Friday, May 21, 2010

Picking Favorites For This Year's Eurovision Contest

Given the popularity of pop music in Eastern Europe, it's no surprise they would come up with strong competitors, like Kristina singing Horehronie.

I Haven't Followed

I haven't followed conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg very closely, but Instaputz does the hard research and locates the many instances where omniscient pontificator Goldberg confesses "I haven't followed" on a wide range of today's pressing issues.

Inflation Chicken-Littles Can't Quite Grasp That It Isn't Happening

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman is trying to bat away inflation-hawks, but since these morons proliferate like Tribbles, he is getting swamped:
Let’s back up here. By spring 2009 a sharp division had emerged among economic commentators. On one side, many people looked at big budget deficits and the rapid expansion of the monetary base, and saw terrible things happening to interest rates — who will finance all that government borrowing? — and inflation — look at all that money the Fed is printing! On the other, some of us — especially those of us who had studied Japan in the 1990s — argued that this wasn’t that kind of situation. With the economy depressed and short-term interest rates up against the zero lower bound, government deficits would not crowd out private spending, but rather promote it. And when you’re in that situation, expanding the monetary base isn’t inflationary. On the contrary, the danger was deflation from excess capacity.

In effect, we’ve had a test of those two views. And guess what? Interest rates have fluctuated, but as of 20 minutes ago the 10-year bond rate was 3.17, yes, 3.17 percent. Bond vigilantes, where have you gone. Meanwhile, core inflation — and yes, that is the right measure — just keeps falling. (As Mark Thoma points out, this is a total refutation of those who kept claiming that there is no Phillips curve.)

But as I said, the people who want their deficit-and-inflation crisis just won’t take no for an answer.

A Walk Down Memory Lane (2008 - Not That Long Ago!)

It's important to remember whom to blame (h/t Jerry):
US President George W. Bush has lifted a White House ban on offshore oil drilling and urged lawmakers to follow suit amid an election-year fight over painfully high gasoline prices.

"The American people are watching the numbers climb higher and higher at the pump, and they're waiting to see what the Congress will do" about legislative prohibitions, he said in a brief statement in the White House Rose Garden on Monday.

...The existing ban may be renewed or modified when it expires September 30, and the White House wants legislation that would give states a say in whether to allow offshore drilling, how much and where, and how to manage revenues.

Bush's announcement came two weeks before lawmakers leave for their month-long August recess, at a time when four out of five Americans tell public opinion surveys that sky-high gasoline prices cause considerable economic pain.

"As the Democratically controlled Congress has sat idle, gas prices have continued to increase. Failure to act is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me, and it's unacceptable to the American people," he said.

...Under the 1981 federal moratorium, states are prohibited from allowing offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration, protecting virtually the entire Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and sections of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Governor of oil-rich Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, welcomed Bush's announcement.

"Louisiana produces 30 percent to 40 percent of the nation's oil and gas off our coast. It is certainly good for our economy ... It is also good for the nation," he told Fox News.

"We're sending tens of billions of dollars overseas, often to countries who are not friendly to us ... this is one of the reasons we've got such a large trade deficit," the Indian-American governor said.

BP's PR Campaign Is Tottering And Crashing

From the beginning of this oil spill, BP has desperately been trying to manage the PR; trying to disperse the oil away from shore (preferably keeping it emulsified underwater in locations where there are fewer fish, preferably off the Continental Shelf), trying to limit public access to the oil and the beaches, trying to control video imagery of the well itself, trying to deflect news coverage, etc. And we were complicit in BP's efforts, because we knew instinctively it was very bad news, and people shrink from that. But that lump under the immense rug of the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and that sheen just over the horizon, is now just too big. No PR campaign can blunt this, and now there will be hell to pay!

I thought it was the end of the world in 1979, when the Ixtoc 1 oil well blew in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche. I was wrong. This is the end of the world!:
BP's success at drawing oil from a leaking pipe has proved that official estimates of the size of the Gulf of Mexico spill have been too low.

The company effectively admitted as much Thursday when it said that a tube inserted into the broken pipe connected to its blown-out well is collecting as much as 5,000 barrels of oil and 15 million cubic feet of gas a day, even as a live video feed shows large volumes continuing to billow into gulf waters.

"There's still oil leaking there. We're not saying otherwise," BP spokesman Mark Proegler said Thursday.

After the company released a video of the gushing leak last week, independent scientists estimated the amount of oil spewing into the gulf could be 14 times as great as the 5,000-barrel-a-day figure officials have used for weeks to describe the month-old spill.

"The Show Must Go On"

Bev Sykes has written a compendium of stories in the Davis Enterprise of local performers who have had to perform under the emotional duress of having recently lost loved ones, etc. It's really quite moving!:
Theater people - all performers - cope in the most horrendous of situations, because the show must go on. An audience has paid good money to be entertained, and the patrons don't care what's going on in your personal life.

...Director Ray Tatar recalls an actress who was doing a production of 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare' at Sacramento's California Stage. Just before opening night, her 26-year-old brother died. The actress decided to do the performance anyway. She had the play's final lines: the 'all the world's a stage' piece that enumerates the seven stages of man.

'When she got to that speech, something came over her, and she just stared off into space,' Tatar said. 'The audience waited for a couple of minutes ... that's a long time, in a show that moves at a pretty steadfast clip. The theater was quiet. The audience was reading the reality of her expression.

'She finally just fired her way through it, to the end. The audience roared approval, as the other actors carried her off.'

And Now, The Beginning

Just the start:
With thick patches of oil tarring coastal Louisiana marshes, a haven for migratory birds and rare wildlife that will be virtually impossible to clean up, local leaders have started to despair.

"Twenty-four miles (nearly 39 kilometers) of Plaquemines Parish is destroyed. Everything in it is dead," Billy Nungesser, head of the parish in southern Louisiana, told US cable news station MSNBC. "There is no life in that marsh. You won't clean it up."

"We've been begging BP to step up to the plate," said Nungesser. He said the slick was "destroying our marsh, inch by inch," and would keep on coming ashore for weeks and months.
And what does Gov. Jindal think?:
But with some 40 miles of shoreline now affected, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said more action must be taken to hold back the black tide.

"This spill fundamentally threatens Louisiana's way of life," Jindal said after inspecting the thick black oil pushing its way into his state's fragile wetlands. "The oil is here and the time to act is now."
No, the time to act was a long time ago, with efforts to make certain that all contingencies in such dangerous activities fully accounted for (like dealing with a catastrophic leak - seven fire hoses, plus - a mile under sea level). It is now - too late.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Scrub Jays Still Hanging Around

I awoke to the sound of juvenile Scrub Jays getting fed by their parents. So, the Scrub Jay family is lingering nearby, despite my removing their injured family member. Maybe they were always nearby. I still don't know where their nest is. Maybe next door?

This morning I set out some banana for them. They like banana! I knew they were watching me too. I could hear them in the hedges. Then, as a diversion for the other birds, I went to set out the normal seed for the doves, pigeons, etc.

Nevertheless, as I left, the Scrub Jays zoomed in for the seed. You can lead horses to water, but you can't make them drink, I suppose!

No, maybe that behavior makes sense after all. They can get to the best seeds first, before any of the other birds. And they are the only ones who paid attention when I laid out the banana, so they can get that too. Scrub Jays are smart!

My call to the WCA to learn the fate of Bird #95998 went to voicemail, with no return call. Maybe I'll never know. WCA's focus is on bird support, not on people support....

DJI - Ow, Ow, OW!

This looks almost like an elevation cross-section of New Mexico's Sandia Mountains, as seen from the north....

The newspapers report:
The stock market had its worst day in more than year Thursday, with the Dow industrials tumbling 376 points, as worries intensified that Europe's debt problems could jeopardize the global economic recovery.

Preliminary closing numbers showed the Dow dropped 3.6%, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 3.9% and the Nasdaq composite plunged 4.1%. All three indexes are off more than 10% from their late-April highs, satisfying the conventional definition of a stock market "correction."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bird #95998

Oh, I did not like doing this at all, not with the family watching. It made me a bit nauseous. Still, it's for the best.

When I got back to the house, the Scrub Jay had shifted location in order to be less visible from the alley. Still, a squirrel was harassing the bird. In turn, the Scrub Jay's family was harassing the squirrel.

This afternoon, I bundled the young Scrub Jay into a box and carted him off to the Wildlife Care Association (WCA) at McClellan Air Park.

In 2007, the WCA was housed in an amazing but cluttered little house just off of Auburn Blvd. That house was cluttered with boxes of unhappy birds.

Since April, 2008, the WCA is housed in a Giant Golf Ball. The Waiting Room is clearly separated from the rest of the Golf Ball. I handed the Scrub Jay over to them. They took the bird into the next room and I heard it squawking in surprise and pain as anonymous people on the other side of the door went to work assessing the bird's injuries.

Per the number on the invoice, this bird is now Number 95998.

Foucault's Pendulum Breaks

That's bad. There are others elsewhere, though. Here's a picture of one at ASU in Tempe, AZ:
The pendulum's cable snapped last month and its sphere crashed to the marble floor of the Musee des Arts et Metiers.

In 1851, Foucault used the pendulum to perform a sensational demonstration in the Paris Pantheon, proving to Napoleon III and the Parisian elite that the Earth revolved around its axis. Such was its success that the experiment was replicated throughout Europe.

Thierry Lalande, the museum's ancient scientific instruments curator, said that the pendulum's brass bob had been badly damaged in three places and could not be restored.

"It's not a loss, because the pendulum is still there, but it's a failure because we were unable to protect it," he said. The circumstances surrounding the accident have raised eyebrows in France.

The museum regularly hosts cocktail parties in the chapel that houses the pendulum, and Mr Lalande admitted that several alarming incidents had occurred over the past year. In May 2009, for example, a partygoer grabbed the 28kg instrument and swung it into a security barrier.

Amir D. Aczel, research Fellow in the history of science at Boston University, described the news of the accident as "saddening".

"It is certainly one of the most important historical instruments of all time. It's a bit like hearing that one of the statues at the Vatican has been broken," he said.

Foucault's experiment involved releasing a pendulum and watching the Earth rotate under its oscillation frame. Dr Aczel said that it brought "closure for Galileo" and led the Church to accept the rotation of the Earth.

William Tobin, a retired astronomy lecturer and biographer of Foucault, said that the accident was embarrassing for the museum, and a blow for academia.

Dr Tobin helped to identify the pendulum used by Foucault from among the other similar instruments held in the museum, and said that examining old instruments in the flesh "tells you more about the development of science than the written record can".

Have You Seen My Bird?

When I looked into the back yard this morning, I found the baby Scrub Jay sitting quietly on an agave leaf. Mama Scrub Jay came to feed it, with some hard-boiled egg yolk I provided.

Nevertheless, when the entire family of Scrub Jays - three additional birds - came to pay a visit, they alighted just outside the yard's back gate. They enticed the baby to scramble over to the gate, duck through the chain link fence, and leave the yard. I could see from the way the bird stumbled that, indeed, it seemed to be injured.

A Scrub Jay family member looks for grubs in the driveway adjacent to the alley.

To me, the driveway looks like an unpromising place to dine, but Scrub Jays really seem to like it fine there.

I'd better go out into the alley and check on the baby bird. Even though the alley is generally pretty quiet, there is a black-and-white cat out there sometimes.

What's going on? There is a parade in the alley! The alley is full of people!

The folks at the California DMV are celebrating something called CPD Spirit Day, which apparently features a parade, one of the highlights of which is touring the scenic wonders of my back alley!

Have you seen my bird?

Hello? Have you seen my bird?

The CPD folks are friendly and happy, but no, they have not seen my bird.

Have you seen my bird? Are you pointing over there?

Ah, there you are, under the baby oak!
This is not a safe place, but it probably hurts like heck to walk.
I will likely have to effect a rescue this afternoon....

Stay here!

Interfering Once Again In Western Scrub Jay Family Rearing Practices

Left: Western Scrub Jay fledgling, sitting on the ground in the neighbor's yard, trying to remain absolutely motionless, and looking pretty miserable.
Left: The same fledgling, just after I moved it to my back porch. A few minutes later it attempted to fly away with its mom, and fell to the cement below. Later, with nightfall, it scurried away to a location unknown. I hope it is uninjured. Tomorrow, we'll see what happens.

My understanding of fledgling Western Scrub Jays is that they frequently suffer through a period in late spring when they can't quite fly, are prone to injury, and thus must seek shelter on the ground while gaining sufficient strength to fly. Their parents buzz around, provide food, and provide what protection they can from predators. The general advice is not to handle them, but let them be, if at all possible.

I felt I had to intervene in this case because there is a cat that lives next door. During the day, the bird had moved from the area near the neighbors' garbage cans, where it had a fighting chance to find shelter, to a pathway where it was completely exposed. Indeed, five minutes after I threw a towel over the fledgling and moved it to my porch, the neighbor arrived with both her cat and dog in tow. The neighbor is cooperative: she promised to keep her cat in tonight. I temporarily plugged a hole in the fence where her cat likes to enter my yard. My yard is safer than next door neighbor's, but the safety is relative: possums, raccoons, rats and skunks have been known to enter my yard at night.

The bird was traumatized by all this unfamiliar handling, I'm sure. When Mama Scrub Jay came to the porch, fed the fledgling, and departed, the fledgling attempted to follow and fell to the concrete below. After night fell, the bird sought shelter, probably in some ivy, and vanished from view. I suspended sprinkling there tonight to keep the bird from getting wet. I pray the bird is uninjured and will have a restful night's sleep. I pray the parents will return in the morning to continue to aid their charge. And I hope I have the wisdom to tamper just enough, but not too much, and thus spoil a bird-rearing process almost complete....

The Terrorists Win - I Melt For Smoking Hot Bikinis

This controversy over Muslim women winning beauty contests is surprising on the surface. Given the conservative nature of most Muslim countries, just by showing up in bikinis, Muslim women are taking a risk - sometimes, a big risk. Affirmative action? Please! So, if they win contests, can it be based on anything other than merit?

Some neocons have assumed that Western willingness to don bikinis is a cultural edge that protects the West from being captured by the siren call of jihad. Hedonistic Westerners are innoculated from becoming suicide bombers. Of course, these assumptions overlook very real complications of various Muslim cultures, one example being Lebanese worldliness, and willingness to don bikinis if the moment is right. Academics like Daniel Pipes appear to be genuinely shocked that their complacent assumptions regarding Muslims have been so rudely stripped away by a single young woman. Serves them right! In any event, I'm with Jay Leno (see below):
Newly-crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih is the pride of her native village, with residents saying the Lebanese-American not only brought honor to southern Lebanon but also offered a different image of Shiite Muslims often stereotyped as radicals.

Meanwhile, some bloggers who have been accused of anti-Arabic sentiment have been attacking Fakih since her win.

..."We are so often described as terrorists and killers, but we Shiites love life and beauty -- and mainly the beauty of the soul, which is what is so special about Rima," said the veiled 62-year-old, who speaks English and French fluently.

...Srifa falls in an area largely controlled by Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Washington.

...Rima Fakih, who may represent the United States in the Miss Universe pageant later this year, emigrated from Srifa to the United States when she was seven years old.

She attended a Catholic school in New York until 2003, when her family moved to Michigan.

She went on to earn a college degree in economics from the University of Michigan and was a resident of Dearborn, which is home to a large Arab-American community, prior to her crowning as Miss USA.

..."Rima called me from the podium after her win in tears of happiness to tell me she was elected Miss USA," said the 35-year-old. "Our father, who was there with her, kept saying she was an honor for south Lebanon.

"We are both Lebanese and American. In the United States no one asks us if we are Sunni or Shiite Muslims, we are all under the US law," she added.

"In our home, there is none of the fanaticism that exists in some Lebanese households."

Despite her dark, cascading waves and toned body, the new Miss USA has come under fire by right-wing bloggers, who have dubbed her a "terrorist in a bikini."

"Don't let her lack of a headscarf and her donning a bikini in public fool you. Miss Michigan USA, Rimah (sic) Fakih is a Muslim activist and propagandist extraordinaire," wrote conservative political commentator Debbie Schlussel in her blog.

"It's a sad day in America but a very predictable one, given the politically correct, Islamo-pandering climate in which we're mired," wrote Schlussel, who slammed Fakih as a "Hezbollah-supporting Shiite Muslim."

...Comedian Jay Leno led his monologue with Fakih's story Monday night, addressing her achievement as the first Miss USA winner to publicly identify herself as Arab American.

"That goes to show you, in America we don't care what your faith is, we don't care what your politics are," Leno joked. "If you look smoking hot in a bikini, we will embrace you."

...At the Washington Post, David Weigel reports that Daniel Pipes -- "a former State Department staffer, former member of the United States Institute of Peace (holding a recess appointment after being filibustered by Democrats), and former adviser to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign" -- believes that the judges tapped Fakih due to "affirmative action."

Fools For Deep Water Oil

I hesitate to criticize the folks trying to bring the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to a halt - they are working hard, for sure:
BP says its mile-long tube siphoning oil from a blown-out well is bringing more crude to the surface.

In a news release Tuesday, BP PLC says the narrow tube is now drawing 2,000 barrels a day for collection in a tanker, double the amount when it started operation Sunday.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles has said the company hopes the method can draw about half the leaking oil.
Out at the scene of the gusher, a relief well aimed at intercepting the bottom of the leaking one to flood it with cement is about halfway complete, and drilling began Sunday on a second relief well.

The relief wells will take at least another couple of months, and in the meantime BP probably will try to shut down the well completely late this week using a technique called "top kill," BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said Monday.

The process involves pumping heavy drilling fluids into the blowout preventer that sits on top of the wellhead a mile underwater. This would first restrict the flow of oil from the well, which then could be sealed permanently with cement.

The blowout preventer is a massive array of valves and other cutoff devices that BP says failed to provide the last line of defense it should have when well pressure surged April 20.

BP declined to comment on a report Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes" that the blowout preventer may have been damaged in an accident four weeks before the April 20 explosion on the rig and that BP overruled the drilling operator on key operations.
Still, it's clear they were caught unprepared by the scope of this disaster. When you tamper with these oil bodies, you are playing with the Earth's primal forces. The drilling locales are very, very hard to reach and almost impossible to work in. By the time these wells get sealed, the Gulf of Mexico will be laid waste. So why the overconfidence that they could drill there without tempting fate? The entire Gulf Coast is going to be converted into a big tar bowl. And they couldn't see that possibility? That likelihood, in fact? After Ixtoc I, and the various other calamitous disasters of the not-so-distant past? What kind of knavish fools are these?

Fools like this, I suppose:
Before its state-owned operator Petrobras struck big oilfields deep below the Atlantic floor in 2007, Brazil used to be chronically energy-deficient. No wonder President Lula helicoptered offshore to dip his hand in oil, and no wonder his chief of staff said of the discovery that, “We have strong evidence that God is Brazilian.”
The Brazilian oil fields require drilling starting at 3.7 miles below the surface of the ocean. Think they are ready to deal with disaster? At pressures where methane clathrate ices complicate everything and where there's no infrastructure to deal with trouble?

What a sick, sick joke this deep water oil drilling is! Fools everywhere!

Drill, baby, drill!

New Mexico, Film Capital

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Americans' Wacky Faith In Missile Defense

Americans have a very touching faith in technical solutions to difficult problems, and so they naturally resist when you tell them that missile defense is an insoluble problem. They just figure you aren't being a positive thinker. Still, missile defense IS an insoluble problem!

Defensive capabilities that are more expensive to implement than offensive capabilities are naturally prone to failure when you need them most. Offensive missiles are cheap to make. If you have 20 expensive defensive missiles that readily defend against 20 cheap offensive missiles, all an attacker has to do is obtain 20 more cheap offensive missiles. Or 100. Or 1000.


Freeman Dyson, among others, pointed this out back in the 80's, and it's just as true today as it was then.

Politicians can use the existence of a missile defense system for all kinds of mischief. For example, if Barack Obama wanted to turn a blind eye to the Iranian nuclear program, the existence of a missile system would give him a fig leaf to justify doing so - even if that's a very bad idea!

Missile systems are like pieces of the True Cross: artifacts that promise a shield but do nothing.

Here is an interesting article:
US missile defense plans are based on "technical myths" and interceptors have mostly failed to knock out incoming warheads in military tests, a new study argues.

Two American scientists reviewed 10 tests of the SM-3 "kill vehicle," designed to take out ballistic missiles, and concluded that the interceptor succeeded in directly hitting mock warheads in only one or two cases.

"This means that, in real combat, the warhead would have not been destroyed but would have continued toward the target and detonated in eight or nine of the 10 SM-3 experimental tests," wrote George Lewis of Cornell University and Theodore Postol of MIT in the latest issue of "Arms Control Today."

The Pentagon had described the tests between 2002 to 2009 as successful.

The US administration's claims about the missile defense system are "nothing more than a fiction" and "the policy strategy that follows from these technical myths could well lead to a foreign policy disaster," wrote the scientists in an article titled "A Flawed and Dangerous US Missile Defense Plan."

But the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on Tuesday rejected the findings of the study, calling them "flawed, inaccurate and misleading."

US officials and the academics disagreed over the importance of the interceptors striking the body of a rocket or its dummy warhead.

The SM-3 tests "showed that the interceptor's kill vehicle impacted the target body or warhead within inches of the expected impact point that was calculated to maximize damage against a variety of warhead types," the MDA said in a statement.

MDA spokesman Richard Lehner said some of the earlier tests did not use mock warheads at all because the goal was merely to hit the target missile.

One of the authors of the study, Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a long-time skeptic of US missile defense who previously helped expose the failure of most Patriot anti-missile weaponry in the 1991 Gulf War.

Much is riding on US missile defenses based on land and at sea, with President Barack Obama arguing the system will help counter the threat posed by Iran's missiles and will allow for scaling back the American nuclear arsenal.

Paul Krugman Poses A Rhetorical Question

How Will They Spin This?
So, via Joe Romm, the NASA-GISS data show that the past 12 months were the hottest 12-month period on record. Here’s my plot of the temperature anomaly — the difference, in hundredths of a degree centigrade, from the average over 1951-80:

First Coupon!

As he rang up my purchase, the Subway sandwich shop manager bobbled a large cardboard box. He ripped open the box and handed me the first coupon from the first pad of coupons from his brand-new box: Free State Fair Admission (with the purchase of an Unlimited Ride wristband)!

Gonna be doing lots of screaming this July, I sense....

Kim Sozzi - Secret Love (Stellar Project Remix)

A Nice, Generic Happy Birthday Video

A nice suggestion from Yglesias.

Adios El Niño!; Hola La Niña?

The Pacific Ocean bids farewell to El Niño:
The El Niño event of 2009/10 has concluded, with all the major indicators now below El Niño thresholds. Latest observations show that sea surface temperatures, trade winds, the Southern Oscillation Index and cloudiness over the Pacific have all returned to levels considered typical of neutral (i.e. neither El Niño nor La Niña) conditions. The timing of the decline in the 2009/10 El Niño event has been fairly typical, with the event peaking over summer then decaying during autumn.

Historically, about 40% of El Niño events are immediately followed by a La Niña. Current conditions below the surface of the Pacific Ocean show large volumes of cooler than normal water, indicating that further cooling of the surface is likely.


Meddle Not In The Affairs Of Dragons For You Are Crunchy And Taste Good With Ketchup
Use an accordion, go to jail--it's the law

Dangerous Days For The Scrub Jays

Yesterday, a Western Scrub Jay suddenly made itself at home in the immediate neighborhood of my back yard. In addition, I could hear a Baby Scrub Jay somewhere next door. I was overjoyed! I started leaving food in places where the Mama Jay could easily reach it.

But why was this happening? So far this year, I hadn't noticed Scrub Jays taking up residence in the immediate neighborhood. They don't just appear from nowhere, you know.....

Listening more carefully, I realized the Baby Scrub Jay was somewhere on the ground in the neighbor's yard - where a cat lives!

Investigating in the neighbor's yard, sure enough, Mama Scrub Jay was spending the morning distracting and harassing the oafish cat. Fifteen feet away, Baby Scrub Jay was flapping away, trying to get its wings strong enough so it could depart from this dangerous situation. So, I helped out by carrying the cat into my front yard. The cat took umbrage and crossed the street, giving maybe a couple of hours of quiet time for the stressed Scrub Jay family.

This transitional state in late Spring, when birds can't quite fly and are prone to accident, lasts for only a couple of days, but it is a very hazardous time for them.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Amanda Yount's 'Shirley Maclaine' Moment

Left: Amanda Yount, from September, 2008, when she played Tzeitel in DMTC's production of "Fiddler On The Roof"

Every so often in musical theatre, difficult moments occur, when a lead actor is suddenly struck down and an understudy has to assume the role. In local community theater, the crisis can be even more acute, because stretched resources rarely permit the use of understudies. Performances generally have to be cancelled until the roles are recast and the show is re-rehearsed. Often that can't be done. Valuable time and money is squandered.

On Sunday afternoon, May 16, 2010, just such a moment occurred when Amy Jacques-Jones, playing Gypsy Rose Lee in DMTC's production of "Gypsy", was struck down with laryngitis. This was the last show in the 12-show run of "Gypsy" - generally the one with the highest attendance. Rescheduling the show would be nearly-impossible to do. The show was moments away from cancellation when the decision was made instead to advance Amanda Yount from the ensemble (Hollywood Blonde/Toreadorable) and throw her into the lead role. Arriving late from her waitress job, she had five minutes warning of the plan.

Despite being slightly taller than Amy, Amanda was of comparable build and thus could fit into the costumes. She could sing and had had significant roles before. In fact, I was surprised when I learned she was in the "Gypsy" chorus: I thought it was too bad the show didn't have more significant roles, where she could have lines to speak, and thus have more stage time. (In retrospect, I'm glad that when the crisis came, someone with her experience was on hand).

Just before curtain, Producer Steve Isaacson announced to the audience that Amanda would be standing in for Amy and that Amanda would be carrying a script with her (in fact, Amy's marked-up script). By being straightforward with the audience, and trusting them, Steve helped enlist them in Amanda's support.

The story of the actor promoted from the chorus in an atmosphere of drama and crisis is one of theater's favorite tales. Everyone loves rooting for the underdog. The ultimate Broadway story in this vein involved how Shirley Maclaine was abruptly catapulted to fame when the actress she was understudying for, the indefatigable Carol Haney, improbably and unbelievably sprained her ankle. In Shirley Maclaine's words:
Carol Haney (who danced with Bob [Fosse] in Kiss Me Kate) was the hit of The Pajama Game when we opened a few months later. She had no understudy, and Hal Prince asked me if I would like to try. In those days, I was dancing with a long, red ponytail whipping around my face—that is, until the stage manager dunked my head in the basement sink and said, “Cut it off. You are attracting attention away from the principals!” Hence my hairstyle, which I’ve never changed. So much for my sense of keeping up with fashion.

Anyway, they gave me the understudy job, but I never had a rehearsal. I had thought Carol would go on with a broken neck, so I had decided instead to understudy Gwen Verdon in Can-Can at the Shubert Theater down the street. Then, a few nights later, Carol sprained her ankle.

Synchronicity was already beginning to become active in my life, as I was about to learn.

I had my “I’m leaving” notice in my pocket when I arrived at the St. James. Across the stage door entrance stood Jerry Robbins, Bob Fosse, Hal Prince, etc. “Haney is out,” they said. “You’re on.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “I’m on? Without a rehearsal?” I didn’t know what key I sang in, I didn’t know the dialogue or the lyrics, and I didn’t know whether Carol’s clothes would fit. I had been watching her from the wings, but performing something with your own body is another matter. Even with the aforementioned problems, all I could think of was, “I’m going to drop the hat in Steam Heat” (Fosse’s famous hat-trick number).

I raced to Carol’s dressing room. Her clothes fit me except for her shoes. I had a pair of sneakers with me from an afternoon at Jones Beach. They needed to be black. The wardrobe mistress dyed them (the black water dripped from them when I put them on). John Raitt and the conductor, Hal Hastings, wincingly went over the songs with me. With my voice, it didn’t really matter what key I sang in.

There I was, waiting in the wings, when the announcer said Carol Haney would be out and I would replace her. There were “boos” from the orchestra to the second balcony. Some people threw things at the stage. The cast was lined up in the wings to observe the debacle. And I waited for the curtain to rise.

I think it was then that I realized I had an angel on my shoulder. I felt I was guided somehow. I didn’t know how or by whom. But I wasn’t alone. I sank into the center of my being and somehow did the show. The rest of the cast was sensitive and on their toes for any trouble I might find myself unable to handle.

I did drop the hat in Steam Heat because the spotlight blinded me. I lost it in midair, and said, “Oh shit,” right out loud. The first few rows gasped and crossed their legs, but I got through the rest of it without falling into the pit. When the show was over, I took my bows with the other two Steam Heat dancers. The audience stood up. Buzz Miller and Peter Gennaro peeled off and left me in the center of the stage to bask in the audience’s appreciation. Never had I been so lonely, but I knew deep inside that the destiny of my life was now in alignment. My shoulder angel smiled, and I knew I was in for a life of hard work, discipline, gratitude, and success.
Sunday afternoon was Amanda Yount's 'Shirley Maclaine' moment! The show was being taped for posterity and the Elly Awards judge from SARTA was in the house. The house was packed. So, a bit of pressure there....

I was out in the lobby for almost the entire show, and thus not in a position to observe much, but I heard reports from the folks drifting in from backstage. At one point, Christina Rae came out and said "It's a madhouse back there!" Presumably everyone was being pressed into support activities, all to aid Amanda (particularly Amy Jacques-Jones, who was doing everything in her power to help). There was much confusion about whether the 'Little Lamb' song would be cut, since Amanda had never sung it before (ultimately, the song was kept and Amanda sang it well). Steve later said that the usual backstage hubbub was absent - everyone was completely caught up in the onstage drama. Sue peeked in briefly and said it was all rather cute, how the cast helped by sometimes taking her by the arm and guiding her around the stage. Lisa remarked how well the rest of the cast responded to altered blocking, since Amanda sometimes didn't know where to stand. Use of the onstage script worked well, with just a couple of hesitations in delivery when she momentarily lost her place.

Act I went off OK, but Act II would be more difficult. There were multiple quick costume changes, which would strongly inhibit use of an onstage script. Amanda would basically be alone, center stage, flying blind, and bereft of help.

I peeked in briefly, during the strip sequences. Amanda looked a little green - her voice was a little too quiet for the size of the theater. Remarkably, the costume changes all worked OK. Nevertheless, during the 'Garden of Eden' scene, she messed up delivering the 'ecdysiast' joke punchline, leaving an awkward silence. The cast tried to coach her from the wings, which only served to distract her. Kay quickly came in with the music and the show moved on! So, not perfect!

Considering everything, Amanda performed remarkably well - astonishingly well! The cast gave a huge sigh of relief at the end of the show.

Afterwards, lurking in the hallway, I tried to glean the reactions of the audience as they filed past. Most of what I heard was rather sober - along the lines of 'boy, that's hard to do - just step into the role and perform!' To my knowledge, only four audience members walked out (during intermission).

So, Amanda didn't perform well enough to get an Elly Award, but she did perform well enough to win the audience's respect and the cast's admiration. Steve beamed with pride and told her "I don't know why you weren't off-book. I mean, you had five minutes!" A minute later, slumped in his boxers in a chair in the dressing room and coming down from his adrenaline high, Steve sighed and expressed another thought: "I hope I never have another day like this as long as I live!"

Baby B. Back In Hospital

Worrisome seizures. Every five minutes, or so. And so Baby B. will remain in the hospital, for observation, for the rest of this week.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

OMG - It's Live Theatre!

Reporting Sunday afternoon from the last performance of "Gypsy" at DMTC.

Christina Rae came out briefly from backstage, and said it all: "It's a madhouse back there!"

And why? Is it because the house is packed? Is it because Rich is taping today? Is it because the Elly judge is here today? If only those were the only sources of pressure!

Amanda Yount, flying by the seat of her scarcely-clad backside, goes on as stunt Gypsy Rose Lee, in place of Amy Jacques-Jones, who is rendered speechless by laryngitis.

And Rashaad is out too, exiled after last night's chaos.....

Forty-five minutes to go until intermission! I wonder how it's all going to work out?

Congratulations On The Birth Of Charles Berghoffer IV!

Sally reports from Seattle that Page Forment Berghoffer gave birth about 8 a.m. on Saturday morning to her firstborn, Charles Berghoffer IV! Congratulations to the entire family!

E. Pays A Visit To The Auto Mechanic

E.: He is ESTOOPID! He is a FAT ASS! He is a CRIMINAL!

M.: Come on, he didn't know about the crack in the rubber fitting attached to the intake manifold. Otherwise, he would have returned the car when he said and everything would have been all right.

E.: Are you ESTOOPID? Can't you see what he is doing? He replaced the alternator because he wanted to steal the money. It's just like the casinos do, with their MegaMillions. He thinks because I am an Asian, a woman, an oriental, that he can just wrap me around his little finger....

M.: Why are you getting excited about the money? You have no money. That's why I have to pay for it.

E.: I will never take my car to that FAT ASS again! I spent $300 last year to have the service engine light go off so I could pass smog check. Now it's on again! HE broke the rubber fitting so he could get more money!

M.: But he was the same guy who fixed that previous service engine light problem by putting a hose clamp on the other hose that kept falling off the intake manifold in January.

E.: So he could get our trust so he could stick it to us later!

M.: The money he gets from fixing the alternator isn't enough to cover the aggravation. Besides, that hose fitting isn't supposed to need a hose clamp. With the years of heat and oil the rubber is falling apart up there on top of the intake manifold. The car is getting old. It's no surprise we would have more problems up there. You want some KFC?

E.: He is a CROOK!

M.: He's a nice guy. He took time from his day off to help you.

E.: But he didn't have the car ready!

M.: Because he didn't know about the cracked rubber fitting.

E.: He sabotaged the rubber fitting!

(Turning at the corner, we momentarily stopped at the light. At the corner, a family was walking their dog. The wife loudly praised the Rottweiler for heeling on command. Responding to her loud voice, E. shot her a look, and said...)

E.: Another CROOK!

M.: He's a nice guy!

E.: Next time I see him I'm going to shoot his FAT ASS with a BB gun!

M.: A BB gun? He's a big guy. Frankly, with those overalls, I don't think he'd even notice....

R & R

Think you've seen just about anything that can happen, and then - surprise!