Friday, May 14, 2010
I was curious about this film, because it features former DMTC-er Stephanie Skewes as victim #3 (she played 'June' in the 2004 production of "Gypsy"). She makes her entrance at 17:05, and she heads off to the morgue at 24:23. I like her acting skills here, though.
Hard to break into this Hollywood game!
The Ixtoc 1 spill is the closest parallel to the Deepwater Horizon spill, but even there the comparison is misleading. Ixtoc 1 was in far shallower water. Still, it took ten months to control.
Some of us like to gamble. Americans bet a hundred million dollars every day, and that's just at legal places like Las Vegas and Indian reservations. Much more is bet illegally.Drunk driving can be fun and harmless too, providing you ignore the occasional collateral damage, as Mr. Stossel seems intent on doing with regards to problem gambling. At least the authoritarian Focus on the Family folks take the issue seriously. Libertarians like Stossel do not.
So authorities crack down. They raided a VFW branch that ran a poker game for charity. They ban lotteries, political futures markets, and sports betting. They raid truck stops to confiscate video poker machines. Why?
On my Fox Business News show tonight, Chad Hills of Focus on the Family says: "These machines have been shown to be extremely addictive. That's a huge concern, primarily for kids, because it's hard to keep them away."
Well, I certainly agree kids shouldn't gamble, and some people do wreck their lives. But why can't adults be left to do what we want to do?
Hills and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), both eager to ban gambling, talk about "addiction" leading to bankruptcy, crime, and suicide.
I'm skeptical. People are responsible for the consequences of their bad habits. I thought Focus on the Family and conservatives like Kyl believed in self-responsibility.
...Hills claims that the 1999 National Gambling Impact Study concluded that 15 million Americans are problem and pathological gamblers. But like many people who want to ban things, he distorts the data. The study's 15 million "problem gamblers" included people who might get in trouble.
"Ninety-nine percent of the American public has no problem with gambling," Bloch says. "They should have the freedom to gamble if they want to gamble online. There is no casino that is being forced into people's homes."
By the way, Hills said he'd oppose legal gambling even if it weren't associated with wrecked lives. Why? "Gambling is the art and the science of deception that feeds on the exploitation of human weakness for the sole purpose of monetary gain."
To that, I say, so what? Will they ban the stock market next? Filmmaking is the art and science of deception. Poker is just a game where deception and bluffing are the skills.
For self-responsible adults, gambling can be fun and harmless. A free country is supposed to treat adults as though we are self-responsible. Government should let us learn from our mistakes rather than treat us like children.
...In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote, "Over himself and over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."
Sovereign. Hear that, busybody politicians?
Also, the busybody Christians know something you do not, Mr. Stossel. John Stuart Mill notwithstanding, over the body and mind, the individual is not sovereign. Have you ever heard of addiction? Do you even understand what it means? A bit of humility is in order here!
A lot of problem gambling can be controlled with absurdly simple remedies. For example, in Queensland, AU, I was defeated by a law there that makes credit-card-based cheque-cashing services illegal in a casino. It's a nice, little nanny-state regulation that works. Introduce THAT into the USA and you would cut off half the casinos' revenues immediately. All you need are a few speed bumps to slow the problem gambler down. Minor technical fixes. Casual gamblers wouldn't even notice these things. The fact that we won't even consider them in the USA says all you need to know about people's REAL priorities.
In 1962, Jesse Unruh famously laid out a basic law of campaigns and elections: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” But in this most ideological of years, Big Daddy Unruh’s axiom may finally have lost some of its accuracy.
In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter had spent more than $6.5 million by March 31, yet his Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak — who had spent only $1.1 million — was hanging tough in polls. Last week, Sestak began airing an ad showing Specter being praised by President George W. Bush, which apparently was all he needed to flip the poll numbers. Sestak now has a growing lead going into next week’s election.
In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) had spent nearly $6 million by April 28, compared to $2.1 million by primary challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Despite the 3-to-1 spending disparity, Lincoln’s early dominant lead has disappeared, and now is well under the 50 percent mark necessary to avoid a runoff election after next week’s primary. Despite millions of dollars spent on negative ads by the campaigns and outside groups, neither Lincoln’s nor Halter’s favorability numbers have moved much in the last six weeks of the campaign. Voters appear to be shrugging those attacks off and making up their minds based on other factors — one of which is likely an anti-incumbency, anti-D.C. sentiment.
In California, Republican Meg Whitman has dumped $59 million (and counting) into her primary campaign, yet has been unable to close the deal against her primary tormentor, California insurance commissioner Steve Poizner. In fact, polls show her once-commanding lead whittled away and a competitive primary shaping up — despite Whitman’s outspending Poizner 3-to-1.
In Florida, presumptive Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio’s early fundraising woes had no impact on winning his primary without a single vote being cast. In fact, Gov. Charlie Crist’s commanding primary lead in 2009 was transformed into a commanding deficit by March 2010 — before Rubio had run a single television ad.
In Utah, 17-year Senate veteran Bob Bennett, with $4 million raised, couldn’t make it out of his state party’s nominating convention. Conservative activists, angry Bennett once co-sponsored a (very Republican) bill with a Democrat, booted him from the ballot for two no-names, neither of whom had raised more than $400,000. The reliably conservative incumbent is now relegated to mulling a write-in campaign in the general election.
...The proliferation of online communities certainly appears to be leveling the playing field at the primary level, allowing candidates in better sync with their party’s base to compete against better-known, better-funded, establishment-backed candidates. In such an environment, television becomes less important, while online outreach and field work pick up the slack. Traditional campaign consultants may not like it, but primary success increasingly hinges on building movements, rather than spending millions on sleazy negative television ads.
Streetlights that illuminate more than 200 homes in a Surprise neighborhood could be shut off by Monday.
...The solution sounds easy enough. Get enough homeowners to sign a petition for payment, and the lights will stay on.
What city officials didn't expect were barriers that included foreclosures, vacancies and residents' apathy. Some, even after being told about the issue, refuse to agree to a streetlight district that would cost each household about $45 annually.
City staff, volunteers and a councilman have worked for more than a year to gather signatures. They're 11 short of the 150 or so they need. If they're not successful by Monday, it's lights off for those homes and half of a neighborhood park.
And they're not alone. This summer, nearly 1,000 homes also could be in the dark if streetlight districts aren't formed. The city has been paying for a portion or all of the streetlight power but will no longer do so after June 30. Surprise is in such a quandary because city staff and developers failed to form streetlight improvement districts for Sierra Montana and other areas.
..."It slipped through the cracks," said City Engineer Nick Mascia, who was brought in to help solve the problem. "The city didn't catch it, and the developer didn't catch it."
In Sierra Montana's case, the streetlights were paid by the developer until last year. Now, Arizona Public Service's yearlong grace period for residents is over.
Police activity at 4th Street and Berry West and 5th and Montano South, streets will be closed. 9:44 AM May 13th via webAccording to Michelle, for once, it wasn't anybody from the neighborhood, but rather someone from outside. The police were trying to catch a fleeing burglar, and apparently were successful.
Meanwhile, in my neighborhood, an apartment building burned, but I was asleep and didn't even notice.
Here's some pictures.
BP seems to be living in denial:
BP CEO Tony Hayward isn't just off message -- he's way off message.But Mr. Hayward, these 'tiny' amounts of oil and dispersant will be enough to kill off anything of interest there!
In an interview with the Guardian, Hayward declared that the giant oil spill in the gulf (still gushing thousands of gallons of oil a day into the sea) and the hundreds of thousands of gallons of "dispersant" BP has pumped into the water to combat the slick are "tiny" compared to the "very big ocean."The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.
Meanwhile, even though LA's Gov. Jindal seems to grasp that he's got a problem, MS's Gov. Barbour doesn't:
"This oil literally threatens our way of life," Jindal said. "Here in Louisiana, we're going to do everything we can do. We're going to do what it takes to protect our way of life."
Barbour, 62, is a second-term governor who was in office during Katrina and was widely praised for his response to the storm. He's now chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Barbour has said the oil spill is "not Armageddon," but he believes news coverage has hurt tourism in his state.
"Come on down here and play golf, enjoy the beach, catch a fish and pay a little sales tax while you're here," Barbour said Wednesday during a televised news conference in Biloxi, Miss.
...He told The Associated Press the oil spill could be disastrous for Mississippi's coastal economy. Then he added: "But it's just as possible that what happens here will be manageable and of moderate and even minimal impact."
Oil has not started washing up on shore in any large quantities, and Barbour likened much of the spill to the gasoline sheen commonly found around ski boats.
"We don't wash our face in it, but it doesn't stop us from jumping off the boat to ski," Barbour said.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Conventional wisdom has it that grey whales have been extinct in the Atlantic Ocean for more than 200 years, and the species survives only in the north Pacific. That was the case until last weekend, when a 13-metre-long grey whale was spotted cruising off the coast of Israel.
"This is sensational," said Phillip Clapham of the US government's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle after hearing the news from marine biologists in Israel. "The most plausible explanation is that it came across an ice-free North-West Passage from the Pacific Ocean, and is now wondering where the hell it is."
The North-West Passage, which runs through the Canadian Arctic, has been open in summer in recent years, partly because of rising global temperatures.
Although they are known for their long migrations, grey whales do not normally stray from their regular routes. "Were I to speculate wildly, I'd say it found Europe and remembered its mother telling it to keep the coast to its left going south, then it hit the strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean," said Clapham.
The Arctic route makes most sense, agrees Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, an expert on Mediterranean cetaceans who advises several international conservation bodies. He points to reports that grey whales have been seen getting farther north than usual into the Arctic, probably helped by the low-ice conditions.
"Probably this one went so far east that when the time came to go south it had the Atlantic rather than the Pacific in front of its rostrum," says di Sciara. "Then, hugging the eastern side of the ocean as any good Pacific grey whale would do, it went into the first big warmish 'lagoon' it could find: the Mediterranean."
The finding was announced last Saturday by Aviad Scheinin, chairman of the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center, who had followed the whale at sea for 2 hours. He at first thought it was a sperm whale, but checked the markings back on land and reached the "incredible but inescapable conclusion that it was a grey whale". Clapham told New Scientist that the identification had now been confirmed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You're a hottie with a smokin' little body.”
Yes indeed, some people will say just about anything to get a hug from Barack Obama. Those words were spoken by Luann Haley, 45, to the president, during his unannounced visit to this local landmark. He replied by giving her a big hug. (“He gave me a squeeze,'' she said afterward.) She swooned and he said Michelle would be watching on television. “That's allright,'' Ms. Haley said as the cameras rolled.“Hi Michelle, eat your heart out.”
To backtrack, POTUS surprised many of what looked to be about 100 employees and guests when he strode into the restaurant, jacketless. He leaned over the counter; the receptionist Mary DiGiacomo, told him they had a lunch special but he demurred, saying he was in the car. He quietly placed an order. She tried to tell him it would be on the house. “No, I've got to pay,'' he insisted, pulling out his wallet, which sported a $5 bill on top.
A homeowner on the San Juan Ridge allegedly threatened two U.S. Census workers with a machine gun and a crossbow in a “dramatic confrontation” less than a week after census workers began local visits.
...No injuries were reported in what Trinidad called a “dramatic confrontation” on Friday, which is under investigation by the Nevada County Sheriff's Office.
A Nevada County census worker called 911 Friday evening to report a man on the 18000 block of Cruzon Grade Road aimed a crossbow at her earlier that afternoon.
She said he threatened her with a machine gun, although she did not see the weapon.
“Two census workers went to the residence, which had a no-trespassing sign,” said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, adding that trespassing laws don't apply to public officials.
“They went past the sign and went to the residence, and the resident became very confrontational,” Royal said. “He said he was going to grab a submachine gun, trying to scare them off the property. They decided it would be best to leave, and he followed them down the driveway with a crossbow in his hand.”
The two federal employees got in their car and, as they were leaving, the man allegedly pointed the crossbow at them, they said.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Norihiko Fukuta 1931 ~ 2010 Norihiko Fukuta, 78, passed away May 3, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah from renal failure caused by a rare disease known as Goodpasture's Syndrome. Nori was born and educated in Japan and received his Ph.D. from Nagoya University. After doing research in the U.K. and Australia, Nori came to America to continue his research. He became a professor at the University of Utah in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences in 1977 and the became a professor emeritus in 2001. He was the world's leading cloud physicist who pioneered in the area of cloud microphysics including nucleations and growth kinetics of all phases in the atmosphere. He explored the basic science of controlling the weather and extensively developed the cloud seeding generator technology. He holds patents in the USA and several other advanced countries. He traveled widely giving seminars and lectures and was acclaimed as an outstanding and inspirational teacher. He was a noted editor of scientific journals and authored two books and numerous articles in reviewed journals. Nori was a skilled skin-diver, an avid tennis player and skier, and an excellent gardener. Nori is survived by his wife, Yoko, one brother and three sisters. The family wishes to thank the staff of Brighton Gardens for the care they gave to Nori during the last weeks of his life. In keeping with Nori's wishes, funeral services will be private.
A 41-year-old Gardnerville woman, intoxicated and topless, was hospitalized Monday after she reportedly stole a bottle of wine from a Gardnerville grocery store and nearly drove into a fast food restaurant in the midst of a raging snow squall.And:
According to witnesses, a woman identified as Brandi Smith, was driving erratically before pulling into the parking lot at Scolari's grocery store.
Smith, naked from the waist up, entered Scolari's and left without paying for a $20 bottle of wine. The store provided video footage of Smith.
One of the clerks said he confronted her about her lack of clothing and said, “She just walked right past me,” without acknowledging him and left the store.
She got into her car and drove toward Burger King. She stopped near the entrance to the drive-through with the right front tire over the curb and in the landscaping.
She was met by an off-duty sheriff's deputy who removed the keys from the ignition and held the driver's door closed to keep her in the vehicle.
Paramedics took her to Carson Valley Medical Center for treatment. A preliminary breath test at the center indicated a breath-alcohol content of .144, nearly twice the legal limit.
MAY 12--A female escort wielding a high-heeled shoe is facing an assault rap after she allegedly used the footwear to beat a valet bloody outside the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to police. Jennifer Thomas, 26, was arrested early yesterday in connection with the Monday night attack on the 27-year-old male victim, who was injured after Thomas hit him in the head with the shoe. The heel's tip struck his scalp, "causing him to begin profusely bleeding," according to Scottsdale Police Department reports. "The gash was consistent with the size of the bottom of a high heel shoe." The unprovoked assault apparently was triggered after Thomas--who was wearing a miniskirt and had been drinking in the upscale hotel's bar--asked the valet to call her a cab. When a "standard Yellow Cab" arrived, Thomas, pictured in the mug shot below, became irate, saying, "I'm not fucking getting into that. Who do you think I am?" She added that hotel employees "should know I need a sedan." After a second vehicle was summoned--this time a Lincoln Town Car--Thomas removed a shoe and, "without prompt," took a "violent swing" at the valet. Though the man slipped the first blow, "before he could react again the woman used the same heel, held in her right hand, and hit him on the left side of the head." Directing the Lincoln's driver to "go, go, go!!!," Thomas fled the scene in the fancier ride, but was collared a few hours later at her Phoenix apartment. Following her arrest, which was first reported by the Scottsdale Arizona News blog, Thomas "confessed to the assault," but "claimed she was provoked by hotel staff," according to investigators. An arrest report, which lists Thomas's occupation as "upscale companion escort," notes that she was charged with assault, disorderly conduct, and possession of an invalid driver's license, all misdemeanors. The victim, who was "crying, shaking and talking loudly" when interviewed by cops, was treated at the scene by paramedics, but declined transport to a hospital.
I guess the reason we never see any emus here is that we just keep shooting them all:
The California Highway Patrol was forced to shoot an kill an emu is Sacramento yesterday. The CHP first tried to shoot the animal with a taser gun but eventually shot the animal as a safety measure.
The California Highway Patrol said at about 1 p.m., an officer was called on a report of a loose emu near Interstate 5 and Power Line Road. The bird was later seen walking in the eastbound lane of Bayou Road toward Airport Boulevard. CHP spokeswoman Lizz Dutton said the officer tried several times to corral the bird with his patrol vehicle, but the bird kept going westbound on Bayou Road.
Sacramento County Animal Control was called as well as several CHP units assisted, but the bird could not be captured. When the officers say the bird was going to head onto a freeway onramp they tazed the bird. It had no affect so they shot the bird.
As the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary heads into the home stretch -- and with the challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak, catching up in the polls with the incumbent, former Republican Arlen Specter -- can the party establishment deliver for Specter despite lingering voter distrust with his party-switch, in light of the help he has given to pass crucial Democratic bills in Congress?
..."On another level, what will the party and union endorsements mean?" Madonna asked. "He has the entire infrastructure of the party at the top level in his camp. He's got the party and the unions. Will they deliver? At the voter level, at the grassroots level, is where I'm not convinced he can move them."
...The latest polls sure have the race all tied up. Quinnipiac has Specter ahead 44%-42%, with a ±3.2% margin of error. Franklin & Marshall has Sestak up by 38%-36%, with a ±4.9% margin of error. And the Muhlenberg daily tracking poll has it tied at 45%-45%, with a ±5% margin of error, after Sestak had previously been ahead for the last few days. The TPM Poll Average gives Specter a very narrow lead of 43.6%-40.9%, with Sestak clearly rising up in the last few weeks.
So where will Specter find his votes?
"He [Specter] will win African-Americans. The question is how many in the city of Philly will vote," said Madonna. "The city of Philly is key because it's the largest Democratic municipality. You've got the Democratic organization, they're supporting him -- Mayor Nutter, the chairman of the [Philadelphia Democratic] party, Congressman Brady."
In addition, Madonna said that Specter could do well with relatively conservative Democratic voters in the rest of the state: "There are a larger number of them who are undecided than liberals or moderates, and he's doing better with them than Congressman Sestak."
Specter's lingering problem, Madonna said, is that a number of voters still don't trust him as a Democrat. Madonna said that "by far the most effective" TV ad so far was Sestak's ad that replayed video of Specter's past support of George W. Bush, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin. "I think it's just extraordinarily effective," said Madonna. "And Specter's countering it with a pretty effective commercial with the president [Obama]. That's a very very good commercial, obviously trying to counter the stuff that he's not a real Democrat."
In Alabama, a state PAC recently went on the air with an ad attacking one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates for supporting the teaching of evolution in schools and for saying that parts of the Bible aren't true.
The candidate, Bradley Byrne, responded with a lengthy press release vehemently defending his belief in creationism and the infallible truth of the Bible.
"As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God," Byrne wrote. "As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state."
...The group behind the ad and others attacking Byrne's conservative credentials is called the True Republican PAC. Interestingly, as the Montgomery Advertiser reported last month, the PAC has gotten most of its money from the teachers' union -- or, more accurately, from a collection of other PACs heavily funded by the union.
According to the Advertiser, members of the Alabama Education Association have a beef with Byrne for his past attempts to ban the employees of two-year colleges from serving in the state legislature.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The strongest case for gloom that I’ve read has been made by UCLA economic historian Robert Brenner in a new introduction that he wrote to the Spanish edition of his 2006 book, The Economics of Global Turbulence.
...Brenner’s analysis of the current downturn can be boiled down to a fairly simple point: that the underlying cause of the current downturn lies in the “real” economy of private goods and service production rather than in the financial sector, and that the current remedies—from government spending and tax cuts to financial regulation—will not lead to the kind of robust growth and employment that the United States enjoyed after World War II and fleetingly in the late 1990s. These remedies won’t succeed because they won’t get at what has caused the slowdown in the real economy: global overcapacity in tradeable goods production.
Global overcapacity means that the world’s industries are capable of producing far more steel, shoes, cell phones, computer chips, and automobiles (among other things) than the world’s consumers are able and willing to consume. Companies can still sell their goods but at prices that undercut their rate of profit. In the 19th century, the redundant and less productive firms would have folded, and as wages fell, and profit rates went back up, the economy would start to revive. But that no longer happens. Firms have become too big and powerful to fail; and the citizens of democratic nations will justifiably no longer tolerate unemployment above 20 percent. Instead, the average rate of profit falls, private and public debt rises, and the danger of a large crash looms.
Brenner traces this problem of global overcapacity to the early 1970s when the countries decimated by World War II had rebuilt their industrial base and were capable of competing equally with the United States, and when newly industrializing countries in Asia and Latin America were beginning their ascent. At that point, global overcapacity manifested itself in declining rates of profit. In the United States, for instance, average profit rates in manufacturing fell from 24.5 percent in the 1960s to 13.4 percent in the 1970s and 11.8 percent in the 1980s. As profit rates declined, firms were less inclined to invest and expand, leading to a decline in overall growth in the economy and to higher average unemployment over a decade.
...Of course, the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.... How then was recovery possible at all? What happened was that the fundamentals behind the dot-com boom and bubble were replicated in the housing and commercial real estate markets. The rush of foreign dollars into the U.S. from the trade deficit helped the Federal Reserve keep interest rates near zero. With the interest rates plummeting, home sales rose. And as sales rose, the price of homes rose. Homeowners used their newfound home equity to purchase cars and other homes. Construction boomed, even while manufacturing floundered. When home prices threatened to discourage new purchases, banks and brokers, with encouragement from the Fed, offered new subprime mortgage deals. When the banks and brokers became worried about risk from these mortgages, they invented elaborate financial instruments to cushion and spread the risk. And when housing prices finally stalled, the whole Ponzi scheme collapsed, and the recession, the most severe since the 1930s, commenced.
Did the housing bubble cause the recession? Yes, in the same sense that a patient suffering from lung cancer finally dies as a result of pneumonia. The bursting of the bubble precipitated the recession, but the underlying condition, which made possible the financial chicanery of the last 15 years, was the global overcapacity in tradeable goods. With American firms no longer eagerly seeking funds for expansion, the banks and shadow banks had to look elsewhere for profitable outlets. And with the economy that produces tradeable goods not producing new jobs, a government that took its responsibility for maintaining employment had to look elsewhere to stimulate demand and growth. Ergo, two bubbles, and two recessions.
So what now? There are good reasons to re-regulate finance—among them, to prevent fraud and to create transparency—but financial reform will not necessarily create an incentive for banks to loan money to firms that want to invest and expand. The problem right now is primarily that firms are fearful that they won’t make a sufficient rate of return on their investments, and are holding back. There is also good reason to make expenditures for infrastructure that will create jobs and make American industry more productive. But, Brenner argues, Keynesian spending is at best a palliative that temporarily creates jobs and that, over the long run, exacerbates the problem of excess capacity.
...And by Brenner’s logic, there is no lasting solution to global overcapacity and falling rates of profit short of the kind of depression that shook the world in the 1930s. This depression, it should be recalled, had some pretty terrible political repercussions of its own. It not only threw millions out of work, but also fed the growth of fascism and Nazism and contributed, if not led directly, to World War II. The combination of the Depression and World War II created the conditions for the Golden Age of capitalism that occurred from 1945 to 1970.
During the month of March, some 1,300 single detached homes were sold in Vancouver, for a total of $1.35 billion. This was the subject of news reports because it meant the average selling price of a home in that city hit $1 million.
Home ownership has long been considered an act of responsible citizenship, associated with middle-class values such as independence and personal stability. But $1 million for a house? That's hardly the road to independence or stability for anyone in the middle class. The weight of the mortgage would be more oppressive than any feudal arrangement between lord and serf.
...The idealization of home ownership is both an American and Canadian phenomenon. Both countries had frontiers to settle and homesteading movements. Today our home-ownership rates are identical. About 69 per cent of Americans and Canadians are homeowners - or were homeowners, because those numbers are pre-recession and, at least in the U.S., many have lost their homes.
...Yale economist Robert Shiller, writing in The New York Times, noted that homeownership violates the central tenet of personal finance - that people should diversify their wealth. Because a home usually represents a disproportionate chunk of a family's capital, the family is in trouble if the house value collapses. As Shiller puts it, "Why should housing consumption be better than other consumption, or investments that people might choose?"
Writing in the journal National Affairs, Vincent Cannato of the University of Massachusetts traces the increase in U.S. homeownership over the past 80 years, showing how the rise was orchestrated by government elites who believed that a citizenry of homeowners made for a more civilized nation.
The unintended but invidious consequence was to normalize personal debt. The most notorious pro-ownership policy is the one allowing Americans to deduct the interest on their mortgages, thereby encouraging them to borrow more money. "Saddling people on the economic margins of society with large mortgages turned out to be a bad idea for borrowers, lenders, and the country as a whole," writes Cannato.
...Canada, thankfully, has never had a mortgage deduction, though we came close. In 1979 Joe Clark promised to introduce one but he never had the chance. No Canadian government has revisited the idea, knowing that it would only inflate house prices and cause families to take on more debt than they can manage.
...And then there's always the unmentionable - rental apartments. It's true that renting has traditionally held low status in North America, but anti-renting prejudice is misplaced. As Yale's Shiller points out, Switzerland seems to be a country of renters - the homeownership rate is a measly 34.6 per cent - yet it's a successful and stable society.
Answering to a landlord is not necessarily worse than answering to a bank, and not all that much different when you've put just five per cent down on a house worth 10 times your income.
Ending homeownership (except for millionaires, of course) and turning almost everyone in the country into renters is one way to address the crisis, of course. No more trouble with liar loans, ninja loans, and the like. No more awkward real estate bubble. But also no more of the vaunted stability that homeownership brings to neighborhoods. Without homeowners, every neighborhood everywhere becomes the 'hood:
For the past year, Republicans have insisted that Congress take up legislation to stop the losses at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the government-sponsored enterprises that buy up and repackage mortgages, keeping loan prices stable. Fannie and Freddie have incurred more than $150 billion in losses since the burst of the housing bubble.
...But the Republicans never said how they thought the GSEs should be reformed — until now. Last Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) proposed an amendment to Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) financial regulatory reform bill, the GSE (Government Sponsored Enterprise) Bailout Elimination and Taxpayer Protection Amendment.
Releasing the proposal — with numbers, dates and directives aplenty — Gregg commented, “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are synonymous with mismanagement and waste and have become the face of ‘too big to fail.’ The time has come to end Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s taxpayer-backed slush fund and require them to operate on a level playing field.”
But housing market experts describe the Republicans’ proposal as disastrous. Analysts from both sides of the aisle contend that the proposal would unwind Fannie and Freddie so quickly and precipitously that it would destabilize the entire housing market: pushing mortgage prices up, pulling support from low and middle-income Americans and ending the nascent — if at all extant — housing recovery.
The GSE amendment would effectively shutter the mortgage giants, which together backstopped 97 out of 100 new mortgages in the first three months of the year, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. It would keep keep the current government conservatorship in place for 24 months (or 30 months, if the Federal Housing Finance Agency determines that market conditions are “adverse”). Then, it would begin begin the process of dissolution.
Were Fannie and Freddie to prove “viable” as private institutions (a term left ambiguous) after 24 or 30 months, they would become highly regulated institutions for three years, before the expiry of their charters. They would have no affordable housing goals, would have to reduce their mortgage assets yearly, could not purchase mortgages exceeding median-home values and could only buy mortgages with certain minimum down payments — among other provisions. Additionally, they would have to pay taxes. Were Fannie and Freddie not “viable” in two years — likely, given that Fannie reported yesterday that it does not see itself reporting a profit for the “indefinite future” — the amendment puts them into receivership.
Housing experts say that the bill would impact every participant in the housing economy, including builders, buyers, developers, lenders and banks. It would make vanilla mortgages — such as 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages — much more scarce, and would make all mortgages more expensive. It would remove a major source of liquidity in the mortgage market, causing credit problems at mortgage-reliant banks. It would also rapidly reduce the number of homebuyers.
Experts describe the McCain-Gregg-Shelby amendment’s transition as too much, too soon and too blunt. Kenneth Posner, who analyzed Fannie and Freddie for Morgan Stanley and is the author of Stalking the Black Swan, describes the plan as going “cold turkey” when it might be better to “use methadone.”
When the administration launched its foreclosure prevention program, it committed to spend up to $75 billion. By the end of March, more than a year later, only about $242 million had actually been paid out.
That number is sure to rise, but it’s a testament to how slowly the program has progressed. The low total is a direct result of the low number of permanent mortgage modifications so far: 228,000 as of the end of March. About 1.2 million homeowners have begun trial modifications, but many have been stranded in the trials for longer than the three months they were designed to last. About 158,000 have been dropped from the program, either because they couldn’t make the payments or because of disqualification.
Southland woman Wendy McMahon reckons she will never look at canned pears the same way.
The latest can she opened contained a demonic face carved into one of its contents.
However, Mrs McMahon said the shock of the find is nothing compared with the trial she has had trying to get answers out of the pears' supplier.
She bought the Budget brand can of pears from Invercargill Pak'N Save a fortnight ago and feeling "a bit peckish", she opened it, late on May 1.
She said it was when she returned to the can for a second helping that she scooped the freakish piece of fruit out.
"I thought `oh my God, is that a face'... it really kind of shocked me."
Inspecting the can, she found an 0800 number and called it.
...She took photos of the pear, posted them to websites, including TV3 and Facebook and listed it on Trade Me before going to bed.
Last Monday, her call was returned by a woman from Safeway Traders Ltd in Auckland.
...On Friday, the woman phoned again, read her a letter that conceded that during production the pear halves were checked by people at the Chinese plant as a quality control measure and offered her a $30 voucher, Mrs McMahon said. "I said that wasn't good enough, then she turned on me and got nasty again – she said `you're just after money aren't you?' – I asked her to send the pear back."
Last night she was still waiting, but said rather than the satanic slice of fruit, it is her treatment by the company she takes exception to.
Well, I'm not going to get worked up about it. If the theft angers the American Legion, it has some redeeming features:
Thieves have stolen a cross in the Mojave Desert that honored American war dead, less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the religious symbol to remain on federal land.
The 7-foot-high cross was stolen late Sunday or early Monday by thieves who cut the metal bolts that attached the symbol to a rock in the sprawling desert preserve, National Park Service spokeswoman Linda Slater said.
Authorities had no immediate motive for the theft but ideas range from scrap metal scavengers to people "with an interest in the case," Slater said.
A $25,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves, she said.
Veterans groups were outraged.
"The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice," said Clarence Hill, the group's national commander. "While the memorial has been attacked, the fight will continue to ensure that veterans memorials will remain sacrosanct."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars first placed a cross on the rock in 1934 to honor the dead troops of World War I. Slater said she did not know when the latest version was erected.
Late last month, the Supreme Court refused to order the removal of the cross by a 5-4 vote in a controversial case focusing on the separation of church and state.
The cross had been covered with plywood while the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case but vandals tore off the cover over the weekend. Maintenance workers went out to the rock to replace it and discovered the cross was missing, Slater said.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Greta Gerwig, in her first role since starring with Ben Stiller in "Greenberg," has been cast in the untitled Ivan Reitman comedy opposite Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Kevin Kline, Ophelia Lovibond and Ben Lawson have also been added to the cast.OK, that's really weird. Then there's the 'Arthur' thang:
Project, previously known as "Friends With Benefits," centers of the question of whether two long-term friends can have a purely sexual relationship without falling in love.
Gerwig will play a brainy friend of Portman's character who is the first to recognize signs that Kutcher's character has become smitten with her friend. Reitman is directing from Elizabeth Meriwether's script.
Greta Gerwig to Arthur?: I told you Greta Gerwig was going places, and like, whoa: The 25-year-old pride of Sacramento is reportedly in talks to star opposite Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in Warner Bros.’ remake of Arthur. Gerwig would inherit Liza Minnelli’s role as the shoplifting waitress who wins the titular playboy’s wealthy, drunken heart; it would be Gerwig’s second big get since Greenberg ... and her first leading-lady role for an honest-to-God studio. With the minor qualification that nobody should be remaking Arthur in the first place, this is fantastic!OK, that's weird too (but not as weird as Liza Minelli).
Which reminds me, "Greenberg" is now No. 33 on the boxofficemojo weekend chart, which strikes me as a strong showing right now, but might impress some people as weak.
Police say a Pittsfield woman has been cited for running down a man named Lord Jesus Christ as he crossed a street in Northampton on Tuesday.
The 50-year-old man is from Belchertown. Officers checked his ID and discovered that, indeed, his legal name is Lord Jesus Christ. He was taken to the hospital for treatment of minor facial injuries.
Police say 20-year-old Brittany Cantarella was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
Numerous sources (including our own insider) are reporting locally born actress Greta Gerwig has been cast in the upcoming Warner Brothers remake of the 1981 comedy "Arthur." Gerwig broke big this spring with her highly lauded turn opposite Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg." She will be the female lead, the Liza Minnelli part, opposite Russell Brand (who?).Ukkk! I just hated the original movie "Arthur"! Is this a mistake? Well, maybe not: for all we know Greta might just make it a watchable movie. I mean, it was a very popular movie, for reasons inexplicable, and Greta couldn't hurt it, that's for sure.
The original "Arthur" starred comedic actor Dudley Moore as a very rich, good-natured drunk, who takes a chance with a woman who adds true vitality to his life.
Jason Winer will direct the new film which also stars Oscar winner Helen Mirren. We can happily vouch for the the appeal and talent of Gerwig, and Mirren's record of achievement speaks for itself.
Russell Brand? I guess we'll see.
So, like Marcus says, I guess we'll see....
Sunday, May 09, 2010
"'Breaking Bad' is good," Jim said, "but there are no crime dramas better than 'Dexter'! It's based in Miami and it's just amazing!" "I don't care," I replied, "just so long as I can view 'Breaking Bad' without this damnable choppiness!"
The system Jim rigged isn't terribly slick: instead of Remote Desktop it features two keyboards and two mice, and more cables than seem warranted, but at least the choppiness problem is gone. With the purchase of a $32 Season Pass from AMC (plus the waste of $6 on duplicate downloads) I've been able to watch Season 3 of "Breaking Bad" with only slight choppiness.
Wow, this new TV addiction has cost something like $40 + $32 + $25 = $97. About $100.00! Let's see, $100.00 yields a blackjack addict like me about 45 minutes worth of time in a casino, so, as far as addictions go, this "Breaking Bad" addiction is relatively benign. I wonder how much meth $100.00 can buy? (perish the thought!)
iTunes hasn't made last night's show available yet, but I have caught up in Season 3 as far as last week's show (Hank Schrader's very, very bad afternoon).
Wow! What a great show! The best TV show ever! Featuring my hometown, Albuquerque, in an unfamiliar and disturbingly-lurid criminal light!
Season 3 starts out with very disturbing imagery - an unforgettable sequence of Hispanics (likely Mexicans, including two narcotraficantes) crawling along a dirt road through a small, tumbledown village towards a shrine in an attitude of abject suffering and religious supplication. A Devil's Tower-like mountain looms in the background. The atmosphere is absolutely menacing.
The mountain is familiar to northwestern New Mexicans, of course: Cabezon Peak! The village is either the nearly ghost town of Cabezon, or of San Luis. The valley in the distance is that carved by the Rio Puerco River.
In high school I visited the area, along with friend Dane. The story about the mysterious car accident that I posted two weeks ago was about this very trip. We spent the day climbing Cabezon Peak, which turned out to be easier to climb than I first feared (it's an older, more-eroded volcanic neck than Wyoming's Devil's Tower).
The upper Rio Puerco Valley was, and remains, a very, very hard place to make a living. In Spanish colonial times, the Navajos raided the area with impunity (reminds me of what Andy recently called a Woodland convenience store - the Navajo treated the Rio Puerco Valley as a "stop-and-rob"). If the Spanish couldn't protect the Jemez Valley, how could they possibly protect the Rio Puerco Valley, which is closer to the Navajo heartland? The soil there is remarkably alkaline, and the water too. And to top it all off, through the combined action of overgrazing and flash-flooding, the Rio Puerco has dug down deep enough into the soft soil that irrigation is all-but-impossible to carry out anymore. Thus, for traditional New Mexican agriculture, the valley is just one stop short of dead. It's no wonder that the towns there are hollowed-out ghost relics of a brutal past!
For television folks, however, these towns are visually amazing. Such vistas! No wonder the "Breaking Bad" folks were attracted to these towns: attracted like bugs to a light!
Cabezon Peak held a delightful surprise on top. The top is crawling with ladybugs! Similar phenomena can be found on other peaks in the Southwest and in California's Sierra Nevada. Here, in the middle of a near-wilderness not far from Albuquerque, the discovery seemed particularly welcome.
The imagery from "Breaking Bad" of people crawling through the dirt is so strong, however, that my memories of a real place, happy and trying memories alike, are in danger of being overprinted by memories of things that have never happened. Art is more real than reality!
In comments recently, my sister Michelle mentioned vivid views of the Sandia Mountains from the north that she thought might be filmed from near Cochiti Pueblo. When I saw the views, however, I realized that they had to be filmed further south than Cochiti: I thought perhaps near the intersections of NM Highways 528 & 44 - basically around Coronado National Monument. The "Breaking Bad" folks provide the final clue, however: the cop on patrol wears a cap from Santa Ana Pueblo. That's it! Has to be! It's in the right place!
Even as they weave a new story that strikes out in bold new directions these "Breaking Bad" folks are maintaining a striking fidelity to the landscape and the people of New Mexico. Better than anyone before has! The "Breaking Bad" folks are not treating the New Mexico as other Hollywood folks have - as the storytelling equivalent of a "stop-and-rob". The "Breaking Bad" folks are staying longer, and digging deeper....
As far as I can tell, "Breaking Bad" has yet to fully-explain the reasons Walter White adopted the moniker "Heisenberg", but I can guess. As physicists know, Werner Heisenberg is the brilliant 20th-Century German quantum physicist best known for the "Uncertainty Principle" :
According to Heisenberg its meaning is that it is impossible to determine simultaneously both the position and velocity of an electron or any other particle with any great degree of accuracy or certainty.or, more succinctly:
Similarly, one can know exactly where Walter White is, but not what he is doing, or one can know exactly what he is doing, but not where he is. One can never know both his location and his activities simultaneously. That's the conceit of the "Heisenberg" name!
I haven't watched many of the accompanying "The Making Of Breaking Bad" videos, but I did see one where Director Vince Gilligan called Walter White "the smartest dumb man he knows." The "Heisenberg" moniker is a perfect example. It's a clue! To a physical scientist, the nickname fairly-screams 'fellow physical scientist'. Even Hank Schrader should be able to see it!
We all tell stories to make sense of our world. For example, no matter what has happened since, Sacramento, together with San Francisco, remain the cities of the 1849 Gold Rush.
Albuquerque, like other cities, has several clashing identities; all true in various aspects: The Turquoise Trail, The Duke City; the crossroads of Rio Abajo; AT&SF rail center, the largest city in NM, a stopover on Route 66; Cold War capital not far from Trinity Site and Los Alamos; Space Age capital, a real estate frontier, etc., etc. The end of the Cold War imperils a huge part of Albuquerque's identity, however, and new tales - new stories - have had to come forward to help explain the city to itself.
The dark shadow of drugs looming from the south, and people's desperate struggles with it, is a new way with which to view the city and its history and people. "Breaking Bad" is vivid and unforgettable, and will leave an imprint on the Albuquerque story - the New Mexico story - that will last longer and drill deeper than the evanescent adobe homes of the Rio Puerco Valley ever did. Call "Breaking Bad" the imagination's blue crystal meth - just right for our new century....
Even in Sacramento, there seems to be a taste for scalp-taking:
SALT LAKE CITY -- From the outset of Saturday's Utah Republican Convention, it was clear that Sen. Robert Bennett faced a major fight to even survive to a primary.
...Bennett's political career ended at just after 3 P.M. local time in downtown Salt Lake City, when the Republicans eliminated him as a candidate, with only 27 percent of the 3,500 delegates supporting him. One ballot later it was decided that there would be a primary between Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee, with the winner of that race almost assuredly the next senator from reliably Republican Utah.
...After his loss, a tearful Bennett told a roomful of media members that he did not regret any of his political decisions, and had done his best to represent Utah.
"The political atmosphere has been toxic. It's clear that some of the votes I cast added to that toxicity," he said. "Looking back, I wouldn't change them."
...Many of those delegates were first-timers, and their thirst for action beyond typical politics was apparent. For them, this was politics as hockey, and they wanted fights. They wanted blood on the ice.
Well, we'll see about all this. The primaries may be all about change and hope, but the real surprise will come in November, when the voters will reelect the incumbents with zombielike predictability.
Last week, Supervisor Roger Dickinson held a phony press conference where he blathered on as only he can about holding Wall Street accountable for the woes of Sacramento County.
...Two years have passed since the county got out of the auction rate securities deals that Dickinson is railing against, yet he is showboating now – weeks before voters consider him for the District 9 state Assembly seat. Hmm.
...OK, Roger. Let's talk accountability.
If there is a man who symbolizes the county's $166.5 million deficit, it's Roger Dickinson.
When it was time to make tough budget decisions, Dickinson took a pass. He made a bad situation worse.
As The Bee's Robert Lewis has reported, the projected deficit in the county's general fund for 2010-11 grew from $119 million to $166.5 million in two months. Bloated pensions and retirement costs were nearly $24 million higher than expected. Many blame County Executive Terry Schutten for this mess.
Who was Schutten's chief protector? Roger Dickinson.
It happens more often than you'd ever dream likely.....
It wasn't a heart condition that killed the King of Rock 'n' Roll, it was chronic constipation.
This is the new theory of Elvis Presley's longtime friend Dr. George Nichopoulos, Fox News reported on Wednesday.
"We weren't sure [of the exact cause of death] so I continued to do some research," said Nichopoulos, who was also the personal physician to the legendary singer. "I had some doctors call me from different places and different med schools that were doing research on constipation and different problems you can get into with it."
Nichopoulos, who was with Elvis when he died, included his theory about the icon's death in his book, "The King and Dr. Nick."
According to his autopsy, Nichopoulos said, Elvis' colon was 5 to 6 inches in diameter, nearly twice the size of the average person. It was also 8 to 9 feet long, compared with the normal 4 to 5 feet.
"We didn't realize until the autopsy that his constipation was as bad," he said, noting that when he died there was waste in his colon that was several months old.
"We found stool in his colon which had been there for four or five months because of the poor motility of the bowel," Nichopoulos said.
...Although they were aware of the problem in the early 1970s, Elvis was reluctant to treat it. At the time, it would have required a procedure called a colostomy, which would involve removing part of the colon.
"He thought he was really a man's man and he wasn't going to let something like this … he thought that this was a sign of weakness and he wasn't going to be weak," Nichopoulos said.
Me, thinking to myself: ("You said it, man!")
What a zoo!
I went to to see Keith's stuff for sale, apparently at a medical marijuana establishment, but despite the crowds, after 10 p.m., the place had already closed. I knocked on the door, and could even see Keith through the window, but judging from the herbal haze there seemed to be a lot of serious medicating going on nearby, so I let matters be.
I've largely ignored Sacramento's Second Saturday Art Walk even though my office is in the midst of it, because it's just not my thing. I would have loved this thing as a teenager - there are GIRLS walking down the streets, for gosh's sake! - but these days the crowds just make me uneasy. Nevertheless, I'm impressed to see just how big a street carnival it has become in just a few years.
Sacramento's Second Saturday reminds me, oddly enough, of Brisbane, Australia's Fortitude Valley on a Saturday night. That's a crazy place too. So loud, no one can sleep, including the many homeless people huddled in doorways (by American standards so well-served by various homeless service providing agencies and volunteer organizations that I wondered whether they were inadvertently subsidizing the problem). Who knows, maybe Fortitude Valley was almost nothing just a few years ago too? I wonder, will Second Saturday become a homeless magnet? Or is it already such?
But whatever it may be, it sure seems like fun!
Singer/Guitarist Thomas Montoya invited Adam to join him in playing a blues song, but Adam had forgotten his harmonica. Being the resourceful candidate that he is, Adam remembered that he had brought his tuba, however, so he was able to play.