27 January 2015

Life imitates art, yet again

Natalie Abrams has a Time article about spies, real and fake:
Authorities recently arrested Evgeny Buryakov, a New York City-based employee of a Russian bank who is accused of working for the SVR, Russia’s version of the CIA. Two other accomplices that were part of a Russian spy ring reportedly got away. The news comes just days before FX’s Russian spy drama The Americans returns for its third season.
“Truthfully, our first question after Buryakov’s arrest was, we wonder if they were watching the show,” Americans executive producer Joel Fields (photo, right) tells Entertainment Weekly. Adds the show’s creator Joe Weisberg (photo, left): “They must’ve been watching the show. They had to be.”
The series stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as undercover Russian operatives living in the United States, though the show takes place in the 1980s during the height of the Cold War. The timing, the producers say, couldn’t be better for the arrest.
“Are those guys, in their cell, saying: ‘Look, Wednesday night, we have one request’?” Fields joked, implying that Buryakov hopes to watch the season three premiere. “That’s what’s going to get them to talk, I think. Maybe that was why they arrested them before the premiere, because they knew they’d have that leverage over them.”
In truth, the timing of the arrest could help the FX drama in the ratings. The acclaimed series debuted to over three million viewers back in 2013, but subsequently dropped below two million viewers throughout its first and second seasons. Its season two finale drew a modest one million viewers.
The Americans returns Wednesday at 10 on FX.
Rico says some guys are lucky, and some are in jail...

Scientology for the day

Slate has an article by Forrest Wickman and Rob Naylor about a difficult interview:
Alex Gibney’s documentary version of Lawrence Wright’s Scientology exposé, Going Clear, has been one of the talks of the Sundance Film Festival. After the premiere, we asked the director and author what it was like to investigate the group and produce a film version of the book. They said the many legal threats against them don’t compare to what some former Scientology members have faced. Watch the conversation above.
Rico says you don't casually fuck with Scientology...

Obama: a no-show at Auschwitz

Joshua Keating has a Slate article about the difficulties of being President:
Read into this what you will, but President Obama is building an impressive list of gaffes and protocol lapses related to Poland, World War Two, and the Holocaust. During his campaign, Obama mixed up which concentration camp his uncle had liberated: it was Ohrdruf, not Auschwitz, which was liberated by the Soviets. In 2009, he scrapped Bush-era plans to station a missile defense system in Poland, a plan viewed as a security guarantee by the Poles but strongly opposed by Russia, on the seventieth anniversary of the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union. In 2012, he touched a nerve with a reference to “Polish death camps” during a ceremony honoring resistance hero Jan Karski; the Polish government is extremely sensitive about how Nazi death camps built on Polish soil are described.
Today the White House is taking heat over the fact that neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden was in attendance at the ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Instead, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was sent to the event, which was attended by a number of heads of state. The event had already been heavily politicized by the non-invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Obama’s no-show follows the controversial decision not to send any high-ranking officials to the rally in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Compounding the bad optics are the fact that Obama is instead in Saudi Arabia, to pay tribute to the late King Abdullah, leader of one of the world’s most repressive (and anti-Semitic) regimes.
Some might ask why Biden couldn’t have handled one of these tasks; Dick Cheney attended the sixtieth anniversary ceremony at Auschwitz (and was mocked for his casual outfit). But, for security reasons, it’s generally policy not to have the vice president and president out of the country at the same time. In 2013, there was a to-do over the fact that their overseas trips overlapped for twenty minutes.
It’s not as if Lew, the second-highest-ranking Cabinet secretary, is some minor flunky. He also has a long record of working to combat global anti-Semitism dating back to the 1980s, and is the first Orthodox Jew to serve in the Cabinet.
And important as the event at Auschwitz is, Obama, who has paid tribute to victims of the Holocaust on numerous occasions, can justifiably argue that his time is better spent attending to current US national interests than attending the many significant historical anniversaries that are commemorated around the world each year. Those interests include maintaining good relations with India, where Obama was over the weekend for a symbolically important visit, and, like it or not, with Saudi Arabia. Whether or not US strategy in the Middle East should rely as heavily as it does on Saudi Arabia’s good favor is another issue, and a much more important one than this.
So I would be inclined to defend the administration here, except for the fact that the original item on the president’s agenda for today before the last-minute decision to cut his India trip short was not more meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but a photo-op visit to the Taj Majal. Plus, there’s the fact that the president seems to have rolled into Riyadh with the entire national security establishment in tow, including the current Secretary of State, two former ones, the director of the CIA, the commander of Centcom, and half a dozen members of Congress. I understand the US can’t give the Saudis the cold shoulder, but this seems like a bit much. Plus, someone should probably pick up a copy of Bloodlands for the White House protocol office. 
Rico says it's been nearly seventy years since the end of the Second World War, and we still can't let go of it...

Blizzard 2015

Slate has an article by Eric Holthaus about the blizzard that wasn't, sort of:
This blizzard has peaked, but will continue throughout the day on Tuesday, with the worst conditions in coastal New England. Slatest will have continuous updates until the storm tapers off Tuesday night. 
Here's the latest:
An intense band of snow is currently situated directly over the city of Boston, where snow totals are already approaching two feet in Copley Square. The National Weather Service estimates the band is producing additional snow at a rate exceeding one inch per hour, meaning this storm could still easily threaten the city’s all-time single snowstorm record of 27.5 inches set in February of 2003.
In sharp contrast, the storm was a flop in New York City. It’s essentially stopped snowing there, with totals averaging between eight and twelve inches across the city. In a midday press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that “we obviously missed the worst of the storm.” Defending actions by his office and Governor Andrew Cuomo to shut schools and freeze regional transportation, de Blasio added: “Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.”
With the primary snowfall band well east of the city, over Long Island, the National Weather Service now expects just two to four additional inches of snow during the day on Tuesday in New York City, producing storm totals of around ten to fourteen inches, well below yesterday’s forecast of twenty to thirty inches. In contrast, the Weather Channel was forecasting twelve to eighteen inches for New York City most of the day on Monday, a prediction that looks prescient in hindsight.
The reason for New York City’s low totals? The National Weather Service strongly weighted its forecast toward the historically more accurate ECMWF model and the high-resolution NAM model, which showed the Long Island snow band stalling out directly over the city instead. That didn’t happen. In constructing its forecast, the New York City office of the NWS all but ignored its own recently upgraded GFS model, which showed significantly less snow in the city. As late as Monday evening, the NWS emphasized that the storm could over-perform in NYC, saying “it should be a raging blizzard.” Late Monday night, a Philadelphia-area National Weather Service meteorologist publicly apologized via Twitter for the poor forecast, saying “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't. Once again, I'm sorry.”
New York Governor Cuomo, perhaps conditioned by the state’s slow response to the recent Buffalo snowstorm, ordered a shutdown of virtually all modes of transportation in the New York City area on the basis of the National Weather Service forecast, including the city’s subway system, which had never previously closed for a snowstorm. As Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilly notes, many subway trains ran devoid of passengers throughout the night, despite the shutdown.
Winds briefly exceeded hurricane force this morning on Nantucket, Massachusetts, with thundersnow reported on Cape Cod. The National Weather Service in Boston continued to refer to the storm as “crippling” and “historic” in a morning forecast update. Winds throughout the entire region— gusting at times to fifty mph— will produce whiteout conditions for much of the day on Tuesday. Travel will continue to be impossible in the hardest-hit areas.
The National Weather Service in Boston has warned that this storm may be strong enough to permanently alter the Massachusetts coastline. “One or more new inlets” may be formed on barrier beaches, boosted by around three feet of storm surge and twenty-foot waves. Nantucket police reported “significant flooding” during the morning high tide cycle, and similar flooding is expected on mainland Massachusetts during this afternoon’s high tide as well.
There’s a link to climate change here, too. Ocean water temperatures off the East Coast are much above normal right now, as they have been nearly all year. That’s helping to boost the amount of moisture the storm is able to convert into snow via enhanced evaporation. But there’s an even easier link to climate change: sea levels in the Northeast have risen by about a foot over the last hundred years or so, about half of which is directly attributable to warming seas and melting glaciers worldwide. There’s a hundred percent certainty, in my view, that sea level rise is making the impact of extreme coastal storms like this one worse.
Rico says that New England got clobbered, but Philly didn't...

That time again

Rico says he swears it happens by accident, but when he poked his phone, it was 1:11 again...

The decision that changed art history

The BBC has an article by Alastair Sooke, art critic for The Daily Telegraph, about Van Gogh:
In the spring of 1878, Vincent van Gogh turned 25. As he looked back over his short life, the Dutchman found little to celebrate among the meager endeavors of his faltering career. By conventional, middle-class standards, he was a failure.
A stint working for an art dealership, first in The Hague in Holland, then in London in England and Paris in France, hadn’t worked out: shy and awkward, he didn’t take to the profession, and in 1876, he was fired. That was followed by a couple of dead-end teaching jobs in England, as well as a short, forgettable spell working in a bookshop in Dordrecht in Holland, before he moved to Amsterdam to become a minister of religion, following in his father’s footsteps.
However, he didn’t have the patience or rigour to master the necessary study, so in 1878, a few months after his 25th birthday, he left for Brussels, Belgium in order to enroll in a swifter training school for evangelists. Even this, though, was beyond him. After a three-month trial period, in which his performance was less than mediocre, he was told that he would not be admitted to the course.
By now, Van Gogh’s family was beginning to despair. He had not curbed his socially inept and awkward manner, which was exacerbated by an eccentric tendency to dress in a deliberately unkempt fashion. How could an oddball like Vincent ever hope to scrape a living? His father was beginning to wonder whether his eldest son should be admitted to a mental hospital.
Van Gogh, though, was still fired with religious zeal, and remained adamant that he could find work as an evangelist. At the end of 1878, he set off for the depressed coalmining district of the Borinage to the west of the city of Mons in Belgium, determined to establish himself as a lay preacher to the working class.
As a new exhibition, Van Gogh in the Borinage, at Beaux-Arts Mons, documents, he stayed in the region until October of 1880, when he returned to Brussels. (Mons is one of the European capitals of culture for 2015.) Although ultimately his ambitions to become an evangelist would be thwarted (things got so bad that at one point his sister suggested that he should re-train as a baker) the Borinage was the making of Van Gogh in one fundamental respect. It was here, encouraged by his gentle brother Theo, that he decided to become an artist.
The startling thing is that his experiences in the Borinage seem to have set the template for many subjects and motifs that would continue to fascinate him as an artist over the next decade, until his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in the summer of 1890.
True to form, life for Van Gogh in the Borinage was not straightforward. He lived in a humble hut, gave away much of his money, and swapped his smart clothes for the practical work-wear of the ‘Borins’. Unfortunately, he was not a gifted orator, so his meetings were sparsely attended. His inability to connect with the local coalminers was compounded by a practical, linguistic difficulty: he couldn’t make head or tail of their quick-fire patois known as ‘Walloon French’, while they were mystified by his own attempts at French, which to their ears sounded overly formal and fussy. In July of 1879, only half a year after he had arrived in the region, he received another setback: the authorities terminated his trial appointment as an evangelist, precipitating a crisis of self-doubt.
Yet it was at this rock-bottom moment that Van Gogh, now 26, tentatively started to draw. His religious zeal dissipated, and he focused on training as a draughtsman. “I often feel homesick for the country of paintings,” he wrote to his brother Theo in the summer of 1880, suggesting, perhaps, that he missed the day-to-day encounters with works of art that he had enjoyed while working as an art dealer. That autumn, he left the Borinage for good and headed for Brussels, to study life drawing at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts.
So what did Van Gogh encounter in the Borinage that inspired him to become an artist? For one thing, he felt sympathy for the working-class miners. “For the first time in his life, middle-class Van Gogh was friends with poor, working-class people,” says Sjraar Van Heugten, who has curated Van Gogh in the Borinage. “The people were poor and illiterate, and their work was hard and dangerous. Yet, for Van Gogh, there was some kind of bigger truth in their simple way of life. After he became an artist, he chose to find his subject matter there. Like artists that he admired, such as Jean-François Millet, he wanted to portray the life of working-class people, and he remained interested in doing so certainly for the first half of his career. Really, it stayed important to him forever.”
In addition to this general concern for everyday reality and the rural poor, particular motifs that Van Gogh encountered in the Borinage would later feature prominently in his art. As he once put it in a letter: “It was in the Borinage that I began to work from nature for the first time.”
“The simple cottages that the miners lived in provide a good example,” explains Van Heugten. “Two of his first drawings are of those cottages, and that motif remained important to him throughout his career; some of his last paintings are of cottages, for instance. So there are quite a few echoes in his oeuvre at the end that relate directly to the Borinage.”
Another noticeable echo recalls the way that Van Gogh trained himself to draw in the Borinage by copying black-and-white prints after famous works of art. “Then, in 1889, in Saint-Rémy in southern France, where Van Gogh institutionalized himself at the end of his life, he picks that up again, except, this time, producing colorful paintings. He was still going back to the origins of his career.”
Few works from Van Gogh’s Borinage period have survived, because the artist destroyed most of them, as he revealed in a letter to a friend. Perhaps he felt they were too clumsy or redolent of an uncertain time when he was still developing his own style and artistic voice.
Yet, for Van Heugten, the time that Van Gogh spent in the Borinage was crucial for his development as an artist, because it laid foundations upon which he could build as a painter: “The remarkable thing about his early career in the Borinage is that Van Gogh made choices that he would stick to for the rest of his life. From the early beginnings until his last days, he remained completely loyal to a basis of subject matter. and this allowed him to go very far in experimenting with style and color, so that he could become the modern artist we remember today.”
Rico says genius is a difficult thing...

Auschwitz survivors

The BBC has an article about a sad anniversary:
Auschwitz survivors have urged the world not to allow a repeat of the crimes of the Holocaust as they marked seventy years since the camp's liberation. "We survivors do not want our past to be our children's future," Roman Kent, born in 1929, told a memorial gathering at the death camp's site in Poland.
Some three hundred Auschwitz survivors returned for the ceremony under a giant tent.
Over a million people, mostly Jews, were killed there between 1940 and 1945, when Soviet troops liberated it. It is expected to be the last major anniversary event that survivors are able to attend in considerable numbers.
Ronald S Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, told the commemoration that "Jews are targeted in Europe once again because they are Jews... Once again young Jewish boys are afraid to wear yarmulkes on the streets of Paris, Budapest, London, and even Berlin."
In the Czech capital of Prague, speakers of parliament from across the EU gathered with the European Jewish Congress to issue a declaration condemning anti-Semitism and hate crimes. 
Kevin Connolly of BBC News:
Those who survived Auschwitz lived through one of the twentieth century's worst acts of hatred and inhumanity. Many of those still alive today were children in 1945, but they are elderly now, and this may be the last significant anniversary where so many will gather.
A huge, white temporary building has been erected over the brick railway buildings where many of the Jews of Europe were sorted into those who were fit enough for slave labor and those who would be taken straight to the gas chambers.
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who made the Holocaust film Schindler's List, was at the ceremony at Auschwitz.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski told the ceremony that the Germans had made Poland a "cemetery for Jews".
Auschwitz survivor Halina Birenbaum, born in 1929, said her greatest duty was to "tell others how much people in the camps had wanted to live. I lived my mother's dream to see the oppressor defeated," she told the ceremony.
Former inmates described how the Nazi guards had forced families apart, sorting new arrivals into those fit enough for hard labor, and those who would go straight to the gas chamber.
After the speeches, Jewish and Christian prayers for the dead were said before candles were lit at the Birkenau monument to the victims.
Auschwitz was liberated on 27 January 1945, and it opened as a museum in 1947.
Anniversary ceremonies took place in other parts of Europe and at Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.
About one million Jews were killed at the camp. Other victims included Roma (Gypsies), disabled people, homosexuals, dissidents, non-Jewish Poles and Soviet prisoners
Renee Salt, 85, from north London, England, visited the camp for the first time ten years ago and "buried the ghosts", she told the BBC, and has been going back ever since. "I'll do it for as long as I can. Why? There are still a lot of Holocaust-deniers the world over and, if we don't speak out, the world won't know what happened."
Paula Lebovics, an 81-year-old survivor from Encino, California, told The Associated Press news agency that she remembered how, as a small, hungry girl of eleven, she was lifted up by a Russian soldier, who rocked her tenderly in his arms, tears coming to his eyes. She did not know who that soldier was but she still felt enormous gratitude to him and the other Soviet soldiers, Lebovics said, adding: "They were our liberators."
On Tuesday the Russian defense ministry published what it said were archive documents (in Russian) about the liberation of Auschwitz. The first soldiers and reporters to enter the camp described crowds of exhausted, emaciated prisoners, and found piles of dead bodies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was among world leaders not attending the ceremony amid a row with Poland over the commemoration and linked to Russia's recent intervention in the Ukraine. Instead, the Russian leader attended a commemoration at Moscow's Jewish Museum along with Russia's Chief Rabbi, Berel Lazar. The Kremlin accused Poland of engaging in anti-Russian "hysteria" after Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna credited Ukrainian soldiers, rather than the Soviet army, with liberating Auschwitz. "The Russian people carried the lion's share of the fight with fascism on their shoulders; seventy percent of all the Red Army fighters and officers were Russians," Putin said at the museum. He also paid tribute to more than half a million Jews who had fought in the Red Army and made a "huge contribution to the victory against the enemy".
In his speech at Auschwitz, Poland's President Komorowski drew a parallel between Nazi Germany and the USSR, recalling the massacre of Polish elites by Soviet forces.
Before leaving Paris for Poland, French President Francois Hollande condemned the "unbearable" problem of contemporary anti-Semitism, telling Jews at a Holocaust memorial that "France is your homeland."
Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a "disgrace" that Jews still faced insults, threats, and violence.
Rico says everybody acts nice in public...

Massive Snowstorm Buries New England | TIME


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Benedict Cumberbatch Apologizes After Race Row | TIME


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Mark Seymour

Hollywood exec accuses Cosby of sexual assault

Michael Miller has a Time article about what should be the death knell for Cosby's career:
Bill Cosby’s list of alleged victims continues to grow. Cindra Ladd, a former entertainment executive and wife of Hollywood producer Alan Ladd Jr., is the latest woman to publicly accuse the comedian of sexual assault.
In an essay published on the Huffington Post, Ladd claims Cosby drugged and raped her while she was living in New York City in 1969, the same year Cosby allegedly assaulted Joan Tarshis.
“I met Bill Cosby while working in New York City for the late film producer Ray Stark,” Ladd said. “I was a 21-year-old single woman in the world’s most exciting city. He was a 32-year-old internationally known comedian and television star, one of the most likable and popular entertainers in the business. He asked for my number and I gave it to him.”
At first, Ladd claims the relationship was purely platonic: “He was married to his current wife, Camille, and he acted like a perfect gentleman.”
But that all changed one night, when Ladd says Cosby, who has never been charged with sexual assault, gave her a strange pill he promised would help with her headache. “I asked a couple of times what it was. Each time he reassured me, asking: ‘Don’t you trust me?’ Of course I did. This was Bill Cosby,” Ladd said.
From there, her memory of the night becomes hazy. “What I do recall, vividly and clearly, is waking up the next morning, nude in the bed of his friend’s apartment, and seeing Cosby wearing a white terrycloth bathrobe and acting as if there was nothing unusual. It was obvious to me that he had had sex with me. I was horrified, embarrassed and ashamed.”
Ladd quickly left the apartment, finally breaking down in the elevator and crying as she walked home. Like many of the other women Cosby allegedly assaulted, Ladd chose not to report the crime. “It never occurred to me to go to the police,” she explains. “It was a different time, and ‘date rape’ was a concept that didn’t exist.”
Ladd kept silent about the incident for thirty-six years, and says she has no plans to sue or discuss the matter any further. “So why speak out at all, and why now?” she asks in her essay. “The simple answer is that it’s the right thing to do. The truth deserves to be known. As I write this, more than twenty women have come forward, many with stories that are remarkably similar to mine.”
Cosby’s attorney did not immediately respond to Ladd’s claim.
Last week, roughly twelve hundred people who had bought tickets to see Cosby perform in Denver, Colorado asked the theater to refund their tickets. Those who attended the show– an audience of around eighteen hundred of mixed ages and genders– gave a standing ovation, applauding while Cosby offered a military salute and his thanks.
Jay Leno recently spoke out in support of Cosby’s alleged victims, saying he does not understand why “it’s so hard to believe women.”
The comedian continues to deny the allegations and has not been charged with any crimes.

Rico says he can't understand how this, along with all the others, hasn't killed Cosby's career yet. (And surely Robert Culp, Cosby's co-star in I Spy, would have an opinion, if he hadn't died...)

Drones for the day

The New York Times has an article by Michael Schmidt and Michael Shear about a White House intrusion:
A White House radar system designed to detect flying objects like planes, missiles, and large drones failed to pick up a small drone that crashed into a tree on the South Lawn early Monday morning, according to law enforcement officials. The crash raised questions about whether the Secret Service could bring down a similar object if it endangered President Obama.
The drone, which was about two feet in diameter and weighed about two pounds, was operated by a government employee whom the Secret Service did not identify. The agency said the employee was flying the object near the White House around 3 a.m. for recreational purposes when he lost control of it. Officials did not explain why the man, who does not work at the White House and who has not been charged with a crime, was flying the drone at that hour.
The crash was the latest security breach showing the difficulties the Secret Service has had protecting the White House in recent years. In September, a man with a knife climbed over the White House fence and made it deep inside the building before officers tackled him. In 2011, a gunman fired shots that hit the White House while one of the Obama daughters was home.
Continue reading the main storyVideo
White House Says Device Poses No Threat
White House Says Device Poses No Threat
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, says that a small electronic device found on the White House lawn overnight is not thought to pose a threat to anyone within the building. Video by AP on Publish Date January 26, 2015. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.
On Monday, a Secret Service officer who was posted on the south grounds of the White House “heard and observed” the drone, the agency said, but the officer and others stationed at the residence were unable to bring it down before it passed over the White House fence and struck a tree. The drone was too small and flying too low to be detected by radar, officials said, adding that because of its size, it could easily have been confused for a large bird.
The incident comes just days after the Department of Homeland Security held a conference in Arlington, Va., on the dangers that such drones pose to the nation’s critical infrastructure and government facilities. On display at the meeting was a DJI Phantom drone — the same type of drone that crashed at the White House on Monday. But the drone on display had three pounds of fake explosives attached to the payload as part of an effort to show how easily it could be used to launch an attack, according to a participant at the conference.
A counterterrorism official at the meeting warned that small drones could also be used to launch chemical and biological attacks, according to Daniel Herbert, who attended the conference.
Mr. Herbert, who runs an online business that repairs drones and trains people to operate them, said that the official with the National Counterterrorism Center told participants at the meeting that the drones present a serious threat to the nation’s infrastructure, and that the DJI Phantom is the terrorist’s drone of choice.
The counterterrorism official told the participants, according to Mr. Herbert, that the threat from drones like the Phantom was getting worse and was of concern to the White House. Officials at the counterterrorism center disputed Mr. Herbert’s characterization of their analysts’ comments at the meeting.
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
In a photograph released by the Secret Service, the drone that crashed on the South Lawn looks partly broken. It appears to be a version of the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter that is sold on Amazon.com starting at $479. Models equipped with high-definition cameras sell for as much as $1,258 on the website.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the Secret Service said a man had called the agency about 9:30 a.m. Monday to report that he had been the one controlling the drone when it crashed on the White House grounds.
“The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative,” the statement said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device.” Under federal law, it is illegal to fly a drone in Washington.
Secret Service agents conducted interviews on Monday with people who knew or had spoken to the government employee in an attempt to substantiate his account. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, who is traveling with President Obama and Michelle Obama in India, said both Obama daughters were home at the time of the incident. The drone caused a temporary lockdown at the White House. Mr. Earnest said the craft did not appear to be dangerous.
Secret Service officers searched the south grounds of the White House on Monday after a small, two-pound drone passed over the fence and crashed into a tree. Credit Susan Walsh/Associated Press
Security experts said on Monday that small drones are particularly difficult to defend against because it is hard to shoot them down. A military official said that the Defense Department “typically scrambles fighter aircraft for aerial threats over Washington, but when it gets to a toy, that’s not something the military typically addresses.”
Officials said a drone like the one that crashed on Monday was probably too small to carry enough explosives to significantly damage the White House structure. But the president is often outside the building on the White House grounds.
Mr. Obama and Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, walk outside when the weather is nice, making their way along the circular driveway on the south side of the building. Mr. Obama also frequently participates in ceremonies on the South Lawn, on the other side of the fence that circles the complex.
The president’s helicopter, Marine One, lands and takes off on the South Lawn, just steps from the entrance to the residence. Mr. Obama sometimes stands in front of the helicopter for several minutes to make a statement to the press.
Several years ago, the Secret Service’s air security branch, which protects the area around the White House, began a classified study of how to bring down small drones. Since then the agency has tried to develop new detection methods and ways to stop them.
“There’s no silver bullet,” a law enforcement official said. “It’s difficult because if you bring it down on Pennsylvania Avenue you could kill a dozen tourists.”
The Secret Service declined to discuss radar abilities at the White House and why the drone was not detected.
Brian Hearing, a founder of Droneshield L.L.C., which makes drone detection systems for prisons and nuclear facilities, said radar systems are effectively useless for catching such small drones. If the systems were set to be sensitive enough to detect the drones, they would also detect every bird or swaying tree, he said.
Many small drones also have a GPS function designed to return the drone to its user if it loses contact with the remote control, Mr. Hearing said. But it is also simple to program the GPS function to fly directly to a specific address, such as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Technology is available to jam the signals of an approaching drone, Mr. Hearing said, which could cause the drone either to fall to the ground or to return to its user. Such technology, much of it made in China, is illegal for consumers and others to use, he said. Even more sophisticated jammers could allow those protecting the White House to take control of the drone from a user.
Rico says that there's always a new threat...

The song in Rico's head

Rico says that, given the Apollo 1 anniversary, it's appropriate (but Rico always heard it as Major Tong, rather than Tom):

History for the day

On 27 January 1967, Astronauts Virgil I. ''Gus'' Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger B. Chaffee died in a flash fire during a test aboard their Apollo I spacecraft at Cape Kennedy, Florida.

26 January 2015

Fwd: Ice fishing on Lake Superior...

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Mark Seymour

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Dave Kitterman" <davek@cbcarriagehouse.com>
Date: January 26, 2015 at 11:43:49 AM EST
To: "Jim Purcell" <jrpwiz@aol.com>
Subject: FW: Fwd: Ice fishing on Lake Superior...

Fucking Japanese

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this article from Bloomberg.com by Emily Greenhouse:
Mike Huckabee thinks, inspired by the president’s daughters’ love of Beyonce, that America is in the midst of a values crisis. But, in Japan, the worry is about a libido crisis. Their birthrate is falling fast. By 2060, the population is expected to go down by a third, and, by 2100, if trends continue, by sixty percent. In 2011, sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded those of baby diapers. It’s an urgent national problem: there isn’t enough procreation.
To examine Japanese attitudes toward sex, the Japan Family Planning Association interviewed three thousand subjects, both male and female, about their sex lives. The group found that fifty percent of participants (48.3 percent of men and 50.1 percent of women) had not had sex in the past month. 21.3 percent of married men said they were too tired after work (versus 17.8 percent of women). Of men, 15.7 percent answered that they were no longer interested, after having children. 23.8 percent of women said sex was “bothersome”.
There are a number of diagnoses for this aversion to the bedroom. Morinaga Takuro, an economic analyst and television personality, believes this has something to do with attractiveness. He has suggested a “handsome" tax: “If we impose a handsome tax on men who look good to correct the injustice only slightly, then it will become easier for ugly men to find love, and the number of people getting married will increase.” Takuro writes a lament for the men in love with “2D female characters from anime and manga.” He said, in the Asahi Shimbun, “I want to tell them that human women are also great fun!” Technology, of course, gets the blame: virtual worlds, not to mention porn.
But many, especially alarmed to see that more than twenty percent of men between twenty-five and thirty say they have little interest in sex, see the low interest in sex as part of economic depression. A Japanese columnist named Maki Fukasawa observes an increase in a group of men he’s dubbed “herbivores”: heterosexual guys who, in contrast to “carnivorous” businessmen, live without expression of sexuality. Angelika Koch, a Cambridge University scholar and author of Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy, sees “a subversion of the traditional male role of the Japanese 'salaryman': the corporate male in suit and tie who dedicates his life to his company as breadwinner for his family, the sexually assertive man who spends his evenings drinking with colleagues at hostess clubs and bars.”
Whatever the case, it’s an urgent government concern. In 2014, aware of the dangers of becoming a nation of old folks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set aside three billion yen (thirty million dollars) for programs aimed at boosting the birthrate, including matchmaking programs. 
Rico says he's tempted to say this is the Greenhouse Effect, but he will resist... (He will, however, volunteer to go to Japan, on someone else's money, and fuck some Japanese women. Oh, that vasectomy thing... That won't help their birthrate, sorry. Never mind...)

Winter for the day

The Associated Press has an article in Time about the impending white shit:
Northeast residents are girding for a “crippling and potentially historic” storm that could bury communities from northern New Jersey to southern Maine in up to two feet of snow. The National Weather Service said the nor’easter would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding starting Monday and through Tuesday. A blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast, including New York City and Boston.
Government officials began to activate emergency centers as professional sports teams, schools, and utilities hastily revised their schedules and made preparations.
“This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference in a Manhattan sanitation garage, where workers were preparing plows and salt for the massive cleanup on about six thousand miles of city roadways.
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are “very hard, if not impossible, to navigate,” power outages and possibly even a lack of public transportation. Boston is expected to get eighteen to twenty-four inches of snow, with up to two feet or more west of the city, and Philadelphia could see up to a foot, the weather service said. The Washington area expected only a couple of inches, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm heads north.
“We do anticipate very heavy snowfall totals,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the weather service in College Park, Maryland. “In addition to heavy snow, with blizzard warnings, there’s a big threat of high, damaging winds, and that will be increasing Monday into Tuesday. A lot of blowing, drifting, and such.” Wind gusts of 75 mph or more are possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to fifty mph further inland, Oravec said.
Airlines prepared to shut down operations along the East Coast, leading to the expected cancellation of about seventeen hundred flights scheduled for Monday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.
A storm system driving out of the Midwest brought several inches of snow to Ohio on Sunday. A new low pressure system was expected to form off the Carolina coast and ultimately spread from the nation’s capital to Maine for a “crippling and potentially historic blizzard,” the Weather Service said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged commuters to stay home on Monday, and warned that mass transit and roadways could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway, Interstate 84, and the Long Island Expressway.
In New York City, the Greater New York Taxi Association offered free cab service for emergency responders trying to get to work, and disabled and elderly residents who become stranded.
The New York Rangers decided to practice Monday afternoon at the Islanders’ home arena on Long Island instead of at their own training facility just outside New York City. They’ll stay overnight on Long Island for Tuesday’s game against their rival, if it’s still held.
The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots expected to be out of town by the time the storm arrives in Boston. The team plans to leave Logan Airport on Monday for Phoenix, Arizona, where the temperature will reach the high sixties.
Rico says it's already started, but will get worse as the day goes on... And, yes, that's Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock, announcing the closure of the Thruway:

History for the day

On 26 January 1950, India proclaimed itself a republic.

25 January 2015


Jack Dickey has a Time article via a Reuters article by Dan Whitcomb about the measles outbreak:
A spokesman for the California state health department has told Reuters that he believes “unvaccinated individuals have been the principal factor” in a mid-December measles outbreak at Disneyland that has infected more than seventy people in six western states and Mexico, including five Disney employees.
The outbreak of the respiratory disease, which is caused by a highly communicable virus, has increased the focus on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Measles was thought to have been eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning the disease is not native to the US. (Nonetheless, over six hundred cases of measles were reported in America in 2014.) But it is not uncommon in the rest of the world, and healthcare officials presume an infected foreigner brought the virus to Disneyland or the accompanying Disneyland Adventure Theme Park in Anaheim, California between the 15th and the 20th of December 2014.
Of the thirty-four California measles victims whose vaccination history could be ascertained, twenty-eight had not received the measles shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that children first receive the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine at the age of twelve to fifteen months, and then again between their fourth and sixth birthdays.
Rico says there's gonna be some serious lawsuits over this... (And he's not sure how stupid you have to be to decide not to vaccinate your kids.)

‘Paralyzing’ blizzard

Alastair Jamieson has a Time article via an NBC News article by M. Alex Johnson and Elisha Fieldstadt about yet more (ugh) winter:
The New York City area was placed under a blizzard warning beginning Monday afternoon, with as much as three feet of snow expected to create "paralyzing, crippling" conditions, forecasters said. It's part of a storm system that meteorologists said will pummel the Northeast from Philadelphia all the way to northern New England with potentially "historic" snow accumulations well into Tuesday night.
The worst of it will be late Monday through Tuesday night, with blizzard conditions, possible airport closings and major flight delays, damaging wind gusts, and possible coastal flooding, the National Weather Service warned. The nation's largest city was put under an extraordinarily long blizzard warning, stretching from 1 pm Monday to midnight Tuesday.
The forecast means New York City could easily smash its one-day snowfall record of twenty-seven inches, recorded in Central Park in February of 2006.
"Very highly populated areas of the Northeast are going to get crushed with snow," said Tom Moore, coordinating meteorologist for The Weather Channel. "Everywhere is going to get get hit very hard by this storm."
"This could be the biggest snowstorm in the history of this city," Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Sunday. "My message for New Yorkers is: prepare for something worse than we have ever seen before."
"This is going to be a big one, historic," Moore said. "There could be paralyzing, crippling blizzard conditions." Moore said travel would be "dangerous, if not impossible." Many airlines declared winter weather waivers, allowing passengers in the Northeast to change itineraries without a fee. Moore said New England was "going to take a big hit, for sure," with the storm intensifying "into a monster" as it moves northeastward Monday.
Massachusetts was also bracing for winds that could reach seventy mph in coastal areas, which, paired with the falling snow, will create whiteout conditions. That will likely mean some time off for hundreds of thousands of workers.
"Now it's going to all come. February is a snow month, and I can't wait," Debora Labonte of Chicopee, Massachusetts, told NBC station WWLP of Springfield. "I went to the grocery store and picked up a few items, getting ready to maybe stay home from work."
The forecast came after millions of Americans across the Northeast awoke Saturday to a blanket of snow that was later doused with rain, leaving New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in a sloppy mess.
The New Jersey State Police reported 126 traffic accidents, and a parking garage in Secaucus collapsed under the weight of the snow and a plow, police said. The plow's driver suffered minor injuries in the accident, which created a hole fifty feet by fifty feet, NBC New York said.
A Nor'easter delivered more than five inches of snow in New York City, while residents of northern New York were digging out of as much as nine inches, NBC New York reported. Saturday's storm was the first significant snowfall in the New York City area this winter. Scott Flath, general manager of Long Island Hardware in Bohemia, New York, said his store is well-stocked, but that many of his customers are making their first winter supply runs of the season. He said they're telling him things like: "I have no idea where my shovel from last year is."
Rico says that winter sucks, and this will be no exception...

History for the day

On 25 January 1915, the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, inaugurated transcontinental telephone service in the United States, ringing up Thomas A. Watson in San Francisco, California from New York City, New York.

Rico says this led, of course, to the first 'do you know what time it is?' transcontinental conversation... (And Bell did not repeat his famous 'Mister Watson, come here, I need to see you' line...)

Stupid human tricks for the day

"The nets go straight out of the bag into the sea. That's why the incidence for malaria here is so high. The people do not use the mosquito nets for mosquitoes. They use them to fish."

Isabel Marques Da Silva, a marine biologist at Universidade Lúrio in Mozambique.

Rico says that, of course, we could also provide them with proper fishing nets, thus allowing them to prevent malaria...

The songs in Rico's head

Rico says that, because of menopause, it's not happening, but he'd like it if it did:

Rico says that, in spite of all that, he still does:

Brownies, redux

Rico's friend Kema forwards this Jorge Riva article from Fusion.net:
Not all girl scouts are concerned with peddling shortbread cookies. There’s one troop of young girls in Oakland, California that discusses matters of racial inequality and wear brown berets in an homage to radical civil rights groups.
The girls, ages eight to twelve, are part of the Radical Brownies, an edgier, younger version of the Girl Scouts, where girls earn badges for completing workshops on social protests, and a beauty workshop that celebrate racial diversity.
Radical Brownies is dedicated to providing young girls of color relevant life experiences, explains the group’s co-founder Anayvette Martinez. A community organizer, Martinez created the Radical Brownies with Marilyn Hollinquest because “there aren’t enough spaces for young girls of color in our society.” The Radical Brownies of Oakland launched last month and already includes twelve girls. All the members are girls of color or mixed-race. The Radical Brownies are not affiliated with the Girl Scouts of the USA.
The founders say that, once the program expands to multiple chapters, the organization will be open to everybody, but the program will always remain focused on young girls of color.
In the Radical Brownies, girls learn about social justice movements such the Black Panthers and the Chicano group the Brown Berets. They wear their brown berets in homage to those two groups. But they also study how Disney princesses define girls’ image of beauty, and how that can affect self-image.
The Radical Brownies have their own badge system, including one for Radical Beauty and an LGBT ally badge. The girls also earned a Black Lives Matter badge after learning about police accountability and attending a civil rights march in Oakland.
“I think it’s never too early to have these conversations with young people,” Martinez told Fusion. “Children are more aware than we think; it’s important to not shelter children from real issues that we’re living,” she said. “It’s especially important for young girls of color to feel empowered.”
The troop is ready to attend more protest and will soon launch a fundraising campaign on their Facebook page to raise money for a banner and a megaphone.
Rico says that, in Colorado at least, they should be selling brownies (wink, wink); they'd do even better than the Girl Scouts do with those addictive Thin Mints...

24 January 2015

Dwarf stripper finds love

Some stories are too weird to pass up, and David Moye's article in The Huffington Post is definitely one of them:
When Kat Hoffman (photo) was growing up in Bellefontaine, Ohio, bullies were a big problem for her. Hoffman, 26, was born with a form of dwarfism that stunted her growth at just under four feet tall, and made her a target of teasing. “At school I felt like an outcast, people bullied me because of my size and I was angry at the world,” Hoffman told Barcroft Media. “High school was a difficult time. Other kids were rude and brutally bitchy. I dreaded school every day, as no one wanted to speak with me.”
However, when Hoffman turned eighteen, she discovered a way to make her short stature a big advantage, when she visited a local strip club where a friend worked. “By the end of the night, I was on stage in the nude,” Hoffman said, according to The New York Post. “It was such a buzz. During my first week of dancing I made a thousand dollars, so I decided to make a living out of it.”
Now Hoffman travels all over the world performing as Kat the Midget Stripper in sexy outfits made by her mother.
However, her sister, Renee, who also has the same form of dwarfism, has reservations about Hoffman's career choice. "I've been to her shows before, and they don't go there to see her, they go there to laugh at her," she said, according to the Daily Mail.
Hoffman doesn't care about the haters. “I call myself a smile producer, not an exotic entertainer,” she tells Barcroft TV. “I just want to put smiles on people’s faces.”
Hoffman says performing not only gave her confidence about her body, but it also helped her find true love in the form of her six-foot-tall army sergeant Eich Bushner (photo, bottom), who wanted to meet her after seeing her pictures online.
The two are now engaged, and Bushner said he's ready to spend the rest of his life with Hoffman, no matter what difficulties they might face. “The height difference does pose some problems, but nothing that we can’t handle,” Bushner said, according to InTouchWeekly.com.
Hoffman plans to spend five more years dancing before hanging up her pint-sized pasties for good. Still, she thinks her shaking her tiny tail feathers sends a positive message for anyone with a disability. “A lot of disabled people don’t feel sexy because of our handicaps, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” she told Barcroft TV. “Everybody is sexy in their own way and personality is all that matters. You have to have a heart, that’s really all it takes to be sexy in my book.”
Rico says she's cute, true, but tiny...

Ghosts of Auschwitz

YahooNews has a sobering article:
Ceremonies to mark the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (photo) will take place on 27 January 2015, with some three hundred former Auschwitz prisoners taking part in the commemoration event. The Germans built the Auschwitz camp in 1940 as a place of incarceration for Poles.  From 1942, it became the largest site of extermination of Jews from Europe. In Auschwitz, the Nazis killed at least a million people, mainly Jews, but also Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and prisoners of other ethnicities. On 27 January 1945, the camp was liberated by Red Army soldiers.
Notable inmates of Auschwitz include Anne Frank, Viktor Frankl, Maximilian Kolbe, Primo LeviWitold Pilecki, Edith Stein, Simone Veil, Rudolf Vrba, and Elie Wiesel.
Rico says it's amazing that three hundred are still alive and willing to go; if Hitler'd had his way, of course, there'd be none, and the world would be a poorer place for it...

More Apple for the day

Rico says he doesn't wear a watch, relying on his trusty iPhone instead, but you might, as this Time article explains:
A new report indicates Apple is aiming for nineteen hours of general-use battery life in its first-generation smartwatch. Find out more about how long the watch might last on a single charge in the video below:

Apple for the day

Victor Luckerson has a Time article about pay at Apple:
How much does Apple care about its retail stores? Enough to pay more than seventy million dollars to the woman heading them up, making her the highest-paid exec at the company.
Apple recently revealed in an SEC filing that new hire Angela Ahrendts (photo, right) earned $73.4 million in 2014, almost all of it in stock awards. Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, joined Apple in May of 2014 as the senior vice president for retail and online stores.
In the filing, Apple explained Ahrendts’ sky-high paycheck. “The recruitment of Ms. Ahrendts provided an extraordinary addition to the Company’s executive team with the experience and ability to lead both the retail and online businesses,” Apple wrote. “In determining her transition package, the Compensation Committee considered Ahrendts’ compensation arrangement at Burberry and the amounts that she was expected to receive in future years. At the time, Ahrendts was among the highest paid executives in the UK, and held unvested Burberry equity awards with a value of approximately $37 million.”
Part of the reason Apple’s been so generous to Ahrendts is because her job extends to much more than just managing the Apple Stores: the former Burberry head was brought on specifically for her fashion taste to help design an Apple Watch that would be visually appealing to customers. We’ll find out whether she succeeded when the new device launches in the spring of this year.
Rico says it's good to be the princess, too...

Missed again

Sam Frizell has a Time article about another near-miss:
It doesn’t sound like a close shave but, in astronomical terms, it is.
An asteroid will fly within 745,000 miles of Earth on Monday, NASA said, the closest a space rock will fly to Earth until 2027. It won’t be a danger to the planet, but it’s not every day that an asteroid passes by us at just three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
While the asteroid “poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, “it’s a relatively close approach, by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more.” The asteroid, labeled 2004 BL86, is about a third-of-a-mile in size, based on its brightness. Scientists will use microwaves to study the asteroid. There’s a reason to be enthusiastic, said Yeomans, who is retiring from his position. “Asteroids are something special,” Yeomans said. “Not only did asteroids provide Earth with the building blocks of life, and much of its water, but, in the future, they will become valuable resources for mineral ores and other vital natural resources. They will also become the fueling stops for humanity as we continue to explore our solar system. There is something about asteroids that makes me want to look up.”
Rico says that we dodged the bullet, this time... (Remember the dinosaurs? They didn't.)

Big storm coming

Sarah Begley has a Time article via Accuweather about more (ugh) winter:
A nor’easter could wreak havoc all along the East Coast over the next 24 hours, with a mix of rain and snow that will likely cause airline and traffic delays along the I-81 and I-95 corridors.
Up to a foot of snow could accumulate in some locations, AccuWeather.com reports. Snow heavy with added rainfall could also bring down trees and power lines.
Check your local weather for specific predictions, and get ready for a good snow-shoveling workout.
Rico says he does not look forward to it...

Where alien life might flourish

Time has an article and video (above) about possible exoplanets:
Since 2009 NASA’s Kepler Mission has been exploring the Milky Way using an extraordinary powerful space telescope. Their mission is to discover exoplanets, Earth-like planets that could, in theory, be habitable for human life.
But what makes a planet habitable?
Scientists say habitable planets should be in an area round the star known as the Goldilocks zone, where it isn’t too hot or cold for water to exist on the surface in liquid form. Thus far, the mission has confirmed many such candidates, including a significant discovery of three planets announced in January of 2015.
In the video, Jeffrey Kluger explains the significance of this newest discovery, and the importance for humanity to continue space exploration.
Rico says if only space wasn't so damned expensive...

23 January 2015

Racism in America's heartland

Rico's friend Kema (she of the on-line Slavery Museum) forwards this video:

Gubs, more or less

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this article by Spencer Durrant from Newsmax.com:
The treaty on guns has been passed by the United Nations, and is ready to go into effect across the world. Only Iran, Syria, and North Korea opposed the treaty when it passed in the organization’s General Assembly in April of 2013.
The treaty, which seeks to prevent and control the illicit trade of weapons while regulating the international trade of them, includes measures such as creating a national gun registry; mandating control of firearms and ammunition; regulating the manufacture of gun parts; and limiting stores' ability to sell firearms.
So what does this treaty, formally called the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, mean for Americans and their right to bear arms? Gun rights advocates have said their Second Amendment rights will be infringed upon.
“The UN Arms Trade Treaty is an attempt by other countries— including some despotic regimes— to try and infringe on our constitutional rights,” Catherine Mortensen, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said. “While the NRA and a bipartisan majority of pro-gun Senators have succeeded in blocking this treaty’s ratification in the United States, this treaty is a very real threat.”
Although the treaty presents a threat to gun rights advocates, TheBlaze reported that it is unlikely to pass the Senate. For a UN treaty to have any effect on American laws, it must first be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
Mortensen told TheBlaze that the NRA is still wary of the possibility of an executive order by President Barack Obama.
Senator Jerry Moran (a Republican from Kansas) and Senator James Inhofe (a Republican from Oklahoma) have actively fought against Senate ratification of the UN treaty. In a letter to President Obama, the two senators wrote that “it is not in the national interest of the United States for the Senate to give its advice and consent to this treaty.”
The Heritage Foundation has reported that the treaty “will come into force for its signatories ninety days after it is ratified by the fiftieth national signatory”. That occurred in late 2014.   “The ATT is binding only on those nations that have fully ratified it, but its advocates are starting to make a new claim: that, after it receives its fiftieth ratification, it will become international law that will presumptively apply to the United States”, The Heritage Foundation’s report said.  “In the coming year, Congress should hold hearings to reveal the full extent of the administration’s implementation of the treaty and ensure that the US is not slowly pulled into compliance with it, as the activists desire.”
Rico says that Charleton Heston's words never rang so true:

Blue glow

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this Yahoo article:
A 22 January 2015 photo (above) made with a long exposure shows the glow from a Noctiluca scintillans algal bloom along the seashore in Hong Kong, China. The luminescence, also called Sea Sparkle, is triggered by farm pollution that can be devastating to marine life and local fisheries, according to University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye. Noctiluca itself does not produce neurotoxins like other similar organisms do, but its role as both prey and predator tends can eventually magnify the accumulation of toxins in the food chain, according to R. Eugene Turner at Louisiana State University.
Rico says we'll end up killing the ocean, and then ourselves...

History for the day

On 23 January 1973, President Richard Nixon announced an accord had been reached to end the Vietnam War.

Rico says we all know how well that turned out...

Political quote for the day

"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question: how could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly serve his constituents? Today, we provide the answer: he didn't."

Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a news conference to announce corruption charges against Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Saudi King Abdullah dead

Aya Batrawy and Abdullah al-Shihri have an Associated Press article in Time about the end of an era:
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the powerful ally who joined Washington’s fight against al-Qaeda and sought to modernize the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom with incremental but significant reforms, including nudging open greater opportunities for women, has died, according to Saudi state television. He was ninety.
More than his guarded and hidebound predecessors, Abdullah assertively threw his oil-rich nation’s weight behind trying to shape the Middle East. His priority was to counter the influence of rival, mainly Shi'ite Iran wherever it tried to make advances. He and fellow Sunni Arab monarchs also staunchly opposed the Middle East’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings, seeing them as a threat to stability and their own rule.
He backed Sunni Muslim factions against Tehran’s allies in several countries, but, in Lebanon, for example, the policy failed to stop Iranian-backed Hezbollah from gaining the upper hand. And Tehran and Riyadh’s colliding ambitions stoked proxy conflicts around the region that enflamed Sunni-Shi'ite hatreds, most horrifically in Syria’s civil war, where the two countries backed opposing sides. Those conflicts in turn hiked Sunni militancy, that returned to threaten Saudi Arabia.
And, while the King maintained the historically close alliance with Washington, there were frictions as he sought to put those relations on Saudi Arabia’s terms. He was constantly frustrated by Washington’s failure to broker a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He also pushed the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Iran and to more strongly back the mainly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Abdullah’s death was announced on Saudi state television by a presenter who said the King died at 1 am on Friday. His successor was announced as 79-year-old half-brother, Prince Salman, according to a Royal Court statement carried on the Saudi Press Agency. Salman was Abdullah’s crown prince and had recently taken on some of the ailing king’s responsibilities.
Abdullah was born in Riyadh in 1924, one of the dozens of sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz al-Saud. Like all Abdul-Aziz’ sons, Abdullah had only rudimentary education. Tall and heavyset, he felt more at home in the Nejd, the kingdom’s desert heartland, riding stallions and hunting with falcons. His strict upbringing was exemplified by three days he spent in prison as a young man as punishment by his father for failing to give his seat to a visitor, a violation of Bedouin hospitality.
Abdullah was selected as crown prince in 1982 on the day his half-brother Fahd ascended to the throne. The decision was challenged by a full brother of Fahd, Prince Sultan, who wanted the title for himself. But the family eventually closed ranks behind Abdullah to prevent a split.
Rico says it's hard to mourn an autocrat, but we don't have many friends in that part of the world...

22 January 2015

If you're up the creek...

Rico's friend Steve forwards this:
When someone says that you're up that particular creek without a paddle, here's a photo of the paddle store!

Last Western for the day (TWoA)

Another Western, The Winds of Autumn:

Another Western for the day (GK)

Another Western, Gentleman Killer:

Another Western for the day (TLO)

Another Western, The Last Outlaw:

Western for the day (IPoH)

Another minor Western, In Pursuit of Honor, starring Don Johnson, pre-Miami Vice:

Western movie for the day (GG&BG)

Another minor Western, The Good Guys and The Bad Guys:

MLK for the day

Edward Colimore has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about an old confrontation in Maple Shade, New Jersey:
The plot of ground on East Main Street in Maple Shade, where Mary's Place once stood, is empty now, except for trees planted as a buffer against the steady hum of traffic on busy Route 73.
No one would know that a 1950 incident at the bar helped shape the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s character, and inspired his passion for civil rights.
But Patrick Duff hopes to change that, and has a dream he plans to share with the Maple Shade town council. He wants to create a park at the location, with a plaque, benches, and possibly a statue of King, memorializing his confrontation with a bartender who refused to serve him and his friends. "If we don't preserve this history, it can be erased," said Duff, 38, a Haddon Heights resident, car salesman, and social activist. "I can't believe something this important to every American would not be commemorated."
He researched what happened that Sunday night more than 63 years ago and found a criminal complaint against the pub owner and bartender, Ernest Nichols.
And that document, signed by King, provided his address, a rowhouse at 753 Walnut Street in Camden, where the future civil rights leader lived in a room while a student at the now-closed Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland.
Like the Maple Shade location, no one would know that the-now boarded-up house was once King's home. It's now occasionally occupied by drug addicts and is marked by graffiti, 1 Wish, sprayed a few times across the front.
Duff found the owner, Jeanette Lily Hunt, who once lived there and remembered King. The two of them met to discuss transforming the house into a historic site.
"I was about twenty and married," said Hunt, now 83, a retired teacher whose husband's father, Benjamin Hunt, owned the house. "I can see King out on the sidewalk, leaning against a car, talking."
On that Sunday night in June of 1950, King visited Mary's Place with fellow seminary student W.R. McCall of Camden and their dates, Pearl E. Smith and Doris Wilson of Philadelphia.
They took a table and were ignored by the waitress, so King went to the bar to ask for beer and four glasses, according to statements.
Nichols, the pub owner, refused, saying he was prohibited from selling "package goods" on Sunday or after 10 p.m. on any day, according to a July 1950 statement by his attorney, W. Thomas McGann.
King then asked for four glasses of ginger ale and was told by Nichols, according to a 1982 biography, The Trumpet Sounds, that "the best thing would be for you to leave."
King and his friends held their seats and Nichols became verbally abusive, a police report said. The bartender pulled out a pistol, walked outside, and fired it a few times.
"Mr. Nichols claims that this act was not intended as a threat to his colored patrons," said McGann in his 1950 statement. "The colored patrons, on the other hand, while they admit that the gun was not pointed at them or any of them, seemed to think it was a threat.
"Mr. Nichols on the other hand states that he has been held up before and he wanted to alert his watchdog who was somewhere outside on the tavern grounds," McGann stated.
King reported the incident to police and Nichols was arrested. His signature, as well as McCall's and Smith's, can be seen on a Municipal Court complaint, which stated that Nichols did "willfully refuse to serve beverages of any kind, used profane and obscene language, and intimidation by weapons."
McGann said Nichols had often served blacks at his bar and was concerned that the King party was trying to entrap him by getting him to sell package goods on a Sunday.
The case was dismissed when several witnesses failed to testify before a grand jury.
Standing on the now state-owned ground where the confrontation took place, Colandus "Kelly" Francis, president of the Camden County branch of the NAACP, this week endorsed the proposed memorial and park to honor King.
"I think what happened here should be memorialized," said Francis. "It's part of the healing process. You forgive and move on."
The bar was demolished in 2010. Its location is across the street from a sign reading, "Welcome to Maple Shade - Nice Town, Friendly People."
The township council wants to learn more about the "impact on Dr. King's path and direction" before making any decisions about a memorial, Councilman Louis Manchello said Tuesday.
Miles away, in the Bergen Square section of Camden, Francis and Duff this week stopped to visit the house where the young King lived.
Francis, a retired mail carrier who moved to Camden from Virginia in 1949, once delivered mail to the home, long before King became a national figure. "He was just a student renting a room," he said. "It would be good to acknowledge it now."
The street, like many in Camden, has boarded up houses and trash-strewn lots. But its connection to King gave Duff and Francis ideas.
They left the rowhouse to find its nearby owner in the 300 block of Pine Street. Hunt, who lived there with her husband, Jesthroe, remembered King living in "a back room upstairs."
"We didn't talk a lot - just 'How you doing?' " she said. "He was very polite."
At the time of the Maple Shade incident, her father-in-law met King and the others to help out.
Remembering the lessons of those days is important, and one way of doing that is by marking and preserving the two sites, said historian and author Bill Kelly, a Camden native who now lives in Browns Mills.
"Both should have historical markers and the house should be preserved," Kelly said. "Maybe the restoration of the house would lead to other improvements in the neighborhood."
Added Hunt: "I'd like to see it turned into a historical site. That would have all my cooperation."
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