Saturday, September 04, 2010

"Rent" - Runaway Stage Productions

Left: Joanne (Lorraine de Arco).

A brilliant opening night over at RSP! Strong performances all the way around!

Some things were problematic. Sometimes the sound quality suffered. Lyrics were muddy. I thought people who don't know "Rent" might have trouble following the story. Myself, I had no trouble (I wasn't quite aware that I had practically memorized the entire book, but like all Rent-lovers, that was apparently the case).

Left: Mimi (Shanta Robinson)

I was really happy to see Shanta at RSP. I've seen her mostly in a variety of Pepper Von productions, where her performances have often been quite amazing!

"Rent", like many musicals, has a strong first act and a weak second act (only "Sweeney Todd" seems to avoid this fate). It seems like all these wonderful characters are created in Act 1, only to thrash around like hamsters in wheels in Act 2.

For Act 2, I sat next to one person noted as a skeptic of many things "Rent". He was writhing around in such agony I thought it might be better to remove his skin. I wasn't in that state, though. Act 2 still had some excellent songs. Lorraine deArco's and Lindsay Grimes' duet 'Take Me or Leave Me' nearly stopped the show!

Left: Angel (Joseph Boyette)

"Joesph's 'Today 4 You' stopped the show! I have never seen that happen before!

Left: Benny, or Benjamin Coffin III (Ali Llacer)

Ali, along with Lorraine, were recently in "Smokey Joe's Cafe" at Magic Circle. I liked Ali's cool sense on stage.

Left: Roger (Eddie Voyce). Wonderful voice!

Left: Mark (Tyler Robinson). Excellent performance, and good comic timing!

And since I was just in "The City Different" only a month ago, it seems like the lyrics to "Santa Fe" (sung very well by Rudy 'Roods' Brown) come to mind!:

You're a sensitive aesthete
Brush the sauce onto the meat
You could make the menu sparkle with rhyme
You could drum a gentle drum
I could seat guests as they come
Chatting not about Heidegger, but wine!

Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe
Our labors would reap financial gains

Left: Santa Fe's Coyote Cafe.

Left: View from the cafe's balcony.

"Where The Buffalo Roam" and "Big Coyote Bar" by William Prescott.

We'll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe
And save from devastation our brains

We'll pack up all our junk and fly so far away
Devote ourselves to projects that sell
We'll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe
Forget this cold Bohemian hell

Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
You know, tumbleweeds...prairie dogs...

I can't believe how lucky I am! In the foreground, I've got Salsola tragus (aka tumbleweed). In the background, I've got a Gunnison's Prairie Dog. Tumbleweeds and a prairie dog in just one photo!

Finally Heard From Andrew!

As soon as I heard about the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake, I dashed off a quick message to Andrew:

Just heard about the quake. I hope you are all right. Presumably utilities and the Internet are down, so I don’t when this will reach you. Let me know when you can!

Today, Andrew replied:
Yes it was a large earthquake but I am okay and just a few broken glasses in the house. I was at a hotel at the airport (just landed from Sydney a few hours prior) when it struck and it was very scary indeed. The airport closed after that so I drove home rather than flying to Queenstown for the weekend. The house is okay but there is a lot of damage in Christchurch itself. I have power and water etc but no internet so am using my cellphone internet connection which is more limited than a proper connection but at least it works.

We get aftershocks about every 30 minutes which are also scary and at night you lie awake in bed not knowing if a large one is on the way! It is no fun at all. But at least no-one has died so we are blessed in that.

I hope you are well and thank you for your thoughts and prayers at this challenging time for Christchurch.

Best regards,
I replied:
Hi Andrew:

I’m greatly relieved to hear that you are well! I thought it likely your house would be fine (on the hillside, there is little chance of waterlogged ground amplifying the ground movement).

I’ve been trying to follow the news on my iPhone (I finally broke down and got one). There is discussion about destruction of the Godley House and also pictures of a small rockfall on the drive into Diamond Harbour. I hope Lincoln University is OK (considerably closer to the Darfield epicenter).

...Thinking good thoughts for you, and everyone in Christchurch!

(no need to reply at this time – save your phone’s battery!)

It looks like Andrew's house is about 30 miles from the earthquake epicentre, near the rural crossroads of Darfield. His workplace is about 16 miles from the epicentre.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Kylie Minogue's "Get Outta My Way"

Featured now on her YouTube Channel! And, as always, the highest production values!

RIP, Ferenc Morton Szasz

Last night, I was picking through a mountain of unread mail, when I came across this announcement:
A cel­e­bra­tion of the life of Regents’ Pro­fes­sor of His­tory Fer­enc Mor­ton Szasz, is set for Fri­day, Aug. 27 from 2–4 p.m. in Rodey The­atre, in the UNM Cen­ter for the Arts.
Oh no! That can only mean one thing. Dr. Szasz, one of my favorite college professors, has passed away:
The chairman of the university's Department of History, Charlie Steen, said Szasz was a "unique presence" who managed to combine his personal and academic traits. In approaching students, on display was Szasz's familiar "open, friendly and very intellectual manner." He invited discussion.

"He was one of those people who can teach without telling you how to do it," Steen said. "Student after student would comment on this, and those of us in the department could observe him doing this, just informally walking with students, chatting with them.

"He was a very quiet, very warm person. He truly had a presence here, and I mean it when I say that we're never going to replace him. He was a standalone."

Szasz, who died June 20 at age 70, was hired by UNM as a one-year instructor in the late 1960s - he hadn't even finished his dissertation - and he ended his 43-year teaching career at UNM as a Regents' Professor, a Fulbright Scholar and Teacher of the Year award winner. Last year, he received the honor of delivering the university's annual research lecture.

An "enthusiastic," "prolific" writer, his works such as "The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion" were not only absorbed by academics but proved popular in the public realm. That and other publications, including the 2008 book "Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends," left him with international scholarly standing.

"He approached American history as part of the world expression," Steen said. "So that he could talk about Americans in the present and also in the context of their origins and the hopes and aspirations that people still hold in common. ... He was so wide in his interests - he was interested in comic books for heaven's sake. But he saw them as a cultural value, as a cultural expression in the same sense of the seriousness with which he approached Abraham Lincoln."

..."His training was in social and intellectual history, which is almost a nonexistent field now," Connell-Szasz said. "Because of that, it meant that he was interested in everything in American history - in society, culture, the intellectual world; just common, ordinary, everyday things that included folk history, philosophy, religion, science - you name it."

...Szasz had just finished his book about Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns - Lincoln and Scotland being two of his "passions."

"And after the chemo, and when he was going through all of the post-chemo time, he decided that he wanted me to bring all of his stuff down on Lincoln - huge volumes, new volumes he'd bought on Lincoln, all of his long yellow pads on which he wrote every one of his books and articles," Connell-Szasz said.

"So he did this rough draft of this 'Lincoln and Religion' manuscript sitting in the hospital bed, and he wrote like crazy. ... He had this deadline. He knew he had to finish this before he got out of the hospital. He did."
Dr. Szasz had the most amazing facility to connect storytelling with history. History WAS storytelling, and no one told better stories than he did! His classes were among the most-popular at the University of New Mexico.

Ferenc Szasz was particularly interested in the role of religion in American life, and how it affected everything we do.

Several stories stand out even today. A newly-published article (c. 1978) regarding the various hidden meanings in "The Wizard of Oz". Very fun! And one of Szasz's real finds: the journeys of a lay preacher through 19th-Century New Mexico; a man who just happened to look exactly like popular representations of Jesus Christ. Plus the trials and tribulations of the Puritans, of course!

It is no surprise that Szasz would have been interested in Trinity Site. The collisions in world views of scientists facing the infinite would have arrested his interest.

The world is a poorer place without him!

Massive Earthquake In Vicinity Of Christchurch, New Zealand

OH! MY! GOD! They are showing the 7.4 magnitude quake epicenter as being only about 7 miles from Andrew's house! I hope he is OK!

Last year, they had a big quake west of the South Island, which affected Invercargill and Queenstown, and a lot of unpopulated areas. This quake, however, affects a pretty heavily-populated area: Canterbury and Otago:

It was felt widely across the South Island, most strongly in Christchurch and Timaru, and there have also been reports of the quake being felt as far as Wellington. Several aftershocks have been felt.

Emergency services say so far only minor injuries have been reported.

Power is out to most of Christchurch and the central city has been closed down by police because of the amount of rubble in the streets. Water pipes have ruptured and there are reports of flooding in some eastern Christchurch areas.

The facades of several inner Christchurch buildings have crashed down onto roads, Christchurch Airport has been closed down because of damage to the runway and several streets and roads are impassable. The surface of Avonside Drive, in eastern Christchurch, has been ripped up.

Colleen Simpson, from Christchurch, said everyone was out in the street in their pyjamas looking scared and worried. There was no power, buildings were down and the mobile network was failing.

"Oh my God. There is a row of shops completely demolished right in front of me," she said, from her car.

Simpson and her young family were heading to her sister's house, where there was still power, so everyone could be together.

Authorities have asked people to avoid making mobile phone calls unless it was an emergency as the networks were becoming overloaded.

Some Christchurch residents have reported chimneys have fallen in through roofs, ceilings have cracked and brick walls have collapsed.

Kevin O'Hanlon, from Mairehau in Christchurch, said it was unbelievable.

"Just unbelievable. I was awake to go to work and then just heard this massive noise and, boom, it was like the house got hit. It just started shaking. I've never felt anything like it."

A spokesperson for lines company Orion said sewer lines and water pipes have ruptured, and whole substations are offline.

The Director of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, John Hamilton, said that the National Crisis Management Centre has been activated to co-ordinate central government response if required.

Police said damage and power outages have been reported from as far away as Dunedin.

The rail network in the South Island has been shut down while it is inspected for damage.

A number of severe aftershocks have also shaken residents, one of 4.9 magnitude at 5.26am and one was 4.6 magnitude at 5.55am.

Christchurch Press chief reporter Kamala Hayman said power was out in many southern suburbs.

"The first shake tipped books and glasses off our shelves and we are still getting sizeable aftershocks."

Ad Feedback Ryan Shaw, in Christchurch, said "TV fallen off cabinet, books, pot plants everywhere and I'm very shaken."

Roads around the seaside suburbs of New Brighton and Sumner are thronged with cars as worried residents flee any possible tsunami. There has been no tsunami alert issued.

Getting Lucky With Earl

Hurricane Earl is both weakening and veering more out to sea. The East Coast folks dodged a bullet here! There may be stormy days this weekend, particularly in Cape Cod and Nova Scotia, but it won't be the end of the world.

And I was so looking forward to that!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Earl's Path Inching East

We're at the recurve inflection point! Just about at the point where the shift was forecast too! That's good, but the shift is not far enough east to have Earl spare the coast some trouble.

Karaoke At Scarlets, In Folsom's Powerhouse Pub

Jetta wanted to participate in the karaoke contest at Scarlets, part of the Powerhouse Pub structure in Folsom. The grand prize is $1,000.00. I thought it sounded like fun, so I went too.

The crowd there was mostly in their 20's, or 30's. It was a warm and inviting crowd.

There was lots of nighttime construction in Folsom, particularly at Sutter and Riley Streets, where the Powerhouse Pub is located.

Usually, it's the young women that distract young males in bars of this sort, but on this night, there was plenty of heavy equipment too.

The karaoke contest featured secret judges. Jetta like this innovation, because it limited the inevitable sucking up people do to twist the fates of contests. She got a 15 out of 25; not bad, but not the best. I recorded her performance.

"The Grand Design" Coming Out Soon

Stephen Hawking goes one step further. But I don't know what he means by 'spontaneous creation' (I guess I have to buy the book to find out):
God did not create the universe and the "Big Bang" was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book.

In The Grand Design, co-authored with US physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," Hawking writes.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

...His latest comments suggest he has broken away from previous views he has expressed on religion. Previously, he wrote that the laws of physics meant it was simply not necessary to believe that God had intervened in the Big Bang.

The Bigotry Of Flighty Birds

When I lived in Tucson, my landlord's parrot had very specific hates. She hated women (I think she viewed them as competition for human male attention). The postal worker was a bearded man, and so his sight would send the bird over the edge (but whether it was the beard or the postal-worker status, I don't know). The parrot also hated other birds. Now and then, my landlord would let the canary out. The parrot would wait until the canary flew over and was sitting on her cage, and then she'd carefully nip off the bird's toes, until the bird could no longer remain upright. A very cruel (but loving) bird! So, I'd tell this mail carrier in Calgary to be very, very afraid:
Dogs are usually pegged as a postal worker's worst enemy, but in one southwest Calgary neighbourhood a hawk is the one spoiling for a fight.

Mail delivery in Bayview has been temporarily suspended because a hawk has been nose-diving the local mail carrier.

"The hawk just really seemed to have a hate on for that particular letter carrier," Teresa Williams, spokeswoman for Canada Post, told CBC News.

"The attacks got so bad that she was resorting to wearing a bicycle helmet. And the hawk even broke the bicycle helmet."

...Heinz Sander, 92, said he regularly sees the mail carrier hiding from the hawk under trees or in his garage.

"I saw [the hawk] coming, I was ducking ... it was so fast and he was up again. It's fairly big ... more than a metre or so."

He likened the attacks to a fighter plane.

"I was in the air force you know ... in the Luftwaffe, in the German air force."

Mail will return when the hawks leave. Wildlife officials say that could be in a few days, once the hawks head south for the winter.

There You Are, On Stage! You Gaze Out, And....*Poof*

Far-less sympathetically, indicating that maybe Governor Brewer has been watching too much "Breaking Bad", is her absolute refusal to acknowledge that she erred in saying beheadings were going on in the Arizona desert. A politician who can't walk back transparently-false statements is too brittle for the job!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Checking Up On Earl

That skeetobite animation was offline this morning: it's back now....

I don't like any of these forecasts at all. The storm is coming in pretty fast, but still, it's coming in slower than they've forecast, and I keep thinking it's going to go farther west than they think (because it's path is being influenced by the low located over the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bermuda High to the east). Earl isn't at the recurving inflection point yet; the mid-latitude winds are still pretty far away.

And so, the consequences?

Farewell East Coast! Or at least farewell to Capes Hatteras and Cod! Glad I don't have an expensive yacht floating on Long Island Sound!

The Sacramento City Council Really Doesn't Want This Ballot Measure To Pass!

But I'm just the kind of guy who will crawl through broken glass to darken the "Yes" bubble on the ballot!

Utility rates have been rising at greater rate than the CPI ever since I started paying utility rates, in 1998. And the rate of increase is accelerating, and in a recession too! This abuse has to stop, soon, and this ballot measure is one way to make it do so.

The ballot language could not be more screwed up. And it's likely to remain so too!:
The supporters of Measure B—also known as the Utilities Rate Rollback Initiative—are taking the city council to task over ballot language that they say is so convoluted and complicated, voters may have no clue what they are voting on.

Measure B qualified for the November 2 ballot earlier this summer. If approved by city voters, it would cancel a 9.2 percent hike in water, sewer and garbage rates that went into effect July 1. It also would limit the council’s power to raise rates in the future to annual increases in the consumer price index, requiring city
voter approval for rate hikes above the CPI.

On July 27, the Campaign for Common Sense Utilities Rates protested the ballot language at city hall and urged the council to rewrite it. When the council failed to take up the group’s request, Measure B supporters filed a petition for a writ of
mandate on August 6 in Sacramento Superior Court seeking a courtordered rewrite of the ballot question.

...“All we want is a fair election, not one tarnished by a city effort to confuse rather than inform city voters,” said Powell. “Barring last-minute judicial intervention, however, city voters should be prepared to sift through gobbledygook for a ballot question on Measure B in November.”

Here’s how the Measure B ballot question approved by the council reads:
Shall the ordinance repealing increases in monthly water, sewer, garbage/solid waste disposal service rates approved by the Sacramento City Council in June 2009, setting these monthly utility rates at the amounts in effect on February 2010, and allowing the City Council to increase these rates without voter approval beginning July 2012 only if the rates are not increased above the annual increase in a specifified consumer price index, be adopted?

Caroline Lund Will Be Here This Weekend!

Over at Sacramento's Rainbow Festival!

Move Your Body (Outer Sunset Mix)

Temple Grandin at the 2010 Emmy Awards

This looks like it might be quite interesting. Temple Grandin has had a most-unusual life.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Clear Blue Tuesday: A 9/11 Musical

The Problem With Being Agreeable

This article whizzed by two weeks ago, but I thought it was an interesting conundrum: trying to sing narcocorridos, trying to please everyone, and trying to stay alive:
Since last November, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, one of the most recognizable bands in the Mexican norteño regional genre, are banned from playing in their hometown and namesake, the border city of Tijuana.

The ban is a result of a 2008 concert in which the band's lead singer sent his regards from the stage to the city's most notorious and wanted men, "El Teo and his compadre, El Muletas." The city's get-tough police chief, Julian Leyzaola, was outraged.

Leyzaola pulled the plug on shows by Los Tucanes as they prepared to perform at the city's storied Agua Caliente racetrack in November. Leyzaola said the band's polka-driven narcocorrido songs glorify drug lords and their exploits and are therefore inappropriate to play in a city that has suffered soaring drug-related violence in recent years. The band, with millions of record sales and a fan base as broad as the international border, hasn't been allowed to play in Tijuana since.

..."I'm not justifying them, or approving of what they do," singer Mario Quintero told Marosi. "The señor [Leyzaola] shouldn't fault us for the corridos as if we're responsible for the killing of his police."

...Narcocorrido singers walk a fine line between merely commenting on the larger-than-life figures in Mexico's drug war and singing their praises -- sometimes at their own risk. Several norteño performers have been hunted down and killed, such as Valentin Elizalde and, in June, Sergio Vega. Some of the most well-known narcocorridos describe news events in coded details, such as the song Los Tucanes de Tijuana released about Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexico's most wanted man.

Quintero said the shout-out by Los Tucanes to the then-at-large drug bosses (both El Teo and El Muletas have since been captured) was not an optional thing. He told The Times that someone passed him a note requesting the kingpins be greeted from the stage.

"If they want a greeting and you don't honor it, they can hold it against you," Quintero said. "You know how I defend myself? By being agreeable."

...After the ban, the band posted a public statement on their MySpace decrying the police chief's decision as censorship: "In general narcocorridos, not only ours but those of all groups who interpret them, reflect a reality in which we have NO participation. We don't share in it nor defend it. They are about facts in public knowledge, involving news and persons that are a part of everyday reality."

A Thought Regarding Earl

The weather forecasts of Earl's path for the last week have been pretty dreadful (see the skeetobite animation from my last post). The storm keeps shifting south and west from where most models would have placed it. Somehow, the Bermuda High must be stronger than most people are giving it credit, but that's the easiest thing of all to measure, so why the goofs?

Give me the NOGAPS model any day. NOGAPS knows that the East Coast is in for some significant trouble.....

A Different Vantage Point Regarding The Mosque Controversy

Lessons From Iraq By A War Hawk

This dates from 2008, but it's as true today as then. And if someone wants to whine about the skeptics regarding intervention in Afghanistan or Iran, that someone needs to be pointed here:
My Iraq War Retrospective
by John Cole

I see that Andrew Sullivan was asked to list what he got wrong about Iraq for the five year anniversary of the invasion, and since I was as big a war booster as anyone, I thought I would list what I got wrong:


And I don’t say that to provide people with an easy way to beat up on me, but I do sort of have to face facts. I was wrong about everything.

I was wrong about the Doctrine of Pre-emptive warfare.
I was wrong about Iraq possessing WMD.
I was wrong about Scott Ritter and the inspections.
I was wrong about the UN involvement in weapons inspections.
I was wrong about the containment sanctions.
I was wrong about the broader impact of the war on the Middle East.
I was wrong about this making us more safe.
I was wrong about the number of troops needed to stabilize Iraq.
I was wrong when I stated this administration had a clear plan for the aftermath.
I was wrong about securing the ammunition dumps.
I was wrong about the ease of bringing democracy to the Middle East.
I was wrong about dissolving the Iraqi army.
I was wrong about the looting being unimportant.
I was wrong that Bush/Cheney were competent.
I was wrong that we would be greeted as liberators.
I was wrong to make fun of the anti-war protestors.
I was wrong not to trust the dirty smelly hippies.

I mean, I could go down the list and continue on, but you get the point. I was wrong about EVERY. GOD. DAMNED. THING. It is amazing I could tie my shoes in 2001-2004. If you took all the wrongness I generated, put it together and compacted it and processed it, there would be enough concentrated stupid to fuel three hundred years of Weekly Standard journals. I am not sure how I snapped out of it, but I think Abu Ghraib and the negative impact of the insurgency did sober me up a bit.

War should always be an absolute last resort, not just another option. I will never make the same mistakes again.

Charles Krauthammer Doesn't Even Make As Much Sense As The Folks Over At "The Onion"

I'm glad to see that Orrin Hatch is speaking up on behalf of that NYC mosque (Mormons are a little more sensitive to these kinds of issues than most folks).

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer suggests it might be better to build that NYC mosque somewhere else:

When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there -- and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized or misappropriated.

That's why Disney's 1993 proposal to build an American history theme park near Manassas Battlefield was defeated by a broad coalition that feared vulgarization of the Civil War (and that was wiser than me; at the time I obtusely saw little harm in the venture). It's why the commercial viewing tower built right on the border of Gettysburg was taken down by the Park Service. It's why, while no one objects to Japanese cultural centers, the idea of putting one up at Pearl Harbor would be offensive.

And why Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.

Even New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who denounced opponents of the proposed 15-story mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero as tramplers on religious freedom, asked the mosque organizers "to show some special sensitivity to the situation."

...Bloomberg's implication is clear: If the proposed mosque were controlled by "insensitive" Islamist radicals either excusing or celebrating 9/11, he would not support its construction.

...Location matters. Especially this location. Ground Zero is the site of the greatest mass murder in American history -- perpetrated by Muslims of a particular Islamist orthodoxy in whose cause they died and in whose name they killed.

...America is a free country where you can build whatever you want -- but not anywhere. That's why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and, if your house doesn't meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all.

These restrictions are for reasons of aesthetics. Others are for more profound reasons of common decency and respect for the sacred. No commercial tower over Gettysburg, no convent at Auschwitz -- and no mosque at Ground Zero.
Actually, this is a good argument, and I'm sympathetic to it. But it's important to remember that Ground Zero remains in private hands: it's not a national monument, or cemetery. There is only a limited amount of influence non-New Yorkers can have in making decisions that infringe on the religious liberty of private citizens in New York. Indeed, I'm sure that because Ground Zero is 'hallowed ground' that Muslims would feel that makes it especially suitable for a mosque. I can offer opinions about where mosques should and should not be built, but it follows that others can offer opinions about where or whether I might want to build churches, or any other religious structure.

And that's another good questions: where are the precise boundaries of 'Ground Zero'? Presumably it incorporates the former WTC site, but does it extend any further than that? Does it extend two blocks away? Questions that New Yorkers are in the best position to answer!

New Yorkers can use zoning law to make any changes with the proposal that they see fit. But if New Yorkers see no troubles with parking, land use, appropriateness, why should anyone else care?

Charles Krauthammer then goes on to assert that because liberals don't agree with him that liberals don't agree with 'the American people':
Liberalism under siege is an ugly sight indeed. Just yesterday it was all hope and change and returning power to the people. But the people have proved so disappointing. ... Ah, the people, the little people, the small-town people, the "bitter" people, as Barack Obama in an unguarded moment once memorably called them, clinging "to guns or religion or" -- this part is less remembered -- "antipathy toward people who aren't like them."

...What's a liberal to do? Pull out the bigotry charge, the trump that preempts debate and gives no credit to the seriousness and substance of the contrary argument. The most venerable of these trumps is, of course, the race card. When the Tea Party arose, a spontaneous, leaderless and perfectly natural (and traditionally American) reaction to the vast expansion of government intrinsic to the president's proudly proclaimed transformational agenda, the liberal commentariat cast it as a mob of angry white yahoos disguising their antipathy to a black president by cleverly speaking in economic terms.

...And now the mosque near Ground Zero. The intelligentsia is near unanimous that the only possible grounds for opposition is bigotry toward Muslims. This smug attribution of bigotry to two-thirds of the population hinges on the insistence on a complete lack of connection between Islam and radical Islam, a proposition that dovetails perfectly with the Obama administration's pretense that we are at war with nothing more than "violent extremists" of inscrutable motive and indiscernible belief. Those who reject this as both ridiculous and politically correct (an admitted redundancy) are declared Islamophobes, the ad hominem du jour.
Ha! This argument makes me laugh! The Tea Party movement is about as "spontaneous, leaderless and perfectly natural" as the Catholic Church. At least in California, it started as an astroturf movement; a consultant's creation. FOX News was intimately associated with the Tea Party's birth.

When a liberal looks at the anti-mosque movement and describes it as bigoted, it's because the liberal is looking clearly and plainly at what is obvious. Bigotry has characterized almost the entire opposition to the mosque. I don't think I've seen anything quite so bigoted since the police dogs were released on Selma's Pettus Bridge in 1965!

Meanwhile, "The Onion" interviews a local man, who understands what it is all about:
SALINA, KS—Local man Scott Gentries told reporters Wednesday that his deliberately limited grasp of Islamic history and culture was still more than sufficient to shape his views of the entire Muslim world.

Gentries, 48, said he had absolutely no interest in exposing himself to further knowledge of Islamic civilization or putting his sweeping opinions into a broader context of any kind, and confirmed he was "perfectly happy" to make a handful of emotionally charged words the basis of his mistrust toward all members of the world's second-largest religion.

"I learned all that really matters about the Muslim faith on 9/11," Gentries said in reference to the terrorist attacks on the United States undertaken by 19 of Islam's approximately 1.6 billion practitioners. "What more do I need to know to stigmatize Muslims everywhere as inherently violent radicals?"

"And now they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero," continued Gentries, eliminating any distinction between the 9/11 hijackers and Muslims in general. "No, I won't examine the accuracy of that statement, but yes, I will allow myself to be outraged by it and use it as evidence of these people's universal callousness toward Americans who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell."

"Even though I am not one of those people," he added.

When told that the proposed "Ground Zero mosque" is actually a community center two blocks north of the site that would include, in addition to a public prayer space, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant, and athletic facilities, Gentries shook his head and said, "I know all I'm going to let myself know."

Gentries explained that it "didn't take long" to find out as much about the tenets of Islam as he needed to. He said he knew Muslims stoned their women for committing adultery, trained for terrorist attacks at fundamentalist madrassas, and believed in jihad, which Gentries described as the thing they used to justify killing infidels.

"All Muslims are at war with America, and I will resist any attempt to challenge that assertion with potentially illuminating facts," said Gentries, who threatened to leave the room if presented with the number of Muslims who live peacefully in the United States, serve in the country's armed forces, or were victims themselves of the 9/11 attacks. "Period."

Meanwhile, Over At B3ta....

I like some of Spacefish's work:

Obama Bent Over Backwards To Please Wall Street, And This Is The Thanks He Gets!

There are better ways to handle this, of course. A firing squad would be a useful start:
OK. We get it. Wall Street hates Obama.

As far back as last September, CNBCs Charlie Gasparino told us in the New York Post that "the top guys on Wall Street are feeling burned" by Obama's "wild-eyed redistribution of wealth and massive programs."

Just two weeks ago, one of Wall Street's richest private equity moguls, Steven Schwarzman, compared a plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to Hitler's invasion of Poland.

And now, today, the New York Times is prominently featuring a piece by Wall Street's most avid stenographer, Andrew Ross Sorkin, that purports to explain "Why Wall St. Is Deserting Obama." Once again, the problem is that Obama is trying to "regulate and redistribute our way back to prosperity" and this clearly, in the view of Wall Street's elite, is pure evil.

Wall Street, writes Sorkin, "did not realize was that they were going to be painted as villains. "

One popular way to respond to this increasingly popular theme is to note, despairingly, that the White House has bent over backward not to crush Wall Street under its jackbooted heel, despite the fact that such punitive behavior would please substantial portions of the populist right and left in this country.

...These jokers are annoyed at the prospect of wealth redistribution? What do they think they were doing over the last couple of decades, aside from sucking wealth out of the "real" economy and redistributing it to themselves. And now they are are upset about higher taxes? What they should really be nervous about is the prospect of 20 years in prison.

The Eye Of Earl Could Sweep Right Over Boston!

Starting Thursday night at Cape Hatteras, NC, Hurricane Earl will start making life miserable for East Coast folks. Friday night and Saturday morning will be extra-miserable from NJ to Maine! All those boats in Long Island Sound!

Then it's likely that Earl will merge with the mid-latitude low passing through Quebec, form a cutoff low, and linger over Quebec for days, making life there extra-miserable!

Oh, it's going to be bad!

This skeetobite animation is pretty cool! It shows where Earl was forecast to go by the major weather models in use, and where Earl actually went.

Chinese Real Estate Boom

Chinese down-payment requirements help protect home buyers to some extent. So, when their real estate bubble pops, the Chinese economy will fall onto the floor, instead of into a pit, like the American economy did. Nevertheless, it can hurt bad to fall on the floor:
When the global marketplace went into meltdown mode two years ago and Chinese exports dropped off, Beijing mounted a stimulus several times bigger relative to the size of its economy than in this country. It announced a four trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus for infrastructure projects and housing developments.

...Beijing also lowered capital reserve requirements for its state-owned banks ordering them to dole out loans to "support growth." Though official data are unreliable, in 2009 Beijing apparently handed out somewhere close to 10 trillion yuan in new loans—more than twice the year before—and expanded the country's total loan portfolio and money supply by one-third, according to Patrick Chovanec, associate professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing.

...Fueled in part by this massive injection of liquidity, housing prices that had started dropping due to the recession began to soar again. Over the past year they increased nearly 12 percent, according to the latest figures from China's National Bureau of Statistics. So many middle-class Chinese (especially young couples wishing to move out of their parents' home) are being priced out of the market that their travails became the subject of a popular TV series called Dwelling Narrowness. Beijing banned the show, fearing it would cause unrest.

The problem is that government money is going to build homes not for occupancy but for ownership. Speculation, if you will. Andy Xie, a Shanghai-based economist formerly with Morgan Stanley, believes almost 25 percent to 30 percent of private commercial and housing stock in China is vacant. Entire cities, such as Ordos in inner-Mongolia, erected literally from scratch, stand empty.

"Chinese treat homes like gold bars buying multiple units as a store of value," notes Chovanec. Chinese avoid the stock market because it is still volatile and risky, and banks and bonds offer a low yield. Hence, Chinese are content to buy homes and let them sit because, thanks to the absence of property taxes, holding costs are negligible. Having never experienced a housing slump since China privatized its housing market in the 1990s, they believe that home prices only rise.

This can't last, but backers of China's stimulus believe there won't be any serious economic downside when the bubble bursts. Homeowners won't be thrown on the street because Chinese buy their first homes outright through their savings—not loans. And when house prices drop, the excess stock will quickly get scooped up—not boarded up.

While Chinese homeowners are not generally leveraged, those who buy second homes do finance them. And developers, including local governments and state-owned companies, are massively leveraged. This poses a big problem—Shen Minggao, Citigroup's Hong Kong-based China economist, estimates in Bloomberg Businessweek that at least 2.4 trillion yuan of the stimulus is already in nonperforming loans.

China's autocrats understand that they have a bubble on their hands. They've mandated minimum down payments of 50 percent on second homes and are considering property taxes to rein in speculative purchases. However, this will mean that the houses put on the market will find fewer buyers.

Beijing is in a dilemma. It can cut spending and rein in its monetary expansion, releasing over time capital for more productive endeavors (especially if it opens up hitherto closed investment options) and putting the economy on a healthier footing. However, that would mean slower growth, lower home values, rising unemployment and potential political unrest. Alternatively, it can buy a few more years of faux-growth and stability by propping up the real-estate market—and risk making the day of reckoning far worse when it arrives.

"Maos Last Dancer"

I saw this wonderful tear-jerking ballet movie at the Tower Theatre on Sunday evening. In some ways, the story of defection follows predictable lines. Nevertheless, there are surprises. Because defecting ballet star Li Cunxin intended to establish American citizenship through marriage, rather than through another route, like fear of political persecution, suddenly everything personal became political. Politics so close to home is a scary thing!

Also surprising was how Li's new American home base, the Houston Ballet, suddenly discovered, upon Li's defection, that it had more interests in common with the Chinese government than it did with Li. The investment of time, money, and energy by the Houston Ballet was too large. The company director needed, above all, to retain his personal contacts with the Chinese government, in order to retain access to China's ballet world. If that meant sending Li to the depths of hell, so be it.

It must be remembered that ballet companies have always been run as authoritarian fiefdoms, and they always will be run as such. They are not democracies and mushy sentiment does not govern their actions. The Houston Ballet and Red China have more in common than first meets the eye.

If the Chinese government hadn't overreacted by detaining Li in the Chinese Consulate, the story could have ended much differently. The Houston Ballet was reluctantly dragged into Li's defense by Chinese excess.

Don't you just hate politics?

Also interesting was watching Li's instructor in China trying to retain his influence with local authorities, and avoid charges of being a counter-revolutionary, by talking about the Vaganova Method of ballet instruction as almost a talisman - as if it were a secret formula and as if China's effort to rise in the world of ballet was analogous to, say, American's Manhattan Project.

The Vaganova Method is a wonderful, logical, and systematic way to teach ballet, but it is not a secret formula, and by itself guarantees nothing. Other methods of teaching ballet can, have, and will be devised.

Nevertheless, no blame attaches to Li's instructor. He was in a desperate effort to retain control and avoid being sent to prison. Sometimes you are forced to say untrue or silly things when speaking to skeptical political authorities.

Don't you just hate politics?

Yolanda Be Cool Vrs DCup - We No Speak Americano

Strange dance novelty song.

Fire Tornado

Very impressive!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Don't Get Mad: Litigate!

Insomniac has a good case!:
Tickets never went on sale and promotions were never staged, but a planned headlining concert by electronic artist Tiësto is the center of a seven-figure civil suit filed against the city of Los Angeles on Friday. Local dance promoter Insomniac Inc. claims the city breached its contract when it canceled what would have been an Oct. 30 concert by the well-known trance artist in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

...Insomniac writes in its complaint that the city cited the rampant use of the drug Ecstasy at Electric Daisy, as well as the death of a teenage girl who attended the concert and died of a suspected overdose, as its reasons for calling off the Tiësto appearance. In its claims for damages, Insomniac cited more than a dozen recent deaths at or after major music or sporting events, including that of a 27-year-old man who died after being punched at a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game, essentially arguing that the Tiësto appearance was unfairly singled out because of public perceptions of dance and electronic rave-like concerts.

...Insomniac is asking for damages of at least $1,015,180, citing a loss of profit of $436,250 and an estimated production cost of $668,750. Court documents state that Tiësto was guaranteed $250,000 for the single-night event. The artist’s management, Complete Control, did not respond to requests for comment.

Insomniac, which promoted five sold-out Tiësto shows in and around Los Angeles in 2008 and 2009, noted that its planned convention center event was no different from Sunday’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl, which featured dance act the Chemical Brothers.

“I can’t help but draw comparisons to the ’80s movie classic ‘Footloose,’ where dancing and rock music were banned,” Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella is quoted in a statement.

...A copy of Insomniac’s rental agreement with the convention center notes that the city may terminate the contract for the reason of “good cause.” Should it do so, reads the contract, the “tenant agrees to waive and forgo any and all claims for damages against City by reason of such termination... Tenant shall have no recourse of any kind against city.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger Visits USC State Capital Center

Wei came into my office and said: "Look out your window! There is some kind of important official visiting next door!"

I looked out my window into the alley, and, sure enough, there was some sort of motorcade out there! My window isn't very good for photos, though, so, I went into Nancy's office next door and started taking photos.

There's my parked orange Saturn down there, within our gated lot! We are located across the alley from the Sacramento branch of USC: the USC State Capital Center. Something must be going on there today!

It looks like they shut down the alley. It must be a major official, or a major candidate! So, I went down into the parking lot to get a better look.

It's California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger!

(I could have gotten a better photo, without the parking-lot bars, but with the security detail present, I didn't want to get too paparazzi-like!)

Prison Riot At Folsom

Trish works out there. Hope she's OK....

70 Car Wreck In Phoenix

Weather plus speed: no good!

North Isn't Always The Best Option

When I was looking for "Breaking Bad" filming locations around Albuquerque, NM, at the end of July, I began pondering why it was that I knew so little about Santa Ana Pueblo. It shouldn't be that big a mystery: it's right next to Bernalillo.

Nevertheless, in part because of its small size, and in part because it's off the main roads, I couldn't remember ever having gone through Santa Ana Pueblo. So, I decided on a plan: use Google maps on my i-Phone to help me drive through the Santa Ana reservation in my little rent-a-car. All I had to do was keep driving north, and everything would be OK.

I kept having the sensation I had been here before. Maybe I had, when I was a kid, or maybe I was confusing it with a trip through Pena Blanca, also when I was a kid.

Now, I know intellectually that this notable landmark is the core of an extinct volcano. Nevertheless, when I was a kid, my father told me it was a monster that had been frozen into stone. No matter what anyone says, for me, it will always be a monster frozen into stone.

The Church at Santa Ana.

I crossed the ditch into agricultural fields, lost the pavement, started travelling a dirt road, and kept heading north.

A magnificent alfalfa field!

I startled what appeared to be a colony of Gunnison's Prairie Dogs.

Nevertheless, the road deteriorated, fast. The car was in danger of getting stuck. I also discovered that, despite Google Maps' prediction that exits existed to Old Highway 85, these exits were barred and locked. Google Maps promised that if I just kept going north, more exits would appear. This began sounding suspiciously like the way the Spanish explorer Coronado was enticed to look for the Seven Cities of Cibola in the infinity of the Great Plains.

So, there was only one sound recourse left: head south!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

TRU Nuisance

There is a semi-trailer parked over by the cemetery behind my house. It appeared over the weekend and it's been there for more than 24 hours. The semi-trailer possesses a TRU (transport refrigeration unit), and I can smell the Diesel emissions at my house.

Here at work, I've modeled TRU Diesel emissions for air quality purposes, and they have a surprisingly-high health impact. I am annoyed. I mean, what kind of cargo could a transport have that would be of such overriding importance that you would have to keep it refrigerated for more than a day while parked next to a cemetery?

It occurs to me that maybe I don't really want to know the answer to that question....

100 Decibels

Today, I continued working on the front porch. I managed to prime it for painting before sunset arrived. Meanwhile, Joe the Plumber, who helped build the back porch in 2007, thought the back porch was aging faster than he liked, and so he's bracing it up, and preparing it for subsequent painting.

Tonight, it's quieter than usual near where I work; what's become almost a nightclub district, in Midtown Sacramento. Two weeks ago, during the 'Second Saturday' artwalk, the area became a complete zoo, and was filled with drunken pedestrians.

As I drove home two weeks ago during 'Second Saturday', I crossed J Street at 19th Street, through a throng of people gathered near the Plum Blossom restaurant at the corner. It was 2 a.m.: bar-closing time. I could see several young women shouting vigorously at people across the street. What were they shouting? I decided to roll down my car's window as I passed by, so I could hear what was on the minds of Sacramento's young women on J Street at 2 a.m.

As I passed by, I caught her emphatic statement at full, 100 decibel, jet-engine volume: "F*** YOU!"

Reminds me a lot of when I was her age....

Quid Pro Quo

J.: Do you understand everything as I revealed it to you?

M.: I don't understand why the U.S. Government would cooperate with an invasion of aliens from outer space. I mean, what's in it for Uncle Sam?

J.: It's been going on for years. The U.S. Government gets access to the most-advanced technology. In exchange, the aliens get access to human subjects, for experimentation.

M.: Oh!