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Friday, January 28, 2011

Blogger DJ Salutes the San Francisco Sound

Moby Grape - Omaha
Steve Miller Band - Living in the USA
Jefferson Airplane - She Has Funny Cars
Santana - Soul Sacrifice
Santana - Jingo
Jefferson Airplane - Somebody to Love
Jefferson Airplane - Today
Big Brother and the Holding Company - Combination of the Two
Big Brother and the Holding Company - Piece of My Heart
Moby Grape - Sitting By The Window
Moby Grape - 8:05

Catching up on movies : NINE, directed by Rob Marshall

The Culture Vulture was, well, overwhelmed and underwhelmed by Nine at the same time.

There's a lot of star talent in this film. Still the final product ...

Of course, some reviews were positive,  such as Todd McCarthy's in VARIETY. 

 "Nine" is a savvy piece of musical filmmaking. Sophisticated, sexy and stylishly decked out, Rob Marshall's disciplined, tightly focused film impresses and amuses as it extravagantly renders the creative crisis of a middle-aged Italian director, circa 1965. Given its basis in a 27-year-old Broadway show, which itself had its unlikely origins in Federico Fellini's self-reflective 1963 classic "8½," the Stateside Weinstein release will probably find a more receptive audience among culture vultures than with the masses. But a robust marketing push stressing the stellar cast, strong notices and the "another 'Chicago' " vibe should still generate solid returns, especially in urban areas.
(  According to the website BOX OFFICE MOJO, 'Nine' cost $80 million. Its domestic gross was a tad under $20 million, its foreign gross just over $34 million.  The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, for acting ( Best Supporting Actress (Penélope Cruz),  Best Original Song, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. )

My own opinion is aligned with those of Roger Ebert of the CHICAGO-SUN-TIMES,  A. O. Scott of THE NEW YORK TIMES,  and Armond White of the NEW YORK PRESS.

Roger Ebert opined that
 "Nine" is just plain adrift in its own lack of necessity. It is filled wall to wall with stars (Marion Cotillard as the wife figure, Penelope Cruz as the mistress, Judi Dench as the worrying assistant, Nicole Kidman as the muse, the sublime Sophia Loren as the mother). But that's what they are, stars, because the movie doesn't make them characters. My closing advice is very sincere: In the life of anyone who loves movies, there must be time to see "8½." You can watch it instantly right now on Netflix or Amazon. What are you waiting for?
 A. O. Scott, in a NYT review aptly titled 'There Will Be Lingerie (Singing, Too)', observed
Occasionally a flicker of genuine style emerges from all this busy, gaudy fuss. Mr. Day-Lewis [who plays the protagonist, film director Guido Contini ] does not overdo the Italian-ness, and the sardonic smile playing around his mouth may be a sign of what he thinks of it all. Ms. Cotillard attains a measure of wounded dignity as Louisa, Guido’s former leading lady and much-betrayed wife. She is not spared the striptease obligations that fall to every other female character, but at least her big song is not splintered by the clumsy, mechanical cross-cutting that seems to be Mr. Marshall’s attempt to fuse choreographic energy with cinematic brio.
None of the rest of Guido’s ladies are so lucky. It must be said that “Nine” is an impressive feat of casting, with a shocking number of Oscar winners and nominees assembled in the service of its dubious and incoherent cause.
The best that can be said about “Nine” is that its affections are sincere, though you could say the same about its hero, who has the misfortune of being in a movie that’s an even worse mess than he is.
Last but not least,  Armond White of The New York Press tells us that 'Rob Marshall dumbs down Fosse’s cinematic movie musical technique in 'Nine''. 
...it’s showbiz as usual in Marshall’s approach. Nine’s story of Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) juggling his relationships with various women while trying to conceive his next movie continues Marshall’s rip-off of the prismatic technique Bob Fosse crafted in the 1972 film Cabaret. Fosse used on-stage performances to refract the characters’ inner lives, which reflected their Weimar period social circumstances.The complexity of Fosse’s cinematic style is poorly imitated by Marshall’s TV-trained technique. He dumbs-down Fosse’s montage for no good reason than that it’s the only style he can ape.
Filmmaker Contini’s life is depicted as a second-rate stage show—that is, like Marshall’s messy 2002 film Chicago. There’s none of the visual layering or rhythm that suggests film is at the center of Contini’s consciousness or Marshall’s. By favoring six-second edits (the TV hack’s credo), Marshall never establishes a physical reality for the musical numbers like the moments in This Is It where one is held in rapturous thrall at the beauty and marvel of Jackson’s dance and singing performance, such as the split-screen effects that juxtapose different rehearsals to show the process of creation and to stimulate our awareness of creativity. Nine fails to be about creativity because its banality is entirely uncreative.
Marshall tries to repeat the fluke of Chicago’s success by once again casting actors who cannot sing or dance. The result suggests a musical version of Woody Allen’s Celebrity guest spots. Guido and his harem are not characters, they’re not even box-office stars—just celebs: Day- Lewis, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie and a waxwork legend, Sophia Loren.This casting is worse than Chicago because the fragile structure of Nine isn’t sustained by storytelling but by the quality and personal investment of performance.The original 1982 Broadway production was a showcase for individually talented actresses who exhibited their training, skill and inspiration. Instead, Marshall uses Judi at her Denchiest, dragging a feather boa across a stage.
Constantly referring back to the stage proves Marshall’s ineptitude, not his commitment to theatrical tradition. But he might have revived the musical genre with more artistic casting: imagine Michael Jackson as Guido with a retinue that included Beyoncé, J-Lo, Alicia Keys, Missy, Shakira, Eva Mendes, Megan Fox! But by displaying his unmusical and unexciting stable on the boards, Marshall denies the psychological cultural, religious and erotic obsessions in Guido’s head. Using women to scrutinize the male ego was an idea that Bob Fosse also flummoxed in his 1979 All That Jazz. Oh yes, that movie was also inspired by (ripped-off) Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The title Nine purportedly proceeds from Fellini’s movie (during ’60s high-modernism a film maker could legitimately title a film like an art project).What Marshall’s unmovie-musical adds to Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece is less than a half a film.

For more info on the film, see the IMDB entry or the film's own website.

Click to view

The State of the Union 2011 and the Republican Response...

...for political junkies, or for the civic-minded who missed the live broadcasts.

  • The President's Speech, video and transcript.
  • The Republican Response by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin,  video and transcript.
  • Gratuitous pic of the Veep and House Majority Leader in a seemingly casual moment.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Inflation Much Worse than the BLS Claims

SOFT CURRENCIES HAVE THEIR USE !
asserts Chris Martenson in a FINANCIAL SENSE article,  excerpted below [ emphases mine].

* * *

Inflation is actually much higher than what the BLS claims it is; something that purchasers of college tuition, pharmaceuticals, or health insurance know all too well.

To give the BLS some credit, they must try and estimate a single rate of inflation that applies to everyone equally.  But that is a completely impossible task. An octogenarian living in Seattle on a meager pension and taking lots of prescription medications will have a totally different inflation experience than an 18 year old living in their parent's basement eating Ramen noodles.

But even after spotting the BLS some slack, there are some enormous and glaring errors in their methods that render the official inflation measure hopelessly - and dangerously - inaccurate.

As I mentioned in the Crash Course chapter on inflation, there are three major statistical 'tricks' that the BLS imposes on the Consumer Price Index. They are hedonics, which tries to account for improving quality in products over time, substitution, which is the act of switching to lower-cost items when prices surge on preferred items, and weighting. 

For less-than satisfactory reasons, the BLS only weights healthcare at 6.5% of the CPI, although it represents 17.6% of the total GDP. That's a big problem, because healthcare is the biggest and most consistent source of inflation over the years. 

A big portion of the underweighting of medical care can be attributed to a single category: health insurance, which stands at just 0.49% of the total CPI reading, or less than half a percent:


According to the BLS, the average family is projected to have a total exposure to rising health insurance premiums at a rate of only 0.49% (out of 100%). Given a median family income of $49,077 (the 2009 value), this means that the BLS assumes that the average family contributes just $239 dollars per year towards their healthcare insurance premiums. Yes, I wrote per year, not per month. That's not a typo.

Worse, and compounding this error of weighting, the BLS has somehow calculated that the cost of health insurance has been steadily falling for the past three years.

Soon You Will Have to Call Chad Ochocinco 'Johnson'

ESPN reports that Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is changing his name back to Chad Johnson.
Ochocinco, appearing on ESPN's "NFL Live" on Tuesday, called the name change fun, but said it's time for a change.
"I don't have a choice right now," Ochocinco told ESPN's Trey Wingo. "I've done enough with the Ocho thing."
Johnson originally gave himself the Ocho moniker in 2006 as an allusion to his No. 85.
Before a regular-season game against the New York Jets in January 2010, Ochocinco said he would change his name back to Johnson if Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis shut him down. Ochocinco, who tweaked his knee in pregame warm-ups, was held to zero catches for zero yards in the game. When the teams met again a week later in the playoffs, Ochocinco had just two catches for 28 yards.
He kept his name, but later said his comments were made in fun and he was never serious about a name change.

Want more Ray J. Johnson, Jr. ? 

By contrast, you DON'T have to call Ray J. Johnson, Jr ' Johnson'.


Games Traders Play with Oil, Part Deux

Following up on yesterday's post,  'Speculators now DEPRESSING the Price of Oil ? ', one should check out Julian Murdoch's piece in SEEKING ALPHA, "How to Play the High Brent-WTI Spread".

Until 2008, WTI--West Texas Intermediate crude--commanded a premium over Brent--North Sea crude-- because, as Murdoch explains, "WTI is a sweeter, lighter crude, and all things being equal, gasoline refiners prefer to work with WTI over Brent."  Since then, Brent has been trading at a premium to WTI.

What gives ?

Partly, Murdoch continues, it's because while WTI is prey to contango (see yesterday's post below), Brent has become increasingly vulnerable to price-manipulation because of declining production--about 26% since 2006--further constrained by recent North Sea offshore oil-rig mishaps/problems.

"So with tight supply and trading games pushing Brent prices up, and oil surpluses keeping WTI prices low, it only makes sense that the Brent-WTI spread should be as high as it is today.

"But will the trend continue? No way to tell for sure. No matter—U.S. ETF investors can easily invest in either side of the spread.

" Since USCF's introduction of the United States Brent Oil Fund (BNO), the fund is up 24 percent compared with the comparable WTI fund, the United States Oil Fund (USO):

"The two funds are similar in that they both own a single, front-month contract and roll it two weeks prior to expiration. The only difference is USO owns WTI, while BNO owns Brent.

"Although there's no guarantee that Brent will continue to outperform WTI, the future curves imply that maybe, it just might:
Immediately obvious is that WTI is in fairly strong contango through the next year—a function of the aforementioned ample inventories. Brent's curve, on the other hand, remains comparatively flat, although technically in contango. If these conditions persist, then BNO will likely continue to outperform USO simply because of the roll cost—although all it takes is a drop in U.S. inventories to quickly flatten the WTI futures curve and change the picture completely."

So, what's an oil-focused investor to do ?

"In the end, when it comes to crude, it pays to remember that more options exist than just plain old WTI."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Song for Tonight

Carlos Santana's Song of the Wind, from his breathtaking CARAVANSERAI album

Euro Obit Premature

according to Dian L. Chiu, who discusses  the 'Euro's Reversal of Fortune and Outlook Ahead' in SEEKING ALPHA.

Recent developments have arrested the Euro's fall, and, Chiu believes, presage the continued ascent of the currency.

The Euro has attracted money out of gold, where it had been stashed for safekeeping. Apparently money managers feel that, " because of the over-hyped debt concerns of 2010, European assets are currently undervalued and at a discount to emerging market assets."

"If the Euro is going to get stronger...guess what?...The Dollar is going to get weaker. So you can expect more investors and hedgers to pile into the Euro. And this fact should further reinforce the idea originated in 2007 that the Euro was a strong second reserve currency to the Dollar, and even had many in the Middle East clamoring for transactions to be conducted in Euro as opposed to the depreciating US Dollar."

Chiu recommends several ETF's for individual investors ready to ride the rising euro : WisdomTree Dreyfus Euro (EU), CurrencyShares Euro Trust (FXE), Market Vectors Double Long Euro ETN (URR), Ultra Euro ProShares (ULE).    

Speculators Now DEPRESSING the Price of Oil ?

Tango, Not Contango
That's what Kenneth D Worth asserts in his article, How to Trade (or Dance) the Oil Contango.

What's contango ?  Check out INVESTOPEDIA on the subject.

According to Worth...
The common wisdom is that speculators can affect the price of oil. Indeed, speculators are often blamed for the run up in prices whenever they are high. But maybe it's the speculators who are to blame for the low price of WTI [ West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil ] . Maybe all those institutions dumping the front month contracts to get out of having to take delivery are depressing the price of WTI delivered in Cushing, Okla., relative to other world crudes, to the benefit of Midwest refiners. Just a thought.

WTI has a significant contango that seems almost constantly stuck with us. And yet there is no contango in Brent, no contango apart from normal seasonality is wholesale gasoline, no contango apart from normal seasonality in heating oil.

What does this mean for investors? Well, first of all, avoid USO and OIL like the plague. These ETF's are being crushed by the continual need to roll over their contracts to the front month. Their performance over the past year relative to other oil investments has been very disappointing. Second, focus on the smaller less liquid instruments not favored by the big institutions. These include Brent crude (no contango), the ETF is BNO; wholesale gasoline (again no contango apart from normal seasonality), the ETF is UGA; and heating oil (again only normal seasonality), the ETF is UHN.

Sure, if you think oil is headed higher due to higher oil prices, you could buy drillers like Transocean (RIG), Baker Hughes (BHI), Noble (NE) and Ensco (ESV). You could buy the oil service companies Halliburton (HAL) and Schlumberger (SLB) or the ETF OIH. You could buy the smaller exploration and production companies (easiest done through the ETF XOP. There are always the majors: Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), BP (BP), Shell (RDS.A) and Total (TOT). But these investment vehicles are stocks, and while they will benefit from higher oil prices, they will trend downward or sideways in a bear market, should this year give us another one, entirely possible given the pricey nature of the overall market and the uncertain economic outlook.

There's Good News on Bank Lending...

claims the Calafia Beach Pundit in SEEKING ALPHA :

...bank lending to businesses has bottomed, and is now rising at a fairly impressive rate. This marks a very important change in financial conditions in recent months: after two years of a sharp decline, bank lending is up at a 13.6% annualized rate since Nov. 24th.
Unfortunately, we can't know whether the recent strength in new lending reflects an easing of bank credit standards or a new-found desire on the part of businesses to borrow (or stop deleveraging), or both, but it's likely a combination of the two. In either case, however, it reflects increased confidence on the part of banks and small businesses, and that is something that has been sorely lacking in this recovery.

Where'd That Federal Stimulus Money End Up ?

In their COMMENTARY article, John F. Cogan and John B. Taylor come to the following conclusion :


To sum up: the federal government borrowed funds that it mainly sent to households and to state and local governments. Only an immaterial amount was used for federal purchases of goods and services. The borrowed funds were mainly used by households and state and local governments to reduce their own borrowing. In effect, the increased net borrowing at the federal level was matched by reduced net borrowing by households and state and local governments.

So there was little if any net stimulus. The irony is that basic economic theory and practical experience predicted this would happen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Prediction : AL's Tampa Rays To Have Really Bad Hair Year...

now that the team has reportedly signed Manny Ramirez AND Johnny Damon.

What Better Way to Start This Frigid Winter's Day

...than with this video wake-up call ?

How about a weather forecast ?

How about another weather forecast ?

Stop the State-Bankruptcy Meme !

urges Felix Salmon in his SEEKING ALPHA article, 'The Metastasizing State-Bankruptcy Meme'.

No ! No ! Anything but the MEME !

First,  you ask,  what the blazes is a 'meme' ?

According to thefreedictionary.com, a meme is " unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. "

According to Wikipedia, " a meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. "

Okay.  Now you ask, what's Salmon foaming on about, anyway ?

Missing : 15 Million American Jobs

Where did they go ? Jim Tankersley addresses the question in  a thorough and thought-provoking article in THE NATIONAL JOURNAL, excerpted below.

This we do know: The U.S. economy created fewer and fewer jobs as the 2000s wore on. Turnover in the job market slowed as workers clung to the positions they held. Job destruction spiked in each of the decade’s two recessions. In contrast to the pattern of past recessions, when many employers recalled laid-off workers after growth picked up again, this time very few of those jobs came back.
These are the first clues—incomplete, disconcerting, and largely overlooked—to a critical mystery bedeviling a nation struggling to crawl out of near-double-digit unemployment. We know what should have transpired over the past 10 years: the completion of a circle of losses and gains from globalization. Emerging technology helped firms send jobs abroad or replace workers with machines; it should have also spawned domestic investment in innovative industries, companies, and jobs. That investment never happened—not nearly enough of it, in any case.
One baffling aspect of the current recovery is why U.S. companies continue to sideline nearly $2 trillion in cash instead of using it to buy equipment or hire workers. That hoarding turns out to be a piece of a decades-long investment puzzle. American corporate spending on nonresidential plant equipment—factories and equipment, not houses or shopping malls—has fallen to its lowest rate as a share of the economy in 40 years. Businesses aren’t investing in American workers, either. The major productivity gains of the fledgling recovery, and in the 2000s in general, came largely from companies producing more with fewer employees.
The simple truth is that American firms are either returning the spoils of globalization and technology to their shareholders, spending them on new projects abroad, or both. “Globalization isn’t the problem,” says Howard F. Rosen, a labor economist and visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute. “U.S. companies are investing in plants and equipment, just not in our borders.… They are privatizing the gains of globalization. That’s really it. They’re our gains!”

A Plan to Increase U.S Employment and Rebuild American Competitiveness

...is basically what President Obama has tasked former GE head Jeffrey Immelt to come up with as chairman of the new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Among the areas he will target, Immelt tells us in THE WASHINGTON POST...

Manufacturing and exports: We need a coordinated commitment among business, labor and government to expand our manufacturing base and increase exports
Businesses should invest more of their cash and resources in advanced products and technologies that will create jobs in the United States, and government should incentivize this investment in innovation."
But,  as Avi Salzman observes in his Barron's article, ' GE Has Shed U.S. Jobs Since “Jobs Czar” Immelt Took Helm'.

President Obama has tapped General Electric Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt to head a new White House panel tasked with finding a way to grow jobs. But since Immelt took over, GE has shed thousands of jobs, according to the conglomerate’s annual reports.
Of course, General Electric (GE) has sold divisions and made acquisitions that make it a different company than it was in 2000, when Immelt took over (he was named CEO in November 2000, not 2001, as previously reported). But overall, the company has fewer employees, and is much more reliant on foreign workers, than it was when he began his tenure. At the end of 2000, GE employed 313,000 people, including 168,000 in the U.S. (54%). By the start of 2010, when the company filed its most recent annual report, GE had 304,000 workers, including 134,000 in the U.S. (44%).

Looking ahead to US Elections...

Cabin Fever Exercise #1 - Color the Electoral Map !
...is Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, whose CRYSTAL BALL website offers three intriguing articles on the following specific subjects, excerpted below, with emphasis mine.

Presidential Possibilities : A First Line-Up for 2012
While President Obama may or may not have one or more Democratic primary foes, he is a lead pipe cinch to be the Democratic nominee for president, and to win the party nod by a mile. At this point, there is nothing to analyze, except to say that Obama will want to stave off a challenge if possible. Major intra-party challenges to the incumbent president in 1968 (Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy for LBJ), 1976 (Ronald Reagan for Gerald Ford), 1980 (Ted Kennedy for Jimmy Carter), and 1992 (Pat Buchanan for George H.W. Bush) all helped to send presidents into early retirement.
In 2011-2012, the nominating action is on the Republican side, and a vigorous “invisible primary” contest is already underway. The term “invisible primary” refers to the early, pre-primary accumulation of money and endorsements, the building of organizations in key states, the management of a campaign infrastructure, and the shaping of issue positions and public relations among the various real and possible presidential candidates.
The GOP field is not set. The contenders are in various stages of undress as the strip tease proceeds. So we begin with a catch-all listing of those clearly running (such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty); those seriously toying with running (Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, etc.); those who might be persuaded to run (such as Chris Christie and Marco Rubio); and those who are running but tilting at windmills (Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson, and so on). In total, we evaluate nineteen actual or potential candidates here.
There may be more to come. Somewhat inexplicably, Rudy Giuliani is ruminating about another White House bid, though he crashed and burned in 2008–and has the very same problems (such as liberal positions on social issues) for 2012. This time around, Rudy isn’t even assured of being in Tier 2. Reality will dawn at some point and the former New York City mayor will probably stay out. Several state governors, such as Rick Perry of Texas and Bob Riley of Alabama (who just left the executive mansion after eight years), are mentioned here and there, but so far no signs have emerged to suggest a serious effort. And let’s not forget about ex-Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana, who is toying with a candidacy though not by popular demand. He’s been out of office since his reelection defeat in 1991, but the fires of ambition are never extinguished for some politicians until the cold of the grave.

The Early Line: 14 Governorships of 2011-12
After a record-setting number of 37 governorships on the 2010 ballot, it is something of a letdown to see a mere 14 statehouses up for grabs in the off-year election of 2011 (just 3) and the 2012 general election (11 more).
Fortunately, about half the roster of gubernatorial match-ups promise to be competitive and well worth a look. There are 9 Democratic seats up to 5 Republican seats. Three incumbents are term-limited (Mitch Daniels, R-IN, Haley Barbour, R-MS, and Brian Schweitzer, D-MT), and at least one more governor is expected to retire, Chris Gregoire (D-WA). At least at the starting gate, two Democratic incumbents are considered highly vulnerable, Govs. Beverly Perdue of North Carolina and Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia.
It is too soon to say precisely, but the Crystal Ball’s early line suggests the Republicans may pad their current 29-to-20 statehouse edge over the Democrats by one to three. (Independent Gov. Linc Chafee holds the Rhode Island governorship.)

The Crystal Ball’s 2012 Roll-Out, Part One : Special Double Issue—Initial Ratings for All 2012 Senate Seats
The Senate class of 2012 is substantially Democratic, with Democrats holding 23 seats to the Republicans’ 10. Obviously, this gives Republicans a leg up in contesting seats. The GOP has a small number to defend, while Democrats will have to cover a broad map, and depend on President Obama for long coattails.
...there are seven toss-ups at the moment, six of them Democratic: Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), John Ensign (R-NV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jim Webb (D-VA). All seven are either in the “very vulnerable” or “vulnerable” categories.
There are eight seats currently leaning to one or the other party. Six are Democratic and two are Republican. Of the eight, the seat of Scott Brown (R-MA) may be the most endangered, initially—although we believe some are underestimating his ability to win a full term despite the state’s heavily Democratic tilt.
The remaining 18 seats are “likely” or “solid” for the eleven Democrats and seven Republicans who occupy them.
Depending on the party identity of the Vice President elected in 2012, Republicans will need to win a net three or four Senate seats from the Democrats to take control of the upper chamber of Congress. With six Democratic toss-ups to just one Republican toss-up, the GOP can obviously win the Senate in theory—but it is far too soon to say whether theory will become reality. Just remember how many Senate surprises there were in the primaries and general election of 2010.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jane's Updates on Military Robotic Systems

UAV attacks on Pakistan-based militants reach peak.

Attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against targets in the northwest area of Pakistan reached a new peak in 2010. By the end of December, a total of 120 attacks had been reported for the year, more than twice the 51 recorded in 2009. In its own listing of attacks, the website www.longwarjournal.org reported that in the course of 2010, 18 "senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders" had been killed.

Special Report: Bringing up the rear in a big way: UGV dismount support

Lockheed Martin recently showcased the capabilities of its developmental Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) at its Grand Prairie facility near Dallas, Texas. The SMSS - also known as the 'Ox' - is an autonomous or remotely controlled six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle intended to support light infantry force manoeuvre by taking the load off the front-line soldier.

DARPA sets sail with ultra-long-endurance USV project


'Unmanned'  always a good idea ?
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded three concept design contracts as it takes the first steps towards the goal of an ultra-long-endurance unmanned surface vessel (USV) capable of tracking potentially hostile submarines for months at a time. Northrop Grumman, QinetiQ North America and Science Applications International Corp (SAIC) have each received Phase 1 contracts valued at about USD2 million apiece.

US Marine Corps studies unmanned convoy potential.

The US Marine Corps (USMC) is experimenting with autonomous convoy technology to determine its feasibility and possible operating procedures. Officials at the USMC Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) have selected Oshkosh's TerraMax technology to be integrated on the marines' ubiquitous Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) truck, company officials told Jane's on 24 August at an annual conference hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

US trials unmanned Marine Corps resupply.

Four new Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS) remotely operated vehicles designed and built by Virginia Tech students under contract to the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Division completed a period of operational experimentation in July during Exercise 'Rim of the Pacific' (RIMPAC) in Hawaii. GUSS was conceived as a robotic 'mule' to re-supply troops in the field, being able to carry up to 1,800 lb (816 kg) at about five miles per hour.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And just in case you missed the Golden Globe Awards...

Here are some snippets, plus a gratuitous pic of Olivia Wilde.


Ricky Gervais'  Golden Globe 'Highlight Reel'.

Gervais Introduction of Robert Downey Jr., and Downey's Speech, featuring the classic line, ""I don't know if an actress can do her best work until I've slept with her."

Matt Damon's Introduction and Robert De Niro's Acceptance of Lifetime Achievement Award.

And for good measure, Ricky Gervais' 10 Bawdiest Jokes at the Golden Globes,  compiled by Kimberly Nordyke of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Turning From Reality to La-La Land...

we scan The Hollwood Reporter in search of stories to divert us from momentous issues of war and peace, and drown out today's ominous economic political and military echoes of the 1930's in hot jazz, or a reasonable facsimile thereof,  and accordingly,  find the following.

Eriq Gardner asks, Do Celebrities Control the Rights to their Own Halloween Costumes? 
Only ten months to Halloween. Still a lot of time for consumers to figure out which celebrities make the scariest, funniest, or coolest Halloween costumes this year. But in the meantime, a case is about to go before the New York District Court that might help determine when costume manufacturers need to explicitly license a celebrity's image.
On December 17, Forum Novelties filed a lawsuit against the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which owns the rights to Albert Einstein's image and reportedly earned about $10 million last year in licensing revenue. Forum seeks a declaratory judgment that it can sell an Einstein disguise kit without violating the publicity rights now owned by Hebrew University.
According to the complaint, Forum has been hounded by co-defendant GreenLight, a licensee of Einstein's image, since November 2008. The two parties have been going back and forth since then about necessary rights and money allegedly owed for possible infringement.
 Matthew Belloni reports that Man Who Says DreamWorks Stole 'Kung Fu Panda' Wins Round in Court
EXCLUSIVE: The man who is suing DreamWorks Animation claiming it stole his idea for Kung Fu Panda has won a small victory in his multi-million dollar lawsuit against the company.
Terence Dunn, a self-described "writer-producer-teacher-philosopher," filed suit in June claiming that he pitched the story of a "spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear" to DWA execs during a series of phone conversations in Nov. 2001 but the studio passed. Months later, DWA announced it was working with Jack Black to develop Kung Fu Panda, which in 2008 grossed $632 million worldwide, launched a merchandise bonanza and spawned a sequel, due next summer.
Lawyers for both sides were in court on Thursday arguing a small but key issue. One of the challenges from the plainitiff's perspective in these idea submission cases is that you don't really know how much the damages are until you look at the studio's books. The studios, obviously, don't want that to happen, or at least they want to make you jump through hoops and spend a lot of money on lawyers to make that happen. So, like many corporate defendants in Hollywood lawsuits, DWA lawyers at Loeb & Loeb filed a motion to split (or "bifurcate") the case into separate phases of liability and damages. That would have forced Dunn to prove he was owed money before he even got to delve into the books to figure out how much that might be.
But Judge Joanne O'Donnell has issued a tentative ruling shutting down the DWA strategy and denying the motion. Now the case moves to the discovery phase, where Dunn and attorney Glen Kulik will attempt to gather internal DWA documents about boxoffice gross, DVD and merchandise revenue to help support their claims that the studio made millions from Dunn's ideas. They're also trying to prove the studio had access to Dunn's ideas (he claims he created "Zen-Bear" years before Panda) in advance of developing the movie.
Depositions, including those of Lance Young and Michael Lachance, the DWA execs who were allegedly communicating with Dunn, are expected to take place in January. A trial date is scheduled for next year.
 And wouldn't you know, as the Golden Globes were about to be handed out,  Matthew Belloni tells us, Former Golden Globes Publicist Sues Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Claiming 'Payola'
 Michael Russell, who for years represented the Golden Globes as its lead publicist, has filed a $2 million lawsuit accusing the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. of "payola" in connection with the show.
The suit -- filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court on the eve of Sunday's Globes telecast by Russell, Stephen Locascio, Cinepoint Prods and the Michael Russell Group -- accuses the journalist organization of terminating a deal for Russell and his company to rep the show after he asked that the association stop accepting "payola" in connection with the Globes awards.
The lawsuit says Russell and Locascio attempted to convince HFPA president Philip Berk(also a defendant) to end the alleged "unethical and potentially unlawful deals" that many of the 90-odd HFPA members allegedly engage in, conduct the plaintiffs say amounts to "payola" and violates California law.
Meantime, Eriq Gardner reports, a Class Action Lawsuit Claims Film School Overstates Job Opportunities .
A new proposed class action targets the Los Angeles Film School and Los Angeles Recording School for alleged deceptive practices in attracting students by over-promising jobs in the entertainment industry.
According to a lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court, students pay $18,000 to $23,000 in tuition to receive 900 hours of instruction from an accredited school. The two schools, which offer students training in the technical aspects of content development, are said to maintain career development departments that manage "a curriculum designed to prepare students for the pursuit of internships and entry level employment."
The plaintiffs claim, however, that they didn't receive 900 hours of instruction and that the schools only attained accreditation by manipulating their job placement rates. Specifically, the schools are alleged to have offered students gift cards to Target and Best Buy if students signed self-employment forms and misrepresented sales clerk positions at Apple and Guitar Center stores as "creative positions." These efforts were allegedly made to fool ACCET, which handles accreditation for continuing education schools, into thinking that these film students had job opportunities.
BUT WAIT ! THERE'S MORE !

Matthew Belloni and Eriq Gardner run down the Top 10 Hollywood Lawsuits of 2010, featuring the likes of Don Johnson, Casey Affleck, Nicollette Sheridan !

Chinese Diplomacy Turns to Intimidation When Questionable Chinese Actions Uncovered

reports Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy.

Some excerpts from Lynch's post :
China has escalated a campaign of pressure against the U.N.'s chief sanctions enforcers, blocking the reappointment this month of a U.N. arms investigator who discovered Chinese bullet shells in Darfur, Sudan, in violation of a 6 year-old U.N. arms embargo.
Beijing's action could undermine the independence of numerous panels of U.N. experts responsible for enforcing U.N. sanctions and arms embargos, according to former U.N. arms experts and diplomats. One top council diplomat called China's behavior "deplorable," saying it sends a troubling message that any U.N. expert who delves into China's role in the illicit arms trade may lose his job.
The dispute places another harsh spotlight on Chinese diplomacy at a time when President Hu Jintao is preparing to hold his final high-level summit at the White House Wednesday with President Barack Obama. It also highlighted how China's expanding global interests, including a burgeoning small arms trade in Africa, are colliding with some of the United States priorities at the United Nations. Since 2001, China has supplied Khartoum with 72 percent of its imports of small arms and light weapons, according to Sudanese customs data cited by the Small Arms Survey.
Investigations into arms trafficking have increasingly focused on China, rather than countries in the former Soviet Union, including Russia, whose nationals sold massive numbers of surplus weapons to African clients in the 1990s.
While Beijing has worked constructively with Washington on many high priority U.N. issues, striking agreements on tough U.N. sanctions resolutions against North Korea and Iran, it has sometimes impeded efforts to ensure those very same measures are actually enforced. And it is only one of many countries that have resisted the U.N.'s requests for help in tracing the illicit import of weapons into Africa's conflict zones.

There's a One-Sided Arms Race In Progress, its Goal to Serve China's Boundless Military Ambitions

say Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza in a recent THE WEEKLY STANDARD article.

Some excerpts :
The contours of the strategy driving China’s military buildup are clear enough to allow for a serious U.S. response. First, China is pursuing the ability to coerce and intimidate countries along what it calls the “first island chain.” This geographic area includes such stalwart U.S. allies and friends as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Second, China is seeking more control over what it calls the “near seas,” which include the waters closest to its coasts—the Yellow, East China, and South China seas. Third, it is looking to project power into the Indian Ocean to protect the large volume of maritime trade that flows from the Persian Gulf to Shanghai.
China is developing a layered military capability, which will allow it to strike decisive blows against adversaries closer to the mainland and then employ harassing “guerrilla” air and sea tactics deeper in the Pacific to slow U.S. forces rushing to the region.
But while China’s strategy is beginning to take shape, a serious U.S. response is not on the horizon. Instead we are hollowing out our air, naval, and Marine forces at a time when we should be reinforcing and modernizing them, so as to reassure allies that we will maintain the capability to deter Chinese aggression and defeat Chinese forces should they attack. Washington needs to resist the temptation, made stronger by the Chinese ability to attack our forward deployed forces, to adopt an offshore defense strategy. Pulling the bulk of our forces back to Hawaii, Guam, or other Pacific islands would be a mistake. Such an approach would encourage a nuclear arms race in Asia and weaken our alliances. Our presence in the region is also the surest way to push our allies to bone up their own defenses and operate more closely together.
An offshore defense also rests on questionable operational assumptions. There is no way to project the kind of power we have historically needed in the region from offshore. We need forward bases and the intelligence collected from near-constant patrols of the air and waters around China to shape and influence the region. The forward force in Asia allowed us to project power onto the Asian continent when we fought in Korea and Vietnam and intervened to quiet -China’s intimidation of Taiwan.
Blumenthal and Mazza recommend the following steps to  " redress a balance of power now tilting toward Beijing "
  • Hardening, dispersal, and diversification of bases.
  • More stealthy fighters sold to and positioned in host nations. 
  • A stronger commitment to a long-range bomber.
  • More attack submarines and renewed emphases on antisub-marine warfare and offensive mining.
  • A regional security headquarters that can coordinate coalition operations.
  • Commitment to the Marine Corps.

Defense Cuts Will Undermine US Interests and Democracy Abroad

asserts Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution in THE WEEKLY STANDARD article entitled 'The Price of Power'.

Some excerpts :

The looming battle over the defense budget could produce a useful national discussion about American foreign and defense policy. But we would need to begin by dispensing with the most commonly repeated fallacy: that cutting defense is essential to restoring the nation’s fiscal health. People can be forgiven for believing this myth, given how often they hear it. Typical is a recent Foreign Affairs article claiming that the United States faces “a watershed moment” and “must decide whether to increase its already massive debt in order to continue being the world’s sheriff or restrain its military missions and focus on economic recovery.”
This is nonsense. No serious budget analyst or economist believes that cutting the defense budget will aid economic recovery in the near term—federal spending on defense is just as much a job-producing stimulus as federal spending on infrastructure. Nor, more importantly, do they believe that cutting defense spending will have more than the most marginal effect on reducing the runaway deficits projected for the coming years. The simple fact is, as my Brookings colleague and former budget czar Alice Rivlin recently observed, the scary projections of future deficits are not “caused by rising defense spending,” and even if one assumes that defense spending continues to increase with the rate of inflation, this is “not what’s driving the future spending.” The engine of our growing debt is entitlements.
In fact, the only way to get significant savings from the defense budget—and by “significant,” we are still talking about a tiny fraction of the cuts needed to bring down future deficits—is to cut force structure: fewer troops on the ground; fewer airplanes in the skies; fewer ships in the water; fewer soldiers, pilots, and sailors to feed and clothe and provide benefits for. To cut the size of the force, however, requires reducing or eliminating the missions those forces have been performing. Of course, there are any number of think tank experts who insist U.S. forces can be cut by a quarter or third or even by half and still perform those missions. But this is snake oil. Over the past two decades, the force has already been cut by a third. Yet no administration has reduced the missions that the larger force structures of the past were designed to meet. To fulfill existing security commitments, to remain the “world’s power balancer of choice,” as Leslie Gelb puts it, to act as “the only regional balancer against China in Asia, Russia in eastern Europe, and Iran in the Middle East” requires at least the current force structure, and almost certainly more than current force levels. Those who recommend doing the same with less are only proposing a policy of insufficiency, where the United States makes commitments it cannot meet except at high risk of failure.
The only way to find substantial savings in the defense budget, therefore, is to change American strategy fundamentally. The Simpson-Bowles commission suggests as much, by calling for a reexamination of America’s “21st century role,” although it doesn’t begin to define what that new role might be.
The debates over whether and how the United States should respond to the world’s strategic challenges will and should continue. Armed interventions overseas should be weighed carefully, as always, with an eye to whether the risk of inaction is greater than the risks of action. And as always, these judgments will be merely that: judgments, made with inadequate information and intelligence and no certainty about the outcomes. No foreign policy doctrine can avoid errors of omission and commission. But history has provided some lessons, and for the United States the lesson has been fairly clear: The world is better off, and the United States is better off, in the kind of international system that American power has built and defended.
As Haass and Roger C. Altman have correctly noted, “it is not reckless American activity in the world that jeopardizes American solvency but American profligacy at home.” The United States may be in peril because of its spiraling deficits and mounting debt, but it will be in even greater peril if, out of some misguided sense that our national security budgets must “share the pain,” we weaken ourselves even further.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

WikiLeaks' Assange Abets Zimbabwe Tyrant Robert Mugabe

argues Michael Gerson in THE WASHINGTON POST.

Some excerpts from Gerson's piece  :

" [Assange's ] recent leaks exposed the name of a member of the ruling party who talked about its internal divisions with an American official. In another secret cable, then-U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell provided a frank assessment of Tsvangirai as a "brave, committed man," who is also a "flawed figure," prone to indecision and "questionable judgment in selecting those around him." Another cable detailed a secret meeting between Western officials and Tsvangirai in which he supported continued economic sanctions to pressure Mugabe, even though Tsvangirai needed to publicly oppose sanctions for political reasons.

"A few of the revelations nicked Mugabe and his family, revealing their ties to the blood diamond trade. But most of the disclosures have eased the life of the dictator. The ruling party is now hunting for traitors, based on information from the leaks. Party-controlled media have played up American criticisms of Tsvangirai, even while accusing the opposition of being American puppets. And the Mugabe-appointed attorney general has named a commission to consider legal action, perhaps including charges against Tsvangirai. "The WikiLeaks appear to show," the attorney general says ominously, "a treasonous collusion between local Zimbabweans and the aggressive international world, particularly the United States."

"Those who enthuse that information should always be free - like oxygen and butterflies - should consider the situation in Harare, where the breaking of confidences has strengthened a despot. Secrecy is often the precondition for political opposition in an oppressive society. And secrecy can also be a necessary protection for honesty. The quality of disclosures in the confessional would be diminished if confessions were posted on YouTube. What ruling-party figure in Zimbabwe will now quietly talk to U.S. officials about the inevitable transition beyond Mugabe?"

Rudi Giulani Running for Prez in 2012 ?

So claims the NEW YORK POST :
Confident that he'd have a chance to win, Rudy Giuliani is rounding up his top political advisers for a possible 2012 presidential run, sources tell Page Six.
Sources say the tough-talking former mayor "thinks the Republican race will be populated with far-right candidates like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, and there's opportunity for a moderate candidate with a background in national security."
Should he run ? Rick Brookhiser of THE NATIONAL REVIEW thinks not.
I assume the chatter about Giuliani making another run is merely that. If it isn’t, let me say, as perhaps Rudy’s firmest supporter on this site last time around, that this is a terrible idea which will be rewarded by swift failure.
Political figures are not static; every episode adds to their resumes. Giuliani’s campaign in the last cycle showed that he is unsuited for national politics, hence for national leadership. His race was feckless, disorganized, and cowardly. (For cowardice, cf. ducking the Iowa caucuses. Is Iowa full of social conservatives? Well, they are Republicans — and Americans — too. Show them why you are the best man despite your disagreements. And if you finish second or third or fourth, keep going and show why you are the best man anyway.)

What to make of China's J-20 Stealth Fighter ?

In THE DIPLOMAT, David Axe advises us not to buy "hype" about the aircraft.
It’s likely, then, that the J-20 no more represents the end of US air superiority than did Cope India or the T-50’s debut. What it does represent is the world’s second economy finally joining a club of nations long-accustomed to designing, building and operating advanced fighter aircraft.
Exactly what the J-20 is for, and exactly how well it will perform, remain open questions. But even the most dramatic answers to those questions shouldn’t by themselves hugely alter the Pacific balance of power.
For a second assessment, check out Aviation Week. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blogger DJ's Insanely Long Playlist for Tonight

Oates and Hall
Alan Parsons Project - Don't Answer Me
The Cars - Drive
Billy Idol - Eyes Without a Face
Starship - Sara
Foreigner - I Want to Know What Love Is
Bryan Ferry - Slave To Love
Mariah Carey - Vision Of Love
Mariah Carey - Can't Let Go
Mariah Carey - Someday
Hall & Oates - Everytime You Go Away
Hall & Oates - I Can Dream About You
Hall & Oates - Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
Hall & Oates - Kiss On My List
Hall & Oates - I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)
Hall & Oates - One on One
Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard - Suddenly
Olivia Newton-John - Magic    
Karla Bonoff - Personally
Jackson Browne - Somebody's Baby
Journey - Don't Stop Believing
The Motels - Only The Lonely
'Til Tuesday - Voices Carry
Patrice Rushen - Forget Me Nots
Sheila E - Glamourous Life
Chaka Khan - Ain't Nobody
Fine Young Cannibals - She Drives Me Crazy
Fine Young Cannibals - Good Thing
Pussycat Dolls - Tainted Love
No Doubt - It's My Life
Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love
Van Halen - You Really Got Me
Van Halen - Dance the Night Away
Van Halen - Jump
Pointer Sisters - Jump
The Pointer Sisters - Fire
Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In The Dark
Bruce Springsteen - Brilliant Disguise
John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band - Things Are Tough All Over
Dire Straits - Local Hero
Dire Straits - On Every Street
Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing
Dire Straits - So Far Away
Dire Straits - Your Latest Trick

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And speaking of baking...

Click this link to view portions of the PERFECT STRANGERS episode featuring bibbi bapkas.

By popular demand, Mrs. Culture Vulture's Recipe for KOURAMBIEDES (Greek Butter-Almond or Shortbread Cookies)

...as prepared by Mrs. C.V. for my Writers' Group New Year's confab.

* * *

KOURAMBIEDES ( Greek Butter Almond or Shortbread Cookies)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • 1 lb. sweet butter                    
  • 1/2 cup slivered or blanched almonds, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup sugar                         
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup blended whiskey (or brandy)   
  • 4 -5 cups sifted flour
  • 3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • whole cloves (optional)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. Beat butter and sugar together until the mixture is creamy.

2. Blend egg yolk, almond extract, ground almonds, and whiskey into mix and beat thoroughly.

3. Gradually add flour until the mix has the consistency of a soft dough (it's not sticky and is kneadable).

4. Chill dough for 20 minutes.  Split dough into 2 - 3 sections if making full batch and remove from refrigerator just before forming cookies.

5. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into balls (smaller than golf ball) with the palm of your hands.

6. Place dough balls on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch or apart.  Place a clove into the center of each cookie.

7. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes (or until cookies are slightly browned).

8. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar on a flat surface.

9. Carefully place the cookies on the flat surface about an half inch apart while still hot.

10. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar over the cookies, until they are covered.   

11. Allow cookies to cool completely before placing in paper cups.

Yields 4 - 5 dozen depending on amount of flour used and size of cookies.

KING'S SPEECH Review by Peter Bradshaw

Click here to view trailer.
 in THE GUARDIAN hits the nail on the head.
This handsome movie about the abdication crisis and George VI's stammer is a clever anti-Pygmalion.
If this is to be the UK Film Council's swan song it's gone out on a high note, or rather a regal flourish of trumpets. Tom Hooper's richly enjoyable and handsomely produced movie about George VI's struggle to cure his stammer is a massively confident crowd-pleaser. What looks at first like an conventional Brit period drama about royals is actually a witty and elegant new perspective on the abdication crisis and on the dysfunctional quiver at the heart of the Windsors and of prewar Britain. It suggests there was a time when a member of the royal household experimented with psychoanalysis – disguised as speech therapy.
Colin Firth gives a warm and sympathetic performance as Bertie, the Duke Of York, an introverted and uncomfortable stammerer, bullied by his father George V, played by Michael Gambon, and overshadowed by his charismatic playboy older brother, David, a role dispatched with some style by Guy Pearce, incidentally putting to rest the overpowering memory of Edward Fox in the part. Helena Bonham Carter is Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, his robustly supportive wife who, with her intuitive sense of when and how to dispense with her own reverence for protocol, engages a new Australian speech therapist to help her despairing husband. This is the eccentric and undeferential Leonard Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. Logue is a man who must cure his own demons – a sense of failure over never having made it as a professional actor – and who is everywhere patronised as a colonial.
The movie is a clever anti-Pygmalion. Where Henry Higgins had to get Eliza Doolittle to smarten up and talk proper, Logue finds his pupil has gone too far in the other direction: Bertie is too constrained, too clenched, too formal and too miserable. To untie his tongue he has to relax, but also to talk about what makes him unhappy, as he has never done with anyone in his life before. David, effortlessly debonair and stubbornly set on a marriage to Mrs Simpson, is going to thrust upon Bertie's shoulders the awful burden of kingship, which, in the new era of radio, depends on public speaking as never before.

The ensemble cast, led by Firth, Bonham-Carter, and Rush, includes Guy Pearce as the (future) Duke of Windsor, Anthony Andrews as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I found the film absorbing and engaging, if not moving, and well worth a trip to the local, horrendous cineplex.

For contrasting reviews, see Roger Ebert's in the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES and Manohla Dargis' in the NEW YORK TIMES.

For an interview with the film's director, and some insight into the film's intriguing beginnings, see David Gritten's interview of director Tom Hooper, in THE TELEGAPH.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year's, from the Blogger DJ !

A Beautiful Day, Viewed From Our Porch
U2 - Beautiful Day Live in London
The Rascals - A Beautiful Morning
The Lovin' Spoonful - [What a Day for a] Daydream
Sting - Seven Days (Live) - Summoner's Travels
Jackson Browne - These Days 
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - Night and Day
Bing Crosby - Happy Holiday

Looking Backward and Looking Ahead in U.S. Politics

Molly Ball of THE POLITICO reviews ' The 10 worst decisions of 2010 ', which include :
Delaware Republicans' nomination of Christine O'Donnell
Jack Conway's "Aqua Buddha" TV ad
Eric Massa's tickle defense
Sharron Angle speaks to Hispanic high schoolers
Martha Coakley riles up Red Sox Nation
Joe Barton's BP apology
Joe Miller's journalist detention
Raul Grijalva's home-state boycott
Charles Rangel fires his lawyer
Alexander Burns of THE POLITICO comes up with his ' Top 10 questions for 2011 ' :
What will Barack Obama say in the State of the Union?
When — and where — will the Obama reelect start?
Will Sarah Palin run?
How will the White House handle Darrell Issa?
What about that July Afghanistan deadline?
Whither Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates?
Will House Republicans actually try to defund health care and Wall Street reform?
What happens to Cuccinelli v. Sebelius? [ObamaCare Court Case in Virginia]
Who wins the redistricting wars?
What's in Dick Cheney's book?
And finally, political experts respond to THE WASHINGTON POST's query,' What will be 2011's biggest political surprise ? '
ED ROGERS (Chairman of BGR Group; White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) : "The biggest political surprise in 2011 may come in the form of the shock produced by public-sector labor strikes and demonstrations that could stray into civil disorder as state and local governments cut budgets."
JENNIFER PALMIERI (President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund; deputy press secretary in the Clinton White House) : "Republican efforts to repeal health care-reform will do more to sell the public on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act than any education efforts to date."
DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN (Democratic pollster and author) : " The biggest political surprise of 2011 will be the emergence of a potentially serious third-party candidate for president in 2012. There is simply too much dissatisfaction with Washington and with our political system for this not to happen. "
DANA PERINO (White House press secretary to President George W. Bush): " I predict the new Congress will do something useful right away: Reverse the ban on good, old-fashioned and ordinary incandescent light bulbs. "
CATHERINE A. "KIKI" MCLEAN (Democratic strategist; founding leader of the No Labels movement; partner at the public relations firm Porter Novelli) : " The great political surprise of 2011 may well be the result of the great political surprise of 2010: a suspension - if only for this pre-presidential campaign year - of the hyper-partisanship that gridlocked Congress."

What Better Time than New Year's for This Trio of Articles on Drinking ?

'Who Drinks the Most Alcohol ?' Anneli Rufus says that it's a function of " your sex, education level, and where you live. Anneli Rufus on 15 stats that predict your propensity to imbibe."

'20 Worst Hangover Drinks' explains which drinks produce the worst hangovers.
One of the predictive factors is the amount of congeners in alcohol. Congeners—chemical toxins produced during fermentation and aging, or added during production via certain flavorings—have a direct effect on the nervous system. When you drink alcohol, these toxins course through your bloodstream as your liver metabolizes the alcohol.
In general, darker liquors contain more congeners and cause more severe hangovers. According to a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in March by Damaris Rohsenow at Brown University's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, bourbon contains 37 times the amount of congeners as vodka. The study participants who imbibed bourbon reported more severe hangovers."
Finally, THE DAILY BEAST names 'The 40 Drunkest Cities'.

To compile our first annual list of the drunkest cities in America, we looked at three things: average alcohol consumption over a month, the highest levels of binge drinking, and the places where large portions of the population suffer the dire health consequences from over-imbibing.
So which cities have the biggest drinking problem? Here’s a hint: They’re disproportionately from where the winters are chilliest.