Friday, April 05, 2013

Retrospective On The Sinking Of The Submarine Thresher

Fifty years have passed since the tragedy, and with that milestone, a reassessment:
Thus, beyond reasonable doubt, the available evidence defines the initial Thresher casualty as an electrical bus failure, which shut down the submarine's main coolant pumps causing the instant reactor scram. Unable to rapidly restart the reactor to regain propulsion, and unable to blow ballast, the Thresher slowly sank toward the ocean floor — a depth of 8,400 feet — with 129 men on board.

Rush Limbaugh Hasn't Talked To Many Scientists

Only an ignoramus would say this:
‘The consensus of scientists.’ Well, they are all politicized as well. The global warming scientists are just Democrats, folks. They are all part of an agenda. It’s where they get their money, it’s where they get their funding to study all this stuff… Government money, grant money.

Look, New Mexico's Climate CAN Just Go Ahead And Do Its Own Thang!

Is this why the Climate Skeptics suddenly are interested in New Mexico climate?:
A paper published in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology reconstructs climate change in central New Mexico, USA over the past 12,800 years and finds mean annual temperatures were ~1°C warmer than the present during the Roman Warming Period 2,000 years ago, the Medieval Warming Period 1,000 years ago, as well as during other unnamed warming periods in the past. The paper also shows cold periods were relatively wet, and warm periods relatively dry, the opposite of the claims of climate alarmists.
Look, New Mexico has an semi-arid climate, and arid climates of all types, no matter where they are located on the Earth, tend towards extremes. Right now, New Mexico is locked into an arid phase that even the rest of the drought-sensitive southern half of the United States or northern Mexico can't match. I wouldn't put much stock into Global Climate trends based just on what New Mexico is doing, because New Mexico's climate is a willful thang, and it's gonna do just what it's gonna do!

In any event, it seems likely to me that New Mexico's precipitation is usually negatively correlated to temperature because it is most sensitive to the location of the jet stream. A northern jet stream usually means warmer temperatures and less rain, and vice-versa. But it doesn't always have to be the case or the only factor. There is no reason why tropical ocean temperatures can't play a part too, particularly off the western coast of Baja California or the northwest Gulf of Mexico.  And these days New Mexico's climate is both warming, and, over the last century, getting a bit wetter too.  So, too, is Arizona's climate.  What is to blame for that?  Could it be ...... oooooohhhhwwwweeeeeeeooooo .... Global Warming?

Giant Sri Lankan Tarantula

Cool! Another big spider!:
It's huge, fast, venomous and the size of a human face. For some, Poecilotheria rajaei, a giant tarantula discovered recently in Sri Lanka, is the stuff of nightmares.

..."They are quite rare," Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of the Sri Lankan organization Biodiversity Education and Research, told Wired. "They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings."
I wonder about the big spiders, and their intelligence. I remember December, 2006, when I was in Australia, desperately trying to break into my host's house at 2 a.m. I went into his garage and was fishing for tools from a toolbox that was also home to a very large Australian Huntsman spider. The spider wasn't aggressive about my sudden, frantic intrusions: instead, it seemed to be curious, and gingerly tried to assess what was going on. When I stuck my hand into the toolbox, the spider retreated: when I removed my hand, the spider advanced. I think the large spiders have more smarts than people give them credit for. This Sri Lankan spider is probably a lot smarter than your average spider!

Who Is This Traitor?

Barack Obama, scum:
“President Obama’s plan to cut Social Security would harm seniors who worked hard all their lives,” said’s executive director Anna Galland. “That’s unconscionable. It’s even more outrageous given that Republicans in Congress aren’t even asking for this Social Security cut. This time, the drive to cut Social Security is being led by President Obama and Democrats.”

Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee accused Obama of “proposing to steal thousands of dollars from grandparents and veterans” and threatened to subject any Democrat who votes for a Social Security benefit cut to a primary challenge.

“You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts,” Taylor said in a statement. “The President has no mandate to cut these benefits, and progressives will do everything possible to stop him.”

Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy For America, called the reports a “profoundly disturbing shot across the bow for the progressives who called their neighbors, spent weekends knocking doors and donated millions to reelect [President Obama].”

Barack Obama Is A Fool

Obama throws the liberals under a bus. Well, guess what. He's going first:
Readers were greeted this morning by news that President Obama, the Democratic president, sometimes called the first liberal US president in almost half a century, is proposing cuts to Social Security in this years budget. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise. These are the ‘chained CPI’ cuts we’ve heard about for a while as what the president would be willing to put on the table in a so-called ‘grand bargain.’ So what’s going on here?

...So really this is just the President negotiating with himself, validating the wisdom of big Social Security cuts while Republicans are still saying — and show no signs of not saying — that no more taxes should ever go up ever.

...In conversations with the president’s key advisors and the President himself over the last three years one point that has always come out to me very clearly is that the President really believes in the importance of the Grand Bargain. He thinks it’s an important goal purely on its own terms. That’s something I don’t think a lot of his diehard supporters fully grasp. He thinks it’s important in longrange fiscal terms (and there’s some reality to that). But he always believes it’s important for the country and even for the Democratic party to have a big global agreement that settles the big fiscal policy for a generation and let’s the country get on to other issues — social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy etc.

This has always struck me as a very questionable analysis of the where the country is politically and what it needs. But I put it forward because I don’t think these moves can really be understood outside of this context.
For what it's worth, the liberal blogosphere is rejecting Obama's move totally. Yglesias, for example:
The core issue is that this is a compromise the GOP has already rejected. They've rejected it in its details, and they've also rejected it as a general concept. So if this budget is meant to underscore Obama's eagerness for a deal and willingness to compromise it doesn't really achieve that. So what it's really meant to do is throw the extent of GOP unreasonableness and unwillingness to compromise into stark relief. But I don't know what the cash value of that strategy is. To any reasonable person, the fact that the GOP ran in 2008 and 2010 and 2012 on a platform of all-cuts deficit reduction makes that clear. If you need further evidence you can look at the GOP's negotiating strategy during the 2011 debt ceiling battle, during the fiscal cliff in the 2012 lame duck session, and all throughout the sequestration controversy. You can ask John Boehner. Or Eric Cantor. Or Mitch McConnell. There's a lot that's murky in American politics, but it's incredibly clear that the reason we don't have a grand bargain on the budget is that Republicans don't want one. It's time for John Boehner to show some leadership and get a deal done, but he doesn't want to. It's crystal clear and utterly unambiguous. The White House is frustrated by the fact that lots of folks in the media don't seem to see it the way I do and this budget is, among other things, part of a strategy to turn that around. But that's a doomed strategy. The ways of bipartisanthink are mysterious and won't be unraveled by any new proposals. To many people, the fact that a deal hasn't been made is all the proof they need that both sides are equally at fault.
Or Krugman:
So what’s this about? The answer, I fear, is that Obama is still trying to win over the Serious People, by showing that he’s willing to do what they consider Serious — which just about always means sticking it to the poor and the middle class. The idea is that they will finally drop the false equivalence, and admit that he’s reasonable while the GOP is mean-spirited and crazy.

But it won’t happen. Watch the Washington Post editorial page over the next few days. I hereby predict that it will damn Obama with faint praise, saying that while it’s a small step in the right direction, of course it’s inadequate — and anyway, Obama is to blame for Republican intransigence, because he could make them accept a Grand Bargain that includes major revenue increases if only he would show Leadership (TM).

Oh, and wanna bet that Republicans soon start running ads saying that Obama wants to cut your Social Security?
The folks at Daily Kos are no fools:
Where is the change? Republicans are executing their long term plan to perfection. It will be a Democratic President who slashes Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid, a Democratic President who guts government services, a Democratic President who has already locked in permanently almost all of the Bush tax cuts, a Democratic President who gets next to nothing done regarding sensible gun control. Republicans are also pushing the Democratic senate majority leader to end the filibuster just in time for Republicans to take control of the senate in 2014. It will be DEMOCRATS who fulfill all the Republican’s dreams.
Just cut my wrists now!

No, the only thing that will ever work is adamant opposition to the GOP, AND our fair-weather friend, Barack Obama!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison - Epic Rap Battle

Odd Crime In New Mexico

This is stranger than the angry Roswell man who threw a barbecued chicken at his wife last week:
According to a criminal complaint, Aragon originally bit off a portion of his girlfriend’s big toe during an attack in February, when the two lived in Santa Fe.

She moved away from Santa Fe to get away from him. Then, on Monday, police say Anaya came to her house in Albuquerque and attacked her again.

This time, he held her down while he nearly severed her toe with what she believes was a cigar cutter.

The victim told police that Anaya used to be a shoe salesman at Dillard’s, but said he doesn’t work there now.

Get Low (From The Window To The Wall) - Lil Jon

I'm not surprised this is a favorite in the Thursday Funk Aerobics class, but I was surprised that George Clinton/Funkadelic-Parliament covered a portion of it in their Saturday appearance at Sacramento's Ace of Spades.

Rebranding The GOP

The Sequester Is Cancer's Best Friend

All hail our kind and compassionate GOP:
The sequester was not supposed to directly effect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. In terms of benefits, that's pretty much true, but there's one very cruel exception: cancer treatments. The treatments are covered under Part B of Medicare instead of other drugs which are in Part D. That's because physicians have to administer them directly, and the two percent sequester cuts apply to Part B. The cuts, coupled with the extremely high cost of chemotherapy drugs, means community cancer clinics are turning away thousands of cancer patients.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.

“If we treated the patients receiving the most expensive drugs, we’d be out of business in six months to a year,” said Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates in New York. “The drugs we’re going to lose money on we’re not going to administer right now.”

After an emergency meeting Tuesday, Vacirca’s clinics decided that they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients.

“A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening,” he said. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business.”

Your Local TV News

Mastering The Exercise Ball

How To Make Marbles

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

NRA Jackbooted Thugs

No need to look for them. They're here:
About 20 of them — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets.

In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference.

Bad Antipodean Dudes

I didn't realize much of Underbelly was based on the singular history of Carl Williams. I like Underbelly because it has a close affinity with Breaking Bad, and wondered whether the production teams were influencing each other over the years:
Carl Anthony Williams (13 October 1970 – 19 April 2010) was a convicted murderer and drug trafficker from the Australian state of Victoria. He was the central figure in the Melbourne gangland killings.

...He was sentenced to life imprisonmen with a non-parole period of 35 years for ordering the murders of three people and conspiracy to murder a fourth (which was unsuccessful). On 19 April 2010, while incarcerated at Barwon Prison, Williams was beaten to death with the stem of an exercise bike by another inmate, Matthew Charles Johnson.

...On 13 October 1999, Williams was shot in the abdomen by Jason Moran because he owed the Morans thousands of dollars. This event gave rise to a lengthy underworld war known popularly as the Melbourne gangland killings. In 2002 after meeting through a mutual friend Tony Mokbel, Carl Williams would court the services of the murderer Andrew Veniamin as his right hand man until late 2003.

...On 19 April 2010 News Limited newspapers including the Herald Sun revealed that Victoria Police are paying $8000 in school fees for Williams' daughter. The reason for the payment was not revealed at the time. However, during the 2011 murder trial, it was revealed Williams had turned informant and had struck a deal with Assistant Commissioner Simon Overland. Williams gave information on several unsolved murder cases believed to have involved corrupt officers and it was also revealed his murderer may have been implicated in at least one. Williams' lawyer Rob Stary said Williams was upset about the publication of the story. There was speculation that the police may have agreed to pay the school fees in exchange for information, and that publication of the story may have led to Williams' death.

...Williams was portrayed by Gyton Grantley in the 2008 Australian television series Underbelly, based on the events surrounding the Melbourne gangland wars from 1995 through to 2004.

More On NM Flying Saucers

Last night was interesting on the George Noory Coast-to-Coast AM Radio Show:
In the first half, historian and UFO researcher Richard Dolan talked about the FBI's UFO document, the Hottel memo, as well as various UFO cases and crash retrievals. ... The short memo, dated March 22nd, 1950 describes flying saucers 50 ft. in diameter containing 3 ft. tall humans. According to the memo, an Air Force investigator stated that three circular craft had been recovered in New Mexico, and each was occupied by three small humans dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture. The story was based on rumors, and reportedly the FBI didn't follow up on it. However, Dolan revealed that J. Edgar Hoover was actually quite interested in UFOs.

Early UFO investigator Frank Scully wrote about a UFO crash in Aztec, NM in 1948, and this may have been the incident that was referred to in the Hottel memo. While some have claimed the Aztec crash was a hoax, there has been strong research by people such as Scott & Suzanne Ramsey to show otherwise, Dolan noted. Interestingly, during 1950, the Air Force was running Project Twinkle to triangulate anomalous 'fireballs' that flew in surprising patterns. They triangulated an object 30 ft. in diameter flying at 150,000 ft. over New Mexico, which is much higher than any man-made craft at the time. As far as the 'alien' occupants of UFOs, Dolan pondered whether they might be artificially created organisms that are custom designed to function here on Earth.
Apparently the biggest challenge here is that the Aztec story was thoroughly-debunked, so the first task is to rehabilitate Scully. Dolan blames the debunking on a vendetta aimed at Scully.

Unclear if all this is related to alleged UFO base in northern New Mexico, east of Aztec. In any event Dolan was a well-spoken guest who makes a persuasive case.

Oh, they have a UFO reporting data base! I must enter my strange nighttime sighting from Beatty, NV a few years ago. Likely a private aircraft, but odd nevertheless: no standard blinking lights.


Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Listening To Bird Calls

When I awoke this morning, I could hear a bird call I had never noticed before. Some kind of migrant, maybe?

So, today, instead of pop tunes, I'm listening to 150 bird calls on CD, courtesy of the Stokes Bird Field Guide, trying to ID the mystery visitor.

[UPDATE: Probably a White-Crowned Sparrow. Not uncommon; just happened to be nearby!]

NAVGEM Says Rain Across Parts Of Northern New Mexico On Monday

But I'm also thinking they are going to get a little bit tomorrow. NAVGEM tends to be overly-pessimistic about rain in NM, but even it shows bits here and there tomorrow.

(And, of course, rain in Sacramento on Thursday.)

On The Cultivation Of Spaghetti In Switzerland

Monday, April 01, 2013

Lady Gaga Said No

It's a good thing Lady Gaga said no, because it would have been a career-ending move for her:
Not even a million dollars could convince Lady Gaga to perform during last summer's Republican National Convention.

...Documents filed with the lawsuit show that other entertainers also said "no thanks" to appearing at the GOP convention including Dolly Parton and the rapper Pitbull, who Republicans hoped to feature at an event for the Hispanic Leadership Network.

Many entertainers, including Journey and Lynyrd Skynyrd, agreed to perform at the convention, but Lady Gaga's offer was the most lucrative, according to an email sent last summer by AAN's director of development, Pete Meachum.

...Jennings, whose company is being sued by AAN, was instructed by Meachum to try to make the offer to Lady Gaga more tempting by telling her it would be an event "honoring women who run for public office."

..."Also, tell them that $150,000 will go towards a domestic violence shelter," Meachum further instructed Jennings in an effort to make the offer harder for Lady Gaga to refuse.

The Old Republican Bait-And-Switch

Means-testing for federal benefits leads directly to ruin. That's why FDR was adamantly, 100%-opposed to means-testing for Social Security. He knew better than anyone what heartless bastards the Republicans were, and even starting down that dark and evil road would be to offer too much, no matter what the seemingly-reasonable arguments might be. Thus, richer folks get larger Social Security benefits, and THAT is the key to its political survival. People instinctively defend Social Security because that it is THEIR money (and they are right)! Still, the GOP has tried for decades to get Democrats interested in means-testing. Some suckers, like Barack Obama, ARE very much interested. Resist at all costs! Follow FDR's example!

And how much does welfare really cost? As the GOP knows, it depends on your definition of welfare:
“Welfare” is commonly understood to refer to Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), the block grant program that replaced Aid To Families With Dependent Children under the 1996 welfare-reform law. The federal government spends about $18 billion per year on TANF. Sometimes “welfare” is also understood to mean food stamps. The federal government spends $78 billion per year on food stamps. Combined cost: $96 billion. Annual expenditures on Social Security ($731 billion), Medicare ($486 billion), and defense ($718 billion) are each greater by a factor of five or more. (Throughout this column I’m using data for fiscal year 2011, the most recent available.)

Is Sessions a math dunce? No, he just subscribes to an unrecognizably maximalist definition of “welfare,” one that includes every single federal program that’s means-tested. He includes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, usually described as health care programs, which account for nearly half his total. He also includes Pell grants, job training programs, and various other functions that are “welfare” in roughly the same sense that all government spending is “socialism.” By stretching welfare’s meaning until it has almost none, Sessions is able to calculate the total welfare tab not at an underwhelming $96 billion, but at $746 billion, which is indeed more than the tab for Social Security, or Medicare, or defense. Then he adds in the state-funded part of these programs so he can say the total exceeds $1 trillion.

As recently as 2008, the federal tab was one-quarter lower. What happened? Sessions blames the Obama administration for encouraging too much participation, but the obvious problem is the economy. The Great Recession and weak recovery were a catastrophe for low-income people, making it necessary for the government to provide additional assistance, mainly through the 2009 stimulus.

...But Democrats also worry that the more efficiently Medicare and Social Security target those who most need them, the more politically vulnerable these programs will become. With the GOP jamming every means-tested program under the “welfare” rubric to decry a trumped-up epidemic of dependency, this isn’t an abstract fear. Democrats would be fools not to suspect that, for Republicans, reform is a prelude to elimination (or at least drastic reduction).

...Never mind that the common worry that long-term cash benefits will breed welfare dependency is inapplicable to most of these other low-income programs. Medicaid recipients don’t get hooked on heart bypass surgery. Pell grant recipients don’t get hooked on midterm exams.

Republicans condemn all lower-income programs as welfare because they’re kind of welfare-dependent themselves. ... So they defined welfare down. They began by shifting their ire to food stamps; they experimented with redirecting it to unemployment benefits; and eventually they simply pathologized all means-tested benefits, even though most had never particularly troubled them before.

Wall Street's Hardball Backfires

The Masters of the Universe get a comeuppance in the Stockton bankruptcy:
In a blistering critique, the judge assailed major Wall Street bondholders, Assured Guarantee Corporation and National Public Finance Guaranty Corp., for acting in a heavy-handed manner by refusing to negotiate the city's bond debt unless Stockton took actions to cut its massive employee pension obligations.

Klein concluded that National Public Finance and Assured "each took the position that there was nothing to talk about" unless the city sought concessions from the California State Employees Retirement System, to which it was paying $29 million a year. The city and CalPERS argued that pension costs had to be met.

"The translation (was that) if you don't intend to impair CalPERS, we're not going to talk to you," Klein said of the creditors. "They absented themselves from all discussions....And, having voted with their feet, there was no point in talking to them further."

The judge ruled that Stockton had put forth a reasoned effort to resolve its massive fiscal debt but received "nothing but a stonewall on the other side."

He also chastised the city's creditors for refusing to pay their required share of costs of pre-bankruptcy mediation, declaring, "The capital market creditors did not negotiate in good faith. And therefore, they do not have the ability to complain."

Tagger Sacrifice

An accident, and a warning:
Sacramento police say that evidence suggests that the man who died while descending from a downtown building was attempting to mark or etch something on the facade.

Police and fire personnel responded to calls of a man's body found hanging from a building at 12th and K streets at 7:45 a.m.

The man's death appears to be accidental, according to police spokeswoman Officer Michele Gigante. A can of spray paint and an etching tool that could be used to deface glass was found on a roof above where the man was found hanging.


There is a frog in my yard that's making a loud "Ribbit" sound, and complicating sleep. This is an unusual state of affairs - it's been several years since anyone went "Ribbit" in my yard - and, strangely-enough, in a drought-like spring too. But I like it. Not enough amphibians around, these days.

Flying Saucer Memo

Vague memo about strange happenings in New Mexico is Number One on the FBI's Greatest Hits list of memos:
A single-page FBI memo relaying a vague and unconfirmed report of flying saucers found in New Mexico in 1950 has become the most popular file in the bureau's electronic reading room.

...Vaguely written, the memo describes a story told by an unnamed third party who claims an Air Force investigator reported that three flying saucers were recovered in New Mexico, though the memo doesn't say exactly where in the state. The FBI indexed the report for its files but did not investigate further; the name of an "informant" reporting some of the information is blacked out in the memo.

...Inside each saucer, "each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture," according to the report. "Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed fliers and test pilots."

The saucers were found in New Mexico because the government had a high-powered radar set up in the area and it is believed the radar interfered with the controlling mechanism of the UFOs, according to the informant.

The FBI filed the typed page neatly away 63 years ago at its headquarters and "no further evaluation was attempted."

Toto Coelo - I Eat Cannibals

1980 nostalgia!

Target Shooting On Easter

Despite my more-deaf-than-usual ears (because of the George Clinton concert the night before), even I was able to hear the ruckus outside after Easter dinner. What was going on?

Several of my hosts were target shooting! A more-martial Easter than I expected!

My hosts were welcoming - they asked: "Would you like to shoot?". I hadn't fired a pistol in 28 years, since 1985, when I had a frustrating experience with Steve Martin shooting at nearby metal silhouette targets at Albuquerque's West Mesa gun range (targets that always seemed to be moving around just as I shot, so I often didn't hit them at all). Nevertheless, I was game (even though I'm a rabid anti-NRA foe). As they say, when in Rome!

They offered me a Canadian-made, Para-Ordnance 40 caliber pistol. I squeezed two shots off, and hit both targets, with a respectably-short distance between bullet holes and the bulls-eyes. Since I could only go downhill from there, and before the targets could start dancing around, I stopped, and graciously thanked them for their generosity.

They had a number of weapons available, including everyone's most-popular weapon this year, the AR-15, altered so as to be "California-legal". Because of the erratic rains, they never got around to firing it.


Once I arrived at the shooting location, they handed me ear protection. Nevertheless, my initial approach to them had been without adequate ear protection, and the noise was loud! Adding to last night's ear assault, I found myself afterwards suffering a few minutes of actual ear pain. So, time for a quiet period. Back to the house!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday In The Capay Valley

It was Easter Sunday, so time to go eat with the Adams clan, near Guinda.

Sporadic rain during the day! Nice company and conversation!

Jackrabbits everywhere!

Gerorge Clinton And Parliament-Funkadelic - Ace of Spades - Sacramento, CA - 3/30/13

In accord with habit, I was perusing SacBee's 'Ticket' section on Friday when I noticed George Clinton was going to be in town. Now, I'm not a real big fan of Funk music, but I know it's important to see influential musicians perform while they are still vital. Love him or hate him, Clinton is a unique phenomenon in pop music - far different than anyone else - and we were lucky to get him! So, I went....

Hard to believe, but he's going to be 72 years old later this year! Even harder to fathom is his rapid evolution from doo-wop singer in the late-50's to co-inventor (with James Brown) of Funk music scarcely a decade later!

The Parliaments "Poor Willie"

Everything was a surprise, from how jazzy the sound to how white the audience!

Here is a version of his most-popular song (and his last song of Saturday evening), "Atomic Dog", with a rap emphasis:

George Clinton - Atomic Dog

Oz The Great and Powerful

On Friday night, I decided to make up with Joe The phone-breaking Plumber. I invited him to a movie: Disney's "Oz The Great and Powerful".

People seem to be in two camps. Some love "Oz The Great and Powerful": some hate it. Some, like Kyle, are in both camps simultaneously.

I liked the movie a lot. So did Joe.

My criteria were:

  1. Does the movie mesh well with the plot of the original movie?; and,
  2. Does its allegorical historic interpretation mesh well with the school of scholarship first established by Littlefield (1964)?

I was first introduced to the Littlefield interpretation by Dr. Ferenc Szasz in his remarkable and unique lectures on American cultural and religious history at the University of New Mexico in 1979-80. Since then, others have tried to debunk the interpretation, but it still stands, as far as I'm concerned. Here is a good essay regarding the scholarship. Wikipedia summarizes:
Littlefield and other historians have suggested that Baum modeled the Cowardly Lion after politician William Jennings Bryan, or politicians in general. Republicans mocked Bryan as indecisive, or a coward, which became the basis of the character.

Historian Quentin Taylor sees additional metaphors, including:

  • The Scarecrow as a representation of American farmers and their troubles in the late 19th century.
  • The Tin Man representing the American steel industry's failures to combat increased international competition at the time
  • The Cowardly Lion as a metaphor for the American military's performance in the Spanish-American War.

Taylor also claimed a sort of iconography for the cyclone: it was used in the 1890s as a metaphor for a political revolution that would transform the drab country into a land of color and unlimited prosperity. It was also used by editorial cartoonists of the 1890s to represent political upheaval.

Other putative allegorical devices of the book include the Wicked Witch of the West as a figure for the actual American West; if this is true, then the monkeys could represent another western danger: Native Americans.

...Apart from intentional symbolism, scholars have speculated on the sources of Baum's ideas and imagery. The "man behind the curtain" could be a reference to automated store window displays of the sort famous at Christmas season in big city department stores; many people watching the fancy clockwork motions of animals and mannequins thought there must be an operator behind the curtain pulling the levers to make them move (Baum was the editor of the trade magazine read by window dressers).
The allegorical interpretation of the new movie is different from, but analogous, to the original. I notice color scheme of the two witches are hot red (Witch of the West, symbolizing an impetuous and naive yearning for war, symbolic of American history since 9/11) and cool green (Witch of the East, symbolizing, once again in Baum's way, the power of money). Money dominates all. The defense of Oz depends on the newly-installed charlatan, the Wizard of Oz, who relies on artifice and misdirection to confound and confuse his enemies. So, what does he represent? He represents Hollywood! America's only defense against the machinations of J.P. Morgan and its control over the Pentagon are the smoke and mirrors of the movies! Wow!

The movie has weaknesses too, but whose weaknesses are those, precisely? Everyone falls over themselves in the movie to offer immediate, slavish loyalty to the Wizard. This abasement is very un-American - we used to be a proud Republic, after all, and eschewed all that European nonsense - but that is PRECISELY who we've become since 9/11! What jokes we are! Baum himself would have been sadly disappointed to see what we made of ourselves in the intervening century.

The love story between Glinda and the Wizard is absurd, but it is de rigeur in Disney movies these days. Kind-of clunky.

So, a few clunky things, but mostly an excellent show!

[UPDATE: I went and saw the movie a second time. Some critics have complained the story is too familiar - even, too simple. They have a point. I figured Disney prefers the familiar to the ground-breaking anyway. References are made several times to the metaphorical figure of the 'Absent Father': whether Oscar Digg's father, or Diggs himself, or the murdered King of Oz. Dorothy Gale's father is missing in the original Wizard of Oz too. So many missing fathers! Steven Spielberg and his movies are to blame for much of the current fascination, however:
Beyond E.T. alone, Stahl notes that the "workaholic absent father is a recurring character in Spielberg's movies." Many of Spielberg's other films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Hook, exemplify strained father-son relationships, or absent fathers altogether.

...As such, a shift in the father-figure character in many of the director's later movies is evident: Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, and even his upcoming film Lincoln deliver dad characters that rise to roles of heroism.
And so too, does Oscar Diggs!

It's important to remember that the preoccupation with the missing father was high during the 1930's (due to the extremely-disruptive effects of the Depression), receded in the 1950's, and returned with a vengeance in the divorce-crazy 1970's. So, the preoccupation with the missing father marks this movie particularly strongly, and may prove a problematic historic residue in the decades ahead for future Oz movies.]

Conservatives Confuse Caesar Chavez With Hugo Chavez

Look, you guys, I know it's hard work, but the first name counts too. Chavez is a very common Spanish name. Caesar, Hugo, it's all the same....