Friday, March 29, 2013

Regarding Big Accident Yesterday In Davis

I wonder if I'll rethink eating and driving?:
The California Highway Patrol has released the name of the truck driver involved in the fiery wreck on Interstate 80 near Davis on Thursday as John Manuszak, 45, of Fresno.

...The driver was identified as Phang Phetsomphou, 76, and the passenger was Bouaket Phetsomphou, 74, the Solano County Sheriff-Coroner's Office reports. Both were from Petaluma.

...The incident, which spanned eastbound and westbound lanes east of the University of California, Davis, exit off I-80, shut down eastbound lanes for two hours and westbound lanes for even longer.

About 10:30 a.m., the big rig was eastbound in the slow lane when the driver, who was eating, began to choke on his food. He told officers that he briefly lost consciousness, and his truck drifted onto the right shoulder before veering left, across all lanes of eastbound traffic, CHP Officer Chris Parker said.

The big rig then struck two cars whose occupants suffered minor to moderate injuries, Parker said.

The big rig then struck the guard rail in the center divider and passed into westbound lanes, Parker said. At that point, the big rig's driver regained consciousness, but "unfortunately it's not in time enough to avoid a head-on collision," Parker said.

The big rig then struck a BMW, and both vehicles burst into flames, killing the man and woman in the BMW.

I Was Unaware Jimmy Carter Finally Told The Southern Baptists To Shove It

A lifetime of increasingly-misogynistic hatred directed by Southern Baptists towards women finally proved too much for Jimmy Carter to stomach:
The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Nixon Was Worse (If Possible) Than We Thought

The history we learn is often incomplete, particularly these days, when important documents are hidden from view for decade after decade, but we are now at the cusp of a new understanding, when Richard Nixon's Desperation Treason of 1968, can now be fully understood, in context. (Ronald Reagan's Desperation Treason of 1980 can also be understood better, but more sketchily). Particularly interesting is how Nixon ultimately fell victim to Watergate, because of his increasingly-desperate efforts to retain control over the information that implicated him.

In the first article, it’s important to note that Nixon’s advisor Anna Chennault was no ordinary advisor, but a highly-trusted, extremely Right Wing, Cold-War warrior of the earliest, unreconstructed variety:
It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.

He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.

...Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.

So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.

He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador's phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault's calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to "just hang on through election".

...In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson's reaction to the news.

In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: "We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move."

He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.

...The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.

[Nixon] won by less than 1% of the popular vote.
In the second article:
Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed him of the existence of the file containing national security wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam War in fall 1968. In the case of Watergate – the foiled Republican break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 – the evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968.

The disruption of Johnson’s peace talks then enabled Nixon to hang on for a narrow victory over Democrat Hubert Humphrey. However, as the new President was taking steps in 1969 to extend the war another four-plus years, he sensed the threat from the wiretap file and ordered two of his top aides, chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to locate it. But they couldn’t find the file.

...Nixon, however, had no idea that Johnson and Rostow had taken the missing file or, indeed, who might possess it. ...So, the missing file remained a troubling mystery inside Nixon’s White House, but Nixon still lived up to his pre-election agreement with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to extend U.S. military participation in the war with the goal of getting the South Vietnamese a better outcome than they would have received from Johnson in 1968.

...The Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, and the disclosures touched off a public firestorm. ...But Nixon had an even more acute fear. He knew something that few others did, that there was a sequel to the Pentagon Papers that was arguably more explosive – the missing file containing evidence that Nixon had covertly prevented the war from being brought to a conclusion so he could maintain a political edge in Election 1968.

If anyone thought the Pentagon Papers represented a shocking scandal – and clearly millions of Americans did – how would people react to a file that revealed Nixon had kept the slaughter going – with thousands of additional American soldiers dead and the violence spilling back into the United States – just so he could win an election?

...So, on June 17, 1971, Nixon summoned Haldeman and Kissinger into the Oval Office and – as Nixon’s own recording devices whirred softly – pleaded with them again to locate the missing file.

...On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon even suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to conduct the Brookings break-in.

...For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the Brookings break-in never took place, but Nixon’s desperation to locate Johnson’s peace-talk file was an important link in the chain of events that led to the creation of Nixon’s burglary unit under Hunt’s supervision. Hunt later oversaw the two Watergate break-ins in May and June of 1972.

...In November 1972, despite the growing scandal over the Watergate break-in, Nixon handily won reelection, crushing Sen. George McGovern, Nixon’s preferred opponent. Nixon then reached out to Johnson seeking his help in squelching Democratic-led investigations of the Watergate affair and slyly noting that Johnson had ordered wiretaps of Nixon’s campaign in 1968.

Johnson reacted angrily to the overture, refusing to cooperate. On Jan. 20, 1973, Nixon was sworn in for his second term. On Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson died of a heart attack.

...Rostow apparently struggled with what to do with the file for the next month as the Watergate scandal expanded. ...The very next day, as headlines of Dean’s testimony filled the nation’s newspapers, Rostow reached his conclusion about what to do with “The ‘X’ Envelope.” In longhand, he wrote a “Top Secret” note which read, “To be opened by the Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, not earlier than fifty (50) years from this date June 26, 1973.”

...Ultimately, however, the LBJ Library didn’t wait that long. After a little more than two decades, on July 22, 1994, the envelope was opened and the archivists began the long process of declassifying the contents.

A Bit Of 1997 Nostalgia

Can't stand it. Gotta hear Sheryl Crow's 'Everyday Is A Winding Road' again (the next song on what-is-now a classic album)!

Don Young Abases Himself Again

Bow to King Wetback!:
House Republican Don Young apologized for a second time on Friday for using a racial slur to describe migrant farmworkers.

...In a second statement, he said: “I apologize for the insensitive term. There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words.” Young added that the term “and the negative attitudes that come with it should be left in the 20th century.”

Lisa Navarette, a spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, told USA Today that she is “heartened that GOP leaders were quick to denounce Young,” but that the slur is indicative of a larger problem the Republican party faces: “It’s an education issue,” she said. “It’s not a matter of being nicer. They’ve got some fundamental work to do to educate their party.”
Yes, the GOP base is slowly turning it's ship of state towards the Latino horizon. Some groups will readjust more quickly than others - progress can be slow and halting, at times. I'm sure we'll have more Latino-consciousness-raising to come, but in the meantime, there's still time for fun:

Regarding The 1964 Socorro UFO Incident

John wrote several weeks ago:
Hey Marc,

[This] was written 3 1/2 years ago but I just came across it today. I was hoping from the title that it was a definite explanation of a hoax but it really is not convincing. My feeling is that Colgate was told that the event was a prank and he probably believed it. But there still is no real information that would contradict what Zamora claimed to have seen.

Many people at Tech claimed to have some inside knowledge about it but then Techies claimed to have inside knowledge about a lot of things--it goes with the academic environment I think. The one claim that I wonder about was when I heard physics professor Brian O'Donnell in a freshman class conversation with students remarking that it was a hoax and that he knew who did it (he did not elaborate further). Brian was a past doc under Colgate in the early 70's. ....

A friend of mine here in Oklahoma was an undergraduate in geology at Tech, graduating in 1960. He remarked that Zamora was regarded as an "elbow bender" but offered no other thoughts on the alleged UFO sighting.

Anyway, it's worth a read. Most of the comments point out what I see as obvious weaknesses of the hoax explanation. Quien sabe...

By the way, good job on the BB reporting from NM!

Thanks, John! I wrote back:
Hi John:

I had set aside your recent E-Mails to look at when time allowed. Today is such a day.

Interesting read! When I was growing up in Corrales, the Socorro incident was much more famous than the Roswell incident, probably because it was newer, and occurred closer to Albuquerque. It always bewildered me how, starting in the late-70’s, the Roswell incident rose and rose in the public imagination, until by the mid-90’s, the name Roswell was synonymous with UFOs:

If they can build Roswell up that much, they can do anything!

Also interesting is the small bit of blog plagiarism in the article. The author provides a picture of the Name-A-Brick monument at NM Tech – which is identical to my photograph from 2006:

I'm not seriously worried about credit. Anyone can take a picture of a monument. But the lack of attribution doesn’t speak as well as it should to the authors’ own credibility, when their own credibility is at stake. But then again, even Snopes, that epitome of myth-busting, deliberately salts its own Web Pages with falsehoods (I fell for their ‘Poseidon Adventure on the Titanic’ story). They pulled that prank, and no doubt others, in order to force upon gullible people the need to get several sources for any information they use.


Don Young's 'Wetback' Comment

Don Young stirred up the racial pot by using the term "wetbacks":
During a discussion about ongoing challenges to the economy Thursday, Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young referred to Hispanic workers as "wetbacks," an ethnic slur used to describe migrant workers.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Young told Alaska public radio station KRBD. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

The term "wetback" is a pejorative term that has been used to describe workers from Latin American countries who swim across the Rio Grande to reach the United States.

Young's comments come just weeks after the Republican National Committee called for candidates and lawmakers to soften their tone when discussing Hispanic Americans and immigrants in an effort to engage Latino voters after getting only 30 percent of their vote in the 2012 presidential election. Republicans are currently working with Democrats in Congress to shape a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration system, and comments like Young's could serve as a distraction from those bipartisan efforts.

In a statement to the Anchorage Daily News, Young said he meant "no disrespect" when he used the term.

"I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California," Young said in the statement. "I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."
There are infinite shades of meanings in all this, of course. The Mexican migrant laborers refer to themselves as 'mojados', meaning 'wets'. It's a terminology that started in the 19th Century. Folks south of the border generally don't use the term, except in derision. The laborers north of the border use it for camaraderie, and to remind themselves they are third-class humans here. Similar in some respects to how African-Americans sometimes use the "n" word, particularly in songs, but not quite so harsh. Best beware using the term if you aren't part of the group, however!

Don Young basically looks fondly back on the days when he was 'massa's son', growing up in the vicinity of Marysville. Not necessarily the most sensitive way to go about luring Hispanic voters to the GOP.

In any event, I still love this video, where Dr. Doug Brinkley, a well-known historian from Rice University, basically calls Rep. Don Young (AK - R) a moron to his face, for flunking out of Yuba College when pampered Don Young was a youth, and Young explodes in rage:

Once again, to remind the mojados (who don't need reminding):
I wish I was in the land of cotton,
old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land where I was born in,
early on a frosty mornin',
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.

Then I wish I was in Dixie,
hooray! hooray!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand
to live and die in Dixie,
Away, away, away down South in Dixie,
Away, away, away down South in Dixie.

Unceremonious End To The Career Of Nevada State Assemblyman Steven Brooks

Just an amazing exit from public life!:
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former Nevada Assemblyman Steven Brooks has been arrested in California on charges including resisting arrest and throwing objects, just hours after he became the first lawmaker ever expelled from the Nevada Legislature.

Jail records show Barstow police arrested Brooks, 41, at about 7 p.m. Thursday on Interstate 15 at Stoddard Wells.

“We had started to discuss possible next steps,” Mitchell Posin, Brooks’ attorney, told The Associated Press Friday. “Next thing I know, I heard about this.”

...The Nevada Assembly voted Thursday morning to oust Brooks, after Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, called him “potentially dangerous” and said lawmakers didn’t feel safe with him in the building.

...This is the third time Brooks has been arrested since January.

He’s accused of making threats toward his colleagues, including Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick. Police said Brooks had a gun and ammunition in his car. No charges have been filed.

He was arrested again Feb. 10 at his estranged wife’s home in Las Vegas after police say he threw punches and grabbed for the gun of an officer who responded to a domestic dispute. He faces a court hearing in May in Las Vegas on one felony and three lesser charges.

Brooks also was denied the purchase of a gun in Sparks last month after he was banished from the chambers. Posin said there’s been a misunderstanding and Brooks poses no real threat to anyone.

Horne said Brooks’ unpredictable behavior — which included missing meetings, calling news conferences he never showed up for, and posing shirtless for a Las Vegas newspaper — had made the session look “more like a circus and daytime drama than a serious legislative body.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wal-Mart's So Lean It Can't Function Properly

The inability to restock shelves highlights its decay. Interesting - they've got their little Potemkin, Arkansas store too. What you don't know won't hurt you, I suppose!:
It’s not as though the merchandise isn’t there. It’s piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn’t have enough bodies to restock the shelves, according to interviews with store workers. In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers.

A thinly spread workforce has other consequences: Longer check-out lines, less help with electronics and jewelry and more disorganized stores, according to Hancock, other shoppers and store workers. Last month, Wal-Mart placed last among department and discount stores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the sixth year in a row the company had either tied or taken the last spot.

...Last month, Bloomberg News reported that Wal-Mart was “getting worse” at stocking shelves, according to minutes of an officers’ meeting.

...At the supercenter across the street from Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, home office, salespeople on March 14 handed out samples of Chobani yogurt and Clif Bars. Thirteen of 20 registers were manned -- with no lines -- and the shelves were fully stocked.

Three days earlier, about 10 people waited in a customer service line at a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York, the nation’s largest city. Twelve of 30 registers were open and the lines were about five deep. There were empty spaces on shelves large enough for a grown man to lie down, and a woman wandered around vainly seeking a frying pan.

...“When times were good and people were still shopping, the lack of excellence was OK,” said Zeynep Ton, a retail researcher and associate professor of operations management at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Their view has been that they have the lowest prices so customers keep coming anyway. You don’t see that so much anymore.”

...Retailers consider labor -- usually their largest controllable expense -- an easy cost-cutting target, Ton said. That’s what happened at Home Depot Inc. (HD) in the early 2000s, when Robert Nardelli, then chief executive officer, cut staffing levels and increased the percentage of part-time workers to trim expenses and boost profit. Eventually, customer service and customer satisfaction deteriorated and same-store sales growth dropped, Ton said.

...At the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Wal-Mart where Mary Pat Tifft has worked for nearly a quarter-century, merchandise ready for the sales floor remains on pallets and in steel bins lining the floor of the back room -- an area so full that “no passable aisles” remain, she said. Meanwhile, the front of the store is increasingly barren, Tifft said. That landscape has worsened over the past several years as workers who leave aren’t replaced, she said.

...“We’re not getting as many sales because there’s simply no one to help the customers throughout the stores,” said Jackson, 24, who has worked at two Wal-Mart stores since 2009. “I asked, ‘Why can’t we have enough hours to make the store work?’ They said, ‘It’s orders from Home Office,’” she said.

Oh, People Hate Losing Money!

And Wall Street hates losing money more than anyone else. But regarding the City of Stockton, I'm sure the law is quite clear who has priority over speculators, and who doesn't - that's what the law is good for, after all! In "Urinetown" parlance, this time around, Wall Street will be the "Bunny":
Wall Street creditors rested their case this morning, and closing arguments are slated for this afternoon, a day earlier than expected. But United States Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein said he would be unable to issue a ruling today because of the arduous task of reviewing thousands of pages in bankruptcy court affidavits and supporting documents from Stockton city officials and creditors.

"Much of the evidence over the last two and a half days has been in written form," said Klein, who joked that he may end up spending Easter weekend "bench pressing 300 pounds" of documents in considering legal challenges to the Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy of the city of more than 290,000 residents.

Creditors who insured Stockton's pensions and issued bonds for downtown redevelopment, including a sports arena, have charged in court this week that the city wrongfully declared bankruptcy after bad-faith negotiations over its debts.

They want to force the city to negotiate with the California State Public Employees Retirement System over renegotiating Stockton's massive employee pension obligations - something the city and CalPERS says it can't do - to pay other obligations. And they have argued that Stockton could have raised local taxes to pay creditors and made deeper fiscal cuts to avoid bankruptcy.

The tax issue flared in court this morning, a day after Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva announced Tuesday that he would pursue voter approval for a local sales tax increase to add 100 police officers - but not pay city creditors.

DOMA Looks Doomed

DOMA appears doomed, not because it's a bad law, but because it tramples all over States' Rights:
In his line of questioning, Kennedy, who has a track record in favor of gay rights, repeatedly contended that the federal government had exceeded its constitutional authority.

“You are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody,” he told Paul Clement, the lawyer arguing in favor of upholding DOMA.

When Clement tried to argue that it was a valid exercise of federal power and does not infringe on states’ rights, Kennedy asked why Congress could deny benefits “where the voters have decided” that same sex marriage ought to be legal. “I think it is a DOMA problem,” he said. “The question is whether or not the federal government, under our federalism scheme, has the authority to regulate marriage.”
This is a valid concern! American law has always consigned almost all authority over marriage to the states. There has always been very little role for the Federal Government, right from the very start, and the Supreme Court is mindful of that.

Caption: "Queen Amor," a pro gay marriage activist, poses in front of the US Supreme Court March 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.

But that also means the Supreme Court is unlikely to overrule Proposition 8 in California. After all, Proposition 8 was narrowly passed in a valid election in 2008. Times have changed since then, however, and so gay marriage would likely succeed today. Nevertheless, the Gay Rights forces in California have been leery about pushing another Proposition onto the ballot so soon, in order to avoid a pointless waste of resources in the event they have misjudged the electorate. How the Supreme Court tilts on Proposition 8 will be of the greatest interest.

Martian Comet Flyby Will Be Impressive!

Even a slim chance of a collision!:
"There is a small but non-negligible chance that Comet 2013 A1 will strike Mars next year in October of 2014," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at JPL. "Current solutions put the odds of impact at 1 in 2000."

The nucleus of the comet is probably 1 to 3 km in diameter, and it is coming in fast, around 56 km/s (125,000 mph). "It if does hit Mars, it would deliver as much energy as 35 million megatons of TNT," estimates Yeomans.

..."I think of it as a giant climate experiment," says Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters. "An impact would loft a lot of stuff into the Martian atmosphere--dust, sand, water and other debris. The result could be a warmer, wetter Mars than we're accustomed to today."

Keeping The Corruption Within Channels

Military and other security forces (USAF, Border Patrol, Highway Patrol, State Police, etc.) in the American Southwest are of the greatest value for Mexican drug cartels to target. Drugs can be moved more-effectively by security forces under cover of official business than by anyone else, particularly if there is lax oversight, making them potentially weak links in American security. Thus, the state of corruption of these forces is of the greatest interest in combating the drug cartels.

The efforts of the Arizona National Guard to preserve the chain of command from disruption, and value smooth operation above simple truth isn't encouraging:
The new ethics code, in a section subtitled “Protection of Agency Records and Information,” tells Guard members that “only designated individuals” may speak out.

Accompanying guidelines warn that “any release of agency information to the public or media must go through either the Public Affairs Office or the Staff Judge Advocate’s Office.”

...The Republic’s ongoing reporting on corruption has been based largely on information from dozens of Arizona Guard members who say that the chain of command fails to combat wrongdoing and that complainants frequently are subject to retaliation.

...Experts on law and ethics said the new policy is confusing because it does not define “agency information” and therefore may be perceived as a free-speech violation.

“To the degree that there’s a mandate and you can’t talk to the press, that could be problematic,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who teaches and writes about whistle-blowing.

Tom Devine, legal director for the non-profit Government Accountability Project, which operates, said Guardsmen are a hybrid of state and federal military, with the legal rights of neither.

“National Guards have been in a unique loophole to all whistle-blower protections,” Devine said. “They end up with the worst of all possible worlds.”

The Black Angels - “Don’t Play With Guns”

Badtux likes new music.

Enormous Crack Opens On Navajo Reservation

Birds fly and grabens grow:
The crack is along an extensional fault system mapped in 1984 by George Billingsley of the U.S. Geological Survey. Movement on the fault may be related to the numerous small earthquakes in the area (see Arizona is earthquake country) that derive from crustal extension. The 900-foot long crack is parallel to joints in the Kaibab Limestone.

Trying To Raise Crops In Southern New Mexico

Inkstain has been covering the NM Drought.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cyprus Should Walk

Paul Krugman, with some sensible advice:
A correspondent whom I respect has (gently) challenged me to say plainly what I think Cyprus should do — leaving aside all questions about political realism.

...So here it is: yes, Cyprus should leave the euro. Now.

The reason is straightforward: staying in the euro means an incredibly severe depression, which will last for many years while Cyprus tries to build a new export sector. Leaving the euro, and letting the new currency fall sharply, would greatly accelerate that rebuilding.

If you look at Cyprus’s trade profile, you see just how much damage the country is about to sustain. This is a highly open economy with just two major exports, banking services and tourism — and one of them just disappeared. This would lead to a severe slump on its own. On top of that, the troika is demanding major new austerity, even though the country supposedly has rough primary (non-interest) budget balance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20 percent fall in real GDP.

What’s the path forward? Cyprus needs to have a tourist boom, plus a rapid growth of other exports — my guess would be agriculture as a driver, although I don’t know much about it. The obvious way to get there is through a large devaluation; yes, in the end this probably does come down to cheap deals that attract lots of British package tours.

Getting to the same point by cutting nominal wages would take much longer and inflict much more human and economic damage.

Groundhog Has Friends

Groundhog has friends in high places:
“Now it turns out, Punxsutawney Phil is little more than a scapegoat,” the prosecutor in Ohio’s Butler County, Mike Gmoser, wrote Tuesday after Phil’s handler took responsibility for flubbing the forecast.

...When Punxsutawney Phil was taken from his hibernation hole Feb. 2 and held aloft in front of thousands of people in Gobbler's Knob, Pa., his handler, Bill Deeley, quoted him as saying he had not seen his shadow. In groundhog lore, that means spring is imminent.

Gmoser's indictment accused the groundhog -- a species often known as a woodchuck -- of misrepresenting an early spring and called for the death penalty. But Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, stepped up Monday to save Phil, saying he had failed to correctly interpret the animal's "groundhog-ese."

Papa Topo - Meteoritos En Hawaii

OK, the strangest video I've seen in at least a week.

Marching Smartly Ahead With Decisive Indecision

When it comes to the Fabulous, Cable Dish-a-thon of the Modern Television Multiverse, I am a complete boob. Not only am I barely interested in the subject, since I don't watch all that much TV in the first place, but it actually gets rather complicated, with intricate deals, sophisticated packages, and hundreds of channels cleverly secreted in unbreakable, multi-year contracts. Nevertheless, for two months, I've been skating around the Multiverse like a newborn moose skating on an icy Siberian pond.

Today, there is a temporary resolution. And maybe I learned a little bit too. The Multiverse appears to be built with boobs in mind.

At first, I had Direct-TV. It wasn't really my choice. E.'s boyfriend C. bought Direct-TV for E. for Christmas 2011 (Or was it 2010? I can't remember. I'm a boob.) Anyway, she was thrilled, because now she could watch game shows in her bedroom. I was pleased, because I could watch Breaking Bad and the Weather Channel in the living room. Naturally, I was soon paying for the monthly fee.

In early February of this year, I decided to get AT&T U-Verse - both Internet and TV. So, I cancelled Direct-TV. E. was bummed. I liked the Internet part, but the basic AT&T TV was dreadful. There is a sort of Spanish-language ghetto there where they have about 15 channels in a pretty little row, where you could watch every variety of telenovela produced on the planet. And that's about all it's good for. I pined for Direct-TV again. E. swallowed hard and offered me money too. Anything to get her precious Direct-TV back again!

Direct-TV sprung at the chance to get my business back. I should have been subject to all kinds of fees, but they waived them all. Their technician came over, disconnected the AT&T U-Verse TV, and reinstalled Direct-TV.

But this left me with a problem. Even though I could no longer receive AT&T U-Verse TV, I was still paying for it. So, I tried to cancel the TV part. The AT&T folks on the phone balked at my outrageous request. The introductory deal was so good, they insisted, that cancelling the TV part would be tantamount to a criminal waste of resources.

When it comes to these kinds of either/or decisions, I have the fortitude of whipped cream. What to do? I thought about it for a week. My principal concern was music videos.

Kelsey B. was excited recently when MTV picked up her 'See Dis' video. I wanted to see it too on MTV, but apparently it's available only on MTV-Hits, a channel that, according to Wikipedia, is not carried by Direct-TV (on the package I have they carry two other MTV channels instead). What else does AT&T have that Direct-TV doesn't?

I remember fondly the early-Eighties, when MTV carried a riotous variety of videos for just a princely sum of money. I remember particularly well Easter, 1982 where we were guests at my Uncle and Aunt's mobile home on the eastern fringe of Mesa, AZ. We relieved the unbearably tedious family hours with the amazing video cornucopia then available on brand-new MTV. Well, today, if you want relief from tedious MTV Reality TV, for five times that princely 1982 sum (adjusted for inflation), you can do the same today!

So, I called up AT&T, to have them install their TV again. AT&T sprung at the chance to get my business back. I should have been subject to all kinds of fees, but they waived them all.

But this time, I first went to Radio Shack, and got an A/B switch, so I can watch both Direct-TV AND AT&T U-Verse TV whenever I please! Lots of fees got waived and I have low rates on both, and I'm getting a subsidy from E. and I get 3 months free of HBO thrown in too. Not bad for a newborn moose! I even qualify to get a free, $100.00 VISA card (six weeks delivery)! Yay! But I have to call a toll-free number first (which I probably won't, because I'm a boob).

Apparently MTV has a total of five channels. Amazing! I won't get MTV-Hits, though, because that's in the U-300 family, and I only upgraded to the U-200 family. But I always have the option!

Inevitably, though, the introductory rates will lapse and the monetary bite will become painful. But maybe by that time I can gather enough fortitude to make a decision.

Because we all admire decisiveness more than anything.

Been Looking Over The Horizon For Rain For NM

Think we'll have to trade in the atmosphere we have for a better one.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Zorb That Got Away

Trying To Set Things Aright On The Russian Road

I Like This Game Show!

A Rope Miscalculation

Cool when it works; not cool when it doesn't:
A 22-year-old Utah man was killed trying to swing through the opening of a 110-foot-tall sandstone arch in a stunt made so popular on YouTube that state authorities recently banned the daredevil activity by commercial outfitters.

Kyle Lee Stocking, of West Jordan, left too much slack in the rope he was using, and it sent him crashing into the sandstone base of Corona Arch near Moab, Grand County sheriff's officials said. He died Sunday afternoon.

Viral videos have bolstered the activity, which involves swinging wildly from ropes through arch and canyon openings. One video titled "World's Largest Rope Swing" has racked up more than 17 million views on YouTube since it was posted in February.

"Pendulum" swinging is a relatively new form of recreation in Utah's canyon lands, which see plenty of injuries and deaths from rock climbing and BASE jumping, which involves leaping from a fixed object with a parachute. On March 13, another man, Zachery Taylor, was killed rappelling at Tear Drop Arch in Utah's Monument Valley.

It's part of the recreational "craziness" sweeping the Moab area, where the annual Jeep Safari week got started Saturday, another potentially dangerous activity that involves rock crawling in modified vehicles, said John Weisheit, of Living Rivers, a local environmental group.

"People aren't accepting nature for what it is. They have to put an element of excitement into it," said Weisheit, a longtime rafting guide. "People see it on YouTube and then say, 'That looks like fun.'"

Deals From Hertz

I must object to Hertz niche marketing on the radio. They are aiming special deals at 'lezzies'. What's the matter with everyone else's money? We are one people, after all!

Wait, you are telling me that was 'lessees'? Oh ... never mind ....

It's A Rare Event When They Go After The Architect

But that's the (understandable) case with this LA house fire:
Experienced firefighters know that every minute counts: Flames weaken a structure the longer they burn. But punching the holes proved difficult. Their pike poles were 6 feet long, and the ceiling was almost 12 feet high. So the firemen were thrusting upward, wearing 50 pounds of gear, and barely reaching the ceiling. When they punched through the drywall, they encountered thick insulation. Watters told his men to stand on top of a low coffee table, which made it easier to reach — while he called for longer pike poles.

...Inside, the firefighters punched a hole in the wall just above a recessed, 15-foot fireplace. They discovered an unusually large void behind it. The walls did not have the typical fire stops — two-by-fours or sections of plywood that would slow the progress of flame. Over the radio, Watters reported that the fire was "running between the walls."

...Then — a tremendous crash.

...Glenn Allen, a department veteran of 36 years, had been standing on the coffee table. Now he was pinned in a seated position with his chest against his knees — and 1,000 pounds of wood, drywall and waterlogged insulation on his back.

...Allen died the following day.

...The police investigation pointed to the fireplace as the source of the blaze. Becker, who built the enclosure himself out of wood and combustible drywall, has been accused of cutting corners to save time and money.

..."He was resistant to my correction notices," Bescos would later testify. "He felt he didn't need our department there because when he had built before, he was in charge, and he made all the decisions."

...In July 2010, Becker ordered a custom-made natural-gas fire pit from a company in Colorado, at a cost of $3,450. In an e-mail exchange with the sales representative, Becker said he planned to install the unit inside. The sales rep wrote back, emphasizing that the units were for outdoor use only.

...As an outdoor unit, however, the fire pit was designed to have an 8-foot clearance above it. Becker's plan was to build the fireplace into a recessed alcove in the wall, with only about 18 inches of clearance. The outdoor unit was also intended to have ventilation from the open air, without which it would be prone to overheating. The owner of the company that manufactures the fire pits would later testify that he was "shocked, to say the least," to see one installed indoors.

...Prosecution experts would later document a long list of problems with the fireplace. Becker built the frame out of wood and drywall, both of which are flammable, instead of metal or brick. He covered the wood with tile and cement board, but that was not enough of a buffer to prevent the frame from catching fire. They also found he did not provide the appropriate clearances or venting.

...The house caught fire on Feb. 16, 2011. Becker had rented out the house for $100,000 to Germany's Next Top Model, a spinoff of the Tyra Banks show hosted by Heidi Klum. The models were due to move in the following week.

...After the fire, Bescos wrote a report pinning the blame on two things: the faulty fireplace and the lack of fire stops inside the walls. But in court, Bescos acknowledged that he had signed off on Becker's plan to use insulation as a fire stop rather than building physical barriers.

...Becker is not claiming that the fireplace was well built. He says he thought that covering the wood with cement board and tile would make it fireproof.

"I was thinking I could manage the issue covering up everything with noncombustible material," he tells the Weekly.

Though he was wrong, his belief was evidently sincere. Otherwise, he and his girlfriend would not have been asleep in the house when the fire broke out.

But that's as much fault as he will acknowledge. Asked whether it was a mistake to put an outdoor fireplace indoors, he asks: "What makes an outdoor unit an outdoor unit and an indoor unit an indoor unit? I asked that and I didn't get an answer. I would appreciate it if someone would explain."

...Becker flew back to L.A. in February 2012 to take care of some financial details with the house. He had no idea he was still in legal jeopardy — until LAPD officers met him at the airport with a warrant for his arrest.

...Meanwhile, his visa has expired.

"Actually I'm illegal here," Becker says. "It's a strange legal status."

...He is not licensed to practice architecture in California. He was only able to build his own house because he owns the land. In any case, he has no Social Security number and can't get one without a passport, which has been confiscated. He has nothing to do but wait for the case to be over.

"Trying not to get crazy, trying not to get angry — that's the daily routine," he says.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is This A Forecast For Southwestern Rain Shortly after April Fool's Day?

Today's 500-mb forecast for March 31st. Really hard to tell - those cutoff lows act so squirrelly.  Wait and see, I guess.

They're Thinking Of Cancelling "Bunheads"?

Since it's just about the best show on TV, it's a remarkably bad idea!

Here is Sacramento's own Bailey Buntain, together with the inimitable Sutton Foster:

And everyone's favorite, "Paper or Plastic?'

Jeff Bhasker Interview

Wanted to recommend the February NPR interview with Jeff Bhasker, who started in small-town Socorro, NM, and rose swiftly to write music for Kanye West, Rihanna, FUN, Taylor Swift, and just about everyone you hear on the radio these days.

CORE Dance Company - "Frayed Edges"