Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Young Frankenstein" - California Musical Theatre

Waiting for the curtain to rise on "Young Frankenstein".

Joe the Plumber has been becoming more-and-more active in the local theater community. Plumbing for the stars has its benefits! Still, I was surprised when he proposed going to see "Young Frankenstein" at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. After all this time, Joe's going 'all theater' on us....

Reading the program shortly before curtain, I was dumbstruck to see that Jillian Owens was going to be in the ensemble. Jillian Owens! The long-legged beauty, who reigned at the Broadway Academy in the year 2000 time frame, and whom I hadn't seen since 2001, was going to be performing!

Later, I discovered Mel Brooks was promoting Jillian in last Sunday's Sacramento Bee:
Among that cast is Carmichael native Jillian Owens, who as part of the ensemble will make her first hometown appearance as a professional actor.

Owens attended Mira Loma High School and danced at Broadway Academy and Dance Theatre West. She performed in several of David L. MacDonald's Best of Broadway productions.

"Dave was one of my mentors," she said in a telephone interview from Omaha, Neb., during the tour. Owens also performed in "Evita" and "West Side Story" at Davis Musical Theatre Company before studying musical theater at New York University.

A bit of an overachiever, Owens finished the NYU program in three years in order to start her professional career sooner.

"I did a couple of shows while in college through which I got my Equity card in my sophomore year," she said. She graduated in 2004 and stayed in New York.

While auditioning and waiting for acting gigs, she worked in arts administration, as house manager at the Joyce Theater and then at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

"I lied about my age when working in arts administration," said Owens, who is 27. "I lied up."

Owens has been with the "Young Frankenstein" tour for seven months.

"I'm looking forward to performing on the Community Center stage," she said. "I haven't been on it since I was an angel (in "The Nutcracker") for a couple of years with the Sacramento Ballet."

Brooks, who said he'd never visited Sacramento, took the opportunity to tout the hometown actress.

"The ensemble is really sensational," he said. "One of the best ones is someone you might have heard of – Jillian Owens, a lovely, lovely actress."
Afterwards, we went to the stage door to greet Jillian. To my surprise, Joe already knew, and greeted, a hairdresser associated with the show. The hairdresser apparently needs Joe's services (too much hair in the drain). Life is all about networking!

Jillian Owens and Christopher Ryan (who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein).

Just heavenly having Jillian back in town! I was a bit surprised she remembered my name after ten years (I have trouble remembering people's names after ten days....)

What about the show itself? Great show! Something about a monster....

A 'Man Bites Dog' Sort Of Story

Which makes it news, I guess:
A man who bit back as a Phoenix police dog apprehended him is suing police. ...The report said Zeke found Sullivan, bit him on the left shoulder and partially drug him from the spot where he was hiding. "Sullivan punched Zeke in the face then bit Zeke on his muzzle. Zeke then repositioned his bite to Sullivan's upper left arm. Sullivan pulled Zeke's face toward his and bit Zeke over his right eye," according to the report. Welsh then used pepper spray and the dog pulled Sullivan out from under his hiding place.

Barb Heirigs Services

Forwarding forward from Phil and Jay:
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Viewing: 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Rosary: 6:00 p.m.
Chapel of the Valley
97 Vernon Street
Roseville, CA 95678

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Funeral: 10:00 a.m.
SS. Peter and Paul Church
4450 Granite Drive
Rocklin, CA 95677

Burial: noon
Roseville Cemetery
421 Berry Street
Roseville, CA 95678

Reception: Immediately following burial
SS. Peter and Paul Church Reception Hall
Phil adds:
If folks are so inclined, in lieu of flowers, donations to the National Breast Cancer Foundation would be appreciated. Their focus is on early detection.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Mountain - Terje Sorgjerd

Jon Kyl Can Alter The Record, But He Can't Alter YouTube

Over at Daily Kos:
Last Friday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stood on floor of the United States Senate and lied through his teeth, saying:
If you want an abortion you go to Planned Parenthood and that's well over 90% of what Planned Parenthood does.
But today, if you go to the pages of the Congressional Record, it's as if it never happened:
If you want an abortion you go to Planned Parenthood and that is what Planned Parenthood does.
That's right. Taking advantage of the senate prerogative to "revise and extend their remarks," Kyl scrubbed the blatant lie he told about Planned Parenthood, leaving that much more benign quote to be enshrined forevermore in the Congressional Record.

The Trap Is Sprung On The GOP

Hilarious! The Dems played a trick!:
Normally something like that would fail by a large bipartisan margin in either the House or the Senate. Conservative Republicans would vote for it, but it would be defeated by a coalition of Democrats and more moderate Republicans. But today that formula didn't hold. In an attempt to highlight deep divides in the Republican caucus. Dems switched their votes -- from "no" to "present."

Panic ensued. In the House, legislation passes by a simple majority of members voting. The Dems took themselves out of the equation, leaving Republicans to decide whether the House should adopt the more-conservative RSC budget instead of the one authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. As Dems flipped to present, Republicans realized that a majority of their members had indeed gone on the record in support of the RSC plan -- and if the vote closed, it would pass. That would be a slap in the face to Ryan, and a politically toxic outcome for the Republican party.

The GOP has been on the offense since the spring of 2009. That dynamic now changes completely. From now until the 2012 elections, the GOP will have to defend this vote to increasingly-outraged seniors. Capitol Hill jiu-jitsu is a marvel to behold!

We Had To Destroy The In-N-Out In Order To Save It

It's a uniquely-American approach to historical preservation. Reminds me of a McDonald's I saw once in Meridian, MS. There, they destroyed an olde ice cream parlour in order to build a new McDonald's, which was dedicated in fond memory of the olde ice cream parlour, and which featured all kinds of tidy display cases containing olde ice cream parlour bric-a-brac:
The only gift Baldwin Park gave to the world was In-n-Out, and you know this to be so when its hometown paper, the San Gabriel Tribune, describes the chain's oldest-remaining location as the "city's most notable landmark." It hadn't been open since 2004, because In-n-Out officials had unveiled a newer location nearby and planned to refurbish the older space--dating back to 1954--as a museum.

That's not going to happen anymore. The Tribune reported yesterday that In-n-Out had that structure demolished so they could--yep!--build a replica of that building to use it as a museum.

Puzzling Pomeranians

I found this picture of a small Pomeranian in my driveway last week. The photo is unmarked: I have no idea where this is, or who it is, or any other clue. Still, I wonder about this dog....

In today's Bee, there was an article about another Pomeranian that looks very similar to this Pomeranian (but slightly-different). I was hoping the article might help resolve the mystery about the photo, but not yet, apparently:

Following an emotional hearing in Sacramento small claims court on Friday morning, Judge Donald Currier ruled that Tilly rightfully belongs to Donna Schwontkowski, who owned the dog from 2002 through 2005. But he said he had the authority only to assign a monetary value to the dog, not to order it returned to Schwontkowski.

He told Nedra Langin, a retiree who got the dog from a friend in 2005 without knowing it belonged to someone else, to either pay $5,000 to Schowntkowski or give Tilly back to her.

Langin opted to cut a check.

"Then They Came For Dana Milbank"

What an excellent blogpost! Demonstrates exactly what is wrong with the supposedly-liberal, but what is actually the arch-conservative mainstream press:
For the past 20 years, as the U.S. middle class has quietly collapsed, Dana Milbank has made a great living as a media liberal who constantly ridicules liberals. But recently it seemed as though he'd suddenly noticed something was going on. Why? Because it was happening to him and his "brand-name MBA" wife, who were being screwed by Citibank after they'd refinanced their mortgage. (In fact, while he didn't mention it, his wife actually once worked for Citibank.) Now Milbank understood that "big banks" needed to be "brought to heel."

Except...after his brief encounter with reality, Milbank has gone right back to telling us what losers liberals are. Did you know the House Progressive Caucus has come up with some kind of preposterous socialist budget? But they didn't move the press conference inside even though it was raining! And they were all carrying umbrellas! What a bunch of nimrods! Ha ha ha ha ha ha oh crap look at the caller ID that's Citibank again ha ha ha ha ha ha!

• • •
First they came for the welfare mothers, but I did not speak out, because I was a member of Skull & Bones.

Then they came for middle-class manufacturing unions, but I did not speak out, because I had to get to a party at Marty Peretz's.

Then they came for the upper middle class people who didn't have columns in the Washington Post, but I did not speak out, because Dennis Kucinich is short.

And then they came for me...and I was STILL so fucking stupid that I spent my time making fun of the House Progressive Caucus.

Bumped Into Celia At Target Today

Apparently her family is planning a Mexican cruise in the near future. On the Sapphire Princess too! We have a lot in common! I told her to watch out for the abrupt transition at Punta Eugenia....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If Only A Schmuck Was Born Every Minute

Then this problem wouldn't exist:
It was not until Sister Mary Schmuck left her home state of Kentucky for the Sisters of Mercy convent in Brooklyn, N.Y., a borough that operates under the influence of Yiddish, that she was confronted full force with the knowledge that a person with her family name faces certain regrettable challenges. “People would do double takes on the phone,” she said. “They were deciding whether to laugh or say something or not.”

...It was idyllic, growing up a Schmuck in Kentucky, Sister Mary said. “It is my understanding that Grandfather Schmuck came from a Lutheran family, but there had been some sort of move to or from the Catholic Church.” She does not know if the Schmucks among her German ancestors were jewelers, though it’s possible, and she’s proud that the cathedral in Cologne is home to the Schmuck Madonna, which many believers have adorned with jewels in gratitude for answered prayers.

...“At one point, there were 400 Schmucks in America,” she told me. “I’ve done some genealogy research on this.” She does not know the number of Schmucks in America today, however. “Whenever I go to another city, I look in the White Pages for Schmucks, but I don’t run across any.”

Retinal Scans Came Along With The Eye Exam

Left retina. It kind-of looks like Mars, or maybe a breast prepared with makeup for entering a championship Brazilian samba competition.

The nipple-like thing is where the optic nerve is to be found. There is a bit of eyelid at the upper left. The grayish sand dunes at the lower periphery are the scars from the 1994 retinal reattachment surgery, which they did on my left eye. Following Planetary Science practice, I dub the region of grayish sand dunes the Pontus Tenebrae (Sea of Darkness).

The retinal reattachment was interesting. They compress your eyeball with a silicone band (which was intentionally left behind, and which binds my left eyeball to this day), then freeze the eyeball from the outside-in with liquid nitrogen, in order to bring the retina and its substrate back into solid contact. They also did some laser spot-welding to help the retina reacquaint itself with the back of the eyeball.

Post-surgery was fun too. They had put me under with sodium pentothal (truth serum). When I awoke, everyone in the recovery room was laughing. "Why are you laughing?" I asked. They stopped laughing, and then one of the doctors said "Oh, nothing!" Then they started laughing again. My eyeball looked dead for a week. It still doesn't look quite 'normal' (my left eyelids always seems to be a bit more-closed than the right eyelids).

Right retina. There are even a few eyelashes visible at the bottom right. The grayish scars from lots of spot-welding are visible here too, in the upper-left: the Mare Vanitas (Sea of Emptiness). The maculae are visible in both images as a kind of darkish smudge next to the optic nerve.

Things look stable. I'm updating my glasses lenses so I can once-again have scratch-resistant lenses, rather than my current scratched-up scratch resistant coatings.

RIP, Barbara Heirigs

Shocking news...widespread cancer not recognized until the day before death.

Many, many condolences and prayers to Phil and Jay....

And a not-so-subtle reminder to keep current on mammograms....

Tough But Discerning Audience Over There At B3ta

This week's "Question of the Week" was interesting:
Smash Monkey asks: "what's the creepiest thing you've seen, heard or felt? What has sent shivers running up your spine and skidmarks running up your undercrackers? Tell us, we'll make it all better"
I really like B3ta, and contribute almost every week to their "Question of the Week", but I find it insanely-hard to win sufficient approval to be chosen for the stories on their "Best Answers" Web page. The trouble is mostly a matter of age and culture. The B3ta crowd consists of a lot of bored British and Anglophonic school kids and young people. They seem to favor outrageous stories of humiliation or outrage or sometimes just clever inside commentary on growing up in the UK. An American meteorologist in his fifties just doesn't get drunk enough, or arrested enough, or suffer enough, or have a sufficient appreciation for late-night crap British television to have his usually-tedious middle-aged stories make it to the "Best Answers" Web page.

This week, I first tried a light-hearted story on the theme of creepiness, from my days at the University of Arizona, which got some play, but only because others helped out:
Biogenic Natural Gas
A professor I know obtained some biogenic natural gas. Skeptical, I asked him how he knew it was biogenic. Apparently at the University Farm they have a small herd of cows whose digestive systems they are studying. They have placed rubber-sealed portholes in the sides of the cows that go directly into their gut. So, you open the rubber flaps on the cows' portholes, reach DEEP inside, and take whatever you want. It's like shopping for fruit, or something.
(Marc Valdez)
I've seen that on the telly
It was fascinatingly grotesque.

Edit: Letting kids have a grope around
(sandettie light vessel automatic)

is about as fucked up a thing as I have ever seen.

(Larry Death)

Tombola cow
Or feed it numbered balls, make it run about a bit and then use it as a bingo machine
(sandettie light vessel automatic)

for keeping your Ginsters warm till lunchtime though.
But as pleasant as this contribution was, it wasn't good enough to make the "Best Answers" Web page.

Thinking about the theme of creepiness, I realized that the Mexican narcovideo I watched last week was among the creepiest things I had ever seen. It's pretty darn strong. It starts out with the "guera loca" (the crazy blonde) decapitating a Zeta prisoner (with a bit of help once she got to the neck vertebrae). Then her friends systematically scalp the Zeta's face, and play a bit with his eyeballs. The question was, what would the B3ta crowd think? So, I posted a link just to check, but within half an hour, the rising tide of outrage persuaded me to delete the post. Apparently even for the bored British teenaged sensibility, there are limits to what they want to see, even if it answers the question sufficiently.

So, it was time to pull out one of my best stories, dating to 1995, when I lived in East Sacramento. On thinking it over, I think it actually occurred in late October rather than in the summer, like I state in the story. The freeway underpass is the 39th Street/Highway 50 underpass, and the ambush site is at 39th & T Streets.

Finally, I found release! They liked the story well enough to post on their "Best Answers" Web page:
Ninjas In The Dark
One of my creepiest experiences started out with a bad decision....

One evening, as was customary, I left my house to walk my dog, Sparky. Walking along, we came out onto a main thoroughfare. On the sidewalk across the street, passing by in the half-light of the street lamps, I saw six men dressed head-to-toe in black. They had a lethal nonchalance that I disapproved of. These men - jackals, really - seemed not only strange, but menacing too. I decided to follow these assassins from a distance, in order to convey the weight of my disapproval, and by extension, what I presumed to be the neighborhood's disapproval too, by my obdurate witnessing presence.

The ninjas' progress carried them through a well-lit freeway underpass. Sparky and I followed. On the other side of the underpass, the ninjas uncharacteristically scattered into the darkness. They started meandering aimlessly into the darkness for no apparent reason. Indeed, our progress on the walk carried us completely through the cloud of meandering ninjas, so now they were behind us, rather than in front.

One of the ninjas approached and asked for a cigarette. I had none to offer. Nevertheless, he didn't seem that menacing in person. The overall air of menace diminished, and my guard relaxed. Sparky and I pressed on. We came to a dark and desolate street corner, where the view was obscured by large trees....

Ambush! Suddenly ninjas approached from several different directions, handkerchiefs now obscuring their faces. One of the ninjas held at arm's length what appeared in the darkness to be a silver rectangle sporting a small dark circle. It took me several seconds to realize that I was looking at the business end of a pistol.

They seemed nervous; I was petrified. The ninjas demanded that I empty my pockets, but I had only keys; I left my money at home. Then they demanded that I remove my shoes. I did not understand the shoe demand, but I was no longer in a position to remain obdurate, so I complied. (Apparently nighttime pedestrians will sometimes place money in shoes; hence the demand.) Meanwhile, Sparky wagged his tail and attempted to make friends (some protection this canine offered).

Satisfied, the ninjas released the both of us. We walked away into the darkness, and then we started running (me in socks) on a circuitous, kilometer-long path that ended up back at the house (Sparky liked this part of the walk best). I was deeply-worried, because they now had my house key, and my car key, and they knew approximately where I lived. It would be only a matter of time before they located my house, and robbed me again, or stole my car, or perhaps showed me, by example, the power of a pistol.

Arriving home, I quickly opened the hood of the car and disabled it, by pulling fuses. I quickly slammed shut and locked the doors of the house (I had left the back door completely open on this summer's night). Then, I picked up the telephone and called the police.

While talking to the emergency operator, looking out through the windows at my car in the driveway, I saw something that made my blood freeze. Coalescing out of the darkness next to my car, a ninja appeared. The jackals had arrived!

I started shouting, and the ninja saw me through the window. He could see in the half-light that I was talking to someone on the telephone (probably calling the police). He vanished back into the shadows. In a few minutes, the police arrived....

The next day I placed locks on all the windows, and had my door and car locks redone. And I also recovered my shoes; abandoned on the street corner. For the next several nights, though, I was really messed up. I had a hard time sleeping, and once I awoke to what I thought was my doorbell. I called the police again, certain that the ninjas had returned, but I eventually realized that the doorbell was entirely in my sleeping imagination. My mind was fighting phantoms; but not entirely phantoms. Some fears are real.

The main legacy is I no longer follow strangers in order to register my disdain, no matter how they are dressed (unless they are dressed like nymphettes, or something).
(Marc Valdez)
needs more shuriken!

points have been scored
For relaying the dog's actions and feelings throughout the tale.


Bloody hell mate
glad you weren't hurt or anything but it must have been terrifying. Scary stuff.
(resurrection_mary cannibal)

Would Monsieur Care For A Thin Mint Wafer?

(via Atrios, and Cab Drollery, and ultimately the Washington Post, where today's cartoon amuses as well:

America: Europe's Sweatshop

This is way our leaders like it. Do you?:
Reporting from Danville, Va.— When home furnishing giant Ikea selected this fraying blue-collar city to build its first U.S. factory, residents couldn't believe their good fortune.

...But three years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.

Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Several said it's common to find out on Friday evening that they'll have to pull a weekend shift, with disciplinary action for those who can't or don't show up.

...In response, the factory — part of Ikea's manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood — hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership.

...The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it's front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea's code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.

...Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood's Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. "That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries," Steen said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thomas Friedman Juggles Three Questions

And juggling is hard in a hot, flat, crowded luxury hotel suite during a revolution:
At some point, not long ago, someone told jet-setting New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to stop quoting cab drivers in his columns, and he largely has. But sometimes, the urge to explain big, complicated events in faraway lands by going directly to a service industry employee-on-the-street who sounds suspiciously like a fictional character drawn up to introduce a columnist's argument is too great. And so we we get this, the first paragraph of today's Friedman column:
When I was in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising, I wanted to change hotels one day to be closer to the action and called the Marriott to see if it had any openings. The young-sounding Egyptian woman who spoke with me from the reservations department offered me a room and then asked: "Do you have a corporate rate?" I said, "I don’t know. I work for The New York Times." There was a silence on the phone for a few moments, and then she said: "Can I ask you something?" Sure. "Are we going to be O.K.? I’m worried."

Gawd, Here We Go Again With The Little Green People

The Oklahoma Dumbass At His Dumbassiest

Arrogant idiot:
On October 21, 2010, Inhofe landed his plane on a runway that was closed and marked with an X, apparently scattering construction workers and nearly hitting a truck.

According to an FAA report, Inhofe noticed the X, but "still elected to land avoiding the men and equipment on the runway."

Shortly after the incident, the man supervising the construction, Sidney Boyd, spoke on the phone with the FAA, and said the landing "scared the crap out of us."

Boyd said he thought the driver of the truck Inhofe almost hit "actually wet his britches."

"James Inhofe, they tell me he's a Senator from Oklahoma," Boyd can be heard saying.

According to Boyd, Inhofe's plane initially touched down, and then "sky hopped" over six vehicles and personnel working on the runway, before landing for good.

"He was determined to land on that runway come hell or high water, evidently," Boyd said.

In another FAA recording, airport manager Marshall Reece can be heard saying he has "got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam, and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life."

Spooky Movie Trailer

We Need To Get Paid; We Need The Bodies Too

Pike River went out on a financial limb to develop this coal mine, and then the limb got blown out from under them:
A group of former Pike River contractors say they are seeking to liquidate the company because it is likely to get them repaid more quickly and will offer a better chance of recovering the bodies of those who died in the mine disaster.

The 43 contractors say they are owed almost $5 million by Pike River, which went into receivership a month after a series of explosions killed 29 men in the West Coast mine last November.

The group, who are unsecured creditors, say because the receivers' only obligation is to the secured creditor which appointed them, NZ Oil & Gas, liquidation is likely to be their only chance of being repaid what they are owed.

The receivers also have no obligation to recover the bodies of the dead miners.

The group's chairman, Peter Haddock, said last night it had "reached the point of no return, with little action by the receiver to attempt to recover the bodies for the families and, last week, the receiver's indication that the company would not be fully participating in the royal commission".

...Many, he says, are in dire straits - partly because Pike River hasn't paid them - and one contractor was forced into receivership last week.

...He also notes one of the potential bidders, Solid Energy, has said it will recover the bodies if possible and will pay Pike River's unsecured creditors.

..."Our group lost 13 of our own employees on November 19 last year and also the community wants to see some action as well.

"It is distasteful the way things have dragged on, and liquidation may mean the process speeds up.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shoe Ideas

So, It's On

Nicki it is:
Britney has confirmed that Nicki Minaj will be joining her Femme Fatale tour when she hits the road this summer!

"This is the Femme Fatale tour and I'm thrilled to have the hot Nicki Minaj join me and Jessie and the Toy Boys and Nervo will get everyone on the dance floor," Britney wrote on her website. "Can't wait to take the Femme Fatales on the road."

Just Shoot Me

Obama will actually embrace Bowles-Simpson. He would do better by embracing lepers. Doesn't Obama realize, appeasement never works?:
President Obama will reportedly embrace these recommendations as a good starting point for negotiating a long-term budget for the nation -- and he has the tacit backing of the Democrats' top budget guy in the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

"I think that the Bowles-Simpson blueprint provides enough running room for the President," Van Hollen said in response to a question from TPM at a budget presentation Tuesday at the Center for American Progress.

This Housing Puzzle Is Still Mysterious

The 20% down payment requirement being floated by the Obama Administration is so severe - we haven't had anything like that in more than seventy years - that it means the effective end of middle-class home ownership in America. It means the end of real estate as gravy train for the suburban set, where the GOP is most at home. It made me wonder why the GOP has been urging this policy forward. After all, the GOP has thrived on real estate sales for decades.

Well, apparently there was supposed to be a Giant Loophole in the proposal. But the Obama Administration removed the Giant Loophole. As it now stands, this proposal is like an open invitation to suicide: If the GOP destroys the middle class in order to reign in real estate speculation, the GOP will end up being snuffed out too. So, this proposal can't possibly survive in its current form - it would be the most-hated law in American history - but what will replace it?:

Senators involved in writing part of a broad financial overhaul measure say they are dismayed that the Obama administration proposes carrying out their plan by pushing home buyers to come up with hefty sums of cash at the closing table.

The legislation, enacted last year, required banks that pool mortgages and sell them as securities to retain at least a 5 percent stake in those loans. The idea was that banks should have some “skin in the game” instead of selling off the loans and hence avoiding losses should the loans go bad.

At the time, a group of senators — led by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) — successfully pushed to carve out exceptions for certain types of relatively safe mortgages. They left it up to regulators to determine which loans should be exempt.

But the proposal that regulators unveiled last month surprised the lawmakers.

“This is not at all what we intended,” Isakson said in an interview Monday.

Under the plan, mortgages with a 20 percent down payment were deemed safe. That means banks would have to retain a stake in loans with smaller down payments, a costly requirement that the industry said it would pass on to borrowers in the form of higher interest rates and fees. Isakson, who owned a realty brokerage for three decades, said that lawmakers debated but intentionally rejected imposing a minimum down payment requirement for fear of locking millions of creditworthy borrowers out of the housing market.

...But by raising the 20-percent-down issue, regulators strayed from the intent of the law, said Hagan, whose state includes large mortgage insurance firms. Many lenders require borrowers to pay private mortgage insurance if they put down less than 20 percent. In a letter to regulators, the senators said loans with that kind of insurance result in lower losses for lenders and fewer foreclosures than similar loans that lack insurance.

...Last year, six out of 10 borrowers in the United States put less than 20 percent down, according to LPS Applied Analytics. In sections of the pricey Washington market, nearly all borrowers put down less than 20 percent — including about 86 percent of borrowers in Prince George’s County and 80 percent in Prince William County.

Pakistan And U.S. Nearing A Divorce

Since 9/11, the United States and Pakistan have been at odds over any and every issue. It's a surprise they have gotten along as well as they have for as long as they have.

The U.S. has been particularly incensed that terrorist groups get support in one way or another from Pakistan. But that is precisely the point, from the Pakistani point-of-view. In some ways, these groups are allied, or have interests in common, with Pakistan. Pakistani support is a feature; not a bug. The differences are irreconcilable:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan has demanded that the United States steeply reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it halt C.I.A. drone strikes aimed at militants in northwest Pakistan. The request was a sign of the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies.

Pakistani and American officials said in interviews that the demand that the United States scale back its presence was the immediate fallout from the arrest in Pakistan of Raymond A. Davis, a C.I.A. security officer who killed two men in January during what he said was an attempt to rob him.

...The reductions were personally demanded by the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Pakistani and American officials, who requested anonymity while discussing the delicate issue.

...The Pakistani Army firmly believes that Washington’s real aim in Pakistan is to strip the nation of its prized nuclear arsenal, which is now on a path to becoming the world’s fifth largest, said the Pakistani official closely involved in the decision on reducing the American presence.

On the American side, frustration has built over the Pakistani Army’s seeming inability to defeat a host of militant groups, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which have thrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas despite more than $1 billion in American assistance a year to the Pakistani military.

...At the time of his arrest, Mr. Davis was involved in a covert C.I.A. effort to penetrate one militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment, has made deepening inroads in Afghanistan, and is perceived as a global threat.

The C.I.A. had demanded that Mr. Davis be freed immediately, on the grounds that he had diplomatic immunity. Instead, he was held for 47 days of detention and, the officials said, questioned for 14 days by ISI agents during his imprisonment in Lahore, infuriating American officials. He was finally freed after his victims’ families agreed to take some $2.3 million in compensation.

...General Kayani has also told the Obama administration that its expanded drone campaign has gotten out of control, a Pakistani official said. Given the reluctance or inability of the Pakistani military to root out Qaeda and Taliban militants from the tribal areas, American officials have turned more and more to drone strikes, drastically increasing the number of attacks last year.

The drone campaign, which is immensely unpopular among the Pakistani public, had become the sole preserve of the United States, the Pakistani official said, since the Americans were no longer sharing intelligence on how they were choosing targets. The Americans have also extended the strikes to new parts of the tribal region, like the Khyber area near the city of Peshawar.

...In a sign of the severity of the breach between the C.I.A. and the ISI, the official said: “We’re telling the Americans: ‘You have to trust the ISI or you don’t. There is nothing in between.’ ”

"Housing Still Can't Find A Date For Economic Recovery Dance"

Ain't that the truth! Like I've blogged about before, I think recovery will wait until 2014, or so. (The last housing slide lasted from 1990 to 1995 - five years. This slide is infinitely-worse, so I think it will require seven years from the peak in 2007, or 2014, before recovery becomes apparent.):
"You've had a lot of people who've held homes off the market because they don't want to compete with foreclosures. It's likely to be a buyer's market for awhile, mainly because there are so many homes on the market and there is still a limited supply of qualified buyers," Vitner said. "The supply of buyers is being limited by high unemployment and the large number of people with homes they can't sell."

Here's one grim indication of where housing stands. Before the housing bubble burst, residential investment accounted for about 6.3 percent of the nation's economic activity. Today, that number has fallen to around 2.4 percent, according to Michael Mussa, a former World Bank chief economist now with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research group.

"Arthur" Facing Competition With The Young Demographic

If "Arthur" is going to do well at the Box Office it has to succeed with younger audiences (Dudley Moore poisoned the older demo). But there is competition there:
And while Universal's "Hop" won the weekend handily, grossing $21.3 million in its second weekend, it was off from U's estimate of $21.7 million.

Warner Bros.' "Arthur" came in third, with $12.2 million, according to Warners' weekend actuals, down considerably from the studio's estimated $12.6 million.

"Hanna" outgrossed "Arthur" on Sunday, with the former dropping just 37% from Saturday -- the market's best Saturday-Sunday drop. "Hanna's" improved weekend gross marks an even better start for the film, as it looks to broaden its demo base over the coming weeks.

"We were all intersecting for the most part the same demo," said Focus distrib topper Jack Foley.

"Life Portrayed In Mormon Ads Not Consistent With Reality"

The gap between promotional reality and real reality can be deep:
The ads are effective and intriguing: attractive, energetic, articulate Mormons sharing what makes them so interestingly, so uniquely and so memorably “a Mormon.”

...Sadly, as a whole we are far less interesting than what the ads have masterfully conveyed. Generally speaking, we are collectively a boring people. We might try to mix it up — sometimes serving ethnic fare at our ward dinners or altering the tempo of a hymn, but for the most part, as a group, we are steadfast, obedient, charitable, fertile and a bit dull.

Like Kids With A Magnifying Glass

Lasers are alluring as weapons, but they are really crotchety devices to care for, to the point where they are kind-of-useless as weapons. It's like taking your mother-in-law into battle: theoretically lethal, but only theoretically. But maybe that's changing:
In the test, which took place last week, the laser gun was mounted to the deck of the retired Naval destroyer Paul Foster and fired on a small target vessel.

A video of the test, released by the Office of Naval Research, shows a spark on one of the boat’s motors as it bobs in the ocean and, within seconds, is engulfed in flames. It was a milestone, because all previous tests of the laser were on firm ground, Carr said.

...For years, technical challenges have plagued scientists’ weapon development of a solid-state laser. Northrop has worked to develop the laser system at its Space Park campus in Redondo Beach under a $98-million contract that it won in July 2009.

The campus is also the site where Northrop engineers have worked on the Airborne Laser Test Bed, a missile defense program that involves a massive laser gun outfitted on a heavily modified Boeing 747. It has taken nearly 15 years and at least $4 billion to develop the chemical laser technology.

Japanese Greasers

The Campaign Against Capping Debit Card Fees

(h/t Jerry) David Frum is not persuaded by the Big Banks:
The big banks are pressing Congress for a favor that will cost the average American household $230 a year. The bankers argue that the favor is needed to support small community banks. But since the lion's share of the favor will be collected by just four banks, it might be cheaper to subsidize community banks with a check direct from the Treasury.

So what's the favor?

The favor is contained in the small fee you pay every time you use a debit or credit card. Banks charge an average of about 1% on debit card transactions. In Australia, where swipe fees are regulated, banks charge half as much -- and still earn a profit.

Why are debit fees so high? No great mystery. ... Credit cards of course pay banks not only a swipe fee, but very high interest rates. Banks are frightened that if they offered cheaper debit fees, many merchants might quit accepting credit cards altogether. They now threaten that if they cannot collect high fees on debit cards, they would have to cap debit purchases at $50 or $100.

...The banks dread a world in which consumers pay cash instead of borrowing at 18%. The recession has brought closer such a world: total debit transactions now exceed credit transactions.

...This year, banks are feeling feistier. They are lobbying hard to repeal the cap on debit card fees in advance of the July date when Dodd-Frank goes into effect. Washington media are filling with ads from banks and merchants arguing their case. But Congress is not swayed by arguments. It is swayed by clout -- and on this issue, it is the banks who have the clout.

Age Is Just A Number - A Very Big Number, But A Number Nonetheless

So, I guess as long as you keep your lifestyle in check, it's off to immortality:
“If you’re in good shape, age is just a number,” he says.

Even if that number is 85.

...“I feel as good as I did in my 50s or even 40s,” he said. “But thinking back, in the 1980s, I was starting to feel my years.”

That was the decade his soon-to-be-wife was born, in 1986. The year prior, Hefner suffered what has been reported as a minor stroke. He was 59 at the time. It seemed his days of all-night revelry at his grown-up Disneyland had finally ended. And, in fact, they had.

“I think it did have to do with my lifestyle, and that feeling passed away,” he said. “That’s why I escaped into my second marriage, because I was starting to feel my years. When that didn’t work, I came out of it reborn, I think.”

That marriage was to Kimberly Conrad, the mother of Hef’s sons Marston and Cooper (age 20). Seated next to his father, Marston says, “I’ve got great genes.”

No kidding. They run in the family. Hefner’s mother, Grace, lived to be 101 years old.

“It helps if you pick your parents with care,” he says, chuckling.

Did Grace ever offer any advice on how to reach the Willard Scott Plateau?

“I don’t think we ever talked in terms of how long I would live,” he recalled. “But she was a very special lady. She was from Nebraska and had good, strong values, but I think feeling young has to do mostly with an attitude toward life. If you surround yourself with young people, that doesn’t hurt.”

Electric Daisy Carnival Goes To Vegas

Too much for LA too handle; maybe Vegas will be better:
The largest U.S. electronic dance music festival will be even bigger in its first Vegas incarnation. Electric Daisy Carnival, which drew more than 160,000 attendees over two days in LA last year, will expand to three days, June 24-26, promoter Insomniac Events has announced.

The venue for the event has also been confirmed: the 140,000-plus capacity Las Vegas Motor Speedway, located some 15 miles north of town.

Monday, April 11, 2011

An Unusual Jam For A Tourist

People get into the strangest trouble. Here's a story about a tourist in Las Vegas who found herself coerced into prostitution:
After they checked in, the woman said "T" told her he was giving her to "Charlie," and that she would work for him as a prostitute. She said when she refused, he told her if she didn't cooperate, her adult children would "bear the consequences."

Las Vegas Sun's Excellent Coverage Of Righthaven Suits

The Las Vegas Sun has been publishing a series of stories covering the travails of the copyright ghouls known as Righthaven. Righthaven seems to fancy itself as the protector of newspapers, but it's really the scourge of bloggers. It's like the newspaper version of leprosy. The Court can't possibly spank Righthaven hard enough for my taste. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Righthaven sues me, as well as every blogger in the world, for bogus copyright infringement allegations.

Example from the series:

Elsewhere in the Righthaven litigation campaign, the company continues to run into trouble with its lawsuits because of its policy of suing first and asking questions later. At least four of its lawsuits in U.S. District Court for Colorado over a Denver Post TSA pat-down photo are giving Righthaven trouble:

• A suit involving North Carolina blogger Brian D. Hill is a case that Righthaven would like to see go away. Only after suing Hill did Righthaven learn Hill has diabetes, hyperactive attention disorder and mild autism -- facts Hill has been communicating to the world on his websites and in an online petition urging U.S. District Judge John L. Kane in Denver to dismiss the suit against him. His attorney, in the meantime, is friendly with the EFF and is drafting a lengthy response to Righthaven's lawsuit that Righthaven will have to deal with if the case isn't settled.

Aphrodite Review

Nice review!:
From the four corners of the earth they come to venerate this idol; to worship and magnify; to wave a sea of adoring iPhones before her deified presence in order to preserve forever a transient moment of unutterable ineffability.

...Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of beauty and love. Attempts to derive her name from the Greek aphros (meaning ‘foam’) date back to antiquity. On this interpretation, Kylie is ‘she who is born of the foam’, or, as another of her names – Anadyomene – suggests, ‘she who arises from the sea’. And there’s quite a bit of Disneyfied video-projected water and the real thing is also liberally squirted about a bit. Kylie is cast as the ocean-spawned Aphrodite, goddess of fertility and flowers; her audience is the Dionysus of sex, wine and drunkenness.

... Kylie reveals nothing new, but her art speaks to those who yearn for a sense of pop reality. And that’s what sets her apart: in an age of manufactured bands, ubiquitous miming and the ephemeral fame of X-Factor mediocrity, Kylie emerged from the gastropod of Neighbours and is now in her third decade as a global pop diva. Her performance is actressy and raw; there’s even the occasional flat note. But it’s the charming authenticity the people want. And obligingly, the goddess delivers.

Revenge Of La Niña

The forecasts last fall of severe southwestern wintertime drought resulting from La Niña fortunately did not come to pass in California, but the forecasts came very, very true in northern portions of Mexico, southern New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and much of the South.

If you plot out the drought-hit areas, it's in a form of a very-coherent stripe running from southwest to northeast: from over the Pacific west of Mexico all the way to the Atlantic Seaboard. It is a testament to how good climate forecasting is getting that "The Stripe" was clearly-evident in forecasts way back last September. "The Stripe" is a hallmark feature of El Niño and La Niña's impacts on the United States. Sometimes it's a wet Stripe and sometimes it's a dry Stripe, but its footprint always seems to look the same. The only real question is exactly where "The Stripe" falls: California was included in the early forecasts, but in reality "The Stripe" actually fell a little farther east.

Interestingly, a flipped-over northwest-to-southeast Stripe is a feature of Australian weather too. Right now, no matter how awash the rest of Australia is in water, it won't rain in Perth, on western coast, because, like western Texas, Perth lies in a dry Stripe:

A forest service official says wildfire conditions in much of Texas are comparable to those of March 2006 when a week of blazes killed a dozen people and thousands of livestock in the Panhandle.

...No one has died in wildfires that have burned about 1,400 square miles of land in Texas this year. But weekend blazes in West Texas destroyed more than 60 homes in two communities, and crews are trying to contain fires elsewhere in the state.

Delusions Of Credit Card Grandeur

Fame enables everything, including breaking the law:
According to The Register, however, "Gonzalez, 29, who escaped jail time back in 2004 over his involvement in the sale of 1.5 million stolen credit and ATM card numbers while a member of the Shadowcrew group by ratting out his erstwhile partners in cybercrime, went on to bigger and better things. While supposedly working for the Secret Service, he acted as ringleader in a massive credit card theft and laundering operation involving an estimated 170 million credit cards between around July 2005 and his arrest in May 2008."

Gonzalez himself claims that the Secret Service "treated me like one of their own" and that he was even invited to brief the government agents on malware and other security vulnerabilities. “All of this inflated my ego and made me feel very important and made me feel like I was really a part of the Secret Service with the backing and support of the Government Agency,” he writes. "One day I was unknown and nothing and the next day I am being hailed as a genius."

Weekend Dreams

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I dreamt that my bathroom sink was the most famous bathroom sink in the world, because that was where the Pentagon Papers were thoroughly-washed before being presented to the world in 1971. Last night, I had a recurring dream about being inside a ramshackle two-story wooden building, so seriously-weathered and decayed that a good strong wind could blow it over. The crisis was that the roof was leaking again. The adjacent adobe buildings were practically awash in roof leaks too. For some reason, I dream a lot about decaying structures. I keep dreaming about these impractical buildings, even though I've never seen these buildings in real life.

Credit Card Cancelled Again

If it's Spring, it's time to get my credit card cancelled again. Last year, my card got caught up in the Arco gas-pump skimming scandal that rocked the Sacramento area, and which inconvenienced many people. This year - last Friday, to be precise - someone in Spain attempted to rent a car from Hertz using my card. Apparently Hertz España is a big conduit for fraud lately, and you don't even have to visit the country to be affected. Fortunately these two charges were caught by Golden One before they affected my account. Golden One also caught my donation to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. Any charge from overseas catches their attention, even if the charge is legitimate. So, two legitimate catches, and one false alarm. All of this cat-and-mouse with my credit is a massive nuisance.

Lots Of Tremors Near Hawthorne, NV

The earth is shaking a lot recently just SSW of Hawthorne, NV. I wonder what's up there?

Frog And Toad Go To See "Arthur"

On Saturday evening, several DMTC friends were to gather at Old Spaghetti Factory, so I prepared to meet them for dinner, but Joe The Plumber called on the phone. He wasn't far away; he was in the driveway, and he needed to talk.

The gist was, he needed to stay away from certain bad influences that evening, and my company was the most-likely to help him accomplish his goal. So, at my recommendation, we set out to see the newly-released movie "Arthur", starring Russell Brand (and Sacramento's sweetheart, Greta Gerwig). But first, I kept the dinner appointment with my friends.

The Old Spaghetti Factory was immersed in a constellation of Second Saturday activities (I had forgotten about Second Saturday, and the weather was at last warm enough to make the event a real happening). My friends were going to see Light Opera Theatre of Sacramento's "Iolanthe" at the 24th Street Theater, and ordinarily I would have gone too, but not this night. Dinner was a bit rushed, but I was able to make it to the movie theater at Arden Fair Mall in time to meet Joe and catch the previews.

The movie "Arthur" was quite entertaining. Russell Brand made for a funny leading man, and Jennifer Garner was also very funny as his fiancee. Regrettably, I was so sated by spaghetti that I briefly napped when Greta Gerwig made her first appearance, and thus lost a bit of movie continuity at the start. Nevertheless, she had several opportunities to show her superior acting talents. The movie seemed to win broad audience approval. Lots of laughter was heard in the theater. I want to go back and look at the 1980 movie in order to compare it to this one (my memory is that the 1980 movie was not as good as this, but I need to review it to make sure). Joe liked the movie as well.

Interestingly, the movie makes several references and analogies to the children's-book friendship of Frog and Toad and how they cared for each other (this is all post-1980, and so it couldn't have been in the original movie, could it?) The analogy seemed to hold between Joe and myself too. I was concerned about him tonight. Tonight, a movie was the best diversion for Frog and Toad.

I've been a bit bewildered by the bad reviews for this movie. Part of it is lingering affection for Dudley Moore, but part of it is a sort of constipated contempt for the American movie-goer's ability to sustain the necessary element of fantasy to enjoy the movie.

Ignore the bad reviews. Here is the best example I have of a bad, bad review:

And yet this remake of Arthur fails, starkly and completely, either to capture the magic of the original or to create any of its own. The problem with this movie goes deeper than the casting or performances, deeper than the script by Peter Baynham (who collaborated on the Borat and Bruno films, as well as the BBC series I'm Alan Partridge) or the direction by Winer (the co-executive producer* of the acclaimed ABC series Modern Family). Sure, the jokes could be funnier and the execution crisper, but at heart a 2011 Arthur just doesn't make sense. Alcohol and money mean completely different things in the movies now than they did 30 years ago—basically, they're both a lot less fun.

Arthur's dilemma—he must marry a stuck-up society girl chosen by his family (Jennifer Garner) or lose his vast fortune overnight—doesn't scan in a world where wealth and respectability have long since amicably split, and a dissolute heir only stands to gain in status by misbehaving publicly. (A miscast and, for the first time, annoying Greta Gerwig plays the strangely infantilized pixie from Queens who turns Arthur's head on the eve of his wedding.) The recession—and, in a wider context, the massive upward transfer of wealth that's occurred in the 30 years since the Reagan era—have made the notion of an idle but lovable billionaire harder to take. And above all, the spread of AA culture and the recognition of alcoholism as a disease have made drunk jokes—a comic staple in Dudley Moore's day—seem gauche and unfunny. This Arthur acknowledges the recession exactly once and has its hero compensate for this staggering financial injustice by taking cash out of an ATM and throwing it at a dozen or so hangers-on. And when Arthur 2.0 goes to a church-basement AA meeting and owns up to his addiction issues—well, more power to Brand for quelling his real-life demons, but I'd rather watch Moore painstakingly balance a glass of whisky on the fender of his vintage car.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

False Economies

Getting the taxpayers' money back:
Whoops: The governor of Maine's decision to remove a pro-labor mural from the state's Department of Labor may cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, all because he wanted to "send a message."

Apparently unknown to Maine's recently elected Republican governor, the mural targeted by his ire was initially paid for by a federal grant -- the terms of which he violated by having it removed.

And now, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Labor has officially demanded reimbursement.

The grant, awarded in 2008 to pay for the 37-foot-long mural, fulfilled 63 percent of the $60,000 historical art project.

If the state decides against putting it back up, they'll be forced to repay 63 percent of the mural's fair market value, which has likely gone up since it became a centerpiece in Republicans' battle against workers.

...Maine is also in the midst of a pitched battle over child labor laws. Republican lawmakers in the state are set on rolling back basic labor protections to let employers hire underage youths to work an unlimited number of hours in more dangerous environments, and for significantly lower wages than adults.