26 September 2016

Hackers in Israel? Who knew?

The BBC has an article by Rory Cellan-Jones about Cellebrite, a professional bunch of hackers:

Cellebrite is an Israeli company that helps police forces gain access to data on the mobile phones of suspected criminals. It was in the headlines earlier this year when it was rumored to have helped the FBI to crack an iPhone used by the San Bernardino, California shooter. Now the company has told the BBC that it can get through the defenses of just about any modern smartphone. But the firm refuses to say whether it supplies its technology to the police forces of repressive regimes.Last week Cellebrite was showing off its technology to British customers. I was invited to a hotel in the Midlands, where police officers from across the UK had come to see equipment and software that first extracts data from suspects' phones, then analyzes how they interact with others.
I was given a demo using a Samsung phone supplied by the company. It was running quite an old version of Android, 4.2, but I was allowed to take it away for half an hour, put a password on it, and use it to take photos and send a text message.
When we returned, Yuval Ben-Moshe from Cellebrite took the phone and simply plugged it in via the charging socket to what looked like a chunky tablet computer. He explained that this was the kind of mobile unit the firm supplied to police forces for data extraction in the field. He pressed a couple of buttons on the screen and then announced that the phone's lock code had been disabled. "We can pretty much pull up any of the data that resides on the phone," he said.
He then downloaded the photos I'd taken and the message I'd sent on to a USB stick, the evidence of my activities could now be in the hands of the police.
It was impressive, not to say slightly concerning, that the security on the phone had been so easily bypassed, though this was not a particularly advanced phone, nor had I used services such as WhatsApp, which provide added levels of security.
But Ben-Moshe claimed that his firm could access data on "the largest number of devices that are out there in the industry".
Even Apple's new iPhone 7?
"We can definitely extract data from an iPhone 7 as well; the question is what data."
He said that Cellebrite had the biggest research and development team in the sector, constantly working to catch up with the new technology. He was cagey about how much data could be extracted from services such as WhatsApp ("It's not a black/white yes/no answer"), but indicated that criminals might be fooling themselves if they thought any form of mobile communication was totally secure.
Back in the spring, there were reports that Cellebrite had helped the FBI get into the iPhone 5C left behind by the San Bernardino, California shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
Unsurprisingly, Ben-Moshe had nothing to say on this matter: "We cannot comment on any of our customers."
On the matter of how fussy Cellebrite was about the customers for equipment that is used by law enforcement agencies around the world, he was also tight-lipped.
When I asked whether the company worked with oppressive governments he said: "I don't know the answer to that, and I'm in no position to comment on it." And when I pressed him, he would say only that Cellebrite operated under international law and under the law of every jurisdiction where it worked.
Mobile phone companies are making great advances in providing secure devices and law enforcement agencies in the UK and the US are complaining that this is helping criminals and terrorists evade detection.
But last month another Israeli firm, NSO Group, which also works for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, was reported to be behind a hack that allowed any iPhone to be easily "jailbroken" and have malware installed.
It seems the technology battle between the phone makers and those trying to penetrate their devices, for good or bad, is a more even fight than we may have imagined.
Rico says he's torn between admiration and head-shaking that it's so easy. (Not that Rico would have anything on his iPhone that needed this invasive technology...)

Another dead idiot

The BBC has an article about the death of Jose Fernandez, a pitcher for the Miami Marlins baseball team:


In typical British understatement, the BBC quoted officials as saying
the boat had a "severe impact" with a rocky jetty.
The Coast Guard said Fernandez was one of three people killed in the crash on Sunday off Miami Beach, Florida. The club said it was "devastated". The Marlins' home game against the Atlanta Braves was cancelled.
Fernandez was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, and defected to Florida when he was sixteen, after three failed attempts. He made his debut with the Marlins in 2013.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Todd Garofalo told local news station WSVN that "They found a boat up against the jetties. They did an initial search and found three victims, two on top of the water, one underneath the boat. They had unfortunately passed away."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the vessel had a "severe impact" with large rocks that form part of the jetty.
Officials said Fernandez was not wearing a life jacket at the time of the crash.
The names of the other two individuals are being withheld until their relatives can be informed, the Coast Guard said.
Fernandez shared a picture on Instagram five days ago, which appears to show his pregnant girlfriend Carla Mendoza. The caption reads: "I'm so glad you came into my life. I'm ready for where this journey is gonna take us together."
Sports fans and players paid tribute to the player across social media. Fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig, a right-fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hung Fernandez' jersey in the dugout before his game against the Rockies and expressed his sadness on Twitter.
Rico says people don't get that boats, particularly fast ones, are as deadly as cars (and Rico says that sure looks like a 'severe impact' to him...)

The world's most beautiful car

The BBC has an article by Matthew Phenix about the DB11:

I generally despise first-person car reviews. Particularly when the vehicle in question is expensive, or fast, or both, these stories can quickly devolve into oily billets-doux of the writer’s preternatural giftedness behind the wheel. Or, worse, they become obnoxiously self-deprecating confessionals of their doubtful worthiness in the face of such blinding automotive majesty. So it is with no small amount of consternation that, after stewing over the Aston Martin DB11 for weeks after driving the car, I have decided to approach my take on it from the shameless first-person perspective.
The DB11 costs $211,995 in the US, and there is nothing sensible about spending that much on a car, and very little point in making sensible comparisons with other such moments of conspicuous consumption: fuel efficiency and cargo capacity and such. For a buyer with the means and the motivation, there is nothing I could possibly write that will dampen enthusiasm for the DB11, short of revealing that it was assembled by gruel-fed orphans in a Dickensian workhouse. Even that, for some, would merely add to its Anglo-mystique.
Candidly, I find it difficult to contain my open admiration for the car, which is poor motoring journalism, at best. I am inordinately fond of it, all of it, and that makes presenting a balanced, consumer-serving review really tough. This is not a vehicle that inspires cross-shopping or Top Trumps-style stats-mashing, except by fantasy-garage types who either can’t afford the car or aren’t old enough to drive it. With deference to James Bond, who for fifty-odd years has employed Aston Martins as work vehicles, these are not cars designed to serve any real purpose beyond pleasure. “For the love of beautiful” is a phrase evoked more than once by Aston’s head of design, Marek Reichman, during my time with the DB11 and the Gaydon entourage (in Tuscany, if you must know). It’s a phrase that guided the creation of the car; all of it, not just the exposed bits. And it shows.
I pause now to ask: When did Aston Martins become beautiful? The first DB model, the DB2 of 1950, was lovely, but lovely in a tweedy-jaunty sort of way, rather than a sexy-wow sort of way. Older Aston Martins merit a good many adjectives: words like “pure” (1963 DB5), “masculine” (1972 AMV8) “startling” (1974 Lagonda), and even “preposterous” (2011 Cygnet). But beautiful? Harder to justify. The singular 1960 DB4GT Bertone “Jet” was beautiful, no doubt, but it took an Italian design house and a young designer named Giorgetto Giugiaro to make it so.
The DB11 is beautiful, straight-up, sexy-wow beautiful. To these first-person eyes it is the most beautiful production car on the planet right now, surpassing in overall comeliness even the candy-sweet Aston Martin Vanquish, which honorably concludes its four-year stint as The Most Beautiful Car on the Planet According to Me. And this is not mere happenstance. Aston Martin has a plan.
Said the company’s chief executive, Andy Palmer: “We aspire to make the most beautiful cars in the world.” Full stop. They put it in the press release, third paragraph. “We aspire to make the most beautiful cars in the world.” He did not say the fastest cars in the world, or the most futuristic cars in the world, or, heaven forbid, the most fuel-efficient cars in the world. He said the most beautiful. And that’s what he is doing. For the love of beautiful.
Much has been made of the differences between the old DB9 and the new DB11. (The DB10, for the uninitiated, was a bespoke concept car created in 2014 as a work vehicle for a certain British secret agent). The structure of the DB11 is fifteen percent stiffer than the DB9’s, for instance, and its engine weighs ten pounds less. Its wheelbase is 65 millimeters longer and fuel-consumption is down by twenty percent. It’s all academic, really. This is an entirely new car, created with an entirely new mindset. “Every millimeter of the DB11 has been re-imagined from the ground-up,” said Reichman. A DB9 on hand during the DB11 launch event looked like an orthopedic loafer next to a Nike Air Max trainer, and the DB9 is a very handsome car. The DB11 is just that much more sexy-wow.
Up front, the clamshell bonnet is a sculptural masterwork, claimed to be the largest single piece of pressed aluminum ever affixed to a car. There are no unsightly shut lines on the upper plane of the bonnet, only fine creases and two pairs of slender, functional vents. Behind the front wheels, the bonnet’s edges meet side strakes that relieve air pressure within the wheel wells to keep the tires planted at speed.
Moving rearward, the arc of body work that extends from the A- to C-pillars is no mere stamping. Notes Aston: “This incredibly labor-intensive component, which is first extruded, then stretch-bent, then pressed, then laser cut, then polished and finally anodized to achieve the complex shape and flawless finish its design demands.” And this leads the eye to another bit of high-tech frippery. The roof strakes form the edges of intakes at the C-pillars, which channel air through internal ducts and up through slots on the top edge of the boot lid. This feature has a trademarked name, of course, AeroBlade, and it serves as a ‘virtual spoiler’, creating a wall of high-pressure air that obstructs airflow over the top of the car, reducing lift and allowing the rear wheels to go about their business more effectively. At higher speeds, a small non-virtual spoiler extends upward in front of the slots, allowing wall of air to flair a little higher. Aston Martin insists the AeroBlade works, but it’s a little like the GPS-guided transmission in the Rolls-Royce Wraith; you can’t feel it working, but you can’t feel it not working, either. No matter: Like so much of the DB11, it will provide owners with some first-rate cocktail conversation.
Speed will be another talking point, of course, and the DB11 is very fast, much more so than the DB9 it replaces. The engine is new: a 5.2-liter V12 with two turbochargers that produces 600 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Aston claims the car will bolt from zero to 62mph in four seconds and press on to a top speed of two hundred mph. The engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic from German transmission-maker ZF Friedrichshafen. It has cool-to-the-touch metal shifter paddles behind the steering wheel for those who crave control but, really, I reckon the transmission is better at the task of gear-selecting than you. Certainly better than me.
Fully kitted, the cabin makes a powerful impression: Swathed in yards and yards of pinked and perforated hide, it’s like sitting in a big ghillie brogue. The DB11’s infotainment package is an eon beyond that of its predecessor, thanks to a technology transfusion from Mercedes-Benz (whose parent, Daimler, owns five percent of Aston Martin). The DB9’s Emotion Control Unit, or ECU, a hefty glass “key” that plugged into a slot on the centre console, has been consigned to history, replaced by a somewhat less fanciful start/stop button. My heart goes out to Aston dealers, whose profitability likely hinged on selling replacements for lost ECUs at £900 apiece.
The DB11 leads Aston’s “Second Century” plan, which, says Palmer, calls for the introduction of seven new models over seven years, including a replacement for the Vantage sports car and a proper supercar successor to the Vanquish. There will be a production version of the DBX electric off-roader concept from 2015 as well, though it will have a more traditional SUV profile and a more traditional powerplant. And, of course, there will be the mad AM-RB 001 hypercar, a labor of love for Reichman and the Red Bull Racing F1 team’s chief technical officer, Adrian Newey.
These are heady times for a company that in the early 1980s was struggling to sell three cars per week. Yet Aston Martin is hardly a cash cow: In June, the company reported a 2015 loss of close to £128m, its fifth straight year of unprofitability. But the DB11 manages to belie its maker’s tough times. The deftness of its design and the soundness of its execution makes Andy Palmer’s big plans for the future seem much easier to believe. If the former Coolest Brand in Britain can the maintain the momentum, across seven cars in seven years, we foresee happy days ahead in Gaydon.
Rico says it's just in time for yet another Bond movie... (And if you have to ask the price, you can't afford one.)

Cockroaches are good; no, really

The BBC has an article by Henry Nicholls about bugs:

Few animals have a worse reputation than the humble cockroach, but almost everything we think we know about them is an urban myth
Reputation: Yuck. Cockroaches are filthy, immortal scavengers that are unaffected by radiation. In a post-apocalyptic world, it will be these dirty little critters that survive. We would be better off without them.
Reality: There are almost five thousand species of cockroaches, of which only around thirty have any pest-like tendencies. These few malign a group of insects that boasts an astonishing, enriching diversity of forms. Cockroaches are pretty well toasted by radiation.
The sight of a cockroach scuttling across the kitchen floor is distinctly unsavory. This emotional truth has led most of us to believe that all cockroaches must be similarly repugnant.
But not George Beccaloni, curator of orthopteroid insects at the Natural History Museum in London, England. He is on the side of the cockroaches. "People have a very biased view of the group," he says.
Less than 1% of the 4,800 known species of cockroach cause humans any bother, yet few of us give the 99% a second thought. This is manifestly unfair, says Beccaloni.
He points out that there are about as many cockroach species as there are mammals. So writing off all cockroaches, based on our dislike of 30 or so species, "is like encountering a mouse or a rat and then branding all mammals as disgusting vermin," he says.
I take the point, but remain unconvinced. Mammals are spectacularly diverse. I think back to a childhood holiday in Sardinia, where our flat was plagued by cockroaches. How different can the rest of cockroaches be? Beccaloni takes the next half hour to enlighten me.
For a start, they live in a huge range of habitats. "Cockroaches are found on all continents apart from Antarctica, from rainforests to deserts," says Beccaloni.
The abundance of species is greatest in the tropics, and at low altitudes where temperatures are high. However, there are those can cope with extremes. Eupolyphaga everestiana is a montane specialist that lives on Mount Everest at well over sixteen thousand feet above sea level.
Since they live in so many diverse environments, it is not surprising that cockroaches should come in many different shapes and sizes.
The smallest species on record is the ant cockroach, which lives in the nests of leaf-cutter ants in North America. At just a few millimeters long, it is dwarfed by its hosts.
In contrast, the appealingly-named Megaloblatta blaberoides boasts a whopping wingspan of over seven inches.
Larger still is the giant burrowing cockroach from Queensland in Australia. It is wingless, about three inches long, and can weigh over an ounce.
Cockroaches of the Perisphaerus genus can roll up into an armadillo-like defensive ball.
The females churn out perfect clones of themselves without any need for males or copulation This cockroach, which would easily occupy most of your palm, might sound alarming. But it could not care less about humans. "The huge rhinoceros cockroach only feeds on bark and dead leaves," says Beccaloni.
Most cockroaches have taken on similar ecological roles, feeding on decaying organic matter and thus making nutrients available to other organisms. "There are indications that the ecological significance of cockroaches is massive," says Beccaloni.
For many species, even some humans, cockroaches are also a sought-after snack. This helps explain why many in the group have evolved nifty ways to avoid being eaten.
The banana cockroaches (Panchlora) have opted for a simple camouflage approach: they are green, which helps them to blend in.
The Prosoplecta species have evolved the same distasteful red-and-black coloration as ladybirds. In order to achieve the rounded shape of a ladybird, Beccaloni says, each of their hind wings rolls up at the ends "like an umbrella around itself".
Some species can fire out a defensive spray, like the Pacific beetle cockroach. Others, like the Madagascan hissing cockroach, make startling noises when disturbed, presumably to unsettle any would-be predators. Perhaps inevitably, cockroaches have also come up with a plethora of ways to make more cockroaches.
"Cockroaches as a group are one of the most if not the most varied of all insect groups, in terms of their reproductive biology," says Beccaloni.
A few species appear to be wholly parthogenetic. The females churn out perfect clones of themselves without any need for males or copulation. In others, the females can flip between sexual and asexual modes of reproduction depending on conditions. However, in most species, the female produces an egg sac. Some simply lay it and move on, but others incubate the egg case in a brood pouch in their body, effectively giving birth to live young.
Pacific beetle cockroaches have abandoned egg cases altogether. The female deposits eggs directly into her brood pouch. There she nurtures them on a milk-like secretion, "the most nutritious energy-rich protein that's yet been discovered", according to Beccaloni, before giving birth to live, well-developed young.
If this sounds familiar, it should. "It's a very similar situation to the placenta of a mammal," says Beccaloni.
In a few cases, the female even cares for her offspring after birth. For instance, a Thorax porcellana mother carries her babies huddled beneath her forewing. It sounds almost cute, until you learn that the nymphs have razor-sharp mandibles, which they use to slice into her cuticle and feed on her blood. "They are like little vampires," says Beccaloni.
With so many extraordinary adaptations, it would not come as much of a surprise to find that cockroaches really could survive a nuclear blast. But tolerance of radiation is one talent they lack. "It's mostly an urban myth," says Beccaloni.
A human will usually be killed outright by a dose of ten Grays. "Cockroaches are only about five times more resistant," says Beccaloni. At first glance that might sound impressive, but it actually means they "are at the lower end of radiation tolerance for insects", Beccaloni says. Other species can survive doses of radiation ten times as intense, or even higher.
Rico says it's gonna take a lot to convince him (along with everyone else) that they're an important part of the web of life, but it's nice to know they won't survive the last war...

Good news for rhinos, finally

The BBC has an article by Ben Anderson about men not shooting rhinos:


Set on sixty thousand acres, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, is home to many of Africa's most iconic and most loved species.
It’s also home to a group of very special individuals who stand on the frontline of conservation to protect Africa’s most threatened wildlife, like the endangered white rhino.
While filming in Lewa for BBC Earth Unplugged, we met one of these men, a local Maasai named Wilfred Legei.
As part of the anti-poaching team, Legei has worked at Lewa for eleven years, and his innate connection with the land comes from a lifetime of love for his surroundings.
As he guided us through the game reserve, he explained his passion for the conservancy, which invests a great deal of time and money in developing their neighboring communities through education, healthcare, infrastructure, and much more. These projects not only benefit the locals, but bring jobs to a part of Africa where opportunities are few and far between.
Lewa hosts a maximum of a hundred tourists at any one time, a very low number compared to places like the Maasai Mara, where you may have many hundreds of vehicles at a single river crossing.
This special intimacy with the wildlife, coupled with Legei’s experience and understanding of the environment, makes Lewa a truly extraordinary place to visit.
Rico says he won't get there, but it's nice to know it exists...

Patience, ladies

Time has an article by Samantha Cooney about the closing pay gap; though not any time soon:
Women may have to wait another 136 years for equal pay, according to a new report.
The American Association of University Women released its Fall 2016 report on the gender pay gap on Thursday, and it doesn’t offer much optimism for women, particularly women of color.
The report, which analyzes the gap based on the most recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, says that, if the gender pay gap narrows at the rate of change that occurred between 1960 and 2015, gender pay parity could be achieved by 2059. But the caveat is that the rate of change has slowed since 2001. So, if the gap continues to narrow at its current rate, women may not get equal pay until 2152.
That of course, is just a broad analysis of the gap, which can be influenced by a number of factors, including education level, industry, race, and state.
The AAUW report adds further evidence to show that the picture is far bleaker for women of color. In 2015, Hispanic women made 54% of what white men made, while black women made 63% of what white men made.
“The good news is that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last hundred years,” Patricia Fae Ho, AAUW’s Board Chair, wrote in the report. “The bad news is that the gap is still sizable, it’s even worse for women of color, and it doesn’t seem likely to go away on its own.”
Rico says it's sort of like telling black people, back in 1729, that they will be free some day...

History for the day: 1960: Kennedy-Nixon debate

From The New York Times:


On 26 September 1960, the first televised debate between presidential candidates took place in Chicago, Illinois, as Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, and John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, squared off:


Rico says he was only eight, and thus barely remembers it, but his parents (both Democrats) watched avidly on their black & white television (remember that?) in Levittown, Pennsylvania...

Quote for the day

From The New York Times:

 

"The extremity of the divergence is unlike anything I have confronted in my adult life. The analogies that come to mind are Goldwater vs. Johnson in 1964 and Lincoln vs. Douglas in 1860."

 

Randall Kennedy, a professor of law at Harvard University,

on where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand on issues relating to gender and race.

Another good one gone

From The New York Times, an obituary of Arnold Palmer, dead at 87, by Dave Anderson:
Palmer, who won seven major titles, captivated fans with his ferocious swing and fearless attitude, helping to inspire an American golf boom.
Rico says he's never been a golfer, but Palmer was too good to ignore...

25 September 2016

Obscure movie for the day

Rico says that would be Sole Survivor, an odd little World War Two ghost story starring William Shatner as a captain, but not Kirk:
When a bomber believed to have crashed in the ocean seventeen years ago is found in the Libyan desert, a colonel (played by William Shatner) and a major (played by Vince Edwards) accompany the only surviving member of the crew, now a general (played by Richard Basehart), to figure out what happened. The general claims that he and the other members of the crew jumped over the ocean when, in reality, he bailed out by himself, leaving the others to fend for themselves. While the colonel just wants the whole thing closed, the major insists on finding the truth. Watching them are the ghosts of the crew.


Rico says it's full of intrigue and flashbacks, and sometimes hard to follow, but well done...

Dead heat on a merry-go-round

Rico says that was a different movie, but this one's not funny, either, as The Washington Post explains in this article by Dan Balz and Scott Clement:

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet Monday night for their first debate in a virtual dead heat in the race for the White House, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with the Democratic nominee’s August advantage erased after recent difficulties and the GOP nominee still facing doubts about his qualifications and temperament.
Likely voters split 46 percent for Clinton and 44 percent for Trump, with Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson at 5 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 1 percent. Among registered voters, Clinton and Trump are tied at 41 percent, with Johnson at 7 percent and Stein at 2 percent.
In a two-way matchup between the major-party nominees, Clinton tops Trump by 49 percent to 47 percent among likely voters, and the two are tied at 46 percent among all registered voters. Clinton’s two-point edge among likely voters, in both the four-way and two-way ballot tests, is within the survey’s 4.5 percentage-point margin of sampling error.
The findings underscore how much the presidential contest has tightened in recent weeks, after Clinton emerged from the two national conventions with a clear lead and with Trump on the defensive. In early September, Clinton led Trump by five points among likely voters. In early August, she led by eight points.
As Clinton has run into some turbulence, Trump has worked to present himself as a more disciplined candidate in an effort to attract more support from voters who traditionally have supported Republican nominees.
Some other national polls currently show Clinton with a slightly larger lead but, on balance, the pre-debate survey averages show the margin in the race in low single digits. The tightened race is a reminder of how much will be at stake Monday night at Hofstra University when the two meet at 9 pm before what could be one of the largest television audiences ever for a presidential debate.
Eight in ten voters say they plan to watch Monday’s debate, and 44 percent expect Clinton to win versus 34 percent expecting Trump to come out ahead. Expectations for Clinton are lower than they were for President Obama against Mitt Romney ahead of the 2012 debates, when 56 percent thought Obama would prevail vs. 29 percent for Romney. Although seventeen percent of registered voters say the debate could change their minds, only six percent say there is a good chance of that occurring. 
What do voters actually care about?
It’s time to cut through the noise and focus on what really matters to Americans this year.
Most Americans say they are following the campaign diligently, but a higher percentage of Trump supporters appear to be paying closer attention than Clinton backers. Also, more Clinton backers say they are not registered to vote, which adds to pressure on her team to get them registered and to the polls. Another potentially worrying sign for Clinton is that she is getting a smaller share of voters who supported Obama in 2012 than Trump is getting among those who backed Romney.
President Obama’s approval rating continues to be a potential boost for Clinton, however. His current approval among all adults is 55 percent, dipping from a high of 58 percent two weeks ago. But Clinton is facing a greater challenge reuniting Obama’s winning coalition. Roughly eight in ten likely voters who supported him in 2012 currently back Clinton today, while Trump wins nine in ten of those who supported Romney.
The race between Clinton and Trump continues to be defined along lines of gender, race, and education. Men and women are mirror opposites in their preferences, with 54 percent of men backing Trump and 55 percent of women supporting Clinton. The racial gap is far larger: white voters back Trump by 53 percent to 37 percent; nonwhite voters back Clinton by 69 percent to 19 percent.
But educational attainment among white voters continues to be the critical indicator. Trump leads Clinton by more than four to one among white men without college degrees, and by a smaller ratio among white women without college degrees and among college-educated white men. Clinton leads Trump by 57 percent to 32 percent among college-educated white women.
Trump’s support among white men has increased, and one key to his possible success will be maximizing that support among college-educated and non-college-educated white men alike, while making appeals to college-educated white women.
Both candidates continue to be viewed negatively by the voters. Currently, 39 percent of registered voters have a favorable impression of Clinton, while 57 percent have an unfavorable impression. For Trump, the results are comparable: 38 percent see him positively, 57 percent negatively. That number, however, is five points lower than it was just before the two parties’ national conventions in July.
Both candidates are seen as lacking in honesty, although Clinton is in worse shape on this measure. Currently, 33 percent of voters say she is honest and trustworthy, while 62 percent say she is not. For Trump, it is 42 percent and 53 percent, respectively, an improvement since earlier this month.
Trump’s major obstacle still appears to be the fact that majorities do not see him as qualified to be president or possessing presidential temperament. On those qualities, 53 percent of registered voters say he is not qualified, 58 percent say he lacks the temperament to serve effectively, and 55 percent say he does not know enough about the world to serve effectively.
Doubts about Trump’s qualifications have softened somewhat since midsummer, when six in ten registered voters said he was not qualified. White men are far more likely to say Trump is qualified (63 percent of white men versus 43 percent of the overall voting public); to say Trump has the personality and temperament to serve effectively (54 percent versus 38 percent); and to say Trump has sufficient knowledge of world affairs (57 percent versus 41 percent).
Trump has the support of 88 percent of registered voters who say he is qualified, which is a high in Post-ABC polls. Among those who say he is not qualified, just five percent support him, no higher than before.
On most of those measures, Clinton scores positively, with 57 percent of registered voters saying she is qualified to serve as president; 55 percent saying she has the right temperament; and 68 percent saying she knows enough about the world to serve effectively.
Majorities of Americans judge both candidates to be in good enough health to serve in the Oval Office, with 73 percent of registered voters offering positive assessments of Trump and 52 percent giving Clinton good marks
Clinton’s health became a prime issue two weeks ago when she was seen in a video stumbling as she was helped into a security van leaving a memorial service for the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York City. Her campaign later disclosed that she had been given a diagnosis of pneumonia days earlier, and she stayed off the campaign trail for several days before resuming activity.
Clinton was sharply criticized in some quarters for failing to disclose her condition at the time she received the diagnosis. But the Post-ABC poll found that more than six in ten Americans said she was justified in keeping the diagnosis private until she became ill in public.
Trump is given no comfort on his decision not to release his tax returns. Asked whether he was justified in not disclosing his returns, more than six in ten say he is not.
When it comes to which candidate people trust on issues, Trump’s clearest edge is on the economy, where fifty percent of registered voters trust him to do a better job compared with 43 percent for Clinton. Earlier this month Clinton had a 50-to-44 edge on the issue.
The two are about even on trust to handle terrorism, ethics in government, and immigration. Clinton has small edges on health care and looking out for the middle class. Her four-point advantage on the middle class compares with a fourteen-point margin in May and a six-point edge in July.
Clinton has double-digit advantages on handling an international crisis (52-40) and on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage (54-33). Clinton was criticized recently when she said that half of Trump’s supporters could be put into a “basket of deplorables”, by which she said she meant people who were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic.” She later said she regretted saying “half” but stood her ground that Trump’s candidacy has appealed to many people with those prejudices.
Clinton’s critique is not shared by most Americans, with more than six in ten saying it is unfair to describe a large portion of Trump supporters as prejudiced against women and minorities. Still, almost six in ten say Trump is trying to win support by “appealing to people’s prejudices against groups that are different from their own”. That includes 46 percent who say that he is making such appeals strongly. When asked the same about Clinton, the public was split, with 45 percent saying she, too, is appealing to people’s prejudices, while 46 percent say she is not.
Jobs and the economy continue to top the list of issues influencing people’s vote, cited by 32 percent of registered voters. But 25 percent say terrorism is the most important issue in their vote, up from nineteen percent last month. Terrorism-focused voters now support Trump by a twenty-point margin over Clinton, up from thirteen points earlier this month. Among economy voters, Clinton leads by a 35-point margin, also much larger than in the previous poll.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted from 19 to 22 September 2016, among a random national sample of a thousand adults reached on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the margin of error is four points among the sample of 834 registered voters and 4.5 points among the sample of 651 likely voters.
Rico says he can't wait for 9 November, when we'll finally know which of these morons will try to run the country for the next four years... (We survived Nixon and then Ford, we can survive either of these two...)

Movie for the day

War History Online has an article about a controversial new movie in China:


A recently released film, My War, directed by Peng Shun, a Hong Kong resident known for directing horror films, has resurrected the debate over China’s involvement in the Korean War. That war, which never had a peace treaty signed, was brought to a tenuous close by the signing of an armistice agreement that divided the Korean peninsula into two states: North Korea, which has remained secretive and under Communist rule, and South Korea, backed by the West.
A promotional video for the film (above), released on YouTube, has caused a furor in China. It shows a group of aged Chinese tourists on a bus, ostensibly taking a tour of Seoul and guided by a young Korean girl. The tourists are well-known Chinese actors and actresses and, as the young tour guide starts her introduction, she is interrupted by the elderly Chinese, who tell her that they have been to Seoul before. She appears confused, as she could find no record of them entering South Korea before, but the elderly people tell her that the last time they came they did not need passports, they carried “red flags” and at that time Seoul was called Hansung. The implication was that they were part of the Chinese invading force that supported the North Koreans while the United Nations, with a mainly American force, supported the South Koreans. The video ends by the young tour guide being advised to watch the film My War and the tourists then chant, Resist US aggression and aid Korea, protect our home and defend our country, a propaganda slogan widely used by the Chinese during the Korean War.
The video has drawn little from South Korea, but the reaction from the Chinese who have seen the video on YouTube has been sharp and highly critical. Comments such as “disgusting” are common, and one comment likened the commentary on the film to farmers discussing crops rather than the trauma of war. Many comments took up a human rights theme: “No war should be consumed light-heartedly,” wrote one commentator, who inferred the video reflected a mentality that “represents the most cold-blooded value of war.”
Many Chinese are not happy about drawing attention to their close liaison with North Korea, with the North Korean nuclear program causing so much trouble at this time. China is also against the proposed nuclear missile shield that America intends placing in South Korea as protection against North Korean aggression, China Digital Times reported.
The film’s director strenuously denied that he had had anything to do with the creation of the promotional material, claiming he neither designed nor directed the video and that it “has nothing to do with the film”.  He pleaded for people to judge the film on its own merits, saying it attempted to reflect war’s cruelty and inhumanity by following young Chinese soldiers. In an interview with Entertainment Capital, Pang says that “There is no hero, only the fear, pain, and growth that ordinary people experience during the war.”
The production company for the film, China Film Co., a subsidiary of the state-run China Film Group, have also made no comment on the issue.
The film is an adaptation of the book Tuanyuan (Reunion) written by Ba Jin. released in China. According to the media review site douban.com, it got 3.5 out of 5 stars, and China Box Office says it has earned nearly four million dollars. The film stars Chinese actors Liu Ye and Wang Luodan and Taiwanese actor Tony Yang.
Rico says that war isn't over for them, either...

History for the day: 1957: Central High School is integrated



On 25 September 1957, with three hundred National Guard troops standing by, nine black children were escorted to Central High School (photo, top) in Little Rock, Arkansas, days after unruly white crowds (photo, bottom) had forced them to withdraw.

Rico says it looks quaint now, but it was scary then... (Rico says he was a child, but he remembers...)

Apple for the day

From The New York Times, an article by Matt Richtel about texting:

 

Phone Makers could cut off drivers, so why don't they?
Apple and other digital giants have developed potentially lifesaving technology to block texting while driving, but it's still not being deployed.

 

Rico says he doesn't drive, so his texting isn't a problem, but he sees other drivers doing it, the idiots...

Sorry, but fuck you

From The New York Times, an article by David Segal about getting screwed by American Express:

 

You have 540 days to request a refund, starting 541 days ago
When buyers stiffed by a bankrupt wine store asked American Express for a refund, the company declined, citing a 540-day window with an uncertain start time.

 

Rico says he doesn't have an Amex card, for this, among other reasons...

Politics is a dirty business

From The New York Times, an article by Maggie Haberman and Megan Twohey:

 

Donald Trump's potential guest at debate: Gennifer Flowers
Trump threatened to invite Flowers, who had a sexual relationship with Bill Clinton, and she sent a text message that she would attend the debate.

 

Rico says if he's gonna play that card, where's Monica Lewinsky?

Jews? in China?

From The New York Times, an article by Chris Buckley about a little-known colony:

 

Chinese Jews of ancient lineage huddle under pressure
A campaign against unapproved religion and foreign influence has turned to a small group of Jews with ancestors who settled in Kaifeng, China more than a thousand years ago.

 

Rico says that, by now, you'd think they'd've assimilated...

Trump-Clinton debate

From The New York Times, an article by Michael Grynbaum:

 

Clinton-Trump debate expected to be rare draw in a polarized age
The total audience, network executives and political strategists say, could be as high as a hundred million viewers: Super Bowl territory.

 

Rico says make that a hundred million minus one; he won't be watching.

Hanks does WW2, yet again

War History Online has an article about yet another Tom Hanks movie, this one on a destroyer:

Tom Hanks has had an impressive acting career spanning forty years. One of his most memorable roles was in Saving Private Ryan. , where he played a company commander who had to survive the carnage of the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach and then had to lead his men on a mission to save a paratrooper and bring him home. Now it appears that Hanks may be getting yet another World War Two role.
Hanks wrote the screenplay for the new World War Two movie Greyhound, and Aaron Schneider has been brought on to direct. Apparently, Hanks wants the starring role for himself.
Destroyers were fast, streamlined, and powerful vessels. They became a new class of ship, nicknamed “tin cans” and the “greyhounds of the sea”. The destroyer would play an important role on the seas. Destroyers were first built at the end of the nineteenth century and, by the early 1940s, the United States’ newly-commissioned destroyers would be equipped with five-inch dual-purpose guns capable of both surface and anti-aircraft fire. They also sported 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns, quintuple mounts of 21″ torpedoes, and depth charge projectors. The ships displaced 2100 tons and were capable of speeds in excess of 35 knots, hence the nickname Greyhound.
The movie Greyhound is about a career naval officer put in command of a destroyer. The film follows him as he battles, not just the enemy, but also his self-doubt and personal demons. This new film benefits from being set in the Navy, which is seldom the focus of a World War Two movie. The budget is expected to be in the mid-thirty-million-dollar range and, with Hanks in the lead role, this has the makings of another hit for him.
As we all know, besides starring in Saving Private Ryan, Hanks has previous writing credits with an episode of Band of Brothers, as well as being the executive producer of the series with Steven Spielberg.
The Hanks-Spielberg duo is currently working on the new HBO miniseries Masters of the Sky which focusses on the World War Two exploits of the 8th Air Force, known as the “Mighty Eight” which still has an unknown release date.
Here's the teaser for Masters of the Air:
Five miles above the earth, deep behind enemy lines, eleven men inside a Flying Fortress fight for their lives against swarms of enemy German fighters. As the American bombers are picked off one by one, their mission becomes very clear: survive!
Rico says he will, of course, see both of them...

24 September 2016

Irritating change

Rico says that Google changed its search methodology, so now, instead of the Complain button (which was at least honest), there's a Send Feedback button:



And you now get three, count 'em, three windows:


Rico says that, not that anyone asked him, but he doesn't consider this an improvement...

The song in Rico's head

Rico says that, if you watch too many episodes, you can't get it out...

Trump is headed for a win

From The Washington Post, an article by Peter W. Stevenson about a prediction:

VIDEO

Nobody knows for certain who will win on 8 November, but one man is pretty sure: Professor Allan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote in every presidential election since 1984.
When we sat down in May of 2016, he explained how he comes to a decision. Lichtman's prediction isn't based on horse-race polls, shifting demographics, or his own political opinions. Rather, he uses a system of true/false statements he calls the Keys to the White House to determine his predicted winner. This year, he says, Donald Trump is the favorite to win.
The keys, which are explained in depth in Lichtman’s book Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House 2016 are:
Party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the House of Representatives than after the previous midterms.
Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.
Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.
Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.
Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.
Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
Lichtman, a distinguished professor of history at American University, sat down with The Fix this week to reveal who he thinks will win in November and why 2016 was the most difficult election to predict yet. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity: 
The Fix: Can you tell me about the keys, and how you use them to evaluate the election from the point where — I assume it's very murky a year or two out, and they start to crystallize over the course of the election.
Lichtman: The Keys to the White House is a historically-based prediction system. I derived the system by looking at every American presidential election from 1860 to 1980, and have since used the system to correctly predict the outcomes of all eight American presidential elections from 1984 to 2012. The keys are thirteen true/false questions, where an answer of "true" always favors the reelection of the party holding the White House, in this case the Democrats. And the keys are phrased to reflect the basic theory that elections are primarily judgments on the performance of the party holding the White House. If six or more of the thirteen keys are false, that is, they go against the party in power, they lose. If fewer than six are false, the party in power gets four more years.
The Fix: So people who hear just the surface-level argument there might say, well, President Obama has a 58 percent approval rating, doesn't that mean the Democrats are a shoo-in? Why is that wrong?
Lichtman: It absolutely does not mean the Democrats are a shoo-in. First of all, one of my keys is whether or not the sitting president is running for reelection, and right away, they are down that key. Another one of my keys is whether or not the candidate of the White House party is, like Obama was in 2008, charismatic. Hillary Clinton doesn't fit the bill.The keys have nothing to do with presidential approval polls or horse-race polls, with one exception, and that is to assess the possibility of a significant third-party campaign.
The Fix: What about Donald Trump on the other side? He's not affiliated with the sitting party, but has his campaign been an enigma in terms of your ability to assess this election?
Lichtman: Donald Trump has made this the most difficult election to assess since 1984. We have never before seen a candidate like Donald Trump, and Donald Trump may well break patterns of history that have held since 1860.We've never before seen a candidate who's spent his life enriching himself at the expense of others. He's the first candidate in our history to be a serial fabricator, making up things as he goes along. Even when he tells the truth, such as "Barack Obama really was born in the U.S.," he adds two lines, that Hillary Clinton started the birther movement, and that he finished it, even though when Barack Obama put out his birth certificate, he didn't believe it. We've never had a candidate before who, not just once, but twice in a thinly disguised way, has incited violence against an opponent. We've never had a candidate before who's invited a hostile foreign power to meddle in American elections. We've never had a candidate before who's threatened to start a war by blowing ships out of the water in the Persian Gulf if they come too close to us. We've never had a candidate before who has embraced as a role model a murderous, hostile foreign dictator. Given all of these exceptions that Donald Trump represents, he may well shatter patterns of history that have held for more than a hundred and fifty years and lose this election, even if the historical circumstances favor it.
The Fix:  We're a little bit less than seven weeks out from the election today. Who do you predict will win in November?
Lichtman: Based on the thirteen keys, it would predict a Donald Trump victory. Remember, six keys and you're out, and right now the Democrats are out for sure five keys: 
Key 1: is the party mandate; how well they did in the midterms. They got crushed.
Key 3: the sitting president is not running.
Key 7: no major policy change in Obama's second term like the Affordable Care Act.
Key 11: no major smashing foreign policy success.
Key 12: Hillary Clinton is not a Franklin Roosevelt.
One more key and the Democrats are down, and we have the Gary Johnson Key. One of my keys would be that the party in power gets a "false" if a third-party candidate is anticipated to get five percent of the vote or more. In his highest polling, Gary Johnson is at about twelve to fourteen percent. My rule is that you cut it in half. That would mean that he gets six to seven, and that would be the sixth and final key against the Democrats.
So very, very narrowly, the keys point to a Trump victory. But I would say, more to the point, they point to a generic Republican victory, because I believe that, given the unprecedented nature of the Trump candidacy and Trump himself, he could defy all odds and lose, even though the verdict of history is in his favor. So this would also suggest, you know, the possibility this election could go either way. Nobody should be complacent, no matter who you're for, you gotta get out and vote.
The Fix: Do you think the fact that Trump is not a traditional Republican, certainly not an establishment Republican, from a rhetorical or policy perspective, contributes to that uncertainty over where he fits in with the standard methodology for evaluating the Keys?
Lichtman: I think the fact that he's a bit of a maverick, and nobody knows where he stands on policy, because he's constantly shifting. I defy anyone to say what his immigration policy is, what his policy is on banning Muslims, or whoever, from entering the United States, that's certainly a factor. But it's more his history in Trump University, the Trump Institute, his bankruptcies, the charitable foundation, of enriching himself at the expense of others, and all of the lies and dangerous things he's said in this campaign, that could make him a precedent-shattering candidate.It's interesting, I don't use the polls, as I've just explained, but the polls have very recently tightened. Clinton is less ahead than she was before, but it's not because Trump is rising, it's because Clinton is falling. He's still around forty percent in the polls. You can't win if you can't crack forty percent.
As people realize the choice is not going to be Gary Johnson, that the only choice is between Trump and Clinton, those Gary Johnson supporters may move away from Johnson and toward Clinton, particularly those millennials. And, you know, I've seen this movie before. My first vote was in 1968, when I was the equivalent of a millennial, and lots of my friends, very liberal, wouldn't vote for Hubert Humphrey because he was part of the Democratic establishment, and guess what? They elected Richard Nixon.
And, of course, as I have said for over thirty years, predictions are not endorsements. My prediction is based off a scientific system. It does not necessarily represent, in any way, shape, or form, an Allan Lichtman or American University endorsement of any candidate. Of course, as a successful forecaster, I've predicted in almost equal measure both Republican and Democratic victories.
Rico says he might not get this one right...

WW2 for the day

There's stuff from World War Two scattered across the globe, and War History Online has an article about one (big) piece of it:

Recreational divers located the located the remains of a World War Two German Schnellboot lying in forty feet of water in the Black Sea near the Crimea.  The Russian military undertook initial salvage on the vessel.
The boat, S-102, was used by the Germans during World War Two to attack and sink British supply ships, causing the loss of thousands of tons of desperately needed supplies in war-torn Britain.  The Schnellboot or, as it was known to the Allies, the E-Boat, was operated by the Kriegsmarine during the war.
The boats were 35 meters long and had a beam of a little over 5 meters.  Their hull design was slim and sleek, and the vessels cut through the water propelled by powerful diesel engines. It was extremely fast, having the capability of cruising at over forty knots and accelerating to almost fifty knots.  It was very well armed and was a feared hunter of the Merchant Marine.
The E-boats served with great distinction during World War Two, and members of the Ninth Flotilla responded out of Cherbourg, France to the first reports of Operation Overlord on D-Day in 1944.  As they were the first German assets to respond, and being faced with an entire invasion fleet, they fired their torpedoes at long range and retired back to Cherbourg. Notwithstanding this episode, these vessels were responsible for the sinking of a hundred merchant ships during the war, along with destroyers, MTBs, minesweepers, a submarine, and landing ships. They also caused damage to cruisers, destroyers, tugs, and many merchant vessels.
S-102 carried a crew of twelve men whom experts believe went down with the vessel when it sank in 1943.  Initial salvage has brought several small items, as well as the flak gun, to the surface.  It is not known if the remains of the twelve sailors are still on board but, until proven otherwise, this will be treated as a war grave.  The wreck will be thoroughly researched by a team of military and expert researchers.
Rico says it's like the dog that caught the car: now what do you do with it?

23 September 2016

Obscure movie for the day

Rico says it's Sole Survivor, with William Shatner, boldly going:

Video by GoPro

Rico says that GoPro makes some pretty videos:



and let's people do crazy things:

Apple, being stupidly childish, for the day

Amanda Hess has an article in The New York Times about Messenger:

P
Apple built an empire on hermetically sealed systems with sleek, minimalist designs. Nowhere was its strategy more evident than in iMessage, the company’s instant messaging system that offered a free, elegant chatting solution exclusive to Apple devices. Until last week, that is, when Apple updated its software, cracked open iMessage and allowed the ephemera of the outside internet to seep in.
Now, click on an unassuming arrow in the chat window, and you’ll throw open a junk drawer of digital tchotchkes scavenged from web properties new and old. GIFs, stickers and supersized emoji dominate this digital playground, while text, actual words, becomes almost an afterthought.
But unlike the freewheeling world of the outside web, where we grab and go as we please, Apple is steering users toward a tightly curated selection of non-textual toys. None would look out of place at a three-year-old’s birthday party. Many come at a price. Welcome to Apple’s sanitized, monetized version of internet culture.
Apple’s extreme messaging makeover gives us a suite of new visual effects, throw confetti, release balloons and shoot lasers across the text screen, that recall the crude, rainbow-colored décor of 1990s-era GeoCities sites. Another set of tricks turns the text box into a kind of slick, improvised web video: the “loud” effect makes the chat bubble stretch and tremble as it’s delivered, while the “gentle” effect shrinks it down to visualize a whimper. The most superfluous piece of flair is the “digital touch” feature, which conjures a beating heart or a sizzling fireball when you press on the screen just so.
These features mimic the aesthetics of the open Internet, which is obsessed with nostalgia and is not exactly subtle. But they can’t replicate the feeling of collecting digital miscellany in our travels across the Internet, remixing the material and sending it along to friends who might appreciate the find. The programmatic iMessage sucks the spontaneity from the experience. It standardizes the strange.
Several new features, meanwhile, blow up iMessage’s intimate chat experience to help it compete with the social networks. A handy GIF keyboard jumps off the reaction-GIF empire that Tumblr built, calling up video loops of broadly accessible cultural references (Honey Boo Boo dancing, two Minions giggling) to convey a range of emotional states. Another feature lets you finger-paint directly onto your photos, just like you can on Snapchat. But mostly, this thing feels like Facebook. A new class of iMessage apps (yes, apps within an app) lets chatters play Words With Friends, send money through Square or make dinner reservations on OpenTable, all right within the chat window. It feels like iMessage is trying to swallow the rest of your phone.
The camera is in here, and so, too, can be Fandango, ESPN, and, if you want, Carrot, a snarky robot that reads you the weather report for four bucks. In many of these cases, the service is so slight that exchanging actual words would work just fine: Want to see “Snowden” at 10:15? Did you catch the Nats game? It’s 77 and sunny... It’s not clear why every shade of human interaction needs to be mediated by its own app.
Here’s one theory: each tap into the iMessage world sends you further away from your chat bubbles and deeper into Apple’s labyrinth of special features. Follow the path to its inevitable conclusion, and all of a sudden, you’re no longer talking with your friends: you’re shopping.
Five clicks into iMessage, you’ll arrive at Apple’s brand-new sticker shop. Offering colorful sets of illustrations to drag and drop into your chats, it’s one of iMessage’s most tantalizing new destinations. If our chat windows function as modern living rooms, stickers offer the opportunity to appoint our walls with art from cutting-edge digital creators.
Too bad Apple is most excited to highlight stuff created by brands. This past weekend, the app store showcased sticker packs sponsored by Pokémon, Star Wars, and Disney. Other top offerings came from the Powerpuff Girls, Marvel, Sesame Street, Sephora, the Backstreet Boys, and Ellen DeGeneres, who’s charging two bucks for a set of illustrations, including an avocado in a top hat and a cucumber in a snapback cap. The products are ads for other products.
iMessage is the iPhone’s most trafficked feature. Its chats facilitate an endless combination of social interactions and emotional expressions. But Apple’s shop suggests that all conversations would improve from a Party City-style redecoration, with generic celebratory sentiments and Disney-branded flair.
Stickers sound inherently childish, but they don’t have to be. The sticker-ification of chats was pioneered by Line, a Japanese chat giant that swept Asia and is lately making a bid for western audiences. Line loves corporate synergy, too, heralding sticker sets starring Snoopy, Super Mario, and Hello Kitty.
But even as it attempts world chat domination, Line services online subcultures. Dozens of sticker sets feature gay characters, and more than one, Fangirl’s Activities and I Love KPOP, depicts anime girls in various states of obsession. Then there’s the sex stuff. The Umaotoko sticker shows two men in horse costumes, uh, stretching together. The most risqué sticker I could find in Apple’s version was in a set called Failmoji; It’s a hand-drawn butt with the caption of Fart!
Apple’s chat overhaul ushers elements of internet creativity into the company’s tightly controlled self-presentation. But the most truly creative expression to unfurl inside iMessages so far has been made in opposition to Apple’s imposed boundaries. Madison Malone Kircher, a writer at the New York magazine tech blog Select All, wrote a handy guide to using iMessage to “annoy the hell out of your friends”. When the tech writer Casey Johnston updated her phone and the new iMessage, she posted screenshots of herself and a friend virtually vandalizing their chat window with smarmy pregnancy stickers, over-the-top effects, and graphics layered so high the images became unintelligible. As Johnston put it: “The race to find the worst thing iOS can possibly do is on.” May I suggest this celebrity sticker pack created in the image of the rapper G-Eazy?

Rico says remind him to never open iMessage...

History for the day: 1896: the Spanish-American War

War History Online has this for today:

Manning a remote island fort, seemingly without any imminent danger on the horizon, must have made for a fairly comfortable post. That was the situation on Guam until June of 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish and American War.
Guam had been held by Spain since the 1660s. Spain had communicated with officials on the island on 14 April 1898, but war was yet to be declared. When it was, authorities forgot to communicate the news to their forces on Guam.
The United States was quick to take action, and decided that seizing several Pacific islands would give it leverage in years to come. Guam, in particular, would be a great coal replenishing stop for American naval ships.
Henry Glass, the captain of the USS Charleston (photo), was anchored at Honolulu, Hawai'i when he received orders to take his ship and a few transports into the Pacific. When they were underway, he received new orders, which told him to head to Guam, seize the port, destroy all fortifications, and take soldiers and government officials into custody as prisoners of war. His superiors told him that the mission wouldn’t take him “more than one or two days", which proved to be correct.
While en route, Captain Glass performed drills with one of the transports, the SS City of Peking, because he had heard a rumor in Honolulu that there was a Spanish gunboat in the harbor at Guam. When they reached the island on 20 June, however, they were surprised to find that the only boat anchored there was a Japanese merchant ship.
They toured around the island until they found Fort Santa Cruz, which didn’t seem too lively either. Partly because he couldn’t tell exactly what was going on at the fort and whether or not it was occupied, Glass fired thirteen rounds with his three-pounder guns.
When, after a time, he received no retaliation or response, the captain dropped anchor, ‘taking control’ of the desolate and seemingly unused harbor. The apparent lack of any activity at all from the island spurred Captain Glass to send an officer to the Japanese vessel to find out what it knew about Guam and its inhabitants and governmental status.
As he was sending this officer out, he must have been surprised to see a boat flying the Spanish flag on its way toward his own ship. Four men, including Lieutenant Garcia Gutierrez, the Spanish Navy port commander, and Dr. Romero, the Spanish Army Port Health Officer, boarded the Charleston with the intent of showing friendship and welcome to their visitors.
According to the 5 July 1898 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, the men apologized to Captain Glass for not returning his 'salute' of thirteen shots fired. and told him that, if they could just borrow a little gunpowder, they would return to shore and respectfully reciprocate. They were even nice enough to ask after the crew’s health and try and engage in friendly conversation.
How sad it must have been when Captain Glass informed them of Spain’s defeat at Manila (painting, below), his intention of taking Guam, and that, when they had boarded the ship, they had become prisoners of war.
Glass, in turn, learned that the island was not greatly fortified and the Spanish military presence was merely 54 Spanish soldiers and 54 Chamorros (the indigenous people of Guam) armed with 8mm Mausers and Remington 45-90s. The four cannons peering out from the port were nearly unusable and, besides, didn’t have any gunpowder.
At the end of the exchange, the now beleaguered Spanish officers were allowed to return to the island, with the mission of informing the governor that the United States was at war with Spain and that he must come aboard the Charleston immediately to discuss terms with Captain Glass.
The governor, Juan Marina, responded that, under Spanish military law, he would be unable to come aboard the Charleston, but that he would welcome Captain Glass on the island, with the assurance of the captain’s safety.
The governor was a bit insulted when it was not the captain who came ashore, but an officer, who then informed him that he had thirty minutes to submit his surrender. The governor took exactly twenty-nine minutes and addressed his reply to Captain Glass. He was further miffed when the lieutenant, Lieutenant William Braunersreuther, opened the letter himself, despite the governor’s warning.
The letter said that Governor Marina was reluctant, but had no choice:
“Being without defenses of any kind, and without means to meet the present situation, I am under the sad necessity of being unable to resist such superior forces and regretfully to accede to your demands, at the same time protesting against this act of violence, when I have received no information from my government to the effect that Spain is at war with your nation.”
The forlorn but brave Governor Marina wrote a letter to his wife before he and other officials and soldiers became prisoners of war aboard one of the transport ships.
Captain Glass contemplated his options, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth trying to destroy something that was already a ruin; the fort was so neglected that it would be of no use to anyone. Instead, they spent their remaining day getting coal to the ships.
One wonders what Marina and the Spanish soldiers felt when they finally did hear Captain Glass fire a salute to the American flag he had raised at Fort Santa Cruz, to the music of The Star Spangled Banner, just before leaving Guam.
Rico says we should have kept Cuba, but not the Philippines... (Ignoring things like the Moros, have you seen what their president is up to these days?)

Denzel rides a horse

An article by Aisha Harris from SlateThe Magnificent Seven strikes a blow for diversity but, most importantly, Denzel rides a horse:

Let’s get this out of the way: Denzel Washington (photo, above) makes riding a horse look mighty fine. No, there was no need for this remake of a remake, a new version of the 1960 Western that was itself a spin on the 1954 Akira Kurosawa classic, Seven Samurai. And perhaps the talents of all involved with Antoine Fuqua’s 2016 update of The Magnificent Seven would’ve been better put to use in a wholly original idea that didn’t conjure up nostalgia-tinged memories of superior movies.
But, still, Denzel. On a horse. Slinging guns in the desert, fighting a greedy, bloodthirsty industrialist alongside his ragtag band of brothers. It’s an archetype we haven’t seen from one of our greatest movie stars before, and a welcome one at that; even if he’s still treading dangerously close to Liam Neeson territory as an elder action hero and seeker of justice, he owns the performance.
There are other reasons The Magnificent Seven, as derivative as it may be, makes for a decent couple of hours wasted. It opens a few years after the Civil War with the aforementioned industrialist Bartholomew Bogue and his dastardly band of armed cronies striding into the town of Rose Creek, crashing a church sermon. Bogue, played with Snidely Whiplash ham by a gleeful Peter Sarsgaard, threatens the town, kills a few parishioners, and sets fire to the church. He’ll return in a few weeks with a full-on militia, he warns, and take what’s rightfully his.
Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett) is determined not to let Rose Creek fall into Bogue’s hands without a fight. When Sam Chisholm (played by Washington, sporting remarkable facial hair in apparent homage to an earlier cinematic black cowboy, Fred Williamson) comes to town to collect on a bounty, she swoops in and convinces him to help her town fight off Bogue who, it turns out, is also a longtime enemy of his.
After this sluggish opener, The Magnificent Seven gains momentum as Chisholm gets the band together. As gambler Josh Farraday, Chris Pratt cracks wise and oozes overconfidence, which is to say he does what he does best. Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, an ex-Confederate soldier and acquaintance of Chisholm’s suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Byung-hun Lee plays Robicheaux’ companion and expert knife-wielder Billy Rocks. Other roles are filled out by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and an unfocused Vincent D’Onofrio.
The breezy banter and tangled relationships between this assortment of characters is amusing, as when Robicheaux and Garcia-Rulfo’s “Texican” outlaw Vasquez drunkenly debate the possibility that their grandfathers fought one another at the Alamo, or when Chisholm takes a bite of raw deer heart offered as a sign of peace. (Chisholm’s grossed-out expression is a nice reminder that super-thespian Denzel Washington is also a funny guy.)
While the media has made much of the fact that the cast is unusually diverse for a Hollywood movie, Fuqua doesn’t make much of it. For the most part, The Magnificent Seven treats the existence of non-white bodies in the Wild West as a totally natural occurrence. (Just as it was, as Fuqua has noted: “The West was a mixed bag of people coming from everywhere, and was far more diverse than what we see in Westerns.”)
Where The Magnificent Seven is not so forward-thinking is in its gender relations: in the film’s final act, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk miss a golden opportunity to give Emma a chance to shine in the fantastically choreographed showdown, and instead deliver an eye-roll–worthy damsel-in-distress moment. Where have you gone, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane?
While Fuqua and most of his cast have mostly steered clear of talking much about the film’s “racial progression”, Hawke has stressed that The Magnificent Seven, with its rapacious industrialist and inclusive cast, joins an ever-growing list of present-day movies intended to be read as a direct response to our Trump-ified present. That’s all well and good, but, with its protracted shoot-’em-up scenes and semi-silly deaths, The Magnificent Seven has one and only true goal: it’s a new Hollywood crack at good, old-time entertainment. Fuqua takes every chance he can to linger on his heroes as they saunter toward the camera and hit their marks, guns (or knives or arrows) cocked and ready to fire. It may not make a solid case for more remakes of the same old movies, but it does make the case that more present-day movie stars embrace the glories of old Hollywood.
Rico says that Denzel could ride a dinosaur sidesaddle, he'd still see it... (But maybe Vincent D’Onofrio is still unfocused from being in Men in Black...)
 

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