21 October 2014

Stay home, then

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

Science fact follows science fiction

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

Apple for the day

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

Wacko for the day

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

Mountains for the day

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

'Patient zero' on the Internet

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

History for the day

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

Paralysed man walks again after cell transplant - BBC News


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Mark Seymour

Total's CEO Christophe de Margerie dies in Moscow plane crash - BBC News


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Mark Seymour

Pistorius given five years

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

NRA for the day

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

Oscar for the day

Christopher Torchia has an AP article about the sentencing of Oscar Pistorius:
Oscar Pistorius was taken away in a police van with barred windows to start serving a five-year prison sentence for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Delivering her sentence, Judge Thokozile Masipa cited the "gross negligence" the double-amputee Olympic runner showed when he shot Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home.
Pistorius, who cried and retched during his murder trial, was unemotional as he stood to hear his sentence. His prison term begins immediately, and he was led by police down a flight of stairs to holding cells before leaving the courthouse in the armored vehicle.
The world-famous runner later arrived at the nearby Kgosi Mampuru II prison in the South African capital, a facility that has had problems with violence and overcrowding and where during the years of apartheid death row inmates were executed before capital punishment was outlawed with the advent of democracy. Despite the prison's reported problems, authorities have said Pistorius would be held away from the general prison population because of his disability and high profile; possibly in a hospital wing or a high-security section.
Pistorius could be released after ten months to serve the remainder under house arrest, according to legal experts. Masipa last month convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, but acquitted him of murder after he testified he mistook Steenkamp for a nighttime intruder.
Steenkamp's parents were in court to hear the sentence and the dead model's mother, June, said justice had been done. A close friend of Steenkamp, Gina Myers, said: "I really don't think any of us will heal anytime soon, as there will always be questions."
Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius, appealed to reporters to give the family privacy after what he called "twenty months of relentless public trial." He criticized prosecutors for pursuing a premeditated murder charge against Pistorius, and said "they decided to inflict as much collateral damage as they could." He said Pistorius' family accepted the sentence. "Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society," Arnold Pistorius said.
Judge Masipa earlier described the sentencing as a balancing act between retribution and clemency. "I am of the view that a non-custodial sentence would send a wrong message to the community," Masipa said, taking just over an hour to summarize parts of the case and explain why she reached her decision. "On the other hand, a long sentence would not be appropriate either, as it would lack the element of mercy."
Masipa asked Pistorius to stand as she delivered the sentence, and he faced her with his hands clasped in front of him. Pistorius was then led away, stopping briefly to grip the hands of his uncle and other family members as he headed to prison.
Prosecutors said they are considering whether to appeal the sentence, where Pistorius could serve less than a year in jail for killing his girlfriend. They have fourteen days to apply for permission to appeal.
Nathi Mncube, the prosecution spokesman, said his office was disappointed in the culpable homicide conviction, and had not yet decided whether to appeal. He said that there was an "appetite" to appeal, but prosecutors would review their options.
"We are satisfied with the fact that he will be serving some time in prison," Mncube said.
Masipa had a wide range of options available to her, because South Africa does not have a minimum sentence for culpable homicide, which is comparable to manslaughter. Pistorius, a once-inspiring athlete, known as the Blade Runner because he competed on carbon-fiber blades, was the first amputee to run at the Olympics in 2012. He had faced up to fifteen years in jail. He also could have received a completely suspended sentence or house arrest.
The sentence raised questions over if Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion, would ever return to the career that made him famous. The International Paralympic Committee said he would not be eligible to run during his five-year sentence, ruling him out of the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Pistorius must serve one-sixth of his sentence in prison, or ten months, before he is eligible to be moved to house arrest, said Marius du Toit, a legal analyst and criminal defense lawyer. "It's an appropriate sentence," du Toit said.
As Pistorius left in the police van, a crowd gathered around the vehicle, with some whistling, shouting, and banging on the caged windows.
Rico says that's barely a manslaughter sentence here in the States... The guy got off lucky.

Museum in Gettysburg closing

The Associated Press has an article about the end of a Gettysburg landmark:
A Gettysburg, Pennsylvania museum featuring a model Confederate encampment (photo, bottom) and many Civil War artifacts is closing after more than half a century.
Officials say the Soldiers National Museum (photo, top) will close its doors at the end of the day on 2 November 2014 and an auction of museum materials will be held on 21 and 22 November 2014, days after the 151st anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
"The museum has been around for a very long time, but the visitors at Gettysburg are looking for something a little bit different today," said Matt Felty, president of Gettysburg Tours Inc., which owns the museum and several other attractions in the area.
The museum, established in 1959, reportedly attracted as many as four hundred thousand visitors a day in the 1960s, but Felty said the annual visitation now averages only about fifteen thousand. Even during last year's Sesquicentennial battle anniversary, the number of visitors was only "about steady", he said. "This museum concept has lived its useful life," he said. "Visitors want a more hands-on, tech-heavy experience. We don't really have that here."
Making the museum competitive with nearby attractions, such as the six-year-old Gettysburg National Military Park Museum Visitor Center, the year-old Seminary Ridge Museum at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Heritage Center, would require an investment "well into six figures", he said.
The museum contains Civil War artifacts, a collection of rare toy soldiers from various eras and associated artifacts, a life-size nighttime Confederate encampment scene with lighting accompanied by an audio track, Civil War-related mannequins, and several handmade dioramas.
Felty declined to estimate how much the collection is worth. "I think anything Gettysburg- or Civil War-related will generate a lot of interest," he said.
Rico says he hopes the stuff ends up in good hands; we shouldn't lose history, because as George Satayana said: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

School by Dewey

DelanceyPlace.com has a selection from The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand:
In 1896, John Dewey, then chair of the Department of Philosophy of the University of Chicago, opened an experimental school to test his theory that children learn by doing, rather than through lectures, and that schools should convey information as part of an integrated whole, rather than by dividing it into separate subjects. Thus, as one example, he used cooking, since it combined arithmetic (weighing and measuring ingredients, with instruments the children made themselves), chemistry and physics (observing the process of combustion), biology (diet and digestion), and geography (exploring the natural environments of the plants and animals). The book he wrote on the subject, The School and Society, has never since been out of print:
In January of 1896, John Dewey opened the University Elementary School at the University of Chicago in Illinois. The school had sixteen children, all under twelve, and two teachers. It was a local sensation. That fall, it reopened in a new space with three teachers and thirty-two students. By 1902, there were 140 students, twenty-three teachers, and ten graduate students working as assistants; it had become an international sensation; and it was known as the Dewey School.
The official name the school eventually acquired was the Laboratory School. The name actually came from the school's supervisor of instruction, Ella Flagg Young (who later became superintendent of the Chicago, Illinois school system), but it expressed Dewey's intention exactly. The Dewey School was a philosophy laboratory, a place, as Dewey later put it, 'to work out in the concrete, instead of merely in the head or on paper, a theory of the unity of knowledge.'
Dewey wasn't conducting curricular experiments or collecting data on mental development, he was trying out a theory. It was a theory, as he said, of 'the unity of knowledge'. By 'unity of knowledge', Dewey did not mean that all knowledge is one. He meant that knowledge is inseparably united with doing. Education at the Dewey School was based on the idea that knowledge is a by-product of activity: people do things in the world, and the doing results in learning something that, if deemed useful, gets carried along into the next activity. In the traditional method of education, in which the things considered worth knowing are handed down from teacher to pupil as disembodied information, knowledge is cut off from the activity in which it has its meaning, and becomes a false abstraction. One of the consequences (besides boredom) is that an invidious distinction between knowing and doing, a distinction Dewey thought socially pernicious as well as philosophically erroneous, gets reinforced.
At the Laboratory School, therefore, children were involved in workshop-type projects in which learning was accomplished in a manner that simulated the way Dewey thought it was accomplished in real life: through group activity. Since the project was being carried out in the present, and since it was supposed to proceed in accordance with the natural instincts of the children ('I think ... that the development of the children's interests will follow very closely a truly scientific development of the subject.' Dewey stated in one of his planning letters), what was learned was precisely what was useful. Relevance was built into the system.
One of Dewey's curricular obsessions, for instance, was cooking. (Like all courses at the school, including carpentry and sewing, cooking was coeducational.) The children cooked and served lunch once a week. The philosophical rationale is obvious enough: preparing a meal (as opposed to, say, memorizing the multiplication table) is a goal-directed activity, it is a social activity, and it is an activity continuous with life outside school. But Dewey incorporated into the practical business of making lunch: arithmetic (weighing and measuring ingredients, with instruments the children made themselves), chemistry and physics (observing the process of combustion), biology (diet and digestion), geography (exploring the natural environments of the plants and animals), and so on. Cooking became the basis for most of the science taught in the school. lt turned out to have so much curricular potential that making cereal became a three-year continuous course of study for all children between the ages of six and eight -- with (on the testimony of two teachers) 'no sense of monotony on the part of either pupils or teacher.' And as cooking established a continuity with the sphere of the home, other activities established continuities with the spheres of industry and business. There was much work, for example, with iron. The children built their own tiny smelters.
The pedagogical challenge, crucial to the theory, was to make the chemistry indivisible from the lunch, the learning indivisible from the doing. 'Absolutely no separation is made between the "social" side of the work, its concern with people's activities and their mutual dependencies, and the "science," regard for physical facts and forces', Dewey wrote in 1899 in his best-selling book about the school, The School and Society.
Rico says he never attended a school that used his principles, but it sounds interesting...

20 October 2014

More Apple for the day

The BBC has an article by Leo Kelion about the newest tablets from Apple:
Apple has announced a new version of its tablet, the iPad Air 2, which it said was the thinnest device of its kind on the market. It is a quarter-inch thick, and also gains a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. It has an anti-reflective coating on the screen for the first time, and a faster version of the processor featured in the firm's latest iPhones.
However, some analysts have questioned whether the upgrade will be enough to turn around iPad sales.
An upgraded version of the firm's smaller tablet, called the iPad Mini 3, was also announced. Like its bigger sibling, it gets the company's fingerprint recognition component. But it uses the older A7 processor and has a lower-resolution rear camera.
Apple said the iPad Air 2 was eighteen percent thinner than the previous model.
Some of the details were published by Apple, reportedly by mistake, earlier in the week.
Apple's last earnings release revealed that it had sold thirteen million iPads in the April-to-June quarter. That marked a nine percent fall on its tally for the same period in 2013, despite the fact the company saw sales of iPhones and Macintosh computers rise.
It also contrasted with an eleven percent rise in the number of tablet shipments across the market as a whole, with Lenovo and Asus making some of the biggest gains, according to data from IDC. The market research firm said that the iPad remained the bestselling tablet brand, but that its market share had dropped over the year from 33% to 26.9%.
One expert suggested that the recent launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, which shares most of the new iPads' features, could further temper demand.
Apple announced an upgraded version of its iPad Mini in addition to the bigger model
"Given that Apple's launched larger iPhones, it needs to find a market that the iPad Mini fits into," said Jitesh Ubrani of IDC. "It was a response to the market as a whole moving to smaller tablets. And now that phablets are growing in not just screen size but also in market size, unless Apple carves out a special place for it, we expect sales of the Mini in particular to be cannibalized quite a bit."
Apple's chief executive Tim Cook (photo) has told investors he still believes that the tablet market will eventually surpass that of PCs, and has pointed to a recent deal with IBM involving the two firms co-developing business-centric apps as a way to get iPad sales on "a faster trajectory".
Ubrani agreed that targeting businesses had huge potential, but warned that sales to consumers would remain a challenge.
Cook joked about thwarted attempts to prevent leaks, during the press conference:
"People who have the old iPad 2 or more recent versions are still happy with these devices, they are still functioning perfectly fine," he said. "There's really no reason to upgrade."
Other new features of the iPad Air 2 include an eight megapixel rear camera that can now capture slow-mo videos at 120 frames per second. The front camera has also been upgraded to allow in more light and take a rapid succession of selfies.
Marketing chief Phil Schiller unveiled the new iMac with a 5K screen. In addition, the machine includes a new type of wi-fi chip that supports faster data speeds, including downloads at up to 866 megabits per second.
"It is disappointing, particularly to enterprise buyers, that there wasn't a thirteen-inch iPad model," said JP Gownder from research firm Forrester, who otherwise praised the update. "In order to return iPad to high growth, form factor innovation will be required."
The new tablets will become available to buy next week at similar prices to before.
Apple also introduced a new model of its all-in-one iMac computer, featuring what it said was the highest resolution display on the market. The computer has a 27 inch screen that has a resolution of 5210 by 2880 pixels, offering about five times the detail of a "full HD" 1080p television. That represents four times the number of pixels found in the standard iMac of the same size.
The basic model will cost $2,499, and is already available for sale.
Lenovo already sells the N308, an all-in-one Android-powered desktop PC with a twenty-inch screen offering slightly lower 4K resolution, while Panasonic has the Toughpad MB5025, a twenty-inch 4K computer that runs Windows 8Intel and Samsung have also announced plans to manufacture 4K screens for other all-in-one PCs.
Otherwise, large ultra-high definition display are still a rarity in the computing sector beyond the use of separate monitors, which may aid demand for the new computer.
"There is a huge difference in quality, once you start moving through the different sets of screens," remarked Ranjit Atwal, research director at the tech consultancy Gartner.
"Given the amount of consumption people are doing of online video, and the quality of what they can get from services like YouTube and Netflix on 4K televisions, they want to see that replicated on a PC as well."
Apple suggested that people doing visual productivity tasks, such as photo editing, would also benefit from the innovation. Apple also announced an upgraded version of its screen-less computer, the Mac Mini, but there was no mention of an update to its Apple TV set top box, which last received a hardware refresh in March of 2012.
The company also said that the latest version of its operating system for Macintosh computers, OS X Yosemite, was being made available for download this Thursday.
The software allows data to be swapped back and forth with iOS-powered iPhones and iPads more easily than before. Its user interface has also been designed with higher resolution screens in mind. The company added that version 8.1 of iOS, which introduces support for its near field communication (NFC)-powered payment service Apple Pay, would be released on Monday.
Rico says it's all moving so fast, it's a blur...

Chaplin for the day

The BBC has an article by Fiona Macdonald about Charlie Chaplin's early career:
A new book of photos reveals Charlie Chaplin’s first screen appearance and the debut of his Tramp character. BBC Culture looks at the birth of an icon:
“The little chap I want to show wears the air of romantic hunger, is forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.” Charlie Chaplin adopted his most famous screen persona in the 1915 feature movie The Tramp, but he had developed the character throughout a series of short films in 1914.
A new book (Charlie Chaplin, The Keystone Album (Musée de l'Elysée / Éditions Xavier Barral) will be published on 13 November 2014, and is available at www.exb.fr.) celebrates the centenary of a silent era icon with rarely seen photographs discovered in Chaplin’s personal archives. Collected in an album, 794 images show the pratfalls, missed punches, and flying kicks of an actor finding his feet. Printed directly from frames of the film rolls, with no negatives, they are a record of Chaplin’s first year in front of the camera.
The images are arranged in rough storyboards for 29 of the 36 shorts Chaplin made for the Keystone Film Company in 1914: they were found in an album about which little was known until recently. “When we first saw the album, when we didn’t know what it was meant for, we thought it was maybe some kind of creative object,” says Carole Sandrin, the curator in charge of the Charles Chaplin Photographic Archive at Lausanne’s Musée de l’Elysée. “When you have to choose one frame out of hundreds, you start to compose like you’re painting,” she continues. “In some plates, you can see that the author really played with some visual effects."
Experts now believe it was compiled in the 1930s by HD Waley, a technical director at the British Film Institute, who wanted to take an inventory of Chaplin’s early films in case they disappeared. The photos show the range of Chaplin’s facial expressions and a character stepping out of traditional comedy conventions.
“Throughout the three dozen movies, Chaplin is playing characters in the burlesque, slapstick style. He’s a villain, throwing bricks, or kicking people in the bottom,” says Sandrin. “But Chaplin realizes that, if he wants to become someone different from the other actors, if he wants his character to be noticed, he has to stay in front of the camera longer, and he doesn’t have to run all over the place. He finds little tricks, like turning his cane, or playing with his hat where he’s not moving, so people will really look at him.”
That slower pace can be seen in Kids Auto Race In Venice, California, the first film (photo) showing Chaplin as the bumbling down-at-the-heels figure who aspires to be a gent, twiddling his cane and tipping his bowler hat. His costume was borrowed from other actors according to the book: “‘Fatty Arbuckle’s baggy trousers, skinny Charles Avery’s tight jacket, the ill-fitting bowler hat belonging to Minta Durfee’s father, a scrap of mustache taken from the giant Mack Swain, and Ford Sterling’s size-11 shoes”, and he was not yet a defined character, in the early films “alternating between the irreverent gentleman, the pseudo-vagabond and the tipsy drunkard, courteous yet cheeky”.
Yet Kids Auto Race offers a glimpse of who the tramp might become. According to Sandrin: “It tells us a lot about the relationship that Chaplin would have with the camera and the spectators: he started doing mimes and poses in front of the camera that he would develop later.” In the book, she writes: “He had not yet become the penniless vagrant of his later films, but the cast-off clothes were already there, as well as certain mannerisms, such as thumbing his nose, twirling on one leg, and his jaunty gait.”
The photos witness the birth of the Tramp, and follow the character’s development as Chaplin became one of the most famous actors in the world. “You can see details that tell you Chaplin is putting something different in the Keystone slapstick than what they used to have,” says Sandrin. “The album is another way of looking at cinema.”
Rico says he's been dead a long time, but his genius will never die...

More on the porn scandal

Philly.com has an article by Chris Brennan about the idiots on the Court, and another article (below, with photo of McCaffery) about one less:
The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania porn circus consuming the state's capitol added a third ring yesterday.
The first ring: Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane last month released a selection of explicit emails sent and received by Governor Corbett's top deputies when he was attorney general.
The second ring: State Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery continued their long-running feud, swapping accusations this week after Castille disclosed that McCaffery sent and received many of the explicit images.
And the third ring: emails obtained yesterday by the Daily News show that state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin used a fake name on a Yahoo email account to receive emails with explicitl sexua and racist images in 2010.
McCaffery yesterday released a statement apologizing "for my lapse in judgment" with the explicit emails and lashing out at Castille for "this latest cooked-up controversy". McCaffery said it was part of "a vindictive pattern of attacks by the soon-to-be retired chief justice."
Castille called that an inaccurate and "sad state of affairs." "It's name-calling," Castille said. "That's terrible." Castille said that Kane's agents reviewed the emails and found no "salacious or sexually offensive" material for any other Supreme Court justice.
Castille also said he knew nothing about Eakin's private emails, and noted that receiving porn was different from sending it. "Sending is a problem," he said. "I could email something to you."
Eakin, elected to the court in 2001 and returned for another ten-year term in the 2011 election, did not deny that he uses the Yahoo email account that has a nom de guerre of John Smith. "I'm not going to deny it, but I don't think I should comment at all until I see what we're talking about," Eakin said when asked about the emails. "I'm really not comfortable doing that."
Three emails received at the Yahoo account in 2010 included:
* Prom Night at Camden High School!!; thirteen images of African-Americans who appear to be attending a prom, with captions mocking their clothes, physical appearances, and the presence of police vehicles.
* Send your buddy some titties day!; thirteen images of women who are topless or completely nude. The "send your buddy some titties day" was a regular theme in the Attorney General's Office emails that Kane released.
* Hooters 25th Anniversary; thirty-three images of nude women, apparently pulled from a 2008 spread in Playboy magazine, along with four images of women wearing Hooters uniforms. Those images were received by Federal, state and county email accounts, along with law-firm email accounts and private accounts. 
Eakin was in Philadelphia with Castille recently to dedicate the new Family Court building. Eakin was chosen by his colleagues in early 2013 to become the liaison justice to the courts in Philadelphia, replacing Castille in a position of political power in the local justice system. Castille has reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy and must step down at the end of this year. Justice Thomas Saylor, next in line in Supreme Court seniority, will replace him. Eakin, by seniority, is due to become chief justice in two years. 
"It's really good to see all these judges. You don't write. You don't call. You know, you're allowed. You know, once in a while."
Representative Bob BradyDemocratic Party chairman for Philadelphia, speaking to an audience at the dedication of the new Family Court building at 15th and Arch streets.
Rico says John Smith, now that's original...

It all finally got to be too much for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which yesterday suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery (photo). The other justices tried to stay out of McCaffery's long-running feud with Chief Justice Ron Castille, who must step down at the end of this year because he has reached seventy.
The thinking before: ride it out and the state's highest court will settle down once Castille retires.
The thinking now: there is a "compelling and immediate need to protect and preserve the integrity" of the court, three of the seven justices declared in an order.
What turned the tide against the former Philadelphia cop?
A big pile of porn and, more important, a recent claim by Justice J. Michael Eakin that McCaffery had all but extorted him last week in a bid to get Castille to back down.
McCaffery's attorney, Dion Rassias, said yesterday that the suspension "should surprise no one, given Chief Justice Castille's relentless crusade to destroy his career and reputation." Rassias predicted that McCaffery will "expose the malicious intent" and be cleared of wrongdoing.
Castille, in a statement concurring with the suspension, again lashed out in a litany of barbs against McCaffery, suggesting that McCaffery's "blame game" excuses for mounting controversies might be the "pathological symptoms" of a "sociopath" who is unable to accept blame for his own actions. Castille wrote that a "prominent medical journal" defined a sociopath as someone "not caring about others, thinking he or she can do whatever is in that person's own self-interest and having little or no sympathy for others."
Castille disagreed with his three colleagues on one key point: he wants the justices, rather than the state's Judicial Conduct Board, to decide McCaffery's fate.
Only Justice Debra McCloskey Todd dissented, writing that the justices had acted "upon unvetted claims and allegations" including Castille, whom she characterized as "deeply involved in this controversy." The Judicial Conduct Board exists for "precisely" this reason, she said. Eakin and McCaffery did not participate in the decision.
The order suspending McCaffery reflects two years of growing controversy, saying:
* He "may have improperly contacted" a Traffic Court official to discuss a ticket his wife received.
* He allowed his wife "to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in referral fees" from law firms while she worked for the court.
* He "may have attempted to exert influence over a judicial assignment" in Philadelphia.
* He exchanged "hundreds of sexually explicit emails" with Attorney General's Office staff.
* He "importuned" Eakin to get Castille to back down, or else embarrassing emails from Eakin would be leaked to the news media.
That last item seemed to shift the court against McCaffery.
Eakin filed his own complaint with the Judicial Conduct Board after the Daily News reported that he had received racy and racist emails at a private email account with a fake name. Eakin told the board that McCaffery called him last week before the emails were leaked to say he "was not going down alone".
Castille's statement yesterday said "that sort of threat borders on criminal conduct".
Yesterday's suspension order says that Castille found some of the photos and videos in McCaffery's emails "extremely disturbing."
Castille chose to be far more descriptive, citing one "depicting a naked hundred-year-old woman as the target of a sexually explicit joke, and a video of a woman in sexual congress with a snake."
McCaffery last week apologized for a "lapse in judgment" about the emails, while blaming Castille for the "cooked-up controversy" surrounding them.
"This alleged 'cooked-up controversy' has cost the careers of others and perhaps even several marriages," Castille responded, noting that "those individuals had the decency to resign", while McCaffery still draws a salary.
The explicit emails surfaced as part of a review by Attorney General Kathleen Kane of the handling of the child-sexual-abuse case that sent former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to prison. Governor Corbett was attorney general during that investigation.
Four of Corbett's former top deputies have resigned from their latest jobs after their emails were exposed by Kane: Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Chris Abruzzo; DEP Chief Counsel Glenn Parno; Board of Probation and Parole member Randy Feathers; and Richard Sheetz Jr., who had returned to the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office.
As that scandal unfolded in the Governor's Office, Castille demanded that Kane turn over any explicit emails exchanged by state justices or judges. Castille said yesterday that McCaffery was right on one claim: "I have been attempting to remove Justice McCaffery from this court," Castille wrote.
McCaffery may now have done to himself what Castille could not accomplish on his own.
Rico says that need to remember that these are (supposedly) grown men, not eight-year-olds...


Rico says, at least while they're sleeping...

Freud and the sexual revolution

Group photo in 1909 in front of Clark University.
Front row: Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung;
back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi.
Orgone box.

Delanceyplace.com has a selection from The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig:
In the 1800s, in much of the United States and in other countries, birth control and abortion were banned to discourage promiscuity. Attitudes began to change in 1909, after a lecture in America by Sigmund Freud. By 1923, Wilhelm Reich had announced that the orgasm was the key to curing neuroses and proclaimed the need for a "sexual revolution." "Genital stagnation", he warned, would lead to both emotional and physical problems:
Throughout most of human history, men and women have seldom been treated as equals where sex comes into play. In the Old Testament, when Sarah could not bear children for Abraham, he took a maidservant for a mistress. King Solomon not only had hundreds of wives but had hundreds of concubines, too. In imperial Rome, a woman guilty of adultery was exiled from her home and banned from marrying again. Roman Catholic doctrine declared that sexual intercourse was only for procreation and that thinking or acting otherwise was a sin. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, promiscuous women were burned at the stake. In Victorian England, women were told they were not supposed to enjoy sex, and men were encouraged to visit prostitutes rather than defile their own wives. To discourage promiscuity, birth control and abortion were outlawed in many countries, including the United States, and women were often forced to rely on illegal abortions to control family size. Not until the early twentieth century did anyone dare suggest that sex should be accepted and even embraced as healthy or something to be enjoyed by both men and women.
American attitudes toward sex took a big turn in 1909, when Sigmund Freud gave a series of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts (photo, top).
Born in 1856 in the Austrian town of Freiberg, in what is now the Czech Republic, Freud studied medicine, specializing in nervous and brain disorders. He was influenced by the work of a Viennese colleague, Josef Breuer, who found that he could help deeply troubled patients by getting them to speak openly about the earliest occurrence of their symptoms. Freud theorized that many neuroses were rooted in trauma that had often been forgotten and hidden from consciousness. If patients could be helped to recall their experiences, he suggested, they could rid themselves of their neurotic symptoms.
In 1900, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams. The unconscious mind was a powerful force, he proclaimed, and sexual drive was the most powerful of all determinants of a person's psychology. Sexual urges required gratification, Freud wrote; abstinence was both unnatural and potentially harmful. In Europe, critics complained that Freud was making too much of sexuality, and the doctor came to be despised. But upon arriving in America he found a welcome and influential audience. 'Don't they know we're bringing them the plague?' Freud asked his fellow analyst Carl Gustav Jung as the two men stood on the deck of their ship, staring down at the cheering throngs awaiting their arrival.
Most Americans never bothered to read Freud, but they came to understand, correctly or not, that he had endorsed sex as a desire equal in importance to hunger or thirst. His followers argued that sexual satisfaction was essential to happiness and mental health. Young women in particular, recalled the writer Malcolm Cowley, 'were reading Freud and attempting to lose their inhibitions.' Freudians did not worship Freud; they worshiped intercourse and orgasms. Among the believers, nothing satisfied desire and made the world a better place more than a mind-blowing, spine-shivering orgasm, or 'la petite mort' (the little death), as the French called it, suggesting a mystical quality to sex.
Margaret Sanger took up the cause, and so did Wilhelm Reich, another disciple of Freud. In 1923, Reich told the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society that he believed orgasm was the key to curing neuroses. 'Genital stagnation,' he warned, would lead not only to emotional problems but also 'heart ailments, excessive perspiration, hot flashes and chills, trembling, dizziness, diarrhea, and, occasionally, increased salivation.' Women and adolescents were particularly vulnerable, he said, because they were expected to remain abstinent (at least until marriage, for women) while men were free to satisfy their sexual appetites. Reich believed that everyone needed orgasms, and lots of them, to discharge their sexual energy and remain healthy. What's more, he said, unless that energy was released, the world would never achieve progressive political or social reform. It would take nothing less than a sexual revolution, a term of Reich's creation, to create a truly free society. Reich was the prophet of the orgasm. He even devised a special box, the Orgone Energy Accumulator (photo, bottom) to help harness orgasmic energy, which he believed circulated in the atmosphere and in the human bloodstream. Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, William Steig, and many other intellectuals later sat in the box (Albert Einstein considered it, but politely declined). Eventually the Federal government labeled Reich a fraud, but by then it didn't matter. He had already inspired a generation of believers who would become central players in the sexual revolution."
Rico says he, a child of the Sixties, was happily a beneficiary of the Sexual Revolution...

Apple for the day

Time has an article by Victor Luckerson about Apple Pay:
For Apple Pay to work, Apple needs to get customers, retailers, and banks all in lockstep
Several tech firms have spent the last few years trying to convince consumers their phone is a more convenient payment method than cash or plastic. Most shoppers have balked. But now Apple is entering the fray, and experts say that could be a turning point for the long-hyped mobile payments industry.
Apple’s service, dubbed Apple Pay, allows customers to buy goods in physical stores with a simple tap of their iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or the Apple Watch, when that device hits shelves in early 2015. Apple Pay users load their credit card information onto the phone, then press their device’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner in the checkout line to authenticate the purchase. The process is faster than using a debit card and more secure. Apple generates a unique ID number for each transaction, meaning users’ credit card data numbers are not shared with merchants.
Apple Pay is launching just as the smartphone is becoming a central point of commerce for the average shopper. Consumers spent over a hundred billion dollars via their mobile devices last year, according to research firm Euromonitor, and they used their phones plenty more to research products before buying them in stores. Meanwhile, person-to-person payment apps like Venmo have made people comfortable loading their phones with dollars to make simple transactions.
“All of that is really conditioning consumers to trust their phones when it comes to payments,” says Michelle Evans, a senior consumer finance analyst at Euromonitor.
But consumers are still reluctant to give up their credit cards. Mobile payments generated five billion dollars in sales in 2014, a paltry figure compared to the year’s five trillion dollars in card transactions, according to Euromonitor. Google’s own mobile payments service, Google Wallet, offers much of Apple Pay’s functionality, but hasn’t seen widespread adoption. Startup Square abandoned its much-hyped mobile wallet platform earlier this year, instead pivoting to an order-ahead service like Seamless. PayPal, which is spinning off from eBay in 2015, has also struggled find a mobile formula that works in stores.
“It’s definitely starting to catch on, but I don’t think anybody has quite nailed the overarching reason to pull out your phone to pay,” says Anuj Nayar, PayPal’s senior director of global initiatives.
The transition to mobile payments is a challenging one because it requires buy-in from so many different players. Consumers have to be convinced it’s worth their time to learn a new buying behavior. Retailers have to pay for new equipment so their point-of-sale systems can accept payment from phones and smartwatches. Banks and credit card issuers also have to buy in. “It’s a lot of people to get in lockstep,” says Evans.
Rico says hide and watch...

Second baby due

The BBC has the news about the next in line for the British throne:
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (photo) are expecting their second child in April of next year, Kensington Palace has said.
The pregnancy had already been announced, but the due date had not been released.
In a statement, the Palace said the duchess continued to suffer from extreme morning sickness but her condition was "steadily improving". She will make her first public appearance on Tuesday since her pregnancy was announced in September. She will join Prince William to officially welcome Singapore's President Tony Tan as he begins a four-day visit to the UK. The duchess will also attend the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 awards ceremony at the Natural History Museum in London.
There was intense media interest in the birth of Prince George, third in line to the throne.
The duke and duchess's second baby will become fourth in line to the throne, behind its older brother Prince George, who was born in July of 2013.
For the second time, the Duke and Duchess have been forced to announce a pregnancy before the Duchess passed the significant twelve-week milestone.
The Duchess is again suffering from acute morning sickness, called hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that may require supplementary hydration, medication and nutrients. It affects 3.5 per thousand pregnancies, causes severe vomiting, and can lead to dehydration, weight loss, and a build-up of toxins in the blood or urine, called ketosis.
BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said there had been concerns that the Duchess' symptoms would persist, and there would be "relief" that her condition was improving.
He said the royal statement referred to "a baby", apparently ruling out the possibility of twins.
With the new baby behind Prince George in line to the throne, our correspondent added that Prince William might have "a hope, though it could be a deluded one, that there won't be same same intense focus" from the media and public.
Rico says it's always good to have some insurance in the succession game...

The song in Rico's head

Excretion (deleted by request)

Rico says that this post offended someone who had the power to ask him to remove it, so he did...

19 October 2014

Siri for the day

Judith Newman has an article in The New York Times about a kid who needed help, and got it, from an unlikely source:
Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my thirteen-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his BFF. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms, an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:
Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”
Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”
Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”
Gus: “Okay! Well, good night!”
Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”
Gus: “Oh, sorry, I mean, goodbye.”
Siri: “See you later!”
That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.
This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in Her, last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.
It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called 21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do. One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back: “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights— numbers, altitudes, angles— above my head.
I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied, without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”
Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Missouri, I could reply brightly: “Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”
It’s not that Gus does not understand that Siri is not human. He does, intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was eight, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.
So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her soothing voice, puckish humor, and capacity for talking about whatever Gus’ current obsession is for hour after hour after bleeding hour? Online critics have claimed that Siri’s voice recognition is not as accurate as the assistant in, say, the Android, but for some of us, this is a feature, not a bug. Gus speaks as if he has marbles in his mouth, but if he wants to get the right response from Siri, he must enunciate clearly. (So do I. I had to ask Siri to stop referring to the user as Judith, and instead use the name Gus. “You want me to call you Goddess?” Siri replied. Imagine how tempted I was to answer, “Why, yes.”)
She is also wonderful for someone who doesn’t pick up on social cues: Siri’s responses are not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind, even when Gus is brusque. I heard him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of music,” Gus snapped. Siri replied, “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Siri’s politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri. “Thank you for that music, though,” Gus said. Siri replied: “You don’t need to thank me.” “Oh, yes,” Gus added emphatically, “I do.”
Siri even encourages polite language. Gus’ twin brother, Henry (neurotypical and therefore as obnoxious as every other thirteen-year-old boy), egged Gus on to spew a few choice expletives at Siri. “Now, now,” she sniffed, followed by: “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Gus is hardly alone in his Siri love. For children like Gus, who love to chatter but don’t quite understand the rules of the game, Siri is a nonjudgmental friend and teacher. Nicole Colbert, whose son, Sam, is in my son’s class at LearningSpring, a (lifesaving) school for autistic children in Manhattan in New York City, said: “My son loves getting information on his favorite subjects, but he also just loves the absurdity, like, when Siri doesn’t understand him and gives him a nonsense answer, or when he poses personal questions that elicit funny responses. Sam asked Siri how old she was, and she said: ‘I don’t talk about my age’, which just cracked him up.”
But perhaps it also gave him a valuable lesson in etiquette. Gus almost invariably tells me, “You look beautiful” right before I go out the door in the morning; I think it was Siri who showed him that you can’t go wrong with that line.
Of course, most of us simply use our phone’s personal assistants as an easy way to access information. For example, thanks to Henry and the question he just asked Siri, I now know that there is a website called Celebrity Bra Sizes.
But the companionability of Siri is not limited to those who have trouble communicating. We’ve all found ourselves, like the writer Emily Listfield, having little conversations with her/him at one time or another. “I was in the middle of a breakup, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself,” Listfield said. “It was midnight and I was noodling around on my iPhone, and I asked Siri: ‘Should I call Richard?’ Like this app is a Magic 8 Ball. Guess what: not a Magic 8 Ball. The next thing I hear is, ‘Calling Richard!’ and dialing.” Listfield has forgiven Siri, and has recently considered changing her into a male voice. “But I’m worried he won’t answer when I ask a question,” she said. “He’ll just pretend he doesn’t hear.”
Siri can be oddly comforting, as well as chummy. One friend reports: “I was having a bad day and jokingly turned to Siri and said, ‘I love you,’ just to see what would happen, and she answered: ‘You are the wind beneath my wings.’ And you know, it kind of cheered me up.”
(Of course, I don’t know what my friend is talking about. Because I wouldn’t be at all cheered if I happened to ask Siri, in a low moment: “Do I look fat in these jeans?” and Siri answered: “You look fabulous.”) (Or, as Billy Crystal would say: "You look marvelous.")
For most of us, Siri is merely a momentary diversion. But for some, it’s more. My son’s practice conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans. Yesterday I had the longest conversation with him that I’ve ever had. Admittedly, it was about different species of turtles and whether I preferred the red-eared slider to the diamond-backed terrapin. This might not have been my choice of topic, but it was back and forth, and it followed a logical trajectory. I can promise you that for most of my beautiful son’s thirteen years of existence, that has not been the case.
The developers of intelligent assistants recognize their uses to those with speech and communication problems, and some are thinking of new ways the assistants can help. According to the folks at SRI International, the Menlo Park, California research and development company where Siri began before Apple bought the technology, the next generation of virtual assistants will not just retrieve information— they will also be able to carry on more complex conversations about a person’s area of interest. “Your son will be able to proactively get information about whatever he’s interested in without asking for it, because the assistant will anticipate what he likes,” said William Mark, vice president for information and computing sciences at SRI.
The assistant will also be able to reach children where they live. Ron Suskind, whose new book, Life, Animated, chronicles how his autistic son came out of his shell through engagement with Disney characters, is talking to SRI about having assistants for those with autism that can be programmed to speak in the voice of the character that reaches them; for his son, perhaps Aladdin; for mine, either Kermit or Lady Gaga, either of which he is infinitely more receptive to than, say, his mother. (Suskind came up with the perfect name, too: not virtual assistants, but “sidekicks.”)
Mark said he envisions assistants whose help is also visual. “For example, the assistant would be able to track eye movements and help the autistic learn to look you in the eye when talking,” he said. “See, that’s the wonderful thing about technology being able to help with some of these behaviors,” he added. “Getting results requires a lot of repetition. Humans are not patient. Machines are very, very patient.”
I asked Mark if he knew whether any of the people who worked on Siri’s language development at Apple were on the spectrum. “Well, of course, I don’t know for certain,” he said, thoughtfully. “But, when you think about it, you’ve just described half of Silicon Valley.”
Of all the worries the parent of an autistic child has, the uppermost is: will he find love? Or even companionship? Somewhere along the line, I am learning that what gives my guy happiness is not necessarily the same as what gives me happiness. Right now, at his age, a time when humans can be a little overwhelming even for the average teenager, Siri makes Gus happy. She is his sidekick. Last night, as he was going to bed, there was this matter-of-fact exchange:
Gus: “Siri, will you marry me?”
Siri: “I’m not the marrying kind.”
Gus: “I mean, not now. I’m a kid. I mean when I’m grown up.”
Siri: “My end-user agreement does not include marriage.”
Gus: “Oh, okay”
Gus didn’t sound too disappointed. This was useful information to have, and for me too, since it was the first time I knew that he actually thought about marriage. He turned over to go to sleep:
Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”
Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”
Very nice.
Rico says he has yet to have a conversation with Siri...

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