Wednesday, December 31, 2008

COM: Hurry Up Jan. 20th!!!

DHS seeks to condemn nature preserve land
12/30/2008 11:32 AM, By: Associated Press

McALLEN, Texas -- The Department of Homeland Security has sued The Nature Conservancy to condemn land in a South Texas nature preserve for the border fence.

The conservancy's Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve includes more than 1,000 acres along the Rio Grande near Brownsville. It is home to a rare grove of native sabal palms, a South Texas native plant nursery for reforestation projects and habitat for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.

The government offered the conservancy $114,000 for a strip of land that would leave three-quarters of the preserve in the no-man's land between the fence and Mexico. That's according to court records filed earlier this month.

The Nature Conservancy's preference is no fence and no compensation, but the offer failed to take into account the impact to the rest of preserve. That's what Laura Huffman, The Nature Conservancy's state director, said today.

She says that the organization paid more than $2.5 million in 1999 for the preserve and has invested considerable money in it since.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

OBT: Delaney Bramlett

Delaney Bramlett, 1939-2008
Posted: 09:42 AM ET

Delaney Bramlett, who co-wrote songs such as “Superstar” and worked with a who’s-who of rock royalty, died Saturday. He was 69.

According to a Reuters report picked up by The New York Times and other outlets, the guitarist and vocalist died in Los Angeles following gallbladder surgery.

“I held him and he held on up until the last breath with which he went in peace to the light and on into eternity,” his wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett, said on Bramlett’s Web site, www.delaneybramlett.com.

Bramlett was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, in 1939. After becoming part of the house band for the ABC rock ‘n’ roll show “Shindig” in the mid-‘60s, he met and married Bonnie Lynn O’Farrell, a backup singer for Ike & Tina Turner, in 1967, according to Allmusic.com. The pair formed Delaney & Bonnie, which became Delaney & Bonnie & Friends in 1969.

Bramlett’s biggest success followed. Eric Clapton joined the band for a short time, and Bonnie Bramlett co-wrote Clapton’s hit “Let It Rain” with the guitarist, with Delaney producing and greatly influencing the sound of Clapton’s first solo album.

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends also supported John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band for a short stint, and George Harrison was known to take the stage with the group. A couple of the Friends, Carl Radle and Jim Keltner, joined Joe Cocker and Leon Russell’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour; Radle later became part of Derek and the Dominos.

Delaney & Bonnie had their own hits in 1970 and ’71, including “Free the People” and “Never Ending Song of Love,” the latter of which hit the Top 20.

Bramlett also co-wrote “Superstar” with his wife and Russell, which became a No. 2 hit for the Carpenters in 1972 and was later covered by Sonic Youth for the “If I Were a Carpenter” compilation. Sonic Youth’s version was featured on the “Juno” soundtrack.

The Bramletts divorced in the early ‘70s. Delaney Bramlett struggled with alcoholism and became a born-again Christian. In recent years, his albums included “Sweet Inspiration” and “A New Kind of Blues.”

– From news reports

(Editor’s note: As a commenter has noted, Bonnie Bramlett, not Delaney Bramlett, co-wrote “Let It Rain” with Eric Clapton, according to credits on Clapton’s self-titled solo debut. The above story has been changed to reflect that information.)

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OBT: Jean Michel Duval

Jean Michel (Mike) Duval

Jean Michel (“Mike”) Duval, 76, of Kerrville and formerly of Tolland, Connecticut, died Saturday, December 27, after a four year battle with prostate cancer.

Born in Manchester, New Hampshire, the eighth of ten children, he served twenty years in the United States Air Force and 26 years at the Hartford Insurance Group in Hartford, Connecticut.

A member of Notre Dame Catholic Church, Mike served as a Eucharistic Minister. He was active in the Knights of Columbus for 49 years, most recently serving as Financial Secretary for Council 6409. He was a volunteer at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Kerrville. Mike also was involved heavily in Toastmasters, a public speaking organization and held many positions. He was engaged extensively in local theatre in both Kerrville and Connecticut. For many years, Mike returned to Tolland to emcee the annual Tolland Senior Variety Show.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years Margaret (Peggy) and four children and eight grandchildren: son David and his daughter Olivia; son James, his wife Lee, and their children Adam, Michael, Andrew, and Lindsay; daughter Helen, her husband Willis, and their daughters Carolina and Celia; son Christopher, his wife Carissa, and their son River. In addition, Mike is survived by his brother Claude, sisters-in-law Olive, Lorraine, Joanne, Caroline, and Barbara, and too many cousins, nieces, and nephews to name individually.

Mike was predeceased by his daughter Kathleen, his parents Ovide and Rosilia, siblings Robert, Clement, Jean Pierre, Bernard, George, Francois, Pierre, and Pierrette.

A funeral service will be held Tuesday, December 30 at 9:30 a.m. at Notre Dame Catholic Church in Kerrville. Memorial services will be held in Tolland and Florida at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 1145 Broadway, Kerrville, TX 78028.

The family invites you to send condolences at www.grimesfuneralchapels.com by selecting the “Send Condolences” link.

Funeral arrangements are entrusted to Grimes Funeral Chapels of Kerrville.

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COM: My adopted son Calvin


click on the image to see full-sized (and readable!)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

ENV: Seychelles Birds

Seychelles success story
17-12-2008

This week BirdLife International and Nature Seychelles (BirdLife in Seychelles) are celebrating the anniversary of one the world’s greatest conservation success stories. In 1968, Cousin Island was purchased by the International Council of Bird Preservation (ICBP now BirdLife International) to save the last remaining population of Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis from extinction. Forty years on, warbler numbers have risen by 300%, and the island has been transformed from a coconut plantation to a profitable Nature Reserve which greatly benefits local people and global biodiversity.

Cousin Island – a small island in Seychelles - is today home to a wealth of globally important wildlife. It is the most significant nesting site for Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata in the Western Indian Ocean, and supports over 300,000 nesting seabirds of seven species. Cousin also hosts five of the Seychelles’ eleven endemic land-birds including: Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus seychellarum (Endangered), Seychelles Sunbird Nectarinia dussumieri, Seychelles Fody Foudia seychellarum and Seychelles Blue-pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima.

“Seychelles Warbler population was so small that a single severe weather event could have caused their extinction” —Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s CEO and Director

Until 1968 Cousin was a coconut plantation which had lost most of its native vegetation. The Seychelles Warbler was almost extinct and fewer than 30 birds remained in the world; being confined mostly to a mangrove swamp on Cousin. In response, ICBP launched a world wide campaign and bought the island with the aim of saving the warbler. That year Cousin was declared a legally protected Nature Reserve by the Seychelles Government.

“Seychelles Warbler population was so small that a single severe climate, disease or man made event could have caused their extinction”, said Dr Mike Rands – BirdLife’s CEO and Director. “Transformation from a coconut plantation to an ecologically-restored island was achieved through careful habitat management and preventing alien predators - such as rats - from arriving”.

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ATH: Tim Howard

Howard Wins Male Athlete Of The Year

US National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard has been named the US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year. Howard had a superb 2008 in goal for the United States, with three consecutive shutouts in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Fellow National Team member Sacha Kljestan was named Young Male Athlete of the Year.

“It's a wonderful honor to accept this Male Athlete of the Year award,” said Howard. “I know down the years there have been some wonderful, very talented players who have won it, so to be considered among a list of those players is special and prestigious. It really humbles me to be a part of that group.”

For the women, Carli Lloyd won Female Athlete of the Year and Kristie Mewis was named Young Female Athlete of the Year.

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OBT: Pinteresque

Harold Pinter: A master of the sound of silence
‘Pinter-esque’ became an adjective bandied about in drama schools
The Associated Press, updated 6:29 p.m. CT, Thurs., Dec. 25, 2008

NEW YORK - No one made the sound of silence more ominously theatrical than Harold Pinter.

The influential British playwright, who died Christmas Eve after a long battle with cancer, created unforgettable moments of quiet, often filled with terror, outrage or the blackest of humor.

The “Pinter pause,” as those silences were known, could send a shiver through an audience, jolting it into an unease that permeated many of his best plays, particularly such classics as “The Caretaker” and “The Homecoming.”

“Pinter-esque” became an adjective bandied about in all the best drama schools and playwriting classes.

Yet Pinter knew how to make words count. As he grew older, his plays became leaner, more succinct in their language and frequently ferociously political.

There was an economy to his writing, a paring away that suggested an affinity with another Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Samuel Beckett, who often examined the human condition in the most terse and terrifying way possible.

It took a while for theatergoers, especially American audiences, to get used to Pinter. He made his Broadway debut in 1961 with “The Caretaker,” which starred Alan Bates, Robert Shaw and Donald Pleasence.

The play, a bleak treatise on identity and possessiveness set in a squalid London attic, puzzled theatergoers who were unnerved by its menace and bewildered by its seemingly inconclusive tale of cat-and-mouse games.

No such problem greeted “The Homecoming,” usually considered Pinter’s masterwork. A best-play Tony winner in 1967, it has had several New York revivals since then, including a critically acclaimed Broadway production last year.

This distinctly atypical family drama of a tyrannical father, his dysfunctional sons and an obliging, sexually provocative daughter-in-law has become a contemporary masterwork.

In Pinter, linguistic clarity is all. From such early works as “The Room” and “The Birthday Party” right up through more recent efforts such as “Moonlight” and “Ashes to Ashes,” his preciseness of language is imperative even if an exact meaning can’t always be discerned.

It’s that ambiguity which has posed a special challenge to actors, a challenge readily accepted by many on both sides of the Atlantic. Pinter’s plays have provided memorable stage performances by a diverse parade of mesmerizing actors such as John Gielgud, Jason Robards, Ian McShane, Christopher Plummer, Eve Best, Ralph Richardson, Raul Esparza and Vivien Merchant, among others.

Pinter’s best writing wasn’t limited to theater. He wrote several elegant screenplays, particularly “The Go-Between” (1970), the tale of an illicit romance which starred Julie Christie and Alan Bates, and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons (1981).

In recent years, he found a renewed vigor and moral passion as politics bubbled to the surface of many of his later plays. A vociferous critic of the American and British involvement in Iraq, he often wrote of political violence, particularly in such works as “One for the Road.”

In 2005, when Pinter won the Nobel Prize, he was too frail to travel to Sweden to accept the award. But in a recorded lecture presented at the Swedish Academy, he said: “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law.” He castigated both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush.

Right to the end, Pinter’s outrage remained undiminished.

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OBT: Harold Pinter

Playwright Harold Pinter dies at 78
Cancer claims distinctive, influential Briton who was a voice of a generation
The Associated Press, updated 8:33 a.m. CT, Thurs., Dec. 25, 2008

LONDON - Harold Pinter, praised as the most influential British playwright of his generation and a longtime voice of political protest, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.

Pinter, whose distinctive contribution to the stage was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, died on Wednesday, according to his second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser.

"Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles," the Nobel Academy said when it announced Pinter's award. "With a minimum of plot, drama emerges from the power struggle and hide-and-seek of interlocution."

The Nobel Prize gave Pinter a global platform which he seized enthusiastically to denounce U.S. President George W. Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law," Pinter said in his Nobel lecture, which he recorded rather than traveling to Stockholm.

"How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?" he asked, in a hoarse voice.

Cancer takes toll
Weakened by cancer and bandaged from a fall on a slippery pavement, Pinter seemed a vulnerable old man when he emerged from his London home to speak about the Nobel Award.

Though he had been looking forward to giving a Nobel lecture — "the longest speech I will ever have made" — he first canceled plans to attend the awards, then announced he would skip the lecture as well on his doctor's advice.

Pinter wrote 32 plays; one novel, "The Dwarfs," in 1990; and put his hand to 22 screenplays including "The Quiller Memorandum" (1965) and "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1980). He admitted, and said he deeply regretted, voting for Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Tony Blair in 1997.

Pinter fulminated against what he saw as the overweening arrogance of American power, and belittled Blair as seeming like a "deluded idiot" in support of Bush's war in Iraq.

In his Nobel lecture, Pinter accused the United States of supporting "every right-wing military dictatorship in the world" after World War II.

"The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them," he said.

The United States, he added, "also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain."

Fifties emergence
Most prolific between 1957 and 1965, Pinter relished the juxtaposition of brutality and the banal and turned the conversational pause into an emotional minefield.

His characters' internal fears and longings, their guilt and difficult sexual drives are set against the neat lives they have constructed in order to try to survive.

Usually enclosed in one room, they organize their lives as a sort of grim game and their actions often contradict their words. Gradually, the layers are peeled back to reveal the characters' nakedness.



The protection promised by the room usually disappears and the language begins to disintegrate.

Pinter once said of language, "The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don't hear. It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, and anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its true place. When true silence falls we are left with echo but are nearer nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness."


Influence in U.S.
Pinter's influence was felt in the United States in the plays of Sam Shepard and David Mamet and throughout British literature.

"With his earliest work, he stood alone in British theater up against the bewilderment and incomprehension of critics, the audience and writers too," British playwright Tom Stoppard said when the Nobel Prize was announced.

"Not only has Harold Pinter written some of the outstanding plays of his time, he has also blown fresh air into the musty attic of conventional English literature, by insisting that everything he does has a public and political dimension," added British playwright David Hare, who also writes politically charged dramas.

The working-class milieu of plays like "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming" reflected Pinter's early life as the son of a Jewish tailor from London's East End. He began his career in the provinces as an actor.

In his first major play, "The Birthday Party" (1958), intruders enter the retreat of Stanley, a young man who is hiding from childhood guilt. He becomes violent, telling them, "You stink of sin, you contaminate womankind."

And in "The Caretaker," a manipulative old man threatens the fragile relationship of two brothers while "The Homecoming" explores the hidden rage and confused sexuality of an all-male household by inserting a woman.

Dark messages
In "Silence and Landscape," Pinter moved from exploring the dark underbelly of human life to showing the simultaneous levels of fantasy and reality that equally occupy the individual.

In the 1980s, Pinter's only stage plays were one-acts: "A Kind of Alaska" (1982), "One for the Road" (1984) and the 20-minute "Mountain Language" (1988).

During the late 1980s, his work became more overtly political; he said he had a responsibility to pursue his role as "a citizen of the world in which I live, (and) insist upon taking responsibility."

In March 2005 Pinter announced his retirement as a playwright to concentrate on politics. But he created a radio play, "Voices," that was broadcast on BBC radio to mark his 75th birthday.

"I have written 29 plays and I think that's really enough," Pinter said . "I think the world has had enough of my plays."

Pinter had a son, Daniel, from his marriage to actress Vivien Merchant, which ended in divorce in 1980. That year he married the writer Fraser.

"It was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years. He will never be forgotten," Fraser said.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

OBT: Doug Balentine

Playhouse 2000 creator found dead in his car
Conor Harrison, The Daily Times, Published December 15, 2008


Former Kerrville resident and Playhouse 2000 founder Doug Balentine was found dead over the weekend in Davis Mountains State Park in West Texas.

According to Jeff Cunningham of Playhouse 2000, a park ranger found Balentine dead in his vehicle. Cunningham believes it was from natural causes.

An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 4 p.m. at the Cailloux Theater in Kerrville.

“He was a gifted artist, a genius, a unique personality and a person who loved very deeply,” Cunningham said. “It was an honor to be a student, peer and friend of Doug. The world is a smaller place without him.”

Balentine co-founded the Hip Pocket Theater in Fort Worth before moving to Kerrville and starting Playhouse 2000 in 1998.

He was the executive director until 2006, when Heather Cunningham took over the post. Balentine stayed active in the playhouse on the board of directors.

Balentine lived in Balmorhea, where he was building a ranch house and “moving into semi-retirement,” according to Cunningham.

“He spent 45 years in the theater/music business and wrote more than 50 musicals,” Cunningham said. “He also made a habit of starting successful playhouse companies.”

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Friday, December 12, 2008

ENV: Full Moon a'risin'

Year's biggest full moon lights up sky
Watch out for werewolves: Huge moon will rise around sunset
By Robert Roy Britt, Space.com, updated 4:50 p.m. CT, Thurs., Dec. 11, 2008

The full moon Friday night will be the biggest one of the year as Earth's natural satellite reaches its closest point to our planet.

Earth, the moon and the sun are all bound together by gravity, which keeps us going around the sun and keeps the moon going around us as it goes through phases. The moon makes a trip around Earth every 29.5 days. But the orbit is not a perfect circle.

The moon's average distance from us is about 238,855 miles (384,400 km). Friday night it will be just 221,560 miles (356,567 km) away. It will be 14 percent bigger in our sky and 30 percent brighter than some other full moons during the year, according to NASA.

Tides will be higher Friday night, too. Earth's oceans are pulled by the gravity of the moon and the sun. So when the moon is closer, tides are pulled higher. Scientists call these perigean tides, because the moon's closest point to Earth is called perigee. The farthest point on the lunar orbit is called apogee.

Some other strange lunar facts:
# The moon is moving away from Earth as you read this, by about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) a year. Eventually it'll be torn apart as an expanding sun pushes the moon back toward Earth for a wrenching close encounter.
# There is no proof the full moon makes people crazy.
# Beaches are more polluted during full moon, owing to the higher tides.

The moon will rise Friday evening right around sunset, no matter where you are. That's because of the celestial mechanics that produce a full moon: The moon and the sun are on opposite sides of the planet, so that sunlight hits the full face of the moon and bounces back to our eyes.

At moonrise, the moon will appear even larger than it will later in the night when it's higher in the sky. This is an illusion that scientists can't fully explain. Some think it has to do with our perception of things on the horizon vs. stuff overhead.

Try this trick, though: Using a pencil eraser or similar object held at arm's length, gauge the size of the moon when it's near the horizon and again later when it's higher up and seems smaller. You'll see that when compared to a fixed object, the moon will be the same size in both cases.

You can see all this on each night surrounding the full moon, too, because the moon will be nearly full, rising earlier Thursday night and later Saturday night.

Interestingly, because of the mechanics of all this, the moon is never truly 100 percent full. For that to happen, all three objects have to be in a perfect line, and when that rare circumstance occurs, there is a total eclipse of the moon.

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COM: Touched . . . deeply touched

Bush to speak at Texas A&M commencement
President to offer advice on seeking employment in current fiscal climate
The Associated Press, updated 6:51 a.m. CT, Fri., Dec. 12, 2008

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush is delivering the final commencement speech of his presidency at Texas A&M University.

Rather than focus on policy, as he did in a speech this week, Bush planned to give some advice to the 3,700 graduates who will be receiving degrees Friday and seeking employment in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the president would talk about "how he thinks that they can have good and healthy and productive lives as American citizens graduating from Texas A&M University."

Bush also will talk about some of the people he has met during his eight years as president "and hold them up as examples of what these graduates could aspire to be," Perino said.

Bush has given 22 commencement speeches as president.

Besides providing the setting for his final presidential address to a graduating class, Texas A&M also has special meaning for Bush and his family. The College Station campus is the home of the presidential library of his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

In a speech this week to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Bush defended his policy of pre-emptive military action and said the country must stay on the offensive to protect its people.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

ENV: Sonar and Manatees

Acoustic Phenomena Explain Why Boats And Animals Collide



Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have laid the groundwork

for a sensory explanation for why manatees and other animals are hit

repeatedly by boats. Last year, 73 manatees were killed by boats in

Florida's bays and inland waterways. Marine authorities have

responded to deaths from boat collisions by imposing low speed

limits on boats.



In spite of manatee protection policies that have been in effect for

nearly two decades to slow down boats passing through manatee-

protection habitats, the number of injuries and deaths associated

with collisions has increased and reached record highs.



In an effort to reduce manatee deaths and injuries from boats, Dr.

Edmund Gerstein, director of marine mammal research and behavior in

FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, set out in 1991 to

investigate what might be the underlying cause for these collisions.

Gerstein disagreed with the unsubstantiated assumptions, which

wildlife officials had relied upon, that manatees could hear boats,

but they were just too slow and could not learn to avoid boats.



"Manatees have the cognitive prowess to learn and remember as well

as dolphins and killer whales," said Gerstein. "Furthermore, when

startled or frightened, manatees explode with a burst of power and

can reach swimming speeds of up to 6.4 meters per second in an

instant."



Given that manatees have the cognitive ability to recognize danger

and the physical prowess to evade boats, Gerstein sought to explore

the answers to some simple questions. "After a manatee has been hit

more than once (some have been hit up to 50 different times) why

doesn't the animal learn to get out of the way?" "Is it possible

that manatees are not aware or cannot hear the sounds of an

approaching boat?"



Gerstein and his colleagues conducted rigorous, controlled

underwater psychoacoustic (audiometric) studies to understand what

sounds manatees can hear in their environment. After a comprehensive

series of hearing studies, his research revealed that manatees

cannot hear the dominant low frequency sounds of boats and that

those sounds do not transmit well in shallow water. Furthermore,

ambient noise in manatee habitats can conceivably mask the

perception of many kinds of signals. Unlike dolphins, which can use

active sonar to navigate and detect objects in the environment,

manatees are passive listeners restricted to listening to their

auditory landscape.



"It is ironic that slow speed zones result in quieter and lower

frequency sounds which manatees can't hear or locate in Florida's

murky waters," said Gerstein. "Slow speed zones make sense in clear

water where the boater and the manatee can see each other and

therefore actively avoid encounters. However, in turbid waters where

there is no visibility, slow speeds actually exacerbate the risks of

collisions by making these boats inaudible to manatees and

increasing the time it takes for a boat to now travel through

manatee habitats thereby increasing the risk and opportunities for

collisions to occur."



With these issues in mind, Gerstein and his colleagues developed an

acoustic alerting device specifically tailored to exploit the

manatees' hearing ability. The environmentally friendly device is

narrowly focused in front of the boat so that only manatees in its

direct path are alerted.



"The alarm emits a high-frequency signal which isn't loud, doesn't

scare or harm manatees and doesn't disturb the marine environment,"

said Gerstein.



Gerstein has been testing this alarm in a NASA wildlife refuge where

controlled studies are possible. He has reported that 100 percent of

the controlled approaches toward manatees by a boat with the alarm

have resulted in the manatees avoiding the boat up to 30 yards away.

Without this alarm, only three percent of the manatees approached by

the same boat moved to avoid the boat.



Manatees aren't the only animals that collide with boats. Other

passive-listening marine mammals, including great whales, are

vulnerable to collisions when near the surface, where the risk of

collisions with ships and boats is greatest or in shallow water.

Gerstein and his colleagues are using the findings from their

studies to help understand and reduce collisions in the open seas

where great whales are regularly injured and often killed by large

ships.



Source: Florida Atlantic University.

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COM: Golden Globe noms

Golden Globe Nods: Top 10 Movies Scoring Oscar Buzz

Oscar Contenders Include 'Slumdog,' 'Milk,' 'Dark Knight'

By SHEILA MARIKAR

Dec. 11, 2008

It happens around the same time every year. Between the feeding frenzy of Thanksgiving and the spending spree of the holidays, buzz builds, tension mounts and the leaders in Hollywood's annual Olympics emerge.

Oscar season is in full swing.

This morning's Golden Globe nominations added to the hype, building up dramas including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Doubt" and "Frost/Nixon," all of which scored five nods each.

Many of the movies currently in theaters and due to debut this month are the ones studios consider most viable for the industry's highest honor. Critics' circles are already choosing their favorite flicks of the year, predicting which filmmakers and actors might take the stage come February's Academy Awards ceremony.

Below, check out 10 films predicted to pick up nominations when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces them Jan. 22 and find out why they're making waves.

'Slumdog Millionaire'

"Slumdog Millionaire" does not fit the mold of a blockbuster, nor is it the type of film that usually peaks the academy's interest. But the British drama about a young hustler from the hard-up 'hoods of Mumbai who goes on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and exceeds all expectations, angering law enforcement and those who doubt his abilities, has wowed audiences and won critical acclaim since it hit the festival circuit.

"Slumdog" picked up the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Earlier this month, the National Board of Review named "Slumdog" film of the year and lauded star Dev Patel's breakthrough performance. "Slumdog" also scored a Golden Globe nod today for best drama. It's currently playing in limited release.

'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

Few actors can stack a movie like Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. The plot of "Benjamin Button" is also the sort of classic drama to which the academy often gravitates. It's based on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about Benjamin Button (Pitt), a man born with a malady that reverses the aging process. Blanchett's character (Button's love interest) attempts to help him cope with his condition. "Benjamin Button" swept the Golden Globe nominations today, picking up five nods, including best drama. It opens in theaters Dec. 25.

Picking Up Golden Globe Nominations

'Frost/Nixon'

In a year dominated by political drama, it comes as no surprise that a film rooted in political history is rising to the top of the list of Oscar contenders. Based on a play of the same name by Peter Morgan, the Ron Howard-directed "Frost/Nixon" stars Frank Langella as the former U.S. president and Michael Sheen as David Frost, the British broadcaster who grilled him in a series of post-Watergate TV interviews.

"Frost/Nixon" picked up five Golden Globe nominations, including best drama. The movie opened in select theaters Dec. 5 and will be released nationwide Christmas Day.

'Doubt'

For filmmakers seeking to score awards, all signs point to Meryl Streep. The 14-time Academy Award-nominated actress seems to win critical acclaim with almost every movie she graces. "Doubt" is no exception. Set in the 1960s, "Doubt" centers on a nun (Streep) who accuses a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of abusing a student. He denies the allegations and she spearheads a campaign to uncover what she believes is the truth.

Along with "Benjamin Button" and "Frost/Nixon," "Doubt" picked up five Golden Globe nominations, including one for Streep's performance. It opens Dec. 12 in limited release.

'Milk'

Gus Van Sant's epic about 1970s gay rights leader Harvey Milk has been at the top of critics' lists since Sean Penn was picked to play the lead role. It picked up three key awards from the New York Film Critics Circle: best film, best actor and best supporting actor for Josh Brolin, Penn's co-star. It opened in limited release in late November.

'The Reader'

Though critical reception has been mixed, with a cast led by Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, "The Reader" has the stuff to peak the academy's interest. Set in post-WWII Germany, the drama centers on a law student who reunites with a former lover years after their affair mysteriously ended, when she defends herself in a war-crimes trial.

"The Reader" scored a Golden Globe nomination for best drama and was named one of the Top 10 films of the year by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. It opened Dec. 10 in limited release.

'The Wrestler'

Just as "The Wrestler" tells the story of a veteran professional fighter trying to claw his way back up to the top of the heap, the movie is being hailed as the comeback of veteran actor Mickey Rourke. Rourke plays wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, who's elbowing his way back into the ring with the support of his stripper girlfriend, played by Marisa Tomei.

Rourke scored a Golden Globe nomination for his performance and the movie won the Golden Lion Award for Best Film when it premiered at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. "The Wrestler" opens in limited release Dec. 17.

'Gran Torino'

Clint Eastwood masterminded "Gran Torino" both behind and in front of the camera, directing and starring in the drama about a racist Korean War veteran who catches an Asian boy trying to steal his prized 1972 Gran Torino automobile.

Eastwood's performance picked up an award from the National Board of Review, but instead of his acting and directing skills, another one of his talents might be recognized by the academy. He's nominated for a Golden Globe for co-writing the title song for "Gran Torino"; it wouldn't be a surprise if the song got him an Oscar nod too. "Gran Torino" opens in limited release Dec. 12.

And Two Not-So-New Films Likely to Run in the Oscar Race:

'The Dark Knight'

Superhero blockbusters aren't usually the type of films for which the academy flips, but there's a perfect storm of reasons for why "The Dark Knight" will probably show up on the list of Oscar nominees come Jan. 22.

Heath Ledger's final, chilling performance as the Joker has had critics talking for months; it would only be natural for him to pick up a posthumous nomination -- he's already nominated for a best supporting actor Golden Globe. "The Dark Knight" also stands to score Oscar recognition for its makeup and musical score.

'Wall-E'

Disney-Pixar's latest collaboration may be the pair's most critically acclaimed one yet. "Wall-E," about the epic space journey of a small, waste-collecting robot, won over audiences during the summer. Now it's winning awards.

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named "Wall-E" the year's best movie. It's the first time the organization has awarded that honor to an animated movie. "Wall-E" also made the National Board of Review's list of Top 10 films of the year.

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COM: Broadway woes

Broadway hit by downturn
America's economic woes have taken a heavy toll on Broadway, where the final curtain is coming down on 15 shows in the next six weeks
By Tom Leonard in New York, Last Updated: 4:15PM GMT 10 Dec 2008


Even some of New York’s most feted productions, such as the Equus revival starring Daniel Radcliffe, have been playing to half-filled houses while other shows have survived no more than weeks.

In one of many worrying statistics for the US' theatre capital, only two Broadway productions made money this season – a revival of The Seagull starring Kristin Scott-Thomas and another of Arthur Miller's All My Sons, starring Katie Holmes – and they were both limited runs.

Theatre-goers are not the only ones avoiding Broadway because of the financial crunch. Investment prospects are also bleak as producers shy away from all but the safest theatrical bets.

Multi-million dollar productions of Grease, Young Frankenstein, Hairspray, 13 and Boeing-Boeing will all close at the end of the holiday season on January 4.

A week later will see the end of long-running shows such as Spring Awakening and Monty Python's Spamalot.

Radcliffe will strip naked for Equus for the last time at the beginning of February. Despite opening in September amid considerable excitement, and then offering ticket promotions and student discounts, the production still played to houses that were less than half full.

While a few of the closing productions are seasonal or were already scheduled to finish, most have looked towards the traditionally lean tourist-free months between January and March and decided to cut their losses.

Those productions that are battling on are generally offering huge discounts on tickets, or even giving them away free.

Disney is offering a "Kids Go Free!" deal for its three family musicals – The Lion King, Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid – for three months after January.

Although Billy Elliot is bucking the trend and doing well, big budget productions are particularly vulnerable.

A $4.5 million revival of Godspell has been scrapped while a lavish $16 million musical version of A Tale Of Two Cities closed in November, just two months after it opened.

High ticket prices have also been a factor. The most expensive seats for Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein were priced at $400 (£300).

The industry is putting a brave face on the downturn, pointing out that the beginning of a year is always bad, but insiders told The Daily Telegraph they fear disaster if foreign tourists - on whom Broadway relies heavily - do not return to New York in large numbers later in 2009.

"It is tough now and it's going to get worse. There are going to be a lot of empty theatres in January and the big, expensive productions will be struggling in particular," said a source.

Adrian Bryan-Brown, a Broadway publicist, said producers were "being more aggressive in being consumer friendly", including discounting ticket prices and putting on more daytime shows to appeal to families.

Roger Berlind, a veteran Broadway producer and a director of Lehman Brothers, told Bloomberg News: "I have nothing in the pipeline and it's a very happy state to be in. We're all impacted by the economy."

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

OBT: Phil in the news

Kuhlman remembered by friends
Conor Harrison, The Daily Times, Published December 4, 2008


Playhouse 2000 lost one of its own this week when Phil Kuhlman, 26, succumbed to cancer.

According to best friend and Playhouse 2000 director Jeff Cunningham, Kuhlman had battled the disease since around Easter 2006.

“He woke up one morning paralyzed, and the doctors found a tumor that was destroying bone in his back. He spent years in physical therapy and had a clean MRI in August. In September, the cancer had returned.”

Kuhlman was very active in Playhouse 2000, moving from a stage hand to roles in “Watership Down”, “Biloxi Blues” and “Dearly Departed.”

“The 2006 season really belonged to him,” Cunningham said.

Kuhlman’s passion, along with acting, was horror writing.

“That was his passion,” Cunningham said. “He was published in Shroud Magazine, and he has a lot of unpublished stuff that his mom and I are trying to get published.”

Along with his artistic talents, Kuhlman will be missed for the joy he brought to others — especially his stage family.

“He was more than just a talent,” said friend and co-worker Jessica Roberts. “Phil was like a long-lost brother to me. He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. Just talking with him was great because he was so well versed and so smart. You weren’t afraid to be exactly who you were in front of him.”

Kuhlman’s self-deprecating humor is a trait that will be most missed by his friends.

“He was the funniest guy I’ve ever met,” said Heather Cunningham. “He had a unique way of never making anything too serious. He could look at a situation a lot of people would get very emotional about and he could get to the bottom of the issue quickly. He had an innate sense of comic timing, and he was one of the most talented writers I’ve ever read.”

The last few months were a roller coaster for Kuhlman’s friends because he would get better and then regress.

“As much as you try to prepare for this, it still hasn’t hit us,” Heather Cunningham said. “He was such a big part of this place.”

In a tight-knit group like Playhouse 2000, not having Kuhlman around will be a change.

“We are all kind of sociopaths here in our family,” Jeff Cunningham said laughingly. “Not killers — but sociopathic joy. He fit right in. He never gave up. He brought a lot of joy to other people — a lot of his talent went unrealized because he spent so much of his time helping others. He was joy without concern.”

“He strove to reach so many goals — that he accomplished. His sheer determination was amazing.”

Jeff Cunningham said cancer awareness, along with education, will be two things in which the theater will become more involved.

“All the things Phil didn’t get a chance to do, it is now our duty to do those things.”

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

OBT: Phil Kuhlman

the most naturally funny guy i know, with a heart of gold . . . we miss you Phil . . .

Phillip Alexander "Phil" Kuhlman, age 26 of Kerrville, TX passed away Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at his residence. He was born December 20, 1981 in Galveston, TX to William Dee Philip and Myrtle (Taylor) Kuhlman.

Phil graduated from Bandera High School in 2001. He was active in the Point Theater and was a stage manager and actor at the Cailloux Theater. Phil was a published writer. The proceeds from his publications goes to the American Cancer Society. He was of the Christian faith.

Survivors include parents, William Dee Kuhlman of Mason, TX and Myrtle Kuhlman of Kerrville, TX; grandparents, Scooter and Sheila Fries of Bandera, TX and Glen and Sandy Kuhlman of Pearland, TX; son, Napoleon Alexander Kuhlman of Wisconsin; sisters, Kristen and Dedrah Kuhlman of Kerrville, TX; niece, Skyelar Kuhlman and nephews, Zane Cenicerous, Trey Sheeds and James Sheeds.

Visitation will be held Thursday, December 4, 2008, 5-7 PM at Grimes Funeral Chapels of Kerrville.

Services will be held at the Kathleen Cailloux Theater on Friday, December 5, 2008 at 10 AM. Burial will follow in the Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Converse, TX.

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OBT: Odetta

one of my fondest enduring memories is of Lyle and i taking Odetta to eat menudo at some tiny Houston joint in the dead of early a.m. after a show one night. she had joked about asong she'd written about Winnie the Pooh (one of her best known originals, so this was likely a standard joke, but . . . ) that someone asked her if the song too was written by A.A. Milne, and she said, no it was written by O.O. Detta. . . peace to you too O.

Folk music legend Odetta dies at 77
Prominent voice from the civil rights movement succumbed to heart disease
The Associated Press, updated 2:00 a.m. CT, Wed., Dec. 3, 2008

NEW YORK - Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.

Odetta died Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago, he said.

In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished, Yeager said.

"The power would just come out of her like people wouldn't believe," he said.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.

First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.

An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.

"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer," Time magazine wrote in 1960.

"She is a keening Irishwoman in `Foggy Dew,' a chain-gang convict in `Take This Hammer,' a deserted lover in `Lass from the Low Country,'" Time wrote.

Active in civil rights movement
Odetta called on her fellow blacks to "take pride in the history of the American Negro" and was active in the civil rights movement. When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, "Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," The New York Times wrote.

She was nominated for a 1963 Grammy award for best folk recording for "Odetta Sings Folk Songs." Two more Grammy nominations came in recent years, for her 1999 "Blues Everywhere I Go" and her 2005 album "Gonna Let It Shine."

In 1999, she was honored with a National Medal of the Arts. Then-President Bill Clinton said her career showed "us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world."

"I'm not a real folksinger," she told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing."

Among her notable early works were her 1956 album "Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues," which included such songs as "Muleskinner Blues" and "Jack O' Diamonds"; and her 1957 "At the Gate of Horn," which featured the popular spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

Her 1965 album "Odetta Sings Dylan" included such standards as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Masters of War" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." Dylan said he found "just something vital and personal" when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. "Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar," he said.

Belafonte also cited her as a key influence on his hugely successful recording career, and she was a guest singer on his 1960 album, "Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall."

She continued to record in recent years; her 2001 album "Looking for a Home (Thanks to Leadbelly)" paid tribute to the great blues singer to whom she was sometimes compared.

Odetta's last big concert was on Oct. 4 at San Francisco's Golden State Park, where she performed in front of tens of thousands at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, Yeager said. She also performed Oct. 25-26 in Toronto.

Odetta hoped to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, though she had not been officially invited, Yeager said.

Born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1930, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 6. Her father had died when she was young and she took her stepfather's last name, Felious. Hearing her in glee club, a junior high school teacher made sure she got music lessons, but Odetta became interested in folk music in her late teens and turned away from classical studies.

She got much of her early experience at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where she sang and played occasional stage roles in the early 1950s.

"What power of characterization and projection of mood are hers, even though plainly clad and sitting or standing in half light!" a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in 1955.

Occasional acting roles
Over the years, she picked up occasional acting roles in TV and film. None other than famed Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper reported in 1961 that she "comes through beautifully" in the film "Sanctuary."

In the Washington Post interview, Odetta theorized that humans developed music and dance because of fear, "fear of God, fear that the sun would not come back, many things. I think it developed as a way of worship or to appease something. ... The world hasn't improved, and so there's always to sing about."

Odetta is survived by a daughter, Michelle Esrick of New York City, and a son, Boots Jaffre, of Fort Collins, Colorado. She was divorced about 40 years ago and never remarried, her manager said.

A memorial service was planned for next month, Yeager said.

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