29 July 2014

Today in NYPD chokehold news, a pregnant woman grilling on her sidewalk.


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Mark Seymour

Revere, Mass. EF-2: Tornadoes in New England aren't as rare as you would think.


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Mark Seymour

Blossom reruns on Hub: Mayim Bialik’s sitcom was wise beyond its years.


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Mark Seymour

Exemption from anti-abortion laws

Jon Terbush has an article in The Week about some odd politics:
If Christian business owners cannot be compelled to violate their faith, why should the same protection not apply to Satanists? That's the argument the Satanic Temple is making to claim that, in the wake of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, women who share their beliefs should not be forced to follow some of the more restrictive state-level abortion laws to crop up in recent years.
Specifically, the Satanic Temple wants women to be exempt from having to view legally mandated "informational" materials— which it calls "biased" and "medically invalid"— prior to having an abortion. Dozens of states require women to attend counseling before receiving an abortion, while ten mandate that they receive written materials before undergoing the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
"While we feel we have a strong case for an exemption regardless of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact," a spokesperson for the group said in a press release.
The Satanic Temple added that all women who share their belief that the "body is inviolable subject to one's own will alone"— and not merely temple members— should be free to claim the exemption.
Rico says ain't politics fun?

Irish slave owners were compensated

Rico's friend Kema forwards this Irish Central article by Patrick Counihan:
A Limerick based historian has revealed how prominent Irish families cashed in on the abolishment of slavery. Liam Hogan is currently working on his first book, a study of the historical relationship between Limerick, Ireland and slavery.
In an article for the website TheJournal.ie, he explains how over a hundred Irish families were financially rewarded when the British government finally abolished slavery in most of its colonies in 1834. Hogan writes that the British paid slave owners over thirty million dollars in compensation for the loss of their ‘property.’
Anti-slavery advocate Daniel O’Connell protested against this compensation payment and requested that the names of those receiving this money be made public, according to Hogan. He adds that the Parliamentary return (1837-8) lists the basic information about those who received compensation.
A new online database now reveals that nearly a hundred different individuals, either born or based in Ireland, benefited directly from this slave compensation.
Peter and William Diggs La Touche, private bankers in Dublin, received a payment of nearly £7,000 (approximately a million dollars at today's values) for their four hundred slaves on two plantations in Jamaica.
Howe Peter Browne, the 2nd Marquis of Sligo, of Westport House in County Mayo, inherited slave plantations in Jamaica in 1809 from his father. The report says he submitted a claim for 286 slaves and was awarded almost £5,525 ($745,000 today).
Hogan’s fascinating article includes a full list of all the Irish families who received compensation when slavery was finally abolished.
Rico says we could've done that in 1861 and saved a lot of money and blood...

North Korea threatens White House nuclear strike

Slate has an article by Elliot Hannon about the latest madness out of Pyongyang:
As if the world needed another theater of global conflict, North Korea, as if on cue, threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and the Pentagon recently. The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military's General Political Bureau, who was presumably playing to the audience by dishing out some serious red meat to what Agence France Presse described as “a large military rally in Pyongyang”: If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival, our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon, the sources of all evil," Hwang said in his speech broadcast Monday on state television, according to AFP.
The over-the-top rhetoric came after North Korea test fired a short-range ballistic missile into the sea over the weekend and analysts "say Kim Jong-Un won't order troops to stop testing weapons unless rival South Korea and the US make a major concession, such as downsizing their regular joint military drills or conducting them in a low-key manner,” according to The Associated Press. Simultaneously, according to The Associated Press, “North Korea is seen by foreign observers as pushing for better ties with South Korea and other countries as a way to lure international investment and aid to revive the country's stagnant economy.” North Korea’s people skills may need some work. This is not the first time North Korea has threatened to stage a nuclear attack on the US, but AFP reports, “most experts believe it is still a long way from developing a viable intercontinental ballistic missile with the required range.”
Rico says it's, yet again, a case of 'who will rid me of this troublesome priest', or, in this case, crazy leader of a nuclear power...

Robots in the ocean

The New York Times has an article by Katharine Courage about an underwater robot:
For years, roboticists have yearned to develop a flexible machine that can explore tight spaces, repair dangerous equipment, and potentially even conform to the human body.
Now one of the first members of this new breed of robots is almost here. It has sinewy arms, a powerful grip and the ability to work underwater without coming up for air.
Yes, it is an octopus.
Because octopuses can swim, crawl and manipulate objects, they make “the ideal underwater robot,” said Francesco Giorgio-Serchi, a scientist at the Research Center on Sea Technologies and Marine Robotics in Livorno, Italy, who is working on the project.
In a small seaside laboratory, he and others have been tinkering away on a prototype of a multi-armed robot they call PoseiDrone for the sea god Poseidon. Pieces of half-built arms are scattered about, and an inflatable kiddie pool sits between tables.
It was in that modest body of water that their robotic octopus got its sea legs, as it were.
It did so well in the pool that the researchers borrowed a small boat and deployed it in the Ligurian Sea, still attached to their controls via cables. It successfully swam in the waves and adeptly crawled along the rocky bottom.
Robotic technology is generally based on hard materials; a logical approach, because they can be controlled with precise movements and low computing power. Soft robotics is something else altogether, promising “the mechanical versatility you find in natural organisms,” said Carmel Majidi, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute who is working to develop sensitive artificial skin and strong artificial muscles.
Imagine a roving vacuum cleaner that could literally squeeze itself into nooks where dust bunnies hide. Or more grandly, Dr. Majidi said, exploration vehicles, construction drones, “wearable robots and maybe even implantable robots.”
Early efforts in the field date to the 1940s, when scientists developed pneumatic “artificial muscles” to be used in traditional robots. Progress has inched along since then, producing small-scale projects like scooting soft-bodied caterpillars and pneumatic quadrupeds.
But the advent of 3D printing has greatly accelerated the chase.
Dr. Majidi said the technology had been “a bit of a game-changer,” enabling just about any research team or garage tinkerer to make new molds to create stretchy prototypes, a process that just a few years ago was slow and costly.
A group at Harvard University used molds from a 3D printer to create a prototype of a soft, octopus-like four-legged robot that could be controlled via tubes of liquid or air. And, in Italy, Dr. Giorgio-Serchi and his colleagues recently acquired a 3D printer that allows them to design, experiment, and revise quickly. They aim to replicate the key features of an octopus: eight arms to provide an almost infinite range of motion; the ability to squeeze through any opening larger than its chitinous beak; and an unusual nervous system in which the arms are semiautonomous and the central brain is thought to do little more than issue general commands: “Arms, let’s go catch that crab!”
To make quicker headway, some of the PoseiDrone’s components, such as the electronics, remain hard for now. The exterior will be silicone, a material whose density, like that of an octopus, is similar to water’s.
The drone’s potential missions include inspecting and repairing underwater turbines, wave-energy generators, oil rigs, ship hulls, and perhaps fishing nets. In contrast to a hard-bodied underwater bot, which would need to hover at a safe distance from such equipment, the PoseiDrone should be able to attach itself directly without damaging the equipment or itself, Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said. Sending robots down to perform dangerous tasks could also help keep human divers safer.
The drone can already crawl, swim and even carry small tools. But it is not yet ready to repair a turbine. And, although the researchers are applying for patents, it is still a crude specimen, a robotic Frankenstein’s monster bridging the eras of hard and squishy; currently only eighty percent soft materials.
“It’s still very much a work in progress,” Dr. Majidi said. And Mark R. Cutkosky, a professor at Stanford School of Engineering, said: “How do we build stretchy conductors? That’s still a very open question. It sounds pretty prosaic,” he added, “yet one of the biggest challenges is just wiring. This was true twenty years ago, and it’s still true.” The PoseiDrone’s movements still rely on external control of conventional motors and actuators.
Nevertheless, the octopus robot is more sophisticated than a standard robot covered in rubber, Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said. Its abundance of soft, elastic materials enables it to do things most other robots cannot, much as stiff-jointed humans cannot do what an octopus can, despite our soft skin and muscles. “Without the soft part,” Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said, “it would just be a pile of motors and cables.”
Also like real cephalopods, the PoseiDrone, whose body is about the length of an adult human hand, could be just about any scale, from fractions of an inch to dozens of feet across. A larger version is in the works. And perhaps not reassuring  to those who fear a robot uprising, the bigger it is, “the easier it is to make it stronger, and fast,” Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said.
Virtually any conceivable form is now just a click away, so why do researchers focus on animal models? Dr. Cutkosky, who has built a climbing robot with gecko-inspired grippers, says we inevitably look to the natural world for inspiration. And caution. Comparing the octopus robot to its real-life counterpart, he said, “It’s probably a good thing they’re confined to water.”
Rico says there's a science-fiction thriller in here somewhere...

Microsoft for the day

The BBC has an article about Microsoft's troubles in China:
An anti-monopoly investigation into US technology giant Microsoft has been launched by Chinese authorities. China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the body responsible for enforcing business laws, said it was looking into "alleged monopoly actions" by the company.
The announcement came after officials from the regulator visited some of Microsoft's local offices. The company said it "will address any concerns the government may have". It has not yet been accused of any specific wrongdoing.
Any potential investigation in China would be a fresh setback for Microsoft in the country, a key growth market for global technology firms. Earlier this year, China said it would ban government use of Windows 8, Microsoft's latest operating system.
The visits to Microsoft offices come just days after the China's anti-trust regulator said that Qualcomm, one of the world's biggest mobile chipmakers, had used monopoly power in setting its licensing fees. The anti-trust case has already seen some local handset makers hold back on signing licenses for Qualcomm products, hitting its revenues.
Another technology firm, Interdigital, which specializes in wireless technology, has also faced a similar investigation. Chinese regulators suspended that investigation earlier this year after Interdigital agreed to change its pricing structure.
However, some have alleged that China is using anti-trust probes to protect domestic firms. "It has become increasingly clear that the Chinese government has seized on using the anti-monopoly law to promote Chinese producer welfare, and to advance industrial policies that nurture domestic enterprises," the US Chamber of Commerce said earlier this year.
Rico says he can only shake his head sadly. (Oh, yeah, and go 'tee hee'...) But accusing the Chinese of protecting their own against foreigners? Like that never happened... (Remember the Boxer Rebellion?)

Not them, surely

Nolan Feeney has a Time article about trouble at Southwest Airlines:
The Federal Aviation Administration proposed a twelve million dollar fine against Southwest Airlines for allegedly not complying with safety regulations during Boeing 737 jetliner repairs.
The proposed fine is the second-largest in FAA history, The Associated Press reports. In 2010, the FAA proposed a twenty-four million dollar fine against American Airlines.
The agency says that Southwest’s contractor, under Southwest supervision, did not properly fasten aircraft skins and replace fuselages, among other violations, while updating forty-four planes in 2006 to prevent cracking on the aluminum exteriors. The agency also claims the Dallas-based air carrier flew those planes in 2009, despite notice from the FAA about the lack of safety compliance.
A spokesperson for Southwest said the company would respond to the agency’s claims in accordance with FAA procedure guidelines. The airline also said it “fully resolved the repair issues some time ago” and that “none of the items raised in the FAA letter affect” planes currently in operation.
Rico says not fixing things on an airplane is a discomfiting thought; those responsible should be punished, and not just by a fine. (When will public beatings come back into fashion? Yeah, and fuck the Eighth Amendment...)

Military vehicles you can buy

The BBC has an article about toys for (rich) big boys:

In 1944, Willys set about creating a civilian version of the Army’s quarter-ton jeep. The first model available to the car-buying public, the CJ-2A (CJ-1 and CJ-2 were prototype designations), went on sale in July of 1945, and its success would usher in other military-to-civilian transitions, notably Land Rover’s Series 1 (1948), Volkswagen’s Type 181 Thing (1968) and General MotorsHummer H1 (1992). These vehicles’ heroic reputation and all-conquering capability have cemented their appeal among all manner of outdoors enthusiasts, hip-hop personalities, and playboy despots. In their spirit, we present a septet of military trucks a civilian can buy (sans weaponry, sorry) along with a look at a vehicle that is gunning to become the next US military truck (and to someday spawn a Schwarzenegger-caliber civilian version of its own). 
Renault Sherpa (France)
Renault’s mighty Sherpa owes its appeal not only to the olive drab versions piloted by French and NATO soldiers, but to the charismatic appearances of the civilian model in the grueling Dakar Rally. Available by special order in Russia, Africa, and the Middle East, the non-military Sherpa can be had as an unarmored station wagon or pickup, or, for war-zone duty, a fully-armored wagon. Power comes from a deafening 4.76-liter four-cylinder diesel engine. Its 215hp and 590lb-ft of torque reach all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Price: Approximately a million dirham ($272,000) 
GAZ Tigr (Russia)
That the military Tigr bears a passing resemblance to the American Humvee is, to the Russian truck’s vociferous fans, nothing more than coincidence. Beneath its expansive hood rumbles a 5.9-liter diesel engine, which meets a six-speed manual transmission and permanent four-wheel-drive. Production of the civilian Tigr– which can soften its brutality with the addition of such creature comforts as leather, air conditioning, and a thumping audio system– is hardly a top priority for GAZ, and acquiring one is neither simple nor inexpensive, but a successful buyer is fairly guaranteed to be the only Tigr-tamer in his okrestnosti.
Price: approximately three and a half million rubles ($110,000) 
Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6 (Austria)
As production vehicles go, the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen, otherwise known as the G Class, is ancient. Merely revised during more than thirty years of production, this brick-like military machine in a civilian paint job still manages to capture the imagination of those who dream of traffic parting with their approach: business tycoons, action-film stars, the Pope. Like the “standard” G63 AMG, the new G63 AMG 6x6 packs a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 engine producing 536hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. The engine meets the six-by-six drivetrain from Mercedes’ hulking Zetros truck, yielding sixteen inches of ground clearance, sufficient to ford water as deep as forty inches. Getting behind the wheel of this ultimate G Class, unless you happen to be, say, a James Bond villain, will be tricky. The vehicle is not (legally) destined for North America or right-hand-drive countries, and Mercedes has promised that production volume will be “very small”.
Price: 379,000 euros (approximately $523,000) 
Paramount Marauder (South Africa)
Ten tons of South African stoutness, the Marauder is possessed of a double-skin monocoque that helps it resist virtually all forms of light-arms fire, as well as the occasional anti-tank mine. It also, as Top Gear’s Richard Hammond learned, is rather good as a city runabout, provided the pilot steers clear of fast-food drive-throughs.
Price: $485,000 
Polaris MV850 Terrain Armor Edition (United States)
Designed to thwart “enemy ballistics, treacherous terrain and other mission-crippling obstacles”, the MV850, from US-based Polaris Industries, is the first military ATV to make use of non-pneumatic tires. The company promises that the single-seat trucklet’s TerrainArmor tires, invented by Wisconsin-based Resilient Technologies, can shake off shots from a .50-calibre gun or penetration by a railroad spike, even while carrying a full combat load. In both the MV850 and its equally tenacious civilian counterpart, the WV850, a 77-horsepower, 850cc two-cylinder engine is matched to a single-speed transmission and all-wheel drive. With TerrainArmor's proven survivability on the battlefield, it's a safe bet that the US military is looking closely at non-pneumatic tires for bigger machines, including the coming replacement for the Hummer.
Price: $15,000 
Supacat LRV 400 (Britain)The Qt Wildcat, formerly known as the Bowler Wildcat, is a Land Rover Defender-based cross-country rally runner. The new Supacat LRV 400 is the military version of the Wildcat, and it delivers the rally car’s high-speed all-terrain capability in a somewhat more weaponized package. Perfect for special forces teams, border patrol agencies, and the like, the LRV (which stows neatly aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for easy transport) packs a 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine from Ford that’s good for 236 horsepower, although buyers may opt for gasoline V8 engines producing as much as 640hp. Top speed with the standard diesel is 106mph, but the addition of a armor plates, winches, and a roof-mounted .50-caliber machine gun may sap performance a bit.
Price: approximately $250,000 
Go-Ped Knightrider (US/Israel)
A scooter on the battlefield? Roger that. Meet the Knightrider, from US scooter-maker Go-Ped. It may bear a passing resemblance to the neighbour kid’s Razor, but don’t be fooled: this two-wheeler is no toy.
Based on Go-Ped’s Hoverboard civilian electric scooter and the police-spec ESR-750 Portable Patrol Vehicle, the matte-black Knightrider was designed for stealthy special-forces maneuvers over hostile terrain, with fat knobby tires and a long-travel cantilever-style suspension. The Knightrider’s lithium-ion polymer battery pack and Torkinator electric motor deliver a maximum cruising range of 25 miles and a top speed, thanks to a short-burst Turbo mode, of nineteen miles an hour.
So who is using the Knightrider? That’s strictly need-to-know, according to Go-Ped. Says Tactical Division chief executive Dr. Ran Lapid: “I can only confirm that the Knightrider was tested by the most prestigious special ops commando units in the world.”
Price: $4,700 
Oshkosh L-ATV (United States)
How to replace a fleet of aging Humvees that numbers in the tens of thousands? With a bit of technological derring-do. Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense has developed the L-ATV prototype to pick up where the Humvee has left off, carrying a diesel-electric hybrid powertrain that allows the purpose-built vehicle to run near-silent when missions require it. The US government has taken delivery of twenty L-ATV prototypes for testing, but civilian sales do not figure in Oshkosh’s immediate product plans.
Price: N/A

Rico says all too expensive and specialized for him, but cool...

Israel intensifies Gaza attacks

The BBC has an article about the latest in Gaza:
More than a hundred Palestinians are said to have been killed as Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza and a ceasefire proposal was rebuffed by Hamas. Gaza's only power plant was hit, as Israel carried out air strikes targeting sites linked to Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza. Israel intercepted rockets over central and southern parts of the country. Later, Hamas turned down a ceasefire proposal from a senior Palestinian in the West Bank. The proposal, by Yasser Abed Rabbo of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) came in the aftermath of a deadly series of air strikes. He said a ceasefire was imminent and claimed to speak for Hamas, but a spokesman for the group quickly denied that.
As night fell an audio recording emerged attributed to Hamas' reclusive military leader, Mohammad Deif, asserting Hamas' position.
The BBC's Chris Morris reports from the ruins of a Gaza mosque, where he says the mood is one of "defiance".
"We don't accept any condition of ceasefire," The Associated Press quoted the Hamas commander as saying. "There is no ceasefire without the stop of the aggression and the end of the siege."
Palestinian officials now say just over eleven hundred Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting since 8 July 2014. Some sixty-seven hundred have been injured. Israel has lost 53 soldiers and three civilians, two Israelis and a Thai worker.
Gazans get power from just one local plant, as well as some supplies from Israel and Egypt. A huge plume of smoke rose over the Strip's only power plant, after one of its fuel tanks was reportedly set alight by Israeli tank shells, and the facility was forced to shut down.
For the last three weeks, most Gazans have been living with just a few hours of electrical supplies, but now the situation will almost certainly get worse.
After a brief lull in the fighting earlier this week, the violence has returned with a renewed intensity.
In Gaza City, you can hear the constant bombardment of areas close to the Israeli border. There have also been large explosions in the city throughout the morning. Any sign that a patchwork of truces would lead to more a sustainable ceasefire has been dashed for now.
Bethany Bell, BBC News, reports from Jerusalem:
Rockets have continued to target Israeli towns and cities from within Gaza. More than three weeks on, there is in general very widespread support among Israelis for the Gaza offensive. Recent polls say almost ninety percent of Israelis are in favor.
Some are beginning to ask whether the army and the government underestimated the tunnel threat from Gaza. Targeting the tunnels is one of Israel's main objectives in this campaign, but destroying them is complicated.
Israel says it has identified more than thirty tunnels, but the army was taken off guard last night when five soldiers were killed by Palestinian militants who came up through a tunnel into Israel. Military sources say these aren't just single shafts, but a labyrinth of underground passageways, some booby-trapped with explosives. The government says it will not stop the offensive until the tunnels are destroyed.
Fifty-five houses were destroyed in overnight bombing, with people buried under rubble in at least three of them (photo), Palestinian security sources told the BBC. The unoccupied house of former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was destroyed. A neighbor, Um Hani abu Ryalah, told The Associated Press the experience had terrified her family: "Our children... can't hear because of the loud explosions and they are shaking."
Israeli fire is also said to have damaged the Hamas television and radio stations, three mosques, four factories and government buildings. Gaza's port had also been destroyed, Palestinian security sources told the BBC, and two schools and a kindergarten were on fire after being hit.
Among the hundred people killed on Tuesday were seven families, the Palestinian health ministry said.
UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said in a tweet that a number of staff members had reportedly been killed. The UN is currently caring for 182,604 Palestinians in its 82 shelters in Gaza, he said.
Rockets fired from Gaza continued to hit Israel. The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted four over the southern city of Beersheva, Israeli media reported. Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and several other towns.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, told The Associated Press that pressure was being increased on Hamas. "Israel is determined to strike this organization and relieve us of this threat," he said. The renewed violence comes after Israel said ten soldiers died on Monday: five were killed by an infiltrator near the border, four by a mortar strike, and another in fighting in southern Gaza.
In a recent address to Israelis, Netanyahu said Gaza had to be demilitarized in order to protect Israel. "We will not finish the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children," he said.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge began on 8 July 2014 after a surge in militant rocket attacks. A rally in support of the operation is planned for Tuesday evening in Tel Aviv.
Rico says it's still 'clueless in Gaza'...

Local history for the day

Jessica Parks has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about some little-known local Civil War history:
Neighbors opposing the proposed demolition of the William Penn Inn in Lower Merion presented information suggesting that the building might have harbored runaway slaves. At a meeting of the township Historical Commission, a resident of the inn showed photographs of a trapdoor panel and a hiding place between the second and third floors.
Gerald A. Francis, president of the Lower Merion Historical Society, said it would be nearly impossible to prove that runaways passed through, but "it would make sense" given its location near other known safe houses.
Joseph Price, one of Lower Merion's most notable Quaker forefathers, built the inn in 1799. In his diaries, Price wrote of giving money to slaves and helping them on their way to freedom, Francis said.
William Dupertuis said that, when he moved into one of the inn's apartments fifteen years ago, "I was told about the understanding of it being a stop on the Underground Railroad and there were hidden panels." Dupertuis showed photographs and described how a rope-and-pulley system hidden in the wall opened up a four- by eight-foot space in the ceiling.
Robert Wise, a historic preservation planner hired by the developer, said he had no idea about a possible slavery connection when he prepared his report. "This is news to me," he said.
John Rayer, the developer buying the property at Lancaster Avenue and Clover Hill Road, estimated the inn would cost two million dollars to restore to historical standards. He wants to build five single-family houses on the two-acre lot.
The Historical Commission unanimously recommended a ninety-day delay in the demolition. The plan is scheduled to be considered by the Planning Commission on 8 September 2014.
Rico says that's right up the street from him; he'll have to check it out...

History for the day

On 29 July 1981, Britain's Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England.

Rico says, yeah, and that turned out so well...

Quote for the day

From The New York Times:
"It's not a pleasant thought that you sit one day on the patio drinking coffee with your wife and a bunch of terrorists will rise from the ground."
Eyal Brandeis, a political scientist who lives on Kibbutz Sufa in Israel,
a mile from where thirteen militants emerged from a tunnel at dawn on 17 July 2014.

Rico says we wouldn't tolerate this on the Mexican (or even the Canadian) border, and neither should they...

The bankers of Paris

DelanceyPlace.com has a selection from How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean:
The first gigantic modern fortunes in Paris, France in the early 1600s originated not with the profits of commerce or industry, but from high finance. These financiers arose through the profligacy of the King, both in his wars (the army grew from forty thousand to four hundred thousand soldiers) and his lifestyle. The sheer magnitude of the King's needs meant that the bankers of Paris displaced the famed bankers of Florence, Italy as the most important in Europe:
In the word financier's inaugural appearance in English, in the 1652 The State of France, John Evelyn explained the workings of 'the King's revenue' and described 'the great financiers who suck the very blood of the French people.' 
For the first time, Europeans could use words invented with the objective of classifying individuals according to their financial status, and of singling out persons of new wealth. Such individuals had existed before, but evidently not in sufficient numbers for a society to bestow official linguistic recognition on the phenomenon. And whereas previously, in European cities such as Venice, Italy and Amsterdam in Holland, most recent wealth had been accumulated through trade and the overseas trade in particular, the parvenus of seventeenth-century Paris had amassed their fortunes by dealing, not in goods, but solely in money. The emergence of the financier began in about 1600, when the French monarchy first encountered fiscal problems that have ever since plagued the modern state.  Prior to the seventeenth century and early in that century, the French state lived mostly within its means: Henri IV even built up a small surplus (Adam Smith claimed he was one of the last rulers ever to do so). Then, during the first quarter of the century, spending began to outstrip revenue. As a result, the bankers, especially the Italians, who had ruled over the finances of all European nations in the sixteenth century gradually ceased to play a preeminent role in France. The individuals then known as bankers dealt in foreign currency exchange and transferred funds throughout Europe. When, for example, a monarch had to pay soldiers stationed on foreign soil, he would call on a banker. But once French monarchs began to spend on a previously unheard-of scale, the need for another type of financial agent became evident. Lyon, formerly the nucleus for French finance because of its association with Italian bankers, thus lost its centrality. And by the 1630s Paris, home to the financiers, the new financial agents on whom the crown increasingly depended, had become the country's uncontested finance hub. Whereas in the sixteenth century the French monarchy's revenue had remained stable, in the range of eight to twenty million livres annually, during the first half of the seventeenth century this situation changed dramatically. Between 1590 and 1622, for example, revenue rose from about eighteen million livres to an estimated fifty million a year; by 1653, the total had grown to roughly 109 million, and it stayed well over a hundred million throughout Louis XIV's reign. This meant that the French monarchy had access to resources that vastly outstripped those of its major European rivals. A noted eighteenth-century economist estimated that, during Louis XIV's reign, France's revenue was four times greater than England's, and nearly three times superior to that of the Dutch RepublicRelatively little of that was spent on keeping up appearances: between 1600 and 1656, court expenses rose only from three million livres to six million. However, whereas in 1600, court expenses accounted for thirty-one percent of the budget, in 1656 they represented only seven percent. During that half-century, the cost of war changed the face of French finance. France was at war with foreign enemies for sixty of the years between 1615 and 1715; it was torn by civil war for another five. In addition, Europeans had begun to wage war on a scale without precedent. The Thirty Years' War (1618- 48), the War of the Grand Alliance or of the League of Augsburg (1688-97), and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) made armed conflict more costly than ever before. As a result, the French military machine never ceased growing. Whereas, for example, in the 1590s, the French royal army was only forty thousand strong, less than a century later Louis XIV maintained a force of about four hundred thousand. Since France's main rivals, England and Holland, were maritime powers and the French had no navy to speak of, the country spent on a colossal scale to acquire one: in 1661 its entire 'fleet' consisted of eighteen near wrecks, but soon one hundred and twenty vessels sailed under French colors. Such transformations were possible because those in charge of the finances of France had begun to follow a logic later presented by Adam Smith as 'the necessity of contracting debt in times of war': 'An immediate and great expense will not wait for the gradual and slow returns of new taxes. In this exigency government can have no other resource but in borrowing.'"The French government's bookkeeping divided expenses into 'ordinary' (court expenses) and 'extraordinary'. Due to the rising cost of war, between 1600 and 1656, extraordinary expenses ballooned-from just seven million livres to over a hundred million. When budget deficits began to surge, the State began to borrow as never before and thus had recourse to a type of financial agent who surfaced in the late sixteenth century: the financier"The original financiers signed traitĂ©s, tax or loan contracts, with the Crown; they also bought, sometimes at auctions organized by the Crown, charges or offices that made them part of a private fiscal administration with close ties to the government, an administration that vastly expanded in size in the course of the seventeenth century. In return, they acquired the right to collect a new tax or import or export duty from which they guaranteed the government a fixed income, and from which they were allowed to retain a sizable share of the profits. Contract terms varied with supply and demand, but financiers always lent money at a cost far above the official rate of between five and eight percent. At moments when a war was going badly and the monarchy's need was therefore most pressing and money most scarce, a rate of twenty-five percent became standard, hence the steady rise in 'extraordinary' expenses, a category that included the interest on loans. Tax contracts were especially useful to the Crown because the deal was closed and money changed hands very quickly. Contracts for five hundred thousand livres were soon common; many involved far larger amounts. Naturally, few financial agents were able to deal for such stakes: it's likely that, at any moment in the century, fewer than a hundred individuals virtually controlled the financial fate of France. As the monarchy became ever more dependent on credit because its needs were growing, that number shrank. And thus it was that the first gigantic modern fortunes in Paris originated, not with the profits of commerce or industry, but from high finance.
Rico says that nothing's changed; our banks make a lot of money lending to the gummint...

Gubs for the day

David Weigel has a Slate article about DC and gubs:
At the end of last week, Senior District Court Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. handed a huge victory to DC's outnumbered supporters of unfettered Second Amendment rights. The district's handgun restrictions, wrote Scullin, flew in the face of precedent. "In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny," wrote Scullin, referring to other cases that rolled back the gun laws, "there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny." The District was violating the Constitution by refusing to let people from other states open-carry or conceal-carry their guns. Just days before, an unlucky South Carolina activist had been arrested for trying to take his loaded Ruger into the Capitol. The people's Capitol. (It was an accident.)
Yet, on my ride in to work today, I saw no fellow citizens carrying guns. The reasons are simple; it's still hard to get a gun license in the city, the city is readying an appeal and a request for a stay, and in the meantime police are being advised to "record any relevant information" about, and check the criminal background of, anyone they spot with a gun. For now, Palmer v. District of Columbia is mostly interesting as the second example in just a few days of libertarian lawyers dunking on the liberal state. Tom Palmer, listed first among the plaintiffs, is the director of the libertarian Cato University program, and a vice president of the Randian Atlas Society. He was a plaintiff in the Heller case, too; in attorney Alan Gura's words, he was "a gay man who had previously, in California, fended off a hate crime using a firearm that he happened to have on him". Just as the attorneys in Halbig found conservatives who were eager to sue, they could find ready, liberty-minded skeptics of DC's gun laws.
These people are relatively rare in DC, until you enter the halls of Congress. (Assuming you don't try to enter while carrying a gun.) Kentucky Representative Tom Massie, a libertarian-minded Ron Paul acolyte who wants to defund DC's gun laws in the current appropriations bill, has declared this case a clear victory. Certainly, as libertarian counterattacks go, it's more effective and less personally harmful than Adam Kokesh's:

Rico says this ain't over yet...

28 July 2014


Rico says that, if you don't already know what they are, this video will explain:

SuperBowl commercials

Oops is a Dutch word

Rico says his arch-perv friend Dave forwards this:

Glowing oceans

Lindsey Galloway has a BBC article about bioluminescence:
As night falls on certain beaches around the world, the waves glow (photo) with an eerie blue light: tiny, neon dots that make it look as though stars are washing up on shore.
The surreal scene arises, not from magic, but from plankton that have evolved to glow in order to startle or distract fish and other potential predators. Some scientists call it the “burglar alarm effect”: by lighting up, the plankton draw even larger predators that, in turn, eat the animal threatening them. The phosphorescence only occurs when the microorganisms, which exist worldwide, are agitated, such as when the water crashes onto the shore, someone steps on the wet sand, or a paddle hits the waves.
The phenomenon’s effects can vary depending on time of year and weather, so sightings cannot always be predicted. Even so, here are three spots where you’re most likely to see the sea shine with its own light:
Visitors to the Indian Ocean archipelago say they have had the most luck seeing the blue glow from about July to February, especially during a new moon since the darkness of the sky helps intensify the light. The bioluminescence can occur throughout the country’s twenty-six atolls, but some of the most spectacular photographs have been captured on the grouping’s eastern islands, including Mudhdhoo, Vaadhoo, and Rangali
Puerto RicoMosquito Bay on the island of Vieques has the nickname of Bioluminescent Bay (often called Bio Bay) for the bright plankton that illuminates the water. Unexpectedly, the bay went dark in January of 2014. Some scientists theorize that a wind shift pushed many of the microorganisms out of the bay, but the various factors that contribute to the bioluminescence make it difficult to say for sure.
Thankfully, the bay brightened again in June of 2014, although at a lower intensity. Though no one knows if the bay will return to full strength, tour operators are still running kayak tours, as scientists work to study the bay the rest of the week in hopes of preserving the magical glow. 
San DiegoThere is bizarre bioluminescence in this Southern Californian city, too, caused when millions of phytoplankton form a group of algae so big they discolor the nearby water. Surfers see a “red tide” every few years, when these algal blooms give the sea a reddish tint by day and a bright blue phosphorescent glow by night (photo). When the right combination of water temperature, wind, darkness of the sky, and other factors come together, surfers and swimmers can glide through the water with a glow illuminating their way. Though some algal bloom can be harmful, the species common to San Diego, Lingulodinium polyedrum, is not considered to be toxic.
Rico says that's pretty...

Another cease fire? Why not? The last one worked so well...

David Stout has a Time article about Gaza:
The UN Security Council agreed on a demand for an immediate truce in Gaza, following the resumption of fighting between Hamas and Israel. The fifteen-member council’s call for all “parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire” came as the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr commenced, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The renewed push for an end to hostilities follows the collapse of a humanitarian agreement over the weekend after Hamas fired a salvo of rockets (photo) into Israel that was then followed by the renewed shelling of Gaza by Israeli forces.
There is little evidence to suggest that either side trusts the other enough to follow through with another deal, according to Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Israel and Hamas both did not abide by the truce even though they said they agreed to it. The fighting that’s restarted by both sides is a sign that each of them was expecting the other to break the truce first,” she told Time. “There’s a dynamic of mistrust that has overwhelmed any desire to engage in truces on both sides.”
During an interview with CBSFace the Nation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that his administration was not obliged to agree to another armistice that would allow Hamas “to rearm, and continue firing on our citizens. We’ll determine what is important for our own security in the way that we can to protect our people, including working against these terror tunnels that they’re digging against us,” said Netanyahu. “That’s how we’ll act.”
At least a thousand Palestinians have been killed and more than six thousand injured during the first twenty days of Israeli military’s offensive into Gaza, according to the latest tally by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Forty-six Israelis have been killed, including two civilians and one foreign national.
Hamas has rejected several cease-fire initiatives, including the US-backed deal tabled by Cairo earlier this month, and said it will continue to do so until the Netanyahu Administration agrees to terminate its seven-year blockade of Gaza. In an exclusive interview with Charlie Rose, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal reiterated the organization’s position. “Life is a right for our people in Palestine,” said Meshaal. “This is a collective punishment. We need to lift the siege.”
Analysts explain that Hamas’ obstinacy reflects the group’s desire to remain a political mainstay in the Israeli-Palestinian equation, after joining a unity government with the Palestinian Authority earlier this year. “Hamas wants to prove that it can make demands and it can deliver results,” says Khatib. “So it’s important, for its own credibility, to show that it can make demands and see the results.”
Rico says that Eyeless in Gaza was a good book, but it should now be called Clueless in Gaza...

Didn't need more of this, either

The Associated Press has an article in Time about Ebola, back again:
One of Liberia’s most high-profile doctors has died of Ebola, officials said, and an American physician was being treated for the deadly virus, highlighting the risks facing health workers trying to combat an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in West Africa, the most ever recorded.
Dr. Samuel Brisbane, a top Liberian health official, was treating Ebola patients at the country’s largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, Liberia when he fell ill. He died Saturday, said Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant health minister. A Ugandan doctor died earlier this month.
The American physician, 33-year-old Dr. Kent Brantly (photo, left), was in Liberia helping to respond to the outbreak that has killed 129 people nationwide when he fell ill, according to the North Carolina-based medical charity, Samaritan’s Purse. He was receiving intensive medical care in a Monrovia hospital and was in stable condition, according to a spokeswoman for the aid group, Melissa Strickland. “We are hopeful, but he is certainly not out of the woods yet,” she said. Early treatment improves a patient’s chances of survival, and Brantly recognized his own symptoms and began receiving care immediately, Strickland said.
The American missionary, Nancy Writebol, was gravely ill and in isolation in Monrovia, her husband, David, told a church elder via Skype, according to the Reverend John Munro, pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Munro said the couple, who had been in Liberia for about a year, insisted on staying there despite the Ebola threat. “These are real heroes; people who do things quietly behind the scenes, people with a very strong vocation and very strong faith,” Munro said.
There is no known cure for the highly contagious virus, which is one of the deadliest in the world. At least twelve hundred people have been infected in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization, and 672 have died. Besides the Liberian fatalities, 319 people have died in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone.
Ominously, Nigerian authorities said that a Liberian man died of Ebola after flying from Monrovia to Lagos via Lome, Togo. The case underscored the difficulty of preventing Ebola victims from traveling given weak screening systems and the fact that the initial symptoms of the disease— including fever and sore throat— resemble many other illnesses. Health workers are among those at greatest risk of contracting the disease, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids.
Photos of Brantly working in Liberia show him swathed head-to-toe in white protective coveralls, gloves, and a head-and-face mask that he wore for hours a day while treating Ebola patients. Earlier this year, the American was quoted in a posting about the dangers facing health workers trying to contain the disease. “In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been health care workers who contracted the disease through their work caring for infected individuals,” he said.
There is no known cure for Ebola, which begins with symptoms including fever and sore throat and escalates to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding.
The WHO says the disease is not contagious until a person begins to show symptoms. Brantly’s wife and children had been living with him in Liberia, but flew home to the US about a week ago, before the doctor started showing any signs of illness, Strickland said.
“They have absolutely shown no symptoms,” she said. A woman who identified herself as Brantly’s mother said the family was declining immediate comment when reached by phone in Indiana.
Besides Brantly and the two doctors in Liberia, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor and a doctor in Liberia’s central Bong County have also fallen ill. The situation “is getting more and more scary,” said Nyenswah, the country’s assistant health minister.
Meanwhile, the fact that a sick Liberian could board a flight to Nigeria raised new fears that other passengers could take the disease beyond Africa.
Nigeria’s international airports were screening passengers arriving from foreign countries, and health officials were also working with ports and land borders to raise awareness of the disease. Togo’s government also said it was on high alert.
Security analysts were skeptical about the usefulness of these measures. “In Nigeria’s case, the security set-up is currently bad, so I doubt it will help or have the minimum effectiveness they are hoping for,” said Yan St. Pierre, CEO of the Berlin-based security consulting firm MOSECON. An outbreak in Lagos, a megacity where many lived in cramped conditions, could be a major public health disaster.
The West Africa outbreak is believed to have begun as far back as January of 2014 in southeast Guinea, though the first cases weren’t confirmed until March of 2014. Since then, officials have tried to contain the disease by isolating victims and educating populations on how to avoid transmission, though porous borders and widespread distrust of health workers have made the outbreak difficult to bring under control.
News of Brisbane’s death first began circulating on Saturday, a national holiday marking Liberia’s independence in 1847. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her Independence Day address to discuss a new task force to combat Ebola. Information Minister Lewis Brown said the task force would go “from community to community, from village to village, from town to town” to try to increase awareness.
In Sierra Leone, which has recorded the highest number of new cases in recent days, the first case originating in Freetown, the capital, came when a hairdresser, Saudata Koroma, fell ill. She was forcibly removed from a government hospital by her family, sparking a frantic search that ended Friday. Kargbo, the chief medical officer, said Sunday that Koroma died while being transported to a treatment center in the east of the country.
Rico says hey, it's just the end of the fucking world if this stuff gets out...

Puberty, in case you missed it

Charlotte Alter has a Time article about it:
Everyone should have a "first moon party"
If you thought sitcoms were 22 minutes long, think again. This amazing ad for HelloFlo tells a full coming-of-age story (complete with beginning, middle and end) in just over two minutes.
It’s so great to see an ad that is both hilarious and insightful, and totally nails the awkwardness surrounding the first period. Extra points for resisting the schmaltzy “love yourself” messaging that seems to have infected most other ads aimed at women. Plus, a period starter-pack actually seems like a really smart product that young women actually need. Watch it all the way to the end. The ketchup is the best part.

Rico says it ain't fun, especially for girls...

Another thing nobody asked for

P. Nash Jenkins has a Time article about Sarah Palin's new show:
Former Alaskan Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (photo) envisions The Sarah Palin Channel will function as a "community", she tells viewers in a video clip on the homepage.
Sarah Palin has never been uncomfortable with her status as one of America’s most watchable celebrities, which she’s enjoyed since first joining John McCain’s presidential campaign as a virtually unknown former governor of Alaska six years ago next month. She gave us a memoir, she gave us another memoir, she landed a spot at Fox News. “She was hot and got ratings,” network president Roger Ailes told The Associated Press.
Now, she’ll be the star of her own internet television network, Variety reports, after The Sarah Palin Channel launched recently.
In an introductory video posted on the network’s website, Palin digs at the status quo of information and politics in the US and, while she doesn’t ever directly address the perimeters of party lines, there is obvious reason to suspect that she’s gunning for a conservative audience. “We’ll go directly to the root of the problems confronting America,” she says in the clip. “We’ll talk about the issues that the mainstream media won’t talk about. We’ll look at the ideas that I think Washington doesn’t want you to hear.”
The fifty-year-old describes the network as a “community” where, for a subscription fee of either $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year, users can post footage to the site, send Palin their own questions and, should they so desire, read a blog curated by Bristol Palin, her daughter.
Palin’s not the first candidate to lose an election and then embrace the media. 1 August 2014 marks the ninth anniversary of the launch of Current TV, Al Gore’s since-folded television network, which al-Jazeera bought last year.
Rico says she's still looking good at fifty, but he wonders who she'll sell hers to...

Vatican for the day

The BBC has a video of Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's private residence:

Rico says it's good to be the prince, especially when you've got all those Catholics coughing up the money for a spread like this...

Wiped out, as we could be

The BBC has an article by Pallab Ghosh about luck:
Dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid impact when they were at their most vulnerable, according to a new study.
Dr. Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh University said sea level rises and volcanic activity had made many species more susceptible to extinction. They might have survived if the asteroid had hit the Earth a few million years later or earlier, he said, calling it "colossal bad luck". The assessment has been published in the journal Biological Reviews. "It was a perfect storm of events, when dinosaurs were at their most vulnerable," Brusatte told BBC News. The study brought together eleven leading dinosaur experts from the UK, the US, and Canada to assess the latest research on the extinction of dinosaurs sixty-six million years ago.
There is evidence that some species of dinosaur were dying off shortly before an asteroid hit the Earth. One of the key questions was whether this gradual decline would have led to the extinction of these animals even if the asteroid had not hit. The experts concluded that, although some species of plant eaters in North America were dying out in the period leading up to the asteroid impact, there was no evidence of a long-term decline.
However, the experts believe that rises in sea level and increased volcanic activity made many species more susceptible to extinction just at the point that the asteroid struck.
Brusatte believes that, had the asteroid hit the Earth a few million years earlier, before the environmental pressures became worse, or a few million years later, when the dinosaurs might have recovered, they would be roaming the Earth to this day. "Five million years earlier, dinosaur ecosystems were much stronger, they were more diverse, the base of the food chain was more robust and it was harder to knock out a lot of species," he said. "If they had a few million years more to recover their diversity they would have had a better chance of surviving the asteroid impact. Dinosaurs had been around for a hundred and sixty million years, they had plenty of dips and troughs in their diversity, but they always recovered." It was the demise of the dinosaurs that enabled mammals including our own species to diversify and evolve. Brusatte said that, if it were it not for an asteroid hitting the Earth exactly when it did, we would be living in a dinosaur dominated world, except there would be no "we". "Except that we would not be here, because mammals would not have had the opportunity to blossom, and we would not be having this conversation!" he quipped.
This intriguing idea raises the question as to how dinosaurs might have evolved. Could they have developed in the same way as mammals, becoming an advanced species similar to modern humans? I asked Brusatte: "Could dinosaur you and dinosaur me be having this conversation, instead?" "It's possible!" he said. "With evolution never say never. It is certainly possible that dinosaurs could have evolved intelligence."
Professor Simon Conway-Morris from the University of Cambridge agrees, but does not go quite as far as Brusatte. "As far as dinosaurs becoming intelligent is concerned, the experiment has been done; we call them crows," he told BBC News. He adds that if there was no mass extinction, then he believes that the dinosaurs would not have carried on to the present day. He says that other groups of animals were more likely to have developed advanced intelligence and the ability to make tools. "From that moment on, the dinosaurs would have been toast," he said.
Others involved in the study are less bullish than Brusatte. They say that, while his arguments are plausible, they believe that it is impossible to say whether dinosaurs would have survived had the asteroid hit the Earth at a slightly different time. "We can't re-run the tape of life and see whether an impact at a different time would have led to total extinction," says Dr. Richard Butler of Birmingham University. "But it did come at a particularly bad time."
Dr. Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum says that the new study shows that types of dinosaurs were already declining in numbers before the asteroid impact. "This new work provides the best evidence for sudden dinosaur extinction, and for tying this event to the asteroid impact, rather than other possible causes, such as the longer-term effects of the extensive volcanic activity that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous."
Rico says we should be lucky, and have our comet (hey, it's coming) arrive when we have the technology to do something about it...

History for the day

On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. World War One began, as declarations of war by other European nations quickly followed.

Rico says that, four long years later, all we'd done was change the maps, and lay the groundwork for World War Two...

The song in Rico's head

Rico says that, hopefully, this will make the incessant "nobody's getting fat except Mama Cass" go away:

27 July 2014

Movie review for the day (Run & Jump)

It's another depressing picked-by-the-ladyfriend movie, Run & Jump:
An American doctor (played by Will Forte, photo, left) travels to Ireland to study the Casey family after 38-year-old Conor suffers a stroke which changes his personality, leaving dynamo wife and mother Vanetia (played by Maxine Peake, photo, right) to run the show.
Rico says he asked if it was that hard when he first came home from the hospital, seven years ago now, and she said that "sometimes it's still like that"...

Comic-Con for the day

Arkasha Stevenson has an article in The New York Times about boys (and men) being boys:

Rico says it's just one variant of the 'let's dress up' behavior that's considered normal in girls and little boys, but disparaged when we get older...

History for the day

On 27 July 1953, an armistice was signed (photo) at Panmunjom, on the border between North and South Korea, ending three years of undeclared war.

Movie review for the day (God's Pocket)

Rico says the ladyfriend has been known to pick some odd movies, but God's Pocket is now at the top of the list.
Set in a working-class suburb of Philadelphia, it starred a lot of good people: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Mickey ScarpatoChristina Hendricks as the well-endowed Jeanie ScarpatoJohn Turturro as Arthur 'Bird' Capezio, and Richard Jenkins as Richard Shellburn, a columnist for the local newspaper.
There was a lot of inter-marital and extra-marital sex (some of it relatively explicit), a lot of explosive (mostly drunken) violence, a lot of drinking in bars, and generally depressing behavior:
When Mickey's crazy step-son Leon is killed in a construction 'accident', nobody in the working class neighborhood of God's Pocket is sorry he's gone. Mickey tries to bury the bad news with the body, but, when the boy's mother demands the truth, Mickey finds himself stuck in a life-and-death struggle between a body he can't bury, a wife he can't please, and a debt he can't pay.
Rico can't really recommend it, unless you need a good downer for some reason...

Sex manual, sort of

Rico's friend Kelley forwards the Iranian Islamic Fundamentalist’s Handbook on Sex in the West by Shima Shahrabi:
Muslim women who wear veils are sexier, kiss better, and are less inclined to bestiality, say these clerics. Western women? Well, forget it.
Back in the 1990s when I was in my early teens, I was sent to the school office at Hoda Girls Middle School for being found in possession of a Michael Jackson videotape.
The school counselor forced to deal with me pulled her headscarf forward and glanced warily at the videotape on her desk. “Do you know this singer? Does anybody know whether he is a man or a woman?” she asked, not waiting for an answer before continuing, “They live like animals. They only want to satisfy their sexual urges. It makes no difference whether they sleep next to a man or a woman. They don’t care if they have babies from dogs or…” She lowered her voice and asked me: “Did you know that this very same singer or dancer, or whatever you want to call him, has relations with animals?” She pronounced the sentence as though she knew every detail of Michael Jackson’s relations with animals.
It was the first time that I had ever heard about bestiality, something that, according to my counselor, was very common in the West.
I thought back to that moment in the school office when I read statements this week by Mehdi Bayati, the cleric who directs Iran’s Strategic Center for Chastity and Modesty. Back when I was in middle school, both my religion teacher and that school counselor dedicated long hours to how Western men and women have lost their taste for one another, how they are emotionally broken and have turned to animals to satisfy their desires. All this was meant to encourage young students to observe the Islamic hijab, instilling fears in them about what would become of a society in which women were not sufficiently chaste.
“The fact that sixty percent of Western women prefer to sleep with dogs rather than men is the result of the absence of hijab.”
Mehdi Bayati has been putting forward the same argument. “The growth of feminism in the West and the fact that sixty percent of Western women prefer to sleep with dogs rather than men is the result of the absence of hijab [the veil] and the diminished threshold of women’s sexual arousal,” he told the Resa News Agency, run by the Qom seminary.
He did not specify the source of this figure, but referred to the provocative nature of women’s hair. “It is said that the Prophet Mohammad stated that women’s hair sexually arouses men”, he said, conceding that “perhaps modern science has not proven this” but “it was said by somebody who only speaks the truth.”
Invoking one of the less frequently discussed rationales for imposed dress codes, Bayati also said that “the absence of hijab lowers the libido of men and this would not benefit women.”
Iranian clerics have long promoted Islamic hijab by arguing about sexual corruption or deviance in the West, but one of the strangest comments came earlier this year from the cleric Mohammad-Mehdi Mandegary, a member of the ultra-conservative Endurance Front and the head of an organization called Foundation for Promoting the Way of the Martyrs.
Mandegary declared Western women are sexually promiscuous in a manner not even found in the natural world. “In the West, when one woman has relations with several men, they take pride in it,” he said. “But animals are different and a female of the species does not have relations with several males at the same time.”
Mandegary, like many hardliners, believes Iranian culture has become too Westernized and distant from true Islamic culture. In a speech, he asked Iranian men and women to abstain from sex after watching satellite television so that the embryo would not be polluted. “Unfortunately some people are not careful about the moment of conception,” he said in warning. “They do it after watching satellite television and listening to inappropriate music. But all this affects the embryo.”
Even leggings have been pulled into the fray. Recently, tight leg apparel has become the focus of controversy among Islamic Republic officials, and the issue was brought to the floor of parliament by the Tehran MP Ali Motahari. In an open session he displayed pictures of women in leggings, and argued in remarks broadcast on television that  “sexual deviations, homosexuality, and bestiality are results of unbridled behavior and the trampling of morality, which hijab would prevent,” and legging, it would seem, incites.
Another bizarre comment comes from Mohsen Gharaati, a cleric who is the representative of the Supreme Leader at the Literacy Campaign and a frequent television personality. In a speech he declared that “Westerners have been cheated when it comes to sex.” He then compared a kiss between an American boy and girl with the kisses that he used to get from his grandmother. “When I was in America, I saw boys and girls who were kissing each other but it was as though they were kissing a brick wall,” he said. “The kisses were not solid because, perhaps, this was the 96th person they were kissing that day. But when our grandmother kissed us, it felt like she was sucking us in.” When the audience laughed he added that “they think freedom would benefit them, but they were cheated.”
I turned to Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari, a reformist cleric who spent three years in prison for his political positions, to help me understand the religious or social context for such views. “These words astonish me as much as they amaze you,” he said.  “I ask myself whether these gentleman are delusional, or have been given wrong information. But I cannot find a clear answer for such nonsense.” Eshkevari noted that such views have a long history, and cited Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, who returned from Paris and justified imposed hijab by saying that ‘women’s hair radiates a spark that arouses men.”
Banisadr, according to Eshkevari, also interpreted a verse from the Qur’an to mean that some women were aroused when beaten. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi interpreted the same verse in the same way about seven years ago, Eshkevari says, concluding that physical harm arouses some women. “If an Islamic thinker and a Western-educated man such as Banisadr resorts to such things to justify himself, what do you expect from Ayatollah Shirazi?” Eshkevari said.
But it is not only clerics and Islamic ideologues who use offensive words and images to describe the sexual life of Westerners. Last winter, the commander of the Basij paramilitary force, General Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, used this theme to criticize nuclear negotiations with the Americans. “Thirty-five percent of babies who are born in America are bastards,” he said, without citing a source for his statistics.
A few months later, Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, a member of Iran's Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, went even further in a speech about human rights. “In Western societies, 75 percent of children do not know their fathers and are raised by their mothers,” he told his audience. Defending the death penalty by stoning for adultery, he asked: “Why do Western countries consider this punishment against human rights?” He answered his own question by saying that “there are no sexual complexes in Islam because, in Islam, marriage makes faith complete, whereas, in Christianity, marriage is not a Godly affair.”
Last month, Hassan Abbasi, the head of the Center for Doctrinal Strategic Studies in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a theoretician in the office of the Supreme Leader, claimed that the “Western human rights approves of incest. Incest is very rare in animals, but the Western man has debased himself so much that he supports incest as a human right.” “In America, a hundred percent of men have free sexual relations after marriage,” Abbasi said in another speech, which was aired on television. “While, in Iran, perhaps two men out of ten thousand might marry a second wife. Listen to them shout about equality between men and women.” Abbasi then referred to Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American astronaut and the first Iranian woman in space. “The basis of the Shi’a thought is chastity and the West uses women to destroy Shi’ism. Why did they send this woman Anousheh Ansari into space with a few men? They want to kill chastity. This is the main plank of feminism, and feminism is the foundation of American lifestyle.”
Reading and researching such statements, I wonder how widely held such attitudes still are today among mainstream Iranians. On a whim, I went on Facebook and searched for my old school counselor, who in her profile picture still wears hijab, but not as strictly as in those days. I noticed a picture of her daughter, who was our classmate, and out of curiosity visited her page. She was not wearing hijab, but, more surprising that that, is married to an Englishman. I was reminded of what her mother, the school counselor, told us so many years ago: “Ninety percent of Westerners have sexual problems. They are not aroused and most of them have relations with animals.”
Rico says he did not know that Michael Jackson had sex with animals. And all of this would be funny, if it weren't so scary...

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