Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sacramento Ballet "Family Fun"

Left: "Western Hoe Down". Stefan Calka and Brik Middlekauff.

Delightful time with the Sacramento Ballet folks!

Chrisopher Nachtrab hosted, along with Alex Stewart. Both were fun hosts, and perfectly-suited to the task.

The last time I recall seeing Alex Stewart was as 'Benjamin' in DMTC's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", in January, 2006. It's amazing - he's all grown up now!

And he brought his brother, Tim, along, as well as some musical theater people too. Tim Stewart sang 'Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo' as several baseball players danced, including the wondrous Cory Betts, and the unexpected Sean Patrick Nill. The point of the dance was that dancing isn't just about ballet; it extends to musical theater too, and many other places too.

Left: Cats love to give autographs (Isha Lloyd and Rex Wheeler).
Left: Mice come out at Christmas!
Left: Meet a Ballerina!
Left: Alexandra Cunningham as "Alice in Wonderland"

There were several kid-pleasing dances at this event, but the dance that seemed to be the kids' hands-down favorite was arguably the most-sophisticated too. Alexandra Cunningham danced Nolan T'Sani's "Ballet du Murphy" ('Murphy' as in Murphy's Law - whatever can go wrong will go wrong) as the sincere, near-sighted black swan in a judgmental corps de ballet adhering to exacting ballet style. Similar to "An Evening With Olaf" that I blogged about last week, children just love seeing adults placed in situations that children have to deal with all the time: trying to excel and please their superiors in a world biased against them. T'Sani's work must also convey to children what ballet style consists of, and it was clear from the way even the youngest the kids "got it" than T'Sani completely succeeded!

Left: Alexander Biber as "Cheshire Cat"
Left: Roberto Cisneros and Alexandra Cunningham hold court.
Left: Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Roy Gan and Sunchai Muy).
Left: Roberto Cisneros and Alexandra Cunningham hold court.

Left: Hands-on costuming allows every kid to wear a tiara!

Jetta Reports From "America's Got Talent"

Garbled phone call, but the essence was: "It's crazy here! There's an Elvis, a Woman Elvis, a mime..."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ellen Allien - Magma

From 'The Gallery' from "The Doorway".

CORE - "The Doorway"

Tonight was the premiere of CORE's "The Doorway", and what a magnificent show it is!

Various dancers roamed the lobby, hallways, and house, before the show. Some were garish, but all behaved in abrupt, inexplicable ways. Perfect for Halloween!

As Artistic Director Kelli Leighton explains in the program regarding her inspiration:
I was inspired by the challenge of utilizing a different movement quality and motivation, as well as the unique architecture and personality of the Victorian houses in Midtown Sacramento. The relationships existing behind closed doors, along with the idea of "if walls could talk", created endless possibilities for me.
You could see Kelli's inspiration made real tonight!

Nevertheless, the jet black of the backdrop and wing curtains created a different sensation for me. I felt something subterranean, then realized that the dance was tapping into a recurring dream I've been having about multiple levels of a sort of rotting purgatory existing below my house (my house isn't Victorian, but it is 102 years old). CORE's show was creeping me out at some deep, subconscious level.

The audience was very enthusiastic. As I overheard one audience member say: "Dope! Really dope! Hella inspired!"

I did not realize until tonight that Christina Day has joined the company. Karen and Mike were there tonight, and it was great seeing them! What a good dancer she is!

Did Blair get married, or does she have an alter-ego? I know her as Blair Kendall, but she is listed in the program as Blair Cacanando. She's great, whatever her fuzzy, doppelganger identity might be.

Go see the show! Buy tickets!

Jake Montoya in The Doorway.

Andrew Hopper in The Doorway.

Loving Victorian-style decorations filled the lobby and hallways.

CORE's "The Doorway" Premieres Tonight!

It will be wonderful!

Visit their Web Site! Buy tickets!

Vote "Yes" On Measure B

Left: Marc's monthly Sacramento residential utility bill, with fitted curves (lower two lines; amounts in dollars), vs. the Consumer Price Index (July 1983 = 100), with fitted curves (upper two lines).

Generally, I'm a pretty predictable lefty type, but on recent increases in Sacramento utility rates, I'm swinging right this election. This is why.

Last January, I did an analysis showing that, since 1997 (when I started paying the bill directly and started paying attention), Sacramento utility rates have always increased faster than the cost-of-living. There may have been good reasons for this small disparity (e.g., garbage was increasingly shipped to Nevada during this period).

The difference between the increase in utility rates and the consumer price index (CPI) was rather small, however (1 to 2%), until the most recent recession started. Then, WHAM! Now, things are hog-wild out-of-control, and I don't know precisely why (now increasing at more than 6% difference).

Left: Annual rate of increase of Marc's monthly Sacramento residential utility bill, and the Consumer Price Index (July 1983 = 100).

Results seem to fall naturally into four periods:

  • December 1997 through December 2004: The monthly utility bill is increasing faster than the CPI by about 1.3%;
  • December 2004 through September 2008: The monthly utility bill increase accelerates, so that it is increasing faster than the CPI by about 2.3%;
  • September 2008 through December 2008: That brief period when it all hit the fan - the monthly utility bill didn't change, but the CPI collapsed, so that the difference in rates is about 12%;
  • December 2008 through the present: The monthly bill is increasing faster than the CPI by about 6.3%.
These numbers are unsustainable and provocative and it's no surprise a utility customer rebellion is imminent in Sacramento. Why are rates increasing so radically, when recent efforts, like the rollout of green waste containers, is aimed at a slow reduction in customer service?

By and large, the candidates are loathe to address this issue. For District 5, both Patrick Kennedy and Jay Schenirer do not want Measure B to pass, because it would deprive them of discretion once they assume office. Nevertheless, Measure B is not a radical solution: not like Proposition 13 was at the state level. Measure B merely arrests the rate increases and ties them to the CPI - velvet handcuffs, if you will.

In "Inside The City", Craig Powell has been writing all year regarding utility rates. In the September issue, he writes:
City officials are running a scare campaign against Measure B, misusing your tax and utility dollars to campaign against a citizens’ initiative. The council has even gone so far as to approve grossly confusing ballot language for Measure B with the cynical hope that confused voters will oppose the measure. The city’s improper campaign activities only make the case for Measure B that much more compelling. Measure B is critically needed to rein in a city government that is becoming less and less responsive to the public interest.

Will canceling a 9.2 percent rate hike that is only three months old “bankrupt” city utilities as critics would have you believe? Result in environmental disasters? Lead to systematic breakdowns in basic utilities services? Of course not. It will, however, require city utilities to operate more efficiently, to rein in exploding employee benefit costs and unwarranted pay hikes that have been the prime drivers of higher rates, and to bring to a halt, once and for all, the illegal raids on utility funds that have been driving up rates for years, as recently reported by the
Sacramento County grand jury.
For myself, I'm not worried about any 'illegal raids' on utility funds (they apparently were used to deal with illegal dumping - a problem that will always be with us). I am worried, however, about an unsustainable course of conduct by the City of Sacramento. It's got to stop! Better to stop now!

Vote "Yes" on Measure B!

Latinos Responsible For Brown's Sudden Polling Surge

In the first major nonpartisan survey since a series of statewide televised debates and revelations of Whitman's hiring and firing of an undocumented Mexican immigrant maid, Brown has 44 percent of likely voters to 36 percent for Whitman, with 16 percent undecided and other candidates drawing 4 percent, the poll showed.

That marks a significant shift in the race after months of being virtually tied. The last poll by the organization, in September, showed Whitman leading Brown 38 to 37 percent. The new poll of 2,002 adults was taken Oct. 10-17, a period that included the candidates' third debate. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Who is responsible for Jerry Brown's sudden lead? Inquiring minds want to know! So I went to the PPIC reports....

I couldn't find the exact chart I wanted in this report, so I made my own chart, based on the report's data, and data from the two previous PPIC reports. Just three polling periods (July, September, October).

This chart shows Brown and Whitman support (in units of percent), first amongst the general electorate, and then amongst Latinos.

I told you, Meg! You should have told Nicky Diaz something other than:
"From now on you don't know me, and I don't know you. You never have seen me and I have never seen you. Do you understand me?"

Who Can Keep Up With The Blogs?

Interesting site. It opens one blog after another, every few seconds, so you can gloss over the entire blogosphere from the comfort of your basement blog couch, until you run out of popcorn or your eyes glaze over....

Living Like A Primitive

I like B3ta's 'Question of the Week'. I rarely make it to the 'best' page, but sometimes there is interesting repartee.

Last week, the question was:
Things to do before you die. Tell us what's on your wish list, and why.
My response was:
I'd like to live like a primitive.

I'd like to live off the land for awhile. Walk around the desert, coax water out of dessicated plants, eat berries, and hunt small game.

I live like a primitive now, of course, but it's all different: empty pizza boxes scattered around, no one's cleaned the bathroom in eons, no underwear, etc.
A reader replied:
Definitely go for it mate.

Once upon a time i turned myself in, from scary London to the barren plains of south Portugal. Sleeping under the stars, eating what we either grew, foraged or caught. Building a farm in the middle of nowhere, Mad Max style, practicaly from dust and spit, with a bunch of random travellers. No city lights for dozens of miles, the rough spires of the atlantic ocean in hearing distance.

First week or so a total breakdown, urban poison screaming for its foul burbling well. Second, you will start toughening up, not be afraid of the grubby spikiness, enjoying the monkey diet. After that, the whole mind starts to shift. Relentless hard labour, overwhelming natural sights and the rhytm and texture of wild nature take effect. It is rather not happiness as we know it, the appreciation of something special and unexpected pleasing us. Much deeper. You had arrived, finally, where nothing abstract and overpowering machine rules your destiny. Well, nature does now, but then, she is you. Start walking barefoot, after a few months, get used to the sun. Find little favourite places to worship and leave subtle signs of liking them. Draw martian space maps in the sand, stickfight a dead tree, walk the valley alone for a few days. Be kind and humble with the new ones, honest and close with those you know. Tribal integrity brrap.

Or roam the land, picking up sights, words, and random little wonders as you pass. Feel the unceasing love of nature, be welcomed by strangers, see the system with no chance, nor will to interact, and the need to abuse it. Get stuck in suburbia, maybe squat an empty house, or find spaced-out hippie folks. Realize you swapped steady food and showers for the need to eat useless crap and picking up a country weeks dirt in a day. Then finally be entirely dysfunctional upon return to these orwellian techno-mobs. Have your smile crushed out of your face, claws and hair pulled out, tan sanded down, by the hasty, impersonal crowd. Maybe end up a bum for some time. Bury your absolutes once again, in a place well remembered, and grow up once again. Know it is all but a play.

Every wave you break
Every poo you take
Every tree you shake
Every she you stake
I'll be nudging you

Apparently Part Of A How-To Series

Didn't Pay Much Attention To The Juan Williams Thing

But it's becoming interesting now:
Cantor said in a statement that NPR’s decision to fire Williams was an example of "over-reaching political correctness."

"In light of their rash decision, we will include termination of federal funding for NPR as an option in the YouCut program so that Americans can let it be known whether they want their dollars going to that organization," he said.

Cantor's decision follows a chorus of Republican calls to defund NPR, which they believe leans too far to the left for a news organization that is partially dependent on federal dollars.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Thursday that he is introducing legislation to defund NPR in the upper chamber and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) is renewing a push for his bill that he introduced in June to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees NPR.
And old accusations resurface:
"Seven women said in on-the-record interviews yesterday that Williams had repeatedly made hostile and sexually explicit comments to them, in some cases over a period of several years," the Post's Howard Kurtz wrote in a Nov. 2, 1991 piece. "All of them said they believed the comments were meant to embarrass them, not an attempt to date them, and most said that Williams persisted despite their protests."

Playing Mr. Potato Head With Simon

Since Jetta's taking the Greyhound bus today to audition for "America's Got Talent" in LA, this handy little game comes in - uh, handy.

One "Funny" Blog

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Take That, You Litigious Brits!

Meanwhile, on the legal frontier, where the stakes are so small as to approach infinitesimal, and where blogging rights must be protected at all costs, they have received my oh-so-important letter:
Hello Marc,

We are in receipt of your counter notification letter regarding:

Upon presenting the original complainant with your counter notification letter, they have 10 business days to notify us that they have filed an action seeking a court order to further restrain your allegedly infringing activity. If we do not receive such notice from the original complainant in 10 days, we will permit you to reinstate the material in question. In addition if we do not receive further notice from the original complainant we will clear your account of the offence in question.

The Blogger Team

I Love Spam

Ahem. I think they call this blogging. I'm already fruitfully employed, at the rate of $0.00/hour:
Hello, I'm MM and I would like to offer you a job, a new type of Data Entry Job. Our program is very simple process. You type, and you get paid. The more you type, the more you get paid.

Maniac At The Roseville Galleria

Just what we need - an out-of-control firebug:
ROSEVILLE - Police have a suspect in custody after a standoff and fire at the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, but the danger isn't over. A thick plume of smoke was pouring out of the roof, but firefighters were kept from going inside because of a backpack the man left behind and the possibility of an explosive device.

...For more than four hours, smoke was pouring from the roof of the mall, even though sprinklers were activated inside. Division Fire Chief Dennis Matheson said crews were kept from the fire because the bomb squad had not given an all-clear signal.

Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt said crews are battling the flames from outside the mall, and it appears the fire has moved from Macy's to Nordstrom. There is also significant flooding reported on the first floor.

Whitt said he's paged off-duty firefighters from Placer and Sacramento counties to head to the galleria to assist in the battle.

Whitt stressed the importance of police and firefighters working under a unified command and said, "The one thing we want to do as firefighters is to make sure we do not destroy evidence on the scene."

Mall Evacuated

The mall was evacuated Thursday morning after a man started a fire inside an electronics store on the second floor, then barricaded himself.

A man who was speaking incoherently went into the GameStop store around 10:30 a.m., according to Roseville police. Store employees told police the man started a fire in the store and he claimed to be armed.

Police say the man barricaded himself in an area just outside the store and started several other fires before he was arrested.

Investigators have yet to announce the suspect's identity. A detective said the man would be charged with arson, though additional charges may be filed.

Staring At Spots

Portion of caption: Surface fault rupture illustrated by bold red line to the south of the mainshock. Photo, GNS Science.

I've been staring at this map of the various epicenters of earthquake shocks in and around Christchurch during the month of September, trying to discern a pattern. I don't like anything that seems to point at, or lead to, the Banks Peninsula (on the right; an extinct volcanic caldera), like this fault seems to. Not that anyone is suggesting anything is becoming active, or anything. But New Zealand is a very active place geologically! Certainly the country west of Christchurch, in and about Darfield, is some of the rockingest country going on the Earth right now!

Fun Election So Far For Odd Names

The story from Illinois of the Green Party candidate, Rich Whitney, being placed on the ballot as Rich Whitey, was precious.

I also like the fact that the Caucasian Wingnut is a real tree:
But some simple googling showed that if this is a put-on someone has spent a ton of time posting spoof pages on tons of arboreal and nursery websites around the world. More than 16,000 according to Google. So I'm going with the Caucasian Wingnut being the real thing.

Prevention As A Talisman

So be it:
(CNN) -- Some headlines are hailing her as the bravest woman in Mexico. Marisol Valles Garcia, all of 20 years old, says she's just tired of everyone being afraid.

Valles Garcia, a criminology student, became the police chief this week of Praxedis G. Guerrero, one of the most violent municipalities in the border state of Chihuahua. She was the only person who accepted the top job in a police force whose officers have been abducted and even killed.

"Yes, there is fear," Valles Garcia said Wednesday in an interview with CNN en Español. "It's like all human beings. There will always be fear, but what we want to achieve in our municipality is tranquility and security."

...Valles Garcia sees a non-violent role for her 13-member force, which will be mostly female and unarmed.

"The weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention," she told CNN en Español. "Our work will be pure prevention. We are not going to be doing anything else other than prevention."

Valles Garcia said she aims to establish programs in neighborhoods and schools, to win back security in public spaces and to foster greater cooperation among neighbors so they can form watch committees.

She has recruited three other women to join the force in the small municipality of 8,500 people, the government-run Notimex news agency said this week.

Valles Garcia said Wednesday she gladly accepted when Mayor Jose Luis Guerrero offered her the job. The first couple of days have gone smoothly, she said.

"Truthfully, we have been very tranquil," she said. "The people have received us very well. They have even supported us. They say it's a great project and they will be with us 100 percent."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jetta's Going To "America's Got Talent" Auditions In LA This Weekend

I hope they are ready for her!

Burning Man And Research Topics

Research usually makes dry reading. Then there's this stuff:
Where some see feminist freedom in the topless bike ride, researcher Wendy Clupper saw a dissertation. Watching the same parade eight years earlier, she couldn't help noticing the dichotomy between female empowerment and male lust.

Her paper, "The Performance Culture of Burning Man," earned Clupper a doctoral degree in performance arts from the University of Maryland. Since then her essays on Burning Man have been reprinted in two books, including an analysis of the bike ride that Neko found so exhilarating.

That puts Clupper among a growing list of sociologists, business professors, theologians and other scholars who view the event's mix of hipsters, artisans, zany theme camps and outdoor art gallery as more than a party. They see fertile ground for research.

...For Cal State Northridge religion and anthropology teacher Lee Gilmore, the draw was the spiritual nature of the festival. In her new book, "Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man," Gilmore explores the rituals, elaborate costumes, temples and fires of Burning Man and asks why the festival sometimes "smells like religion."

...Clupper's decision to use Burning Man for her studies was easy, she said.

"You'd never see this much art in a gallery. You'd be hard-pressed to find this many artisans in any performance space in the world," said Clupper, who runs an avant-garde theater in San Francisco. "And yet you can come to one place and be inundated by it for one week."

...Festival-goers are encouraged to be "radically self-reliant," bringing in everything needed to survive the harsh desert climate and then leaving without a trace. They observe a "gift economy," sharing food, cocktails, back rubs, even solar showers. Commerce is not allowed, except sales of ice and coffee. There's no advertising, and admission is $300, whether for a day or a week.

...One professor concluded that Burning Man is an "organizational mutant," not quite a business or a nonprofit, that has found a way to stage an anything-goes festival that is both highly organized and financially self-sustaining.

...Chen, the sociologist, said it was neither too hierarchical nor too loose in structure. Ideas come from its large volunteer ranks or from participants, who then find the muscle and cash to make it work (a recycling camp came about this way). Besides providing infrastructure, the festival's small, year-round staff offers grants for large artworks and coordinates off-site projects, such as Burners Without Borders, a nonprofit that helps out in disasters.

Chen's 2009 book, "Enabling Creative Chaos," looks at the event's success in detail.

"You have volunteers ranging from followers of punk-rock circuses to scientists working for NASA," she said. "They like the freedom of finding their place instead of being told what to do."

To Gilmore, the Cal State Northridge lecturer, the festival is an ideal laboratory for exploring the nature of religion. Burning Man, she said, shows how spiritual feelings emerge in settings not typically defined as religious.

Many "burners" — as regulars are known — view the week-ending ritual of torching the effigy as a deeply meaningful climax. A temple that is built each year for people to leave notes for lost ones, and then ritually burned, can also be viewed in a religious light, she said.

Useful Advice For A Rattled Citizenry

View Larger Map

I like the support various governmental entities offer the citizens of Christchurch after the September 4th earthquake, and its aftershocks.

Here, for example, Environment Canterbury, Community and Public Health, Christchurch City Council and Waimakariri District Council all suggest avoiding contact with Avon River water downstream of the City Center, due to a number of sewage line breaks. The coasts (in blue) are OK, though, with the southern half of the Avon/Heathcote estuary (in yellow) OK at high tide, but not at low tide.

Murderous Mountain Goat

I remember how John and I and several others went to the Pecos Wilderness in NM in - when was it? 1975? - and discovered that the Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep babies were not only lovable, but approachable and friendly too.

I guess it doesn't apply to all sheep/goats:
Robert H. Boardman set out on a hike Saturday with his wife and a friend on an Olympic National Park trail popular because it is short, beautiful and close to town.

The Port Angeles man never completed it.

Boardman, 63, died after trying to shoo away a mountain goat at the top of Klahhane Ridge, about four miles north of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, National Park Service officials said Sunday.

...Other acquaintances — Jessica and Bill Baccus and their three children — were hiking the same trail. When they reached the saddle at the top of the trail, they found Willits, frantic and cellphone in hand. Willits told them a mountain goat had attacked Boardman and that the goat wouldn't let people get near him.

Boardman was lying motionless farther up the trail, about 100 feet away, while the animal stood over him, Jessica Baccus said.

"The mountain goat was terribly aggressive," she said. "It wouldn't move. It stared us down."

Hollow Acapulco

Seeing that I'll be heading to Mazatlan in a month, today's article in the Bee regarding Acapulco made me nervous:
ACAPULCO, Mexico — Rival criminal gangs have hijacked this glitzy-but-faded Pacific resort, where the Hollywood Rat Pack once sipped martinis, Elvis filmed a musical comedy, Elizabeth Taylor wed (again) and starlets danced the night away.

Acapulco's newest arrivals are drug lords, and residents now cower from shootouts and keep a watch out for severed heads. Some visitors to the city simply vanish. Gunmen seized 20 Mexican men in broad daylight on Sept. 30. They haven't been seen since.

Occupancy rates have plummeted along the ghostly boulevard of beachfront hotels. Restaurants sit empty — or shuttered up.

..."Everybody seems to be armed," said Areli Garcia Santana, a 22-year-old orthodontics student. "There are gunfights all over."

Even residents accustomed to the growing violence are spooked.

"Acapulco is on its back. People see the security situation as very bad. After 10 at night, there's fear," said Victor Diaz Juarez, a social scientist at the National Autonomous University of Guerrero.

During winter months, cruise ships still call in Acapulco, arriving from San Francisco and beyond. In recent years, Acapulco has revived in March as a favored spring-break destination. At other times of the year, though, foreign tourists keep their distance, wary of the deteriorating public safety.

Rather than blame drug-related violence for Acapulco's woes, hotel owners frequently accuse the media and citizenry of failing to protect the port's image, even denying that security is a problem.

"Why satanize a destination like Acapulco, where we live exclusively from tourism?" asked Javier Saldivar, the head of the National Chamber of Commerce in Acapulco.

"If you walk along the Miguel Aleman Coastline (Boulevard) or along the beach, there are plenty of law enforcement officers."

Diaz, the university professor, said the presence of police only obscured the deepening corruption in Acapulco's social fabric. Many of the cops are on the take from the cartels, he said.

"You see a lot of police cruisers pass along, designed so that tourists don't get scared, but the truth is there is no control," Diaz said.

At least three narcotics bands dispute power over Acapulco's strategic port: remnants of the Beltran Leyva cartel, Los Zetas and the Familia Michoacana.

In a brazen broad-daylight shootout on April 14, gunmen killed six people and wounded five others along the landscaped main boulevard in the tourist district, shattering hotel windows and triggering a chain of auto accidents with the blaze of automatic weapons fire. Among the victims were a woman and her 8-year-old daughter, the apparent targets.

...It was the daylight abduction, though, of a group of 20 men near a church on Sept. 30 that truly laid bare some of the crosscurrents of violence that rack the city.

The men, ranging in age from 17 to 47, were from the state of Michoacan, where drug lords' influence is vast. Many locals dismissed the vehement claims of family members that the victims were tourists, suggesting instead that they were hit men deployed for the battles raging in the city. The underlying message: Good riddance.

"Acapulco society does not believe that they were tourists," Saldivar said.

While it may offer consolation that tourists aren't vanishing, the arrival of vehicles filled with cartel hit men can't help Acapulco burnish a faded image as the former glamour resort of Mexico.

...A lawmaker who heads the tourism committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Carlos Manuel Joaquin, chided the federal tourism secretary at a hearing for playing down security concerns that affect tourism. When a journalist contacted him later, Joaquin took a different tone, however, suggesting that beheadings, shootouts and abductions in Acapulco didn't make it unsafe for tourists.

Will La Niña Mean A Dry Winter In The Southwest?

Cool equator there in the Pacific! Great! It's part of the magic of La Niña.

La Niña tends to mean dry times in the American Southwest, but so far that dryness isn't showing up. It's been only slightly drier than normal lately in the Southwest, with the South and the Mississippi River Valley instead catching the dryness. The good news - no hurricanes so far this year in the South - also means lower-than-normal rainfall there. A double-edged sword! In addition, the Southwest should see precipitation in the time remaining for October. There is a system rolling across the Southwest even now! So, there is a bit of cognitive dissonance on the climate front right now.

Nevertheless, the three-month outlook is still for dryness in the southern U.S., from coast-to-coast, but with major dryness in the Southwest.

We'll see!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Farmville Can't Be Bigger Than Mordor - Can It?


A clock starts ticking:
Pacific Investment Management Co., BlackRock Inc. and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are seeking to force Bank of America Corp. to repurchase soured mortgages packaged into $47 billion of bonds by its Countrywide Financial Corp. unit, people familiar with the matter said.

A group of bondholders wrote a letter to Bank of America and Bank of New York Mellon Corp., the debt’s trustee, citing alleged failures by Countrywide to service loans properly, their lawyer said yesterday in a statement that didn’t name the firms. The New York Fed acquired mortgage debt through its 2008 rescues of Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc.

Investors are stepping up efforts to recoup losses on mortgage bonds, which plummeted in value amid the worst slump in home prices since the 1930s. Last month, BNY Mellon declined to investigate mortgage files in response to a demand from the bondholder group, which has since expanded. Countrywide’s servicing failures, including insufficient record keeping, may open the door for investors to seek repurchases by bypassing the trustee, said Kathy Patrick, their lawyer at Gibbs & Bruns LLP.

“We now are in a position where we have to start a clock ticking,” Patrick, who is based in Houston, said today in a telephone interview.

If the issues aren’t fixed within 60 days, BNY Mellon should declare Countrywide in default on its servicing contracts, Patrick said.

...Bank of America said in an August securities filing it had been dealing with a “very limited” number of requests to repurchase bad loans out of securities other than from bond guarantors. Capital One Financial Corp. Chief Financial Officer Gary Perlin said on a conference call today it has “seen virtually no repurchase activity from” home loans it sold into uninsured bonds from 2005 through 2008.

Mortgage-bond contracts are explicit in requiring repurchases of loans when their quality fails to match sellers’ promises, said Scott Simon, Pimco’s head of mortgage bonds. The contracts also call for trustees and servicers to ask lenders to take back debt under those circumstances, he said.

“They’re contractually required to enforce the reps and warranties,” Simon said today in a telephone interview. He declined to comment on his firm’s actions.

China Grabs America By The 'Nads

The New York Times is reporting that, as of Monday, China has started blocking shipments of rare earth minerals to the United States. As HTWW readers are by now well aware, rare earth minerals are crucial to the manufacture of clean energy technology products and strategically sensitive military hardware, but China currently has a near-total monopoly on their production.

If true, China's move is flabbergasting. In the present politically charged climate of U.S.-China relations, it is hard to imagine a more provocative gesture. If China wanted to prove that it is indeed, as Paul Krugman charged in his column on Monday, a "rogue economic nation," this is exactly how to go about it. I can't think of a better way to gin up bipartisan U.S. support for punitive tariffs against Chinese products than to engage in a selective blockade of rare earth minerals, mere weeks after attracting scads of negative attention for wielding exactly the same kind of heavy handed trade policy against Japan. The kindling necessary for a hot-burning trade war is already piled up and ready. China just threw a match on it.

Don't Vote

Here is an English translation of a video currently running on Latino television in Nevada. Wow!

To explain the obvious, if you vote, you have a voice, however small, in determining how your interests will be served. You may not always get your way; you may even seldom get your way, but at least you have a voice. Politicians watch with the greatest interest to see who votes, and carefully tailor their behavior based on that information. If you do not vote, however, you get no voice at all, and your interests can be safely ignored. And believe me, your interests WILL be ignored!

(The ad is the work of Robert Desposada, a Republican political consultant and Univision pundit.)

[UPDATE: And the ad is swiftly withdrawn!:
A Republican-backed ad campaign urging Hispanics not to vote next month has been yanked by a radio station following a protest led by Nevada Democrats.

Univision told The Associated Press on Tuesday the spot was pulled from its Las Vegas Spanish-language radio station Tuesday shortly after its debut.

Univision also says it will not run a companion ad on its Spanish-language TV broadcasting network and will continue to encourage Hispanics to vote.

The Republican group Latinos for Reform had planned to run the commercials in Nevada, Florida, California, Texas and Colorado.

Founder Robert de Posada says Democrats promised immigration reform to Hispanics to get elected in 2008, then ignored the issue. He says Hispanics should punish both political parties by sitting out the election.
Pointing out to Mr. de Posada the obvious: If all Latinos don't vote, it doesn't punish the political parties one little bit. The politicians understand the message. No participation just means that Latinos will have no say whatsoever in establishing the policies aimed directly at them. Political eunuchs get no say. Zeroes get no say. No say AT ALL! Is that clear? ]

Another Eastbound Vehicle Strikes Pedestrians During Morning

Two weeks ago it was on K Street. Now it's on Broadway. It's the Sun, I tell you. Someone needs to ban it:
Two teenagers have been taken to the hospital with major injuries after they were both hit while crossing a busy Sacramento street.

The accident happened just before 8 a.m. on eastbound Broadway near 39th Street. The teens, both 17, were walking to American Legion High School when, witnesses say, they were hit while crossing Broadway.

PC Down Under Update

A bit brainless maybe, but no disrespect intended:
New Zealand's brain injury charity says it didn't mean to cause offence by planning a "zombie walk" to raise money for victims of brain damage.

The charity and the event's organisers have come under fire after inviting participants to dress up and "channel their inner zombie", declaring "seeing zombies have been eating brains all these years, we figured it's time we gave back".

Still Baffled By The Duffy DMCA Takedown Notice

All I did was post a YouTube video: no music-sharing, no music files, not even any commentary. And the video, uploaded by Polydor Records, is still there on YouTube, still embeddable, and has logged nearly 3 million views in three years.

So, whatup?

(You know what? I'm going to fight this....)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chilean Mine Rescue: The Pop Culture Aftermath

Like Jerry says: "Well, it was bound to happen, but THIS fast?"

Reality Show

Video Game (concept)

Big Aftershock Hits Christchurch

More rockin' and rollin' on the South Island: even Diamond Harbour got a 3.7!:
A severe aftershock rattled Canterbury this morning, causing power cuts and sparking evacuations in parts of Christchurch.

Frightened inner-city workers fled their offices after a 5.0 magnitude earthquake rattled already frayed nerves in Canterbury this morning at 11.32am. It struck 10 kilometres south-west of Christchurch at a depth of 9km, GNS Science said.

...Frazzled nerves were further strained when a 3.8 magnitude aftershock struck at 1.24pm, less than half an hour after many evauated offices and shops in the central city had reopened. It was a shallow quake centred 20km south west of Christchurch at a depth of 5km.

Page said before the 7.1 Christchurch quake, a magnitude 5.0 would have been considered a large quake for New Zealand.

...The aftershock gave two workers suspended above Christ Church Cathedral "a life changing experience'' this morning.

Ben West of Stoneworks and John Hare of Holmes Consulting were suspended from a crane on a platform inspecting a stone cross on the southern gable of the cathedral when the aftershock struck.

Hare hung onto the stone cross as it swayed back and forth, while West gripped onto the stone gable.

"We just shared a life changing experience, that was all,'' quipped Hare.

West and Paul Cullinane of Stoneworks later removed the large stone cross, which had been deemed unsafe even before the aftershock struck.

...Fiona Fidow at the Cupcake Collection in Westfield Mall, Riccarton, said it was the second biggest shock they had felt since the original quake.

"This was very loud, very strong shaking. All our china is smashed in our kiosk. The mall alarms are going off and the mall has been evacuated. Quite a few people are crying and hysterical. There are a lot of frightened people."

...Halswell School principal Bruce Topham said the only new damage he discovered was more liquefaction, which had come out of a crack ripped through the field in the September 4 quake. Staff and pupils were all OK, he said.

The aftershock has caused more liquefaction in the suburb of Hoon Hay, one of the worst-hit areas in the 7.1 quake.

Resident Alex Mitchell said he returned home 15 minutes after the quake hit and "stuff was still pouring out of the ground".

"It's exploded everywhere. If we'd been home at the time we could have got some really impressive pictures," he said.

Four other quakes this morning preceded the 5.0 tremor. A 4.0 magnitude quake struck at 10.54am, 20km south-west of Christchurch.

A 3.3 quake hit 10km west of Kaiapoi at 9.43am, a 2.8 hit 10km east of Darfield at 7.48am, and another 2.8 hit 10km south of Christchurch at 3.19am.

Minutes after the 5.0, a magnitude 3.7 quake struck 10km east of Diamond Harbour at 11.41am.
Below, liquefaction in Hoon Hay.

So This Is How The World Works?

So how did the foreclosure mess get so messy?:
To accommodate the massive amount of paperwork and litigation involved with its business model, MERSCORP simply farms out the MERS, Inc. identity to employees of mortgage servicers, originators, debt collectors, and foreclosure law firms. Instead, MERS invites financial companies to enter names of their own employees into a MERS webpage which then automatically regurgitates boilerplate “corporate resolutions” that purport to name the employees of other companies as “certifying officers” of MERS. These certifying officers also take job titles from MERS stylizing themselves as either assistant secretaries or vice presidents of the MERS, rather than the company that actually employs them. These employees of the servicers, debt collectors, and law firms sign documents pretending to be vice presidents or assistant secretaries of MERS, Inc. even though neither MERSCORP, Inc. nor MERS, Inc. pays any compensation or provides benefits to them. Astonishingly, MERS “vice presidents” are simply paralegals, customer service representatives, and foreclosure attorneys employed by other companies. MERS even sells its corporate seal to non-employees on its internet web page for $25.00 each. Ironically, MERS, Inc.—a company that pretends to own 60% of the nation’s residential mortgages—does not have any of its own employees but still purports to have “thousands” of assistant secretaries and vice presidents.

Lady Liberty

Voter registration efforts at the Sacramento Convention Center.

Sharron Angle On Race

Maybe a bit confused?:
"So that's what we want is a secure and sovereign nation and, you know, I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don't know that. [Note: it's the Hispanic Student Union. The whole room is Hispanic teenagers.] What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I'm evidence of that. I've been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly."

Not Even A Hose Can Wash Away The Mud

"An Evening With Olaf"

A very pleasant hour-long fundraiser for Davis' Cesar Chavez Elementary School at DMTC on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Olaf the Clown is played by Paul, the father of one of the children at the school.

Because of their general immaturity and social incompetence, children often find themselves in awkward situations. They are always falling down and bumping into things. Adults yell at them all the time for their failure to notice obvious dangers and pitfalls. They can't even tie their shoes properly. It is frustrating to be a child.

Children find particular delight in finding adults who are even more awkward than they are. Olaf the Clown is one such adult.

Olaf performed several skits: e.g., several dances, a magic act, eating popcorn, a tango with a mop, conducting an orchestra. Turning society's tables, the children often shouted gratuitous advice about Olaf's failings to him, often to hilarious effect, as Olaf reacted in silly ways.

This turf has been worked before, of course: Red Skelton comes to mind. But it's inexhaustible, timeless turf. The roots of vaudeville are here.

I thought the skits were excellent, but that the kids didn't quite follow the tango with the mop. First you have to explain tango, and why you would want to dance a tango anyway, etc. But the kids kept their focus nonetheless, and rejoined the flow with conducting the orchestra. (Which you would think would also have to be explained, but apparently not. I mean, no one has yet explained to me why an orchestra needs conducting anyway. Yes, it's true, I still can't tie my shoes properly.)

This same, gentle comedic approach works with adults too. Nothing frightened adults over the last decade more than Al Qaeda. Jeff Denham's "Achmed the Dead Terrorist" act poked the gentlest fun at all that. I mean, what could possibly be less frightening than a dead terrorist?

Really, "An Evening With Olaf" is a superior show!

Willow Smith - "Whip My Hair"

Awesome hip-hop! And she's only nine years old?

She's got the Hollywood connections: Willow is the daughter of Will and Jada Smith. Concentrate all that Tinseltown candlepower and cinematic skill on a talented youngster, and - OMIGOD!

(Life in the fast lane can be hard - maybe you peak at ten, then start slipping?)

Revenge Isn't Sweet?

Apparently not all what it's cooked up to be:
Most of us have revenge fantasies, human behavior researchers say, and nearly everyone believes that punishing someone who did him wrong would feel tremendously satisfying. But new studies suggest the reality of revenge is far different. Acting on vengeful thoughts often isn't nearly as gratifying as expected and — surprisingly — can even make people feel worse.

Still, the delicious pleasure anticipated from taking revenge is such a powerful drive that it appears to be hard-wired in the brain.

University of Zurich scientists found that merely contemplating revenge stimulates a region of the brain called the dorsal striatum, which is known to become active in anticipation of a reward or pleasure, such as making money or eating good food.

...It's not surprising that our brains signal "pleasure" at the prospect of punishing someone who wronged us, says Michael McCullough, a University of Miami psychologist and author of "Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct." Although it can be a misguided, costly craving in the modern world, evolutionary psychologists believe the thirst for revenge ensured our ancestors' survival — retaliation was the only way for victims to deter aggressors from harming them or their tribes in the future.

...In the personal arena, revenge research is sparse. For instance, nobody knows if getting even with a cheating spouse actually makes anyone feel better. But studies that simulate how it feels to be cheated on financially strongly suggest that vengeful acts can backfire.

...Dour men and women who see rotten motives everywhere tend to seek revenge more than others, says Bies. That's probably because they're more likely to stew over events that others would shrug off, seeing them instead as evidence that people are "out to get them" and thus deserving of retaliation. But there is no true "personality profile" of avengers, he says.

Environmental factors play a role too. When trust is low and people feel they can't gain justice through official channels, the vigilante instinct tends to take over.

"The environment counts the most here," McCullough says. "The penchant for revenge under certain circumstances is within all of us."

Russell Brand Discusses "Arthur" On ET

With a Greta Gerwig cameo.

Did I Miss Something? Was It The Low Prices?

I was standing in a bank of checkout lanes at Target yesterday, when a woman a few lanes away turned to the man behind her and planted a passionate kiss on his lips.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Perry & Brand To Wed

I wonder what Greta thinks?:
Katy Perry and Russell Brand will marry in a Hindu ceremony at the luxury Indian hotel Taj Rambagh Palace on Oct. 23, sources said. The couple, which is flying out 85 friends and family for the bash, are expected to wed at the hotel, where they got engaged on New Year's Eve.

Before the ceremony, the couple will take the entire wedding party for a tiger safari during a three-day stay at Rajasthan wilderness camp the Aman-i-Khas, on the fringes of Ranthambore National Park.

Swinging With The Capital Swing Dancers

"Let's go dancing!" C.T. said, and I thought this sounded like an eminently sensible suggestion.

The Capital Swing Dancers were having their monthly dance Saturday night at the Fair Oaks Community Center. These folks are the creme de la creme of West Coast Swing dancers in the Sacramento area. Not having done this much in at least seven years, I was quite rusty, and didn't approach their level. Nevertheless, it was great fun. C.T. moved with great fluidity and skill. I even recognized two other dancers there (particularly well-known local dance pro, Jeffrey Munson).

Afterwards, Lyons at 30th & J. It's a well-known, post-show hangout for the theater crowd, and I wasn't disappointed: I saw post-Camelot Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly amongst the nighttime diners.

"Hello, Mr. Building Man!"

I spent the afternoon continuing to prepare the external east wall of my bedroom for painting. So much work!

Two houses away, the teenage girl was once again hosting a pool party for her friends, the 637,896th pool party so far this summer (with 134,583 parties to go before it gets too cold) and which generally features piercing, teenage-girl screaming every thirty seconds for roughly eight hours. But today, she saw me in the distance, and shouted "Hello, Mr. Building Man!" I turned around from my drudgery, waved, laughed, and returned her "Hello!"

Barney The Dog Is Found

According to Steve, Barney was discovered on the other side of Mace Blvd.

Reminds me of when I used to live on 40th Street and the day Sparky got out and decided to walk his way around the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon. He walked over and blithely crossed Folsom Blvd. He brought four lanes of traffic to a halt. He only got nervous and hastened home when concerned Good Samaritans jumped out of their cars and started chasing him on foot.

But at least Barney is home. The dog I had before Sparky - Stella - I lost her in a way similar to how Barney disappeared - the back gate was left open - and never got her back.

Sparky had the looks, but Stella had the brains. Stella was the smartest dog I ever had. One day, shortly after I got Stella, I walked into the bathroom, and she faithfully followed. I peed. Stella observed, turned around, squatted, and peed too. Smartest dog ever!

"Crimes Of The Heart" - Civic Theatre West

Friday night, we all went to see Giorggio Selvaggio play Barnette Lloyd in "Crimes of the Heart" at Civic Theatre West.

"Crimes of the Heart" is set in a Mississippi town (Hazlehurst), and focuses on the difficulties of three sisters (Lenny, Meg, and Babe). It's the fantastical South of dilatory dialogue, magical thinking, and long, hot afternoons, of the sort that has been explored by many past playwrights and authors (e.g., Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty), but because it's set at such a late date (1980), when race has lost much of its sting and women's liberation is more in vogue, even tragic events can be played for dark comedic effect.

All three sisters were well-played (Christianne Klein as Lenny, Shelby Greer as Meg, and Kayla Rose Chalko as Babe), but I particularly liked Klein's Lenny. Teresa Ahnin as cousin Chick and Shane Burrows as Doc were also well-played. Maybe because the dialogue is so dilatory, I couldn't quite grasp what Barnette Lloyd's vendetta was all about. Is vendetta even the proper word, when grudge might be a better fit? Maybe that's OK - the show is supposed to be a heart-warming comedy. Still, there are no better vendettas than Southern vendettas - they are even better than Italian vendettas!