Saturday, July 09, 2011

E. Catches A Bunch Of Catfish

Apparently she is a fishing authority now....

A Last Story From Fourth Of July

I heard a sudden popping cacophony from the yard of the apartment house next-door about 11 p.m. I went outside to see what was going on, and in the darkness heard an amused feminine voice addressing some of her neighbors there: "Sorry, guys, it won't happen again!" Then, two minutes later, I heard another sudden popping cacophony from the same yard.

Street Person Sounds Off Against Faceless Bureaucrats

A wiry, older man trudging west along J Street approached me. He asked: "Is there a bus that heads downtown along this street?" Well, since J Street is a one-way street where the traffic heads east, I politely explained, the odds of finding a bus heading west were mathematically zero.

"That's what everyone says, but they can't tell me where to find the right bus. People don't know anything! The DMV people won't accept my Social Security card as ID for a driver's license, so I have to go downtown to get proper ID."

I asked: "Do you have a passport?" He shouted, "a PASSPORT! Why would I have something like that? And when you walk around with an open container in your hand, some Porky Pig will tell you you can't do that, but they let all the younger people get away with that, on - what do they call it? - Second Saturday, because they are daddy and mommy's precious offspring! It makes me so mad!

Say, do you have a dollar?"

Maybe It Helps; Maybe It Hurts

The developing weather story this week seems to be that a low developing along the British Columbia/Washington state coast will assist the summer monsoon in pumping moisture northwards into the Southwest, and the Rockies.

It will certainly rain in eastern Arizona, where they've been pretty desperate for rain, for months if not years. Only trouble, of course, is that it will rain A LOT on those extensive forest fire burns, which will lead directly to flash flooding. Mother Nature's love comes too late for many!

It's so sad.... The Arizona landscape has sure changed, in a lasting permanent way, over the last ten years!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Excellent Summary Of The UK Phone Hacking Scandal

Hugh Grant, Secret Agent

Hugh Grant secretly records one of his 'News of the World' nemeses. This is actually the first time I liked anything Hugh Grant has done! Just brilliant!:
Me Well, I suppose the fact that they're dragging their feet while investigating a mass of phone-hacking - which is a crime - some people would think is a bit depressing about the police.

Him But then - should it be a crime? I mean, scanning never used to be a crime. Why should it be? You're transmitting your thoughts and your voice over the airwaves. How can you not expect someone to just stick up an aerial and listen in?

Me So if someone was on a landline and you had a way of tapping in . . .

Him Much harder to do.

Me But if you could, would you think that was illegal? Do you think that should be illegal?

Him I'd have to say quite possibly, yeah. I'd say that should be illegal.

Me But a mobile phone - a digital phone . . . you'd say it'd be all right to tap that?

Him I'm not sure about that. So we went from a point where anyone could listen in to anything. Like you, me, journalists could listen in to corrupt politicians, and this is why we have a reasonably fair society and a not particularly corrupt or criminal prime minister, whereas other countries have Gaddafi. Do you think it's right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government? Whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen in to you now are - is it MI5 or MI6?

Me I'd rather no one listened in, to be honest. And I might not be alone there. You probably wouldn't want people listening to your conversations.

Him I'm not interesting enough for anyone to want to listen in.

The Bloviating Banker Blames Just About Everyone (Except Bankers)

Blame, blame, blame! Blame Congress, blame Obama, blame consumers, blame grandmother. And I'm sure he has his points. But not all blame is well-deserved.

Remember, the roles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the Housing Bubble were as enablers. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lowered the bar for entry of the great unwashed masses of middle-income Americans into the Housing Bubble casino (every Ponzi scheme requires enablers), but the real culprits in the disaster were the financial houses on Wall Street, which created and distributed the injured investment vehicles around the world.

Blaming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the Housing Bubble is like blaming the Godfather's wife for troublesome Mafia policies, instead of blaming the Godfather. It misses the Wall Street target (like Goldman Sachs, which no doubt remains uncomfortably close, and tightly-intertwined, with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City). If you get rid of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you just get rid of the middle-class housing market, which just means people will reinvent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under different names in a few years, because people will need to have institutions like that.

And those damned American consumers, going around, consuming everything they earn. What locusts they seem! Grasshoppers, when winter is approaching! But they aren't bad people: they are you and I!

Listen, if you want Americans to save more of their income, nothing will help more than increasing their incomes, so they'll have more to save! What a concept! We need a pay raise, to get more of the money corporations are hoarding these days! And yet that obvious solution isn't even on the table! And why not, I ask? It worked to get us out of the Depression. Why not now?

And Simpson-Bowles is another blame-vehicle. We can afford Social Security - we've been affording it for decades - so why make old people pay the price for Wall Street's bad decisions?What did the old people ever do to anyone to make them suffer so now? The Godfathers are there, and they can accept the blame, but only if you stop blaming everyone else first:
The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City delivered a scathing rebuke of U.S. monetary policy, Congress, and the American consumer in a sweeping speech on the economy in Des Moines on Thursday.

Thomas Hoenig, a native of Fort Madison who earned his Ph.D. in economics at Iowa State University, said the economy has been artificially inflated by low interest rates and will face further crises unless policymakers and consumers shift their focus to saving and investing instead of debt-driven growth.

"We have this leveraged economy that we have used to build our growth over the last 10 to 15 years that we cannot carry forward," he said.

Hoenig, 64, who will step down from his post in October, has long been a critic of Federal Reserve policies, including keeping interest rates near zero percent. He said the longer interest rates remain low, the more the economy will suffer when rates inevitably rise.

Before the government began providing a safety net for financial institutions, banks kept more capital on their books. In the boom before the financial crisis, banks and government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac let their capital ratios plummet in order to lend more - and make more - money. Low interest rates allowed this, and it was a "house of cards," Hoenig said.

...He had harsh words for federal lawmakers for not pursuing the December recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a bipartisan group that issued sweeping proposals now collectively known as the Bowles-Simpson plan. The plan called for Congress to, among other measures, eliminate all tax credits and deductions, increase the Social Security age, cut 200,000 federal jobs, raise the federal gas tax, and increase co-payments for Medicaid and Medicare. Congress has disregarded the recommendations.

Asked whether the debt ceiling should be raised, he told a Des Moines Rotary lunch crowd at the downtown Marriott that raising or not raising the debt limit won't solve the nation's problems unless the country takes sweeping, comprehensive steps like the ones outlined in Bowles-Simpson.

...He called the Dodd-Frank Act, the financial reform legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama a year ago, "2,300 pages of complexity" that ends up favoring large banks over small ones, by imposing regulations that small banks may not have the wherewithal and personnel to comply with.

"It forces consolidation, and that's a tragedy for this country," he said.

He said the idea that some financial companies are too big to fail is an "abomination" that in effect subsidizes large banks and helps them grow while other sectors of the economy - for instance, manufacturing - suffer.

...Hoenig believes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the beleaguered government-sponsored mortgage guarantors, should be phased out.

"It was designed to enhance our housing market and it destroyed our housing market," he said. "When you have an institution that is that destructive, you should kill it."

He also had strong words for consumers, who still carry debt that's 115 percent of their disposable personal income. Americans must begin to consume less and start saving and investing more, he said.

"We have been, as consumers, driving our economy and the world economy," he said. "But it hasn't really been driven by increasing consumer personal income or real wealth growth, but by an artificial leveraging-up of our consumers."

They'll Hit Up Anyone For Money

They hit me all the time:
Koch Facts, the Web site set up by the conservative financier Koch Brothers to counter liberal publicity campaigns against them, has posted a letter penned by public affairs president Philip Ellender, claiming that he received a voicemail from DSCC chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), asking him for a large donation in order to attend a retreat in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

It's Been Nearly A Week Since I Talked To E.

I hope her vacation at Minden Lake is going well. Still, I'm getting slightly worried: such a long gap is uncharacteristic.

It's Not Just The Landscaping, You Dimwit!

This Albuquerque story reminds me of the idiot who set the fire behind my house three weekends ago:
ARBY'S, TULANE & CENTRAL SE--A young woman sat calmly smoking her cigarette in the middle of Arby's patch of landscaping last week. Beside her was her wheeled suitcase...behind her, small tongues of orange flames licked the dry ground cover.

...The woman got up, reached over and extended the handle on her luggage, and pulled it over to a nearby fence. She sat down to smoke her cigarette and look over at the blazing brush and tree. Her face seemed to display no emotion, according to the biker.

"The people here care more about their landscaping than they do about ME!" she was heard to say.

The Price Of Disdain Could Be American Lives

Texas has got to have its way. But remember, actions have consequences. What happens to the Raymond Allen Davises of the world without consular assistance?:
If the Obama administration's Solicitor-General is to be believed then the State of Texas has just caused "irreparable harm" to America's foreign relations. And if you also heed the warnings of numerous US diplomats and ex-military officials, then it has also jeopardized the safety of countless Americans overseas.

How has it done this? By executing Humbero Leal Garcia, a Mexican national whose case had been ordered reviewed by the International Court of Justice.

Mr. Leal was arrested in 1994 and charged with the rape and murder of a sixteen year-old girl. His defenders have long maintained the case against him was based on early-90s "junk science" that would not withstand up-to-date scrutiny. They also cast aspersions on the competence of his court-appointed lawyers. Their key point however is that at no point during the proceedings was Mr. Leal told it was his right as a Mexican national to approach his country's consulate for legal aid.

Mr. Leal was born in Mexico, though his parents moved the family to Texas when he was two years old. Since he never took US citizenship and was a Mexican national he should have been informed of his right to consular assistance under the terms of an international treaty the US ratified in 1969.

In 2004 the Mexican government took his case, along with those of fifty Mexican nationals in similar circumstances, to the International Court of Justice. It argued that in all these instances the US had broken the terms of the treaty and each case should be given a judicial review to determine whether consular aid could have quashed the chances of conviction.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations concurred, saying the US was bound under international law to obey the ICJ's ruling. The state of Texas, however, disagreed. Saying it had never signed any agreements with the international court, it argued its case before the Supreme Court in 2008 and won. However, there was a caveat: the Justices said Texas would have to listen to the ICJ if Congress passed legislation requiring it to do so.

This legislation was only introduced recently, and is still winding its way through the usual legislative byways. The Obama administration appealed to the Supreme Court to ask Texas to delay Mr. Leal's execution until after that legislation had been given a decent amount of time to pass.

On Thursday, in a 5-4 vote, the court ruled against this. The majority opinion stated, in effect, that Congress had been given enough time to get its act together and that it would be wrong to "prohibit a state from carrying out a lawful judgment in light of unenacted legislation."

Mr. Leal's final chance lay in the form of Governor Rick Perry. In recent days he had received high-level petitions to grant a stay of execution. The UN's top human rights official even requested he commute the sentence to life imprisonment instead.

Gov. Perry, though, chose not to act. This surprised few observers. After all, he had been here once before, facing similar circumstances in the international uproar that surrounded the execution of Jose Ernesto Medellin in 2008.

In both of these cases prominent international figures have argued that showing such disrespect for the consular treaty and the ICJ will endanger Americans abroad. They say it will embolden foreign countries to treat with Americans' right to consular access with a similar disdain.

Compromise Is Best

Except when it comes to that damned debt limit, of course. Debt is for fightin', but eggs are for ... breakfast, I suppose:
U.S. egg producers and animal-welfare groups announced a compromise Thursday on how much cage space to provide for hens.

The agreement calls for roughly doubling the industry standard of 67 square inches of floor space per bird.

...At a Washington, D.C., news conference, they said the agreement could end the often-bitter debate over whether hens have enough space to move around.

Awkward Family Photos

They are having an Awkward Family Photos contest at the Arizona Daily Star.

They are apparently inspired by this Web Site, where Awkward is King.

Top O' The Mornin' To You, Mrs. Polar Bear!

Image by Wildyles at B3ta.

Science provides the answers to questions you hadn't even thought to ask:
All polar bears alive today are descended from a female brown bear that most likely hailed not from Alaska, as widely presumed, but from Ireland, scientists said.

The discovery, reported online Thursday in the journal Current Biology, suggests that polar bears and various species of brown bears probably encountered each other many times over the last 100,000 years or so as climate change forced them into each other's territory. On some occasions, those meetings produced hybrid offspring whose genetic signature lives on in polar bears today.

...Based on fossil evidence and genetic analysis, scientists had thought that polar bears' closest relatives were the brown bears living on islands off the coast of Alaska.

Although members of the two species can, and have, met and mated — as evidenced by the occasional "grolar bear" hybrid popping up in the Canadian Arctic — those couplings are extremely rare and thought to be brought on by global warming, as melting glaciers force polar bears into brown bears' habitat and brown bears encroach northward into polar bears' Arctic refuge.

So imagine study leader Ceiridwen Edwards' surprise when she analyzed mitochondrial DNA in the bones of extinct brown bears collected from Irish caves and discovered that it most closely resembled the DNA of modern polar bears.

...The researchers think that during colder times, the glacial ice sheet would have extended all the way south into Ireland, allowing polar bears to roam into brown bear territory and making cross-species hybridization possible. One of the resulting female cubs probably went on to become a polar bear matriarch, and the descendants of all other matriarchal lines died off.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The UK Phone Hacking Scandal Is Amazing

And it's very likely that the stain has spread here too. It's the same technology, and even the same people, after all!

The Oklahoma Dumbass Goes After The FAA

What a dumbass!:
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is pushing a bill that would protect pilots from "agency overreach" by the Federal Aviation Administration, in response to his own experience at the mercy of the FAA after he "scared the crap out of" airport workers last year when he landed his Cessna on a closed runway.

"I was never fully appreciative of the feeling of desperation until it happened to me," he said.

The bill is expected to be introduced Wednesday and called the "Pilot's Bill Of Rights."

...Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) "scared the crap out of" airport workers at Cameron County Airport in South Texas last October, when he landed his Cessna on a closed runway.

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."

...Senator James Inhofe (R-Entitlement) lands his small plane on a clearly-marked closed airport runway, in the process bunny hopping the plane over airport vehicles and workers on that runway to avoid killing them and himself during his, let's call it "landing." The workers are furious. The FAA investigates and makes him attend a "remedial training" program (no word on whether he also had to take a breathalyzer test ... just sayin'.)

So let's say you're a pissy, ultraconservative Republican senator and this happens to you. What do you do? Why, you introduce legislation to stop "overreach" by the mean regulators who made you feel "desperation" after you nearly killed some poor airport workers repairing a closed runway.

Sense of being inherently better than other folks? Check. Refusal to admit own stupid mistakes, instead blaming government? Check. Using your government power to solve your own personal problems, rather than worrying about anyone else's? Check!


And you think you have problems:
Ikenna, a 28-year old construction worker, went to deposit a $8,463.21 Chase cashier's check at his local Chase branch, only for the teller to decide that neither he nor his check looked right and he got tossed in jail for forgery, KING5 reports. The next day, a Friday the bank realized its mistake and left a message with the detective. But it was her day off, so he spent the entire weekend in jail.

By the time he got out, he had been fired from his job for not showing up to work. His car had been towed as well. It ended up getting sold off at auction because he couldn't afford to get it out of the pound. He had been relying on that cashier's check for his money but it was taken as evidence and by the time he got it back it was auctioned off.

All this while the cashier's check had been issued by the very bank he was trying to cash it at.

Las Vegas Pictures From May 22nd Trip

Almost forgot to post a few of these photos!

Just the strangest welter of impressions on this very short May trip.

City Center, Caesar's Palace, Bellagio, ....

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

It Almost Looks Like A Tropical Storm!

I wrote Jerry:
Take a look at the remnant of the MCC, or whatever it was, that blew through Phoenix yesterday. Tight little low in the Mojave! Spiral arms, and everything!

Jerry says:
Cool! Looks like one of them "easterly waves".
Take a look at the animation at the link while it's still up! The still image doesn't do it justice!

To be clear, the clouds are fairly-low: there is no rain there. Still, the intense Mojave heat can't help but pump this thing along.

These MCCs (mesoscale convective complexes) generally occur in late summer: August, typically, when the tropical easterlies make their northernmmost approach. It's a surprise to see MCCs so early.

Maybe this early start to late summer also jibes with that surprise storm that recently-led to the boat sinking in the Gulf of California. It was a surprise to them too! A real, big surprise!

It's like Mother Nature is impatient with the calendar, wants to blow completely past July, and is throwing a tantrum.

Big Phoenix Dust Storm

People in the Valley of the Sun are all freaked out about last night's dust storm:
The wall of dust rolled into the Valley starting just before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Ellis said. The mile-high dust storm moved between speeds of 50 and 60 mph and appeared to be nearly 100 miles wide, according to the Weather Service's radar.

Winds in the Valley reached 50 mph with gusts approaching 60 mph, Ellis said. Visibility fluctuated between zero to a quarter of a mile during the storm's peak density.

"I've been (in Arizona) for nearly 33 years, and I've never seen as thick a coating of dust, on streets and cars, as this one," Ellis said. "I've never seen anything like it before."

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was forced to shut down for nearly an hour, spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said. All planes were grounded between 8 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., and some flights were diverted to Tucson and California for landing. At least two flights were canceled.

The storm was so powerful, it blew a heavy cloud of dust into the terminals, triggering fire alarms.

Phoenix Fire Department received more than 700 calls for service as the storm rolled through the city.

...Salt River Project reported 9,400 customers across the Valley lost power during the peak of the storm.

Arizona Public Service reported that the entire town of Quartzsite lost power, affecting 2,000 people, and blackouts affected 6,000 customers in Buckeye.

Significant outages were also reported in Apache Junction, central and south Phoenix, and south Scottsdale. APS reported Wednesday morning that 600 customers in the far west Valley were still without power, but outages should be fixed by the end of the day.

A semitruck was blown over along Interstate 8 near milepost 169, six miles southwest of Casa Grande, Ellis said. Twenty power poles went down, and a tree fell on a police station near Sacaton in Pinal County.

The storm brought down live wires in Tempe, and one started a fire near Rural Road and Southern Avenue, Smith said. The blaze was quickly extinguished.

In Chandler, winds toppled nine trees at the intersection of Chandler and Arizona avenues. Police officers used chainsaws and a tow truck to clear the debris.

Although the cause of the storm's speed was yet to be determined, Weather Service officials said the storm's unusual density was caused by little rainfall in affected areas during the past several months.

A typical dust storm in Arizona might reach 1,000 feet and travel between 30 and 40 mph, Ellis said.

[UPDATE: At the link, take a look while it's still available at the remnant of the MCC, or whatever it was, that blew through Phoenix yesterday. Tight little low in the Mojave! Spiral arms, and everything! Looks like a little tropical storm. An easterly wave!]

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Time To Repaint The North Side Of The Garage

Scrape, prime, paint....

The Patriotic Dixon Amphibian Makes An Appearance

Upon departing Jean and Alec's annual Fourth-of-July fireworks-watching house party in the farmlands east of Dixon, and south of Davis, we discovered a small frog. "I hear them all the time," Jean explained, "but this is the first time I've ever seen one!"

A Fourth-Of-July House Fire In Woodland

I had just arrived at S.'s house in Woodland on a hot Fourth-of-July afternoon, when trouble reared its ugly head. I just missed hearing the double explosion that ignited a house fire on the next street over!

Left: A plume of smoke indicated trouble in the neighborhood near West Southwood and Sycamore Streets, in Woodland.

Left: All the neighbors came running to see what was going on.

Left: Everyone watched the Woodland Fire Department respond to the fire. In addition, since the fire was practically-adjacent to her house, the neighbor next door hosed down her roof as a precaution.

Left: S. got a better look over her back yard fence. She explained to everyone within earshot on the other side that her big concern was bottle rockets that the barbarous youth of Woodland might launch later on the evening of 4th of July that might land on her combustible roof, but people on the other side of the fence had more pressing priorities than musing on what the barbarous youth of Woodland might, or might not, do later in the evening.

Left and below: The Woodland Fire Department used a chain saw to quickly-cut a hole in the roof, in order to better-reach the fire in the attic.

Like taking a knife to a cake! All I could think was that they were inflicting thousands of dollars of damage on the house within the space of a minute. What choice did they have, though? If they failed to act, the fire could easily destroy the house altogether!
"B." later explained that a bum connector on the hose leading to the propane tanks on their gas grill was apparently to blame for the explosion(s). The gas grill was adjacent to the house, under a plastic awning. With the explosion, the awning caught fire. Then the fire spread to the house proper: specifically, to the attic above the kitchen.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Finally Facing The Primal Brain's Anthropomorphic Demons: "Cars II"

Left: Scary.

Ever since those Chevron ads first appeared on TV showing animated cars with big eyes, I've been nervous about animated cars with big eyes. The images have a hallucinogenic anthropomorphic quality that make me uneasy at some deep, primal level inside my medulla. It is just wrong! Deeply wrong! Thus, I avoided seeing "Cars I": it was just too much.

Left: Not so scary.

But what are fears if you don't face them? Thus, tonight, I went with several friends honoring Stacy's birthday to see "Cars II". My curiosity had been piqued by seeing an hour-long "Biography" TV show last week on the comic 'Larry the Cable Guy' (who voices 'Tow Mater' in the 'Cars' series).

Over the years, I had found 'Larry the Cable Guy' to be a bit offputting - his schtick is directed more to a Red State audience, and I'm definitely a Blue State person - but there never had been any question that he was a funny guy.

The movie was lots of fun. Because the animated eyes in Disney's 'Cars' series are smaller than the animated eyes in the old Chevron TV ads, and thus less hallucinogenic, I was able to swallow my unease, and enjoy myself.

Sonoma Signs

Got Birds?

(in store window in village of Bodega).

Ruby Slippers

(store in village of Bodega).

No Damn Large Trucks

(behind Taco Bell, near downtown Petaluma).

Antique Shopping In Petaluma

Petaluma. (old train station?)

There are a prodigious number of antique stores in downtown Petaluma. As soon as I arrived, I bought an orange bowl (for no other reason than orange is my favorite color).

The Seed Bank.

There are lots of other notable stores, like the Seed Bank, which sells lots of seeds, and caters to the needs of gardeners.

Vintage Bank Antiques.

This is like the largest antique store I've ever seen!

Inside Vintage Bank Antiques.

I soon realized their collection of old books was quite special. It was like the best old books in all the used book stores in the Bay Area had been carefully culled, and dropped here. There were all kinds of old, specialized, popular histories you can't get elsewhere. Unfortunately, the high prices reflected the special nature of the books: the management knows they have special books. Thus, I couldn't get everything I wanted.

I decided not to get the history of Baja California, but did get a history of Inyo County, plus a book by Oscar Lewis called 'The Town That Laughed to Death', which is a history of the life and times of the old newspaper in the town of Austin, Nevada.

Have you ever seen a popular history of Austin, Nevada, anywhere? Me neither!

Saturday Night Fireworks Display In Bodega Bay

Sonoma County Beaches

Weekend Trip To Bodega Bay

View down Taylor Street (a number of shots in "The Birds" were apparently taken on Taylor St.)

View of Bodega Bay showing tidal flat nature near low tide.

Looking out over this area from The Tides on Sunday morning, I saw several mammals of some sort - otters? - out here.

View of 'downtown' Bodega Bay.

Marina on west side of Bodega Bay.
Cows, plus egret.

The view from The Inn at the Tides.

Road to Doran Beach.

When we first arrived at Bodega Bay, we weren't sure where to go, so we first tried to go to Doran Beach. Turns out, the park was full, and no parking spaces were available for anyone. People would drive in, turn around, and drive out again. So, we parked by the side of the road, ate a lunch, and watched as people who had parked far, far away walked past carrying their belongings to the beach. At one point, a little girl, age about four, walked past pulling her suitcase on rollers. She looked lost: like a refugee from the airport.

Church in village of Bodega.

Field near Valley Ford.