24 October 2016

Dead from something

The Washington Post has an article by Kristine Guerra about some mysterious deaths:

Cameron and Courtney Hulet (photo) were lying on their living room floor when a neighbor saw them. The neighbor didn’t think much of it. She heard moans and figured they were asleep. She closed the front door, which the couple had a habit of leaving open, David Uhl, manager of the southeast Michigan village of Dundee, told The Washington Post. It was Tuesday morning.
The neighbor said she didn’t see the Hulets all day, according to Uhl. She went back to check on them later that night. They were still lying next to each other. Taco Bell bags and drinks sat next to them on a table, untouched.
The woman had a male friend check on them, Uhl said. Police were called to the apartment shortly before midnight, according to the Dundee Police DepartmentUhl said the young couple had probably been dead for at least twelve hours. When the neighbor saw them that morning, they probably were already dead or “very close to it” he said.
The deaths have baffled investigators in the town, about sixty miles from Detroit. There were no signs of a break-in or physical trauma. The leading theory is that drugs may have been involved, though there’s no evidence that the two had overdosed. Toxicology results won’t be available for two weeks, Uhl said. “It’s very suspicious. It’s really weird,” he said. “You’d think you’d find something. Pill bottles, needles, something. And there’s nothing.”
Authorities did find a pound of marijuana in the kitchen, though police don’t know whether that had any connection to the deaths. Uhl said the drugs were being divided to be sold.
According to the police department, Cameron Hulet, 28, and Courtney Hulet, 20, had just moved from Newport, Michigan. Uhl said police had been to their apartment several times after neighbors heard them screaming at each other. Two small children were living with them, but they were taken to foster care before the parents were found dead.
Uhl said that authorities don’t know much about Courtney Hulet, but that Cameron Hulet, who attended school in Dundee, had been previously arrested on drug-related charges. “I am beyond saddened by the loss of you. You mean so much to me and I am devastated. I can’t stop seeing your face,” Cameron Hulet’s brother, Garrett Hulet, wrote on Facebook. A GoFundMe account was set up to help pay for his funeral expenses.
Cameron left behind a devastated mother and father, his twin brother, two older brothers, three step-siblings and two young children,” Garrett Hulet wrote on the GoFundMe page. “This is all still hard to comprehend. It was so sudden and tragic.”
Cameron Hulet’s mother, Cheryl Harris, told People that her son was working two jobs to support his family. She said he and his wife had been having troubles since their two young sons, a one-year-old and a four-month-old, were placed in foster care. “It was devastating to them,” Harris said. “They called me bawling their eyes out. I loved them both,” she added.
Rico says the Taco Bell connection may just be a coincidence...

World War Two for the day

War Tales has an article by Don Moore about an unusual spoil of war:

Bob Granchi of Port Charlotte, Florida was a Screaming Eagle, a member of the 101st Airborne Division that jumped behind German lines on D-Day. He was also surrounded by the enemy at Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944.
When the war ended, his unit, the 326th Airborne Engineering Battalion of the 101st Airborne was at Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat in southern Germany. Grachi’s sergeant, James C. Cox of Gary, Indiana, liberated Hitler’s sporty Mercedes-Benz roadster. The car made the young sergeant famous and got him a big promotion.
Sergeant Cox became First Lieutenant Cox. He and der Führer’s car went on a War Bond tour around the northeastern United States in November of 1944. The tour raised more than six million in bonds for the Treasury. Cox received a letter of commendation for his support of the war effort, but he didn’t get to keep the famous automobile.
By the time Cox had captured the sports car, Granchi was recovering from his third wound during World War Two in a hospital in England. Later he was sent back to the States to recuperate. It was during this recuperation period he happened to see his former sergeant making the bond tour with Hitler’s Mercedes.
He met Lieutenant Cox standing beside the blue, seventeen-foot-long, two-seat German roadster with its twelve-cylinder, super-charged engine that could do 120 mph. It had armor-plated doors and an armor plated back panel behind the seats. It also had an inch-thick glass windshield for protection.
Granchi didn’t think any more about Hitler’s car until he was invited to attend a week-long annual soirée put on by the 101st Airborne Division at its headquarters in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
When Granchi and his wife arrived at Campbell, it was one of the first things they spotted: Hitler’s Mercedes that the now-dead Lieutenant Cox had confiscated almost a half-century earlier. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
The current owner of the car had put it on display at the 101st’s annual get-together because he knew the history of the car. When Granchi told him he was in the unit that captured the sports car during World War Two, he was invited to take it for a spin. Since it was a million-dollar vintage stick shift, he declined the offer and opted instead to get his picture taken in der Führer’s car.
Granchi contacted Lieutenant Cox’ son in California and asked him to send him more information on the car his father had liberated in Germany. A few weeks later, the Port Charlotte vet received a manila envelope containing old newspaper clippings, official letters, and detailed info on the specially-made German roadster.
It was obvious from the material Granchi got from the son that the Mercedes made a big hit with the general public while it was on tour in 1944. The bond tour took Lieutenant Cox and Hitler’s car to twenty cities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, beginning on 2 November 1944.
Unfortunately for Cox, he didn’t get to keep the car. It became the property of the Treasury Department. Eventually it was sold, after the war, by the Federal government to a private collector.
For Bob Granchi, seeing der Führer’s Mercedes again brought back fond memories.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper from Port Charlotte, Florida.
Rico says he wonders where that ended up...

Brosnan demands removal of his image from ad

From the BBC, an article about unwanted publicity in The Times of India:

Former Bond star Pierce Brosnan has condemned the "unauthorized and deceptive" use of his image to promote an Indian mouth freshener. Brosnan caused a stir in India when he appeared in an ad (photo) for Pan Bahar, a product many associate with a highly addictive form of chewing tobacco. He told People magazine he was "distressed" by the row. He has asked Ashok & Co., the company that produces Pan Bahar, to remove his image from all their advertising.
Many have associated Pan Bahar with pan masala and gutka, a potent mixture of tobacco, crushed betel nut, lime, and clove, among other ingredients. It is chewed and then spat out in bright red streams by millions of people, who get addicted to its mildly psychotropic effects. Both pan masala and gutka have been linked to cancer, with many Indian states banning their sale and running campaigns to discourage people from buying them.
Representatives from Ashok & Co. were not available for comment, and their website displays a sign saying it is "under maintenance". However, speaking to the BBC when the ad appeared, the company said the outrage was the result of "public misconception", adding that there was no tobacco or nicotine in the product. However, such clarifications did little to quell social media anger at the time, with many accusing Brosnan of "promoting cancer" in endorsing Pan Bahar.
Brosnan said that the company had "manipulated" media agencies into thinking he was an ambassador for the product and apologized to anyone he may have offended. "Having endured, in my own personal life, the loss of my first wife and daughter, as well as numerous friends, to cancer, I am fully committed to supporting women's healthcare and research programs that improve human health and alleviate suffering," his statement said.
There has been some social reaction to Brosnan's statement, but nowhere near the level as when the ad first appeared.
Rico says he's so famous, he doesn't need the PR (plus that stuff sounds disgusting, and hardly a 'mouth freshener')...

Do six people die for every kilo of cocaine?

From the BBC:

Rico says, even with the rounding error, that's a lot of death...

Webcams used to attack Reddit and Twitter recalled

From the BBC:


Rico says that's closing the barn door a little late...

Tom Hayden, famed anti-Vietnam war activist, dead at 76

From the BBC:


Rico says the people from his childhood are starting to go...

Biden wishes he could take Trump ‘behind the gym’

From Time:

Rico says he wonders when this election reverted to high school...

Santorini, Italy

Travel & Leisure has an article by Lindsey Campbell and Danielle Berman about yet another place Rico hasn't been: Santorini:

It's no surprise that Santorini was voted Europe's Best Island by Travel & Leisure readers in this year's World's Best Awards. Cliffs covered in historic, whitewashed, and blue-domed buildings, black and red sand beaches, and lots of infinity pools with idyllic views of the cerulean Aegean Sea are just a few of the features making the island the subject of our digital daydreams.
Rico says it's on his bucket list...

Not even when U2 showed up

The BBC has an article by Valentina Valentini about a pub with serious rules:

As the photographer snapped the shutter, the man drinking a pint of Guinness in the front booth of John Kavanagh, The Gravediggers pub, held a newspaper up over his face, annoyed.
“Oh no,” said Anne Kavanagh, the front-of-house manager. “Don’t take pictures of the locals. They don’t like it.”
There are many quirks about Gravediggers, as it’s locally known, that make it unique. In order to keep the bar as close to its original appeal as possible, there’s no singing or dancing allowed, and there’s never been a telephone or a television. It has its own myths and ghost stories, as well as tales of friendships and family strife, all passed down through the eight generations of the Kavanagh family, who’ve run the pub since it opened in north Dublin, Ireland, in 1833.
Today, four of the seventh-generation Kavanagh siblings –Anne, Ciaran, Anthony, and Niall, and their mother, Kathleen, manage the business. The pub got its nickname because it’s built into the wall of Glasnevin Cemetery, famous for being Ireland’s first cemetery where people of all faiths could be laid to rest, and gravediggers frequented the spot after a long nightshift.
The original section of the pub, situated on Prospect Square at the eastern edge of the graveyard, is dark and compact. It still has the original countertops, now moved back a couple of feet to accommodate more drinkers. The flooring is so caked over with Guinness and tobacco stains that the wood has bubbled in places.
“Three years ago, Lonely Planet put us at number 47 out of 50 hidden treasures of Europe,” Anne told me. “That was a huge thing for the business. People were curious to see why.”
Anthony Bourdain was curious too, as was Bizarre FoodsAndrew Zimmern. But long before John Kavanagh’s, as the pub was originally named, after its proprietor, attracted the world of famous foodies, it was a drop-in spot for anyone attending a funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery next door, or their gravediggers after the coffins were covered.
The pub did occasionally attract a celebrity or two, however. In 1984, the lead singer of Irish folk band The Dubliners, Luke Kelly, died. He was to be buried at Glasnevin with all the pomp and circumstance awarded a well-known musician. Ciaran was fourteen at the time, the youngest worker at the pub, and was washing glasses when everyone started rolling in: U2, The Chieftains, the rest of The Dubliners, and they came bearing instruments. “They started to clear their throats and began playing music,” he remembered. “My dad, Eugene Kavanagh, went out there and told everybody that they couldn’t have any music or singing. ‘We don't allow it,’ he said. It would have been the best session ever, and especially in the pub that didn't have any music, it would have gone down in legend. But that was the rule; it’s a place to just drink, it’s always been about the drinking.”
Perhaps it’s this dedication to tradition that’s kept the local, no-frills watering hole in business for 183 years. In 1831, the property was purchased by hotelier John O'Neill, who later sectioned off the house, selling the main frontage to the cemetery and making the ground floor a public house and the first floor a family home.
In 1833, when John Kavanagh married O’Neill’s daughter, Suzanne, O’Neill gave the pub to them as a wedding gift. The tavern thrived. Coffins and hearses sat outside while bereaved family and friends drank away their sorrows, sometimes forgetting to get to the actual graveyard. In fact, according to Glasnevin’s resident historian Conor Dodd, Dublin’s cemeteries committee brought in their own bylaw that restricted burials to occur only before noon (now moved to 3 pm), which hoped to eliminate the number of people who were showing up drunk to funerals or not at all.
Eventually, Joseph Kavanagh, John’s son, threatened to take the City Council to court because of lost earnings, but it was for nought, because Glasnevin closed the east gate into the cemetery in 1878. “That was our main revenue,” said Ciaran, now the head chef. “So, in 1870, we started losing a lot.”
Joseph, then a young man, eager to keep his father’s legacy going, put a skittles and shooting range in the back alley to try to lure back customers. He handed out flyers at the cemetery’s new main gate, and business began to pick up again. And it’s this creative thinking that’s allowed the Kavanaghs to keep their pub open for almost two centuries.
By 1920, Josephine “Josie” McKenna Kavanagh, who ran the pub for an astonishing two dozen years, introduced a grocery to the bar. In the 1980s, Eugene Kavanagh built a lounge onto the pub, the first on the north side of the city. And in the early 2000s, Ciaran introduced food into the establishment, starting with a lunch menu and moving into evening tapas. “As soon as you could stand on a box, you could pour pints and wash glasses,” Ciaran recalled, reminiscing about growing up at Gravediggers. “We all did it.”
Sadly, Eugene passed away last year from lung cancer, leaving his wife, children, and grandchildren to keep Gravediggers afloat. But the love and respect for him was still palpable as I sat, feasting on Ciaran’s famous Irish spring rolls and observing the latest generation to run the locally adored establishment. Eugene’s portrait hung over the lounge back bar where Niall served a pint, and Anne, close by, chatted with the regulars while soothing her sister’s week-old daughter, Charlotte, in her arms, the latest generation of Kavanaghs.
Rico says he never drank there, and should have, but 'a shooting range in the back alley' is not something you'll see outside a bar in the States...

22 October 2016

Alan's Cobra and a B17

Rico says it don't get any better than that...

Al Smith, funny, sort of

Time has an article by Cady Lang about the 2016 Al Smith dinner:

Following the heated third and final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton (photo, left) and Donald Trump (photo, right) attended the 71st annual Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York City on Thursday night.
The white-tie event, which has traditionally been a vehicle for presidential candidates to make lighthearted jokes about each other in a sort of genteel roast, is the last public appearance that both candidates will appear at together before the election.
Because the dinner is a fundraiser for Catholic charities, it’s hosted by the Archbishop of New York City; this year it was hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan (photo, center), who had the task of sitting between Clinton and Trump during the dinner.
The tension of the affair provided plenty of opportunities for the folks at home and online to sound off with their reactions. Many of them found humor in the awkwardness of the situation after a contentious debate, while others had hot takes about the dinner guests’ reactions to the jabs that Hillary and Donald were exchanging. See the Internet’s best offerings about last night’s Al Smith dinner here. Others were still in awe of how awkward the situation was:

Rico says it'd've been funnier if they weren't so political, but it was more Alfred E. Neuman than Alfred. E. Smith...

Rico's friend Kelley weighs in:
This is Trump at his worst. Does he mean that, if he loses, he won't accept the result? Will he then declare himself the winner? If he loses, Hilary will certainly move into the White House. Will he try to prevent that? Will he set up a shadow cabinet and attempt to govern until he become a small, whiny voice in the wilderness? His declaration is sheer "bluster without consequence". People simply will not listen to him any more.
Rico says a whiny voice may be the best we can hope for...

Quote for the day

"I'm not for labeling someone as mentally ill for the rest of their lives, but there are warning signs that should prevent the purchase of a gun, and we are just not doing it."

Heath Taylor, the sheriff in Russell County, Alabama, where John R. Houser lived and legally bought the handgun he used to open fire in a Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater.

History for the day: 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis

In a televised speech of extraordinary gravity, then-President John F. Kennedy announced that American spy planes had discovered then-Soviet missile bases in Cuba. These missile sites, under construction but nearing completion, housed medium-range missiles capable of striking a number of major cities in the United States, including Washington, DC. Kennedy announced that he was ordering a naval “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting any more offensive weapons to the island, and explained that the United States would not tolerate the existence of the missile sites currently in place. The president made it clear that America would not stop short of military action to end what he called a “clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace.”
What is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis actually began on 15 October 1962, the day that American intelligence personnel analyzing U-2 spy plane data discovered that the Soviets were building medium-range missile sites in Cuba. The next day, Kennedy secretly convened an emergency meeting of his senior military, political, and diplomatic advisers to discuss the ominous development. The group became known as ExCom, short for Executive Committee. After rejecting a surgical air strike against the missile sites, ExCom decided on a naval quarantine and a demand that the bases be dismantled and missiles removed. On the night of 22 October, Kennedy went on national television to announce his decision. During the next six days, the crisis escalated to a breaking point, as the world tottered on the brink of nuclear war between the two superpowers.
On 23 October, the quarantine of Cuba began, but Kennedy decided to give Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev more time to consider the American action by pulling the quarantine line back five hundred miles miles. By 24 October, Soviet ships en route to Cuba capable of carrying military cargoes appeared to have slowed down, altered, or reversed their course as they approached the quarantine, with the exception of one ship, the tanker Bucharest. At the request of more than forty nonaligned nations, then-Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, sent private appeals to both Kennedy and Khrushchev, urging that their governments “refrain from any action that may aggravate the situation and bring with it the risk of war.” At the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, American military forces went to DEFCON 2, the highest military alert ever reached in the postwar era, as military commanders prepared for full-scale war with the Soviet Union.
On 25 October, the aircraft carrier USS Essex and the destroyer USS Gearing attempted to intercept the Bucharest as it crossed over the quarantine line. The Soviet ship failed to cooperate, but the Navy restrained from forcibly seizing the ship, deeming it unlikely that the tanker was carrying offensive weapons. On 26 October 26, Kennedy learned that work on the missile bases was proceeding without interruption, and ExCom considered authorizing an invasion of Cuba. The same day, the Soviets transmitted a proposal for ending the crisis: the missile bases would be removed in exchange for a pledge not to invade Cuba.
The next day, however, Khrushchev upped the ante by publicly calling for the dismantling of American missile bases in Turkey, under pressure from Soviet military commanders. While Kennedy and his crisis advisers debated this dangerous turn in negotiations, a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba, and its pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, was killed. To the dismay of the Pentagon, Kennedy forbade a military retaliation unless any more surveillance planes were fired upon over Cuba. To defuse the worsening crisis, Kennedy and his advisers agreed to dismantle the missile sites in Turkey, but at a later date, in order to prevent the protest of Turkey, a key NATO member.
On 28 October, Khrushchev announced his government’s intent to dismantle and remove all offensive Soviet weapons in Cuba. With the airing of the public message on Radio Moscow, the USSR confirmed its willingness to proceed with the solution secretly proposed by the Americans the day before. In the afternoon, Soviet technicians began dismantling the missile sites, and the world stepped back from the brink of nuclear war, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was effectively over. In November, Kennedy called off the blockade, and by the end of the year all the offensive missiles had left Cuba. Soon after, the United States quietly removed its missiles from Turkey.
The Cuban Missile Crisis seemed at the time a clear victory for the United States, but Cuba emerged from the episode with a much greater sense of security.The removal of antiquated Jupiter missiles from Turkey had no detrimental effect on American nuclear strategy, but the Cuban Missile Crisis convinced a humiliated USSR to commence a massive nuclear buildup. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union reached nuclear parity with the United States, and built intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking any city in the United States.
A succession of American administrations honored Kennedy’s pledge not to invade Cuba, and relations with the communist island nation, situated just eighty miles from Florida, remained a thorn in the side of American foreign policy for more than fifty years. In 2015, officials from both nations announced the formal normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, which included the easing of travel restrictions and the opening of embassies and diplomatic missions in both countries.
Rico says he was only eleven, but remembers it well, and has a B&B all picked out in Havana when he and the fiancée can afford to go...

Qurans and solar cells: inside the ISIS tunnels

From Time, an article by Jared Malsin and Sheikh Amir about tunnels in Iraq:

The jihadists had prepared to hunker down in the tunnel for a long wait. They stashed canned food, clothes, vegetables, and stacks of water jugs. In the underground bunker, they could take shelter from airstrikes, or perhaps even wait out an invasion and then burst onto the surface, surprising their enemies.
ISIS militants dug, reinforced, and outfitted a tunnel in the village of Sheikh Amir, which was retaken by Kurdish forces on Monday, the first day of a major offensive intended to seize the nearby city of Mosul, the largest urban center under the group’s control. A day later, Kurdish troops handed the village to the Iraqi special forces, who are now using part of the hamlet as a staging area for their attack down the main road into Mosul from the east.
The tunnel was one piece of the elaborate military preparations mounted by the jihadists in advance of the current Iraqi military offensive. The underground passageway was one of a number of such tunnels that has been found in areas reclaimed from ISIS. The presence of the tunnels even in tiny villages retaken this week suggest that far more extensive defenses could be in place in Mosul, a city of hundreds of thousands of people, where ISIS awaits an attack.
When they abandoned the town or were killed in combat, the ISIS members also left behind documents: Qurans and other religious books, newspapers containing updates on battles across the region. There was also a single page of orders that sound like siege preparations. Titled simply Orders that must be carried out, written in Arabic, the document lists twelve separate instructions: stockpile rations for a month, avoid gathering in the open in order to avoid attracting airstrikes. In addition, “each station must have a solar cell for charging devices.”
Dated in the Islamic calendar, the document says it was issued in February of 2016, signed by Major General Jaffar al-Tayyar, the Emir. Some of the general’s instructions are bafflingly mundane. He orders the troops to have a generator and a stockpile of fuel on hand. He reminds them to pray.
The tunnel itself would have taken weeks to prepare, at a minimum. One entrance lies in an open area and had been concealed with a pile of debris. Another entrance opens into a house within the village. Some of the passageways are reinforced with metal frames, and rigged with battery-powered lights. The tunnel is wide enough to contain rooms lined with thick plastic slabs. The abandoned newspaper scraps and clothes suggest the tunnel had been used in the past, likely as an air raid shelter. There is graffiti written on the walls, including a memorial to a fallen comrade. Still, it would have been a miserable place to hide. Inside the air is stale, the lack of oxygen palpable.
From the Roman Era to the Vietnam War to Gaza, tunnels have been a staple of insurgent warfare for centuries, and they have now emerged as a central component of ISIS tactics. For one thing, they provide protection from the air, which is owned by their enemies. Since 2014 a US-led international military coalition has launched more than fifteen thousand airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, forcing the group to move some of its activities indoors and underground.
Now, the tunnels add an additional dimension to ISIS defense of Mosul. Wounded Iraqi special forces troops in a field hospital in Sheikh Amir said they had been ambushed by ISIS fighters who emerged from a tunnel.
The tunnels are just one component of the ISIS defense plan, which includes some exotic variations on asymmetrical warfare. Among the group’s hallmark tactics are suicide car and truck bombers, including attackers inside armored cars. The militants have also planted a deadly field of improvised bombs in the villages from which they withdrew this week. The bombs mean that, even when ISIS withdraws, they can prevent both soldiers and civilians from moving freely, adding one more complication to an already hard battle.
Rico says it's reminiscent of the tunnels the VC dug around Saigon...

Death to Russian hackers, too

Esquire has an article about the Russians, hacking:

On an April afternoon earlier in 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin (illustration) headlined a gathering of some four hundred journalists, bloggers, and media executives in St. Petersburg. Dressed in a sleek navy suit, Putin looked relaxed, even comfortable, as he took questions. About an hour into the forum, a young blogger in a navy zip sweater took the microphone and asked Putin what he thought of the "so-called Panama Papers."
The blogger was referring to a cache of more than eleven million computer files that had been stolen from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm. The leak was the largest in history, involving nearly three terabytes of data, enough to fill more than five hundred DVDs. On 3 April 2016, four days before the St. Petersburg forum, a group of international news outlets published the first in a series of stories based on the leak, which had taken them more than a year to investigate. The series revealed corruption on a massive scale: Mossack Fonseca's legal maneuverings had been used to hide billions of dollars. A central theme of the group's reporting was the matryoshka doll of secret shell companies and proxies, worth a reported two billion dollars, that belonged to Putin's inner circle and were presumed to shelter some of the Russian president's vast personal wealth.
When Putin heard the blogger's question, his face lit up with a familiar smirk. He nodded slowly and confidently before reciting a litany of humiliations that the United States had inflicted on Russia. Putin reminded his audience about the sidelining of Russia during the 1998 war in Kosovo and what he saw as American meddling in the Ukraine more recently. Returning to the Panama Papers, Putin cited WikiLeaks to insist that "officials and state agencies in the United States are behind all this". The Americans' aim, he said, was to weaken Russia from within and "to spread distrust for the ruling authorities and the bodies of power within society."
Though a narrow interpretation of Putin's accusation was defensible, as WikiLeaks had pointed out, one of the members of the Panama Papers consortium had received financial support from USAID, a federal agency, his swaggering assurance about America's activities has a more plausible explanation: Putin's own government had been preparing a vast, covert, and unprecedented campaign of political sabotage against the United States and its allies for more than a year.
The Russian campaign burst into public view only this past June, when The Washington Post reported that "Russian government hackers" had penetrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee. The hackers, hiding behind ominous aliases like Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks, claimed their first victim in July, in the person of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, whose private emails were published by WikiLeaks in the days leading up to the Democratic convention. By August, the hackers had learned to use the language of Americans frustrated with Washington to create doubt about the integrity of the electoral system: "As you see, the U. S. presidential elections are becoming a farce," they wrote from Russia.
The attacks against political organizations and individuals absorbed much of the media's attention this year. But in many ways, the DNC hack was merely a prelude to what many security researchers see as a still more audacious feat: the hacking of America's most secretive intelligence agency, the NSA.
Russian spies did not, of course, wait until the summer of 2015 to start hacking the United States. This past fall, in fact, marked the twentieth anniversary of the world's first major campaign of state-on-state digital espionage. In 1996, five years after the end of the USSR, the Pentagon began to detect high-volume network breaches from Russia. The campaign was an intelligence-gathering operation: whenever the intruders from Moscow found their way into a government computer, they binged, stealing copies of every file they could.
By 1998, when the FBI code-named the hacking campaign Moonlight Maze, the Russians were commandeering foreign computers and using them as staging hubs. At a time when a 56 kbps dial-up connection was more than sufficient to get the best of Pets.com and AltaVista, Russian operators extracted several gigabytes of data from a Navy computer in a single session. With the unwitting help of proxy machines, including a Navy supercomputer in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a server at a London nonprofit, and a computer lab at a public library in Colorado, that accomplishment was repeated hundreds of times over. Eventually, the Russians stole the equivalent, as an Air Intelligence Agency estimate later had it, of "a stack of printed copier paper three times the height of the Washington Monument."
The Russians' tactics became more sophisticated over time; they even hacked satellites to cover their tracks. But while the American code names used to track the Russian effort changed—from Moonlight Maze to Storm Cloud to Makers Mark—the operation itself never really stopped. Over the next two decades, the FSB (successor to the KGB) and the GRU (Russia's premier military intelligence organization) went after political and military targets, while the NSA and the British GCHQ returned the favor.
This sort of espionage was business as usual, a continuation of long-standing practice. And during the cold war, both the USSR and the United States subtly, and sometimes covertly, interfered with foreign elections. What changed over the past year, however, and what made the DNC hack feel new and terrifying, was Russia's seeming determination to combine the two. For the first time, Russia used a hacking operation, one that collected and released massive quantities of stolen information, to meddle in an American presidential election. The inspiration and template for this new attack was a poisonous cocktail of fact and fabrication that the Russians call kompromat, for "compromising material."
Kompromat had been deployed by the Soviet Union since at least the 1950s but, in 1999, the Kremlin gave the tactic a high-tech update. With parliamentary elections fast approaching, and with post-USSR corruption at a peak, the government of president Boris Yeltsin used anonymous websites to sling mud at opposition candidates. One notorious kompromat repository was run specifically to slander the mayor of Moscow, a rising star in the opposition with his eyes on the presidency. In 2009, a senior British diplomat working in Russia was forced to resign after the appearance online of a four-minute video that showed him having sex with two blond women in a brothel.
One of the first American targets of kompromat was Victoria Nuland, who served as the top American diplomat for Europe during Obama's second term. In February of 2014, at the peak of the crisis in the Ukraine, Nuland was surreptitiously recorded while speaking on the phone with the American ambassador to Kiev. Frustrated with Europe's lackluster response to the Ukrainian crisis, Nuland said "Fuck the EU". Shortly after, an aide to the Russian deputy prime minister tweeted a link to a recording of the intercepted phone call. The State Department called the leak "a new low in Russian tradecraft". The Nuland leak prompted a minor diplomatic hiccup between the European Union and the United States. But the kompromat campaign of the past year appears to be aimed at much bigger game: the American electoral system. According to Reuters, the FBI first contacted the DNC in the fall of 2015, obliquely warning the Democrats to examine their network. It wasn't until May, however, that the DNC asked for help from a cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike, which had experience identifying digital espionage operations by nation-states. CrowdStrike immediately discovered two sophisticated groups of spies that were stealing documents from the Democrats by the thousands.
CrowdStrike was soon able to reconstruct the hacks and identify the hackers. One of the groups, known to the firm as Cozy Bear, had been rummaging around the DNC since the previous summer. The other, known as Fancy Bear, had broken in not long before Putin's appearance at the St. Petersburg forum. Surprisingly, given that security researchers had long suspected that both groups were directed by the Russian government, each of the attackers seemed unaware of what the other was doing.
Meanwhile a mysterious website named DC Leaks was registered on 19 April 2016. In early June, a Twitter account associated with the site started linking to the private conversations of Philip Breedlove, who had been, until a few weeks earlier, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. DC Leaks was well designed, but nobody seems to have noticed it until early July.
On 14 June 2016, less than an hour after The Washington Post reported the breach at the DNC, CrowdStrike posted a report that detailed the methods used by the intruders. The firm also did something unusual: it named the Russian spy agencies it believed responsible for the hack. Fancy Bear, the firm said, worked in a way that suggested affiliation with the GRU, while Cozy Bear was linked to the FSB.
The day after The Post story broke, a website appeared that claimed to belong to a hacker who identified himself as Guccifer 2.0. (Guccifer was the nickname of a Romanian hacker who, among other things, broke into the email account of George W. Bush's sister.) The operators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, dismissed CrowdStrike's attribution, insisting instead that the DNC had been "hacked by a lone hacker". As proof, Guccifer published eleven documents from the DNC, including an opposition-research file on Donald Trump and a list of major Democratic donors. In the weeks that followed, Guccifer offered interviews and batches of documents to several journalists, but he wrote that "the main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to WikiLeaks."
Ultimately, more than two thousand confidential files from the DNC found their way to the public. Throughout the campaign, Guccifer maintained that he was the only person behind the hacking and leaking. "This is my personal project and I'm proud of it," he (or they) wrote in late June. But several sloppy mistakes soon revealed who was really behind the operation. The unraveling happened more quickly than anybody could have anticipated.
As soon as Guccifer's files hit the open Internet, an army of investigators, including old-school hackers, former spooks, security consultants, and journalists, descended on the hastily leaked data. Informal, self-organized groups of sleuths discussed their discoveries over encrypted messaging apps such as Signal. Many of the self-appointed analysts had never met in person, and sometimes they didn't know one another's real names, but they were united in their curiosity and outrage. The result was an unprecedented open-source counterintelligence operation: Never in history was intelligence analysis done so fast, so publicly, and by so many.
Matt Tait, a former GCHQ operator who tweets from the handle @pwnallthethings, was particularly prolific. Hours after the first Guccifer 2.0 dump, on the evening of 15 June 2016, Tait found something curious. One of the first leaked files had been modified on a computer using Russian-language settings by a user named Feliks Dzerzhinsky. Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, a figure whose mythic renown was signaled by a fifteen-ton bronze statue that once stood in front of KGB headquarters. Tait tweeted an image of the document's metadata settings, which, he suggested, revealed a failure of operational security.
A second mistake had to do with the computer that had been used to control the hacking operation. Researchers found that the malicious software, or malware, used to break into the DNC was controlled by a machine that had been involved in a 2015 hack of the German parliament. German intelligence later traced the Bundestag breach to the Russian GRU, aka Fancy Bear.
There were other errors, too, including a Russian smile emoji—")))"—and emails to journalists that explicitly associated Guccifer 2.0 with DC Leaks, as the cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect pointed out. But the hackers' gravest mistake involved the emails they'd used to initiate their attack. As part of a so-called spear-phishing campaign, Fancy Bear had emailed thousands of targets around the world. The emails were designed to trick their victims into clicking a link that would install malware or send them to a fake but familiar-looking login site to harvest their passwords. The malicious links were hidden behind short URLs of the sort often used on Twitter.
To manage so many short URLs, Fancy Bear had created an automated system that used a popular link-shortening service called Bitly. The spear-phishing emails worked well, one in seven victims revealed their passwords, but the hackers forgot to set two of their Bitly accounts to "private". As a result, a cybersecurity company called SecureWorks was able to glean information about Fancy Bear's targets. Between October of 2015 and May of 2016, the hacking group used nine thousand links to attack about four thousand Gmail accounts, including targets in the Ukraine, the Baltics, the United States, China, and Iran. Fancy Bear tried to gain access to defense ministries, embassies, and military attachés. The largest group of targets, some forty percent, were current and former military personnel. Among the group's recent breaches were the German parliament, the Italian military, the Saudi foreign ministry, the email accounts of Philip Breedlove, Colin Powell, and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, and, of course, the DNC.
The rapid public reconstruction of the DNC break-in appears to have caught the hackers off guard. Researchers surmised that the Russian spies had not expected to be identified so quickly, a theory that would explain, among other things, the peculiar animus Guccifer seemed to have for CrowdStrike. According to this hypothesis, the tradecraft blunders that Tait and others had identified were the result of a hasty effort by the GRU to cover its tracks.
As if to regroup after the initial rush of activity, Guccifer and DC Leaks went quiet at the end of June. But the 2016 presidential campaign, already the most bizarre in living memory, had a further surprise in store, one that worked in favor of the Russians. At a time when only thirty percent of Americans say that they trust the media to report the news fairly and accurately, the hackers were about to learn that getting called out publicly didn't really matter: their kompromat operations would still work just fine.
On July 22, three days before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, WikiLeaks published the largest trove of files to date, which included nearly twenty thousand hacked emails. Press coverage of the release quickly centered on emails that suggested a bias among some DNC staffers in favor of Hillary Clinton. The leaked emails lent credence to a suspicion held by some Democrats that the party establishment had never intended to give Bernie Sanders, Clinton's opponent in the primaries, a fair shake. Protesters in Philadelphia held up signs that read election fraud and dnc leaks shame. One day before the convention, the Russian kompromat campaign took its first trophy: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, resigned from the organization.
The episode shocked the Democratic establishment, not least because of what it augured for the future. As Clinton's lead in the polls widened after the convention, commentators began to speculate that a damaging leak late in the campaign might be the only chance for Donald Trump to win the election. Fears of a Russian-sponsored 'October surprise' grew as it became clearer that the subversion effort was improving. When files appeared, they were now scrubbed of the sort of distinguishing metadata that had allowed analysts to trace the leak back to Russian intelligence.
The operators behind Guccifer and DC Leaks also appear to have recognized that American journalists were desperate for scoops, no matter their source. The Russians began to act like a PR agency, providing access to reporters at Politico, The Intercept, and BuzzFeed. Journalists were eager to help. On 27 August 2016, when part of the DC Leaks website was down for some reason, Twitter suspended the @DCLeaks account. The Daily Caller, a conservative news website, posted a story about the events, drawing an outcry from Trump supporters. Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business anchor, sneered that "leftist fascism" was throttling the last best hope for a Trump victory. Twitter soon reinstated @DCLeaks.
The most effective outlet by far, however, was WikiLeaks. Russian intelligence likely began feeding hacked documents to Julian Assange's "whistleblower" site in June of 2015, after breaching Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry. A group called WikiSaudiLeaks, probably a Guccifer-like front for Fancy Bear, claimed that "WikiLeaks has been given access to some part of these documents". The so-called Saudi Cables showed princes buying influence and monitoring dissidents. They became a major news story, proving that the old methods worked even better in the twenty-first century.
A leak released at the end of this past summer showed how frictionlessly the kompromat campaign was able to operate in the fact-free atmosphere of the 2016 American presidential campaign. In late September, DC Leaks published hundreds of emails from the account of a twenty-two-year-old freelancer for the Clinton campaign. Lachlan Markay, a reporter for The Washington Free Beacon, found an audio clip buried deep in the cache. In the recording, which was made at a fundraiser in Virginia, Hillary Clinton could be heard describing Sanders supporters as "children of the Great Recession" who "are living in their parents' basement". The comments were clumsy but, in context, hardly damning; Clinton was describing the appeal of Sanders' "political revolution" for young voters. ("We want people to be idealistic," she said.) Nevertheless, within a few days, Donald Trump was telling a roaring crowd in Pennsylvania that "Clinton thinks Bernie supporters are hopeless and ignorant basement dwellers."
In mid-August, when Guccifer and DC Leaks were making near-daily news, a third mysterious social-media account popped up out of nowhere. A group calling itself the Shadow Brokers announced that it had published "cyberweapons" that belonged to the NSA on file-sharing sites such as Github. The group said that it would soon hold an auction to sell off a second cache of tools. After a security researcher posted a link to a repository of the supposed NSA software, analysts flocked to the dump. Security researchers quickly discovered that the tools, a collection of malware designed to steal data from their targets, were the real thing. Crucially, The Intercept, a media outlet with access to the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden, found a sixteen-character string ("ace02468bdf13579") in the Shadow Brokers' tools that was referenced in a top-secret and previously unpublished, NSA manual. The connection proved the provenance of the Shadow Brokers' find.
Robbing the NSA, of course, is not easy. The agency's elite hacking unit, called Tailored Access Operations, has an internal network known as the "high side" that is physically segregated from the Internet (the "low side"). Data diodes, devices that allow data to flow one way only, like water from a faucet, make it nearly impossible to hack high-side computers from the low side. When TAO hackers want to attack an adversary, they move their tools from the high side to a server on the low side, navigate through a series of addresses that make their tracks difficult to trace, and install malware on their target. To steal the NSA's malware, the Shadow Brokers had to compromise a low-side machine that the TAO was using to hack its targets. The Shadow Brokers likely got lucky: some analysts believe that an NSA operator mistakenly uploaded a whole set of tools to a staging computer the hackers were already watching. The alternative theory: an old-fashioned mole passed on the tools.
After going to all that trouble, why publish the results? A possible answer is suggested by a surprising discovery made by the intelligence community around the time Putin was addressing the journalists in St. Petersburg. American investigators had long known that the Russians were doing more than spear-phishing, but sometime around April they learned that the intruders were using commercial cloud services to "exfiltrate" data out of American corporations and political targets. Cozy Bear, the hacking group believed to be affiliated with the FSB, used some two hundred Microsoft OneDrive accounts to send data from its victims back to Moscow.
Using cloud services such as OneDrive was a clever but risky move, a little like taking the bus to make off with stolen goods from a burglary. Though the widespread use of the services by legitimate users offered a degree of cover for the hackers, data provided by Microsoft also helped America's elite digital spies identify the DNC intruders "with confidence" as Russian. It is even possible that the American government has been able to identify the names and personal details of individual operators. The Russians knew they'd been caught. On 30 July 2016, an FSB press release announced that twenty government and defense organizations had been hit by high-powered spying tools.
Some intelligence analysts believe that the Shadow Brokers' publication of the NSA spy kit was a message from one group of professionals to another. "You see us?" the Russians seemed to be saying, perhaps in reference to ongoing American efforts to investigate the DNC breach. "Fine, but we see you, too." Similarly, the announcement of an auction, all but certainly phony, was probably intended as a warning that the hackers were prepared to publish a key that would unlock an encrypted container holding a second batch of stolen tools. Like a severed ear in an envelope, the announcement told the Americans: don't mess with us.
Meanwhile, the kompromat campaign proceeded apace. August and September each saw six data dumps, including files from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had also been hacked. In October of 2016, as the presidential election drew near, Guccifer published a massive cache, more than twenty-one hundred files. Three days later, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of emails stolen from John Podesta's account.
On the day WikiLeaks published the first batch of Podesta's emails, the American government took the unprecedented step of announcing that it was "confident" that Russia's "senior most officials" had authorized the DNC hacks. So far, American investigators have not said publicly who was responsible for the Podesta hack, but the data harvested by SecureWorks makes it clear that Fancy Bear broke into the Clinton chairman's account as early as late March. The CIA briefed Trump about the origin of the kompromat, but he continued to cite the material, telling a Pennsylvania crowd, "I love WikiLeaks!"
On 12 October 2016, Putin appeared at another forum, this time with more than five hundred guests, in Moscow. Sitting comfortably in front of a giant banner that said Russia calling!, he answered an audience question about the hacks. "Everyone is talking about who did it," Putin said. "Is it so important?" The former KGB officer, proving his full command of American political intrigue, suggested that the Democrats had "supported one intra-party candidate at the expense of the other." Any talk of the hacks being in Russia's interest, he said, was "hysteria" intended to distract Americans from what the hackers had discovered: "the manipulation of public opinion." When the audience applauded, a smirk returned to Putin's face. "I think I answered your question," he said.
Rico says it's a dangerous game, and two can play...

21 October 2016

Bashar Assad disputes ‘Boy in the Ambulance’ account

From Time, an article by Andrew Katz about Syria:

“May I show you a picture?” That was the question posed to Syrian President Bashar Assad in an interview with Swiss media released this week.
“Of course,” Assad replied.
At this point in the conversation, the pair had spoken for nine minutes. Assad blamed the armed opposition (the name he used for them was “terrorists”), laid responsibility on the West and other Gulf nations (“supporting those terrorists with money, with logistics support”) and the killing of civilians in schools, in the streets, in hospitals (“every war is bad war”).
The interviewer reaches into his pocket. “This young boy has become the symbol of the war,” he says, pulling out a small image of the Aleppo boy who was rescued on 17 August 2016, after local medical personnel said an airstrike destroyed his family’s home. “And you know this picture?”
“Of course I saw it,” Assad says.
“His name is Omran, five years old,” the interviewer says.
“Yeah,” Assad adds.
“Covered in blood,” the interviewer continues.
Assad nods his head.
“Scared, traumatized.”
“Mmhmm,” Assad says.
The interviewer then asks if the president has anything to say to the Daqneesh family. Instead, Assad disputes the account of how the night unfolded, slams the civil defense workers (known as White Helmets) who rescued the boy, and claims the viral pictures that emerged were manipulated. “This is a forged picture and not a real one,” he alleges. “We have real pictures of children being harmed, but this one specifically is a forged one.”
The interviewer doesn’t press him on this, instead moving on to a range of topics for the remainder of the meeting.
Assad’s claim is not matched by those of his wife, Asma, who sat for a rare interview with Russian media released a day earlier. Asked by a gushing interviewer about Omran, she took the opportunity to smear western media for coverage she insists is focused on tragedies that “suited” their agendas, but did not deny the boy’s story as her husband does. “These are all children, they are all innocent children and they are all a loss to Syria, irrespective of which side of the conflict we support,” she says. “As a Syrian, I am personally saddened by the loss of every single child, whether it is Alan [a Kurd] or Omran or the many, many others, whose names did not reach western headlines.”
Nor is it matched by the accounts of rescue workers at the scene and the medical personnel who treated the boy that night. In the days after the rescue, Time spoke with four people who encountered the boy that night: the photographer and videographer who documented the rescue and two medical workers at the underground hospital.
Mahmoud Rslan, the photographer, recalled a chaotic scene in the rebel-held Qaterji neighborhood. The father was bleeding. The mother was in pajamas. Part of the building had been reduced to rubble. There were other bodies on the ground. After the boy was placed in the ambulance, he said: “while taking the photo at looking at the boy, I was crying.” Mustafa al-Sarout, the videographer, said the boy, his face covered in blood and dust, was traumatized. “He was just looking at us with a strange look, as if he was wondering what happened to his family.”
Dr. Mohammad, a longtime surgeon in Aleppo, first saw the boy in the emergency room. “He was awake but he didn’t speak, maybe he was afraid or in shock or in pain from the wound,” he said. A nurse named Mohamad Abo Rajab recalled the boy’s examinations, including an x-ray and an ultrasound of his abdomen. After two hours, they said, he was discharged. Days later, the boy’s older brother, ten-year-old Ali, died in the hospital from wounds he sustained during the attack.
None of these four men who met Omran disputed what happened that night. They just insisted, after more than five years of war, that it wasn’t unique.
Rico says he wonders who would believe Assad about anything? (And why has no one flown a drone in his bedroom window and ended all this?)

Samsung 'blocks' exploding Note 7 parody videos

From the BBC, an article about Samsung's pathetic attempts to control the media:

Samsung appears to have filed copyright claims against YouTube videos (above) mocking its recalled Galaxy Note 7 handset.
Many gamers have showcased a modification to the video game Grand Theft Auto V, in which sticky bombs were switched with exploding Samsung phones (photo, bottom). But some have reported that their videos have been blocked on YouTube following a copyright complaint. Samsung has not yet responded to repeated BBC requests for comment.
Critics have warned that trying to remove gamers' videos will only draw more attention to them.
The Galaxy Note 7 was recalled and discontinued in October of 2016 after reports that some handsets were catching fire.
One US gamer, known as DoctorGTA, said restrictions had been put on his YouTube account as a result of Samsung's complaint. "It's going to take three months to get the strike removed from my channel. I got my live stream taken away," he said in a video. "If I submit a counter-notification to say 'sue me', I wonder what they will do. Will they sue me, a kid that has cancer and just makes money off YouTube playing a video game?" "It really sucks, because I really worked hard on this channel."
Some viewers warned that Samsung was at risk of invoking the Streisand Effect, a term used to denotes increased publicity as a result of attempts to remove embarrassing online content. It was coined in 2005 by Mike Masnick, founder of the website Techdirt, following a failed attempt by singer Barbra Streisand to sue a photographer who posted a picture of her seaside home.
The original download page for the Grand Theft Auto V modification, created by player HitmanNiko, has not been taken offline.

Rico says you gotta just survive parodies, and trying to block them just makes everyone (including Rico) promote them...

GOP braces for Trump loss

From The Washington Post:


Rico says this is gonna get ugly...

Quote for the day

"People look at the Statue of Liberty and they see a proud symbol of our history as a nation of immigrants, a beacon of hope for people around the world. Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a "four." Maybe a "five" if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair."
Hillary Clinton at the Al Smith dinner 

Rico says now that's funny...

Quote for the day...

...from an idiot:
"I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win."
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Ohio, making light of the criticism
that he is undermining a fundamental principle of American democracy.

The man Rico would most like to be mistaken for

Rico says, sure, he's dead, but still:

Political laughter

Time has an article by Cady Lang about the speeches at the Al Smith dinner; Rico says it's the old Nixon line: why are these people laughing?

See if you can spot the actual explanation below: 
1) Nixon has learned of the positive public-opinion polls following his Checkers speech.
2) He has just been told he won the Republican nomination in 1960.
3) He has just found out that his Chinese diplomacy has resulted in the first Coca-Cola franchise in that country.
4) Pat Nixon has just okayed a threesome with Rose Mary Woods.
5) After Nixon said "Washington is full of Jews," and "Most Jews are disloyal," and "You can't trust the bastards," and "They turn on you," and "The IRS is full of Jews," and "Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish," and "What the Christ is the matter with the Jews," and "Go after them like a son of a bitch," Henry Kissinger replied: "There's something I think you should know about me." Nixon said: "What's that, Henry?" Kissinger said: "I agree with you a hundred percent."
6) Daniel Ellsberg just showed him his "Sworn to Fun, Loyal to None" tattoo.
7) He's not actually laughing. Careful examination reveals that this photo has been doctored, perhaps by the same operatives who manufactured the infamous Oswald with rifle and Hang in there, baby images. Note how Nixon's left temple and right jaw are both in shadow (an optical impossibility), and how he appears to be laughing. This composite photo was part of a black-ops campaign, ultimately futile, to convince the American public that Richard Nixon had the capacity for joy. In fact, Nixon was known to have laughed only once in his life, during childhood, at a particularly clever Fatty Arbuckle short.
8) Fidel Castro just told Nixon the following joke: "How many Cubans does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None, because lightbulbs are made by imperialist pigs. The Cuban people require no electricity to keep the party burning brightly through eternity."
9) Nixon has just been been told he would receive his rightful throne, the papist usurper would get his, and he would have the power to destroy his enemies, so many of them Jews. At the last moment, suspecting treachery, he made a final demand: He would also win reelection. His negotiating adversary chuckled, caught. Then he told a joke, something about God taking his only begotten son to a Mexican whorehouse, and Nixon laughed as he signed in red.

Quote for the day

From the recent Al Smith dinner:

The line of the night belonged to Alfred Smith IV, the master of ceremonies, commenting on the sad-but-true takeaway from the upcoming election:

"If you were born into immense wealth, or if your husband was President,
you can accomplish anything."

Jewish settlers invited Palestinians over for the holidays

From The Washington Post, an article by William Booth and Sufian Taha about the Middle East:

The gathering wasn’t exactly unprecedented. Jewish settlers and their Palestinian neighbors have met quietly before, many times. But not like this. This meeting, this was rare.
The settlement of Efrat (photo. top) is a bedroom community of ten thousand affluent Jews, including many Americans, a few miles south of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The residents of Efrat live the good life in a growing hilltop community that the United States considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Efrat’s mayor, Oded Revivi, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli army reserve, invited Palestinians from surrounding villages to come to his house and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, when the faithful gather in palm-roofed huts, a remembrance of the forty years of wandering landless in the desert back in the time of Moses. A couple of dozen Palestinians accepted the mayor’s invitation this week to share brownies, grapes, cookies, apples and coffee, alongside thirty Israeli settlers. This was a first.
The idea? The sides were here to talk, perhaps even to bond, no matter if the dynamic was a little awkward and asymmetrical.
For the Palestinians, maybe it was like having Christmas dinner with your boss. The settlers were very welcoming, but they were armed:
Among the attendees were an Israeli army general and the top commander of the Israeli national police in the West Bank. The Israeli forces, and some of the civilian settler guests, arrived with rifles slung over their shoulders or pistols jammed into holsters on their belts. The Palestinians, of course, were not armed. Many of them worked or had worked as laborers in the settlement.
Everyone was very polite. A Palestinian farmer sat next to an Israeli diplomat. They live a mile and a world apart. A rabbi from the settlement broke bread with a Palestinian stonemason. Guests shook hands, took selfies, patted one another on the back. Both sides seemed a little stunned to be together celebrating a Jewish holiday.
The Palestinians spoke decent-to-fluent Hebrew. The settlers didn’t speak much Arabic.
One Palestinian stood and told the guests that he didn’t want to see the West Bank “turn into Syria”. Another said he didn’t like “being lumped together with the terrorists.”
Everyone talked about peace. Nobody really talked about one state or two states. They didn’t mention Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Some Palestinian guests felt comfortable enough to complain out loud about how they are treated. Some Israelis mentioned the wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks against them. There were some remarkable moments.
Ahmad Mousa, 58, a contractor from the neighboring Palestinian village of Wadi Al Nis, said, “We consider ourselves part of the family, part of the people of Efrat.”
You do not hear that much in the West Bank, at least not in public, with smartphone cameras rolling. He said, “Seventy percent of our village works in Efrat. They treat us very well and we are very good to them, too.”
Noman Othman, 41, a construction worker from Wadi Al Nis, said this was his first time as a guest in a home in the settlement, although he had worked here for years, building houses. “This is good,” he said. “Our relationship is evolving.” Asked whether he bore any grudge against the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, now home to four hundred thousand settlers, which the Obama administration has condemned as “an obstacle to peace”, Othman said nope, he didn’t have any problem with Efrat.
If there was a Palestinian state someday, a dream Palestinians say is growing more distant, Othman said the Jews in Efrat “should stay on their land.” He saw it this way: “These are their houses. They bought them with their own money. We should have no problem living together, if there is peace.”
Ali Musa, 49, came from the village of al-Khader. He told the gathering: “I came for a reason. I came to talk about our relationship, between you and us.” He reminded his hosts that there is a locked yellow gate that blocks the entrance to his village, a closure enforced by Israeli security ­forces. “That gate should be removed,” Musa said. He added: “And that racist sign? That should also be removed. It’s outrageous. It prevents our Jewish friends from visiting us.”
Musa was referring to the large red signs posted across the West Bank, warning Israelis (in capital letters) that it is against the law and “dangerous to your lives” to enter “Area A”, cities and villages under full control of the Palestinian Authority.
The mayor gave a short speech. “Some people say there will be one state, some say two states,” Revivi said. “As neighbors, we are already living together.”
The mayor is also a leader of the Yesha Council, the administrative body that represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, a group whose members are ascendent in Israeli politics and oppose a two-state solution. Revivi hailed the men who came to his home as “true men, courageous men. I know there were men I invited and they did not come,” he said, “because this takes initiative and courage.”
Revivi did not have to explain this. Palestinians may work in Jewish settlements without social censure, but Palestinian society discourages its people from mingling with police officers and soldiers, ever wary of collaboration and a process that Palestinians call “normalization”. They see that as a way for Israel, little by little, to use people’s natural inclination to seek accord to legitimize the almost fifty-year military occupation and surrender their struggle for their own state.
Efrat’s mayor said that, in the past few years, he has traveled to neighboring Palestinian villages to celebrate Muslim holidays. His neighbors slaughter a lamb. He has photos on his smartphone. There is a feast. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, he said. Here “keeping the peace” is not just words. The mayor said more than a thousand Palestinians work daily in the Efrat settlement: in the shops, sweeping the streets, maintaining the infrastructure, fixing solar panels, building new houses, remodeling older ones.
Efrat is just a few miles down the road from the notorious Gush Etzion Junction, scene of more than a dozen Palestinian attacks in the past year. It is also on land the Palestinians want for their future state. The mayor said relations became closer with neighboring Palestinians after a recent tragedy, when driver from Efrat struck and killed a Palestinian girl on the road leading from the settlement. Her twin sister was a few feet away. She saw the whole thing.
Revivi went to the wake and expressed his sorrow to the family. He promised there would be a full investigation. The mayor confessed that he was worried that the Palestinian reaction could unspool in retributive violence. The Palestinian family agreed it was an accident. “The mayor came and paid his condolences. That is why I am here,” said Mohammed Mahmoud Musa, 62, a farmer and the girl’s grandfather.
Revivi got the Israeli military to erect speed bumps. Palestinian guests said that it should not have taken a death, and that their own appeals for speed bumps would have been ignored.
Toward the end of the gathering, a Palestinian named Said abu Hamad and an Israeli security officer at Efrat, Chaim Citon, posed for a photograph together. Citon came to the gathering with two radios and an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
“See? We’re like brothers,” Hamad said, grinning at the camera lens.
Rico says that Beyond the Fringe put it best: "So, unavoidably, came peace":

Every new Tesla now comes with hardware for full self-driving capabilities

From The Washington Post:


Rico says his father could both afford and use one...

Apple sends out invites for 27 October event

From The Washington Post:


Rico says that, whatever it is, it won't be (alas) a car...

The unexpected answer to the biggest mystery of the American Revolution

From The Washington Post:


Rico says some history is better left as mystery...

From Mexican rapists to bad hombres, the Trump campaign

From The Washington Post, an article by Janell Ross about Trump's latest:

In his videotaped quasi-apology issued several hours after The Washington Post made an Access Hollywood tape public, the most contrite portion of what Donald Trump had to say came down to this: in the months since he had launched his most unorthodox campaign for the White House, he had traveled the country and learned a lot. The experience had transformed him.
What Trump made clear in the final presidential debate is that his journey has been limited. The campaign began with a speech staged at Trump Tower, a building constructed with the aid of workers who were in the country illegally, according to The New York Times and PolitiFact. That speech was most notable for Trump's promises to deal with the undocumented in a decisive way, a manner required, Trump said, because Mexico has dispatched the dregs of its society, “rapists” and “criminals”, to the United States.
Wednesday night, in his final opportunity to address the general public and those who have not attended his rallies, Trump said much the same. He punctuated his rationale for mass deportation of those in the country illegally with just two words: “bad hombres”.
That, folks, is the Trump campaign in two key moments representative of his political way. There are those who will disagree, those who view these two statements as nothing more than unimportant or inoffensive language that was considered perfectly acceptable in 1950s-era Westerns, as Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord suggested on CNN. But Trump began his campaign as a candidate whose politics and vision for how to improve American life centered around which groups should be removed, watched, policed heavily, and have their constitutional rights be subject to an overdue edit. Trump marked the final four weeks of his bid for the White House with more of the same. Only now, in a nod to his understanding of the general-election audience’s sensibilities, Trump avoided the term “rapist” and instead made reference to “bad hombres”.
It is that vision that Trump has repeatedly promised to transform into a muscular, deportation-centered immigration policy, a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, and a call for the widespread application of police tactics such as stop-and-frisk. What Trump appears to have learned in the past sixteen months is how to express that vision more creatively and succinctly.
Just to be clear, these are Trump’s own words on two occasions:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. Some, I assume, are good people.
Donald Trump, announcement speech in June of 2015
One of my first acts will be to get all of the drug lords, all of the bad ones; we have some bad, bad people in this country that have to go out. We're going to get them out. We're going to secure the border. Once the border is secured, at a later date, we'll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here, and we're going to get them out.
Donald Trump, third and final presidential debate
Many moments in Trump’s quest for the White House have been described as remarkable. Certainly there is a long list of Trump public comments, favored phrases, and claims that, many a political pundit and consultant has noted, probably would have ended other campaigns. But leaving aside the many personal insults Trump has lobbed at individuals on the basis of their religion, race, and ethnicity, he has never, ever backed away from his promise to govern by way of group assessments and, with this, make America great.
That Trump’s political philosophy of group blame, suspicion, and presumed guilt did not end his campaign, but instead helped him defeat a field of more than a dozen Republican competitors with more traditional conservative ideals and political résumés is no more meaningless than the intricacy of his chosen hairdo. It signals that Trump’s philosophy has real appeal to a substantial and, as his surrogates often point out, record-setting number of Republicans who participated in the primary process. That Trump’s only real adjustment in his political plans, promises, and policy ideas is a matter of language, not substance, that has helped him keep the support of thirty to forty percent of Americans is certainly worth noting.
Clinton may be leading with voters of color, young Americans of all races and ethnicities, and groups that have traditionally been critical to most Republican presidential victories: married white women and white, college-educated men, and women, according to the polls. But Trump's America is not small or somehow insignificant.
For these Americans, the candidate who will call undocumented Mexicans immigrants rapists, suggest that stop-and-frisk is what America’s crime-ravaged, war-zone-like black communities really need, and argue that a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, along with some type of ongoing surveillance of Muslims in the United States, is needed, truly sounds like the man with a plan that would make America great again.
That is the essence of what has carried Trump this far. That is the heart of his campaign. That is the stuff that Trump has learned, which remains within bounds for a substantial share of American voters.
When one thinks of the Trump political trajectory that way, Trump's decision to begin his campaign by describing undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and end it by leaving millions of Americans with the idea that these same people are simply bad hombres, makes perfect sense.
Rico says this election can't end soon enough, but not since 1968 and Nixon has Rico wanted to vote against someone so much...

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