Saturday, January 28, 2017

Southern Sierra Nevada Tree Mortality

Tree mortality in California was staggering last year, and continues:
“As ecologists, we’re struggling,” Meyer says. What restoration steps to recommend when future conditions are so uncertain? What kind of forest to aim for when the past is no longer a valid guide?

For much of the blighted zone, the question may be purely academic. The Forest Service is felling hundreds of thousands of dead trees next to roads and around developed areas for public safety reasons. So far the agency says it has treated 18,000 acres and is working on another 50,000 acres.

But there is a limited market for the salvage wood and a limited Forest Service budget for tree removal.

“There are massive areas in the landscape that you will just never get to because the economics don’t work out and the mill capacity isn’t there and the wood doesn’t have much value,” North says. “Most of those trees are just going to be there and fall over.”

"Hidden Figures"

Tonight, I went to see the movie "Hidden Figures". The movie is getting lots of good mentions because of its portrayal of the world of "calculators" - the women who would actually make the calculations assigned to them by men engineers in the days before widespread use of computers - and African-American calculators, in particular, at NASA, in the years 1961-63.

The movie was a real feel-good movie: scrappy women fighting against the odds, and winning. Nevertheless, I thought the movie did a real disservice to the world of engineers.

Until the mid-70's, every engineer would have had a slide rule. Calculators would have had mechanical calculators, but they would have had slide rules too. Nevertheless, there wasn't a single slide rule in the entire movie.

In the absence of analytic solutions, calculators would have focused on difficult finite-difference calculations. That's why they had to have mechanical calculators. Nevertheless, there wasn't a single finite-difference equation in the entire movie.

In one scene, the movie edges into non-analytic problems by suggesting the transition from elliptical to parabolic equations had no obvious solution. Good, I thought, here come the finite-difference calculations. To my surprise, the calculator suggests using Euler's Rule (presumably Euler's Formula) to solve an equation. The engineer looks surprised, and complains Euler's Rule is ancient. No engineer would speak like that. Mathematics is eternal - Euler's Rule is as valid today as it ever was, and ever will be.

But as a rule, moviegoers are more-familiar with a world where scrappy women fight against the odds than a world where NASA engineers struggle against non-analytic problems in the early 60's. So, the movie makers choose to mangle that technical world in the interest of enhancing the drama. And it works! I certainly found the movie pleasing. How could it not with the superbly-talented Janelle Monae in the cast? But cry, cry for the lost finite-difference calculations....

Friday, January 27, 2017

Donald Trump as Walter White

The more I think about Donald Trump, the more I think about Walter White. Trump's erratic behavior, and Melania's too, seem almost senseless, until viewed through the lens of Michel Foucault and his work 'Discipline', about how the revolutionary penitentiary created by Jeremy Bentham actually functions. Then everything falls into place.

The Panopticon is a cylindrical prison, with an unseen observer in a central location. Every cell is visible to the observer, but none can see the observer. Knowing their every movement is visible, prisoners are persuaded to behave.

The Panopticon is a favorite symbol of cinema. District 13 in "The Hunger Games" is an excellent example.

Trump sits completely-exposed the most-elaborate Panopticon the world has ever devised. How can he escape observation and retain any control in such a situation? By acting just like a madman (like Nixon always wanted to do, but never could). Even better, by being a madman (which Trump may be). Just the way Walter White learns to act in "Breaking Bad". Donald Trump shifts between different conceptions of masculinity - family man, provider, businessman, aggressor - just like Walter White does. And Melania attempts to retain control over her space too.

I've been rereading scholar Jeff Pettis' article entitled 'Men in Control: Panopticism and Performance' in "Masculinity in Breaking Bad" (ed. Bridget Cowlishaw), which I think is the best article regarding "Breaking Bad" in like, ever! It may be the best article written about Donald Trump too, even though Trump isn't mentioned once.

Regarding Walter White, Pettis writes:
Walt, rather than regulating himself, gambles on the potential of anonymity. He is able to evade the panoptic gaze precisely by abandoning the conception of the “rational” man projected by Gus – by becoming “madman.” Rather than being ordered, rational, and, in a sum a “cautious man,” Walt becomes a “disordered” man, using poor judgment and gambling on a number of factors to escape Gus’ gaze. By occupying an alternative conception of masculinity, one that appeals to risk, not reason, Walt achieves his freedom.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sacramento County Finally Escapes Drought

Sacramento County finally slips out of the drought noose, four years after falling into it.

DMTC 2017-2018 Season Announced

Steve Isaacson writes:
Davis Musical Theatre Company is proud to announce it 33rd Season of Musical for the 2017-2018 Season.

Jekyll & Hyde (9/8/17-10/1/17)- Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic thriller, Jekyll & Hyde is the gripping tale of a brilliant mind gone horrifically awry, set to a powerful pop-rock score by Frank Wildhorn with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Includes such popular songs as: “This is The Moment”, and “Someone Like You”.
Recommended for theater goers aged 11 and up

Jesus Christ Superstar (11/3/17-11/26/17). The 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, is loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus's life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. Great rock songs such as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, and “Superstar” Recommended for the whole family.

Monty Python’s SPAMALOT(1/5/18-1/28/18) Lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, SPAMALOT retells the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and features a bevy of beautiful show girls, not to mention cows, killer rabbits, and French people. Did we mention the bevy of beautiful show girls?
Recommended for all theater goers

Carousel (3/2/18-3/25/18) This iconic American classic features some of the most powerful music ever written for the stage, including “If I Loved You”, “Mister Snow”, “June is Bustin Out All Over” and the iconic “You'll Never Walk Alone.” Voted the best musical of the 20th century by Time Magazine, Rodger's and Hammerstein's Carousel is the classic American musical, spanning heaven and earth in its exploration of human frailty, resilience, and the power of forgiveness. Recommended for all theater goers

Guys & Dolls (4/20/18-5/13/18). Guys and Dolls takes us from the
heart of Times Square to the cafes of Havana, Cuba, and even into the sewers of New York City, but eventually everyone ends up right where they belong. Great songs include: “Fugue for Tinhorns”, “Luck Be a Lady”, Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat”, and the title song “Guys & Dolls”.
Recommended for the whole family.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid (6/15/18-7/8/18) Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen's most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney's The Little Mermaid is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs, including "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl" and "Part of Your World." Recommended for the whole family.

Tickets for all 6 shows are $90 General and $80 Students/Seniors (55 & over). The Season Tickets will be available for purchase online on 1/26/17.

"The Doodlin' Song"

Mary Tyler Moore.

Creeping Hillside in North Salt Lake City

When I was at the University of Utah in 1989-90, I spent time at the Chevron refinery just below. These are steep hillsides. Not the best places to build houses:
NORTH SALT LAKE — Experts have been "detecting movement again" in the area of a devastating landslide that destroyed a North Salt Lake home in 2014, the Utah Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

The Utah Geological Survey, which is part of that agency, is working with the city of North Salt Lake to monitor the hill's movement.

A home at 739 Parkway Drive was destroyed in a substantial slide on Aug. 5, 2014. The newly detected movement is in the same area, according to Gregg Beuhkelman, a landslide project geologist for the Utah Geological Survey.

U.S. First; Netherlands Second

Local Drug Raid

Well, look at this news from my neighborhood! They had a murder nearby near the end of 2015 - I wonder if they are related? Bella and I used to walk past here all the time.
Lieutenant Alisa Buckley, Sacramento Police Department AGENCY

Hi everyone,

I wanted to share another excellent arrest made two of our SWAT officers and our swing shift patrol team. Last night, the team served a search warrant at the 2600 block of 28th Street and seized a large quantity of methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin, a handgun and a high capacity rifle. Multiple felony charges will follow and one arrest was made. We would like to say thank you to the neighbors for supporting the officers!

Thank you,


Not Sympathetic To 'Twelve Rounds' Problems

Business owners have to be circumspect:
Calls for a boycott and a public outcry over social media posts left Twelve Rounds Brewing owner Daniel Murphy reeling Tuesday morning as he expressed shock at the instant reaction to his Facebook political rant and concern that his East Sacramento business could be severely hurt.

The controversy erupted on Twitter late Monday after word got out that Murphy had posted on his personal Facebook page: “I am disgusted at all of the people and politicians that supported this anti-Trump event.” He was referring to the women’s march in the nation’s capital and scores of similar protests in cities throughout the country.

In largely Democratic East Sacramento, the comment unleashed an immediate and widespread backlash as several loyal customers said they wouldn’t return and others pledged to never spend their money at the popular business.
Things have gotten worse:
The backlash grew Thursday against an East Sacramento brewery over its owner’s Facebook posts slamming the Women’s March, Muslims and other targets, with several local businesses saying they were dropping the beer of Twelve Rounds Brewing and the brewery backing out of a major beer event scheduled for Friday.

Amid growing concerns that its presence would be a distraction at an upscale beer showcase, organizers of the Art of Beer Invitational reached out to Twelve Rounds Brewing to talk about its scheduled participation. The event, which attracts scores of top breweries and is a fundraiser for Sol Collective, the art and cultural center in Sacramento, has emerged in recent years as a high-profile event on the regional craft beer calendar.

Images of Saturn's Moon Daphnis

Carolyn Porco writes:

Our recent close up images of Saturn's rings, taken from orbits that have Cassini plunging through the ring plane and scraping the outer part of the main rings, have started to arrive here on Earth!

Take a look at our latest, incredibly detailed image if Daphnis! This is the 5-mile-wide icy moon that we discovered early in the mission occupying the Keeler gap near the outer edge of the rings. It creates waves in the gap's edges that are actually mountainous piles of ring rubble ... a startling find that we couldn't have made until the equinox of 2009, when sun angles on the rings were shallow and even the slightest protuberances cast long tell-tale shadows.

Our new picture of Daphnis shows details not only on its surface, but also structures formed by its gravitational effect on the rings.
Stay tuned! There will be more to come to Cassini's dramatic end at Saturn. The thrill of discovery never gets old.

People Love 'Alternative Facts'

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Housesitting The Cat

This weekend, I house sat Gabriel and Eleanor's cat, Rex.

I stared at the cat. The cat stared back.

I was surprised the cat wasn't the least bit bothered by a stranger in its house. It was as if I had been there all along - a familiar piece of furniture unaccountably come to life.

The cat's appointed refuge was the bathroom. Released from its confines, the cat would head straight to a houseplant to drink from the water at its base. (No accounting for taste.) Apart from that, the cat appeared not to drink at all, and to eat very little. Instead, the cat dug its claws into a favorite cardboard box. And preferred to sleep. Boy, did that cat sleep.

So, I read my Tony Hillerman book, "Sacred Clowns", watched Figure Skating, two episodes of the Twilight Zone, and an old Kirk Douglas movie about New Mexico (1951's 'Ace in the Hole') on the TV.

And I stared at the cat. And the cat stared back.

SNL Is Superb These Days!

Kellyanne Conway 'Conway' Sketch is over the moon!

Beck Bennett's Putin is superb!

Aetna, And Its Lying Ways

Judge finds that Aetna lied, lied, lied about its reasons for withdrawing from Obamacare exchanges:
Aetna claimed this summer that it was pulling out of all but four of the 15 states where it was providing Obamacare individual insurance because of a business decision — it was simply losing too much money on the Obamacare exchanges.

Now a federal judge has ruled that that was a rank falsehood. In fact, says Judge John D. Bates, Aetna made its decision at least partially in response to a federal antitrust lawsuit blocking its proposed $37-billion merger with Humana. Aetna threatened federal officials with the pullout before the lawsuit was filed, and followed through on its threat once it was filed. Bates made the observations in the course of a ruling he issued Monday blocking the merger.

Aetna executives had moved heaven and earth to conceal their decision-making process from the court, in part by discussing the matter on the phone rather than in emails, and by shielding what did get put in writing with the cloak of attorney-client privilege, a practice Bates found came close to “malfeasance.”

Aetna tried to leverage its participation in the exchanges for favorable treatment from DOJ regarding the proposed merger. — U.S. District Judge John D. Bates

The judge’s conclusions about Aetna’s real reasons for pulling out of Obamacare — as opposed to the rationalization the company made in public — are crucial for the debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act. That’s because the company’s withdrawal has been exploited by Republicans to justify repealing the act. Just last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) cited Aetna’s action on the “Charlie Rose” show, saying that it proved how shaky the exchanges were.

Bates found that this rationalization was largely untrue. In fact, he noted, Aetna pulled out of some states and counties that were actually profitable to make a point in its lawsuit defense — and then misled the public about its motivations. Bates’ analysis relies in part on a “smoking gun” letter to the Justice Department in which Chief Executive Mark Bertolini explicitly ties Aetna’s participation in Obamacare to the DOJ’s actions on the merger, which we reported in August. But it goes much further.

Among the locations where Aetna withdrew were 17 counties in three states where the Department of Justice asserted that the merger would produce unlawfully low levels of competition on the individual exchanges. By pulling out, Aetna could say that it wasn’t competing in those counties’ exchanges anyway, rendering the government’s point moot: “The evidence provides persuasive support for the conclusion that Aetna withdrew from the on-exchange markets in the 17 complaint counties to improve its litigation position,” Bates wrote. “The Court does not credit the minimal efforts of Aetna executives to claim otherwise.”

Indeed, he wrote, Aetna’s decision to pull out of the exchange business in Florida was “so far outside of normal business practice” that it perplexed the company’s top executive in Florida, who was not in the decision loop.

“I just can’t make sense out of the Florida dec[ision],” the executive, Christopher Ciano, wrote to Jonathan Mayhew, the head of Aetna’s national exchange business. “Based on the latest run rate data . . . we are making money from the on-exchange business. Was Florida’s performance ever debated?” Mayhew told him to discuss the matter by phone, not email, “to avoid leaving a paper trail,” Bates found. As it happens, Bates found reason to believe that Aetna soon will be selling exchange plans in Florida again.

Good Intentions

It figures:
A Rhode Island activist who was on a mission to walk across the country barefoot was struck and killed by an SUV while walking on a Florida highway on Saturday afternoon.

Mark Baumer was walking on the shoulder of Highway 90 in Walton County, Fla. when the driver of the SUV veered off the road and hit him, ABC News affiliate WEAR reported on Sunday. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

...Baumer said he was hiking across the country to “save earth” and to raise funding for the FANG Collective, a non-profit organization that protests the natural gas industry.

Shaggy's Dancehall Track 'I Got You', with LaToya Bufford and Catherine Chiemelu, at Zincon

I was trying to find a certain Shaggy song, and stumbled past this. I remember now! This is my instructor, LaToya Bufford, with her good friend Catherine Chiemelu (who I think is based in Oklahoma these days), at Zincon 2016.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

One Of The Rainiest Januarys On Record In Sacramento

2.19" of rain today in Downtown Los Angeles. Impressive! More than a third of monthly rainfall so far (3.98"), for a total of 6.17" so far in January.

Meanwhile, January, 2017 is the rainiest month on record at Sacramento Executive Airport (9.88": since 1941), and the third-rainiest at the downtown Sacramento station (since 1877):

Year Inches of Rain
1911 12.72
1995 12.35
2017 9.90

Clearest Sign Yet There's A Purge Coming At The CIA

If I was an intelligence analyst at the CIA (I actually interviewed with them in 1987, so it's not so far-fetched), I'd be very worried, and planning for Trump's swift purge:
He also said things that must have baffled many of the 300 CIA employees who gathered for the visit, came in on a day off to see their new boss. He repeated the line, which he’d uttered many times during the campaign, that we should have “taken the oil” in Iraq (a notion that is politically daft, economically unnecessary, and militarily all-but-impossible) and that maybe we’ll have the opportunity to do so now. He also said that he suspected most of the people in the room voted for him in the election—a comment that, whether true or not, is appallingly inappropriate to make to intelligence analysts, who pride themselves on their independence and fear political encroachment above all else.

Those in the intelligence community were already anxious about their relationship with Trump before he took office thanks to his reaction to the report on Russian interference in the election, as well as his appointment of Michael Flynn, a conspiracy-minded retired general who is bitter about being fired as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

If Trump or his staff thought this speech would allay that distrust and suspicion, they are even more deluded than they sometimes seem.

Sean Spicer's Lies And Mischaracterizations

Many. Too many:
All White House spokespeople spin—it’s part of the job. But it’s one thing to deflect attention from unflattering facts and trying to reframe uncomfortable realities in a more favorable narrative. What Spicer did was markedly different: he listed a number of highly specific and easily verifiable claims.

R. D. Wolff Provides A Light In These Dark Times

I was very-pleasantly surprised today, while listening to KYDS radio (FM-91.5), which is Sacramento's best radio station (because their playlist is so jarring and unpredictable). They featured a political gloss of news headlines by pop-analytic economist R.D. Wolff. With his New York-inflected accent, it's as if Bernie Sanders is gently explaining the news that confused you the first time you heard it.

Wolff's radio program is a revival of a radio form that died out 70 years ago. People keep trying to revive the form, but most efforts fail.

In the Thirties, various pop-analytic radio economists of the Left struggled to present their analyses on under-powered AM radio stations across the country, competing against radio evangelists and the big networks. Most of these folks were union activists on the front lines of battles against corporate power. The Red Scare of the late-40's swept them off the air. Many of their hard-won lessons died with them, to our loss.

The absence of such radio personalities in the Sixties helped doom the radical politics of the time, when the inspiration was more spiritual and less political.

The reemergence of such a radio form is a very welcome development. Every damned thing that was learned the hard way in World War I and Depression days has to be relearned again from scratch. And just as the presence of these radio folks helped make New Deal reforms stick, and their absence in the Sixties helped doom reforms then, their reemergence now may help derail Trump and his wrecking crew:

Two links: R. D. Wolff and Democracy at Work.

Liking The Signs At This Dark Time

Where Indices Stand On Inauguration Day

Adam Ramirez in Austin, TX, posts:
Posting this so it will come up in my Facebook memories.

Inauguration Day 1/20/2017
Gas: $2.09
S&P 500: 2,271.31
Dow: 19,819
NASDAQ: 5560.7
Unemployment: 4.7%
Uninsured rate: 9.1%
College degree attainment: 32.5%
Median wage: 29,930.13