Friday, January 28, 2011

How Many Republicans Does It Take To Shoot Video?

It sounds like at least ten lawyers, plus a videographer, and well-paid to do it too, which just makes me wonder if this whole NBPP pseudo-story was staged.

Everybody Wants An Autographed Copy

Yes, that was my picture in January's Sacramento Magazine. (The dead tree edition shows me looking all snazzy at one of last month's Nutcracker matinees.) And it's flattering that everyone wants an autograph on their copy. But why is it I'm the one who has to buy the copies?

Don't Let Ophiuchus Mess Things Up

I had the same reaction to the Ophiuchus kerfuffle:
I was one of the many who would've seen their sign change. I would've moved from Scorpio to Libra. I didn't take the news very well....But my whole life I've spent identifying as a Scorpio, and really, it's the coolest sign.

Midtown Waxes And Wanes

Last night, I wandered over to the TownHouse Lounge, to check out this:
Musician Dusty Brown predicts curiosity among audience members at the Sacramento Electronic Music Festival, a three-night event starting today at the TownHouse Lounge in midtown Sacramento.

"There will be some head-scratching," said Brown, performing Saturday as part of the three-member group that carries his name. " 'Are they performing or checking their e-mail?'
But even though it was a Thursday night, there was a significant line of people to get inside. The price of interest and success!

So instead, I walked over to check what Jean had said, an alarming piece of news, that "Cheap Thrills" Costume Shop was closing.

Indeed that appears to be the case!

As this recession lingers, Sacramento's theatrical infrastructure slowly crumbles. Such a loss!

Folks Near Fairbanks Wowed By A Winter Rainbow

Caption: Students and faculty at Anderson School gather outside to watch an unusual winter rainbow Wednesday morning, Jan. 26, 2011. Meteorologist Ted Fathauer at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks called it “an extraordinary event.” Brea Scothorn photo

Hardly ever happens in that very-cold place in winter, but on Wednesday it was above freezing and raining up above:
One of Gruner’s students, eighth-grader Tiana Montez, was the first to notice the rainbow at around 11 a.m.

“I was walking to the teacher’s desk and I saw it out the window,” Montez said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s a rainbow and it’s winter.’ It was cool.”

...The whole class ran outside to look at the rainbow, and it wasn’t long before the school’s entire student body — including teachers — were standing in zero-degree temperatures admiring the rainbow, Gruner said.

...That’s when Gruner realized it actually was raining.

“We turned around and faced the sun and saw the silhouettes of tiny drops of rain,” she said. “You could feel this little bit of mist on you.”

...The likely scenario is that warm air aloft melted snow falling from higher clouds and created tiny droplets of rain that froze as they moved down the mountains on the north side of the Alaska Range, Fathauer said. With the sun only 6 or 7 degrees above the horizon, it was at a perfect angle to create a rainbow, he said.

Mubarak Asks His Government To Step Down

And then....?

China Central TV Gets Lazy

Playing clips from "Top Gun":
A few days ago, China Central Television showed footage of what they claimed was an air force training exercise conducted on January 23. From the looks of things, they were actually just playing clips from Top Gun.

Live Coverage From Egypt

Al Jazeera.

The Border Arms Race Intensifies: A Slingshot

John sends this:
In what seems like a scene straight out of a Monty Python movie, Mexican soldiers seized a giant catapult believed to have been used to fling drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Acting on a tip from the U.S. Border Patrol, the Mexican military confiscated 45 pounds of marijuana, an SUV and a metal-framed catapult just south of the border with Arizona last Friday. The U.S. tip was based on surveillance video of the border region, recorded by National Guard troops deployed to help U.S. border guards. ... The men who had been spotted testing the device managed to run off before Mexican soldiers were able to catch them.

Strongman Regimes Always Seem To End The Same Way

The New York Times posts dramatic video of a battle between protesters and police in Cairo this afternoon, on the Qasr al-Nil bridge.
These events were preordained 30 years ago - they just take awhile to come about.

So, What's New In Arizona?

A U of A Wildcat columnist ('Go Wildcats!') is surprised at the cost of institutional change:
A quick summary: the Arizona Students Association called for identical identifiers between core courses at state universities and community colleges, the legislature passed a bill instructing the Board of Regents to figure out something among themselves, ABOR convened a committee, prepared a few cost estimates, and ultimately picked the cheapest option: creating a new, separate set of numbers to identify classes across Arizona colleges. And what a deal it is....
ASA used research from other institutions to recommend the common course numbering system, which would create a universal set of course prefixes and numbers throughout the state. For instance, an English 101 course would be identified the same way at all Arizona institutions.

Regents instead selected the Shared Unique Number system to implement, citing cost as their main concern. The common course numbering system would cost an estimated $67,059,931 to implement, while the estimated cost of the Shared Unique Number system is $4,689,053 to implement, according to an executive summary from the Arizona Board of Regents Academic Affairs Committee.
How much does it cost to get a room full of academics to agree to call first year English “Freshman composition?” About as much as Governor Brewer’s entire proposed budget cut for the University of Arizona—$67 million dollars.

...Come on—a full semester’s teaching load to figure out if “Global Politics” at ASU is the same as “International Relations” at UA and rename it “Glonational Polations?”

I Believe Everything I Read

Especially if it's on a blog:
A 1993 experiment by psychologist Daniel Gilbert had participants read statements about robberies and then suggest a jail sentence. Some of the lines in the statements they read were true, and others -- ones that made the crimes sound much worse -- were false. Participants were told that false statements would appear in red and the true statements would appear in green. Here's the kicker: while reading the material, some of the participants were purposely distracted.

Gilbert found that participants who were distracted and didn't have time to process what they read gave the robbers worse jail sentences. They hadn't had time to analyze the green versus red statements and instead took the statement as a whole to make their decision.

Participants who were not interrupted gave the robbers more realistic sentences and suggested the robbers receive less jail time.

So what does this mean?

"Believing is not a two-stage process involving first understanding then believing," writes Dean. "Instead understanding is believing, a fraction of a second after reading it, you believe it until some other critical faculty kicks in to change your mind."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

34th Anniversary

Today is the 34th anniversary of the purchase of my first car (January 27, 1977), which was a dark green VW Bug, with automatic stick shift transmission, and thick yellow/orange shag carpeting. And no, despite the request of a certain young hellion of a lady, it could not 'peel out' of the parking lot and impress everyone loitering outside the Country-Western bar we were at, even if I tried (which I certainly did).

Graduate Student Hell

T. recommended this on Facebook. Every graduate student recognizes themselves here.

Chris Matthews Yells At Sal Russo

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Just satisfying to watch. It's important to remember, though, that Sal Russo is THE most influential and important Republican in the United States right now. So, why not yell at him?

Leaks Are The World's Window Cleaner

For Americans, certain things in the world haven't made much sense for a very long time. For example, why does the Palestinian leadership remain so obstinate in its refusal to negotiate in the face of Israeli dominance?

And the answer, according to documents leaked to Al Jazeera, is that the Palestinian leadership is not obstinate at all, and is falling over itself negotiating, but the Israelis, correctly sensing their own dominance, press their advantage, and refuse to negotiate.

Which clarifies what is actually going on:
The leaked documents, assuming they are genuine — and both Al Jazeera and the Guardian say they have authenticated them — are behind-the-scenes notes from a decade of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. On issue after issue, they show Palestinian negotiators eager to concede ground, offering to give up much of Jerusalem, to accept Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank, to collaborate with Israeli occupation forces in suppressing dissent in the occupied territories — including killing fellow Palestinians — and even to forgo the right of return for most Palestinians driven from their homes by Israel in 1948.

The papers give the lie to Israel's claim that it yearns for peace but lacks a Palestinian "partner." And they reinforce the sense that Israel has gone along with these negotiations only to buy time to expropriate more Palestinian land, demolish more Palestinian homes, expel more Palestinian families and build more colonies for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers in militarily occupied territory, thereby cementing new realities on the ground that would make a Palestinian state a geophysical impossibility.

Anyone who doubts this has only to skim through the leaked papers, which show Israel spurning one gaping Palestinian concession after another. And this was Israel not under Benjamin Netanyahu but under the supposedly more liberal Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who claimed they were committed to the peace process. In shameless abjection, the Palestinian negotiators prostrated themselves and surrendered essentially every major objective for which their people have struggled and sacrificed for 60 years, only for the imperious Israelis to say again and again, no, no, no.

Close Call In Davis

I hadn't heard about this. Ignorance is bliss, like they say. Like many, I was a perfect target in Davis on that Friday evening:
But as recounted by Davis Police Lt. Paul Doroshov, Benson's family members took the heroic step of calling police shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, worried that Benson was armed, suicidal and talking of hurting others.

Within minutes, a dozen Davis city cops were searching for Benson. At about 6:40 p.m., two officers on foot spotted him at A and Fourth streets, by his Chevy pickup, near his apartment, next to UC Davis' athletic fields and a few blocks from the center of downtown.

The officers told Benson to drop to the ground. He bolted for the truck, where the loaded AR-15 and a loaded 12-gauge shotgun were, Doroshov said. One cop grabbed Benson as he scrambled into the cab and held him before he could grab the weapons. The other cop shot him with a Taser.

A Different Kind Of "WTF"

Jonathan Schell makes excellent points:
I haven’t noticed any surprising new satellites in the heavens recently. Why, then, does the president of the United States say that we are in a “Sputnik moment?” Why has that moment, now more than a half century past, been dragged out of obscurity to define the present? And why was the associated theme of American competitiveness in the world market chosen as the theme of the president’s State of the Union speech?

...Neither does any economic event or trend seem to explain the use of this historical reference point. It’s true that the United States’s educational system is measurably slipping. It’s also true that the country’s infrastructure has decayed badly. And yes, the United States would benefit from whatever technical innovation it can bring off, just as any country would. But none of those problems, needful of attention as they are in their own right, is the chief cause of the United States’s economic doldrums—its stubborn high unemployment, its persisting housing bust, its galloping economic inequality. These were the fruit of an economic crash brought on by a misguided, corrupt, incompetent, larcenous, unregulated financial establishment. The relevant remedies are not better technology or some contemporary equivalent of sending a man to the moon. (In any case, although Obama insisted “We do big things,” he didn’t offer one.) The remedies needed are a re-regulation and reconstruction of the financial system, plus a major, Keynesian style stimulus program to create jobs and purchasing power, and so to jar the economy out of its stupor. But none of that was in Obama’s speech. On the contrary, his proposal to freeze spending for five years threatened more economic stagnation.

Phil Angelides' Panel Makes Its Report

The Housing Bubble was an amazing thing. It was basically an enormous Ponzi scheme; a virus that seized hold of the entire economy. People made so much money off of it that no one wanted it to stop.

Partisanship seems to dictate who one holds the most responsible for the crisis, which is unfortunate, because not everyone bears the same blame. Currently, the GOP blames Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and poor people who wanted to move on up (like Riverside County Hispanics) the most, but these folks weren't in charge. Wall Street was in charge. If it wasn't for the revolution in securitization, none of this would have happened. And good regulation could have stopped it. Look at Canada: they never saw the Housing Bubble at all. Good regulations, particularly outlawing HELOCs, ensured that even bubble-susceptible Texas largely-escaped damage.

The malefactors escaped with the loot, and they will do this again, maybe with commodities like oil or minerals, because it was such a lucrative, lucrative thing to do:
The first full-scale analysis of the factors that led to the worst economic crash in 80 years, the report chronicles subprime mortgage lenders' issuance of "liars' loans" to millions of unqualified borrowers, how Wall Street repackaged them into exotic securities and how ratings agencies stamped them with phony Triple A ratings.

Federal regulatory agencies failed to police the runaway market, topped by the Federal Reserve Board's "pivotal failure" to regulate subprime mortgage lenders' issuance of a flood of mortgages to marginal homebuyers, the panel found. It said that key policymakers lacked a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw and that, at the height of the crisis, federal officials pressed the huge, government-sponsored mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to take on more risk, heightening taxpayer losses when they collapsed.

"There were warning signs. The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done," said Phil Angelides, the commission's chair. "If we accept this notion, it will happen again."

Insomnia With The Easter Island Folks

Now that I have Cable TV again, I've had excuses to stay up way too late watching whatever showed up at 2:00 a.m.

Last week, they showed 1994's "Rapa Nui":
Tenuously based on the legends of Easter Island, Chile, this story details a civil war between the two tribes on the island: the Long Ears and the Short Ears. A warrior from the ruling class falls in love with a girl from the lower class, and must decide on his position in a time of great civil unrest. The ruling class are demanding larger and larger Moai (stone statues), a task which the lower class and the island ecology are more and more reluctant to provide.
I tuned in late, so what I caught was a desperate, life-threatening race by what looked like a violent bunch of Maoris to startle birds and steal their eggs in a basaltic, tussocky South Pacific landscape, which turned out - surprise! - to be the real Easter Island!

We don't see enough South Pacific dramas on TV. We hardly see Easter Island on TV at all.

For someone like me, at 2:00 a.m., it worked.

Probably Second Most-Powerful La Niña On Record

Still very strong:
The average August to December SOI (+21.1) has only been exceeded by the La Niña of 1917-18 (+24.4), with the 1975-76 La Niña value (+18.8) ranked third. Several other indices also suggest the La Niña events of 2010-11, 1975-76, 1917-18, 1955-56 and possibly 1988-89, rank closely in terms of the strongest events on record.

Kelsey B "Beauty Queen" Available At iTunes


Adventures Of Maude & Morty - Mood For Love, Parts 1 & 2

More exceeding strangeness from Jetta's (fertile?) head....

Cheryl Bly-Chester's Position Paper On Natural Resources Industries

Yesterday, Cheryl sent this encapsulation of her thinking regarding the regulation of businesses, particularly those related to natural resource extraction and the oil industry, as part of her campaign for the Fourth Assembly District:
California was blessed with abundant resources and we Californians, along with much of the world, depend on those resources to live. Our quality of life and our economy relies on the quality of our living spaces, working environment and especially our recreational environment. Considering that everything we use to support our quality of life was either grown or extracted from earth's natural resources, the State of California's regulations must work with the mining, oil, forestry, and agricultural industries to enhance their ability to provide for us, instead of weighing them down with conflicting or burdensome regulations. State government is supposed to work for law-abiding citizens, not against us.

As your Assemblywoman, I would favor the carrot rather than the stick approach to regulating natural resource policies, with incentives for innovations instead of disincentives for the private sector to communicate with state regulators. Whereas in the 1970's the call for environmental laws was very much justified, the work done since by industry has been enormous and should be recognized. After 40 years, it is time Californians elevated the dialogue to greater sophistication, as befitting the most environmentally conscious state in the union. We have to work together and an "us against them" approach won't accomplish solutions to the challenges we face.

California's statutes and regulations often are out too far ahead of technology and science. For example, as an environmental engineer, I work on underground storage tank remediation on behalf of gas station owners and oil companies. California businesses in the oil industry spent millions on pumping and treating affected groundwater before California regulatory agencies accepted that the petroleum-based groundwater plumes naturally attenuated at about the same rate. Based on my experiences, I saw many in the business suffer physical stress and financial hardships due to loss of value of the gas stations and cost of remediation caused by California's overzealous regulatory regime. I believe that the regulations interpreted as requiring expensive active remediation systems for fuel releases may have killed or injured more Californians than did contamination from the releases.

The Regional Water Quality Control Boards frequently sets regulations before the science is understood and before the technology can even measure, much less address, the problem. Then the boards set rules against backing down from established requirements, no matter how unrealistic, and against using innovative technology for cleanup. The regulators have also been remiss in complying with statutes requiring cost/benefit considerations in addressing resolutions.

While on the California State Mining and Geology Board, I chaired a hearing addressing a geo-hazard issue affecting slope stability underlying a bulk oil tank on a hillside refinery tank farm. Recognizing that they had the most to lose in the event of slope failure, the oil company hired the best and brightest geologists California had to offer, at great expense. Chairing that hearing, I was offended at the suggestion that the State was more motivated than the oil company in analyzing the situation correctly. The state board attorney took an "opposing counsel" attitude in the case instead of his proper advisory role, making my determination to provide due process more challenging.

This situation with staff and attorneys driving regulatory board outcomes carries over to many boards in California, which set me on a course towards a Doctorate in Management and Organizational Leadership studying California State Boards for my dissertation. I know the problems. I can work with both sides towards solutions. I am Cheryl Bly-Chester and I would appreciate your support for my candidacy in the 4th Assembly District.

What's New In Academia?

Taking it to the next level:
A Cal State Northridge math professor has been charged with urinating on a colleague's office door during a dispute between the two men.

...Petrov is expected to be arraigned Thursday in San Fernando, authorities said. The case stems from a dispute that Petrov allegedly had with another professor in the school's math department, authorities said.
Meanwhile, the President of USC suggests no raves for the students:
“I wish to warn you about a specific danger that has become increasingly prevalent in the city of Los Angeles: raves. Occasionally, these are held close to our campuses, often at the Coliseum or the Shrine, and they present serious risks to all who attend,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias wrote in the letter, first reported by the Neon Tommy website.

"Ecstasy, which is common at raves, produces a number of adverse reactions that may include disorientation, anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks and hallucinations. These reactions, even in mild forms, can create a ripple effect of dangers that lead to catastrophic consequences,” Nikias wrote. “Therefore, with the collective support of the university’s senior administration -- and as the father of two USC students -- I strongly discourage your participation at rave events.”
Predictably, a sampling of the comments show many are not happy with this advice:
Another sad day in electronic music history. The older generations are more than just hypocrites, they are ignorant. Ignorant of the fact that "raves" are concerts. Ignorant of the fact that as adults we have a right to our enjoyment any way we see fit. Ignorant of the fact that we have a right to our music and if people wish to consume substances, anything from alcohol to cocaine, it is their GOD GIVEN right to abuse of their body. Ignorant of the fact that thousands who attend raves do not do ecstasy!!!!

...Telling kids to stay away from raves because of all the drug use will do nothing but garentee a sellout crowd. This is the problem with academics. They might be intelligent but they lack wisdom.

...Raves are not really to blame for the prevalence of ecstasy in Los Angeles. Raves are merely a way for fans of electronic music to come together and dance. It is unfortunate that many fans of Electric Dance Music (EDM) also do drugs. To be honest though, there are no more drugs at a rave than at a rock show or a rap concert. Lovers of music will always have, in their ranks, those who enjoy drugs.

If you want to avoid drug related deaths at music events, work on removing the drugs, not the event. Plenty of music fans don't do drugs. To deprive us of our ability to dance in a group setting truly goes against the freedom we work so hard to protect in this country.

...But in all seriousness this is another example of the electronic scene being called out for no apparent reason. EDC is hardly a "rave" no more than coachella is and you will find just as much X, acid, etc. etc. at any music event that brings in 100,000+ people. Like it or not, the electronic scene is here to stay because people love it and it makes money. Outlawing events like EDC will just push the scene to the underground which will have no rules, no security, and generate no money for the state. Instead, provide more health stations, make water more reasonably priced, and keep the age limit at 18.

And one last thing - Drunk people fall out off dorms / balconies /whatever all the time. Are we going to outlaw bars? of course not. IMO it seems rather unfair to blame ecstasy / "the rave" for this kid falling out of his dorm. Blame his friends for not keeping an eye on him when he was intoxicated.
Myself, I think there is no easy solution here. Or more specifically, we need drug-free raves, but emergency services need to be prepared for them nonetheless.

The problem people have previously-identified in Los Angeles is that the vendors at these massive events (T-Shirts, drinks, etc.) are one of the primary conduits for drug sales there. Keep the vendors clean, and keep the venue secure, and you are halfway there! You can have a rave and minimize the health problems at the same time.

But if all else fails, we can always follow the example of the professor and just start peeing on our opponents, if only for the psychic satisfaction that brings....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

That Low Sun Angle!

Frank sends a picture of his shadow (just past noon, from Fairbanks, AK).

Cotton-Candy Fantasies

But better fantasies than realities, don't you think?

Please remember, Michelle, that the soldiers at Iwo Jima were there courtesy of the U.S. Federal Government, and courtesy of a mid-20th-Century American citizenry that (sensibly for the time) chose Remarkably-High Taxation rather than Remarkably-High Debt.

We could have Low Debt today, if we chose to tax ourselves at a rate commensurate with our spending. Oddly enough, though, everyone in Washington, D.C., yourself included, does not see that necessity. And there are reasons for that, too. For different reasons, everyone ends up on the same page and chooses Big Debt. It's the reasonable way out, too. It's the American Way! But that's reality: for today, I prefer fantasies.

Ignore The Law And It Goes Away

When I was a kid, the GOP used to go apoplectic if the Hatch Act was violated in any small way. Now, at least when they are in power, they don't even know, or care, that the Hatch Act exists:
The White House repeatedly broke the law by using federal funds to send Cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees to congressional districts of GOP candidates in tight races, the long-running federal investigation concludes.

...The 118-page report, which cites "a systematic misuse of federal resources," was released Monday. It was put together by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces Hatch Act restrictions on partisan political activity inside the federal government.

...OSC found that 10 agencies used federal funds to pay for political appointees to travel to events supporting Republican candidates in 2006 in an operation monitored closely by the White House Office of Political Affairs. The report says that aspects of OPA that came in conflict with the Hatch Act during the Bush era "have apparently existed for decades."

On Tuesday, David Sherzer, a spokesman for former President George W. Bush, declined to comment. The report found that in the three months before the 2006 elections, agency political appointees participated in 197 events. Out of that number, 183 of the events were with a Republican candidate. In contrast, in the same time frame in 2005, a non-election year, agency political appointees went to 76 events, 46 of them with a Republican candidate.

The 10 agencies that used federal funds to pay for political appointees to travel to events supporting Republican candidates in 2006 were the departments of Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Energy, the Veterans Administration, the Small Business Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

..."Because most of the briefings took place during normal business hours and in government buildings, many of the briefings implicated the Hatch Act's prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace," the report found.

Hatch Act penalties call for violators, at most, to be removed from their government positions, so the report would appear to have no impact now that the Bush administration has been out of office for two years.

Vanity Plate


Couldn't Find Tokyo; Settles For Riverside

The 5-foot Monitor lizard wandering around a condo complex in the city of Riverside was way bigger than animal control officer Jenny Selter could have imagined.

"She said she saw it and almost jumped back in her truck," said John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County Animal Services. "The residents were freaking out because here's the Godzilla-like creature walking down the sidewalk."

Stock Market Booms Under Obama

And that was the plan, after all:
Well, now, two years later, the Dow Jones has touched on 12,000 for the first time since the Bush-Republican recession.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Dow closed at 7,949 on Bush's last day in office. That means it's gone up 50% since President Obama's inauguration.

Madness, And The Purchase Of New Cars

Today, Sally bought a brand new Nissan Sentra. I congratulated her on her new purchase, but couldn't help but wonder if she was just nuts at some level. Because, truth be told, any purchase of a new car is a highly-emotional experience usually driven by sheer irrationality.

When I've bought a new car (1992, and again in 2002), it's usually been in response to increasingly-burdensome mechanical-repair expenses. Same with Sally, but with a twist. Her efforts to track down a niggling problem with flickering lights - the sort of thing that some people are sensitive to, like the flickering of fluorescent lights, that some people have no trouble with at all, but drives others nuts - drove her to great, fruitless expense to try to fix, and eventually to the radical decision to toss the old auto and buy a new one.

It's all madness, of course. New autos turn quickly into old autos and new niggling mechanical problems appear. All our problems with mobility never really get solved, they just mutate.

Which reminds me, next year is 2012, and if I adhere to a ten-year schedule, as I have been, it'll be time to hit the new car lots before too long.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations Are Out

OK, first things first. 2009's "La Danse" is the best movie ever made about ballet. Even better than "The Red Shoes". "Black Swan" does not come close in caliber: it's more like a high-class "Showgirls". But "La Danse" never got an Oscar; first, because it's a documentary, second, because it's French, and third, because it's really about ballet. Nevertheless, this year, despite its many deficiencies, "Black Swan" got nominated for the Oscar. And troubles aside, it was a fun movie, full of all kinds of strangeness. So, the best to them!

"The King's Speech" was excellent, and both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush deserve all the attention they will get (although Helena Bonham Carter's character was a bit too reserved for my taste). The best to them as well!

"The Social Network" was also great! The best to them too!

I didn't see the other movies, but the best to them too, whatever they were.

I Now Have Yet Another New Computer At Work

Stay away Trojans, malware, worms, viruses, bacteria, amoebas, zombies, werewolves, Homeland Security, IRS, and bad juu-juu.

Fickle Fairbanks

I forecast balmy breezes for Fairbanks, and after warming a bit, Fairbanks whirled around and stabbed me in the heart with an icicle:
Well, part of the mystery is solved. Regarding what happened to the warm weather, the answer is that it arrived on schedule. At 850 mb levels, 4,000 feet above Fairbanks, temperatures are currently close to freezing. But that warmer air is "decoupled" from the surface - it's just sailing over, and past Fairbanks.

When the warmer air first arrived, it had sufficient momentum to push the cold surface air out of the way, and surface temperatures warmed up to just above 0 F. But drainage flows, continued radiational cooling, and simple thermal inertia of the cold surface soon reintroduced cold air into Fairbanks, and the southerly air flow does not have enough speed and turbulence to dislodge the colder air. So, temperatures at the surface remain cold.

Wind speeds should remain low, until Saturday and Sunday, when they should pick up. Unfortunately, the wind direction will be from the east, so it's unlikely to be a warming wind (but it just might be if it forces the breakdown of the wedge of cold air at the surface).

The National Digital Forecast database forecast looks warmer, but that depends on the warmer weather actually getting there.

Nevertheless, if skies should cloud up in preparation for precipitation, temperatures should rise, since radiational cooling will be stymied. The FNMOC forecasts suggest that no such precipitation is in the forecast, however, in conflict with the National Weather Service's forecast of Wednesday and Thursday ppt. So, will it snow, or not?

There is a little band of negative vorticity (500 mb) scheduled to pass over Fairbanks on Thursday evening, so it's possible it will snow a bit then. Nevertheless, it doesn't look like a lot of ppt. So, maybe temperatures will rise briefly on Thursday, then fall backwards again.

Here is that current Alaska weather map, with pop-ups. Delta Jctn/Ft. Greeley (at higher elevation) is at +18 F: Eielson is at -16 F.

So close, yet so far away.....

Right now I'm thinking: cold, Wed.; warmer Thurs. evening; cold Friday, warmer Saturday, etc. Just a real schizophrenic forecast, driven by the whirl of vortices around a common center over the Bering Sea, whether the vortices are retreating or advancing, whether or not it's cloudy, whether or not it's windy, and where the arm/cold air interface happens to be (and it's very close!)

There is an inevitable political function to weather forecasting, and people bring all kinds of hidden assumptions into the process. Nevertheless, weather forecasters are subject to public abuse when they get things wrong, and bad forecasts can endanger lives, so they have considerable incentive to do their best.

Forecasting for Fairbanks is just hard, I think. Instead of receiving direct hits from weather fronts it often receives glancing blows, with difficult-to-predict consequences. Cold air "sticks" rather than moves aside. Counterintuitive things happen (e.g., cold breezes can increase the temperature, because of either turbulence, or Chinook effects, or both). There are local effects too.

With today's forecast, I knew there was a possibility that the warm air might sail over Fairbanks, at least at first, but counted on the southerly air flow to carry the day. And it did, at first. That southerly air flow flagged, though, and the cold air reasserted itself. Forecasting that weakness, and its possible consequences, was the problem.

Where The Cold Matters

So cold:
A 14-year-old boy who was last seen leaving a friend’s house to walk home in the extreme cold was found dead today in the Southwest Alaska village of Kipnuk, troopers say.

Searchers began looking for Brandon Anaver at about 8 p.m. Sunday, according to a trooper report. Winds in the village approached 70 miles an hour and rescuers were unable to follow the boy’s tracks in the dark, troopers said.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Slash The Money Going Into Drug Development

I saw this and I thought if there was a place where the typical, GOP slashing-budget style could help, it's here:
The Obama administration has become so concerned about the slowing pace of new medications coming out of the pharmaceutical industry that officials have decided to start a billion-dollar government drug development center to help create medicines.

The new effort comes as many large drugmakers, unable to find enough new drugs, are paring back research. Promising discoveries in illnesses like depression and Parkinson's that once would have led to clinical trials are instead going unexplored because companies have neither the will nor the resources to undertake the effort.

...[T]he drug industry's research productivity has been declining for 15 years, "and it certainly doesn't show any signs of turning upward," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the institutes.

The job of the new center, to be called the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, is akin to that of a home seller who spruces up properties to attract buyers in a down market. In this case the center will do as much research as it needs to do so that it can attract drug company investment.

..."None of this is intended to be competitive with the private sector," Collins said. "The hope would be that any project that reaches the point of commercial appeal would be moved out of the academic support line and into the private sector."

...Creating the center is a signature effort of Collins, who once directed the agency's Human Genome Project. Collins has been predicting for years that gene sequencing will lead to a vast array of new treatments, but years of effort and tens of billions of dollars in financing by drugmakers in gene-related research has largely been a bust.

...Both the need for and the risks of this strategy are clear in mental health. There have been only two major drug discoveries in the field in the past century: lithium for the treatment of bipolar disorder in 1949 and Thorazine for the treatment of psychosis in 1950.

Both discoveries were utter strokes of luck, and almost every major psychiatric drug introduced since has resulted from small changes to Thorazine. Scientists still do not know why any of these drugs actually work, and hundreds of genes have been shown to play roles in mental illness – far too many for focused efforts. So many drugmakers have dropped out of the field.
We aren't discovering new drugs because of our previous efforts in the 1980's to pour money into drug development, and make it more lucrative. It was back in Reagan's heyday, when just being a scientist wasn't enough, and when the private sector seemed shiny and new.

For universities, it was a stupid model from the get-go. Instead of putting scientists to work doing science, we put them to work being entrepreneurs. Scientists aren't supposed to be entrepreneurs, or project managers, or administrators, or anything like that, though. That isn't their function. Instead, we've turned them into gate-keeping trolls on the drug-development superhighway. What they did over the last two decades, as a means to control costs, was to offshore drug testing to Japan, where scientists had more tolerance of the tedium involved, and where they didn't get paid so much money. But this hasn't worked.

Separating out scientific and entrepreneurial functions is the first order of business, and if it works best to create a new center, maybe that's the best. After all, we used to be good at discovering new drugs - when that's what people were paid to actually do - and we can do it again - if that's what people are actually paid to do.

Get rid of the entrepreneurs (aka parasites) and progress can start again.

"Hairspray" - Runaway Stage Productions

Left: "Hairspray" cast final bows.

I like that big can of hair spray there in the background....


On Sunday afternoon I decided to set aside back porch painting to another nice day and head on over to see "Hairspray" at RSP instead.

The production left a mixed impression. Some aspects were very good. Jennifer Schmelzer as Velma von Tussle was full of energy - really exciting to watch and hear. The fellow who played Seaweed J. Stubbs was excellent as well (at this instant, I don't have the program with me, so I have to work from memory). Veteran RSP folks were a pleasure to watch as well (Darryl Strohl, Kris Farhood, Amy Jacques-Jones, and particularly Dan Masden as Corny Collins) I worry, though, that the newer, more youthful ensemble members don't quite get the hang of this energy thang, and may not realize they aren't working at 100% of their potential. Part of the difficulty may be that Darryl's choreographic efforts to maintain fidelity to the era, by using the actual dances of the time, may be self-limiting, since those are social dances rather than show dances. Certain dances, though were just fun to watch (Jennifer Schmelzer's side-to-side dance; Celia Green's showcase, and, of course, Seaweed's number).

I'm happy that certain of the young folks are staying around and making RSP their avocation now (Mr. Alvarado?) Little Inez was good.... Monica Wright was excellent as Tracy Turnblad.

Before coming to the show I had heard some criticism of the set; in particular, the odd, iron-shaped block that forms the base of the Turnblad apartment. Nevertheless, I had no trouble with the block - nothing conveyed crowded quarters better than the crowded space on top of the block. The only puzzlemaking part was the TV-on-a-wedge aspect. I'm glad the block wasn't much larger, though, because of the awkwardness of moving a large block on and off the 24th Street Theater stage.

I had also heard through the grapevine that Wilbur Turnblad seemed to be channeling Pee Wee Herman. This was correct. Pee Wee Herman has tons of energy, though, and he's a good role model.

Costumes were fine, particularly Brent Null's final muu-muu. I did have trouble with Penny Pingleton's final dress, however (seemed to be from late 60's).

Towards the end of the show, when Brent Null was onstage, I heard someone behind me ask "is that a guy?" Good that it took so long!

After the show, I saw Lillian, and we talked. Lillian said, "if you mention in your blog we had any trouble with xxxxx, I'll kill you." As local theatergoers know, Lillian has to be taken seriously (did you see her character in "Curtains"?) So, I replied, "don't worry, mum's the word; I won't mention xxxxx at all!" Then, relaxing in a future-looking way that reminded me of the end of the Coen Bros.' "Raising Arizona", we started talking about others matters - in part, what the ideal retirement might look like - perhaps a Goldilocks retirement, not too tropical or polar, neither too hot or too cold. The two of us think quite alike, really: not Fairbanks, or Djibouti; nor Siberia, or Calcutta. Instead, some place - nice! In short, we had a grand visit!

Jack LaLanne - The Hog Family

RIP, Jack LaLanne. 96? Not bad!

Jack LaLanne could deliver brilliant, unforgettable stories. There was one episode on television I remember from childhood, it made such a vivid impression.

The episode showed Jack sitting on a simple wooden chair at a simple little table in a bare TV studio. On the table sat a bundle wrapped in plain wrapping paper, plus a knife. Jack said something like: "So, you say that you are just five pounds overweight. Just five pounds of fat. Well, I went to the market today and asked the butcher for five pounds of fat." Jack then took the knife, sliced open the package, and all that fat burst forth, flopped onto the table and spilled onto the floor in a grotesque, sprawling mess. "You need to lose that fat," he finished.

And that was it! A simple message that made such a vivid impression I remember it still!

I haven't been able to find that video, but this video is a pretty good substitute.

Greta Gerwig Explains Fencing On Jimmy Fallon

When The Weather Is Nice, It's Time To Work On The Porch Again

On Saturday, I repainted the porch again. It might still require some attention: some of the floorboards are a bit loose. But it was nice being in the sun.

On Sunday, I started painting the back porch, but got distracted by "Hairspray" at RSP. Joe the Plumber had been unhappy when I took 'Kilz' and painted a white overcoat over his nice multi-colored pastel paint arrangement from 2007, but I reassured him that I was just updating his paint job and not completely changing the look.

Fairbanks Alaska Transforms Overnight Into Tropical Paradise

I got an E-Mail message from Frank in Fairbanks, AK, yesterday morning after he looked at the weather forecast:
Highs Monday 0 to +10? Reallllllly?
It's easy to understand why he would be skeptical. The entire region had been in a cold freeze for about three weeks, and particularly so the last week. Sunday evening, temperatures had bottomed out at about -38 F.

I replied:
Maybe higher: 20 degrees F isn't out of the question. But under the circumstances I can see why you'd be skeptical. My only concern right now is if there is a delay in the warming. I don't think there will be - it should start this evening - but stranger things have happened.
Starting yesterday about 11 a.m. local time, temperatures started climbing. By midnight last night, they had reached -2 F.

Right now, temperatures are bobbing around, mostly above 0 F. A vast improvement over most of the last month!