Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If Only Iranian Nukes Had Removable Floor Mats.

From a government press release.
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today alerted Lexus and Toyota owners about conditions that could cause the accelerator to get stuck open under certain conditions. The agency strongly recommends taking out removable floor mats on the driver’s side in certain models and not to replace them with any other mat, either from Toyota or any other brand. ... NHTSA said that Toyota has announced that it will soon launch a safety recall of various model year vehicles to redress the problem." (Here.)


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

One Person's Uncivil Protester Is Another's Noble Activist.

Has tea-party political incivility spread to California's state politics? A University of California Board of Regents meeting was held up yesterday by protesters holding signs and shouting. Board members had to leave the meeting until the protests were quieted down. Things were so bad, 12 people had to be detained. During the meeting, angry statements and question were hurled at the board members by people complaining about California's cuts to higher education. (Here.)

Wait a minute here. The angry and rude protesters were complaining about government spending cuts? They weren't angry, anti-government, conservatives? They were liberals? Never mind. Liberal protesters have always been uncivil jerks. It's how they are. No news here.


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Friday, September 11, 2009

Until The Last Jihadist Is Burning In Hell.

Never forget, never forgive.


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

In The Macroverse: Spider Kills Bee.

From In The Macroverse

This spider worked non-stop for about 20 minutes wrapping a bee that had gotten stuck in its web. Once the bee was completely encased in webbing, the spider dragged it into the bottlebrush tree for dining later.

From In The Macroverse

Meanwhile, in a nearby web off-camera another bee struggled for the duration and escaped. There is no mercy or justice in nature. Only survival or death contingent on circumstances.

To see more photos of the bee wrapping the spider sequence, click the links above, which take you to the In The Macroverse album at Scroll to the end of the album. And thank the gods you're at the top of the food chain. So say we all!


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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Infestation: A Sci-Fi Gem on SyFy Channel.

Saturday night, SyFy Channel showed Kyle Rankin's (no relation, darn the luck) new monster-bug movie, Infestation. (Here.) The movie has a lot of fun playing with monster, zombie, and alien invasion movie conventions. But it's far from being an exploitation of science fiction genres. There's good writing with real-live character development and good direction. The movie is also blessed by the lead acting of Chris Marquette and the supporting role played by Ray Wise, as Marquette's dad.

Infestation takes place in the first days after animal-sized bugs have conquered the world. All humans had been instantaneously knocked unconscious only to awaken some days later wrapped in webbing. Marquette's character is part of a small band of humans who try to survive and decide to launch an attack on the bugs' nest, to rescue the girl and blow up the queen.

The plot will probably surprise nobody but the writing might; for instance, when Rankin has Marquette's character talk disappointingly of having fantasized that the end of the world would come some day leaving him and his own beautiful Eve to repopulate the Earth. The reality is not exactly what he'd imagined.

When SyFy shows the movie again, as they no doubt will, give it a look.


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Paid Grassroots Organizing.

This flyer in the neighborhood is a timely reminder that when liberals organize using paid workers of an advocacy group, it's still a grassroots campaign. No astroturfing here. Move along now.


Update: Even better, Grassroots Campaigns is a paid political consulting, fundraising, and field organizing organization. Welcome to Wonderland, Alice, where words mean what we say they mean.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Taxifornia Interruptus.

Tax-happy Californians --- those few, those unhappy few --- are beside themselves with frustration over the revised state budget.

After the recent special election, in which California's voters overwhelmingly said "no, no, no, no, no" to more taxes and spending, Arnold Schwarzenegger recovered from his political amnesia and remembered why we elected him the Governator in the first place. He forced the Legislature to cut expenditures, reform social programs, and hold the line on taxes. Thanks, Governor!

Not everybody is as grateful. For instance, Dean Calbreath, business columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote this after passage of California's revised budget:
"Nor did the Legislature slap a tax on the Big Oil companies, which have been taking petroleum out of the ground in California since 1861 without paying royalties. Every other oil-producing state imposes royalties, but heaven forbid that we should follow the lead of Alaska, Wyoming and Texas.

"Thanks to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pledge to cut services instead of raising taxes, Occidental Petroleum – which generated $6.9 billion in profits last year – won't have to pay royalties on that new, 150 million-to 250 million-barrel field it discovered in Kern County." (Here.)

Calbreath may be on to something. Perhaps California should follow the lead of Alaska, Wyoming, and Texas. California has one of the highest income taxes of all the United States. Alaska, Wyoming, and Texas don't tax personal income at all. (Here.) Now that's the kind of tax policy California needs.


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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wild In The Urbs: Saga Of The Zebra Finch

Two weeks since he first made an appearance in the backyard, the escaped Zebra Finch is still coming around. He seems to be acclimating to the outdoors.

From Saga of the Zebra Finch

Not sure how long he'll survive, what with this neighborhood cat stalking the feeders every day. "That's right, cat, you'd better keep walking away, you damn furry little serial killer!"

From Cats

But he's doing fine for now.

From Saga of the Zebra Finch


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Wild In The Urbs: Pigeon Sumo

From Pigeon Sumo

From Pigeon Sumo

From Pigeon Sumo

From Pigeon Sumo

From Pigeon Sumo


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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wild In The Urbs: Mockingbirds vs. Crow.

Competition among birds isn't only over food. Sometimes, birds fight it out for territory. Here two mockingbirds harass a crow to drive it off the top of their telephone pole.
From Birds
From Birds


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Wild In The Urbs: Ultimate Pigeon Fighting.

What do you get when too many pigeons try to fit in the same food bowl? Here it is. As always click on the photos to zoom in.
From Birds
From Birds
From Birds
From Birds


Republished to change images size.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wild In The Urbs

Somebody's cage is missing a Zebra Finch. (Here.) The bird is not native to Southern California. Fortunately for it, it found a backyard feeder; and for me: it's got a sweet call and beautiful coloring.

Meanwhile, a native bird feeds on a San Diego Sunflower in the front yard.

The sunflower plant still blooms but it's losing flowers in anticipation of summer. The blooming flowers continue to feed hummingbirds and insects. The dying flowers feed other birds. Nice!


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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stories On Film From Iran

We sit riveted to our TV screens and computer monitors by the images coming from Iran. We see people putting their lives on the line in the streets, marching into harm's way, rising up against tyranny, fighting on behalf of freedom. Or is something else happening?

The demonstrators have gone into the streets protesting the election that appears to have been stolen from their favored candidate. Yet this candidate comes from the theocracy that rules Iran. He is a founding father of the Islamic revolution that replaced one dictatorship with another. Are his supporters in the streets merely pawns in a power struggle among the clerics who rule Iran?

Perhaps the images lie to us. Certainly the images depict events that are truly happening. But whether those events depict an evident truth or mask a lie is not yet clear. So, we read and watch the news out of Iran and wonder whether what we are seeing is true or a lie.

Fiction is truth masquerading as lies. We read and watch fiction knowing full well we are being told a pack of lies, but we also know that truth lies hidden in those lies. (Here.) Iran is blessed with storytellers who tell truthful lies on film. Here's a sampling, in no particular order of personal preference.

Crimson Gold: A tragedy about the last days of a pizza delivery man in Tehran, doomed by shame and lack of opportunity.

Offside: The misadventures of young women who, motivated by love of country and the game, must disguise themselves as men in order to attend Iran's World Cup Soccer match.

Baran: Another story of disguised gender, but this time a love story, and a story of Afghan refugees surviving in Iran.

The Mirror: It's not uncommon for Iranian movies to have a naturalistic feel to them. This film goes further than most and breaks the Fourth Wall. Midway through the film, the preteen actress playing the young girl making her way home alone through Tehran, suddenly decides she's had enough of acting and storms off. The rest of the movie follows the actress as she continues to make her way home across Tehran, but now the action is unscripted. Or is it?

Secret Ballot: Iran has elections. This comical movie tells the story of a female elections worker and a male soldier collecting ballots from far-flung polling places in a remote rural province

Children of Heaven: A young brother and sister hide the loss of a pair of tennis shoes from their parents. It's a family movie that culminates in a foot race across the city.

Color of Paradise: The saddest but most beautifully filmed story of a father and his blind child. It will haunt your memory for a long time. It still haunts mine, 10 years on.

Marooned In Iraq: One of Iran's naturalistic movies. The plot involves a Kurdish singer from Iran who travels to Iraq in the wake of the first US-Iraq war to find his former wife. Not a musical by any means but there's lots of singing performances by the main character and others he meets along the way.

Ten: Women in Iran struggle to live under the oppression of the Islamic Republic. Their stories are told in conversations during car rides across Tehran.


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Monday, June 22, 2009

There Is No God But Obama, And Obama Is His Prophet.

Newsweek's Evan Thomas stirred controversy and debate after he said about President Barack Obama's Cairo speech, "In a way, Obama’s standing above the country, above-above the world, a sort of god." Thomas sort of complains that he is being taken out of context, which prompted Peter Wehner to write on Commentary magazine's Contentions blog: "So I would ask: Mr. Thomas, in what context can you call Barack Obama a 'sort of God'?" (Here.)

The correct context would be when Mr. Thomas is describing how President Obama's followers view his place in the world.

The apotheosis of Barack Obama to god-President begins with his name. Obama: the name's first letter is an "O," a circle, the perfect shape in nature, symbolic of unity. O-ba-ma is three syllables long, a magical and divine number, powerful in rhetoric. (See "the rule of three" here.) Say his name: Obama. To Western ears his name is exotic. A magic word, chantable: Obama, Obama, Obama. Don't think for a moment his marketers don't know it.

The apotheosis continued with his campaign. There were the creepy YouTube videos by and others, the iconic posters, the proliferation of news photos with strange halo effects around Obama’s head, the Obama speeches attended by swooning and crying listeners, the campaign's instructions to volunteers to steer away from policy talk and testify about their own "come to Obama" moments, the thrill running up Chris Matthews’s leg, the cable news hype leading up to the inauguration. Need we go on?

An aspect of Barack Obama’s appeal is that he seems a sort of god or prophet. He has been sent to America to redeem its past sins and transform the country into something better than it’s ever been. He isn't just a messenger of hope and change, he is the very personification of hope and change. A man of humble means born from the union of an American white woman and an immigrant black African man who grows up to become President. In crisis he is calm, unflappable, cool. He stands above it all. He is a font of wisdom who sees the flaws in both sides of any issue or dispute and is able to show us the perfect middle way. His mere words are believed to have the power to effect miraculous change: Obama speaks in Cairo; an electoral miracle happens in Lebanon.

There is rhetorical exaggeration in all this, of course. But not much. There is no god but Obama, and Obama is his prophet. Peace be upon his name.


First published in slightly different form as a comment to the Contentions blog on

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taken (with Jack Bauer)

Like Jack Bauer in 24, Liam Neeson's character in Taken is a super competent gunman with a daughter. Instead of the 24 hours Jack Bauer has to work with, Neeson's character has 96 hours to rescue his daughter from the clutches of white slavers in France.

The movie's plot is guided by the question: What Would Jack Bauer Do? So, when Neeson's character finds his daughter's French kidnapper he beats him to try and make him talk. When he finds the Albanian thugs who held her, he kills all but one with knife and gun, and then tortures the survivor for information. So on and so on until the body count climbs into double digits and the property damage to six figures, maybe seven. Taken is a fix for Jack Bauer fans who can't wait for the next season of 24.

Neeson's character would make Jack Bauer proud, except for one bad habit. Jack knows how to hold a handgun. Neeson's character doesn't. Get that finger off the trigger guard, Liam!


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Paul Blart: Mall Cop aka Die Hard With A Belly

Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Kevin James' new DVD is a not very funny action comedy about an unarmed security guard trying to rescue hostages held by a criminal gang at the shopping mall. Call it Die Hard With A Belly, but without any belly laughs. It's got a few comic moments but nothing that will make you LOLROTFLYAO. (The Hangover, playing now at local theaters is the movie to see for those laughs.)

The special features on the Blart DVD are more entertaining than the movie. The actors who played the minions in the team of criminals who take over the shopping mall are extreme sport athletes: skateboarders, bicyclists, free runners. The DVD's special features profile these athletes and show how the stunts were performed. All very interesting and fun.

The stunts in the movie include something called "free running" or "parkour." Parkour "is an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body.[2] It is meant to help one overcome obstacles, which can be anything in the surrounding environment—from branches and rocks to rails and concrete walls—and can be practiced in both rural and urban areas." (Here.)

Youtube has short videos of parkour in action. Also, the DVD District 13 (aka District B13) has some great parkour action, with noted athlete David Belle doing some amazing things. But perhaps the best free running movie I've seen, although I didn't know what it was at the time, is Run Lola Run. That movie not only has great running stunts throughout, it's a quality movie. Time to put Lola back in the rental queue for a second look.


Republished once to correct typo.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Remember, Size Doesn't Matter.

The universe is a large place full of really big objects. Some people like to see some significance in humanity's small size in comparison. Whoever posted the really cool video showing the sizes of planets and stars on Youtube seems to think so. (Here.) After showing larger and larger images of planets and stars and then comparing them to the enormously larger size of the universe, the video ends with the statement, "No, you are not the center of the universe."

Well, yes. But does the universe even have a center?

I have to say, I don't quite understand the need of some people to diminish the significance of humanity. The fact that we're small and not located in the center of the universe means nothing really. Stars might be big but they're just giant flaming balls of gas. Big deal. The universe might be enormous but it's mostly large expanses of space. Again, big deal.

It is cool to think about how truly large the universe is and how truly beautiful it can be. Does the universe know how big it is or how beautiful? Do stars? It's doubtful. But we know. And that makes all the difference.


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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Terminator Salvation.

It's better than you've heard. The movie is a worthy sequel in the franchise, and certainly better than T3: Judgment Day. T3 was a hopeless movie about fate being in control of us. Terminator Salvation has a more life affirming theme, delivered with lots of cool chases, gun battles, giant robots, and unbelievably realistic computer animation. What's not to like about that?


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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The First 100 Days Down ...

Only 1381 days to go. January 20, 2013, cannot come too soon.


Update: Okay, I added wrong. That's 1361 days to go. Even better.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

In The Macroverse: Beauty And Grace.

While some of us spent Sunday morning relaxing in the yard, at the insect level it was just another day of working to survive. Here's a pollen-laden bee hovering among the branches of a San Diego Sunflower. This fierce-looking spider sits on another San Diego Sunflower bush nearby. Click the photo for a closeup of the spider's face. Its fu manchu mustache-like markings alone are worth the look.
I have no idea what this flying insect is or the flower it's resting on but they're both strikingly beautiful. The flower's beauty is obvious to the naked eye. The insect is so small that to the naked eye it appears to be nothing much. Only under magnification is its beauty revealed to the human eye. Do other insects notice? Who can say? As far as we know, the aesthetics of a thing is appreciated only by human beings. These creatures live lives of unobserved grace and beauty.

To see more, go to my photos page at and scroll to the end for the most recent additions. (Here.)


Update: The flower in the bottom photo is a Tidy Tips and the insect is a hover fly.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

First Treasury Secretary From Metaluna.

Could Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner be an alien? Here's Geithner.

And here's Metalunan scientist, Exeter, from the classic 1955 scifi movie, This Island Earth. (Here.)

It's a forehead thing. We report, you decide.


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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wild In The Urbs: Cesar Chavez Day

Today's a holiday at my office. We get all the holidays California state judges get, and they get a lot. So, this idle morning was spent in the backyard along with these visitors:

A Black-headed Grosbeak.

A House Sparrow, I think, came along.

Pigeons, too, of course, flew in from the nearby grocery store.

Meanwhile, the cat roamed the yard blissfully unaware of her appointment for vaccinations later today.

Have a day, everybody.


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Monday, March 16, 2009

In The Macroverse: Woodpeckers versus Pine Tree.

The woodpeckers at Mount Laguna this weekend worked nonstop pounding on the pine trees and storing their nuts in the bark. The trees didn't seem to complain but nobody would blame them if they did. Here's an example of the woodpeckers' work.

And here's an oozing wound in the bark from all that pecking. That's gotta hurt.

But it's not all pain and destruction. Here's a pretty sapfall hanging from the bark.

For more closeup photos of a pine tree's skin, go to my picasaweb photos page at, open the folder labeled In The Macroverse, and scroll to the end. (Here.)


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Wild In The Wild: Mount Laguna Edition.

This weekend's shots of birds were taken at Mount Laguna about 50 miles east of San Diego. Saw 14 different types of birds. If I were a real birder I'd give you a list. But I'm not. So, here's a picture of a Steller's Jay, instead.

For more pictures of this and other birds go to my picasaweb photos page at and open the 2009 Laguna Mountain Folder. (Here)


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Sunday, March 08, 2009

California: The Fools-Gold State.

California's government irresponsibly spent too much money during the housing and stock market bubbles. This year, when the economy tanked, California's tax revenues fell but government spending didn't. Instead of passing pro-growth measures to revive the economy and making adjustments to this year's spending in order to close the relatively small deficit this year, government officials ginned up a crisis. They inflated the size of the deficit by combining the real deficit from this year with the projected deficit for next year.

The state controller stopped paying California's bills, the governor declared an emergency, and legislators were locked in the capitol building until they passed a budget. The governor conspired with the Democratic majorities in the legislature to push a budget loaded with tax increases, a few token spending cuts, and not much else. Three Republican legislators in each chamber gave the votes necessary to secure passage. Declaring victory, the governor and legislative leaders claimed this budget would solve California's fiscal crisis through the 2010 fiscal year. The new budget would spare Californians from the legislature's annual budget fiasco this summer.

Not so fast. It doesn't take a genius to realize that increasing taxes in a recession will not increase revenues much and will slow the economy's recovery. The solution to California's budget crisis will involve real and significant cuts in state spending. California's politicians won't do that because real spending cuts will mean laying off state workers and taking on the most powerful political force in this state: the government employees unions.

Nice try, Sacramento, but no cigar. The day of reckoning has been delayed not avoided.

The state controller just issued a press release announcing that California will begin paying its bills again and refunding income tax payments. Buried at the end of the press release is this ominous warning.
"'While progress was made, this recent budget deal does not put California’s fiscal house in order. Revenue erosion of nearly $900 million in the month of February alone, coupled with numerous indicators that California’s economy has not yet turned the corner, demands vigilance over the State finances during the months ahead,' [Controller John] Chiang said. 'While current-year cash flow problems appear to be manageable, early projections indicate the recently-enacted budget did little to guarantee there would be sufficient cash solutions to meet the State’s payment obligations for the coming fiscal year. If the Governor and lawmakers do not take action before July, we could be accelerating towards the very cliff that we just stopped short of falling over.'" (PDF here.)
What kind of action do you think he has in mind? California's taxpayers had better hold on to their wallets.


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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Name That Institution.

California's Supreme Court heard arguments today on whether the California voters' decision to pass Proposition 8 and limit marriage to opposite sex couples would be allowed to stand. The argument was televised on the State of California's government channel.

Judging from the direction of the arguments, it appears the Court will uphold Proposition 8 and rule that the voters had the right to limit marriage to opposite sex couples. The Court's ruling will be extremely limited to holding that Proposition 8 merely affected nomenclature. The Court will rule that Proposition 8 changed nothing else with respect to the rights of same-sex couples.

The Court already found in The Marriage Cases last year that same-sex couples under California's Domestic Partnership law enjoy nearly all the same rights as those enjoyed by opposite-sex marriage partners. The argument today, and concessions by the attorney supporting Proposition 8, made it clear that Proposition 8 in no way changed any other part of the Supreme Court's ruling in The Marriage Cases. The argument today further clarified that California could expand the definition of Domestic Partnerships so that such partnerships would be marriages in all but name, and that expanded definition would not run afoul of Proposition 8's limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples alone.

The course same-sex marriage advocates could follow after Proposition 8 is upheld is to seek to marginalize marriage and make domestic partnerships the norm. Use the arguments made at the Court to urge California's legislature to make domestic partnerships available to opposite-sex couples, to have California continue to issue marriage certificates to opposite-sex couples but also register every opposite-sex married couple as a domestic partnership, have California recognize domestic partnerships transacted in other states as valid in California when the partners move to California, and in every way possible change domestic partnerships so that legally they are identical to marriage.


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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Movie: The International

The International tells a cynical story of international bankers selling weapons, promoting political chaos, undermining governments, and generally making the world a worse place for everybody. Rich white businessmen in cool suits and fantastic buildings are the villians. A rumpled, world-weary cop badly in need of a shave is the hero. Okay, that all sounds predicable, but there are things to like about this political thriller.

1. There is a great shootout in the Guggenheim Museum that ought to catapult into the top ten of movie shootouts. A very exciting bit of performance art.

2. Very cool modern architecture is used to great effect, especially the headquarters of the evil international bank in Luxembourg, and the Italian alpine lakeside headquarters of an international arms manufacturer. Old architecture in Istanbul, Turkey, provides the setting for a rooftop chase. If you travel to Istanbul, find the neighborhood where walkways are built onto the roofs of the old part of town.

3. Five pithy lines of dialogue.

"I'm more comfortable tense."

"Character is easier kept than recovered."

"Sometimes a man finds his destiny on the road he took to avoid it."

"There's the difference between truth and fiction: fiction has to make sense."

"Sometimes the hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn. I'm the bridge you burn."

"When there is no way out, go further in."

4. The corporate assassin. He's ordinary and even has a physical handicap, but he's the model of professional competence.

5. Clive Owen. He's a natural as the dirty hero.



Friday, February 20, 2009

Wild In The Urbs: The Early Bird Gets Something.

This little bird was busy this morning taking its breakfast meal on the sage plant. Notice the yellow matter coating its beak of this little bird. It's from the underside of the sage leaves that the bird is resting on.

Here's a shot of the bird feeding.

The photo is taken through a foggy window and a screen. Hence the poor quality. But it's still possible to make out the food on the bottom of the sage leaf and on the beak.

Native plants rule! You're welcome, little fella.


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Screenwriting Fantasies.

The country is in a recession, people are losing their jobs and thinking about career plans B, C, and D. My plan B is becoming a B-movie scifi actor. Like, for instance, the career of C. Thomas Howell at The Asylum straight to DVD production company. Or Tim Thomerson of the Trancers DVD series. Perhaps Michael Gross from Tremors on. Failing that, Plan C is screenwriting, although something tells me Plan D should be fleshed out, too, just in case.

Thinking about the scifi movie Wyvern and its surprisingly good script prompted thoughts of other screenplays I wish I'd written. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Zero Effect: A modern imagining of Sherlock Holmes with Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero, a late 20th Century American private detective, and Ben Stiller as his assistant.

Miller's Crossing: A little known Coen Brothers movie and perhaps one of the best gangster movies ever made. Very reminiscent of the writings of Dashiell Hammett, whose writing I've worshipped for years.

Serenity: The most interesting science fiction movie to come along in a long time. Joss Whedon's depiction of good intentions gone horribly wrong is the best portrayal of the true evil of modernity, which is the notion that human nature should be modified by our leaders to fit a social purpose.

The Princess Bride: The sweetest story of romantic love and the love of a grandfather for his grandson ever told.

Barcelona: Young Americans, unapologetically American, living in Spain and falling in love with Spanish beauties during the Reagan years.

Team America: World Police: Funny, funny, funny political musical satire. With puppets.

Tremors: The perfect movie about monsters terrorizing a small secluded town.


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Cylons, Humans, Whatever.

Now that Lost has slipped into nonsensicality and 24 has become a parody of itself, Battlestar Galactica stands alone at the pinnacle of television, notwithstanding last week's episode devoted entirely to exposition. BSG's final season is confounding viewer expectations and opening up entirely new themes. The biggest question now is not why are cylons and humans fighting and who will win, it's just what the hell are the cylons, especially the Final Five.

The scifi website io9 offers this analysis:
"Some stuff from last week's "No Exit," which could have some bearing on upcoming episodes, cleared up by the show's writers. Humans probably originated on Kobol, then spread to the colonies. Earth was destroyed because the skinjob-style Cylons living there built their own Centurions, who then rose up against them. Cavil is the only "skinjob" model to know the Final Five's identities, because he corrupted the other six models' programming so they'd never speak of the Final Five or search for their identities. (So he had to box D'Anna when she learned the truth, or it would destroy his "house of cards.") The Cylon events summarized by Cavil in "No Exit" may be seen more fully in "The Plan" TV movie.

Now that Adama has agreed to use Cylon technology to repair the cracks in Galactica, he's admitting there's no longer any difference between humans and Cylons, and also that Galactica is in as bad shape as Tyrol says. This will set up a lot of the rest of the series. And there will be more Boomer development coming soon." (Here.)

My own theory based on the recent episodes is that the Final Five cylons were humans back on "Earth" before they became Cylons. The Final Five invented the resurrection process when they were still humans. They died during the destruction of Earth by the centurion cylons but when they went through resurrection and their minds, their memories, and perhaps even their souls were downloaded into new bodies, they became cylons. The Final Five are, therefore, the consciousnesses of human beings implanted into android bodies.

My preference for the big season finale is that there be a final battle between cylons and humans. Many of the humans we've followed during the series die but resurrect into new android bodies and begin new lives as cylons.


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California's Taxpaying Chumps.

California's budget is woefully out of balance and the plan to fix that includes four different types of tax increases. The plan is stuck because Democrats don't have enough votes and they need to peel off 3 Republicans in the Assembly and in the Senate.

The Republican caucus in each house is holding firm against tax cuts. Their initial plan to ameliorate the budget problem without raising taxes went nowhere. (Here.) But several individual Republican legislators are lining up to provide the votes necessary for the Democrats, and our RINO governor, to get their budget and their tax increases.

The Democrats argue that taxes are necessary to solve California's budget crisis. Who knows if that's really true. The news stories about the budget never state the actual budget number being voted on. The stories only describe the dollar amount of the so-called budget cuts and the four tax increases. Without knowing the actual amount of the proposed budget there is really no way for an average taxpayer to know whether the tax increases are really needed.

This taxpayer is skeptical. For most of the past decade, California's general fund budget grew at about 1 to 2 percent per year. But in 2005, the budget grew by a whopping 15 percent from $79 billion to $91 billion. Then in 2006, the budget grew another 11 percent to $101 billion. From 2007 to the present the budget has grown to $103 billion, again a small increase in keeping with increases early in the decade.

California's overall expenditures, which include special funds and federal money, are even higher. But those too grew slowly during the early part of this decade increasing from $99 billion in 2000 to $105 billion in 2004. But in 2005 overall expenditures increased to $117 billion, and in 2006 they increased to $131 billion. Expenditures increased even more in 2007 to $145 billion and then declined in 2008 to $144 billion.

California's budget numbers tell a sorry tale of government profligacy. From 2005 to 2007, the state government was awash in cash from the housing and stock market bubbles. Instead of wisely putting money away for down times, spending the money only on capital improvements, or returning money to the taxpayers, the government instead used that money to increase continuing programs, thus locking in future spending based on revenue from two unsustainable bubbles.

If California had set aside the excess revenue from the bubbles into a reserve fund and increased its budget at 2 percent per year from 2005 to the present, the general fund budget for this year would be about $86 billion. Anticipated revenues for this budget year are just over $87 billion. (Here.) California would have a balanced budget and a significant sum of money in reserves to tide it over during this recession. Instead, the government went on an irresponsible spending spree and California's taxpayers are expected to foot the bill and save the day.

How much is that bill going to cost? The Sacramento Bee newspaper has a nifty little calculator for Californians to figure out how much their taxes will increase under the budget plan. (Here.) The most interesting aspect of the tax plan is that taxpayers with children will see their taxes increase more than taxpayers without. An odd policy.

Given the sorry history of California's budget, you'd think legislators would be ashamed of having to ask taxpayers to save the state from the government's irresponsibility. You'd be wrong. Here's what the Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg said to Republican legislators opposed to tax increases the other day: "I just wish you could deviate just a little bit from your philosophy, from the endless mantra of no new revenue, no new revenue ever, and be a participant and partner with us in solving this problem." (Here.)

Don't worry Senator. We'll be participating in solving this problem. But it's not the problem you think. The problem isn't a budget shortfall. The problem is controlling irresponsible and spendthrift legislators.

Long ago when property taxes skyrocketed out of control and the legislature did nothing about it, the voters revolted and passed Proposition 13 to roll back property taxes and make it nearly impossible for the legislature to increase taxes. More recently, Governor Gray Davis was recalled from office over the car tax. This year, the Democratic legislature is going to increase the sales tax, the gas tax, the income tax, the car tax, and decrease the dependent tax credit for children. Don't think for a minute that Californians will let this happen without a backlash.


Budget numbers in this post were compiled from the websites of the California Department of Finance website (here), the Legislative Analyst's Office (here), and the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review (PDF here). A useful overview can be found at California Budget webpage of Sunshine Review. (Here.)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Saving Water In San Diego.

San Diego, along with the entire state of California, has a water crisis. San Diegans are threatened with water rationing because of our state's long drought and loss of water from the Colorado River.

According to a recent story in the Union-Tribune, the per-capita water use in San Diego is 157 gallons per person per day. (Here.) Rationing may force San Diegans to find a way to save 20 percent of their water usage. That would reduce per capita usage to 125 gallons per person per day.

Here's a way for my fellow San Diegans to make that work: remove your lawn and replace it with native plants. I did that and my water usage has shrunk by 50 percent. This month last year my average daily use was 61 gallons. This month, my average daily use was 31 gallons per day.



Digital TV Arrives In San Diego.

The federal government may have pushed the date back for conversion from analog TV broadcasts to digital but 4 of the 7 English-language stations in San Diego are making the switch today. (Here.) And why not? Only 5.9 percent of San Diego households aren't prepared for the conversion. It's not like they haven't had plenty of advance notice to get cable, satellite, or a little converter so they can continue watching TV. 94.1 percent of the rest of us are ready to go.

Not that those who didn't prepare for the transition will be deprived of TV. Three stations, including the Public TV station, haven't made the change. And Mexican Spanish language stations won't make the transition at all. This could be a good opportunity to learn a second language and become hooked on telenovelas.


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SpaceX Facility Tour.

Along with members of several space advocacy organizations, I took a tour of the Space X facility in Hawthorne, California. The facility is in an industrial part of town at 1 Rocket Road. Here's the sign, the building's face, and the receiving dock.

These are the only pictures available from the tour because the company refused to let us take our cameras into the building. The front part of the building is where the business offices are located. The back end of the building is where the rockets and the manned capsule are manufactured.

We entered the building from the side, by the security office, and found ourselves in the back corner of a very large open space with high windowed walls and a very high ceiling. Large cubicles filled the space with a row of offices at the back. The enclosed offices are for HR. Every other employee works in a cubicle, including the top executives, supposedly even Elon Musk, the wunderkind owner.

We walked along the back wall past the HR offices to the middle of the building, turned right, and passed through a door into the manufacturing part of the building.

The first thing that catches the eye is how spacious and clean the facility is. The building was formerly used for manufacturing Boeing airliners. So, it's big. The second thing that catches the eye is a white space capsule looking very much like an Apollo, in the center of the room. The third thing noticed is a persistent familiar hum. The fourth thing is the life-size Cylon warrior robot standing next to a pillar about 50 feet away. That's a Cylon hum filling the air! The Cylon is standing next to a microphone, as if it's giving a speech. That Cylon sets the tone for the tour. This is no ordinary manufacturing facility.

The Cylon is facing the cafeteria, which is well stocked with hot and cold beverages and snacks. Behind the Cylon is where all the work is done.

The first stop on our tour was the Falcon 1 booster assembly area. A partially assembled Falcon 1 rested on a track. The mockup space capsule is near the rocket. The capsule is SpaceX's Dragon, the craft the company proposes to use for shipping supplies and personnel to and from the International Space Station. Although we were not allowed to take photos, the mockup looked very much like this. (This photo of the Dragon is taken from Wikipedia here, is credited to PistolPete037, and is reproduced pursuant to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 here.)

Across an aisle was the engine assembly area. Several engines were standing in various stages of assembly. Farther into the building we came across the actual Dragon capsule. It looked to be about 12 feet in diameter and perhaps 18 feet tall. The capsule's hull appeared to be complete. Again, it looked very much like an Apollo capsule. Apparently, this is not a coincidence. Our tour guide praised the design of the Apollo and used the word "perfect" more than once to describe it. Dragon's function is to carry astronauts and supplies into space, not exactly the same as Apollo's, but similar, and so its form follows Apollo's.

Although the shell of Dragon's hull appeared complete, the interior was incomplete. The interior was an empty space waiting for flooring and instrumentation to be installed. No accessories were attached to the exterior. Work appears to be progressing on Dragon but it is not complete. Nearby stood a base for the capsule. The base was partially covered with tan, thick, pieces of some kind of rubbery material. The material looked like irregularly shaped bricks. These bricks were the ablative heat shield for Dragon's re-entry.

After Dragon, our tour took us past enclosed rooms. One of the rooms is a command center used during launches. We passed these rooms to the back where raw materials, such as aluminum, were delivered, stored, and machined. This area is also where the Falcon 9, SpaceX's larger launch vehicle, is assembled. Across from this area an enclosed tent stood behind some screening and signs warning against photography. We weren't told what was in the tent. Three young men were working on something in the tent. A peek into the tent revealed some kind of fabricated panel that looked very much like a canopy for a jet. Who knows, perhaps it's something to do with Dragon? Behind the tent two inner stages for Falcon 9 stood on end, each about 30 feet tall.

Our tour next took us to the cafeteria where we were allowed to have some drinks and snacks under the watchful red eye of the Cylon. The coffee was brewed in a futuristic brewing machine, the Keurig. That machine is an engineer's dream. (Here.) Mine, too, actually.

After the cafeteria, we toured an enclosed area where testing of components is done. This area included machines to test for temperature, pressure, shaking, salt, humidity, and electromagnetic interference. In a bit of whimsy, the Electromagnetic Interference Chamber was named "Voodoo Lounge." After touring the testing area, and not touching anything, we were taken to a conference room to watch some videos, including Elon Musk's tour of SpaceX's launch facility at Cape Canaveral, the successful Falcon 1 launch, and animations of Dragon in action. All the videos are available for viewing at SpaceX's website on the multimedia page. (Here.)

The engineers who gave the tour answered questions after the videos. Here's the data dump of those answers.

- SpaceX relies on off the shelf parts to manufacture its rockets. This is done to reduce cost by avoiding the need to have custom made parts. The off the shelf parts meet aerospace and "mil" specifications.

- SpaceX employs about 400-500 people. Many are young. Our three tour guides were engineers. One was just out of college, the other two appeared to be in their late 20s or early 30s.

- Our guides were proud of their company's commitment to safety. They were also proud of their company's ability to produce quality products at low price.

- They said they are focused on getting Falcon 9 done. As one of them put it, they are "head down", working to get Falcon 9 launched.

- They love their work. And why shouldn't they? SpaceX gets 100 applications for every job listing. SpaceX employees must know they are working on something that is both practical and visionary, and really cool, to boot.

And here are my final impressions. SpaceX is for real. Their manufacturing facility looks state of the art. The working area is clean and organized. Real work is being done at the facility. The company has a business plan and is executing it. The employees we met love their work and are committed to succeeding. We took our tour on a Sunday in the middle of a long holiday weekend. While we were there, people were working in the manufacturing facility, and also in cubicles. Our tour guides willingly came in to promote their company and escort a group of enthusiasts around the facility. They had no reason to do so, but they did it on their own time.

The work they are doing at SpaceX is exciting and potentially revolutionary. But it also looks very ordinary. Their building looks like an ordinary manufacturing building. The office space has the look of any other technical work place. Cubicles, desktops, computer screens. The manufacturing area looks ordinary. The only things extraordinary about the place are the rockets lying on their side and the space capsule standing in the middle of the work space. This is what the future of space travel will look like. It will look ordinary. And just like today, when it's hard to remember what life was like before the personal computer and the cellphone, we will forget what ife was like before human space travel became commonplace.


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Monday, February 16, 2009

NASA Constellation Photo Essay.

Go to the Boston Globe's "The Big Picture" web page for a collection of NASA photos of the Constellation program. (Here.)

This is photograph number 23 from the essay, described as follows: "Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama completed first-round testing on Sept. 11, 2008 of a key motor for the next-generation Ares I rocket. The ullage settling motor is a small, solid rocket motor that will assist in vehicle stage separation and provide the forward motion needed to push fuel to the bottom of the fuel tanks during the launch to orbit of the Ares I rocket."(Photo credit: NASA/MSFC)

That may be a solid rocket motor blasting away but it looks like a test firing of a death ray. Makes me wonder, if you could line up your ship correctly and get it close enough to the target, how effective would the blast from a propulsion or control rocket be as a weapon in space? But that's another topic. There are other equally cool photos in the collection. Go check them out. (Link here again, so you don't have to scroll back to the top.)



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In The Macroverse: Fierce Little Buggers.

Most native plants in the backyard are thriving. A sage is under attack and not doing too well. These scary little insects are having a feast.

What the hell are these things? And better yet, how can they be killed?


For more macro-photography of the natural world visit the photo web page at (Here.)

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Flushing Baseball's Cheaters Out Of The Game.

Baseball's steroids scandal hit the front pages again this week with the revelation that Alex Rodriguez cheated his way to fame and fortune by taking performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez joins Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in a triumvirate of superstar cheaters. News reports say there are 103 players who are known to have tested positive for steroids back in 2003.

Eventually the names will out. Baseball's dilemma is what to do about it. Bonds presents the biggest problem because he cheated his way to becoming the greatest homerun hitter of all time. If Bonds is banned and his record taken away the lifetime record reverts to Hank Aaron, a class guy who deserves to be number one. The problem is that Bonds single season record would revert to Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, both of whom are probably guilty as well.

Banning all steroids cheaters from baseball could be difficult. There are so many. But ignoring the scandal won't make it go away. The players who didn't cheat deserve to see the cheaters exposed and punished, and the fans deserve to know the extent of the corruption.

So, here's a modest proposal.

Let's give steroids cheaters a special place at the Hall of Fame. Don't add a Wing of Shame. Instead, designate the restrooms as memorials to the steroids era. Assign each shamed player to his own urinal or toilet, and imprint a picture of the player on the urinal or in the toilet bowl. For example, an A-Rod or Roger "The Rocket" Clemens urinal, or a Barry Bonds toilet. Visitors to the Hall could then leave an appropriate tribute to the baseball players who soiled America's national pasttime. And with so many players implicated in steroids, there would never be a line for the restrooms.


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Monday, February 09, 2009

I Am Chump.

Tonight I prepared and e-filed my tax returns. I did the long form and declared all my income and took no unlawful deductions. Heck, I even paid a use tax on my state return for online purchases I didn't pay sales tax on at the time of purchase. Joe Biden would call me a patriot, more patriotic than Tom Daschle or Tim Geithner.

But I feel like a chump. Not because I did my duty and paid my taxes. No, I'm a chump because I live in California. In this state, the government can't get its act together and pass a budget that works. Instead, California's government is running out of money and the state's controller has threatened to delay paying state tax refunds. Already, the controller has notified some vendors that the state will delay payments for services rendered for at least 30 days.

There is no solution in sight. We have a legislature gridlocked by partisan division. The parties are united in one thing only: their stubborn refusal to face facts and deal with the state's funding catastrophe.

The governor has no political clout whatsoever. He's a Republican (well, in name only) in a state where every other statewide elected official, but one, is a Democrat, and where both houses of the legislature are dominated by strong Democratic majorities. Arnold is a leader without followers and supporters. As a Republican he gets no support from Sacramento Democrats. He came in as a Republican conservative on money matters and liberal on social issues. Over time, he's morphed into a Republican, still liberal on social issues and no longer fiscally conservative. That has lost him the support of Republicans in the legislature. His political one man show has left him as weak as a girly man.

But the governor has done one thing right. He's tried to save money by cutting state payroll costs. First, he tried to cramdown state employee salaries to the federal minimum wage when the state entered its new fiscal year back in July without a budget. It's a measure of the strength of this state's public employee unions that the governor's plan went nowhere.

Now the governor has ordered state employees to take off two days of unpaid leave each month. This amounts to a 10 percent pay cut, albeit at 10 percent less work. But it's a measure of the governor's weakness and this state's immense partisan division that employees who work in departments run by elected state officials have been told to report to work by their bosses.

For example, employees of the state controller's department have been told to report to work. The controller won't save any money by reducing his employees' salaries. Instead, he saves money by withholding money from vendors and taxpayers.

So, that's California. In the middle of a terrible recession state employees get to keep their jobs, a small percentage are forced to take a 10 percent pay cut by getting two unpaid days off per month, but most get to keep their full salaries. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in the state is around 9 percent and taxpayers who overpaid the state have to wait for their refunds. Chumps. We're a state full of chumps. But we've got the best weather in the country.


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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wild In The Wild: HawkWatch 2009

This Red-Tailed Hawk displays its wings at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona, California. Each Saturday in January and February the Institute is hosting HawkWatch 2009, an educational program for the public. For more information about the Institute's work tracking raptors and preserving habitat go to its website. (Here.)

If you're in Southern California, head out to Ramona on any of the remaining Saturday mornings in February. You'll see birds like this beautiful American Kestrel, the cutest raptor of them all. For more photos of last weekend's HawkWatch 2009, visit my photos website at (Here.)


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Audacity Of Nope: Tom Daschle Out.

Tom Daschle has been forced to withdraw from consideration for Secretary of Health and Human Services because of his tax evasions and conflicts of interest. (Here.) Yes, we can!


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