Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Air of Authority

It’s a sub-audible buzzing, like the electromagnetic field given off by a malfunctioning motor that isn’t turning. It’s a warning that lives in the air.

Don’t talk about politics.

But Dad and stepmom had Fox News on. They were making supper and I was sitting at the table. I said, “Shhh, listen to what Fred Barnes is saying.”

In unison, they said they don’t like Fred Barnes.

“You don’t like Fred Barnes? He’s William Kristol’s sidekick at The Weekly Standard.” What Bushie doesn’t like The Weekly Standard?

Dad said “Fred Barnes is a traitor,” and I remembered how Barnes and Kristol and just about all the analysts at Fox News had been pretty soft on Obama, from what I could tell watching the debates. In my circle of friends, I had insisted that we watch the debates on Fox News, because all TV news is lame, and you might as well watch the lamest and know what the enemy knows. I call it “having access to his intelligence.”

After each debate, I thought that either side could make the case that they had won. But the Fox analysts never gave it to McCain. I remember them saying once, “McCain had to make a knockout punch tonight, and he just didn’t.” I was like, “Huh? Who cares if he did or didn’t. Just declare it. He did it! Yes you can, too!”

I mean, Fox News had no trouble declaring Florida a victory for Bush in 2000, right? And Republicans’ beacon for the future seems to have declared a victory in Iraq. Why not just say, “McCain has the experience and clearly looks like he’s in control. He doesn’t deliver a knockout punch because he doesn’t have to. Everyone knows, it’s the quiet guys who are the strongest.”

I mean, if I can write that, so can they. It was like they weren’t even trying any more.

“We like Charles Krauthammer,” my dad and stepmom said, enthusiastically. “You know he’s paralyzed,” they said, with the same reverence they have for McCain’s handicap.

Krauthammer talked about how the surge was heroic and successful for reducing violence. I kept my mouth shut on this one. I have read much (this entry cites useful references) about the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad being the deeper cause for relative peace in that city; and the paying of our former insurgent enemies, who used to be in the Iraqi army that we disbanded, to stop being insurgents and start cooperating with the Iraqi army, as mostly causing the relative peace in Anbar and other Sunni provinces.

I didn’t launch this Iraq 101 lecture, because I’m still a little rattled from my dad yelling at me on the beach this summer, “Do you think Osama bin Laden wanted to spend his life in a cave? We have to teach him a lesson. We have to make it really expensive for him to attack us.” (As if Bin Laden had not chosen in the 80's his life as a rebel; as if he didn't intend to lure us into undecisive wars in the Middle East; as if it's more expensive for him to attack us than for us to retaliate against someone besides him.) Dad had not really yelled at me much all my life because I was a very tame (depressed) kid. So it’s maybe harder for me to take in adulthood than for other adult children who are accustomed to being yelled at by their dads.

As for my stepmom, while she does read fairly deeply about lots of things, there are certain modes of thought she won’t give up. Apparently, the basic unsubstantiated pro-Iraq war stance still appeals to her.

Many topics are fair game. One afternoon Dad and I talked about the origins of life. He painted for me a picture of a gradual continuum in which, at first, there were only elements and compounds scattered around our planet; then, because of erosion of rocks and churning of seas and formation of tide pools and lightning striking, some chemicals would come together in certain ways and eventually form viruses; and lipids (which he said would exist without life, and would be floating around) would bond and actually make a “container” sort of like a cell membrane. Eventually proteins would come together as DNA, find their way into one of these lipid cases, and start replicating. And then you’re off and running. He says, “You’re damn right there’s life on other planets.” And he reminded me of a problem in detecting it -- we can only view the electromagnetic radiation from a planet (its light and TV or radio signals, or whatever they emit) from many years in the past -- the number of light years that planet is away from us. So, life could be there now but not be evident in the information coming from that planet. Or, we could detect life in what we see, but that life might not be there any more. Life has only been on earth for a tiny fraction of the time of existence of the earth, and it’s likely anyone looking for its signs here would miss them. It could be the speed of light that indeed isolates us.

(A quick look on the Planet Quest Atlas shows three terrestrial exoplanets under 100 light years away; one 1000 light years away; two others at least 9000 light years away.)

I can’t sit around keeping all my political thoughts to myself. I have to put a little of my camp into things. Since Stephen Colbert attended our small college for two years, he is not a totally off-limits topic. In the course of talking about energy and algae farming, I told them about Colbert’s Formidable Opponent sketch about offshore drilling vs. alternative fuels. When I was done, Dad said that that was pretty funny. But an awkward silence fell. How can such an awkward silence come to 3 people who really all know each other pretty well -- who are basically pretty sensitive and smart?

Or consider the conversation where they told me about the show Ice Road Truckers. I said The Daily Show had made a joke about it. My stepmom said, “They would. It’s sort of a redneck show, the kind of thing the elite like to joke about.” So there you have it -- she has absorbed and replicated the Republican line that moderate or liberal entertainment is elite.

They also didn’t seem to want to talk about oil speculators. I think oil speculators are fascinating. It’s a whole market in which oil contracts are traded, not actual oil. And some say this is causing large fluctuations in oil prices, while others say the speculators are not that big a deal. Dad insisted that mostly, it’s just supply and demand affecting oil prices. I suppose this issue could be the subject of legitimate debate, but Dad and stepmom seemed to want to avoid the subject altogether.

So what’s this palpable aversion to certain subjects? I think I’ve arrived at the answer, though it does not seem like much of a revelation. It’s that they believe in authority, a basic moral decency, a just cause for our nations actions. They are not comfortable with anything that subverts this notion. So if I talk about the Iraq war, that subverts their idea of the just cause for it; if The Daily Show makes fun of Ice Truckers, that detracts from the classic struggle of Man against Nature; if I talk about oil speculators, this implies that there are participants in our free market that are making money at the expense of the rest of us in the free market -- a “no honor among merchants” analog to the mantra about thieves (though again, reasonable people are saying speculators are not the biggest influence on oil prices).

On the other hand, I love subversion, as long as it is exposing that someone in authority does not know what they are talking about. And maybe in general we can say that conservatives like the authoritative establishment and liberals like a more rebellious stance.

Our best illustration of this divide between myself and my family came when Dad, my stepmom, and me were sitting in the Belgian bakery in town. My stepmom was telling me about Elsa’s business. Elsa is her daughter-in-law who is the iciest neocon of them all. “She has a room full of failed marketing projects,” my stepmom said. “[Elsa’s daughter] had to learn her catechisms, and Elsa made these cards with catechisms printed over images from the Book of Kells. She had 3000 of these made in India, got them shipped to her, and now they’re sitting in the guest room. She sold a few on Amazon, but only a handful.”

I had learned about the Book of Kells somewhere, but had to be reminded. My stepmom explained it’s an Irish book of scripture.

Apparently it’s in the public domain now.

I said, “She should market to Evangelicals -- make some cards that would sell in megachurches. I bet there’s money there, if she’s willing to step it down from Catholicism. Evangelicals don’t care about no Kells though. That's too heavy, like ancient grains. They like their religion simpler, like white rice.”

My stepmom said that Catholics are not a shrinking population, with the influx of Hispanics.

“Okay,” I said. “But they don’t care about Kells either. So tell your Irish-Catholic daughter-in-law to get those Hindu and Muslim Indians to print up some cards in Spanish, with the Virgin of Guacamole on them, or whatever it’s called. That’ll sell like hotcakes.”

More awkward silence.

Continue . . .

Monday, December 29, 2008

Unto Us a Child is Born

'Tis the season for miracles, and as Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston enters the world, just as his grandmother faces drug charges, the secret of naming kids in his family is revealed. Actually, it was friend SH-L who hit on this, but she doesn't have a blog so I can't link to her and give her proper credit.

The key is to go straight for the nickname. Don't give your son a formal name like "Murray" and sit around hoping his friends will happen to give him the nickname you want for him. The friends don't know. The boy could grow up to be really big and his friends might innocently call him The Refrigerator. Or he might fart a lot and be called Turd Blossom. All this time you might have wanted him to be known for his ability to follow the footprints of a moose and sneak up on it. You may harbor all your life the unfulfilled dream of his being called "Tracker" and then Track.

Well, fulfillment is now yours. Tripp's other grandmother, the one not facing drug charges, taught us that anyone could be president; now, we learn that anyone can give their kids the nickname they want for them. Just do it. Get it in writing, on the birth certificate, so there's no question. Though, I guess in the case of Trig, there still is question about that birth certificate. But never mind that.

This time, maybe there were not two Easton Mitchell Johnston's already in the family to provide proper prerequisite for this newborn being a "III," which would readily grant him the pass to being nicknamed "Trip(p)." But they really wanted to have a "Tripp" around. So they went for it.

Also note, Easton is a manufacturer of hockey equipment. This we learn from a commenter on The Mudflats, your source for all breaking news of this family.

Continue . . .

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shouldn't Someone ask These Questions?

1. When automobile factories mechanized, they laid off a lot of workers. Did they perhaps lay off more then than they have yet to lay off if they shut down completely? In other words, have we already seen the worst of auto industry layoffs?

2. If we do bail out car manufacturers, what will keep them from just opening plants in China and not hiring American workers anyway?

3. How much expense and trouble is retooling to make fuel efficient cars compared to the retooling they've already undergone to mechanize?

4. I hear that banks are not really using their bailout money for lending. So, why not force car makers to get their loans from banks, instead of handing them government money directly? Or would that interfere with our "freedoms"?

5. I understand that we are talking about more than just auto workers' jobs here. We are concerned about jobs in related industries too. But Americans will always need cars, right? So if we just buy Hondas and Toyotas and not American cars (like all my friends are doing anyway) won't we still need all those related industries to support them?

Michael Moore, we need you back to help with all this. A new guy is playing James Bond, so people won't get your name mixed up if you make another "Roger and Me."

Continue . . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mine's a Size 12 -- with Stiffening Orthotics

It was like when Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face. I thought it was fake news. Then, to be honest, I thought it was funny. Then I had to remember how I'd feel if the shoes were thrown at Obama. And something like that is likely to happen. Eggs might be thrown at his limousine during the inaugural parade. It happened to Bush in 2000, after all.

Here's the first BBC video of the shoes being thrown at Bush.
What this video has that no others I've seen have is Bush's reaction -- his quipping that it was a size 10, that the thrower was trying to get attention, that it's like being heckled at a campaign rally; and his recapitulation of Rumsfeld's excuse that this is the sort of thing that happens in a free society.

Some folks are indignant about the shoe throwing, but I say, look on the bright side. Five and a half years after Rumsfeld's comment, Iraq is still free!

At this historic juncture of the shoe hitting the wall (and remember, Clara throws her shoe at Mouse King . . . so, 'tis the season), I'd like to cite some recent articles that may help illustrate the situation in Iraq. On the other hand, maybe it's ridiculous to even pretend to size things up. I do this, I think, mostly to organize my own thinking. The benefit to readers would largely be following the links to more substantial writings.

I was really worried back in August about al-Maliki taking an antagonistic stance toward the tribal militias that the U.S. army had been paying to become our allies in a move hailed by the pro-war camp as a sign of progress. These three posts talk about that and cite news articles.

Since then, the Iraqi government has said that it will continue to support the 99,000 militia members and integrate them in to mainstream society, incorporating 20,000 into the Iraqi military and giving other types of jobs to the others. There are doubts that the militia members will accept either giving up their identity as members of independent militias or ceasing to be fighters at all. Tribal leaders in the Anbar province did not want to have their support transferred from the U.S. to the Iraqi government this soon because of friction between them (with their Sunni identity) and the mostly Shiite government. Further dissatisfaction may arise because the government will cut militia members' salaries. But the U.S. military seemed confident that this transfer of authority over the militias would go well, and has reported that the handover is indeed progressing.

But get this. Al-Maliki is forming his own tribal militias called "Support Councils" in territory where Arabs and Kurds are vying for control. He cites U.S. support for such militias as precedent. Juan Cole provided a translation of a Kurdish newspaper report which expresses great concern about this new independent militia.

I ask, doesn't the reliance on local militias rather than the national one, by the U.S. army and now Maliki, indicate that these local allegiances are more significant to Iraqis than their national identity?

Meanwhile, it seems the Kurds are operating fairly autonomously. The New York Times a year ago reported on their moving ahead with their own deals with foreign oil companies while the Iraqi government was busy not passing its oil bill. To my knowledge, as of now, the central government still does not have an oil bill. The oil bill would officially determine how oil profits would be distributed to Iraq's different regions. In my understanding, in a unified Iraq, Kurds should play nice and allow profits from any oil pumped out of their ground to be apportioned like all other Iraqi oil profits. Making separate deals undermines the central government authority -- except that, without a national oil law, there is not a central authority with respect to oil sales. Meanwhile, among the oil companies skirting Iraqi authority and dealing directly with the Kurds is Hunt Oil out of Texas, whose CEO is a friend of George W. Bush and served on Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. And the former first administrator of post-Saddam Iraq, the predecessor to Paul Bremer III, Jay Garner, is helping Canadian oil companies make their own deals with the Kurds. Mother Jones reports on Hunt Oil and Jay Garner.

In my recollection from reading George Packer's The Assassin's Gate over a year ago, Garner was a feisty guy whose bluntness about the lack of planning for post-war Iraq caused the Bush administration some discomfort. Personally, I wonder if his aiding Canadian oil companies now is a way of giving the finger to the Bush administration.

Kurdistan also recently received three planeloads of arms as part of another deal it made independently of the central government.

The first major foreign oil deal that the Iraqi government has made is with China. Another is with Shell oil. This past summer, there was talk of other major oil companies making no-bid contracts to explore Iraq's oil fields, but these contracts were apparently scuttled because of criticism from U.S. senators. Instead, the companies were offered a chance to bid on contracts, and Shell is the only one, as far as I know, to make a deal.

I've mentioned the Sunnis in the middle of Iraq with their tribal militias, the Kurds in the north moving forward with their oil deals; what about the southern Basra region, also very oil rich?

As far as I can tell, there are two movements associated with southern Iraq, and both want to garner some autonomy for that region. One movement, associated with the Fadila party, wants to transform Basra into a federal region with legal status similar to that of Kurdistan. Progress on this movement can be found at that link's parent blog Histories of Political Imagining which in general addresses world political events, and currently is looking at southern Iraq.

Another movement is being lead by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq. He wants to create a large "federal" southern area encompassing the nine provinces from Basra to Baghdad, though he also claims that he supports the sovereignty of Iraq and that such an area would not be completely independent. This is explained in this article from 2006 by Juan Cole. Though it's an old article in terms of Iraq's quickly moving history, the goals of the SICI remain the same today. And note how the plans of the Kurds and the SICI to create their own autonomy in the north and south have echoed by American politicians, namely Joe Biden, who spoke of partitioning Iraq into 3 large areas. The Bush administration initially dismissed this proposal, and now whether Iraq is partitioned or not is out of our hands. But the country does seem to be partitioning itself. In my perception, among America's prominent politicians, it happens to be Obama and Biden who do seem to understand Iraq the best.

And while Baghdad was about 50/50 Sunni/Shiite before the invasion, it is now about 75% Shiite. Juan Cole talks about the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad in his Social History of the Surge, and Derek Gregory goes into greater detail, saying that much of this cleansing continued during the American troop surge and lead, eventually, to decreased violence in Baghdad once the cleansing had run its course.

Corruption, and loss of American money, plays a large role in Iraq. It is hard to figure out if each new report of a sum of money lost in Iraq should be added to the running total, or is itself a new cumulative total. The first such report I know of was of the over $12 billion lost by the CPA under Paul Bremer. Note that the guy in charge of handing out money in Iraq's "Free Fraud Zone" was Reuben Jeffrey III, the same guy now handing out funds to banks in the current financial bailout.

This past September, there was this article telling of $13 billion lost or stolen in Iraq. The whistle-blower on that is an Iraqi investigator who has fled the country because of a death threat. Thirty-two of his colleagues, also investigators, have been killed. And this article says that al-Maliki has started firing auditors placed in his government at the request of the United States to help stop corruption. And then there's this recent nightmarish report of over $100 billion lost and unaccounted for in Iraq, $50 billion of which was taxpayer money.

Pro-war advocates say that Saddam's siphoning of money of the Oil for Food program had to be stopped. But what Saddam siphoned was only about $10 billion. Neocons can always paint a noble picture of reasons for getting into this war. But like all idealogues, they overlook evidence that their efforts have made things worse, or at least not better -- and at great expense to their country.

And what about oil revenues? Oil smuggling is a problem -- in some cases, smuggling occurs along routes established by Saddam. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says that $40 million per month is lost because of smuggling from the southern reaches of Iraq. And while there has been talk of that expected $79 billion dollar budget by year's end, the new low in oil prices is causing the Iraqi government to reduce reconstruction efforts and may cause it to reduce food rationing and to lay off civil servants.

So what does all this mean with respect to victory or defeat? I love what Chuck Hagel said to Joe Lieberman on Meet the Press: The future of Iraq lies in the hands of the Iraqi people. The main problem there is tribal/sectarian friction.

John McCain said he would bring our troops home with victory. Sarah Palin said that the troop surge brought us victory in Iraq. I say that there is nothing for us to have victory over or suffer defeat from. With respect to a major military presence, the question is simply whether we stay or leave.

Continue . . .

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Sniper Waits

I’ve seen too many plum deals get sniped out from under me. I’d be the winning bidder for days, and then someone else would outbid me within minutes of the auction’s closing. So tonight, I’ve run home from a friend’s house. This time, I’m the one glued to my computer screen. I’m refreshing the page. I’m watching for the slightest sign of being outbid -- that being a red “X” and a note, “You’ve been outbid.”

There are 6 minutes and 35 seconds remaining until this auction closes. I’ve got this little Sound Devices preamp, built like a tank, right in my crosshairs. It sells new for over $650, and right now someone else has the winning bid at $355.

I would not use it as my main preamp-mixer, but it would help in specialty situations, like maybe if I have to use a stereo mic and record that separately from other mics; or if I have to run mic cables next to power cables for a hundred feet, and I’d like to boost the mic signal to line level at the start of this run to reduce chances of picking up induced interference. It would have helped on this job.

To get in the game here in the final minutes, I enter a bid of $375. Now I’ve got the green checkmark and the note, “You’re the winning bidder.”

ebay is a little different from a live auction. Live, you raise your hand to accept the current price announced, which is raised gradually by the auctioneer. But on ebay, you’re not going to sit there for the entire auction (lasting several days) bidding and re-bidding on items as prices rise. Instead, every bid is understood to be a maximum price that you are willing to pay for an item. This way, you can enter your max price, walk away, and at the auction’s end, if your bid is the highest, you win.

But people are logging in right before the auction’s end and entering their bid then to catch the rest of us off-guard. We don’t have a chance to change our minds and raise our bids. I’ve lost several Sennheiser 416 microphones that way.

This past Sunday, one such auction on a Sennheiser 416 was ending, and I was determined not to let it be sniped away from me, as long as it remained in my price range. That microphone goes for maybe $1100 or so new. I had been winning the bidding at $600, and it was described as being in good condition by a seller with a good reputation. He said he had hardly used it. So, this was a great deal. I was willing to go up to $700 just to be sure I got it, but much higher than that I might as well buy the item new.

I thought the auction was ending at 2pm, and at about 1:55 Svetx said, “You’d better get that microphone.” I checked, and the auction had ended about 5 minutes prior. And the winner had gotten the mic for $615, just over my bid of $600. He had entered his bid a few hours before, so I could have easily sniped him, if his bid was not higher than the $700 I was willing to go.

See, you never know what someone else’s bid actually is. And they don’t know yours. Even sellers don’t know what buyers’ bid are. Everyone only knows what the current price of the item is, and that price behaves as follows:

If you enter a bid that is higher than anyone else’s, then the current price of the item rises until it is a little higher than whatever the previous highest bid was, and you become the winning bidder. If you remain the winning bidder until the auction’s end, then you get the item for that price of just above the next-lowest bid -- not for your bid.

If someone else enters a bid higher than yours, then the price rises to just above your bid and you are no longer the winning bidder.

If you enter a bid that is still lower than the existing highest bid (which, remember, is only known by its bidder), then the price of the item rises until it’s just above your bid, and you are informed that you have been out-bid. When I was new to ebay (a few weeks ago), I thought being outbid in this manner meant that someone was sitting at their computer waiting for a bid to be entered, and then actively outbidding it. But no, it’s just ebay automatically raising the price to just above my bid because someone else has already entered a higher bid.

Only two people have ever bid on this preamp -- myself, and someone else. I had been the first bidder, but for the past few days, I was letting the other person have the lead -- letting her think no one else was interested, that there was no competition. I became the winning bidder again only a few minutes ago with my $375 bid. The current price on the item is $360.

Now there is 1 minute and 40 seconds left. At this point, what are the chances of a new person entering the auction? If the other bidder doesn’t check in, I’ll probably get it.

Maybe the other bidder is an audio recordist for film/video production like me. Maybe she’s out on a job and can’t check in. She’s tramping through the cold with a camera crew while I’m sitting here indoors, in slightly less cold, my scope trained on the preamp that she wants.

But in the time remaining, someone could easily place a bid over mine and get it for $380 or so.

45 seconds are left. I think, really, I’d be willing to pay $400 for this thing which is over $650 new. And remember, if no one else bids on it in this last minute, I’ll still get it for its current price of $360.

But I shouldn’t bid an even $400. I figure, I should bid some odd value above that, in case some other last-second sniper is counting on the highest bid being $400 and enters $405. In that case, he would be told he was outbid, but at the last second he would not have time to enter a new bid.

7 seconds are left. I enter a new bid of $413. I confirm the bid. It tells me I've been outbid.

Shit! A sniper! I quickly enter $425, press “Enter,” see the screen asking for confirmation, click “Confirm" . . . and time has run out.

That other sniper got it for $418. It was a third bidder, someone who had not bid until then on the item.

Continue . . .

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Water Damage, "Said Cellophane Crap," and the Thermodynamics of our Situation

Dear Housemates,

I’ve been putting off writing an email about some house matters that have come up since our last house meeting just because I’m a bad procrastinator, which is part of one of our problems, which is that, as I write this, water is dripping down from the ceiling of the first floor bathroom.

First, an update: A month or two ago, I was freaking out over the new stain that had appeared on that ceiling. I opened up the panels in "C's" closet, but you can’t see where that dripping would be occurring from where the panels provide access. So, that yielded nothing. However, since the stains sort of have a bluish color, without doing any further scientific investigation, I decided that maybe it was caused by overzealous mopping in the upstairs bathroom. So I modified my cleaning habits. Now I merely spray a mixture of bleach and water lightly on the floor, and mop that up. Before, I was dipping a sponge in a bucket, wringing it out, and mopping, and this was putting more water on the floor.

With my new method, water damage did not increase until now.

Earlier this week, I saw that the white towel on the upstairs bathroom floor had been moved to the area between the floor and the tub. I figured, “Cool, someone mopped up some water there.” Then tonight I saw the drips coming down from the first floor bathroom ceiling. I went upstairs and checked the floor at the white towel, and found it still very wet. Very Very wet there. So, someone got it wet, dropped the towel there, and went on without really mopping it up.

This would be the fourth time I’ve seen that downstairs bath ceiling fall apart because of water damage since I’ve lived here.

Attached are pictures of the damage taken just now. You can see a closeup of a mound of plaster growing down from the ceiling, and a drop of water on the tip of the mound. That mound might be full of water. I’m afraid to touch it. In another picture, you can see the new “mound” damage next to the older “stain” damage.

Help me out here. Is it the toile leaking? We should be vigilant. Or are we dripping water when we get out of the shower? We should not do that. Keep your towel nearby. I hang mine on the cabinet right outside the shower. Dry off while you’re standing in the shower.

Is water spraying out of the side of the shower head because it’s not tightened well on the pipe? Sometimes this is happening. I have hand tightened it, but it may need more tightening than that. I have not thought it was that much water doing this, but maybe it is.

Is water leaking out from the sides of the tub where the shower curtain is not flush with the tiles? Maybe. Try to press it against the walls when you shower. But here’s where my procrastination really kicks in. Months ago I bought those plastic flanges that you put on the corners of the top edge of the tub to prevent some of this water sloshing out from the shower. I need to put those in. I think I mentioned them in another email.

I welcome anyone’s insight on the water damage situation. If we can stop it now, we can probably live with the current level of damage. But if we keep getting water on the upstairs bathroom floor in large quantities, then we’ll eventually have a hole in the downstairs bathroom ceiling, and there will be plumbers and plasterers tracking through the house; and I always fear that “this time” we’ll be charged by the landlord.

Also, tell the girlfriends and anyone else who may be showering. I have not told my girlfriend. They make water too, and I don’t just mean pee pee. Tell them to keep their dang washing water off the bathroom floor just like we have to. It doesn’t matter if it’s been sweetened by contact with there femininely pheromonal corpi. It does the same damage to plaster once it drips through the floor.

Sometimes I see the shower curtain pulled toward the cabinets, as if someone got out on the tub side. No doubt this is because some folks used to live in houses where you got out on that side. But in our house, try to get out onto the bathmat which is shoved up against the outside edge of the tub, instead of onto the tile beside the toilet. There’s not much space by the toilet anyway.

In other bathroom news, I bought a replacement toilet seat for 19.00. It’s leaning on the table outside the bathroom. How do we want to handle that?

On to another matter: “Said Cellophane Crap,” as it was called by "C" in his email response to my first email mention of it.

A few emails ago I mentioned the Cellophane stuff we put on the windows and shrink with the hairdryer. Actually, last year I blew off (pun intended) the hair dryer and just attached the Cellophane, left it slack, and called it art.

This week I’ve made two trips to Home Despot and they have been out of the stuff. But they keep saying it will be there. It will be on aisle 11, way down, on the left, at floor level. I’ll keep checking.

When I get it, we’ll be applying it to most downstairs windows except the kitchen one because we need that to be openable in case of emergencies like the other night when the burner was left on under the frying pan filled with oil, and the kitchen was filled with smoke.

And, use it in your rooms. Some housemates think it does not help. What it does is prevents convection from facilitating the loss of heat through he windows. We still lose it by radiation, but since the air does not contact the window directly, it does not feed heat to the window by contact, and therefore is not so readily cooled, and therefore does not sink downward and draw new warmer air into contact with the window to be further cooled in its turn. At least, that’s what I think.

News of the presence of this stuff in the house will be forthcoming.

Also, some of you may need to burp your radiators. See me about that. I know who you are. It’s always the same radiators that need burping. Don’t be like past housemates who go all winter saying, “Dag, my radiator always feel cold!”

But these recent days, all our radiators are fairly cold. As is the house. I can explain why the house is so cold. Really. It’s because, when it’s not exceedingly cold outside — like, when it’s maybe 30 at night, but not 10 — the house does not cool down as fast from the daytime. This means that the thermostat is not triggered to run the hot water in the radiators as much. So, the whole house suffers. When it gets exceedingly cold outside, heat runs out faster, the thermostat is triggered more, and the radiators are filled with hot water more frequently.

Just think, one day we’ll all look back on this and laugh. We may own our own houses. And at that time, when we’re putting the Gol-dang Cellophane on the windows and standing around with the hair dryer feeling stupid because our half-assed single panes with leaky seams are basically entropy-vents to the black sky of the universe, at least we’ll be putting the Gol-dang Cellophane on our OWN windows and standing around with the hair dryer feeling stupid because our OWN half-assed single panes with leaky seams are basically entropy-vents to the black sky of the universe.

Always understand the thermodynamics of your situation. That’s what I say.

Here’s a bonus question. When you wake up on a winter morning and the windows have condensation on them, and the condensation is on the outside, should you A) open all the windows in the house or B) keep the house closed?

Continue . . .

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Introducing Svetx Ground

We Thought It Was a Potroast is up and running on Wordpress, and I’m already jealous of her style and wit. I feel like Compay Segundo in Buena Vista Social Club who told the audience, "I’m going to have to work a lot harder with Ry Cooder next to me," at 2:48 in this clip.

The blog world may feel it has not known what it has lacked until now. Blog on, Svetx. Keep us informed of happenings in your subconscious and that mill town. We understand it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.

Continue . . .

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whupping Ass and Names for the Taking

Holly Wanna Crack-Ya can tunnel like an elementary particle. You can’t tell how she gets past the guards. She’ll skate up behind two of them and just keep pace, right on their tails, until, perhaps from the natural sashaying that comes from pushing with alternating feet, a space opens between them and then sftt she’s through them and in front. There’s never a tussle, never a tumbling out of bounds like often happens to other jammers.

She gets way out ahead of the pack, and then there’s a lap or two where she’s alone. Her legs and feet brace firmly to carve turns, but her upper body slouches, her arms wheel as if barely keeping her upright, and her head stays down as if raising it and taking in her surroundings would finally unbalance her. But she knows who’s watching. When she doesn’t need her arms for stabilization, she pumps her fingers above her head, and the audience recognizes her “jazz hands” and goes wild.

Few rollergirls keep their midriffs bare, but Holly does, showing its tanned, tapering sides and an abdomen not of washboard texture, but twin stout cords. She is tight like a sound booth, devoid of fatty reverberation, when she smacks her belly with both hands to signal the end of a jam (her prerogative as lead jammer) while skidding out of bounds directly in front of us amid a protective cluster of teammates.

That’s her in the picture there, in the front row, the leftmost fully visible person, all smiles and autographs when it’s finally over. Forget soccer or baseball -- at this sport, you can easily take your kids to meet the players when it’s over.

Some other rollergirls take turns in the role of jammer, and the mini-skirted Mini Mauser has a saucy smile while rounding the curves and looking back across the track at the guards she has passed. But she and the others are not nearly as wiley as Holly, and the team keeps putting Holly back in to run up the points and finally win by about 50.

Penelope Bruz and Heavy Flo were my favorite names until Svetx said there used to be a Sylvia Wrath who has retired.

Miss Treat and Killy Wabbit need some help with their names, so in the spirit of Rocktoberizing the year and dreaming up fresh racehorse names for the parlance of our times, here some suggestions from the blogger-king of silly names:

Anna Creamin-ya

Christina Strangulera

Conk-n-squeeze-ya Rice

Mary Magdelinquent

Liz Claymore

Pillory Clinton

Christiane Right

Molly Flintlock

Tess of the Butcherkills

Mary Elizabeth Mashyournoseandtoes

Mary Please Harder

Mary McPummel

Killary Duff

Sarah Impalin’

Moll Slammers

Michelle O’Bomb-ya

Christine Todt Whippin’em

Maggie Kill’em-all

Tina Slay

Flo the Pummeler

Sarah Disembowel

Posh Slice

Continue . . .

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama "Kicking Opponents Off the Ballot"

Neocon and other anti-Obama bloggers are raving about a Zogby survey of Obama voters showing that many don't know certain facts about Obama that his opposition thinks are alarming.

The only question I did not know was that Obama had "kicked opponents off the ballot" in his first campaign for Illinois senate. I looked into this and here's what I found.

This article at the Chicago Tribune says that what Obama did was challenge, in court, signatures on the other candidate's petitions to be on the ballot. Many of these signatures were gathered scant days before the deadline; some were gathered by kids. Enough signatures were found to be insubstantial to have the candidates removed from the ballots.

In my opinion, it does seem to be fairly dirty politics. But nothing was illegal. And while I would prefer my president-elect not to have done this, I know that we would not have fared better in this respect with any candidate whose campaign was run by Karl Rove or Steve Schmidt, the guy who smeared McCain in 2000 in South Carolina. That was far more dirty -- it was dishonest and not conducted in a court of law.

And what about those questionable voter registrations gathered by ACORN? Obama's challenging of signatures on petitions for candidacy seems to be in the same vein as the challenges to ACORN's for voter registration, and Obama's opponents don't seem to be complaining about that.

ADDENDUM: The first comment on this posting gives better insight into the ACORN signatures vs. ballot petition signatures issue.

Continue . . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

North Carolina to Obama:

We know you got this without us. We're just here to rub it in their face!

I rarely volunteer for anything, and in 2004 I felt very ineffective working with the Durham Democrats. I remember answering the phone one day, sorting pages turned in by canvassers another day, and doing actual canvassing on election day itself. I hated knocking on doors. I was alone. It was mid-afternoon and the people on my list were not at home. Their latch key children answered the door. They told me they thought their parents had said something about voting, but they weren’t sure. I told them to be sure their parents did, and checked off “Not Home” by their names on the list. After hours of tramping around some weatherbeaten suburb, I returned to the Democratic party office to find that they wanted me to canvass again. It was late in the afternoon now. This was when I would “make history,” the coordinator told me, turning away to do something else as he said it, as though he knew he were giving me a “line” and didn’t want to expose himself to further discussion. But I had already told some other coordinator I would drive people to the polls that evening. I went to the driving hub, but they had nothing for me to do. I waited around and ate cookies and then was sent to drive back to NC Central some kids who had been taken somewhere to watch Fahrenheit 9/11 -- on election night, when it seemed a little late for anyone to be watching it, and anyway, what kind of doofus had not seen it by then?

But this year, they were saying NC would be close. I had a feeling that, on election night, I would want to be able to say I had done something, whether we were winning or not.

So when a Saturday materialized when I was clear of work and of travel for work, I decided that would be my day of volunteering. I pulled myself away from Svetx’s house later than I had wanted to leave that morning and drove back to Durham thinking I could go to the party office downtown and be directed for canvassing. But no one was at the party office. I remembered I had an email on my computer at home that listed volunteer opportunities. I checked it and found some numbers to call. By now it was 11 am or so, and I was feeling the day slipping away.

The first number had no answer. The second I called was answered by “George,” and he told me that canvassing was indeed commencing at his house at 1pm and I could come by.

I always feel as if I’ve just woken up, with grit in my eyes and hair uncombed, going into an already-established volunteer hub. But George took me and the few others who had shown up into his living room and gave us a clear low-down: Democrats were well-organized for a chance. Some incredible number of new voters had been registered in Durham county. I forget the figure. It was many thousands. And NC was the closest race of all the states according to the most recent polls.

He also impressed on us the need to tell people that straight party voting would not include a vote for the president. That was a separate item to choose on the ballot. He said polls of some Black people after voting in Person county indicated that they had not known this, and had neglected to vote for president since they had only voted the straight party selection. This drew a disapproving exclamation from us in the room. I was thinking, Jesus Lord. In my line of work, we are always trying to keep stupid crap like this from happening. And yet, it’s always like a room full of squirrels, some always getting away.

“We are working with the campaign in Person county on that,” George said.

And we knew to make sure we explained this to everyone.

I was paired with one “Lisa.” We got the usual packets of lists of people whose doors we needed to knock on, plus flyers and door hangers and voting guide cards and sample ballots, and went out to some apartment complexes which George had said were full of low-income minority registered voters -- “good work,” he said.

It takes time to get oriented in a new neighborhood. With apartments, it’s hard to find numbers on buildings. I didn’t really want to split up from my partner Lisa who was an experienced canvasser, but she suggested right away that we do, and later I realized that there were too many addresses on our lists not to.

I walked across grass, climbed over a low fence, jumped a ditch, out of phase with normal sensible foot traffic. I was looking for numbers on the buildings. These apartments had exterior walkways leading to their doors, and I could stand in the parking lots and scan the side of a building facing me and see the letters or numbers where I was supposed to knock.

Mostly, people were not home. As in 2004, I was feeling ineffective. I left flyers and voting guides in door jambs. When I had finished one side of a building, the facade would be adorned with the evidence of my passing, like a tree hung with cards at Christmas.

But there were a few meaningful exchanges. There was RB, whom I spied returning to his door where I had already left my flyers. I called to him on his walkway from another walkway on a different building.

“I left that on your door,” I said.

He was overweight, had his earbuds in, looked to be in his early 20’s. He seemed interested in what I had to say. We talked across walkways for a few seconds and then I said I’d go over to him. I ran down the metal ringing steps and over to stand in the grass just beneath where he was on his balcony.

I had to set my chaotic stack of papers and flyers and maps on the ground to write his name down. It turned out he was not who my list said lived in that apartment. (Later, I found his name elsewhere in my list. He had changed apartments in the same complex. Apparently that happens a lot in those low income apartments. Maybe the landlords keep moving them around to appease their complaints about declining infrastructure.)

RB said he thought maybe he was registered. (I don’t think he would have been on my list if he had not been.) But he had not gotten anything in the mail. (Maybe because he changed apartments and the registration had the wrong address. It becomes clear soon enough how lots of people’s lives don’t line up with the regimentation some conservatives may like to require with respect to who’s eligible to vote.) I asked him about early voting and he said he’d like to vote, as if that idea sounded kind of good to him. I asked him what I.D. and proof of residency he could take to the polls in case he found he was not actually registered. He said he had no driver’s license, but he did have a Medicare card. I thought he was a little young for that, but maybe he’s on a disability plan or something. It was now also clear that he would need a ride, so I called the number I had been given for arranging for rides and told “Rich,” the driving coordinator, a total stranger to me, about this guy RB who would like a ride and may need to register to vote while he was there. Through me, Rich and RB arranged for someone to pick up RB the following day at 1pm. I hoped it would all work out, but as with all these conversations, I never learned what happened in the end.

Another woman took forever to come to her door. She was limping, very overweight. She was registered to vote but was very busy with work lately, and today was having a “bad day” with some medical condition which I forget. I offered to have someone come pick her up and vote right then, but she didn’t want to go. I urged her to go as soon as she could, to make sure she got it done and to allow the Democrats to cross her off the list. Then we wouldn’t have to bother her any more. She said she would try, but the whole time acted like she would be doing it as a favor for me.

A woman hanging out on the walkway said she did not trust early voting. She said it was a scam to not count votes. I pulled out a flyer which had Obama’s face on it next to text urging everyone to vote early. I said, “Here’s Obama, talking to you.” I asked why nobody was home in most apartments, and she said that it was Saturday, and everyone was “out.” When I left her, she was reading that flyer about early voting.

With all of them, I emphasized the need to choose president separately from a straight party ticket, if they did plan to vote for straight party.

I feared approaching a group of Latin guys because I knew I would not be able to communicate with them. They were gathered around the stoop of one ground floor apartment, and I figured most were visiting anyway and not on my list. But I went up to them. They were glad to talk, but knew little English, though their English was far better than my Spanish. One did serve as a translator, and it became apparent that none were eligible to vote. But they said “Obama!” with smiles. The translating guy saw my papers and wanted to sign a sheet. It seemed he thought he could vote right then.

“Here is what I do to McCain,” he said. He took out his knife and put his thumb on the sharp edge, then drew it across his own throat. The bloodthirsty comments and gestures were not relegated to the McCain/Palin rallies alone.

At another set of apartments, these all on ground level, a guy in hospital scrubs was hanging around the sidewalk outside. Given the economic status of this neighborhood, I didn’t think his hospital job was being a doctor. He talked about the neighborhoods -- how where he lived was quiet, but right nearby you could get into trouble. He said someone had been beating up the mailboxes, and he pointed at all the kids out playing, unsupervised. He kept saying “unsupervised” over and over.

He said he had gotten an email saying “don’t vote the straight ticket.” I explained about straight ticket voting not including a vote for the president. I said that’s what they meant -- be sure to vote for the president. He was very glad to have that explained. He said he had encouraged a couple of people at work to register to vote, and he was going to explain that to him.

Some people just yelled at me through their doors. “Yes, we all voted,” one said. I yelled back, “Did so-and-so vote? And what about so-and-so?” I had to check specific names off the list.

At one door, they yelled for me to come on in. I opened the door to find a man sitting on the couch watching football, his wife lying on the couch next to him. They did not stand up. He said he was in the military and about to ship back out, and that he and some others were mounting their own campaign within the military. I said I knew the military folks were the ones doing the real work. He said “You’re right.” His wife never got off the couch, never looked at me. She sleepily said something about going to vote that week. I wanted them to get up and go vote right then -- why were they wasting time, why was I out canvassing while they were lying on the couch? But I don’t know what people are going through. When your husband is home from deployment in the Middle East, I reckon you do want to just lie with him and watch football. Isn’t this one of the “freedoms” they’re fighting for? I moved on.

One guy was an American citizen from Africa. He had a thick accent and said he works at Duke. He said his wife was still in Africa, but that Obama would bring her to the U.S. He gave me a bottle of water. We talked for a while, and I realized that my checking him off on my list made him think he was voting now. No no, I told him, I’m just marking down that I visited you. You still have to go and vote. He said “Oh, okay,” but I doubted how much he understood anything I had said.

A tall man came out his door and stood maybe just a foot from me, glaring and picking his grey and black hair while I gave my spiel. A much younger woman maybe around 20 was behind him. He told me they were going to see some current horror movie. “I like those,” he said. “I like the ones where guys run around with their heads cut off. You remember that one where the guy got his head cut off and was running around?”

The young woman with him was grossed out by this talk. But she got in the car with him and went to that movie.

I arrived back at George’s place a good 4 or 5 hours after beginning canvassing. My hands were cold and stiff from carrying the papers and using my fingers to keep the different flyers and lists separate from each other. During the afternoon, Lisa and I had gone our separate ways in our cars because we had so many doors to cover. George was glad for my help and I told him I was glad I had contacted him that day.

The following weekend I had to be out of town. I had several week days in which I could have helped at the office if I had gotten my act together, but I did not. So, two Saturdays later, I felt again an anxious urge to go out and help.

Svetx and I went together this time. This time it was an aging, well-worn suburb. Multiple large vehicles were in the driveways, dominating the scene; and the dominant feature of many of these vehicles was their large tires.

Again, most folks were not home. In fact, the only memorable exchange from the day was one woman who rolled her eyes when I said I was canvassing for Obama, and said, “We’re all set.” I figured I shouldn’t ask more questions, so I checked her family off as “already voted” and moved on. I probably should have checked, “refused,” meaning she didn’t want to talk.

By now I had the routine down. I could go to George’s house in Durham; step up onto his porch unsure of whom to talk to among the clusters of people conversing, eating, being sent out for canvassing or returning; and someone would always approach me, ask if I were a newly arrived volunteer, take me in, get me a packet, and send me out.

And now, George and his wife were calling their house “The Launchpad.”

I went to The Launchpad again the next day, the Sunday before election day, and was paired with “Fred.” This was the day to suspect that people were at home but not answering their doors. Cars would be in driveways, music would be playing inside, and nobody would come out. Fred joked that it was the neighborhood of meth labs. But I did find one woman washing her car with her friend. I said I was from the Obama campaign, and did we have her support?

“Of course,” she said. But she had not yet voted. She said she had been really busy with school and work. She wanted to vote later that day. I said she could not -- it was the Sunday before election day, and polls were closed. She would have to wait until election day itself.

I hoped that “school and work” would not stand in her way on election day as it had through all of early voting.

At another house, after I knocked, I could hear someone yelling inside to the kids, who repeated the yell at me through the door. “Who is it!”

“I’m from the Obama campaign. I’m canvassing about voting.”

The kids opened the door. An old man appeared at the top of the stairs in a wheelchair. He said his gout was acting up, but he planned to vote on Tuesday with his wife.

Why were people waiting? They could die by Tuesday, I would think. I asked this guy if he needed a ride to the polls. “You look like you could use one,” I said.

“I think I can probably get a ride,” he said.

But I said I would arrange one for him. I made my second call to Rich, the driving coordinator. This time I heard a recorded greeting saying I should email the information to him. But I could not email from where I was. I don’t have a Blackberry or iPhone or anything like that. So I read his information off my paper into the answering machine. The guy in the wheelchair interrupted me to say the phone number was incorrect. So he told me the new number, and I repeated it into the message, which was now rambling too long. I hoped it all made sense. I checked off on the sheet that this guy needed a ride, and I corrected his phone number on the sheet too.

Back at The Launchpad, they told me that if I had noted on the sheet that they needed a ride, then they would be called about a ride. But as always, I don’t know how this played out.

That evening, two days before election day, The Launchpad had volunteers sitting around the dining room table with their laptop computers, updating the information according to the forms brought in by us canvassers. The living room was devoted to giving canvassers instructions and passing out paperwork and flyers and door hangers. His hallway had food -- sandwiches, breakfast bars, fruit. I always took an apple or banana and a Nutrigrain when finishing canvassing.

I left as a new shift of canvassing was beginning for that evening.

Monday before election day, I just didn’t make it out to canvass. I felt bad. I could have gotten more done in the morning before dance practice, then picked up the gear in Chapel Hill for my Tuesday work sooner, then done some evening canvassing. But I didn’t.

Tuesday, election day, I almost didn’t canvass again. I had work which ended around 2pm and I could have been out canvassing by 3:30, but I decided to accept the producer’s invitation to go have lunch. We ended up spending two hours on lunch. I could have excused myself at any time and they would have understood. But we were laughing too much, and too excited with our talk about politics.

So by the time I returned gear to Chapel Hill and arrived in Durham, it was 5:30, an hour after the last scheduled canvassing shift was to begin. But I went to The Launchpad anyway and found the place even more active than Sunday. As always someone met me on the porch as soon as I arrived. “Are you a new volunteer?”

“Yes -- do you need canvassing?”

“You will be canvassing like you’ve never canvassed before,” he said. We were to go out and knock on doors and keep returning to the ones where nobody answered. If anyone had not voted, we were to put them in our car and take them right then to vote. We were not to return until after polls had stopped accepting new arrivals, which was 7:30.

I was put with two women, Alice and Dorothy. Then two more men joined our group. One of the men repeated the instructions just given to us by the instructor. He was middle aged (like me), probably a manager (unlike me), accustomed to repeating instructions regardless of the level of understanding of the person they were talking to.

We received our packets of addresses to visit. Unlike other canvassing excursions, several packets were rubber-banded together. There were too many lists for us five to cover. Alice and Dorothy did not know the part of town we were being sent to, and I barely had a sense of it. The middle-aged manager type said, “It doesn’t matter. You have GPS. Just go to all the doors and throw them in your car and take them to vote.” Then he and the other man left, not really part of our “team” after all, apparently.

Between Alice and Dorothy and myself, we decided to take two cars so that one could be for taking people to vote, the other for getting us around.

It was raining and dark. Alice and Dorothy followed me in my car with my GPS out to a cluster of apartments. Parking in a lot there as if we were drug dealers waiting to make a sale, we tried to figure out how to approach these strange apartments. It was 6pm now, just 1.5 hours before polls would close. We could not see numbers on the buildings from my car, so we divided up the addresses for that complex as best we could. Alice and Dorothy went together, and I went alone. And we left the lists for other neighborhoods in my car to keep them dry.

It was completely dark except for the orange streetlights. I wished I had my headlamp with me. I wished I had an umbrella, but I would not have had a spare hand to hold it. There had been a rack of donated umbrellas back at The Launchpad. I did have my fancy raincoat though.

I could hardly see letters on doors from the sidewalks, and I would have to walk all the way around buildings to find their numbers. A middle-school aged girl helped me a little, pointing a few buildings out. But, for someone who lived there, she did seem rather confused about building numbers.

The wooden steps leading up to apartments were wet and completely dark. People kept their charcoal grills and outdoor chairs on the landings of these stairs for me to bump into. When I would reach the top of some stairs, I would hold my lists up to streetlight angling in from somewhere and learn the names at the address where I was about to knock. My lists were becoming soaked. Later, a housemate told me that he had been just punching out names on his own soaked papers that night, harking back to the hanging chad of yesteryear.

It was like trying to get work in the movies, all that searching for doors in the rain and knocking, and nobody answering.

Almost all folks were not home, but in a few cases, a kid opened the door and relayed information back and forth between me and someone lying on a couch, apparently tired from work. Usually that person on the couch was not the one on my list. But she would say she had voted, and that the person on my list had intended to vote, so I would check them off as “already voted.”

Many had said someone had already come to see them that day. I figured, MoveOn.

I was thinking that if this election were to go the wrong way, that we White volunteers could be seen as hassling Black people for nothing. Decades ago, Whites went to Black houses to prevent them from voting; now we go to try to get them to vote and wonder why they can seem lackadaisical about it. Maybe we Whites should just lay off on both counts.

Tramping around in the rain, trying to discern puddles from flagstones, someone parked her car and walked by me. “Obama?” she said.

Yep. She knew why the white people were coming these past weeks. After the election, the visits from White people would dwindle, as if we don’t really care about the Blacks, we just want their vote for our man -- which, to be honest, is true about some of us, given the fact that we generally don’t go to Black neighborhoods much. This is all the more reason for the folks at The Launchpad to continue the community activism, as they have said they are going to do, and reach out to neighborhoods in Durham and find out what people really want from their local politicians in between elections. This is when the meaningful work can be done, perhaps.

By 7pm I had banged on all the doors on my list at that neighborhood, but there were many other lists for other neighborhoods in my car. Andrea and Dorothy and I decided to split up completely -- go to completely different neighborhoods and just do what we could. They took a map with one cluster of places they could visit. I took another and drove over there, a strange backroute I navigated between swipes of the wiper blades, roads which are home to some, but as strange to me as a new city.

It was hit or miss. One row of houses did have people at home and warm cooking smells. Kids ran to the doors and opened it when I said I was from Obama. “Obama!” they repeated. A parent would make his or her way from the living room where the TV would be on, election exit polls already coming in while, no doubt, last minute canvassers like me still were going door to door in battleground states across our nation’s time zones where polls would be open for several more hours.

“Yeah, we voted,” they would say. I would ask if anyone in the area might still need a ride to vote, and I could take them. But everyone they knew had also voted.

I finished that cluster of addresses and drove to another cul-de-sac with another cluster on my map. There, nobody was home. I banged on doors until 7:30, then figured that was about it. I could have done more canvassing on previous days, but I had done a fair amount, and now we’d reached the cutoff. I called The Launchpad to confirm. They said to come on in. It was too late to get anyone in line to vote.

At The Launchpad around 8pm, they told me to just drop my papers in a stack. None of it mattered now. The dining room was empty of data enterers. Nobody would be tallying the results, generating new pages. But the porch and hallway were still crowded with people eating pizza, saying they were nervous, saying they wanted to keep working to avoid thinking about it.

And look what happened. NC went blue by a margin less than the number of new voters the Democrats had registered in Durham County. People in NC can probably reasonably say, all their efforts were necessary and worthwhile.

Even my home state of Virginia, where I attended all white high school, where state tax money goes to maintain the statue of Robert E. Lee, went blue.

I’ll let my family seethe for a while before contacting them.

Continue . . .

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Everything that Happens Happened in Slippery People

I remember when this photo was taken. Something funny had happened in the audience, and Byrne seemed to really enjoy it. Then again, from the way he talks about the dancers on his tour, it’s clear that his threshold for enjoyment is kind of low. lt’s like, all that meditation and worldliness he’s known for has made him so unjudgmental that he can hardly tell what’s stage worthy. Which is a shame, since for the most part, in the old Stop Making Sense deal, everyone seems pretty much on top of his/her game. Rhythms are tight there and that sharp bass guitar often seems to be leading the whole thing. You can’t go flopping around like a marionette tennis player. But that’s what his dancers, some of which are in the picture, looked like on this tour.

Their backs were hunched as if they were suspended by a string from between their shoulder blades, with other strings mostly slack. Their chests were sort of caved in. A lot of what they did was to run in place, or run fake football plays, dodging around Byrne. They got really sweaty, but it was hardly worth it. It was as if some ADF student, deluded that he had a choreographic vision worthy of other people’s attention, had gotten a couple of other students together to give a performance at 11pm in a practice room, and forced his friends to come watch.

I can only justify Byrne’s keeping these “professional” dancers on stage as representing the geek dancing that, I suppose, his fans have done all their lives to the “white people’s funk” sound of the Talking Heads. Byrne himself has practically built his stage presence out of his own geek dancing. But proliferated out from his body into those others, the geek dancing lost its soul.

Even the backup singers danced a little, and they were even worse. And as backup singers, they were just okay. The very last song in the last encore, the title song of the album Everything that Happens Happens Today, had intonation problems in its final notes. I had to leave the auditorium with that on my mind.

The audience, for its part, also danced the whole time. Audience dancing was not so inspired for the first part of the concert, which was the newer stuff, seeming to be trying to be melodic and deep, mature and middle-aged. My man could sing it pretty well, don’t get me wrong. He’s got a pretty rich, commanding voice as pop singers go. But I can’t listen to words in songs. I just don’t discern them. So whether they actually are deep or not I don’t know. And to me, the melodies were not memorable, and the percussion was merely going through the motions. Svetx had said Byrne has a tremendous Brasilain percussionist, and he was there, but it could have been anyone. Asheville is full of drummers. Byrne would have done just as well with one of them. Where was the distinctiveness of the Talking Heads?

Whenever I hear Talking Heads, I want to hear Slippery People. The live version more than the original recording. It has a great cruising groove which I used to love to blast all over an aluminum warehouse building where I once worked, flicking lights on and off and loading trucks and checking of items on lists. And it has virtually no melody, but it works great with its focus on rhythm and bass. And those old Talking Heads lyrics were kind of cryptic and kitchy and maybe philosophical, but were saved from being taken too seriously by the overall quirky presentation.

After the amorphous Byrne/Eno collaborations there did come a song with the old Talking Heads aspects: true funkiness in the percussion and bass, rhythmic chanting from Byrne and the backup singers, call and response. Byrne is trying to be all worldly and do world music nowadays, but I say he and the Talking Heads were doing world music before world music knew of itself, and it was pretty good.

Now the audience clicked into its groove, and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was truly rocked. It was like all these old Talking Heads fans, Svetx included, had been doing body rolls all their lives in front of MTV. I happened to look behind me and saw a couple of rows of people, the last in the standing room behind the rearmost seats, stepping and writhing to one side and then the other, singing all the words too. It was like a synchronized choppy sea around me, and this was the most impressive thing of the concert.

They did the “This ain’t no disco” song, and on the chorus the backup singers did and Byrne did harmonize pretty well with each other. They did the “Same as it ever was" song and “Take Me To the River.” I always like river songs. I heard “Down By the Riverside” in a jazz club in Prague once. It was played by a wonderful Dixieland jazz band that seemed to have a regular gig at that club, and when they got to “Riverside,” the whole audience shouted the words along with them, in English. Svetx and I also heard a great “Wade in the Water” played as accompaniment to the Alvin Ailey dance company’s Revelations recently in NYC. That was slammin’.

Leaving the Thomas Wolfe auditorium, folks around us were complaining that we had not heard "Burning Down the House." They felt like I had after Duran Duran this summer, when they had not played "Please Please Tell Me Now," the scheisters. And I felt gypped because I didn’t think I had heard "Slippery."

It has been 10 years since I worked in that warehouse and last heard it. Just now, before writing this, I went online to see if I would still like it. Yep, the live version is still pretty rockin’. I like the percussion less, maybe because I’ve listened to so much Latin music lately; but I like the bass guitar more. And playing it on YouTube, I think I recognize it as the Talking Heads song they did in the Asheville concert that first got the audience truly down with its bad self. So yes, I think I did hear "Slippery People," and I think it was pretty much the best song of that night.

Continue . . .

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Algae Roundup

I've been cheerleading for algae as my favorite alternative fuel source for over a year. Of all plants, certain strains of algae are the best producers of vegetable oil well suited for making Diesel and jet fuel. It can be grown in artificial containers on non-arable land and does not necessarily need fresh water -- or, if using fresh water, growing algae in enclosed incubators means the water can be reused. Either way, unlike all other biofuel crops, algae would not compete with food crops for farmland and could possibly use salt water, wastewater, or comparatively little fresh water. This posting is a survey of several private companies and their progress on various ways to grow algae. I have raved about several of these companies before.

My favorite way of growing algae on any land using CO2 from plain old air (not artificially concentrated sources) is this invention by Glenn Kertz at Valcent Products. You can view it if you go to this page and click the link to the HDVB video on the right.

In the Valcent design, water is circulated through plastic bags hanging in basic greenhouses. It looks like the drycleaner if all the clothes were green dresses. Since the bags hang vertically, more algae per land area is exposed to sunlight. Also, most of the water is reclaimed. While any type of algae farm would be very expensive to set up initially, I like the apparent simplicity of this design. Note that he talks about breeding algae to make oil suitable for making jet fuel.

Another great place for an algae farm is near a natural gas power plant, where smokestack emissions are diverted into algae incubators. Here is one such facility at the Redhawk power plant in Arizona, run by Arizona Public Service. The algae company is Greenfuels Technologies, started by an MIT researcher who was looking into using algae to recycle air on space stations.

One problem with the facility is that lots of water is being used in a desert. The power plant folks say they get some water from burning the natural gas, but I'm not sure the plant produces enough of its own water to run these algae farms on a large scale. On the other hand, if this water can be reclaimed, since it's being used in closed containers, maybe it would make sense to bring in a trainload of water every now and then, just to replenish the supply.

And here's an Israeli company called Seambiotic that is also reclaiming smokestack emissions, but from a coal burning plant. They are using water from the Mediterranean Sea, readily available. Also note the use of a Wagner soundtrack on the video, strange for an Israeli company!

Solazyme is a company making great headway on algae, apparently. They use enclosed algae incubators not open to sunlight. Maybe they use fiber optics to deliver light to the inside of the incubators. There's no video at that link, just company information.

And here is where Solazyme announces it has produced jet fuel from algae that meets all official standards for jet fuel.

This means that Solazyme might be beating Petrosun for selling the first algae jet fuel in this country. Petrosun is a feisty oil-drilling company that has been trying to take the lead in algae, setting up inexpensive open-air ponds on the gulf coast of Texas and growing indigenous algae species in them. In the long term, I don't think this is a good way to grow algae because they lose water to evaporation, and you can't grow a genetically altered strain in them. Also, given the location of their algae ponds, it looks like they are using estuary water. I'm not sure we want to be fussing with estuaries.

Also note Algenol, a company that wants to make ethanol from algae. While ethanol has a bad rap because we think of it coming from food crops like corn or sugarcane, these folks say that some types of algae secrete ethanol, and the gas can be pumped out of the top of an enclosed algae incubator. With this method, there would not be harvesting of algae -- just keep it growing, and keep pumping out the ethanol. They are talking about building plants in Mexico.

And, last but not least, is Synthetic Genomics which is Craig Venter’s company. He’s the guy who beat the U.S. government in mapping the human genome. Now he says he has developed a strain of algae that secretes is oil outside of its own cells, so that the oil does not need to be separated from the algae by a mechanical process. So, this saves an energy intensive step in the algae oil process. Also, this means that, as with Algenol above, the algae does not need to be harvested. You just keep skimming the oil off the top.

Continue . . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Colbert Rapport

It’s a great thing to do in New York. For me, there’s this buzz of anxiety that I may not get in. When I do, it’s like a personal achievement, not just something like The Lion King that’s assured for anyone who can purchase a ticket. This time, I was with Svetx, and we didn’t merely want to get in -- I had comments to voice to Colbert during his question and answer session. He and I have walked the same ground, at the same time. We have a commonality in our pasts. I had to make sure I was called on and spoke about this without sounding like an idiot in front of the other audience members.

Svetx and I approached from the west, Riverside Park, and there was a guy already there, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, reading his business magazines. He was 1st standby, and we claimed 2nd and 3rd. I had told Svetx that if we were to be separated, with one of us admitted in and the other not, that she should be the one to go in.

We sat. The sidewalk smelled like piss, but I could not find an actual puddle anywhere. I figured it was dry piss we were sitting in -- piss baked into the concrete along with the dried and blackened chewing gum. Thank goodness for whatever sanitizing properties the sun provides, in summer at least.

I tried to sleep, something I’d never tried to do in the past on the sidewalks of Manhattan. I guess I’m getting used to the place. I closed my eyes, but noises played across the insides of my lids like richocheting billiard balls, sometimes coming toward me and making me start and open my eyes again.

The standby line built up to maybe 8 or 10 people. In December of 2005 I had done this, and there had only been 3 standbys. Being the first back then, I had read all the signs and directed others, as they had arrived, to whatever line was appropriate for them: ticket holder, standby, and VIP. One ticket holder that I assisted came back to me from her line a few minutes later and said “I guess I should offer my extra ticket to you -- I have a friend who’s not coming.”

Her name was Wendy and she had purple hair. I joined her in line, and she talked about how she had looked up Colbert’s wife and thought she looked kind of plain; how she imagined that Jon Stewart was the “voice” of the text which appears in counterpoint to Colbert’s monologue, “The Word.”

Wendy’s friends arrived. She told them how winter was always hard for her in the city because she thinks about the animals, particularly the horses who have to stand in the cold, blindered, for the benefit of tourists. I’ve thought a lot about Wendy since then, in light of how my Dad thinks liberals, such as the attendees at Woodstock or students at Oberlin, his alma mater, are all sick and depressed people. And I’ve previously written about my family member who said, with the support of most of the rest of the family, that a bomb should have been dropped on Woodstock. I think Wendy is the type of person they are denigrating, and psychologically, I find myself more aligned with her than with my family. Sure, we’re kind of melancholic, it’s because we are sensitive. She sees the horse and buggy ride worries about the horse. I see my country taking the fight to the terrorists in a short-sighted manner, and I worry about the implications for the people of the Middle East, most of whom have nothing to do with 9/11.

This time, there was not Wendy. There was the guy in front of us who would start an entry-level job at an investment firm the next day, and expected to be working 70 hours weeks for pretty low pay, until he had proven himself and could move up the ladder.

And behind us was a couple from Seattle who had come to New York because their daughter had won a chance to meet J.K. Rowling. Their daughter was not with them. They looked like such suburbanites that I was surprised to find them at Colbert. I talked about the time in 2005 when I had been to Stewart’s show, the night before I had been to Colbert’s. Some audience members had asked Stewart if he could get them into Colbert’s taping right after Stewart’s that same night, so during a commercial break Stewart set up a remote link to Colbert just to ask this question. Stewart put his feet up on his desk and posed the question to Colbert. Colbert asked if they were cute. Then he said, “I’ve got a seat right here,” and slapped his hands in his lap.

The suburbanites laughed, and I decided they were cool.

The ticket holder line was shorter than it had been in 2005, and when the doors opened, we were all admitted, all ticket holders and standbys.

Security was tighter now too. More guards were on hand, all dressed in blue blazers and kakhi pants, all very nice and professional and respectful of us. I imagine that Colbert himself had vetted them with an eye toward keeping an air of good humor. They searched our bags and ushered us through a metal detector.

Inside the holding room, a TV was mounted up on a wall. It showed highlights from past shows. This had not been there in 2005. Colbert’s interviews with Eleanor Holmes Norton were among the clips playing.

The audience manager stood on a pedestal and got our attention. He said he was going to ask us questions, and those who gave correct answers would get free T-shirts. Though it’s against the positive attitude my therapist and Svetx and other friends advise me to maintain, I felt inadequate for this challenge. Through 2006 and the first part of 2007, I could not find anyone who knew Colbert’s shows better than I. But I have not had cable at my house for a year, and my advantage has slipped. The first question was to name 4 musical guests that have appeared on the show. I did the wrong thing, which was to think. I thought of Toby Keith, who said that our war in Afghanistan is going great; I thought of Willie Nelson, who had told Colbert that his ice cream flavor was “Right good.” I thought of Barry Manilow, about how Colbert often sings harmony on one verse when the musical guest performs. While I was thinking all this, someone else was answering. The audience manager threw a wadded T-shirt to him. It seemed to travel in a straight line over the audience members’ heads, without unfurling.

This hesitation would never do if I was going to have my interaction with Colbert during Q&A.

Next question was: Name 4 items on Colbert’s set. Again I froze, feeling rusty, though of course I could name 4 items. The guy who answered listed Colbert’s C-shaped desk as one. The audience manager said this was lame, but he threw him a T-shirt anyway.

Then: Name Colbert’s home state.

My arm shot up with all the earnestness of that guy in the front row on Welcome Back Kotter.

“Yes, go ahead,” the audience manager said to me. He was like Colbert -- he had dark hair parted on one side, glasses, a way of raising one eyebrow with affected earnestness. Behind those glasses, it was hard to see who his roving eyes had lit upon, but it seemed it was me, and for an instant I forgot the ridiculously easy answer. Then I remembered it: South Carolina.

A T-shirt came hurtling at me, above the heads. I snagged it and pulled it in. It was mine.

Questions were over, and the audience manager stepped down for a little while. Another audience member came up to me. “You look familiar,” he said.

I looked at him. The beard wasn’t right, but the glasses were, and so were the voice and the small eyes behind the glasses.

“You look familiar to me too,” I said.

He explained himself in a stream of words in which I caught “casting call” and “South Carolina.”

“Beauty and the Geek!” I said. “Nathan!” The host geek!

He had been a geek on the first season of the show, and had attracted notice from the producers as having a good presence on camera and in real life, a well-rounded personality that extended well beyond his role as a “geek.” Beauty Jennylee had similar qualities, and the two became friends. They were given jobs as co-hosts for the second season. He and Jennylee went around the country doing casting calls, and I had been their audio guy in North Carolina.

In fact, here is Jennylee taking a picture of herself in front of one of the places where we did the casting calls. On the right edge of frame is the local cameraman who hired me on the job. I was probably standing just off frame to the right.

Nate said he was now teaching middle school social studies in Brooklyn. He had thought he recognized me by sight, but when I spoke out loud "South Carolina," he knew exactly where he knew me from. He said Jennylee was in LA doing some modeling and acting stuff. It was great to see him.

The audience manager came back to answer questions. We learned that Colbert was very upset when he was disqualified from running for president of the U.S. in South Carolina because you can’t have a TV show about yourself and be a candidate; that the day of Colbert’s accident that broke his wrist had come after many weeks of Colbert staying at the studio every night after taping the show, until midnight, to work on his book. His exhaustion had lead to his slipping that day when he had run into the studio to greet the audience. And yet, in great pain, Colbert had done the show, then still delayed going to the doctor for another two weeks.

We learned that when Colbert stole Bill O’Reilly’s microwave oven, they found O’Reilly’s lunch in it. Colbert had just walked out through O’Reilly’s security carrying it in the manner of Jeff Lebowski: “He said I could have any rug in the house.”

And we learned that Rahm Emanuel, head of the House Democratic Caucus, has forbidden all Democrats from appearing on Colbert’s Better Know of District series. Colbert can hardly get any congressman to appear any more.

We were told that while the audience manager was keeping us entertained, Stephen and the crew were in rehearsal, and that when they were through they would go into rewrites while the audience would be ushered into the studio.

We were told not to ask for autographs or to ask Colbert his political affiliation.

We entered the studio behind the tiered stands where we would sit. Hanging black curtains guided us to the end of the stands where we would walk around to the front, but as we walked I peered backward between some curtains to see if I could glimpse the man himself engaged in rewrites. All I saw were a production assistant and some hanging work lights and orange extension cords.

We were seated and told that the interview for the night, with Kevin Costner, had been previously taped because of scheduling problems. We watched the tape before Colbert appeared.

Then Colbert did appear, running out from the aisle between the two sets of stands, his hands out as if he had just made a touchdown, a stick mic in one hand. This was the run that lead to his fall that broke his wrist. He gets a standing ovation just for doing this, and then he goes to Q&A.

The first question came from a young woman who asked him to sing her Happy Birthday. He asked how old she was. 21, she said. He asked to see some I.D., so she showed him her driver’s license. Then he sang her Happy Birthday . . .

. . . in Latin. Lord knows where he learned that. It could be one of the geeky things he taught himself, like Aragorn’s genealogy, or the Apostle’s Creed. But this did tie in to what I had to ask him. See, I grew up at a small college in Virginia called Hampden-Sydney. My dad was a biology teacher there. Colbert had attended Hampden-Sydney for two years, been turned on to acting by the acting teacher there whom I knew (named in the previous link), and went to Northwestern to finish college. Colbert had said that Hampden-Sydney was a hard school for him at the time. He had studied classics and had a rough time of it.

I had asked a classics and Latin professor, JA, if he had had Colbert in his class. He said promptly, “No.” This was at one Christmas dinner back home.

This past Christmas, at another dinner, I asked HS, a retired professor of English, if he had had Colbert as a student. “Yes,” he promptly said. He said Colbert had asked him for a recommendation to go to Northwestern, and he had not heard from Colbert since. He seemed a little hurt by that.

Another audience member stood up and started talking about Colbert’s favorite Bollywood star. Having been out of touch with the show for a year, this was a little over my head. After they had talked about this a bit, Colbert said, “We are alienating the rest of the audience.”

This audience member asking the question claimed to know this Bollywood star, said the star is in town this week, and said the star wants to be on his show. Colbert looked over at an assistant, a real assistant, not the Bobby that appears on the show, and asked in what sounded like a genuinely stern tone why the Bollywood star had not been invited. The assistant had no answer.

Then the audience member said, “And I know you don’t do autographs, but for [the Bollywood star], would you?” He held up a magazine and Sharpie.

I thought, oh shit, he’s going to piss Colbert off and he won’t take any more questions.

The audience manager appeared out of nowhere frowning and said in exasperation, “Give it to me.”

Colbert was now discussing something with the assistant. The audience manager took the magazine and Sharpie to him. I didn’t see what happened with all that.

Colbert then took another question from the other side of the stands. Each time he asked for questions I raised my hand with all the earnestness I could muster, feeling like a kid in a class about to burst with his answers. Colbert was alternating sides of the room calling on people. This one was on the opposite end. If it were not the last one he would take, he would next come to my side.

And he did. I couldn’t believe he was actually looking at me, calling on me.

I had deliberated on how to phrase this. I had decided against saying “I bring greetings from Hampden-Sydney college,” because I’m not really in touch with the college these days, and who knows if someone currently living there actually had come to Colbert recently and spoken about it. So I said, “I grew up at Hampden-Sydney college in Virginia.”

“Hampden-Sydney!” Colbert said, standing up a little straighter as though being called to duty by some old sworn fealty.

“My father was a professor there-”

“Who was he?” Colbert said.

“___ in biology,” I said, “but you didn’t have him.”

“No,” he said.

“But I know HS-”

“HS!” Colbert said, standing straighter still, that old fealty gripping him more deeply.

“Yes,” I said, “And when I was growing up and playing Dungeons and Dragons, it was with his kids that I played.”

The audience gave a little “Awwww,” at this.

“We are alienating the audience again,” Colbert said. Then, to fill them in, he went on. “My whole time at Hampden-Sydney, I felt like I was in a 19th century monastery. All Latin and classics. It is all-male. When I transferred to Northwestern, I couldn’t believe that there were women. There were women two floors away. One of our professors came to our room and smoked pot with us and ended up sleeping with my roommate. I was a lot more at home there.”

I said, “And did you have JA?”

“Yes, absolutely,” he said without hesitation. Then, continuing the background for the audience, “The place is a stalwart rock of southern conservatism founded by Patrick Henry in 1776. Tell me, are you conservative?”

He was asking me, and I had to say something intelligent right then, in front of all those people. I said, “Well, I formed my idea of spirituality playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I love your show.”

“You are seriously damaged,” he said.

Svetx and I were elated. I had won a T-shirt during the quiz (though the quiz was laughably easy), and managed to have some exchange with him. Whatever would happen next we did not care. We had completed our mission.

Colbert took his seat at his desk and his director started the countdown “5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . .” not speaking the “2” “1” because, in television, the on-camera talent always finishes the numbers in his head and starts on “0”.

I remember very little of the show. I remember more from the 2005 show I went to, in which Colbert’s final statement of the Table of Contents portion was, “Step aside Oprah -- every member of this studio audience gets a free gift -- of the truth!”

In 2005 when I attended, both Colbert and Stewart did their shows straight through with no editing. This time, Colbert did stumble. It was right after they showed a clip of Obama rebutting McCain for making fun of him about the tire gauges. Obama reiterated that experts say Americans could save 3 % to 4% of our oil consumption by keeping our tires properly inflated. “It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant,” Obama said.

When the video cut back to Colbert he fumbled his line, said “Fuck,” and put his head down on his desk. He stayed there for a few seconds, an eternity in TV. I thought they would keep taping straight through, but Colbert raised his head and told the technicians to run the clip back.

“From the beginning?” the director said.

“Play the whole Obama clip,” Colbert said. “We need to get into it.” Colbert, behind his desk, is not only the talent but the boss as well.

Some switcher or whatever backstage really has his act together. Without delay they rolled the clip again. “ . . . take pride in being ignorant.”

Colbert started with a more dramatic air this time, fumbled, and cursed again.

Take 3: “ . . . take pride in being ignorant.”

This time we audience members had our part down. “Ooooooohhhhh!” we went. And Colbert nailed his response, as if, in part, drawing from our input.

“Yes sir, we do,” he said, narrowing his eyes. He went on to declare one week of September “National Ignorance Month.”

Also on our night, he chose a spider to be named after himself.

Then, with the first and second acts done, there was nothing left. The Costner interview had already been taped. Colbert stood up and said, “It’s over already! Here, I’ll interview you,” he said, putting his arm around the shoulders of his floor director, who made like he was going to speak, then waved the mic away.

We were through. Outside, I called my dad and told him what had just happened, that Colbert had studied under HS and JA and remembered them both.

The audience manager came out a side door and took the magazine and Sharpie to the guy who had asked for Colbert’s autograph. “I’m sorry, sometimes it happens that way,” the manager said to him.

I told the manager he was doing a great job.

Nathan walked by with his friends, and we said our “laters . . .”

We had done it. Svetx and I had made it to Colbert. It’s always a thrill. It seems that it doesn’t matter what happens in New York after that.

Next time I see JA I’m going to tell him that his former student in classics, now a famous comedian and late-night show host, a ground breaker in political and social satire, the next big thing after post-modernism, is singing Happy Birthday in Latin. I’m gonna tell JA that maybe he should start remembering this student of his.

Continue . . .