Saturday, July 03, 2010

Michael Steele Gets It Right, For Once

Michael Steele gets it completely right, for once. Doing so makes him absolutely radioactive to the neocons, of course. As Michael Kinsley says: "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth":
At a Republican Party fundraiser in Connecticut on Thursday, Steele declared that the war in Afghanistan "was a war of Obama's choosing" that America had not "actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in," in a response to an attendee's question about the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- which Steele called "very comical."

"The McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. And I think it's a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders have with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan," said Steele. "Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

"It was one of those, one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy ["in the Middle East"? -- Note: The audio is not quite clear in this section.] that we would be in the background, sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops," Steele continued. "But it was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well, if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan."

Exploding H-Bombs In Space

John asks:
Have you ever heard of this? It must have been quite a sight.
David Baltz, a good high school friend, saw this thing when he was living in Hawaii as a little kid. He described it as a pinprick of intense light, then a huge flash that filled the sky.

Impressive, and stupid – a perfect display of the military mind.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Trying To Puzzle Out BP's Mindset

A partial explanation for so few skimmers?:
BILOXI, Miss. — From Washington to the Gulf, politicians and residents wonder why so few skimming vessels have been put to work soaking up oil from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Investment banker Fred D. McCallister of Dallas believes he has the answer. McCallister, vice president of Allegiance Capital Corp. in Dallas, has been trying since June 5 to offer a dozen Greek skimming vessels from a client for the cleanup.

“By sinking and dispersing the oil, BP can amortize the cost of the cleanup over the next 15 years or so, as tar balls continue to roll up on the beaches, rather than dealing with the issue now by removing the oil from the water with the proper equipment,” McCallister testified earlier this week before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “As a financial adviser, I understand financial engineering and BP’s desire to stretch out its costs of remediating the oil spill in the Gulf. By managing the cleanup over a period of many years, BP is able to minimize the financial damage as opposed to a huge expenditure in a period of a few years.”

If I Were A Celebrity

I don't even know if this is true, but it would be the sort of thing that would happen if I were a celebrity:
Ok, let’s do some imagining. Picture this: you’re in London, partying at a hotel, having a good ol’ time, and then a beautiful woman approaches you. When the woman gets close enough, you realize that she is not an ordinary beautiful woman, but she is actually Rihanna, famed musical artist and general big deal! While you’re still trying to process this, Rihanna asks you to go to a club with her. Do you:

A) Say yes and spend the evening kicking mad game at Rihanna

B) Say yes and spend the evening creeping on Rihanna

C) Say no and spend the evening being a total dumbass because you said no to Rihanna

If you are Sean Kingston, the answer is C. When Rihanna asked him to take her out to a club, Sean said no because he didn’t have any clothes ironed.

Budget Airlines Rule

But not all is hunky-dory in the sky:
Donna Adamo, a passenger on board flight 1537, said she first noticed a couple of flies when she got to her seat on Monday but did not pay much attention to that.

As the plane was taxiing, she said she heard a passenger behind her causing a commotion and refusing to take her seat.

"Then I heard the word 'maggot' and that kind of got everybody creeped out," Ms Adamo told AP.

Passengers were asked to get off because of a "minor emergency" "All of a sudden, I felt somebody flick the back of my hair and on the front of me came a maggot, which I flicked off me.

But she said she "felt like they were crawling all over me because it only takes one maggot to upset your world".

"And as they're telling us to stay calm and seated, I see a maggot looking back at me and I'm thinking, 'These are anaerobic, flesh-eating larvae that the flight attendants don't have to sit with.'"

...However, the unnamed passenger who brought the spoiled meat in a carry-on bag was put on another flight, US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said.

It was not immediately clear how the passenger managed to take the meat on board.

Maybe Things Won't Be So Bad This Month For Hurricanes In The Gulf

I've been worried that the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be made much worse by hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, so I've been looking for budding hurricanes.

Nevertheless, except for Alex, there is little sign of these storms.

There are clear routes for such storms. One possibility is for mesoscale convective complexes (MCCs) to form over Columbia, roll off over the southern Caribbean, travel along Central America, and emerge into the western Gulf of Mexico (much like Alex did). Despite lots of thunderstorm activity, these developments don't seem to be taking place right at the moment.

Another possibility is that storms can form, in place, in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, there is a depression (95L) in the northern Gulf right now, but further development is unlikely.

The Bermuda High seems very strong right now, which has pushed tropical lows in the Atlantic much farther south than usual. One consequence is that storm development in sub-Saharan Africa is greatly-affected. Sub-Saharan drought has shut down that most-reliable source of tropical lows - the sub-Saharan MCC conveyor belt, that can dump storm after storm into the Atlantic.

So, for the moment, the Gulf's luck is holding.....

The Era Of Permanently-High Unemployment

Recovery of employment from recession has been taking longer and longer every time we have a recession. Now, recovery is taking so long that unemployment is effectively permanently-high.

I tend to blame technological changes, rather than economic stagnation or overregulation, for the development. Employers lay off whom they consider to be crucial workers, only to discover they no longer need those workers, because savvy computer use allows one to do more with less. Times changed. So those workers never get rehired.

Another factor might be rising economic polarization and inequality. The sad fact is that the rich just don't need the poor, or at least, not enough to bother hiring them. Not even in a trickle-down world.

We're becoming more like the Philippines every day....

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Something Odd On Q Street Last Night

Left: All sorts of fire engines and emergency response vehicles lined up along Q Street about 2:00 a.m., between 20th & 21st Streets. A block away, at Q Street and the railroad, another fire engine was busy putting out a grass fire in the dark.

Something odd was happening!

Latest Rankings Of The Presidents

Oh, those historians are at it again! It's time to rank the Presidents! This has been one of my favorite games ever since childhood!

Some Presidents tend to gravitate to the same approximate level - Lincoln, Washington, FDR near the top: Harding, Buchanan, and Pierce near the bottom.

Nevertheless, as time passes, the estimations of historians of certain Presidents changes dramatically.

When I was young, Ulysses S. Grant was considered the all-time worst President - EVER! EVER! Even worse than Harding and Buchanan! (It was all that Gilded Age corruption, plus Reconstruction). Nevertheless, Grant's reputation is simply zooming these days. People have since taken a fresh look at the 19th Century and Grant just wasn't that bad. In this tabulation, Grant comes out 26th. As time goes by, Grant's liable to end up tenth, or so. Because, in truth, he wasn't such a bad egg.

Truman is also another mover. He was near the bottom when I was a kid. Now he's ninth! Amazing! I read somewhere that both Grant's and Truman's bad ratings can be attributed to their unpopularity among a school of Southern historians, then active, that have now passed from the scene. Plus, it can be very hard to appropriately pigeonhole someone recently out-of-office, such as Truman then was.

What else.... Teddy Roosevelt 2nd and Woodrow Wilson 8th: too high for both. Clinton 13th, above Andrew Jackson? too high. Ronald Reagan 18th: way too high! Hoover 36th: too low. George W. Bush 39th: too high - he should be on a par with Buchanan as the worst dolt ever to occupy the office! Andrew Johnson, dead last at 43rd?: too low - wrong guy at the wrong time, of course, but nowhere near Buchanan's league of douchebaggery. Interestingly, Polk remains stable at 12th - when I was a kid, he was tenth.

There will never be true consensus on this list, but that's all right - it's a fun game!

Did A Cat Get Lucky?

For the last two days I've found an unusual number of pigeon feathers near the place I feed the local birds. Today, I found a pigeon wing in the alley, repeated smashed by passing cars. Clearly, something violent happened to this pigeon, but what was it? Where's the rest of the bird?

Bittersweet - Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Freemasons Extended)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Molly Ringle's Success Ricochets Across The Pond

From The Guardian (UK):
A sentence comparing a kiss to the sucking of a very thirsty gerbil has won Seattle-based novelist Molly Ringle the world's worst writing contest.

Ringle, who says she only writes bad fiction when she fails at good fiction, took the Bulwer-Lytton prize for the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels yesterday with: "For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss – a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

...Ringle, the author of the published novel The Ghost Downstairs, in which the romance between a nurse and a houseboy is played out against growing paranormal activity, is the 28th winner of the contest. "I feel quite ridiculous. But there are definitely worse ways to get 15 minutes of fame," she wrote on her blog.

The author told the Seattle Times that she had been inspired to write her winning sentence as she nursed her infant son. "Something about his attitude and posture ... It reminded me of those guinea pigs we used to have as kids," she said. "I've asked myself, probably belatedly, is that what I want to be famous for? But hopefully people in the publishing world know it's all in the name of comedy."

And anyway, she added, "you kind of have to have a certain amount of skill to write a sentence so bad it would win. You have to work at it."

Contest judge Scott Rice, a professor at San Jose State University, praised her "outlandishly inappropriate comparison" to the paper. "It is a send-up of writers who try too hard to be original, and it is a send-up of those revolting couples whose public displays of affection make them poster children for celibacy," he said

Wondering About BP's Motives

Here is a darkly-cynical article that I still find quite inadequate when guessing about BP's motives for their strange response to this oil spill:
In a shocking interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on June 29th, Allegiance Capitol Corporation V.P. Fred McCallister said that BP is deliberately sinking oil with the toxic chemical disbursant Corexit, to hide the size of the oil spill. By sinking the oil before it can be collected, BP won’t have to pay fines on it.

McCallister said, “Everybody in Europe, where the standard practice is to raise the oil and collect it, is scratching their heads, and quite honestly laughing at what’s happening in the Gulf.” He added, “Everyone is looking at us and wondering why we’re allowing this to happen.”

McCallister is set to appear before a Senate investigative panel on Thursday and testify that BP’s only interests regarding the Deepwater Horizon spill is protecting their own financial interests. His statements explained why BP has been refusing offers of help from additional foreign skimmers.

BP’s fear is that independent skimmers would be able to count the number of gallons collected, and thus provide the US government with data to assess spill rate financial penalties against BP, according to McCallister.
Well, of course BP has been using Corexit to hide the size of the oil spill! Like, duh! But the mystery is why. Government fines, no matter how big, just seem inadequate as an explanation for their behavior. Oil is valuable, and even recoverable, given enough time to collect it, and enough ships. But BP would rather emulsify it, and bury it, and even burn it, than try to corral it. Was it because there weren't enough oil tankers around? Unlikely: they could rent some ships from other oil companies if that was the hang-up. No, it's something else.... Something else....

In any event, the article's stab at guessing at BP's motives became invalid by the end of May anyway, when much more reliable estimates finally became available (despite BP's resistance) regarding well-flow rates. So it sort-of makes sense for BP's early response, but not its current response.

And who cares about snickering Europeans anyway? This is no Amoco Cadiz, or Exxon Valdez. It's a Super-Ixtoc disaster!

So why is BP doing what it's doing? I think it's more complicated situation than we know as yet, and we still don't have enough information for an authoritative guess. But that's why the blogger is here: to guess, even in an information void.

Oceans are surprisingly-empty of life, at least, when compared to land. Even though oceans cover 75% of the world's surface, nine out of ten living organisms are land-based. The reason oceans are so devoid of life is that ocean life is restricted by the availability of iron and phosphorus in the seas. They just don't have enough fertilizer! And if too much fertilizer becomes available, exploding plankton blooms get suffocated anyway by lack of oxygen. Can't win in the oceans!

Nevertheless, there are oases of life in the oceans, in shallow waters, particularly in those places where upwelling waters bring up minerals from below. Even though the Deepwater Horizon is in deep water, it is located on the edge of prolific shrimp and oyster habitats in shallow water.

I think BP decided to use Corexit to bury emulsified oil under the water's surface in order to try and preserve sensitive, shallow fishing habitats. It was a deliberate effort to try to save the shallow-water based bottom of the food chain pyramid - the plankton, shrimp, birds, etc. - by deliberately sacrificing the deep water habitats, the top of the food chain pyramid, where whales and squid go. The calculation is based on money, of course, but ultimately it's based on life-viability. And no one wants to talk about it, because...well, because it's whales.

If that was the calculation, then I'd have to agree. Better to save the base of the food chain and sacrifice the top. Under those circumstances, we'd want desperately-cynical BP to succeed. But it's a desperate "Hail, Mary" maneuver, with no guarantee of success.

Nevertheless, there is so much oil coming out of this well that desperate, calculating BP will likely lose both ends of the bet. Everything is going to get ruined: top and bottom of the food chain.

Alternatively, maybe I give BP too much credit. Perhaps BP really is being run by idiots. Goodness knows, that explanation has sufficed for explaining much of human history!

Dead zones are already present near the Deepwater Horizon site and it isn't even the oil, or only the oil - it's the natural gas:
Scientists are confronting growing evidence that BP's ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico is creating oxygen-depleted "dead zones" where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

In two separate research voyages, independent scientists have detected what were described as "astonishingly high" levels of methane, or natural gas, bubbling from the well site, setting off a chain of reactions that suck the oxygen out of the water. In some cases, methane concentrations are 100,000 times normal levels.

Other scientists as well as sport fishermen are reporting unusual movements of fish, shrimp, crab and other marine life, including increased shark sightings closer to the Alabama coast.

Larry Crowder, a marine biologist at Duke University, said there were already signs that fish were being driven from their habitat.

"The animals are already voting with their fins to get away from where the oil spill is and where potentially there is oxygen depletion," he said. "When you begin to see animals changing their distribution that is telling you about the quality of water further offshore. Basically, the fish are moving closer to shore to try to get to better water."

Such sightings – and an accumulation of data from the site of the ruptured well and from the ocean depths miles away – have deepened concerns that the enormity of the environmental disaster in the Gulf has yet to be fully understood. It could also jeopardise the Gulf's billion-dollar fishing and shrimping industry.

In a conference call with reporters, Samantha Joye, a scientist at the University of Georgia who has been studying the effects of the spill at depth, said the ruptured well was producing up to 50% as much methane and other gases as oil.

The finding presents a new challenge to scientists who so far have been focused on studying the effects on the Gulf of crude oil, and the 5.7m litres of chemical dispersants used to break up the slick.

Joye said her preliminary findings suggested the high volume of methane coming out of the well could upset the ocean food chain. Such high concentrations, it is feared, would trigger the growth of microbes, which break up the methane, but also gobble up oxygen needed by marine life to survive, driving out other living things.

Joye said the methane was settling in a 200-metre layer of the water column, between depths of 1,000 to 1,300 metres in concentrations that were already threatening oxygen levels.

...Even without the gusher, the Gulf was afflicted by 6,000 to 7,000 square miles of dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi river, caused by run-off from animal waste and farm fertiliser.

..."Things are changing, and what impacts there are on the food web are not going to be clear until we go out and measure that," said Joye.
And where will the oil go? I'm surprised that it hasn't plastered the Florida Keys yet. The surface oil almost certainly will end up plastering the northern Gulf beaches. The Gulf of Mexico just isn't large enough to fully dilute it (Taylor's dispersion coefficients for long distances and times). And that emulsified oil is probably still there in the northern Gulf, killing everything it comes in contact with. And waiting to make its full effects known.

This oil spill crisis has just started.....

Casinos Are Like Full-Service Cities

But they can't handle every problem:
A homeless woman was charged Monday with two counts of animal abuse after police said they found 25 cats and two dogs suffering inside her locked car at Ameristar Casino.

Someone called 911 about 12:15 p.m. Sunday after spotting the animals trapped inside the woman's Chevrolet Lumina on the casino parking garage's covered fourth level.

Police found the animals jammed inside the car without water, soiled by their own feces and eating bits of food scattered on the car's floor, said St. Charles Police Lt. Mike Akers. At least eight cats had been packed into one crate. The car windows were cracked open about 1 inch with the outside temperature Sunday afternoon about 90 degrees.

Casino security told police the temperature inside the garage typically runs about 7 to 8 degrees hotter than outside. Police did not know the temperature inside the car.

The owner of the car, Lori Pellin, 39, had arrived at the casino shortly before noon and was found about 2:15 p.m. in the casino hotel's computer room.

She told detectives she was homeless after being evicted from her apartment three days before. She said she had been living in her car and had gone to the casino to gamble and use the hotel's computer to search for an apartment.

Come On, Kenneth, We're All Suffering From This Oil Spill!

Kenneth Feinberg is the best-prepared person in history to administer this compensation fund, and he is trying to lower expectations regarding awards. That may be a good idea, considering how the scope of the disaster is as yet unclear. He also wants to use his 9/11 fund experience as a guide, but it's not clear if he has the same latitude now as he got from Congress then. Does BP still have some say, or is it completely out of their hands? Will Congress and the Administration yield as much authority now as they did then? The attacks of 9/11 are small potatoes compared to this fiasco:
The prominent US lawyer managing BP's 20-billion-dollar oil disaster fund said Wednesday not all claimants will be paid, especially some of those seeking compensation for falling houses prices.

"There's not enough money in the world to pay every single small business that claims injury no matter where or when," Kenneth Feinberg told the House of Representatives Committee on Small Business.

"You've got to decide in a principled way... and work out some definition in that regard," he said, while stating his determination to "pay every eligible claim."

...He assured lawmakers it would be "totally independent" and said BP "has agreed to supplement this escrow fund as needed to assure full and fair compensation to all individuals and businesses that are found to be eligible for payment."

"I'm inclined to begin with the same analysis I did in 9/11," added the leading attorney, who plans to set up procedures for paying claims in the coming weeks.

First Of AOL's Two-Part Series Regarding The Roswell Incident

I'm less interested in the Roswell incident itself and more interested in how it became a cult sensation. When I was a kid in NM in the 60's, the Socorro incident was all the rage and the Roswell incident was rarely mentioned. Now, the Socorro incident is forgotten and Roswell is world-famous. How strange is that?:
At the time, in 1979, I was producing nightly UFO reports for NBC Radio in New York, when Friedman put me in touch with Roswell participants who were finally willing to supply other pieces to the long-forgotten flying saucer/weather balloon puzzle.

Marcel, who had been in charge of intelligence and security for the Roswell base in 1947, told me his commanding officer ordered him to check out the reported debris left by whatever it was that came from the sky.

"We started picking up the debris, loaded as much of it as we could into a pickup truck and I filled up my car with the stuff, as well," he said. "It's almost indescribable -- it's not the kind of material I'd ever seen in my life, nor have I seen it since.

Looking Into The Oily Crystal Ball Again

Hurricane Alex is preparing to come ashore, and some of the forecasts show that as the storm breaks up and becomes part of a Great Plains cold front, it might drop very, very heavy rains in the deserts of northern Mexico - normally the very, very driest parts of Mexico. Deserts are ill-prepared to handle that much water, and so flooding is bound to happen there.

Looking out a week in advance, the NOGAPS model suggests that a tropical low will generate along the NE coast of Nicaragua by Sunday evening and strengthen into a tropical storm. By next Wednesday, the storm will be poised to enter the Gulf of Mexico, along a path likely to cross the out-of-control BP oil well, in ten days, or so.

How good is that forecast? The NOGAPS model is good at estimating storm paths, which is why I like it, but it is usually much too ready to generate the storms in the first place. NOGAPS usually predicts twice as many tropical storms coming into existence as actually come into existence. The GFS model doesn't show a new storm generating, for example.

So, how to tell? According to NOGAPS, the low that strengthens along the NE coast of Nicaragua actually forms in the Pacific, off the west coast of Columbia, and crosses the isthmus of Panama. That Pacific low should already exist - and looking off the southern coast of Panama - there's a big patch of clouds present. The Caribbean animation shows tropical thunderstorms already making the Panamanian crossing.

So, I'll make a big leap and forecast big problems for Gulf oil recovery by the weekend of July 10-11.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Networking With The Sacramento Connect Networking People

Left: I go down this way?

In May, I decided to accept the Sacramento Bee's invitation to become part of their Sacramento Connect community of bloggers. Part of what I do, and I'm sure part of what the other bloggers do too, is to function as reporters for those aspects of the Sacramento area that we know about. It is only reasonable that, as reporters, we should affiliate in some kind of loose alliance with Sacramento's largest newspaper.

Nevertheless, I was a little apprehensive about accepting their invitation to meet them in person:
Join us for a Sacramento Connect Mixer! As one of our partners, you'll have the opportunity to meet The Bee team, and preview the upcoming beta release of Sacramento Connect. Afterwards, enjoy networking, light appetizers and wine. We hope to see you, here!
To me, blogging is sort of a solitary activity; an opportunity to mentally babble in cyberspace. To meet other cyberbabblers in the flesh seemed contrary to the spirit of the activity. It would be sort-of like attending a convention of spies (HELLO. My name is Boris Badenov. Have you seen Moose and Squirrel?)

Left: Revolution Winery entrance.

But we are all in this together, I guess, so Tuesday evening I headed down to Revolution Wines on P Street, just a short distance from the Sacramento Bee. The invitation instructions directed that we should enter the winery from the alley between Q & P Streets, but interestingly, there was a woman whose sole job seemed to be that of waving people off and directing them to enter the winery from the front (strange job, that).

Left: Network, network, network!

There were some forty people within the winery. A noisy fan and A/C system helped tamp temperatures down a bit.

After two free glasses of wine and some hor d'oeuvres, even my laconic self seemed to relax a bit. I talked at length with the folks who run five separate blogs of the sixty-or-so Sacramento Connect partners:

Nanny Goat In Panties (Margaret Andrews)
Breast Cancer?....But Doctor I Hate Pink! (Ann Silberman)
Sue's Dog Blog (Sue Owens Wright)
The Farmer Fred Rant (Fred Hoffmann)
Plus a fifth blog.... What was it called? My memory is shot! It was that wine!
Nanny Goat In Panties is one blog I've been reluctant to go to before now, because my blog and hers are often nearly-tied on Bressler's Sacramento Top 25, and I was afraid any link through the the Top 25 would give her an unassailable lead in the oh-so-important biweekly competition for ratings. Nevertheless, I agree with her that we all have more to gain by linking to and with each other than by each keeping to ourselves. The prime directive here is Network!

I recognized several other notables in the crowd, but didn't have time to network with them....

Left: Souvenir Revolution wines in very nice bags.

The Sacramento Bee folks gave a short presentation where they discussed various infrastructure initiatives and improvements. As a content provider, I found the buzzwords a bit formidable, but it all sounded good. Heading out to the Improv Workshop about 7:00 p.m., I picked out a bag containing a free bottle of wine as a souvenir. Tomorrow they are hosting some kind of virtual wine tasting, but as a wine naif I'm not sure my input would be especially revealing (This wine is dark red, unlike the White Zinfandel. This wine isn't sweet, unlike the White Zinfandel. Funny, nothing here tastes like the White Zinfandel. It's almost like there are more kinds of wine in the world than White Zinfandel....)

So, all hail networking and infrastructure!

2010 Bulwer-Lytton Contest Winners And Runners-Up

Here they are, in all their wretched finery!

I can't believe Molly won! Such an honor!

2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Winner

And the winner is:
San Jose State University said Tuesday that Molly Ringle of Seattle was the grand prize winner of the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

In her entry, Ringle describes a "lengthy, ravenous kiss" between two lovers: "Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."
I wonder if this is the same Molly Ringle as the Lightboard Operator for DMTC's "Oliver!" in November, 2000, and on stage as a 'Lass' in "Tommy" in March, 2001? That would be pretty cool, if so....

[Update: Holy, freakin'... it's the same person!]

Supreme Court's Hatred Of Democracy Can Scarcely Be Concealed

By emphatically supporting a “right to keep and bear arms” against government action at any level, the Supreme Court conservative majority displays a disgusting authoritarian streak to impose gun culture everywhere and anywhere, whether people particularly want it, or not. Talk about judicial activism!

I see no reason why communities can't impose rules on guns if they please, up to and including banning them. It's a democracy, after all. By insisting that democratic processes are null, the Supreme Court subverts democratic traditions everywhere.

No matter what these bosses-in-black-robes say, and no matter what the Constitution says either, there is no such thing as a "right" to guns. It is a chimera. It doesn't exist. It has no business being mentioned in the Constitution. Do you disagree? Then, from where does this supposed "right" derive? Natural law? Please! Do I have a constitutional right to knives? To poison? To WMD?

Repeal the Second Amendment!:
Five members of the Supreme Court on Monday assured state, county and city officials not to worry: the new decision protecting a “right to keep and bear arms” against government action at any level — local, state or national — “does not imperil every law regulating firearms.” But the Court majority did not have any assurances for judges at every level, that they will be spared the duty of ruling on many forms of gun regulation that a legislature, county board, or city council has chosen to enact. And the Court gave those judges very little guidance, in its ruling in McDonald, et al., v. Chicago, on how they are to analyze those laws.

The Court did not even rule on the constitutionality of the one law that was at issue — a handgun ban in Chicago — nor did it tell the Seventh Circuit Court what constitutional standard to apply in judging that law when the case returns there. That particular law’s fate, like that of so many others around the nation, now must await a new round in court.

...But where the new decision will be most significantly tested will be regulation, not prohibition, of gun possession or use. Without embracing everything that Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in one of Monday’s dissenting opinions (including his sweeping claim that the Court was sending lower courts off on a “mission-almost-impossible”), his opinion does come close to a fair description of some of the complications that will be featured in future lawsuits.

As Breyer noted, “countless gun regulations of many shapes and sizes are in place in every state and in many local communities.” He then catalogued some of the questions that will now arise as many of those laws are tested: “Does the right to possess weapons for self-defense extend outside the home? To the car? To work? What sort of guns are necessary for self-defense? Handguns? Rifles? Semi-automatic weapons? When is a gun semi-automatic? Where are different kinds of weapons likely needed? Does time-of-day matter? Does the presence of a child in the house matter? Does the presence of a convicted felon in the house matter? Do police need special rules permitting patdowns designed to find guns? When do registration requirements become severe to the point that they amount to an unconstiutional ban? Who can possess guns and of what kind? Aliens? Prior drug offenders? Prior alcohol abusers? How would the right interact with a state or local government’s ability to take special measures during, say, national security emergencies?…These are only a few uncertainties that quickly come to mind.”

The Great Plains: Lurid Destination For Maniacs

Here they come!:
These are storm chasers, part of the tornado paparazzi. This afternoon's bait: a supercell in far western Oklahoma that could spit out an EF2 (that's lingo for a strong tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which measures such storms.)

Highways are increasingly clogged with storm chasers trying to beat each other in a risky race to capture the storms, and some have even been killed. While there's no certain way to estimate how many there are, longtime chasers who crisscross the Midwest put the figure in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. Fifteen years ago, they say that number would have been a few hundred.

"It's become a much bigger thing. Because data is available to anybody, you can essentially have live radar data in your vehicle with you for the price of satellite wireless," says Harold Brooks, meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma.

..."The thrill of the chase. ... That's the excitement," says Tiffany Crumrine, 37. She's part of the pack tracking the EF2, and tired of seeing funnel clouds only on TV. Any storm on the Great Plains could have as many as 30 cars following it.

"There's so many chasers, it's difficult to get where you need to go, and that can be a problem," says Greg Forbes, a severe weather expert at The Weather Channel. "What if a tornado hits something, and there are so many cars around? It makes it difficult for emergency managers to do their jobs."

At least three people have been killed since 1999 while chasing or observing weather for forecasters, according to the National Association of Storm Chasers and Spotters.

Topeka, Kansas-based chaser Scott Blair says some parents take their kids on the chase while others get as close as 100m from the twister.

Drivers use two-way radios to spread warnings about speed traps. One driver radios that it's easy to do 16 to 24km/h over the limit in Oklahoma, and brags he can go even faster when chasing storms in Wyoming or Colorado.

Among the tornado paparazzi is Daniel Shaw, who travels from Australia to the US to chase storms.

"There's something about America and its storm systems that just produce these monsters. You just don't get things like this in Australia. I suppose it's strange - America's a long way to come to see a storm, but what you have here is truly incredible."

Link To Bev's "Crazy For You" Review

Here's that link....

Low-Level Ballistic Missile Intercept

Interesting low-level ballistic missile intercept:
The U.S. military has shot down a short-range ballistic missile in the last stage of its flight during a test off Hawaii.

An interceptor missile launched from Kauai shot down the target fired from a decommissioned amphibious assault ship positioned offshore.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said the intercept occurred at the lowest altitude so far for an interceptor missile in the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

The agency says the test occurred around 9:30 p.m. Monday Hawaii time.

Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, fired the interceptor. They didn't know the launch time in advance.
Low-level intercepts are very difficult to do, because flight times are so short. These folks are to be congratulated!

Nevertheless, despite this success, I remain adamantly opposed to all forms of ballistic missile defense. Ballistic missile defense lulls everyone involved into a false sense of security and its costs are so prohibitive as to be indefensible. One can have any number of engineering successes with ballistic missile defense, yet have a complete failure of the defense system as a whole.

Consider a missile defense system for an aircraft carrier, capable of a 90% hit rate. Fabulous! Nevertheless, if ten missiles are fired at the vessel, and if even just one missile gets past, you lose the ship. Failure!

Similarly, the system BP has jerry-rigged to recover oil from the runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico is an engineering marvel. Success! But it can't capture anywhere close to all the oil spewing forth. If even a tiny fraction of the oil escapes, you have environmental failure. Better than nothing, of course, but failure nonetheless. That's just the way of it!

As always, success in modern technological warfare has to remain focused on the offense....

Abby Sunderland Is Back Home

Unlike some people, I see nothing inherently wrong with a 16-year-old girl sailing around the world. Most 16-year-olds (and most people in general) shouldn't even think about it, of course, because of their astounding incompetence, but for that subset of people who essentially live on boats; who are intimately familiar with sailing craft, and who have spent years sailing them, I see no reason not to sail wherever they please. By age 16, most people have the necessary strength for the task, and unlike many of their elders, they have the necessary focus:
Sunderland flew back home Monday after being rescued from the Indian Ocean by a fishing boat. She was about halfway through her journey when a fierce storm battered her 40-foot boat Wild Eyes. A rogue wave capsized the boat and destroyed its mast.

"As you probably all really know, I'd much rather be sailing Wild Eyes back in here. But the plane was really comfortable," she deadpanned.

In her first statements since returning home, Sunderland said she was below deck working on her boat as the storm was letting up.

"The storm I was in did not roll my boat. I was hit by a rogue wave once the storm was already dying down," she said. "I didn't have a lot of warning."

Since her voyage went awry, Sunderland's parents have come under relentless criticism for allowing the teenager to set sail alone.

Sunderland once again defended her attempt, saying the question of her age should have been settled after she became the youngest person to sail solo around Cape Horn.

"Growing up on boats and feeling, you know, that you know what to do in case of an emergency, it really helps," she said. "I knew when I headed out for this trip that I was gonna be testing myself, and I was gonna have to push myself to my limits."

Sunderland acknowledged, however, there were moments when she was terrified.

"You get scared and then you have to get over it because being scared, it doesn't do anything good," she said. "It just makes you hesitate and makes more problems start coming."

Sunderland's mother is pregnant with her eighth child, and the sailor told reporters she might have a new little brother before the news conference ended.

Family spokesman Lyall Mercer said the baby would be named Paul in honor of the captain of the boat that rescued Sunderland.

Sunderland's parents were unable to attend the news conference because of the pregnancy. They issued a statement saying they have been subjected to intense personal criticism that has crossed the line of decency.

"To hear the intensity of the personal hatred spewed by some in the media and on blogs was shocking to us," Laurence Sunderland said in the statement. "Abby should not be subjected to these hurtful attacks against members of her family, especially as what was being said was based, at best, on twisting facts out of context and, at worst, on total fabricated lies."

The statement added, however, that the family was willing to forgive critics who don't know their family or understand the experience and ambition of the two siblings.

Zac Sunderland, 18, successfully completed a round-the-world voyage last year, briefly becoming the youngest person to do so. His record has since been broken.

Abby Sunderland said she was as prepared as possible for the trip. Every sailor knows there is risk in trying to sail around the world, she added.

She said she wasn't "majorly hurt" when the rogue wave hit, but her boat was.

She set off her emergency beacons and waited. She was amazed when a plane dispatched from Australia to find her flew overhead the next day. Two days later the fishing boat arrived.

Sunderland thanked her rescuers and other people who helped with her trip. She singled out her brother as someone who had helped inspire her.

"I'm living proof that things don't always work out the way you plan, but you can only plan so far in an adventure," she said. "You can reduce risk but you can never completely eliminate it."

Give Me The Manolo Blahniks And No One Gets Hurt!

She's on the hunt for cometics, shoes, and money. Man, that stuff is so tantalizing!:
The last two hits by the sleek, amber-eyed thief took place last week -- targeting the high-end Arche shoe store on Astor Place in the East Village on Thursday and The Body Shop in Forest Hills, Queens, the next day.

Dead Cat Bounce

Here is an interesting graph showing how much house prices declined from their peak in certain markets.

There is a sign of a teensy recovery in California, as well as Denver and Cleveland. But everywhere else, it looks like a dead cat bounce. Thud!

Las Vegas and Phoenix? Those desert cats are dead, dead, dead! They need animatronics for those markets!

Yes, It Gets Hot In Vegas In July

But it's not like a big surprise, or anything:
Tea Party Nation announced in an email to members this weekend that their "unity" convention, planned for July 15-17 in Las Vegas, would be delayed.

..."We were so excited about the tremendous success of the first convention, we jumped into this second convention without considering the timing. The heat in Las Vegas in July is keeping many who would like to participate from attending," organizers wrote. "We have also received numerous emails from people who were forced to decide between family vacations and attending the convention."

Static Revenger Feat Luciana - Skin I'm In

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nine Months After I Injured My Ankle, I Go See The Doctor

No news like no news! So, even though I really hurt something on the inside of my left ankle (I suspected a tendon) while trying to do a pirouette last October 11th, and after reinjuring it on Christmas Eve, I still was quite reluctant to let a doctor see my foot - because, after all, the news was bound to be bad. I've started doing ballet again recently, but I can sense how sensitive the area still is, and how likely a reinjury could be. So, today, with trepidation, I finally went down to visit a new doctor today, an ankle specialist, to see what his opinion was.

The doctor said that, indeed, the tendon was cut. The only question is how bad the situation is. If an MRI reveals they can still use the broken tendon, they can try reattachment. If not, they might be able to fashion a substitute from tendons in the smallest toes. If too much time has passed and arthritis is setting in, they can fuse the bones of the feet. He said my foot seems stiff, and so the progression of the injury, starting with a sideways 'drift' of the foot, then into arthritis - a progression that takes three to five years to complete - has already started. To help, I got a prescription for a nifty new ankle brace today....

So, the only real question now is: When do we start cutting?

"Crazy For You", Second Weekend

Second weekend of performances went well for us!

The Friday night audience was big and raucous! Some dropped lines, but better than the average 2nd Friday.

Saturday night, more of the RSP folks came out to see the show. It was great to see everyone. Some of the set changes nearly got away from us, however. Whew!

Once again, big audiences on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Frustrated Sparrow

Walking down J Street downtown, I was startled to see a sparrow flying into one of the numerous glass office windows that line the street. It wasn't an accident - the bird was carefully and deliberately flying into the window, and trying desperately to reach a mysterious spot on an office partition on the other side of the glass.

Upon closer examination, the mysterious spot turned out to be a big, fat juicy moth. So close - just an inch away! So tantalizing! And unfortunately for the frustrated sparrow, completely out-of-reach!

BP Boycott Beginning To Pinch

Franchisees are beginning to feel the effect of the BP boycott. My boycott started May 23rd.:
Tension is mounting between BP and the neighborhood retailers that sell its gasoline. As more Americans shun BP gasoline as a form of protest over the Gulf oil spill, station owners are insisting BP do more to help them convince motorists that such boycotts mostly hurt independently owned businesses, not the British oil giant.

To win back customers, they'd like the company's help in reducing the price at the pump.

BP owns just a fraction of the more than 11,000 stations across the U.S. that sell its fuel under the BP, Amoco and ARCO banners. Most are owned by local businessmen whose primary connection to the oil company is the logo and a contract to buy gasoline.

In recent weeks, some station owners from Georgia to Illinois say sales have declined as much as 10 percent to 40 percent.

...Station owners are locked into contracts that can last seven to 10 years in some cases. So, switching to a competing brand if BP refuses to help may not be an option.

...The biggest hit comes not from lost gas sales but from lost convenience store business. Owners like Juckniess make just pennies on a gallon of gas. But they might make up to 55 cents on a $1 cup of coffee. The margins on candy and chips are about 48 percent and 37 percent, respectively, Jeff Lenard of the National Association of Convenience Stores.

The boycott's impact on BP is limited. The company makes most of its money exploring and producing oil in places such as Angola, Egypt, the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

"The corner store is the face of BP, but by no means how BP gets its money," Lenard said.

And even if drivers opt to fill up at an Exxon or 7-Eleven, they still may buy BP gasoline. Because of the way gas is refined and marketed, BP fuel gets supplied to stations other than those with BP brands.

Tunnel Under The Rio Grande

Amazing, and interesting too! I wonder how digging that worked, because the point-to-point distance was likely substantial, and it should have taken a long time to accomplish (unless the city storm drainage system provided a short cut):
At approximately 1:30 a.m. CBP Border Patrol agents working near the Bridge of the Americas thwarted a narcotics smuggling attempt after becoming aware of suspicious activity in the city storm drain system. Upon closer investigation, agents discovered a juvenile suspect in possession of more than 200 pounds of marijuana.

...CBP Border Patrol and ICE agents working jointly initiated an in-depth investigation of the city storm drainage system and discovered an illicit man-made tunnel underneath the concrete lined Rio Grande River. Federal authorities from Mexico also responded to the scene and assisted with the identification of the exit point of the tunnel in Mexico.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tropical Storm Alex Won't Impede Oil Spill Containment Efforts

It's pretty clear Tropical Storm Alex is heading into Mexico somewhere south of Matamoros, so oil spill containment efforts should be uninterrupted in the near-term.

Nevertheless, the hurricane season is just beginning to really get going, and so other opportunities to really get things messed up will present themselves. Finish those relief wells, ASAP!

I've never thought they'd be able to avoid surface oil coming ashore along the northern Gulf of Mexico. The onshore winds are just too strong there. And all the vast surface oil slicks are out there still, waiting to come ashore, and they will do so, in their time.

And where is the subterranean oil going? Not heading out the Loop Current - not yet. Not quite yet. It's all still there, though, lurking underwater....

Time Runs Out For Mississippi

"Everybody’s in charge, so no one’s in charge":
GULFPORT, Miss. — A morning flight over the Mississippi Sound showed long, wide ribbons of orange-colored oil for as far as the eye could see and acres of both heavy and light sheen moving into the Sound between the barrier islands. What was missing was any sign of skimming operations from Horn Island to Pass Christian.

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor got off the flight angry.

"It’s criminal what’s going on out there," Taylor said minutes later. "This doesn’t have to happen.”

A scientist onboard, Mike Carron with the Northern Gulf Institute, said with this scenario, there will be oil on the beaches of the mainland.

“There’s oil in the Sound and there was no skimming,” Carron said. “No coordinated effort.”

...“They’re paying all these boats to run around like headless chickens,” Taylor said, as reporters gathered to hear his assessment of the Sound.

...Taylor slipped a note to a fellow passenger.

It said: “I’m having a Katrina flashback. I haven’t seen this much stupidity, wasted effort, money and wasted resources, since then.”

Back on land in Gulfport, Taylor let loose.

“A lot of people are getting paid to say, ‘Look! There’s oil’ and not doing anything about it,” Taylor said. “There shouldn’t be a drop of oil in the Sound. There are enough boats running around.

“Nobody’s in charge,” Taylor said. “Everybody’s in charge, so no one’s in charge.

...Taylor was concerned Coast Guard Cmdr. Jason Merriweather, assigned to Mississippi, doesn’t have the authority to act independently; that he reports to the Unified Command in Mobile; and that all his decision are filtered through that group.

Carron said he was just as concerned with whether there’s submerged oil coming in with the orange floating bands.

And all the while the NOAA trajectories for where the oil is heading get progressively grim for Mississippi.

Saturday’s briefing projected oil would be on the beaches of the barrier islands, the Chandeleurs, in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. For Sunday the projection of beached oil showed thicker lines as the bulk of the oil body moved closer.

For Monday the projection was more of the same, except it included a red X at Bay St. Louis, meaning the forecast is oil will reach the mainland there.

The Wrath Of Sarah Palin

GOP politicians have a tendency to blame everyone's problems on the weak. This is a little different than a tendency to blame everyone's problems on victims (an unfortunate human tendency even Democrats engage in at times). It's a little sadder; a little sicker. The GOP looks at unequal fights, like stealing money from children or kicking old people down stairwells, as attack opportunities. It's a real Achilles heel for the party to go around stomping on puppies, as if that's normal human thing to do; whether done by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity - or by that former half-term Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin.

On Friday, Palin gave her long-awaited speech at CSU - Stanislaus, and used her speech to attack the college students who helped expose her lavish contract with the school:
The former Alaska governor's headline address Friday night at the 50th anniversary celebration at California State University, Stanislaus has drawn criticism and scrutiny since it was first announced. It also attracted sizable donations for the public school.

Officials have refused to divulge the terms of her contract or her speaking fee, and some details only came to light after students fished part of what appeared to be Palin's contract from a rubbish bin.

"Students who spent their valuable, precious time diving through dumpsters before this event in order to silence someone ... what a wasted resource," she told the crowd dining in the campus cafeteria.

"A suggestion for those Dumpster divers: Instead of trying to tell people to sit down and shut up ... spend some time telling people like our president to finally stand up," she said.

The material recovered by the students, which detailed perks such as first-class airfare for two and deluxe hotel accommodations, prompted California Attorney General Jerry Brown to launch an investigation into the finances of the university's foundation arm and allegations that the nonprofit violated public disclosure laws.
The students who went diving into the dumpsters weren't out there trying to silence anyone at all, but rather, to make their voices heard. They were incensed that a public, cash-strapped university was meeting secretly and using secret procedures to squander university money to enrich controversial politicos when it could have better spent that money on the students. These students were also canny enough to understand the sort of worms they were dealing with and to put those particular dumpsters on watch, knowing THAT was where the secret contracts were going to end up, once pressure was applied on the University Administration.

Sarah Palin doesn't quite understand that there is no upside in attacking CSU (Stanislaus) college students. This is not the Ivy League, by any stretch. These college students are not part of any media-blessed elite, like Palin and her buddies. Attacking hard-working, non-elite college students just makes Palin look small - and really, really mean.

And who are these college students? I don't know them, but from my blogpost last April the plaudits can start with Alicia Lewis and Ashli Briggs, and their compatriots and friends. In my opinion, these CSU - Stanislaus college students are heroes! We all owe them a great "Thank You!" for their intelligent hard work in trying to keep their University Administration honest and within the law, for a change.

"Climategate" Finally Being Exposed As A False Scandal

Many, many months too late, the "Climategate" scandal is finally being exposed as the phoney-baloney scandal it always was. But will there be any justice? Will the oil companies and their fellow travellers continue to push the climate-skeptic line without evidence whatsoever? (Will the sun rise in the east?):
A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on, as Mark Twain said (or “before the truth gets a chance to put its pants on,” in Winston Churchill’s version), and nowhere has that been more true than in "climategate." In that highly orchestrated, manufactured scandal, e-mails hacked from computers at the University of East Anglia’s climate-research group were spread around the Web by activists who deny that human activity is altering the world’s climate in a dangerous way, and spun so as to suggest that the scientists had been lying, cheating, and generally cooking the books.

But not only did British investigators clear the East Anglia scientist at the center of it all, Phil Jones, of scientific impropriety and dishonesty in April, an investigation at Penn State cleared PSU climatologist Michael Mann of “falsifying or suppressing data, intending to delete or conceal e-mails and information, and misusing privileged or confidential information” in February. In perhaps the biggest backpedaling, The Sunday Times of London, which led the media pack in charging that IPCC reports were full of egregious (and probably intentional) errors, retracted its central claim—namely, that the IPCC statement that up to 40 percent of the Amazonian rainforest could be vulnerable to climate change was “unsubstantiated.” The Times also admitted that it had totally twisted the remarks of one forest expert to make it sound as if he agreed that the IPCC had screwed up, when he said no such thing.

...The Times's criticism of the IPCC—look, its reports are full of mistakes and shoddy scholarship!—was widely picked up at the time it ran, and has been an important factor in turning British public opinion sharply against the established science of climate change. Don’t expect the recent retractions and exonerations to change that. One of the strongest, most-repeated findings in the psychology of belief is that once people have been told X, especially if X is shocking, if they are later told, “No, we were wrong about X,” most people still believe X. As Twain and Churchill knew, sometimes the truth never catches up with the lie, let alone overtakes it. As I wrote last summer in a story about why people believe lies even when they’re later told the truth, sometimes people’s mental processes simply go off the rails.