Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Into The Woods" - The Movie

Glorious movie! We live in wonderful times! My favorite character was Anna Kendrick as Cinderella.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Handsome Bench For Tevye Ditter

At Sierra Hills Cemetery, on Greenback.

The Turkeys Of Sierra Hills

Not hungry; just curious.

When It Comes To Anti-Missile Defense, People Never Learn

Physicist Freeman Dyson, in his 1984 book "Weapons and Hope", described the many, many solid, serious reasons why Anti-Missile Defense could never, ever work. And still, even with the world's worst management, no one learns a ding-danged thing:
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD, was supposed to protect Americans against a chilling new threat from "rogue states" such as North Korea and Iran. But a decade after it was declared operational, and after $40 billion in spending, the missile shield cannot be relied on, even in carefully scripted tests that are much less challenging than an actual attack would be, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found.

...Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system's performance has gotten worse, not better, since testing began in 1999. Of the eight tests held since GMD became operational in 2004, five have been failures. The last successful intercept was on Dec. 5, 2008. Another test is planned at Vandenberg, on the Santa Barbara County coast, later this month.

The GMD system was rushed into the field after President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered a crash effort to deploy "an initial set of missile defense capabilities." The hurried deployment has compromised its effectiveness in myriad ways.

"The system is not reliable," said a recently retired senior military official who served under Presidents Obama and Bush. "We took a system that was still in development — it was a prototype — and it was declared to be 'operational' for political reasons.

...But given GMD's record in flight tests, four or five interceptors probably would have to be launched to take out a single enemy warhead, according to current and former government officials familiar with the Missile Defense Agency's projections.

The system's 30 interceptors — four at Vandenberg and 26 at Ft. Greely — could be overwhelmed by an attack with multiple missiles.

The threat would be even greater if enemy missiles were outfitted with decoys or shed metal debris, which could confuse GMD's radar and sensors.

Despite GMD's problems, influential members of Congress have protected its funding and are pushing to add silos and interceptors in the Eastern U.S. at a potential cost of billions of dollars.

...Intercepting a ballistic missile is a supreme technical challenge. Scientists liken it to hitting one speeding bullet with another.

...Then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the Missile Defense Agency from standard procurement rules and testing standards, freeing it to use research and development money to buy and deploy a system quickly.

The rocket interceptors were essentially prototypes rather than finished products when put in the field. The first model of kill vehicle was not flight-tested against a mock warhead until September 2006 — two years after the vehicles had been placed in the silos.

...One senior official involved in the system described his frustration at learning that some computers aboard the kill vehicles lacked the processing power of common cellphones.

...Philip E. Coyle III, who oversaw several early test flights as the Pentagon's director of operational testing and evaluation from 1994 to 2001, said that even the system's eight successful interceptions should be viewed skeptically because of the staged conditions.

"The tests are scripted for success," said Coyle, who has also served as a science advisor in the Obama White House. "What's amazing to me is that they still fail."

...The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty entrenched this doctrine by prohibiting either side from fielding systems to intercept intercontinental missiles. The idea was that the prospect of mutual annihilation had proved effective and missile defense would undermine it; if either side thought it could block a retaliatory response, the temptation to attack would be greater.

After taking office in 2001, Bush withdrew from the treaty, which he said was outmoded and prevented the U.S. from protecting itself against new threats from the world's "least responsible states," notably North Korea.

...On Dec. 16, 2002, Bush signed a presidential directive requiring "deployment of a set of missile defense capabilities in 2004."

The week before, two flight tests of the fledgling system had failed. At that point, its performance record stood at five successful intercepts in nine attempts. Bush's directive called the results "impressive."

Instead of delaying deployment until the system had been rigorously tested, the Missile Defense Agency, beginning in 2004, placed interceptors in silos at Vandenberg and Ft. Greely and declared the system operational.

Rumsfeld and his aides said it made more sense to improve the system over time rather than to try to field a finished version at the start.

"The way this program is evolving, every one of the new missiles will be better than the one that previously was produced," Michael W. Wynne, acting undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11, 2004. "Each one of the missiles will add to the reliability of the system."

Appearing before a Senate subcommittee a month later, the Missile Defense Agency's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, acknowledged some "technical challenges" but said: "Things are going all in the right direction."

Signs of trouble soon emerged.

Goats Do Their Part

Nevada goats do their part to reduce fire dangers posed by discarded Christmas trees.
The program's goal is to keep Christmas trees out of the landfill, and to reduce illegal dumping along with eliminating what might otherwise be a fire danger, firefighters say.

"Goats have all kinds of fire hazard uses – eating old Christmas trees is just one of them," Amy Ray, fire marshal for the Truckee Meadows district, told the Los Angeles Times.

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Great movie! Anyone who likes theatre will like this film:
Alejandro González Iñárritu achieves takeoff in a big way with his crazy, freaky-deaky, hellzapoppin’ showbiz comedy Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). ... It’s shot in one single take, without cuts (but with a few seamless digital sutures) and depicts the escalating anxiety attack being suffered by a failing movie star called Riggan Thomson, played with fiercely tender self-pity by Michael Keaton. Poor Riggan has haughtily abandoned the dumb superhero role of Birdman that made him rich and famous, and is now trying for credibility by starring in his own self-financed Broadway stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. He has hired his lawyer buddy Jake (Zach Galifianakis) to produce, and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) to be his personal assistant, in a pathetic attempt to make up for neglecting her in childhood while away shooting those hateful Birdman films – an abandonment that contributed to her drug issues.

...And all the time, poor Riggan is approaching a mental breakdown due to the imminent critical and commercial catastrophe; and he can’t quite admit to himself that he is addicted to celebrity, though he is unsure how to renegotiate his declining position as a famous person in the alien new world of reality shows and social media. ... Riggan doesn’t want to renounce his celebrity. He wants to upgrade it, improve it, make it classier. Deep in his heart, he prefers the acclaim of strangers to intimacy with his wife and daughter. And there is a brilliant, farcical moment when he is locked out of the theatre just before needing to go on, and the only way to the stage is through the public front-of-house entrance. The situation is every star’s worst nightmare: having to somehow prove your importance and validate your existence from scratch. Birdman is a delicious and delirious pleasure.

Downtown Roseville on Christmas Night

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Another Victim At The F Street Boardinghouse

History repeating itself, as farce:
A mannequin dressed like the murderous Dorothea Puente was stolen over the weekend from the boardinghouse where she did her evil deeds.

The mannequin was dismembered and discarded, much like some of Puente’s victims. The clothed dummy was recovered Sunday but the thief made off with a replica of Puente’s trademark red coat. The mannequin was stolen from an upstairs porch.

...The grandmotherly Puente, who ran a boardinghouse in the rented two-story Victorian at 1426 F St., Sacramento, was convicted of killing her frail and elderly tenants, burying them in her yard and cashing their government assistance checks.

...The theft was captured on security camera. ... Eventually, the thief carted the mannequin down stairs, coat and all. The mannequin was found down the street near a trash can, minus the coat, a hand and some handcuffs.

“It looked like she had been murdered,” Williams said. “It was karma.”

Williams said his nephew believes the only appropriate next step would be to bury the mannequin in the front yard. But a makeover and some repair for a damaged nose are in the offing.

"Better Call Saul" - Extended Song

Dolly's Birthday Party At Momo's

Dolly (Bella Rizzo) hosted an amazing Hollywood-style party on the occasion of her birthday for fellow Zumba and Fierce Funk Aerobics fans at Momo's Lounge (above Harlow's, in Sacramento, CA) on December 21, 2014. Here is a brief video.....

Momo's is above Harlow's.  I didn't understand that before.

Looking out the back into a nice yard.

Love the lighting!

"In perpetuity throughout the Universe, and the advertising and publicity thereof."

Assembling on the dance floor.

Al derecho.

A la izquierda.

Now instructors, crazy!

Smiling instructors.

Dolly's birthday,

Like the lighting on this wall.

Dolly says, "Everyone, dance!"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Christmas Letter 2014 Marc Valdez -

Once again, I am sending out my Christmas Letter in the form of a multiple-choice quiz. The reason I am sticking with this convention is:

( ) I didn’t get a passing grade on last year’s quiz and need to try again;
( ) I need the extra credit;
( ) I don’t want an ‘Incomplete’ on my record;
( ) All of the above.

The year of 2014 got off to a remarkably bad start. In California, the winter rainy season failed utterly. A meteorological phenomenon called the “Really Resilient Ridge” repelled all of the winter rainstorms that make California inhabitable. The reason for the extreme drought is:

( ) We sacrificed the lean calf instead of the fatted one;
( ) Hollywood just went too far this time;
( ) Mother Nature started sulking;
( ) All of the above.

In the spirit of the terrible times, I took this fellow as my avatar for 2014. He is an Iranian who smokes animal dung in a pipe and hasn't had a bath in sixty years. I figured, if he could do it, so could I. The reason more people didn’t flock to his banner is:

( ) No one could see his banner in the dense clouds of dust and smoke;
( ) Hollywood just went too far this time;
( ) He’s just a showoff narcissist;
( ) None of the above.

On a more practical level, I took fewer showers this year, started recycling gray water, withheld water from my landscaping, and hoped the trees wouldn’t die. The reason this approach succeeded is:

( ) No one really noticed my change in habits;
( ) I didn’t notice their habits changed either;
( ) The trees were already dead;
( ) People figured it was a publicity stunt anyway;
( ) All of the above.

Regarding Davis Musical Theater Company (DMTC) in Davis, CA, I participated in several shows this year. I was Stage Manager for “Cabaret” and “Shrek, the Musical”, and had a brief moment as a ‘Cut Dancer’ in “A Chorus Line”. There was also the 30th Anniversary Gala. Theater participation is a good thing, because:

( ) Fewer showers means social interactions necessarily become more superficial;
( ) Hollywood just went too far this time;
( ) It improves your reflexes;
( ) You become more adept at improvisation;
( ) All of the above.

I saw several interesting movies this year. These were:

• “Nebraska” (with Bruce Dern and Bob Odenkirk);
• “Le Corsaire” (Bolshoi Ballet);
• “Her” (falling in love with a computer; made me treat Siri differently);
• “À La Française” (an amusing animation short);
• Muppets “Most Wanted” (Muppets are always great!);
• “X-men: Days of Future Past” (didn’t understand a damned thing);
• “The Edge of Tomorrow” (best Tom Cruise movie yet – a low bar, I know);
• “Maleficent” (with the great Angelina Jolie!);
• “Belle” (brilliant presentation of the 1840’s ‘Zong’ verdict);
• “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (didn’t really *get* this animated film);
• “Interstellar” (oooh! Time dilation near a black hole as a plot device!);
• “The Hunger Games – Mockingjay – Part I” (fantastic!);
• “The Theory of Everything” (Felicity Jones is great as Jane Hawking!);
• “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (overwhelming in 3-D);

My favorite movie was “The Hunger Games – Mockingjay – Part I”, because:

( ) Fewer showers means social interactions necessarily become more superficial;
( ) Hollywood just went too far this time;
( ) It improves your reflexes to face relentless assault by desperate teenagers;
( ) Lorde is an excellent singer;
( ) Katniss Everdeen is the reincarnation of Annie Oakley;
( ) All of the above.

In 2014, I continued taking Zumba and hip-hop oriented aerobics classes at ‘Step One’ health studio with Pepper Von, Krystle Morales, and associates. This was good because;

( ) 2014 was the ‘Year of the Booty’;
( ) They teach secret twerking skills;
( ) I made the twerk honor roll twice;
( ) I totally missed the Kim Kardashian booty backlash;
( ) None of the above.

Together with a motley assortment of little girls, I loudly mocked Sacramento comedy duo Ritz and Triscuit in a YouTube video called, “We Are Dancers”, mostly because they were dressed like a donut and a hot dog and didn’t dance very well. This comedy video pleased me because:

( ) 2014 was the ‘Year of Junk Food’;
( ) Donuts have secret twerking skills;
( ) I was way too busy to notice the Kim Kardashian booty backlash;
( ) All of the above.

I traveled to my hometown of Albuquerque, NM in February, July, and November, mostly in association with the popular TV series “Breaking Bad”. In February, I sat in on a Breaking Bad Roundtable at the 35th Annual Southwest/American Popular Culture Conference. Many strange sessions: Creepy Children, The Grateful Dead, Nerdlesque (combining burlesque with comic book themes), Hunger Games, Mississippi Diner Food; you name it. This was a fun meeting, because:

( ) My social life is painfully limited;
( ) 2014 was the ‘Year of Mississippi Diner Food’;
( ) I have way too much time on my hands;
( ) All of the above.

On April 9, 2014, I self-published (via CreateSpace on “A Guide to Breaking Bad Filming Locations” (with contributions by Sven Joli). I started selling the book too. This was fun because:

( ) My social life is painfully limited;
( ) Amazon delivers secret twerking skills overnight by drone;
( ) It improves your reflexes to face relentless assault by desperate academics;
( ) None of the above.

My favorite book of the year was Pekka Hämäläinen's book, "The Comanche Empire" (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008). The reason I liked it was:

( ) Now I finally *get* honorary Comanche Johnny Depp;
( ) The Comanche Empire had mad horse skillz;
( ) I was protected from the Honey Boo-Boo mess;
( ) It improves your reflexes to face relentless assault by cavalries of the Plains;

The most exciting dance moment of the year was March 28th, when Jamaican Dancehall instructor Laure Courtellemont came to town. Amazing and astonishing was she as an instructor! I was simply agog, because:

( ) She’s pretty, blonde, French, and has mad dancing skillz;
( ) She mastered secret twerking skills long ago, but prefers to concentrate on even more-mesmerizing moves;
( ) It improves your reflexes to try and master Jamaican Dancehall;
( ) All of the above.

On April 25th, I slipped on a misparked pram and fell hard on the floor of a restaurant. A doctor came racing up, shouting loudly “are you all right?” What I learned was:

( ) Prams kill;
( ) Doctors are really desperate for business;
( ) You can’t get faster service by making a really dramatic entrance;
( ) All of the above.

My crooked California attorney, who stole $3,250 from me in 2013, was finally disbarred by the California Supreme Court in May and charged with a variety of crimes. The State Bar’s Client Security Fund (CSF), which reimburses money stolen by crooked California attorneys, has been making everyone else suffer, but they smiled on me, reimbursed me in full, and even paid several hundred dollars interest! This experience convinces me:

( ) I really need to find more crooked California attorneys and fork over to them large amounts of money;
( ) I have lawyer mojo;
( ) You can lead attorneys to water, but unless they get a retainer first, you can’t make them drink;
( ) None of the above.

On July 18-19, I attended the 40th West Mesa High School Reunion. There I finally learned:

( ) Who the 1974 class valedictorian was;
( ) That the Class of 1989 parties harder;
( ) Everyone looks and dances EXACTLY the same as they did in 1974;
( ) None of the above.

There were several other activities in Albuquerque: a Frida Kahlo look-alike contest; climbed J Mountain; hiked the East Mesa; visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. I passed time with the homeless folks on Central Avenue. A woman told a story about her sleeping spot in the alley directly behind the hotel where I was staying. A couple of mornings before, she was awakened by a light tapping on her shoulder. "Who is this person touching me in such an inappropriate manner?" she thought. Prepared to do battle, she peered out from under her blanket and found herself face-to-face with a curious bird. Curiosity satisfied, the bird hopped upon her shoulder and flew away. This story signifies:

( ) It’s harder to sleep on the streets of Albuquerque than you’d think;
( ) Burque birds are bold!;
( ) Symbolic estrangement from Nature;
( ) All of the above.

I started teaching freshman-college-level Astronomy at Yuba Community College. This was a notable step because I never took an Astronomy class in college, barely understood the subject, and was one chapter ahead of the class the entire time. This experience taught me:

( ) The less you know, the better you do;
( ) Today’s students just don’t keep up on the latest in Astrology;
( ) Modern high-tech classrooms are the bomb!;
( ) Everyone hates math today just the same as they did in 1974;

A very strange band from South Africa called ‘Die Antwoord’ performed at Oakland’s Fox Theatre on September 25th. I went to watch. My pre-show worries weren’t justified because;

( ) There were hardly any skinheads there;
( ) They don’t actually keep nasty vermin to spring unawares on the audience;
( ) They weren’t actually going to crucify Lady Gaga;
( ) All of the above.

I was part of a jury empaneled to decide a civil suit regarding a troubled construction project (the 2006 rebuilding of the Fishhook Interchange, Highways 1 and 17, on the outskirts of Santa Cruz). I was very surprised on the opening day of the trial when the jury was introduced to Dan Himick, CEO of C.C. Myers. There are times when the CEO of C.C. Myers is more important than the Governor of California, yet here he was, with us! And we ultimately decided against him too! What I learned was:

( ) The less you know, the better you do;
( ) Today’s CEOs just don’t keep up on the latest in Astrology;
( ) Modern contracts baffle everyone;
( ) If you strike at the king you must kill him;
( ) All of the above.

On November 7-8, the First Annual Breaking Bad Fest was held in Albuquerque. It was a pleasure to meet various celebrities, meet the Heisenhoneys, participate in a Netflix interview, and show off Albuquerque to fans Daniel Crocker (from the UK) and Michael van Voorst (from the Netherlands). One unforgettable moment was driving west on Indian School, just west of Carlisle, about 2 a.m. We spotted a canine loping down the street. It wasn't until we drew closer that we realized it was a Coyote! A wild dog in the middle of town means:

( ) You can never find a Roadrunner when you need one;
( ) The Acme Safe Company was closed;
( ) The town is slipping back, slipping back;
( ) It is a sign, but I just don’t know my Astrology;
( ) All of the above.

2015 will be a better year than 2014 because:

( ) You can never find a Roadrunner when you need one;
( ) The town is slipping back, slipping back;
( ) Today’s CEOs just don’t keep up on the latest in Astrology;
( ) It started raining again;
( ) 2015 will be the ‘Year of the Booty’ too;
( ) “Better Call Saul” will start;
( ) Laure Courtellemont will return to Sacramento and become my avatar for 2015;
( ) None of the above.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, all ya’ll!