23 October 2014

History for the day

On 23 October 1983, a suicide truck-bombing at the airport in Beirut, Lebanon killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers; a near-simultaneous attack on French forces (photo) killed 58 paratroopers.


Rico says that his recent boat trip (and the resultant intimate living conditions) to New England with his father led to the realization that certain physical characteristics had definitely been inherited from his mother's side, rather than from his father:
No baldness, that's good.
As for wedding tackle, on the other hand, Rico got short-changed, being hung like a hamster...

22 October 2014


Rico says he knows, every time the ladyfriend comes home, exactly how the guy feels...

Fidel attacks 'lies' about his health

The BBC has an article about Castro's health:
Cuba's revolutionary former leader Fidel Castro has written a strongly-worded article condemning persistent rumors that he is on his death bed. The 86-year-old attacked international media "lies", and published photos of himself in Cuba's state media. He said he was in good health, and could not even remember the last time he had a headache.
Venezuelan politician Elias Jaua said recently that he had a five-hour meeting with Castro the previous day. He presented a photo of the encounter, and said the former Cuban leader was "very well, very lucid".
The last images of Castro to be made public had been from March of 2014, when the Cuban ex-leader briefly met Pope Benedict during the pontiff's visit to the Communist island.
Castro's long absence from the public stage had fueled rumors on social media sites that his health had deteriorated, or that he may even have died. "Although a lot of people in the world are taken in by the organs of information, almost all of which are in the hands of the privileged and the rich that publish these stupidities, people are increasingly believing less and less in them," Castro said in his article. He went on to say that he was keeping himself busy writing and studying, but had decided to step back from public life "because it certainly is not my role to occupy the pages of our newspaper". He finished off by saying: "I don't even remember what a headache is. To show what liars they are, I'm offering these photos to accompany this article."
A series of photos, taken by his son Alex, show him outside wearing a straw hat and a checked shirt. In some photos, he is reading Friday's copy of the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
Castro led Cuba after the revolution in 1959, first as prime minister (1959-1976), and later as president. In 2006, surgery took Fidel Castro out of public view. His brother Raul became acting president. In February of 2008, Castro officially handed over power to Raul, who has been leading the country since then.
Rico says it's not that he doesn't wish the guy well, he's just gotta die (along with, if possible, his brother Raul) in the next year, so that Rico can more easily attend the Sesquicentennial of the arrive of the Confederate ship CSS Stonewall in Havana next May...

Idiots for the day

Buzzfeed.com has an article by Ellie Hall about three teenagers out for some excitement:
Three teenage girls from Denver, Colorado were apprehended in Germany by the FBI as they were allegedly on their way to join Islamic militant groups in Syria, including ISIS (photo), law enforcement officials said recently.
The girls are fifteen to sixteen years old, officials told ABC News, noting that this is not the first case of American high schoolers attempting to travel to the Middle East to join militants.
“The FBI Denver Division is aware of the situation and assisted with bringing the individuals back to Denver,” spokesperson Sue Payne told BuzzFeed News via email. “They are safe and reunited with their parents.”
Voice of America News reported that the girls left Denver on Friday, 17 October 2014, and flew to Frankfurt, Germany via Chicago, Illinois. When they were discovered missing, their family members alerted Denver authorities, who contacted German law enforcement, who intercepted the girls at Frankfurt Airport. One of the young women reportedly told German officers that she and the two other girls were “going to Turkey to study.” The young women have not been identified, although the VOA reported that two of the girls are sisters and Somalian and the other is Sudanese.
Rico says it was bad enough when he figured it was three teenage boys, but to find out they were girls only adds to their stupidity...

Ride 2 Recovery

Rico says his old Claris-days friend Mate forwards this triumphant note. Check out the photos on his Facebook page.

Thanks for the support. I did it. All 484+ miles and over 28,200-plus-feet cumulative altitude gain. One day, on the Big Sur Coast, I logged 105 miles and 10,857 feet in nine hours. On the handcycle it is like lifting weights for nine hours straight.
Lots of pictures on Facebook at "Ride 2 Recovery". Probably had more pictures taken of me on this ride than I have had in my entire life. Being on a handcycle put me at the front of our Delta group and near the front when all groups rode as one. Interviews and pictures in many news articles down the California coast. They like disabled vets on adaptive cycles. Good copy.  The upright bike riders call us (handcyclists and recumbent cyclists) "low riders" for obvious reasons. All in good humor and with affection.
Now I want to keep this up with future rides. Never had so many people mention my "big pair of guns" before. {;-> Not bad for an broken "old fogey". Who know what else can be accomplished, if I can just get my life straightened out a little.
There is no way I could have done this without the support and encouragement of lots of people.


Actress faces lewd conduct charge

The BBC has an article about yet another idiot from Hollywood:
An actress who alleged she was detained by Los Angeles, California police because of racial profiling, after being found in a parked car with her boyfriend, has been charged with committing a lewd act in public.
Daniele Watts (photo), who appeared in Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained, was handcuffed after refusing to show ID.
The LAPD said its officers had responded to a report that a couple were exposed indecently inside a silver Mercedes. Both Watts and her boyfriend have been charged with one count of lewd conduct.
The 28-year-old African-American actress and her white partner, Brian James Lucas, face up to six months in jail and a thousand dollar fine if convicted. Both remain free pending a further case hearing due to take place on 13 November 2014.
Watts used social media to complain about the 11 September 2014 incident in Studio City, north of Los Angeles, claiming her rights had been violated.
In subsequent interviews, Watts and her boyfriend, a celebrity chef who specializes in raw food, insisted they had only been showing public affection and that nothing improper had been taking place. Watts and Lucas, 43, have since faced criticism for appearing to suggest their respective races played a role in the confrontation.
Rico says that he knows that 'Hollywood idiot' is redundant, but what else can you call 'em? (And, given the racial makeup of the LAPD, race probably didn't matter to the cops...)

Oops is, yet again, a military term

The BBC has an article about a 'stray Syrian air drop':
The Defense Department has said it is examining an Islamic State (IS) video (above) appearing to show militants in control of weapons intended for Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Some two dozen bundles containing small arms, ammunition, and other weaponry were dropped for militias defending the town of Kobane from IS. A Pentagon spokesman said the vast majority ended up in the right hands. Kurdish forces control most of the town, but IS remains a threat, he said.
Militants launched a fierce attack "on all fronts" in Kobane after two days of relative calm when the town's defenders appeared to have pushed them back.
But Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said IS had been kept at bay by a combination of US-led air strikes and the efforts of the Kurdish forces.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that thirty IS fighters and eleven Kurdish defenders were killed on Tuesday, adding that the Islamists were bringing in reinforcements.
Kobane, on the Turkish border, has been been under assault from IS for weeks, with most civilians forced to leave. The new fighting came as Turkey said it would allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria to fight IS.
However, a local Kurdish official, Idris Nassen, said he did not have "any idea" when this might happen, the AFP news agency reported.
Recently, the US military said it had carried out airdrops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Kurdish fighters. It said that 27 bundles had been dropped. A later statement said one bundle went astray but was destroyed to prevent it falling into enemy hands, and that all the others were safely delivered.
But a video uploaded to the internet by a media group loyal to IS showed a cache of weapons, apparently dropped by the US, in militant hands. Activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said militants had seized one cache.
Rear Admiral Kirby said he could not confirm that the video was authentic. "They are certainly of the kinds of material that was dropped, so it's not out of the realm of the possible in that regard," he said. "When we have something definitive that we can provide in terms of an assessment on that we'll do that," he added.
The IS advance in Syria takes place against the backdrop of the civil war. US-led air strikes are being conducted there without the permission of President Bashar al-Assad, who the West wants to relinquish power.
In Iraq, the air campaign is taking place with the co-operation of the government. The advance of IS there earlier this year has taken it to close to the capital, Baghdad. It still threatens the city, having taken over most of the western Anbar province in recent weeks.
IS is thought to be responsible for a series of bombings in Baghdad over the past few days which have left dozens of people dead. On Tuesday at least twelve were killed in a double car bomb attack in the Talibiya district, populated mostly by Shi'ites, in eastern Baghdad.
An earlier version of this article wrongly referred to the contents of the airdrops in Kobane as "US weapons". The weapons were, in fact, supplied by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.
Rico says they may have been supplied by the Kurds, but they damn sure were built in the USA...

Came for justice, got insulted

Ronnie Polaneczky has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about bad justice:
It was a mess. I didn't think it would be. I thought that a hearing called last week by US Bankruptcy Judge Jean FitzSimon (photo, right) would bring at least a whiff of justice to the screwed customers of Autosource, a now-defunct used-car dealership. But there was only the stench of dissembling from lawyers and impatience from FitzSimon for people who expected more forbearance from a powerful judge.
The sour cherry on this tale of little guys hosed by greed? They were paid up, but repo man hooked 'em.
FitzSimon tossed from the courtroom two citizens who passionately took issue with what appeared to be the judge's lack of interest in the hardship of the Autosource victims.
She then denounced the two as "apes". "I should not have used that word," FitzSimon told me yesterday. "It just came out. I should have said they were acting like braying donkeys or unruly kids. But they were disrespecting the court, and I was frustrated. I have never had to remove anyone from my courtroom before."
The roots of the misery (which I wrote about three weeks ago) started last spring. That's when the vehicles of at least a dozen Autosource customers were repossessed by Avangard, a finance company they'd never heard of.
In 2012, Avangard had given Autosource a $250,000 line of credit to finance its car inventory. Avangard would hold liens on the car titles until the vehicles sold.
But Autosource never alerted Avangard to all sales nor forwarded enough proceeds to the company. Instead, in February of 2014, Autosource filed for bankruptcy. So Avangard repossessed the cars. Even though the buyers were current on the loans they'd gotten to purchase the vehicles. And even though their cars weren't on the list of autos approved by FitzSimon for repo.
The buyers aren't rich. They're working-class people who pride themselves on paying the bills they incur. One is a disabled Army veteran whose wife has sickle-cell disease and whose son is battling cancer. Another is a prison guard. Another is a young working man who commutes to New York to help out his mom.
The repossessions have ruined their finances, or destroyed their credit, or both.
Frantic, some buyers sought help last month from the city's consumer advocate, Lance Haver. He advised them to write FitzSimon to request an "emergency" hearing, since the repossessions happened as a result of bankruptcy proceedings that FitzSimon oversaw. In response, the judge scheduled last week's "status" hearing.
FitzSimon told me that the hearing in US Bankruptcy Court at 9th and Market was for the buyers to meet with Avangard's attorney, Dominique Ward, who claimed to know nothing about the repossessions.
But the buyers didn't know that. They thought they were summoned to tell their stories so that FitzSimon could take action against Avangard.
So they were taken aback when, off the bat, FitzSimon said she had no standing, as a bankruptcy judge, to make Avangard do anything. The buyers would have to take their complaints to state court.
That's mostly true, says attorney William Bensley, representing several of the buyers. But, he said, judges like FitzSimon can still get creative with their clout. "I was hoping that she would put Avangard on the spot and order them to explain, on the record, the legal basis for what they did and explain why she shouldn't step in."
In other words, just because FitzSimon had no standing doesn't mean she had no power.
Haver, who attended the hearing, had the moxie to tell her so. He asked her to please do something to give the victims some justice. She insisted she couldn't. He insisted she could. She told him to pipe down. He asked more questions. So she booted him from the courtroom.
"He wouldn't let the others speak," FitzSimon told me in a subsequent conversation.
That's not what I saw. Haver was simply the first to speak. He was eloquent and impassioned, as he usually is when it comes to speaking up for the wronged.
After Haver was ousted, FitzSimon asked if anyone else cared to speak. After what just happened, I didn't think anyone would have the guts to utter another word in the judge's cavernous, intimidating courtroom.
But Jonathan Frissora took the plunge. He's carrying two car loans; one for the car he traded to Autosource for a new car, another to pay off the first car and the balance due on the second. But Autosource kept his money, then Avangard took his car.
FitzSimon reiterated her powerlessness, but allowed Frissora to confront Avangard's lawyer.
Things got heated, yes. For two months, Frissora has been paying loans for cars he does not have. Autosource and Avangard have blown him off. And the repo company that took his car hasn't let him retrieve personal items from his vehicle. So he was fired up when he finally got chance to say his piece in a place where victims are supposed to be given a fair shot. And when the judge told him to pipe down, he pushed back, not disrespectfully or abusively, as the judge saw it, but insistently.
He got escorted from the courtroom, too. But not before FitzSimon used the "ape" word to describe him and Haver.
The room gasped. Frissora recoiled. I don't yet have the court transcript, so I can only paraphrase what Frissora said, which was akin to, "I've been wronged and I come here for help and you call me an ape?" The court adjourned soon after.
In the hallway, the buyers gathered shakily, no closer to justice than they'd been for months. Attorney Bensley offered to begin filing paperwork in state court on their behalf. And Haver remained disgusted by FitzSimon. "She could have found a way to help, to make a difference," he said. "Instead, she found a way to do nothing."
Not to defend FitzSimon, but I don't believe she used "ape" as the racial slur it has come to be for African-Americans. After all, Frissora is Puerto Rican, Haver is white, and the group who came to FitzSimon for help was racially mixed. But she meant it to insult people who, summoned to a hearing, were naive enough to think they'd be heard.
Shame on her.
Rico says he's happy he doesn't have this problem; he'd go ape, too...

Ex-police dispatcher gets fourteen months

Julie Shaw has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about a local crook:
At first, Dorian Parsley just shrugged. The former civilian police dispatcher seemed at a loss for words at her sentencing hearing before a Federal judge. Then the words tumbled out. "I lost a lot of things," she said. "I continue to lose a lot of things."
She lost the trust of her daughter, mother, and grandmother. She told the judge she took cash bribes from tow-truck operators in exchange for secretly texting them accident locations and driver information "because I needed to take care of my family".
Parsley, 44, told the judge: "What I did was wrong. I have to pay for my actions. I'm sorry for what I did and, if I could go back and change it, I would." After she sat down, she took off her glasses and wiped away tears.
US District Judge Eduardo Robreno sentenced Parsley to fourteen months in prison, below the advisory guideline range. He said a prison term was important to deter others, but took into account her cooperation with the feds.
Parsley was indicted in May of 2014 along with William Cheeseman, co-owner of the K&B auto-body shop on Kinsey Street near Worth in Frankford, Pennsylvania, and two tow-truck operators, Stepfon Flowers and Chad Harris, who at times worked for K&B.
From 2011 to 2013, Parsley took more than $35,000 in bribes from the three men. In exchange, she secretly texted them the locations of car accidents, giving them an unfair advantage over other tow-truck operators. The city had instituted a new rotational-towing system in 2011, after a series of violent encounters among tow-truck operators competing for business. In 2010, a Philadelphia tow-truck driver killed a rival operator.
Assistant US Attorney Kevin Brenner said Parsley, after being approached by the Feds, provided "substantial information" to his office and the FBI, helping the investigation, including confirming the identities of two of her co-defendants, Flowers and Harris. She agreed to go undercover and wear a recording device, and had covertly taken bribes from Flowers and Cheeseman, he said.
Parsley pleaded guilty in July of 2014 to one count each of conspiracy, solicitation of a bribe, and honest-services fraud. Brenner said he believed her pleading guilty had prompted her co-defendants to also plead guilty in the case.
Parsley's attorney, Jonathan Sobel, said his client is a caring person and was, for the most part, a good city worker. Parsley will begin her prison sentence on 5 December 2014.
Rico says he should have committed murder, like Pastorius, and gotten house arrest. (But, with a name like Dorian Parsley, you're gonna go bad...)


Rishi Iyengar has a Time article about King Tut and his parents:
A "virtual autopsy" conducted on the Egyptian king Tutankhamun revealed that he had several genetic disorders, most likely because of inbreeding, according to an upcoming documentary on the legendary pharaoh.
The Egyptian king, who ruled from 1332 BC to 1323 BC, is believed to have died at age nineteen from medical complications following a leg fracture in a chariot accident. However, a recently conducted “virtual autopsy” revealed that he had a clubfoot that would have made riding a chariot close to impossible, according to The Independent.
“It was important to look at his ability to ride on a chariot, and we concluded it would not be possible for him, especially with his partially clubbed foot, as he was unable to stand unaided,” said Professor Albert Zink, head of Italy’s Institute for Mummies and Icemen. However, Zink made it clear that a lot of research has yet to be done.
A simultaneously conducted genetic analysis of Tutankhamun’s family also revealed that his parents might have been brother and sister, resulting in genetic impairments that, Zink says, may have weakened him and contributed to his death. There were over a hundred walking sticks discovered in his tomb.
The new research is part of a BBC documentary called Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered, which will air on 26 October 2014.
Rico says one can only say (like the Brits) 'tut, tut', though incest was more common among royals of the period...

Apple for the day

The New York Times has an article by Molly Wood about Apple Pay:
After I used Apple Pay for a day of shopping in stores, a few things became clear: the new payment system is convenient, problem-free and even fun.
The same can’t be said for using Apple Pay to shop via apps on my phone or tablet. That system has lots of room for improvement. It’s limited, still buggy and seemed to result in multiple charges for some purchases, at least on Day One.
Apple Pay, which was released on Monday, lets owners of the new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus store credit card information on their phones and then pay in stores using tap-to-pay wireless terminals. People can also buy items on their phone through some apps.
Any store that has a contact-less terminal installed— usually a small screen where you can also swipe your credit card or enter PINs— should be able to accept a payment from an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Apple says more than two hundred thousand merchants now support contact-less payments. A select few of those will actually be labeled with an Apple Pay sticker or other branding; you’ll notice them at Whole Foods and Macy’s, for example.
When you’re ready to pay at a store with a contact-less terminal, you hold your iPhone close to the device. The Apple Pay interface opens and shows the credit card you have set as the default. You can then change cards or just put your finger on the fingerprint reader to complete the purchase.
It’s wildly simple, although the process might be slightly different depending on what store you’re in. At Whole Foods, where I spent under a hundred dollars on groceries, I simply held up the phone, gave it my thumbprint, got my receipt, and left.
Some older store terminals still require a signature if a purchase is over a certain amount (usually $25 or $50). I bought a dress at Bloomingdale’s, an early Apple Pay partner, and had to sign for it after tapping to pay.
The same happened at the clothing retailer Zara, which isn’t an official Apple Pay partner, but which accepts contact-less payments. In that case, I still had to choose debit or credit and then sign, but my wallet stayed in my purse.
The setup is a breeze, too. You turn it on by going to Settings, selecting Passbook, and then Apple Pay. Or you can open the Passbook app and turn it on from there. You’ll have to have a credit card stored in your iTunes account (Apple Pay doesn’t support PayPal) and you can store multiple cards in the Passbook app.
Adding cards is easy; you can use the phone’s camera to enter the numbers and expiration date, or enter them manually. Most credit cards from major banks will work, although some smaller credit union cards or store-specific cards may not.
When you are ready to pay, you don’t have to turn on the phone or unlock it. If you are near a terminal and have an app open, like Facebook, the phone turns automatically to the Apple Pay interface. And in most cases, once you press the fingerprint reader, the transaction is over.
Apple says the system is more secure than a traditional credit card payment, because Apple Pay doesn’t send an actual credit card number to the merchant. Instead, it sends a one-time code that allows the purchase to be completed. And Apple says it doesn’t see or keep a record of purchases.
Paying for items through apps turned out to be far more problematic. In apps that support Apple Pay, you choose items and then, when you’re ready to pay, you tap the Apple Pay option and put your thumb or finger on the fingerprint reader to complete the purchase. This works on the new iPhones and also with the new iPads that Apple unveiled last week, but the iPads can’t be used to buy things in physical stores.
With apps, Apple must rely on developers to include the payment system, and then to include it properly. So far, not many apps support the feature; fewer than twenty now, with some more coming in the spring. The apps now working with Apple Pay include Target, Panera Bread, the Disney Store, and Uber, the car-sharing service.
Many of those apps aren’t everyday mobile shopping destinations for most people. And notable omissions include the mobile shopping giant eBay (parent company of PayPal, a competitor to Apple Pay) and Amazon. Neither Amazon nor Apple would comment on whether they were discussing Apple Pay integration.
I shopped for items using the Target app and, instead of creating a new user ID and password and then entering a credit card, I just tapped the Apple Pay button and used my fingerprint to complete checkout. That was nice. But I did have to enter my shipping address before I could check out, and, annoyingly, I couldn’t add multiple items to my cart and then check out; I had to pay for them individually using Apple Pay.
Uber initially let me request a car without signing in, but the app made me sign in after the car had been requested,and then asked for an email and phone number. The multiple steps caused Apple Pay to authorize three separate payments of the Uber base fare.
Something similar happened when I used the Instacart app to order groceries. Each time I tried to check out, the order appeared successful and I got a charge notification. But then I got an error saying the order didn’t actually go through because of a formatting problem. My bank saw three separate charges, although Instacart assured me the problem was fixed and I wouldn’t be overcharged. I talked to Apple and Instacart about the issue, and it appears that the formatting of the data was misinterpreted along the way, a technical problem fixed later in the day. Still, I’ll need to be stalking my credit card statements for weeks to come.
So Apple Pay seems to be halfway there. Shopping in stores using the service was carefree and futuristic, but the app experience will obviously be harder to get right. Still, Apple Pay is already the most promising digital payment option on the market. I suspect my wallet is about to start spending a lot more time in my purse.
Rico says he'll wait awhile to try it...

Good idea for the day

Rico says his friend Kema is applying to these guys for a grant; hope she gets it.

History for the day

On 22 October 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced an air and naval blockade of Cuba, following the discovery of Soviet missile bases on the island.

Rico says that, fifty-two years later, poor Cuba is still off-limits for Americans, thus fucking up his plans to attend the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the CSS Stonewall next year...

Quote for the day

"It would be a sad day for this country if an impression was created that there is one law for the poor and disadvantaged
and another for the rich and famous."

Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, sentencing Oscar Pistorius, the South African track star, to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend.

Another obituary for the day

The New York Times has an obituary by Marilyn Berger about the passing of Ben Bradlee:
Bradlee, a quintessential newspaper editor, supervised The Washington Post's exposure of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
Rico says they should be erecting statues in his honor...  (And the photo is a twofer: Bradlee and Apple.)

Communicating between brains

Delanceyplace.com has a selection from When Two Brains Connect by Rajesh P.N. Rao and Andrea Stocco:
Rao and Stocco are the first to successfully allow one human brain to communicate an intention directly to another human brain:
Technologies known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are now beginning to allow paralyzed individuals to control, say, a computer cursor or a prosthetic limb with their brain signals. In 2010, Rao had a realization: perhaps we could use this same principle to beam thoughts from one human brain to another. Imagine if a teacher could convey a mathematical proof to your brain, nonverbally. Or perhaps a medical student could learn a complex surgical skill straight from a mentor's mind. In short, we would use one person's brain data to produce a specific pattern of neural activity in another individual.We decided to test our brain-to-brain interface by seeing if we could play a simple two-player video game. After students in our labs spent months writing computer code and integrating the technologies, on 12 August 2013, we finally tried out our setup. Rao took on the role of the sender of information, and Stocco assumed the part of the receiver. In the game, a pirate ship is shooting rockets at a city. The goal is to fire a cannon to intercept each rocket. Rao alone could see the screen displaying the game. But only Stocco could press the button to fire the cannon. At just the right moment, Rao had to form the intention to shoot and, a few seconds later, Stocco would receive the intention and press the button. Rao (photo, left) donned a tight-fitting cap studded with 32 electrodes, which measure fluctuations in electrical activity at different locations across the head. At any given time, distinct populations of neurons may be oscillating at many different frequencies. When he imagined moving a hand, the EEG electrodes registered a telltale signature that our software could detect. The giveaway was a drop in the low-frequency oscillations in Rao's brain. We used that signature as our cue to send a command over the Internet to stimulate Stocco's brain. Stocco (photo, right) did not register the impulse consciously, but his right hand moved anyway. The stimulation caused his hand to lift, and when it fell it hit a keyboard and fired the cannon. Success! For the first time, a human brain had communicated an intention directly to another human brain, allowing the two brains to jointly complete a task. As we played the game, we got better and better, to the point where in our last run, we intercepted the pirate rockets with almost hundred percent accuracy. Rao learned how to imagine moving his hand in a consistent manner, giving the computer a chance to make sense of his EEG brain data. Stocco found that he did not know his wrist was moving until he felt or saw his hand in motion.We have now replicated our findings with several other pairs of humans. Not every trial went perfectly in these experiments, but in all cases, whenever an intention was correctly detected by the EEG system, the information was communicated directly to the receiver's brain using TMS. Throughout the experiment, both subjects were conscious of each other's roles and willingly cooperated to solve a mutually agreed-on task. When a pirate rocket gets hit, the sender knows that his or her partner's brain enacted a movement in response to the sender's own brain activity. We believe this conscious cooperation between subjects is the ultimate goal of true brain-to-brain communication, something that may be hard to achieve with animal studies.
Rico says that the person who figures out how to stimulate the naughty areas of the brain will either win a Nobel Prize, or get very rich...

Internet abuse for the day

Rico says that, despite his pleading to stop, IndiePix.com continues to email him repeatedly with this bullshit:

Therefore, Rico will never support their act again...

Obituary for the day

The BBC notes the passing of Oscar de la Renta:
Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who dressed former first ladies Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, has died at the age of 82, his family has confirmed.
De La Renta, who most recently designed Amal Clooney's wedding dress, was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.
Born in the Dominican Republic in 1932, he left home at eighteen to study painting in Madrid, Spain. He soon developed a love of fashion design, and began an apprenticeship with Spain's designer Cristobal Balenciaga.
De la Renta made his name in the early 1960s when the then-first lady, Jackie Kennedy, frequently wore his designs. He launched his own label several years later.
Over the following decades he dressed nearly every first lady up to and including Michelle Obama, who he once chided for not wearing American designers.
Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush all opted for De la Renta gowns. Laura Bush described the designer as "the man who made women look and feel beautiful".
Mrs Obama eventually made her first appearance in one of his dresses at a White House reception in October of 2013.
At a ceremony honoring the designer this year, Hillary Clinton heaped praise upon De la Renta: "This man has been working for more than twenty years to turn me into a fashion icon," she said.
He rose to further prominence after being chosen by Amal Alamuddin to design the gown for her wedding to George Clooney: "George and I wanted a wedding that was romantic and elegant, and I can't imagine anyone more able than Oscar to capture this mood in a dress," Mrs. Clooney told Vogue. "Meeting him made the design process all the more magical, as he is so warm and such a gentleman."
Laura Bush, wife of President George W. Bush, was another of the designer's fans
De la Renta passed away at his home in Connecticut, reports say. The cause of his death was not immediately clear, although he had been diagnosed with cancer.
His stepdaughter, Eliza Reed Bolan, said in a statement that De la Renta had passed away surrounded by family and friends and "more than a few dogs. While our hearts are broken by the idea of life without Oscar, he is still very much with us," the statement said. "All that we have done, and all that we will do, is informed by his values and his spirit."
Rico says it's not a big hole in his world, but fashion will miss the guy...

21 October 2014

Stay home, then

Jim Yardley has an article in The New York Times about people not making it to their intended destination:
On the last morning, only four of the survivors remained. Two sets of Palestinian brothers, exhausted and adrift in the Mediterranean beneath a blazing white sun. The Awadallah brothers were delirious. Mohammed saw vampires rising from the waves. Ibrahim kept removing his life jacket, imagining himself at home in Gaza, changing his clothes.
Nearby, Mamoun Doghmosh, 27, propped up his younger brother, Amin, 24, who was weak and hallucinating. Nearly four days had passed since their overcrowded migrant boat had capsized on 9 September 2014, after being rammed by another vessel following an apparent quarrel between smugglers.
At least three hundred people trying to reach Europe are estimated to have died in one of the Mediterranean’s worst disasters. For those few who survived, an enduring memory would be the ruthlessness of the smugglers, who extorted money during the land journey out of Gaza and then mocked the migrants as they flailed in the water.
“They wanted to kill us,” said Mohammed Awadallah, 23. “They started circling us, laughing at us.”
Today, the business of smuggling refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean into Europe has become a hugely profitable, if deadly, enterprise, with more than three thousand people believed to have died so far this year. One United Nations official estimated that, in 2014, smugglers on those routes would gross more than a billion dollars, with sophisticated operations that sometimes overlap with criminal gangs who traffic in arms and drugs.
For Europe, the enormous influx of migrants and refugees has stirred both sympathy and resentment, while presenting a policy conundrum: the humanitarian imperative of rescuing the desperate at sea versus the economic and political burden of absorbing them.
With illegal migration very likely to keep growing, one question is whether to expand legal migration. With policing in disarray along the North African coastline, the smuggling networks are thriving. “It is a huge coastline and next to impossible to patrol all of it,” said Masood Karimipour, regional representative in Cairo, Egypt for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for the Middle East and North Africa. “It’s only going to get worse with the dislocation of people.”
The journey of the Awadallah and Doghmosh brothers, involving an elaborate network of smugglers, bus drivers, and safe houses, illustrates how quickly these human smuggling routes have coalesced in response to upheaval in the Arab world.
Last year, Syria became a locus of outbound migration, and now a growing number of Palestinians have been fleeing Gaza following Israel’s summertime war with Hamas. Escaping from Gaza meant crawling through smuggling tunnels and then sprinting across the desert. For each of the four men, who were trying to reach relatives in Sweden, the cost was roughly four thousand dollars, a figure that, if applied to all the migrants on the doomed boat, means that smugglers grossed over a million dollars from a single, fatal journey.
“Life in Gaza is like having no life,” said Mamoun Doghmosh, explaining why he and others took the risks to try to reach Europe. “Everything is destroyed.”
For the Awadallah brothers, Israeli shelling had destroyed their apartment and the motorbike they used to earn money by making deliveries. Homeless and jobless, they decided to join an uncle in Sweden, and began looking for a smuggler. “People started giving us phone numbers and we got the number for Abu Sharaf,” said Mohammed Awadallah. “He told us everything would be legal.”
In interviews in Gaza, several people identified Abu Sharaf al-Massri as a well-known smuggler. He could not be reached for comment but his cousin, Samir al-Massri, said Abu Sharaf was connected with smugglers in Egypt, who arranged for transportation and safe houses through the Sinai to the Egyptian coast and, finally, onto boats.
Palestinians with proper paperwork can enter Egypt legally through a border crossing at Rafah. For those trying to reach Europe, the usual practice is to buy a fake Egyptian visa stamp— in case they are stopped on the Egyptian side— and escape through the tunnels.
The Doghmosh brothers, who also used Abu Sharaf, led a small family group out of Gaza that included two young nephews and a close friend. The Doghmosh and Awadallah brothers left on different days with different groups, as curtained vans delivered them to one of the smuggling tunnels near the town of Khan Younis.
There, they descended about seventy feet down a ladder and crawled on their elbows underground for more than a mile. The Awadallahs spent three hours crawling in the damp, dark tunnel and nine hours waiting at the Egyptian end for a signal to exit.
There, a smuggler opened the hatch, even as Egyptian border guards started firing. “He started shouting, ‘Run! Run! Run!′ ” Mohammed Awadallah recalled. They ran until another group of smugglers pushed them into a car.
First, though, the Awadallah brothers say the smugglers demanded $50 or $100 as a bribe for returning their passports. For the next several days or so, the smugglers shuttled them to a vacated safe house, then to a darkened bus stop and finally to a tall building in a densely populated city that they assumed was Alexandria.
Three hours later, they got a call: they were leaving now. As they hustled to board buses, they discovered that hundreds of other migrants were emptying out of the building.
By some estimates, as many as one million migrants are hiding on the North African coast, from Libya to Egypt, during the peak summer months, waiting for boats. In Egypt, smuggling in Alexandria and nearby ports has risen sharply since the Syrian exodus began in 2013, when five to seven boats left every week. Now five to seven boats leave every day.
Ahmed el-Chazli and Muhammed al-Kashef, who monitor illegal immigration in Alexandria for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights group, said smugglers in Egypt now offer the equivalent of a rate card, with higher fees during the summer, when sea conditions are less risky. A basic package costs two thousand dollars per person, which includes only water to drink. Prices rise if a migrant wants a single meal per day. The most expensive package is roughly four thousand dollars for passage directly to Albania, a landing point that shortens the land route to Scandinavian countries that offer more help to many refugees.
The two Egyptian researchers have identified three main smuggling rings; networks of brokers, drivers, and boat crews. In some cases, the midlevel brokers are Syrian refugees, unable to get a work permit in Egypt, who join the operation in exchange for free passage for their families on the boats to Europe.
The Awadallah and Doghmosh brothers say they used the ring run by a smuggling boss known as Abu Hamada, a Syrian living in Egypt who the two researchers say is nicknamed The Doctor.
When the buses delivered them to the coast, everyone sprinted across a beach, waded into chest-deep water, and then crawled onto two small boats. That began a journey over the next three days that saw them transfer onto two more boats, each more crowded than the last , until more than three hundred people (other survivors have put the number as high as five hundred) were pressed together with barely room to stand.
“They treated us like animals,” said Mohammed Awadallah.
Finally, a rickety wooden boat, even smaller, appeared. “We refused,” Mohammed Awadallah said of orders to board. “Even the captain said no.”
According to the brothers, the captain called to complain about the unsafe boat to the smuggling boss in Egypt— possibly Abu Hamada— and soon the two men were screaming on the telephone. The captain hung up and kept traveling toward Italian waters. It was now 9 September 2014, and another boat appeared, larger and more modern, with an Egyptian crew that began shouting at the captain and throwing metal objects at him. Then the larger boat pulled parallel and turned quickly, ramming its nose into the hull of the migrant boat, flipping it over.
Soon, dead bodies were floating in the water, as survivors grabbed life jackets floating in the water. The Awadallah brothers collected five large bottles of fresh water, as well as bags of dates and sweets. Mamoun Doghmosh desperately searched for his nephews. The older boy was injured and struggling, turning blue. “After fifteen minutes, he died,” Mamoun Doghmosh recalled. The younger nephew, only five, would die, too.
On that first night, as many as a hundred and fifty survivors bunched together, floating in a circle with interlocking elbows. By the next morning, the brothers say another twenty people had died. “You have no water,” said Mohammed Awadallah. “You have no food. And some of these people are sick.”
For the next three days, the group steadily dwindled. Some broke off into smaller groups and floated away, searching for rescue ships. Two people were later found and taken to Italy; another small group of survivors was rescued and taken to Crete. Others were carried off by the current and never seen again. Still others were going mad.
“Everybody was talking and screaming and imagining things,” said Mohammed Awadallah. “You cannot imagine what it is like.”
By the evening of 12 September 2014, only the Awadallahs and the Doghmoshes remained. Without water, they said they were forced to drink urine. They struggled to remain lucid, seeing demons, or trying to take off their life jackets. Amin Doghmosh was weakening, as Mamoun used himself as a raft to prop up his younger brother. Finally, they saw a light. The Antarctica, a tanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia though the Suez Canal to France, had received a call from Maltese rescue officials providing coordinates to join rescue efforts for a capsized migrant boat.
“We heard some voices in the water,” said Alain Quere, captain of the Antarctica, in an interview. “They were screaming. They were desperate for us to see them.”
The brothers were brought on board, but only three had survived. Amin Doghmosh had died. The other three were taken to the ship’s medical bay as Captain Quere spent the next eighteen hours searching for other survivors. “We found only dead people,” he said. “There were many people, many bodies. This was the first time for me. I hope it is the last time.”
Today, the three survivors are living in a migrant center and trapped in bureaucratic limbo in Malta. They want to reach a country that will provide them asylum, perhaps Sweden or Canada or Australia. But they must submit fingerprints and be processed in Malta. “We need support,” said Mamoun Doghmosh. “We need help.” Mamoun has since spoken to his family in Gaza, and they have asked about the condition of Amin and the young nephews. “I can’t tell them,” he said, his eyes turning red. “What am I going to say?”
Rico says this is true desperation, and he hopes never to experience it...

Science fact follows science fiction

Sean Patrick Farrell has a BBC video (above) about a hoverboard, maybe.
Rico says he can only imagine the sidewalk disasters in the making...

Apple for the day

Tom Huddleston, Jr. has a Fortune article about Apple:
Apple beat analyst expectations with strong sales of iPhones and Macintosh computers. Sales of iPads fell, however.
Apple reported a thirteen percent bump in fourth-quarter profit, sending shares up nearly one percent in after-hours trading to just above the hundred-dollar mark. Here are the most important points from the tech giant’s latest earnings report:
Apple crushed analyst predictions by posting sales of $42.1 billion in the fourth quarter, which was more than a twelve percent increase over the same period last year. The company reported $8.5 billion in profits, or $1.43 per share, which is an improvement of $1 billion year-over-year. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt recently polled a few dozen analysts for their Apple quarterly predictions, and every last one said to expect a record quarter for the company, including average sales and earnings bumps of at least 7.1% and 11.9%, respectively.
In July of 2014, Apple’s revenues grew by six percent, but came in just below analysts’ expectations despite a thirteen percent bump in Q3 iPhone sales.
Apple said it sold 39.3 million iPhones during the fourth quarter, which beat analysts’ estimates and represents a twelvepercent increase over the 35.2 million sold during the same quarter last year. The fourth quarter included September’s unveiling of Apple’s new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and the company said in a press release announcing the fourth-quarter results that strong iPhone and Macintosh sales helped drive a record month of September.
Macintosh sales jumped 25% year-over-year, to 5.5 million, while iPad sales declined for the third quarter in a row. Apple, which just revealed its new iPad Air 2 last week at a product-launch event, said that its iPad sales were down more than seven percent, to 12.3 million, in the fourth quarter.
What you might have missed: Apple’s strong fourth-quarter results came after the company’s mobile-payments system, Apple Pay, went live, along with an update to its mobile operating system, now known as iOS 8.1. The launch came on the heels of Apple announcing it had signed up another five hundred banks to support the Apple Pay platform. Apple Pay is expected to compete with PayPal and other online systems. The entire mobile-payments market had more than eleven million users last year, and could grow to have more than 36 million users in 2016, according to eMarketer.
Rico says that Apple continues to confound the analysts and the competition...

Wacko for the day

CNN has an article by Jeremy Diamond and Justin Peligri about the President and the people he has to deal with:
The woman who voted next to President Barack Obama on Monday says she was "embarrassed and just shocked," after her fiancé jokingly told him: "Mr. President, don't touch my girlfriend."
Casting his ballot in Chicago, Illinois on Monday, Obama stood at a voting booth next to Aia Cooper, whose fiancé, Mike Jones, decided to crack wise with the president, which prompted Obama to reply with "I really wasn't planning on it", before adding that Jones was "an example of a brother just embarrassing you for no reason".
In an interview with CNN's Brooke Baldwin, Cooper said she was "embarrassed and just shocked" after hearing her fiancé comments. "I was just shaking," she said.
Cooper was nervous to cast her ballot next to the president even before Jones made his remark.
"I was like, 'do I have to stand there? I don't really want to stand there,'" she said.
When asked by Baldwin, the couple said they'd even be open to inviting the Obamas to their future wedding. "I wanna meet Michelle," Cooper said. "Hopefully she doesn't think anything about me, but I really want to meet her."
At the poll, Cooper apologized for her boyfriend, telling the President she knew Jones was going to "say something smart", but she didn't know what.
At least she would go back home with a good story: Obama joked that she would tell her friends and family that "I can't believe Mike, he is such a fool. But fortunately, the President was nice about it, so it's alright," Obama said, imagining how Cooper would tell the story.
Obama got back at Jones after voting, with a hug and a kiss for his fiancée. "On the cheek, just the cheek -- please, Michelle, don't come after me -- just the cheek!" Cooper told CNN affiliate WLS-TV after voting. "Now, he's really jealous," Obama told Cooper.
Obama was in Chicago on Sunday and Monday campaigning for Governor Pat Quinn, who is facing a tough battle for re-election.
Obama also helped lead the Democratic push for early voting in Illinois, casting his ballot on the first day of early voting near his Chicago home.
Rico says politics makes for very strange bedfellows, and polling place gals...

Mountains for the day

The Teton Range glows orange and red after a fresh coat of snow. Robert Buman captured this gorgeous photo just before sunrise at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

'Patient zero' on the Internet

Stephanie Farr has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about Monica Lewinsky, trying (pathetically) to get back in the news:
Monica Lewinsky called herself "patient zero," the first person to ever have her reputation "completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet." It's unknown what patient number Tyler Clementi was when, twelve years later, he took his own life out of embarrassment after his freshman roommate at Rutgers University secretly videotaped him kissing another man and streamed it online.
While Clementi's death hit home with Lewinsky, it hit her mother even more. "I wondered why," Lewinsky said. "Eventually, it dawned on me: she was back in 1998, back to a time when I was periodically suicidal, when she might have easily lost me, when I too might have been humiliated to death."
In her first major public speaking engagement, at the Forbes Under 30 Summit at the Pennsylvania Convention Center yesterday, Lewinsky was poised, confident, and, at times, emotional, as she talked to fifteen hundred young leaders about reputation, cyber-bullying, and the online community's "compassion deficit and empathy crisis."
In 1995, at age 22, Lewinsky, then a White House intern, began an affair with her then-boss, President Bill Clinton. "At that time, it was my everything," she told the crowd, that is, until the affair became public in 1998. It spurred an impeachment trial for Clinton and a public shaming for Lewinsky that made the scarlet letter appear rosy pink in contrast.
Although the media frenzy was pre-Google, pre-Facebook, and pre-Twitter, Lewinsky said the traditional media were for the first time "usurped by the Internet," especially by sites like the Drudge Report. "Around the world this story went, a viral phenomenon that you could argue was the first moment of truly social media," she said. Lewinsky did not recognize the woman she was portrayed as, "the creature from the media lagoon." "I lost my sense of self. Lost it," she said. "Or, I had it stolen because, in a way, it was a form of identity theft."
Lewinsky went through anxiety, depression and self-loathing. Her mantra was: "I want to die." "When I ask myself how best to describe how the last sixteen years have felt, I always come back to that word: shame," she said. "My own personal shame, shame that befell my family and shame that befell my country. Our country."
Lewinsky said cyber-bullying is a vast, expansive territory. "There is no way to wrap your mind around where the humiliation ends. There are no borders," she said. "It honestly feels like the whole world is laughing at you. I know. I lived it."
What got her through was the compassion shown to her by her friends and family.
"We shared a lot of gallows humor," she said. "A lot."
Lewinsky told the room filled with young people of good repute that she was there, in part, to illustrate how delicate a construct reputation is, especially in the Internet age.
"It's been said it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation but you can lose it in a minute," she said. "That's never been more true than today."
Lewinsky said she's chosen to speak out now because somehow, "who the hell knows how?", she has survived one of the worst public shamings of the digital age.
"Having survived it myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too," she said. "I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past."
Although many attendees of the summit came into yesterday morning's session wondering why Lewinsky was on the bill, few questioned it when she was done. She received a standing ovation.
Elaine Hsiao, 28, a Forbes 30 Under 30 winner in the Science and Health Care division, said she and her friend Leon Hong, 28, both of Los Angeles, California, were impressed by Lewinsky. "It was just so personal," Hong said. "We kind of came in here thinking, 'Oh, why is Monica Lewinsky coming?' and then came out thinking, 'Oh, that was the most important talk of the morning.'"
Rico says the only thing stupider in this story is Forbes inviting her to their Under 30 summit... (And, just think, if she'd only told Bill to handle his problem himself, none of this would've happened.)

History for the day

On 21 October 1879, Thomas Edison invented a workable electric light at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Paralysed man walks again

The BBC has an article by Fergus Walsh about advances in medicine:
A paralyzed man has been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord. Darek Fidyka, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame. The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London.
BBC One's Panorama program had unique access to the project and spent a year charting the patient's rehabilitation.
Darek Fidyka, 40, from Poland, was paralyzed after being stabbed repeatedly in the back in the 2010 attack.
He said walking again, even with the support of a frame, was "an incredible feeling", adding: "When you can't feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it's like you were born again."
Professor Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London's Institute of Neurology, led the UK research team. He said what had been achieved was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".
The treatment used olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), specialist cells that form part of the sense of smell. OECs act as pathway cells that enable nerve fibers in the olfactory system to be continually renewed.
In the first of two operations, surgeons removed one of the patient's olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in culture. Two weeks later they transplanted the OECs into the spinal cord, which had been cut through in the knife attack apart from a thin strip of scar tissue on the right. They had just a drop of material to work with: about half a million cells.
About a hundred micro-injections of OECs were made above and below the injury.
Four thin strips of nerve tissue were taken from the patient's ankle and placed across an 8mm (0.3in) gap on the left side of the cord.
The scientists believe the OECs provided a pathway to enable fibers above and below the injury to reconnect, using the nerve grafts to bridge the gap in the cord.
Before the treatment, Fidyka had been paralyzed for nearly two years and had shown no sign of recovery despite many months of intensive physiotherapy.
This program of exercise, five hours per day, five days a week, has continued after the transplant at the Akson Neuro-Rehabilitation Center in Wroclaw.
Fidyka first noticed that the treatment had been successful after about three months, when his left thigh began putting on muscle. Six months after surgery, Fidyka was able to take his first tentative steps along parallel bars, using leg braces and the support of a physiotherapist. Two years after the treatment, he can now walk outside the rehabilitation center using a frame. He has also recovered some bladder and bowel sensation and sexual function.
Dr. Pawel Tabakow, consultant neurosurgeon at Wroclaw University Hospital, who led the Polish research team, said: "It's amazing to see how regeneration of the spinal cord, something that was thought impossible for many years, is becoming a reality."
Fidyka still tires quickly when walking, but said: "I think it's realistic that one day I will become independent. What I have learned is that you must never give up, but keep fighting, because some door will open in life."
The groundbreaking research was supported by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation (NSIF) and the UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSCF). UKSCF was set up in 2007 to speed up progress of promising stem cell research; the charity has, to date, contributed over two-and-a-half million pounds to researchers.
NSIF was set up by chef David Nicholls after his son Daniel was paralyzed from the arms down in a swimming accident in 2003.
A key difference with Fidyka was that the scientists were able use the patient's olfactory bulb, which is the richest source of olfactory ensheathing cells. This meant there was no danger of rejection, so no need for immunosuppressive drugs used in conventional transplants.
Most of the repair of Fidyka's spinal cord was done on the left side, where there was an eight millimeter gap. He has since regained muscle mass and movement mostly on that side.
Scientists believe this is evidence that the recovery is due to regeneration, as signals from the brain controlling muscles in the left leg travel down the left side of the spinal cord.
MRI scans suggest that the gap in the cord has closed up following the treatment.
None of those involved in the research want to profit from it.
Professor Geoff Raisman said: "It would be my proudest boast if I could say that no patient had had to pay one penny for any of the information we have found."
NSIF said that, if there were any patents arising, it would acquire them so as to make the technique freely available.
Nicholls said: "When Dan had his accident I made him a promise that, one day, he would walk again. I set up the charity to raise funds purely for research into repairing the spinal cord. The results with Darek show we are making significant progress towards that goal."
Professor Wagih el Masri said: "Although the clinical neurological recovery is to date modest, this intervention has resulted in findings of compelling scientific significance."
The consultant spinal injuries surgeon, who has treated thousands of patients in the UK, added: "I have waited forty years for something like this."
All those involved in the research are keen not to raise false hopes in patients, and stress that the success will need to be repeated to show definitively whether it can stimulate spinal cord regeneration.
The scientists hope to treat another ten patients in Poland and Britain over the coming years, although that will depend on the research receiving funding.
Dr. Tabakow said: "Our team in Poland would be prepared to consider patients from anywhere in the world who are suitable for this therapy. They are likely to have had a knife wound injury where the spinal cord has been cleanly severed.
Sir Richard Sykes, chair of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, said: "The first patient is an inspirational and important step, which brings years of laboratory research towards the clinical testbed. To fully develop future treatments that benefit the three million paralyzed globally will need continued investment for wide scale clinical trials,"
Rico says this will bring hope to a lot of people, but undoubtedly has a long way to go...


The BBC has an article about another guy dying in a plane crash in Russia:
Christophe de Margerie (photo), the chief executive of French oil company Total, has died in an air crash in Moscow, Russia. His corporate jet collided with a snow plow and was then engulfed in flames. All four people on board were killed. The driver of the snow plough was drunk, according to Russian investigators.
de Margerie, 63, had been chief executive of Europe's third largest oil company since 2007. He was highly regarded within the oil industry. A statement from the office of French President Francois Hollande said: "Christophe de Margerie dedicated his life to French industry and to building up the Total group. He made it into one of the very top global companies. Francois Hollande cherished Christophe de Margerie's independent character, original personality and his devotion to his country."
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences.
News agency Tass quoted a Kremlin spokesman: "The President highly appreciated de Mergerie's business skills, his continued commitment to the development of not only bilateral Russian-French relations, but also on multi-faceted levels."

Analysis by Andrew Walker, economics correspondent for the BBC World Service:
Christophe de Margerie leaves a big gap to be filled. He was a hugely influential figure in the global energy industry and a colorful and instantly recognisable character.
For colleagues as well as family, there's no question that it's a huge loss. But already the markets appear to think the company will cope. The board is seen as strong and a wobble in the share price seems to have been no more than that.
It is significant that de Margerie was in Moscow. He took the view that the energy industry needed to go to difficult places. Russia is a prime example. A Total project there, a joint venture with Russia's Lukoil to explore for shale oil, has come to a halt due to Western sanctions.
de Margerie joined the Total Group after graduating from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Paris, France in 1974.
At the company, where he had spent his entire career, he was nicknamed Big Moustache.
John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, told the BBC: "It's a huge loss to the industry and its future focus. What he has done for Total in repositioning the company to return to integrity and sound operations is deeply respected and highly regarded."
According to Russia's Vedomosti newspaper, de Margerie had met Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at his country residence outside Moscow to discuss foreign investment in Russia.
Total is an important player in the Russian energy market and de Margerie was a staunch defender of maintaining ties, despite Western sanctions against Moscow over its actions in the Ukraine.
Total is one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia, and is planning to double its output from the country by 2020. It is working on the Yamal project, a thirty billion dollar joint venture to extract natural gas in north-west Siberia.
During his time at the helm of Total, de Margerie successfully defended the company against allegations of corruption around the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq. He maintained the company's investments in Burma and Iran, despite US sanctions against those countries. Shares in Total were down sharply at the open, but have since recovered.
Russia's emergencies ministry said in a statement the accident had involved a Falcon-50 plane shortly before midnight local time on Monday.
"Among the chief versions for what happened, investigators are looking at a mistake by the air traffic controllers and the actions of the driver of the snow plow. Apart from that, they will also check the versions of poor weather conditions and mistake by the crew," said Russia's Investigative Committee, a federal agency that answers to President Putin.
"At the current time, it has already been established that the driver of the snow plow was drunk." Pictures from the scene show the driver looking shocked, but walking unaided and without any obvious serious injury. Reports say the visibility at the airport was over a thousand feet.
Total did not have a succession plan in place for de Margerie, but, in July of 2014, he said that a replacement would come from inside the company. The company plans to hold a board meeting as soon as possible. Philippe Boisseau, in charge of Total's new energy division, which is developing renewable energy sources, has been mentioned as one possible successor. Patrick Pouyanne, president of Total's refining and chemicals division, has also been named as a possible new boss.
Rico says he would avoid flying in Russian airspace; it's not healthy...

Pistorius given five years

The BBC has their British take on Oscar:
South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been given five years in jail for killing his girlfriend Reeva SteenkampJudge Thokozile Masipa also gave Pistorius a three-year suspended sentence for a firearms charge.
The parents of Reeva Steenkamp told the BBC they were happy with the sentence and relieved the case was over. The defense said it expected Pistorius to serve about ten months in prison.
Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide, but cleared of murder. Prosecutors had called for a minimum ten-year term, and the defense had argued for community service and house arrest.
Pistorius showed little reaction to the sentence other than to wipe his eyes before being led away to the cells downstairs. He was then driven away from court in a police van (photo, above) to Pretoria's Kgosi Mampuru prison. It is expected that he will be held in a one-man cell in the hospital wing.
Correctional services spokesman Manelisi Wolela later told the AFP news agency that Pistorius was "already accommodated at Kgosi Mampuru".
Defense lawyer Barry Roux said his client was expected to serve ten months in prison, with the rest under house arrest.
Dup De Bruyn, a lawyer for the Steenkamp family, told Reuters that "justice was served", although he believed Pistorius would probably serve two years. 
Andrew Harding of BBC News, reports from Pretoria:
Before he went down the stairs and out of court, Oscar Pistorius slipped off his expensive watch and handed it to a relative. It seems the athlete probably knew his sentence beforehand, which helps explains the subdued atmosphere in court today.
This case has revealed plenty about South Africa: its gun culture, the strengths and inadequacies of its police and prisons. But above all it has been a simple story, about the rise and fall of a global icon.
As the crowds and cameras drift away from the courthouse, what lingers is the sense of waste. Of lives and careers for sure. But of time, too.
A man and a woman went into a bathroom. Only one came out alive. As the judge made clear, the trial should have been over in a matter of weeks. Instead it turned into a tortuous, overwrought epic.
Pistorius' uncle, Arnold, said: "We accept the judgment. Oscar will embrace the opportunity to pay back to society." He appealed to the media to "accept the ruling of court and let us move forward in this process and give us some degree of dignity and privacy". He said the family would support and guide the athlete as he served his sentence.
The BBC's Nomsa Maseko, outside the court, said opinion there was divided on the sentence, with some saying it was too light, others that it was fair.
Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June, said she believed justice had been served.
Judge Masipa said she considered her sentence "fair and just, both to society and to the accused". She said: "A non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community. On the other hand, a long sentence would also not be appropriate either, as it would lack the element of mercy."
Judge Masipa said that nothing she could say or do could bring back Reeva Steenkamp, but "hopefully, this judgment on sentence shall provide some sort of closure for the family". The judge begun reading her decision by saying there must be a balance between retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. In summarizing the evidence, she described defense witness and social worker Annette Vergeer as "slapdash and disappointing". Vergeer had argued Pistorius would be "a lot more vulnerable than the normal man" in jail. But Judge Masipa said she was sure prisons were equipped to cater for the requirements of a special-needs inmate. She also said she had a "feeling of unease" at what she called an overemphasis on the athlete's vulnerability. However, she said Pistorius had made an "enormous contribution to society", in his charity work and in changing the public perception of disability. The judge also said: "It would be a sad day for this country if an impression were to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged, and another for the rich and famous."
The three-year suspended term was for unlawfully firing a gun in a restaurant, in a separate incident before the Steenkamp killing.
The case may not yet be over, as both prosecution and defense have the right to appeal.
The prosecution service said it had not yet decided and the defense has not yet commented.
The International Paralympic Committee told the BBC it would not allow Pistorius to run at any of its events for five years, even if he were released early.
Pistorius, 27, an amputee sprinter who became the first athlete to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, killed Steenkamp on Valentine's Day in 2013.
He says he shot her by mistake, fearing there was an intruder in his house in Pretoria.
Steenkamp (photo, below, left), a 29-year-old model, reality television star, and law graduate, was hit three times by bullets fired by Pistorius (photo, below, right) through a toilet door.
Rico says that the guy still got off easy...

NRA for the day

Amy Worden has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about a new gub law:
In the final minutes of the legislative session, the House approved a bill clearing the way for the National Rifle Association and other groups to sue local municipalities, among them Philadelphia, that enact ordinances stricter than state firearms laws. The bill, approved by a 138-56 vote, will grant legal standing to "membership organizations" to sue over local gun laws, and collect legal fees and other costs if they win.
Mayor Nutter said before the vote that he was "profoundly opposed" to the bill, which he said increases the vulnerability of municipalities trying to combat gun violence to lawsuits by pro-gun advocates.
Governor Corbett will sign the bill, said spokesman Jay Pagni. The Senate had already approved it. "The Supreme Court has been clear in previous case law that local ordinances cannot supersede state law," Pagni said.
Some gun-related ordinances in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, including those aimed at curbing "straw" purchases, which require residents to report lost and stolen firearms, have stood up to legal challenge. In several cases, courts found that plaintiffs, including individuals and the NRA, did not have standing to sue.
"Gun violence represents a particularly tragic epidemic in poorer communities in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh," said Nutter, in a joint statement with Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto. "Parents, family members, and community leaders are naturally compelled by concern for their loved ones to do everything in their power to combat the shootings that destroy lives. It is squarely at some of these responses by the community that H.B. 80 is now aimed."
Almost thirty other municipalities, including ten in the Philadelphia suburbs, have their own ordinances on lost and stolen firearms. An additional nineteen have resolutions supporting mandatory reporting. "This is a dangerous provision that threatens municipalities' financial stability," said Representative Madeleine Dean (a Democrat from Montgomery County), who represents Abington, which passed a lost and stolen resolution.
Boroughs, townships, and cities across the state, including at least nine in Southeastern Pennsylvania, began enacting local ordinances aimed at cracking down on illegal gun trafficking in 2008 after the General Assembly did not act on a statewide measure to crack down on straw purchases. The bill, which will take effect sixty days after it is signed, would also require that if a lawsuit is filed against a municipality and succeeds, the municipality must pay all legal fees and costs for the plaintiffs.
Opponents say the bill blows up the definition of "standing", which stipulates that there must be a victim identified, and creates a dangerous precedent.
"If you are a resident of Forest County and you don't like the Norristown gun law," said Senator Daylin Leach (a Democrat from Montgomery County), "you could hire Johnnie Cochran and bill a township whatever he charges to win the case."
Bill supporters said the state constitution already establishes that firearms laws must be uniform, that changes are to be made by the General Assembly, and that existing local laws are unconstitutional.
"We can't have a crazy quilt of laws," said Representative Jeff Pyle (a Republican from Armstrong County).
Former Governor Ed Rendell, a gun control advocate who has worked with the advocacy group CeasefirePA, has vowed to target in the 4 November 2014 election Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers who voted for the measure. "This bill is outrageous," Rendell said last week. "People all over the Commonwealth support the basic notion that someone who loses their firearm should report it."
Rico says if you lose your gub, you should report it, unless you didn't legally own it to start with...

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