the department's fire chief and town manager.

A majority of the towns' 8,000 or so residents are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has been under intense government scrutiny for the past eight years.

A press release issued by the Mohave County Sheriff's Office said the investigation was for "obtaining evidence of misuse of public funds as well as fraudulent schemes in connection with the city government and the fire departments."

..."They will not let the volunteers into the stations or the offices where they are taking information," said Barlow, reached by telephone. "This is over the top for anything they have the right to do. They are interfering with the public safety of thousands of people. I'm trusting that the staff and battalion chief have it under control."

However, investigators had fire personnel move their equipment outside the buildings so they could respond to any calls that may come in.

...Police dispatchers in the town fielded dozens of calls from panicked residents as word about the investigation spread through the community.

"People are freaking out that officers are there to take kids," said a town deputy who declined to give his name.

The investigation comes also two years to the day after Texas authorities raided the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and removed over 400 children. Those children were later returned to their parents.

...Attorneys general in Utah and Arizona backed a court takeover of the community's United Effort Plan Trust in 2005. The trust holds virtually all property in the two towns.

Arizona authorities have suggested in recent court filings that it needs access to records to understand what has gone on with the property trust. In 2005, Arizona seized records and then took over the Colorado City Unified School District based on allegations of financial mismanagement, though no charges were ever brought against FLDS members who then oversaw the district. The district is now again under local control, though no FLDS members serve in its administration.


Image from NobbyNobody at B3ta.

Matt Taibbi Looks At The Birmingham, AL Sewage Treatment Plant Fiasco

I like his term "nomadic thievery" when discussing municipalities and Modern Finance. Language fails in describing this all-too-common rapacity:
The sewer bill, in fact, is what cost Pack and her co-workers their jobs. In 1996, the average monthly sewer bill for a family of four in Birmingham was only $14.71 — but that was before the county decided to build an elaborate new sewer system with the help of out-of-state financial wizards with names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The result was a monstrous pile of borrowed money that the county used to build, in essence, the world's grandest toilet — "the Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants" is how one county worker put it. What happened here in Jefferson County would turn out to be the perfect metaphor for the peculiar alchemy of modern oligarchical capitalism: A mob of corrupt local officials and morally absent financiers got together to build a giant device that converted human shit into billions of dollars of profit for Wall Street — and misery for people like Lisa Pack.

...Birmingham became the poster child for a new kind of giant-scale financial fraud, one that would threaten the financial stability not only of cities and counties all across America, but even those of entire countries like Greece. While for many Americans the financial crisis remains an abstraction, a confusing mess of complex transactions that took place on a cloud high above Manhattan sometime in the mid-2000s, in Jefferson County you can actually see the rank criminality of the crisis economy with your own eyes; the monster sticks his head all the way out of the water. Here you can see a trail that leads directly from a billion-dollar predatory swap deal cooked up at the highest levels of America's biggest banks, across a vast fruited plain of bribes and felonies — "the price of doing business," as one JP Morgan banker says on tape — all the way down to Lisa Pack's sewer bill and the mass layoffs in Birmingham.

Once you follow that trail and understand what took place in Jefferson County, there's really no room left for illusions. We live in a gangster state, and our days of laughing at other countries are over. It's our turn to get laughed at. In Birmingham, lots of people have gone to jail for the crime: More than 20 local officials and businessmen have been convicted of corruption in federal court. Last October, right around the time that Lisa Pack went back to work at reduced hours, Birmingham's mayor was convicted of fraud and money-laundering for taking bribes funneled to him by Wall Street bankers — everything from Rolex watches to Ferragamo suits to cash. But those who greenlighted the bribes and profited most from the scam remain largely untouched. "It never gets back to JP Morgan," says Pack.

...For Jefferson County, the deal blew up in early 2008, when a dizzying array of penalties and other fine-print poison worked into the swap contracts started to kick in. The trouble began with the housing crash, which took down the insurance companies that had underwritten the county's bonds. That rendered the county's insurance worthless, triggering clauses in its swap contracts that required it to pay off more than $800 million of its debt in only four years, rather than 40. That, in turn, scared off private lenders, who were no longer ­interested in bidding on the county's bonds. The banks were forced to make up the difference — a service for which they charged enormous penalties. It was as if the county had missed a payment on its credit card and woke up the next morning to find its annual percentage rate jacked up to a million percent. Between 2008 and 2009, the annual payment on Jefferson County's debt jumped from $53 million to a whopping $636 million.

It gets worse. Remember the swap deal that Jefferson County did with JP Morgan, how the variable rates it got from the bank were supposed to match those it owed its bondholders? Well, they didn't. Most of the payments the county was receiving from JP Morgan were based on one set of interest rates (the London Interbank Exchange Rate), while the payments it owed to its bondholders followed a different set of rates (a municipal-bond index). Jefferson County was suddenly getting far less from JP Morgan, and owing tons more to bondholders. In other words, the bank and Bill Blount made tens of millions of dollars selling deals to local politicians that were not only completely defective, but blew the entire county to smithereens.

And here's the kicker. Last year, when Jefferson County, staggered by the weight of its penalties, was unable to make its swap payments to JP Morgan, the bank canceled the deal. That triggered one-time "termination fees" of — yes, you read this right — $647 million. That was money the county would owe no matter what happened with the rest of its debt, even if bondholders decided to forgive and forget every dime the county had borrowed. It was like the herpes simplex of loans — debt that does not go away, ever, for as long as you live. On a sewer project that was originally supposed to cost $250 million, the county now owed a total of $1.28 billion just in interest and fees on the debt. Imagine paying $250,000 a year on a car you purchased for $50,000, and that's roughly where Jefferson County stood at the end of last year.

Last November, the SEC charged JP Morgan with fraud and canceled the $647 million in termination fees. The bank agreed to pay a $25 million fine and fork over $50 million to assist displaced workers in Jefferson County. So far, the county has managed to avoid bankruptcy, but the sewer fiasco had downgraded its credit rating, triggering payments on other outstanding loans and pushing Birmingham toward the status of an African debtor state. For the next generation, the county will be in a constant fight to collect enough taxes just to pay off its debt, which now totals $4,800 per resident.

The city of Birmingham was founded in 1871, at the dawn of the Southern industrial boom, for the express purpose of attracting Northern capital — it was even named after a famous British steel town to burnish its entrepreneurial cred. There's a gruesome irony in it now lying sacked and looted by financial vandals from the North. The destruction of Jefferson County reveals the basic battle plan of these modern barbarians, the way that banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have systematically set out to pillage towns and cities from Pittsburgh to Athens. These guys aren't number-crunching whizzes making smart investments; what they do is find suckers in some municipal-finance department, corner them in complex lose-lose deals and flay them alive. In a complete subversion of free-market principles, they take no risk, score deals based on political influence rather than competition, keep consumers in the dark — and walk away with big money. "It's not high finance," says Taylor, the former bond regulator. "It's low finance." And even if the regulators manage to catch up with them billions of dollars later, the banks just pay a small fine and move on to the next scam. This isn't capitalism. It's nomadic thievery.

The Last Place One Should Seek Good Advice

JPMorgan Chase (or, for that matter, any mortgage lender):
SACRAMENTO (CN) - JPMorgan Chase instructed homeowners to stop making mortgage payments, as that was the only way to be considered for a loan modification, then repossessed their house when they followed the bank's advice, a couple claims in Federal Court. "I've seen this happen to so many people," their attorney said. "When they come in here to tell me their story, I can actually tell it to them."

...The Jahanis say the bank representative told them "that they would not work with plaintiffs at all because they were currently not in breach of their loan terms. Plaintiffs were specifically advised at that time to stop making payments for a period of three months, at which time defendants would consider a loan modification. Plaintiffs were specifically informed that as long as they were current on their mortgage payments, that defendants would not consider a loan modification. ...

"Reasonably relying on the direction of defendants, plaintiffs stopped making their loan payments. Plaintiffs are informed and believe and thereon allege that defendants immediately reported to the various credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) that plaintiffs were late on their mortgage payments. ...

"On or about June 23, 2009, defendants sent a letter to plaintiff entitled 'Notice of
Intent to Foreclose,' indicating that plaintiffs were past due in their mortgage in the amount of $100.65 and that plaintiffs need to bring the account current within 30 days to avoid foreclosure proceedings. No Notice of Default accompanied the letter, nor was any Notice of Default ever served on plaintiffs."

Months of correspondence between the Jahanis and Chase followed, with the Jahanis repeatedly sending Chase documents it had requested, and Chase repeatedly sending them letters claiming it had not received proper documentation and that their loan modification was "in jeopardy."

The Jahanis say they called the bank to check on the status of their loan modification, and were told to disregard Chase's letters, that the bank "had in fact received all necessary documentation."

Then in October 2009, the defendants sold their house at a trustee sale. The Jahanis say strangers came to their house and told them that "the property had sold at auction, that plaintiffs no longer owned the property and that they (meaning the unnamed persons) were interested in buying the house from the bank." (Parentheses in complaint.)

The Jahanis say they immediately called Chase, which told them that their house "had not been foreclosed and that the people who were approaching the property were doing so illegally."

The Jahanis say this insanity continued for months. They called the bank again in February 2010, and asked why their house was still listed as having been foreclosed in October 2009.

Chase told them it was all a "mistake" and that the bank simply had not updated its records, according to the complaint.

"During that same conversation, plaintiffs asked why defendants continued to accept mortgage payments from plaintiffs if the house had been foreclosed. Plaintiffs demanded to know where their payments were going and demanded a payment history from defendants. Plaintiffs further demanded to know why defendants' REO department had indicated that plaintiffs no longer owned the house and that it was now in fact owned by the bank."

They say the bank rep, "Janet," "again reiterated that this was a mistake and that she would take care of it. Janet further claimed that she, at that moment, was sending e-mails and correspondence 'everywhere' within the company to rectify the situation and to please allow her 10 days to clear up the mess. The mess, in fact, was never cleaned up. Janet further promised in that same conversation that someone would review the file and get back to them within 10 days. No one did."

The Jahanis add, "This was never resolved, as the Jahanis received tax documents indicating that their house had been acquired by the bank, even though they continued to send in mortgage payments."

On "Charlie Rose": Noah Baumbach & Ben Stiller Discuss Greta Gerwig's Audition

Monday, April 05, 2010

Passover Seder At The Isaacsons

All Top Movies Slid This Weekend

Panic in the streets! Almost all the top movies slid in popularity this weekend. Why? Why? Why?

Oh yeah, this was Easter weekend....


("Greenberg" is now at Number 15).

Forbidden Facebook Knowledge

Easier to apologize than ask permission, I presume:
Legal threats from Facebook have led to the destruction of a social science dataset about to be released to researchers.

Lawyers from the social networking site contacted Pete Warden, an entrepreneur based in Boulder, Colorado, in February after he announced plans to release data he had collected from the public profiles of 210 million Facebook users.

Warden says that Facebook threatened legal action if he did not delete the data. He duly destroyed all the records, saying he did not have the funds to contest a lawsuit.

Warden's records included a "social graph", a representation of all the friend connections between users in the dataset. This would have been a powerful research tool for social scientists and others interested in how people interact.

More than 50 researchers had requested copies of the dataset, says Warden, after he had blogged about making it available. He had already used the graph to show how the social connections of the 120 million US users his data covered were apparently concentrated in regional clusters.

...Warden obtained the data by writing "crawler" software that harvested information from Facebook profile pages which could be viewed without logging in to the site.

He gathered users' names, locations, friends and interests, but planned to remove names and use other anonymisation methods to prevent specific profiles being linked to individuals.

In compiling his data without seeking permission, Warden had violated the site's terms of service, said a Facebook spokesperson, adding: "Warden was extremely cooperative with Facebook from the moment we contacted him and he abandoned his plans."

Long Ago, Orwell Foresaw The Importance Of Altering History In Order To Advance The Party's Interests

I was surprised this morning, listening to Rush on the radio, that, despite eyewitness statements and video and audio records, this event never happened. He says the media made it all up.

Well, I'm glad Rush's Ministry of Truth has taken care of all that!:
Preceding the president's speech to a gathering of House Democrats, thousands of protesters descended around the Capitol to protest the passage of health care reform. The gathering quickly turned into abusive heckling, as members of Congress passing through Longworth House office building were subjected to epithets and even mild physical abuse.

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a 'ni--er.' And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "faggot," as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president's speech, shrugged off the incident.

But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

The Mississippi Way

That's strange - hold a secret prom in order to avoid the lesbian. Will graduation be a secret too?

Marcus Crowder Reviews "Reefer Madness"

Artistic Differences and their new offering:
So yes, Brad Bong, star of the Artistic Differences production, is really smoking. The pun's intended; groans are optional.

Happily, young Mr. Bong has just the right fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked look, along with solid singing and dancing chops to be more than a casting gimmick.

Bong plays Jimmy Harper, a classic naive all-American boy who gets led astray by the devil weed marijuana. The 1998 musical spoof by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney sends up the 1936 public service cautionary-tale film detailing the evils of smoking marijuana.

Never Discuss Politics And Religion

As I have the last several major holidays, on Easter, I went with Sally to eat at her friend's home in the Capay Valley (together with numerous family members of her friend). As always, the company was pleasant and jovial, but unlike last Thanksgiving, it was raining, so sojourns through the pretty countryside were off-limits.

Since the family is mostly robustly Republican, I endeavored to steer the conversation away from any issues that might be controversial, no matter how provoked I might get, because I'm wary of disrupting good feelings for what might turn out in hindsight to be just ephemera and happenstance.

At the beginning of the afternoon, just to get the conversation going, Son #1 arrived carrying a brand new copy of Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue". Oh, oh! Ammunition! I joined Son #2 in the other room (a closet Democrat).

There was a natural division at dinner, with the Republican family center at Table #1, and the closet Democrats (+ one Republican) at Table #2. At Table #2, conversation turned dangerously to the subject of draft dodging in the Vietnam War. At one point, referring to the conversation's evolution, Sally said 'never discuss religion or politics!' Worried about any incipient iciness, and in order to soothe feelings, I said 'oh, this isn't politics' (it's history - very, very recent history, it's true, but not politics - exactly). Conversation remained copacetic, and certainly less inflammmatory than at over Table #1 (where I overheard something about inner-city minorities voting en masse for Obama).

After dinner, we wandered over to Table #1. Son #1 said 'did you hear about the new mandate to get higher auto mileage by 2014?' Nephew replied 'when was that?' '2014,' replied Son #1. Nephew replied, 'we'll have that bastard out-of-office by then!'

Son #1 looked around for his brother and noticed that he was in the other room. Waxing expansive, he said 'now that we are all Republicans here we can really get into it!' Sally said, 'Marc and I are both Democrats!' Surprised, everyone looked expectantly at me. Awkwardly, I replied, 'Well, I was disappointed how health care reform turned out' (which is true, because it didn't include a public option, but fortunately that's not how they interpreted my remark). Tensions immediately eased and conversation turned away from politics and towards the much-safer ground of religion, and Nephew's philosophical objections to saying 'Happy Easter' (not a happy holiday, for one; two, named for a pagan goddess).