Sunday, January 18, 2009

Balloon Twisting

Last weekend I attended a birthday party for my wife's co-worker's 2-year-old son. For entertainment, they had hired a balloon twister whom we were are really impressed with. I don't think I'd ever seen balloon twisting more complex than a simple single-balloon animal, but this girl really elevated things to a new level. Not only did she employ myriad techniques I'd never thought of, but she was able to make her balloons with lightning speed, all while doing a good job of handling the children. We asked her how she had learned to do all of that, and she said she had taught herself when she was 12 and had been doing it continuously since then. Now all of her friends are balloon-twisters, she goes to balloon-twisting conventions, which I had no idea existed, she does competitions, etc. Who knew?So anyway, I'm just passing along a recommendation for Malinda the balloon twister, and if you want to see her handiwork in person, she does her thing at Cafe Tu Tu Tango at the Block at Orange every Friday and Saturday evening. I have no idea how much she charges.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bush's Team

During the Presidential election, I always liked to keep in mind that we weren't just electing a President, but the President's team, too. So remember that we're not only trading out Bush for Obama, we're also getting rid of his godawful team of staffers, cabinet secretaries, and other appointees. Think Progress compiled a handy list of the 43 worst Bush appointees, and it's quite sobering to run through such a list, remembering 8 years of running the country into the ground.

I always find it confounding how Republicans can appoint cabinet secretaries to head agencies like the Department of Labor or the EPA who seem diametrically opposed to the agency's mission. It'd be as if a Democrat appointed an ideological pacifist to head the Department of Defense or a radical anarchist to Attorney General or the Secretary of the Treasury.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Congratulations are due to the greatest leadoff hitter ever to play the game, Rickey Henderson, as it was announced yesterday that he was voted into the Hall of Fame. You can see his stats here; as statistician Bill James once said, "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers."

Of course, Rickey didn't just produce runs on the field; he produced excitement. And anecdotes. And quotes. My favorite from that wonderful collection was a message he left to San Diego General Manager Kevin Towers:
"Kevin, this is Rickey. Calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball."
The only sour note on Rickey's story is that the Baseball Writers Association of America still has 28 voters (out of 539 cast) who saw fit to turn in a ballot without Rickey's name on it. Are these people insane, completely ignorant of baseball, sore losers who resent his ego, or are they just contrarian jerks who have a weird sense of honor about not letting anybody in unanimously?

If you ask me, that's the voting equivalent of a player throwing a game. As a voter, you're charged with voting honestly for people whom you feel have earned their place in the Hall. Leaving someone off your ballot "just because" is idiotic and should get your right to vote revoked.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New National Monuments

After going through the trouble of tallying up all of the National Parks, National Historic Parks, Wilderness Areas, etc. that I've visited, I'd be remiss not to mention the three new National Monuments created by George W. Bush last week: Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. These are essentially a bunch of big marine sanctuaries surrounding some small islands in the Pacific, which is a good thing, so, hey, there you go.

Here is a big .pdf showing the official boundaries of the new Monuments. I'm pretty sure these will, similar to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, not the National Park Service, though I'm not positive.

This seems like as good time as any to point out that while I've never been to any of these areas, I'd sure like to sometime. You know how I like learning about and categorizing all the geographic and political divisions I can, right? Well, I also think it would be pretty fascinating to visit one of these little uninhabited islands. Can you imagine that, a little speck of dry land with almost nothing on it, surrounded by miles and miles of open ocean? It's amazing to think that these places still exist in the world, but they're really out there, and some of them are owned by the U.S. We tend to shunt them off into the obscure category of "United States Minor Outlying Islands," and this designation should at least raise some awareness of their existence.
Kingman Reef

Here's a few fun facts about these places:
  1. A history of Kingman Reef basically consists of a record of the various ships that have run aground on it. For a while it was appropriately called "Danger Reef."
  2. A number of these places were acquired under the Guano Islands Act of 1856.
  3. Palmyra Atoll, despite being uninhabited and unorganized politically, is an incorporated territory of the United States, just as much a part of the Union as the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is a weird remnant of it having been part of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and then specifically excluded from Hawaii statehood.
Now, that's not to take anything away from remote islands that are actually inhabited. It's a long-running joke with my wife that I always suggest we take a vacation in Kiribati*. How different life must be on a tiny island like that... I remember on Maui remarking how beautiful it was, but how I might go stir crazy if I lived so far away from the mainland. But the level of isolation there is really quite mild compared to the isolation of somewhere like Kiritimati.

*Kiribati, incidentally, is pronounced "Kiribahss," as its name is a Gilbertese transliteration of "Gilberts," i.e., the Gilbert Islands. Kiritimati, similarly, is "Kirismas," i.e., "Christmas Island." Here is the flag of Kiribati:Photos and the flag are all from Wikipedia.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Some Obama Marginalia

1. In 2001, Barack Obama appeared on public TV to give a restaurant review.

2. This coming Wednesday, he'll be appearing in the new issue of Amazing Spider-Man. One commenter says that Marvel didn't alert the retailers beforehand, so they didn't order any extras and should sell out quickly (at least until the inevitable second printing comes along).

Here's a big list of cameos by real people in comic books... my favorite was Henry Kissinger coming in on Dr. Doom's side in Super-Villain Team-Up #6-7.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Mistaken Identity

Illinois Senate appointee Roland Burris, who faces a challenge from Harry Reid over whether he will be seated as a Senator, seems to have forgotten who appointed him to the position:

"We are hoping and praying that they will not be able to deny what the Lord has ordained," Burris said.
Umm, that wasn't the Lord, Roland. That was disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Big difference.

Special thanks to Conan O'Brien for pointing out the resemblance.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tallies for 2008 (Parks)

A little more than a year ago, I tallied up all of the U.S. National Parks and related areas that I'd visited. Let's see what I added in 2008.

National Parks: This year I visited Joshua Tree, Glacier Bay, and Denali National Parks. The two in Alaska were new to me. That brings my total to 19 National Parks visited (including 4 visited only cheesily) out of 58 total.

Other National Park System units: I also visited Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, bringing my total to 13 out of 42, including 5 cheesy-only visits. The two new National Parks I visited are also National Preserves, so that brings my count of National Preserves visited to 5 out of 20 total, although I've only visited 2 out of 9 that aren't part of some other unit. I also moved about five miles from the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which I've already visited on multiple occasions. My total number of official National Park System Units visited, then, goes up from 62 to 67 out of 391 total.

(Updated 1/5/09)
State Parks: I did visit some state parks outside of California, which is fairly unusual for me. In New York, I visited Niagara Falls State Park and drove through (cheesy visit only) Buckhorn Island State Park. In Indiana, I made a cheesy visit to White River State Park, which I had previously visited more fully. In Washington State, I went through Peace Arch State Park, which I guess only counts as a cheesy visit. Likewise, I passed through British Columbia's Peach Arch Provincial Park. In Alaska I made a full visit to Denali State Park and a drive-through-only visit to Chugach State Park.

Back at home in California, just in the course of going about town, I visited Los Angeles State Historic Park, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, Malibu Creek State Park, and Topanga State Park, all of which I've made full visits to at some point. I didn't make any special trips to any local state parks.

National Forests: I didn't tally up the National Forests I've visited on that previous tally post. For those of you who might not know, National Forests are not managed by the National Park Service or even any other agency within the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Forest Service is a branch of the Department of Agriculture, which should be a clue to tell you that the objective of the National Forests is not to preserve natural resources, but to manage them. Historically, you can personify the difference between the two as John Muir vs. Gifford Pinchot.

Anyway, this year I visited Chugach and Tongass National Forests for the first time (both in Alaska), as well as the local Angeles and Los Padres National Forests for the umpteenth times. I think the total number of National Forests I've visited is 37 (out of 155 total), though sometimes it's kind of hard to tell, and the line between a full visit and a cheesy visit is blurry.

Wilderness Areas: Despite a lifetime of camping and hiking, I've really only visited a handful of official Wilderness Areas, which one encounters many more of if one is a more hardcore mountain man like Mike Benedetti. Basically, anywhere it is possible to drive in is not a wilderness area. I did newly enter the Denali Wilderness Area this year. I'm not really sure how many Wilderness Areas I've stepped over the boundary of, but I know I've at least been to these others, all in California:
Golden Trout Wilderness
Mecca Hills Wilderness
Orocopia Mountains Wilderness
San Gabriel Wilderness
San Gorgonio Wilderness

So, as few as only 6 out of 702. I'll bet Benedetti's been in at least 50.

Robbie Maddison

Donna Bowman directs us toward this video of motorcycle daredevil Robbie Maddison's amazing New Year's Eve jump. That's what I should have been watching instead of Miley Cyrus on MTV.

Hm, has anybody been to Las Vegas for New Year's Eve? How much do they jack up the hotel rates? Did you try to see any stunts like Robbie Maddison's or a hotel implosion, and, if so, was it easy to see or was the crowd just too much to be able to get a good view?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Vintage Muppets

Mark Evanier, always full of fascinating show-biz stuff, has an interesting blog post about digging up 1960s Tonight Show archives that includes a video of two pre-Sesame Street Muppet sketches.