01 August 2015

31 July 2015

The song in Rico's head

Lionel Ritchie at his finest, singing All Night Long:

Graphtoons

Rico's friend Kelley, also a long-time graphics person, forwards this:
Danish writer Mikael Wulff and cartoon artist Anders Morgenthaler, “the creative duo known as Wumo,“ have created  a   brilliant series of graphs that illustrate some of the basic painful truths of everyday life in the Western world.
Their graphs and diagrams are snarky and sarcastic but, for the most part, true. This, coupled with their simple and official-looking design, makes them a delight to look at. Wulff and Morgenthaler share these images on Wumo (formerly known as Wulffmorgenthaler).
If you think you may have seen their work before, it should come as no surprise; they are a fairly successful cartoon duo. Their rise to success started in 2001, when they entered and won a cartoon competition. When they won, they received a one-month run of their comic strip in Politiken, a national Danish newspaper.
Their popularity soared with the new exposure, and they soon found more and more publishers, including several blogs and newspapers throughout Scandinavia and Germany.
Their most recent accomplishment was becoming a regular cartoon strip in The New York Times.

Rico says that last one is, unfortunately, a truism about men...

If the Réunion debris Is from MH370...


...an expert says our search strategy will need overhauling, and Charlie Campbell has a Time article about the newly-found debris:
On Friday, a group of French officials boarded a twelve-hour flight to Paris, France from Réunion, a volcanic island and French territory in the southwest Indian Ocean. With them was a three by nine foot piece of flotsam many believe is a wing-flap from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board.
It was the unremarkable final stretch on what may turn out to be the wing-flap’s remarkable journey, if, indeed, it is a wing-flap, and if it turns out to have actually come from MH370. Sources at Boeing have told CNN they are ”confident” the flotsam was part of a Boeing 777, and experts have little doubt the part came from the doomed jetliner. That would mean this debris could have been drifting on ocean currents for more than five hundred days for some 2,500 miles, or the equivalent to driving Route 66 from New York City to Los Angeles.
Yet what is more remarkable is what more it can tell us. It could, for example, nix ongoing search efforts, which are currently focused around a thousand miles off the coast of Perth in Western Australia. Authorities have scoured 21,000 square miles of a 23,000 square mile search zone in an operation costing well over a billion dollars, and which has involved thousand of flights, dozens of ships, and several submarines. They are now poised to head south and double the search zone’s size.
Australian deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told a press conference that he was “confident” this zone was the right one “based on continuing refinement of the satillite data.” He added: “We will continue to concentrate on the southern end of that identified area.”
However, according to Erik van Sebille, a lecturer in oceanography at Imperial College London, the flotsam’s very appearance at Réunion— if it is proven to come from MH370— would mean that searchers have been looking in the wrong place. “If you take into account the currents in the Indian Ocean, then you can trace the flow backwards from the northern part of the search zone,” he tells Time. “It would exclude the southern part as anything that drifts from there would go eastward into the Pacific Ocean.”
Following the discovery of the supposed debris— spotted on a pebble beach by an eagle-eyed government worker named Johnny Bègue— helicopters have been scouring Réunion, which lies around six hundred miles east of Madagascar, for more. Reports of luggage fragments are currently being investigated. However, van Sebille also believes such efforts are largely misplaced, factoring in the frenzied nature of the ocean’s currents.
“The ocean currents are not like highways. They are not really simple and predictable; they are actually quite chaotic. It’s a bit like the weather,” he says. “It’s just like how San Francisco is typically used to the westerly wind, but every so often it might come the other way; it’s the same for the ocean.”
Experiments with GPS-tracked objects, released thirty feet apart in the ocean, have resulted in them drifting hundreds of miles apart within just a month. So, while the broad strokes of the ocean’s currents can be mapped, conclusions are typically ambiguous. By tracing the currents from Réunion back to the search zone, “our best hope is that we can perhaps pin down the region to perhaps a few hundred miles, which will still be very large,” says van Sebille.
The barnacles clinging to the wing-flap can also tell a story. Very quickly, investigators will be able to tell from their size how long the object has been in the water, meaning that, even if serial numbers cannot categorically prove the object came from MH370, identifying the plane model, combined with time adrift, could remove reasonable doubt.
As there are more than a thousand species of barnacles in the ocean, with their provenance depending on myriad environmental factors, Benny K.K. Chan, associate professor of marine biology at National Taiwan University, says that it would also be possible to lead back to a specific crash site by identifying certain varieties. “There are some species of barnacles that have very distinct distribution, and so if you get some of these then maybe you could get some hint from where this wing-flap has drifted,” he tells Time. “But, from the pictures, I can only see the lepas genus, which are common to nearly all floating objects.”
Experts are due to examine the flotsam at a laboratory in Toulouse, with conclusions expected in the next day or so. But the value of the wing-flap— again, if MH370’s wing-flap is what it actually is— increases exponentially should more debris be found, especially, and perhaps surprisingly, if it is found far from the original discovery.
“If we find some debris somewhere else on a completely different part of the Indian Ocean, then what we can do is backtrack that too and then look at the overlap,” says van Sebille. “You can then look at the overlap of all the rough areas. It’s essentially triangulation.”
Rico says this ain't over yet...

'Brain-eating amoeba' found near New Orleans


The BBC has an article about some bad stuff in the water:
Health officials have confirmed the presence of a 'brain-eating' amoeba in the water supply of several communities near New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ascension Parish and St. Bernard Parish have each discovered Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that enters through the nose and attacks the brain.
Officials have begun a sixty-day "chlorine burn" to kill off the deadly pathogen. Water from the tap is safe to drink, officials say, but should be prevented from entering the nose.
This is the second time in two years that the amoeba has been discovered outside New Orleans. The water system currently serves about forty thousand people, according to ABC News. Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the system served nearly seventy thousand people.
During a screening of the water supply after the rediscovery of the amoeba, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH) found that chlorine levels were not being maintained at the level needed to kill off the dangerous organism. Chlorine levels are being increased to higher-than-required levels to ensure that the remaining amoebae are removed.
The amoeba can lead to a disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) "which is a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue," according to the LDHH.
In 2013, a four-year-old boy from St. Bernard Parish died after becoming infected with Naegleria fowleri after playing on an inflatable water slide.
Rico says that bad jokes about stupid people in Louisiana could be made, but he will restrain himself...

30 July 2015

Slavery in New Jersey? Who knew?


Robert Hennelley has an article in Salon about slavery in New Jersey, of all places:
In the immediate aftermath of the election of President Obama back in 2008, a Gallup poll found a state of near-euphoria among the public when it came to our hopes for improved race relations: seventy percent of the people polled predicting improvement. But earlier this month, almost seven years later, a New York Times/CBS poll found a much more pessimistic outlook. One of the more revealing results from the new survey was on attitudes about the Confederate battle flag: 57 percent of the whites surveyed said they viewed the flag as merely “an emblem of Southern pride,” as contrasted with 68 percent of African-Americans who said it was a symbol of racism.
It’s in these divergent views toward this historic symbol that America’s fractured narrative, riven a hundred and fifty years ago and never repaired, becomes clear. So how do we heal this wound that resists healing? My hunch is it starts by deeply understanding the brutality that was slavery in the here and now, and not putting it off on past generations as their burden alone. As long as we have two divergent stories, one fully reflective of the historical struggles of black America and another one embraced more readily by white society, we’ll remain a nation divided. To expiate the original sin of American slavery, we have to own it. We don’t get a pass because the slave owners are all dead and buried.
As a kid growing up in New Jersey, I was taught in school that slavery was a Southern moral defect. Imagine my surprise when, at almost sixty, I learned that my own state, New Jersey, was once an enthusiastic booster of slavery.
My path to enlightenment started while I was helping my daughter at her stand at our local farmers’ market last summer. The Mendham Farmers Market was located on the Pitney Farm, which, up until our town bought it a few years back, had been in the same family since the 1740s— eleven generations dating back to when New Jersey was a colony. As I stuffed kale into bags, I spotted a black lawn jockey, which stood in front of the Pitneys’ manor house, the architectural focal point of a farmstead with barns and additional cottages. And thus I wondered: was it possible that slaves worked this land?
So I decided to use the Pitney Farm as a prism of place through which I could glean the reality of slavery in my own community.
There was no mention of such history in any of the local literature, nor in the municipal documents that were part of the town’s due diligence when it purchased the homestead. Out back, the paint has faded on the Bicentennial Farm sign affixed to one of the red barns, vestiges of what was once a working farmstead. There’s no marking to note that slaves were part of the life of this place, although I would come to learn that they were, throughout all of Morris County and across the entire state of New Jersey, from its earliest white settlement, up until the end of the Civil War.
Back in 2008, before it moved to buy the property, Mendham Township received a report from the Cultural Resource Consulting Group, which cataloged what is known about the historical significance of the site. The report highlighted the accomplishments of the Pitney family, which can trace its roots back to the 1720s in the area.
Mahlon Pitney, one of the family’s patriarchs, fought alongside George Washington at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Another Mahlon Pitney served two terms in Congress and was nominated by President Howard Taft to serve on the Supreme Court. From the CRCG report, we know the farm grew to encompass more than seven hundred acres and included a dairy operation. But the slaves were invisible in this analysis.
The Pitney Farm was the center of a hub of productive activity that included an iron forge and distillery. Pitney peaches and apple brandy were famous in their day. The place was prominent enough that it was a stop on the Rockaway Valley Railroad line that ran from Whitehouse Station in Hunterdon County to Morristown back in the late nineteenth century.
The CRCG analysis concludes that the Pitney site has a multilayered historical significance because the twelve-acre farmstead “demonstrates the evolution of the multi-generational homestead of an important and influential family that traces its roots to the Revolution” and “distinguished themselves in the area of local, state, and Federal law.” But as for the day-to-day life on the colonial farm that laid the foundation for the family’s commercial and civic achievements, not much is known.
“Little information was uncovered concerning the family’s farming activities during the mid- to early-eighteenth century,” according to the CRCG report prepared by Gregory Dietrich, senior architectural historian.
The document makes no reference to the well-documented role of slavery at the Pitney Farms. There are, however, multiple extant historical records available online and in the county library that offer a fuller image of just how much Mendham, and indeed my entire state, was reliant on, and enmeshed in, the day-to-day brutality of slavery.
My first break came while looking in a Rutgers index for old court records online. I found that, in May of 1793, in the case “of Negro James, a Boy about Thirteen Years of age, claiming his freedom,” New Jersey’s Supreme Court ordered that James Pitney, listed as the defendant, “discharge” the black teen from “illegal detention.”
According to the history of the case, as recounted in the court order, three years earlier Pitney bought the African-American boy from relatives of Jasper Smith, of Hunterdon County. Smith died in 1769 but, in his will, called for the freeing of “all my negroes,” including Negro Juddy, the mother of the boy now in Pitney’s possession. (Evidently Smith’s heirs had other ideas.)
The order continues: “The Court having taken due consideration, are unanimously of Opinion, that the said Negro Juddy” was “a free woman by the Will of the said Jasper Smith,” which in turn meant that Juddy’s son James was, as the state’s highest court saw it, “entitled to his freedom”.
Just four years later that same Supreme Court, in a very similar habeas corpus petition, brought this time on behalf of a Native American known to the court only as Rose, had a very different ruling that would keep her in slavery.
“The Native Americans have been so long recognized as slaves in our law,” the Court wrote, ”that it would be as great a violation of the rights of property to establish a contrary doctrine at the present day, as it would be in the case of Africans; and as useless to investigate the manner in which they originally lost their freedom.”
According to the late Rutgers professor Dr. Clement Price, “support for the institution” of slavery “was stronger in New Jersey than in any other northern colony.” Back in 2008, on the occasion of the New Jersey State Legislature’s formal apology for slavery, Price told the public television program Due Process that “slavery was very important to New Jersey’s colonial economy.”
From its founding, when it was called the New Netherlands, as a Dutch colony in the early 1600s , and even after their English successors re-named it New Jersey, promoting slavery was hard-wired into the state’s political economy. According to the New Jersey State Library’s Unit on African American Slavery in the Colonial Era, the colony’s first constitution, the Concessions and Agreement of 1654/1665, actually “provided additional acreage” for each slave a prospective settler had.
By the end of the seventeenth century, Jersey-bound settlers were promised anywhere from between sixty to seventy-five acres for each slave they had on hand. Other documents indicate as much as a hundred-and-fifty-acre incentive per slave.
“The earliest known record of slaves in New Jersey dates to 1680, when Colonel Lewis Morris of Shrewsbury in Monmouth County, is identified as owning approximately sixty to seventy slaves,” according to the New Jersey State Library.
Morris’ holdings in Monmouth County included an ironworks and forge, which was the first constructed south of New England to reach the production stage. “It was structured as a plantation, and there were sixty or more slaves at the ironworks in 1680; the first notable instance of slavery on record in New Jersey,” according to the Tinton Falls website.
Colonel Morris’ nephew and heir, also named Lewis, inherited his holdings and was named the first Royal Governor of colonial New Jersey in 1738. (It is for this Lewis Morris that the New Jersey county is named.) Throughout this colonial period, supporting slavery was a major driver of public policy, and slavery was legally defined as including “negro, Indian, and mulatto slaves,” according to Henry Scofield Cooley’s A Study of Slavery in New Jersey, published by the Johns Hopkins Press in 1896.
In the early 1700s, the ongoing chronic shortage of manual and skilled labor for an expanding empire prompted Queen Anne to order that “a constant and sufficient supply of merchantable negroes” be available “at moderate rates” to New Jersey settlers. The crown also wanted to ensure that there were no “encroachments” on the slave-trading franchise enjoyed by Royal African Company by any enterprising locals.
While the first large-scale use of slaves has been traced to the Morris ironworks in Burlington County, slavery really got traction in the northern and eastern portion of New Jersey. The major slave port of entry for the slave traffic in New Jersey was through Perth Amboy. From 1737 up until 1800, the slave population went from just under four thousand to well over twelve thousand. By far the highest concentration of slave labor was in Bergen County, where, by 1800, there were close to three thousand slaves, almost twenty percent of the population.
Yet even as commercial interests embraced slavery, there was a countervailing movement for abolition in New Jersey. In 1693, Quakers out of Philadelphia, whose influence extended through southern and central Jersey, issued the first anti-slavery pamphlet in North America. For the entirety of the time that slavery was countenanced by law, a vigorous debate raged in New Jersey that divided religious congregations throughout the state.
During the American Revolution, the Reverend Jacob Green, a Morris County preacher, used the tumult of the times as a powerful rhetorical opportunity to call for abolition. Thus it was that the fault line of this great national debate ran right through my own home county.
According to David Mitros, historian and author, Reverend Green, who established the First Presbyterian Church of Hanover, was also the first New Jersey man to go on the public record calling for the separation from Great Britain. In his book, Jacob Green, and the Slavery Debate in Revolutionary Morris County, Mitros writes that Green, in the darkest days of the Revolution, warned from the pulpit that the nascent nation risked appearing a great hypocrite if if maintained slavery at its inception. “What foreign nation can believe that we who so loudly complain of Britain’s’s attempts to oppress and enslave us,” Green said, ”are at the same time, voluntarily holding multitudes of fellow creatures in abject slavery… even as we declare that we esteem liberty the greatest earthly blessing.” This sermon was published in 1779 as a pamphlet by the New Jersey Journal, and helped frame the debate around the apparent contradiction of maintaining slavery while proclaiming national liberty.
From slavery’s inception in New Jersey, slaves were subject to a separate set of laws and courts that had the power to dispense brutal punishment for any infractions. “In contrast to New England’s liberal laws, the slave codes of New Jersey and other middle colonies resembled those of the South,” writes David Mitros, in his comprehensive Slave Records of Morris County, NJ (1756-1841). “Judged in separate courts with no access to trail by jury, blacks and American Indians accused of crimes in colonial New Jersey had little hope of receiving justice,” writes Mitros. “When a slave received the death sentence, the slave owner received monetary compensation from the state.”
In April of 1712, two dozen armed African-American slaves teamed up with Native Americans and set fire to a building in New York City and attempted to fight off the efforts to extinguish the fire. The slave rebellion was suppressed by the militia and twenty of the slaves were executed, some by being burned at the stake.
In reaction, both New York and New Jersey made their existing slave codes stricter. In 1735, a slave in Bergen County, who was alleged to have tried to set a house on fire, was also burned at the stake. In 1741, two slaves in Hackensack charged with a similar crime met the same fate.
In 1743, a slave insurrection on the scale of the one in New York City was planned for Burlington County, but because the plan was foiled before it could be executed, only one suspect was hanged. “The rest were sentenced to be flogged or have their ears cut off,” writes Maggie MaClean on her History of American Women blog.
During the American Revolution, the British offered slaves their freedom in exchange for fighting for the Crown, and thousands of African-Americans took them up on the offer. In New Jersey the state itself sold the slaves they confiscated from loyalists sympathizers. In 1786, while the state banned the importation of slaves, it prohibited free black people from moving into the state.
As brutal as the slave codes were, there was some effort in New Jersey to regulate potential abuses by the slave masters. In December of 1808, Mahlon Pitney, James’ son, was the foreman on a Morris County jury of twelve men that convicted Abraham Cooper of Chester for using a hot iron to brand the forehead of his slave Cato. The jury ruled Cato was “thereby grievously wounded and hurt” and was put “to great pain, torture, and other wrong” and fined Cooper forty dollars, recounts Mitros.
Four years after that, Mahlon Pitney registered with Morris County the birth of a female slave child named Peg, born on 20 September 1810 in Mendham to “my negro slave named Rachel” to comply with New Jersey’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1804. That act mandated that children born to slaves born after 4 July 1804, would eventually be granted their freedom— for boys, only after they served for 25 years as slaves to their mother’s master; for females the age was set at 21. Of course, the structure of the Gradual Abolition Act of 1804 required that thousands of African-American women would give birth to children that would start their lives as slaves. It also had a provision for slave owners to “abandon” these children a year after their birth to the “county poorhouse”, where they would be declared a pauper and “bound out” as indentured servants to the highest bidder by the overseers of the poor “in the same manner as other poor children”.
“Some slave owners took full advantage of the law,” writes Mitros. “They abandoned the slave children, then bid them back to receive the state subsidy” for maintaining these “paupers,” which got them three dollars a month for their maintenance from the state treasury. Eventually this self-serving practice was ended in 1811, because it was consuming too much of the state’s revenue.
New Jersey fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War but, according to Jim Gigantino, professor of history at the University of Arkansas, New Jersey was the most enthusiastic Northern state when it came to holding on to slavery years after other Northern states had ended it. Just before the end of the Civil War, New Jersey even voted down the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, only voting to ratify it in 1866, after the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination.
Gigantino, author of the recently released book The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey 1775-1865, says that, after the Civil War, New Jersey obscured its well-established support of slavery by choosing to “memorialize things about the end of slavery. So when we talk about slavery in modern times we talk about emancipation or abolition of slavery,” Gigantino says. “This is a purposeful reinvention of New Jersey as part of the free North narrative of participation in the underground railroad, participating in this freedom process.”
Professor Gigantino says his new research indicates that as many as four hundred African-Americans remained in some form of slavery at the end of the Civil War, not the reported eighteen long accepted in the historical record.
The local Mendham Township Committee is now in the process of subdividing off the Pitney homestead for residential development. Perhaps, before the structures on the Pitney Farm are demolished, we owe it to future generations to permit an archaeological dig at the site to find out more out about the shadow history we keep ignoring. We have already lost enough history.
Rico says this was forwarded by Kema Thornton, she of the on-line Slavery Museum.

Bad landing



Brian Koerber has a Mashable article about a lucky airliner:
Everyone on board this KLM Asia flight, a Boeing 777 landing at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands,  most likely had heart palpitations as strong winds tossed the aircraft from side to side while approaching the runway, but the pilot was still able to land the aircraft successfully.
A storm with heavy winds reaching over 75 mph in some areas caused major interruptions from the Netherlands to Germany and Poland on Saturday. Footage of was uploaded by YouTuber 17splinter.
Winds at Schiphol reached at least 63 miles per hour during the height of the storm, according to The Weather Channel.
Rico says he's a lucky pilot...

Missing, now found

Liz Klimas has an article in The Blaze about a missing ship, found:
A ship lost for over a hundred years in the depths of Lake Michigan has been discovered by a group of shipwreck hunters. It’s condition? Let’s put it this way: some of the glass was still in its windows.
The John V. Moran, a steamer on its way from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Muskegon, Michigan, went down on 12 February 1899, after ice pierced its hull a few days earlier. According to the Grand Rapids Press, the crew and valuable goods on the ship were rescued before it foundered in the minus-thirty-degree weather.
The ship though was never seen again until 5 June 2015. Jeff Voss and other shipwreck hunters were on a week-long mission, combing a ten-square-mile area of the lake with sonar, when “boom. There it was,” Voss told the Press. “The bottom out there is flat, and this big image shows up on the print out.”
The team kept the discovery under wraps in order to be sure it was in fact the Moran, sending equipment down over three hundred feet in the icy lake to get clearer images. Working with the Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit and a camera-equipped submersible, they saw the ship underwater on 8 July 2015.
“Not even a railing is missing,” Craig Rich, a co-director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, told the Press, calling it one of the best-preserved wrecks in the Great Lakes. “The mast is standing. The lights are standing. The anchors are in position. There’s even glass still in the windows. The only thing missing from this wreck is the smokestack,” he said.
See this video from the Press:
“There was this absolutely pristine, beautiful shipwreck sitting on the bottom,” Rich told WZZM-TV of the moment he saw the wreck come up on the screen.
Valerie van Heest, also a co-director of the research association, told the newspaper that the condition of the Moran suggests that it sunk slowly. She told WZZM that highly-skilled divers will someday be able to venture into the ship’s interior.
Watch the news station’s report with more footage of the Moran shipwreck: 
Rico says another amazing story...

Military history for the day

From: "War History Online" <newsletter@warhistoryonline.com>

French aviators dropped the arrows or Flechettes which when released on an unsuspecting soldier could piece his body from head to foot. What did a flechette look like? Well, a photograph appeared in The War Illustrated on 23rd January 1915, with a description of one.

"They are pieces of steel rod about six inches long, sharpened at one end like a pencil, and with the four and a half inches or so at the other end machined out so that the whole thing has the section of a cross…which is, of course, very much lighter than the front end, and so acts just as a feather of an arrow."

Flachettes

The steel arrows were packed in boxes of 500 and placed over a hole in the floor of the aircraft. When over the target the flechettes were released in a stream, simply by pulling a string! When they hit the ground, the arrows covered an area of about fifty yards by ten yards.

In 1915, Mr. C. G. Grey the editor of The Aeroplane commented, "A friend of mine was at the military aerodrome at St. Cyr some little time ago, when some of these arrows were being tested, with an unfortunate cow as the enemy, about three arrows struck the cow, and went clean through her into the ground, after which the cow died quite suddenly.'

According to The War Illustrated, the Royal Flying Corps refused to use flechettes against the Germans because, "Our aviators think arrow-dropping dirty work…because the enemy cannot hear the things coming, and because they make such nasty wounds. Also it was not possible to drop them with sufficient accuracy." The paper then conceded, "nevertheless against cavalry or infantry in any thing like close formation they certainly are effective, as the French have proved." 

Read more on War History Online

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History for the day

On 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis, which had just delivered key components of the Hiroshima atomic bomb to the Pacific island of Tinian, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Only 316 out of 1,196 men survived the sinking and shark-infested waters.

Windows 10, a throwback


Brian Chen has an article in The New York Times about the next version of Windows:
Windows 10, the next version of Microsoft’s operating system, which arrived Wednesday, will have a familiar look and feel to the more than one billion people who have touched a Windows computer in the last two decades.
That is a stark change from the last time Microsoft made a big revision to its operating system, in 2012 with the release of Windows 8, a release that didn’t go so well. Many customers were confused by the flurry of changes that were designed for so-called hybrid devices that doubled as PCs and tablets. Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella (photo), said last year that the company “got a few places wrong in Windows 8.”
With Windows 10, Microsoft is offering something of a throwback to the earlier versions. The software also comes with an enticing price tag for users of Windows 7 and 8: free. But perhaps more than anything, there are a handful of new features that might make users consider making the switch.
Back is the classic Start button, the one-touch access to a main menu, including shortcuts to a user’s list of apps and documents. As in old times, it can be opened with the click of a mouse or by pressing the Windows shortcut on a keyboard. (The Start button was still available in Windows 8, but some users were confused because it was hidden from sight.)
Microsoft made efforts to modernize the Start menu with a fresh design. Clicking on the Start button brings up groups of tiles that can be tailored to your preferences. For example, I easily created a group of tiles labeled Productivity, and pinned some of my most frequently used software for work, including apps for email, web browsing, Twitter, a calculator, and Microsoft Word. Removing unwanted apps from the group is easy; you just choose to “unpin” the tile.
For longtime Windows users, the more intimidating part to get used to will be tablet mode. With hybrid tablets, such as the Microsoft Surface, you can detach the keyboard from the screen and switch into a different software interface optimized for tablets. In tablet mode, apps consume the entire screen; the tiles of the Start section are enlarged to be easier to see and touch.
Fortunately, interacting with Windows 10 on a touch screen is generally the same as with most modern touch-enabled devices. Spread two fingers apart to zoom in, swipe up to scroll down, swipe left to pan right. And, even in tablet mode, the trusty Start menu remains there to remind you this is still Windows you’re dealing with.
A new addition right next to the Start button is Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant. A user can do a search by typing in a query or speaking a command into the microphone. Saying commands like “Remind me to buy milk on Tuesday” sets up a reminder notification that will alert you on that day, and “Schedule meeting tomorrow at 3 p.m.” creates an appointment in your calendar.
On other questions, like where to find a place to eat, Cortana often falls back to doing searches on Bing.com, Microsoft’s search engine, which is less proficient than Google’s search engine. In tests, Cortana generated mixed results. Asking Cortana to look up a place to eat nearby retrieved a list of Bing search results for the term “Find me places to eat nearby,” which included the website places-to-eat-near-me.com, as opposed to showing a list of restaurants. (By contrast, the same query on Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, brought up Yelp listings of popular restaurants within half a mile from me in San Francisco.)
On the other hand, Cortana did respond adequately to some other commands, like “Show me showtimes for ‘Trainwreck,’ ” which loaded a schedule of movie theaters showing the movie nearby.
A big hole in Cortana is the mobile phone experience. Cortana is built into Windows phones; the problem is, you probably don’t own one. To date, Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform has 3.5 percent market share in the United States, according to Kantar Worldpanel.
Microsoft says that Cortana will eventually be available as an app on devices running Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS mobile software. For now, though, Cortana will primarily live on computers and tablets, limiting its usefulness.
It’s difficult to imagine that, while on the go, people will yank Windows tablets or computers out of their bags to ask Cortana to schedule calendar appointments or create reminders. In addition, the idea of using a voice assistant on a stationary computer in a typical office environment, where colleagues will overhear you over their cubicle walls yapping to Cortana, seems off-putting. As a result, in its current state, Cortana is a promising start, but it’s far less useful than its direct rivals, Siri and Google’s Now, which are widely available on smartphones worldwide.
Microsoft has made some bold promises about improvements to security in Windows 10. Chris Hallum, a senior product marketing manager for Microsoft, said in an interview that, because of all the security enhancements in Windows 10, consumers and businesses won’t have to install additional security software to protect their machines. “We include a full-fledged antivirus solution in Windows,” he said.
Microsoft has been including these deeper security features since Windows 8. But with Windows XP and Windows 7, far more popular versions of the software, it was practically a requirement to buy and install third-party antivirus software from McAfee or Norton, unless you wanted to be eaten alive by hackers.
Hallum said Microsoft was taking a multifaceted approach to protecting user identities as well as blocking malicious software. For example, Microsoft Edge, the default browser in Windows 10, includes a feature called SmartScreen, which can identify malicious websites by scanning them for suspicious characteristics. The Edge browser also keeps some add-on software for the browser, like Adobe Flash, up-to-date to safeguard you from the latest vulnerabilities. Another feature, Windows Defender, can identify potentially harmful software you’ve downloaded and warn you before you run it.
Are you really safe not installing additional antivirus software? As we should all know by now, almost all computer systems have some vulnerability. Still, Charlie Miller, a security researcher, said Windows 10’s security features should work as well as other antivirus software. He noted that Windows Defender had been a strong security program for some time.
Microsoft began releasing the operating system over the Internet in waves, starting with people who signed up to test early versions of the software as part of its “insiders” program. Later, Windows 7 and Windows 8 users who receive alerts notifying them of the upgrade will be able to download it.
At the time of my testing, ahead of the public release of Windows 10, I encountered a number of bugs. In one incident, Microsoft’s Edge browser blocked me for an entire night from using Google Mail, after mistakenly identifying it as a malicious website, though the next morning I was able to log in. I also had a frustrating time trying to compose a document inside Google Docs, when the Edge browser occasionally failed to detect when I was hitting the space bar; Microsoft confirmed it would fix the issue shortly after release.
Combine the early bugs with the spottiness of Cortana and the fact that third-party app developers are still updating their apps for Windows 10, and the operating system still has a little ways to go before it becomes a solid all-around upgrade. But the improvements to security, along with the familiar user interface, should be reasons to grab this upgrade sooner than later (especially if you’re on Windows 7 and lacking up-to-date security tools). The upgrade will be free for up to a year; after that, Microsoft may begin charging for it.
For would-be switchers, Microsoft offers a web tool where users can check if their apps are compatible with Windows 10 before making the switch. If you’re eager to get in line for an upgrade, you can reserve a download on Microsoft’s website.
Rico says it still ain't a Macintosh, sorry...

Western movie for the day

Another Gregory Peck western: Shoot Out:

The molecular medley that gives bacon its rich flavor


The BBC has an article by Veronique Greenwood about bacon:
There are few foods as sensual and appealing as bacon. The mere smell of it can take you by the nose and lead you across the house to the kitchen. It vaults anything from eggs to chocolate to Brussels sprouts to new levels of deliciousness. (If you haven't seen the Portlandia sketch The Celery Incident, suggesting nefarious roots for the current add-bacon frenzy, I suggest you take a gander.) Bacon is vivid and specific and entirely unlike anything else. It even supposedly acts as a “gateway meat” to tempt vegetarians. So what makes bacon taste like it does? And could chemists make non-meat products with the same taste?
Sometimes in flavor chemistry you find a single molecule that's enough to evoke a specific taste. Almond flavor centers on benzaldehyde, and banana on isoamyl acetate, though of course the real deal involves a mixture of many compounds in addition to those. Likewise, there isn't just one molecule that screams bacon. But the flavor begins with the meat itself: the pork belly that's cured, smoked, and sliced thin.
Some of the major flavor players are the result of the pork belly's fat breaking down, says Guy Crosby, food scientist and science editor at America's Test Kitchen. It's not just the white marbling that's in play. The cell membranes of the muscle tissue contain fatty acids that disintegrate during cooking to yield a bouquet of flavorful compounds like aldehydes, furans, and ketones. By themselves, some of these molecules have distinct tastes or smells– furans have a sweet, nutty, caramel-like note, aldehydes a green, grassy note, and ketones tend to be buttery– but whatever they are doing together seems to be key. If any of these classes of molecules were missing from the overall bacon flavor, you would notice it.
The diet and breed of the pig affect just which specific fatty acids are present in the meat, and hence which molecules will result when they break down. In fact, a lot of what makes it possible to tell one species' meat from another, according to Chris Kerth, a professor of meat science at Texas A&M, is traceable to the fats in membranes of muscle cells. That gamey lamb flavour, for instance, is partly down to the particular array of membrane lipids and their breakdown products.
When the cured pork bellies are smoked, they take on another set of flavor compounds
The curing salts that are applied to the pork belly affect flavor too, in part by changing the course of the chemical reactions the fats can take. They arrest progress down certain routes and shunt the bulk of the molecules down others.
When the cured pork bellies are smoked, they take on another set of flavor compounds. The smoldering wood releases acrid-smelling phenols as well as sweeter-smelling compounds, including the evocatively named maple lactone. “It's the combination of those two– the acrid and the sweet– that creates the real flavor of smoke,” Crosby says. “You really don't have the flavour of smoke without both of those.”
The last major contributor to bacon's goodness is the Maillard Reaction, which occurs when sugars and amino acids combine under high heat and which you induce whenever you toast bread or sear meat. Crosby says the molecules generated at this phase include more furans, as well as pyrazines and thiazoles, which have nutty, caramelized tastes and aromas. As it happens, chocolate also owes some of its flavor to the Maillard Reaction, thanks to the browning of the cocoa beans. But it's not clear if this shared chemistry has anything in particular to do with why bacon chocolate bars are so delicious, as the science of flavor pairings is thorny and controversial.
There are many meat-free bacons – fakeons – on the market, although opinions vary on how well they mimic the real thing. So if you had to create a bacon flavor from scratch– no bacon allowed– what would be in it? The Jelly Belly Company, which creates exquisitely specific flavors for its confections, does not yet have a bacon bean and would not speculate on the subject. “You never know what may or may not be in development,” their spokesperson wrote. But Kerth was willing to muse. “It's overly complex, but you could come very close,” he reflects. “It all depends on the food product, but it would be a combination of the furans from the Maillard Reaction, the phenols from the smoke, and some salt.” Three ingredients– sounds simple enough. But that’s probably only the start. “And then you gotta have some aldehydes...” In the end, it seems that a real bacon flavor, using no bacon, would be quite an undertaking.
Rico says bacon is, unfortunately, one of his favorite foods...

How to Scam ISIS

http://www.clarionproject.org/news/how-scam-isis


mseymour@proofmark.com
215.866.6184

Sent from my new iPad

Bikini protest in France



The Clarion Project has an article about Islamist problems in France:
Protesters have taken their outrage to social media after a 21-year-old French woman was brutally attacked by a gang of young Islamist women for wearing a bikini in a public park in the northern French city of Reims.
The woman, named as Angelique Sloss, was severely beaten last week by five women between the ages of 16 and 24, while she was sunbathing with two friends. All the attackers have since been arrested and are scheduled to appear in court in September.
The incident began when one of the Muslim women allegedly shouted at Sloss for acting “immorally” by wearing a swim suit in public, leading to speculation that the attack was religiously motivated. Sloss responded and the women began slapping and punching her. A passerby eventually broke up the attack.
Using the hashtag #JePorteMonMaillotAuParcLeo (French for I wear my swimsuit to Park Leo), the campaign was organized by an anti-racism organization called SOS Racisme. Women (and men) have taken pictures of themselves wearing swim suits in public parks and beaches and posted them on Twitter.
Protesters wearing bikinis and swim suits also held a demonstration in the park with hundreds more taking to express outrage and their solidarity with Sloss on social media.  
Rico says he suggests they do not try this in Los Angeles; the cholos will kill you there...

29 July 2015

Just 'Smith'

Rico says that one of his fondest memories of his childhood is the time he was visiting his grandparents in his mother's hometown of Robersonville, North Carolina and was left by his grandfather, who had to make a delivery, to go to lunch with his assistant, known only as 'Smith'.
This is only memorable because this was the early 1960s, and Smith was black.
When we marched off to the local restaurant, Smith left Rico standing in the restaurant, saying he had to 'go around the back'.
Thinking that was a euphemism for going to the bathroom, Rico waited awhile (he was only about ten at the time), then decided to go find Smith, who was 'around the back', but not visiting the toilet.
When Rico sat down with him, however, it was to protests of 'no, no, you have to go inside' (meaning 'with all the white folks'), but Rico, in childish innocence, said 'no, I came to have lunch with you', which he did.
According to Rico's mother, the report of his 'outrageous' behavior was all over town by mid-afternoon. She, having long ago given up her Southern prejudice, was very proud of him...

(At Rico's last visit to the town, the restaurant, like Rico's grandfather's shop, below, was gone.)

East coast heat wave


Slate has an article by Eric Holthaus about the weather:
The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang has long been the royalty of internet weather. On Wednesday, they said what everyone already knew: 
It's gross out.
Those three perfectly timed words, coming from a group of meteorologists known more for their in-depth analysis, were exactly what we needed to hear on a day like today.
At fault for the horrid weather, besides the fact that it’s late July, is a weird little storm system moving through southern Canada that’s pulling loads of subtropical humidity northward along the East Coast. That same swirl produced an “exceptional” summertime snowstorm in the mountains of Montana on Monday, along with sixty mph wind gusts. “This pattern should not happen in July,” wrote the National Weather Service forecaster in Billings, stating the obvious. 
Fast forward two days, and parts of more than thirty states are expected to top ninety degrees on Wednesday, including New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Boston, and much of the West Coast.
Thankfully, some relief is on the way, at least in the East. Once this swirl moves out of the picture by Thursday, humidity levels will drop, alleviating that whole “gross” factor. Still, a recent analysis by Climate Central showed that, in addition to more frequent heat waves, global warming is already making the air more stagnant and sultry on the hottest summer days, contributing to poor air quality. An air quality alert is in effect today for a good portion of the Northeast, from Delaware to Philadelphia to New York City to coastal Connecticut to southern Massachusetts.
Rico says it's pretty gross...

Movie trailer for the day

Rico says it's 13 Hours, the inside story of the embassy attack in Benghazi:

History for the day

ON THIS DAY

Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England.

Still using a Nazi tall ship


The BBC has an article by James Morgan about the Eagle (photo), a ship with a dark past:
Driving home along the coast of Connecticut one winter's evening, Tido Holtkamp saw a ghost.
There she was moored in the harbor, her three towering masts, draped with those familiar sails he had rigged back in the German Navy in World War Two.
Her body had been repainted in the red, white and blue of the US, but her curves were unmistakable. "That's my ship!" shouted Holtkamp, stopping the car. "That's my ship. The Horst Wessel. What in the world is she doing here in America?"
He may be 89 years old now, but the old sailor still twinkles wide-eyed as he recalls that moment back in 1959. We are sitting in the grand museum of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, not far from the place where the sight of the ship stopped Holtkamp in his tracks.
Above him hangs a carving of a gleaming golden eagle, the original German figurehead of his beloved vessel. She is docked outside in the bay, with a hundred and fifty young cadets preparing to jump aboard, climb the rigging and set sail for the Bahamas.
The Eagle is the flagship of the Coast Guard, and the only tall ship on active service in the US military. Since 1946, every single new cadet undergoing officer training has begun his or her career by learning to sail on her the old way.
"It may look old-fashioned, but the lessons you can learn about the sea and the wind and the currents and yourself and your fellow shipmates, you cannot learn better on any platform that floats on the lakes or oceans around the world," says Captain Ernst Cummings, one of the ship's former commanders.
The Eagle has hosted three presidents, Kennedy, Nixon, and Truman, and circumnavigated the globe as a kind of floating ambassador for American diplomatic relations. But there is more to her history, a hidden story revealed by the German inscriptions concealed beneath a brass plate on the ship's wheel. And this is the story she shares with Holtkamp.
"Yes, the Eagle is an immigrant, too, another immigrant that has done well," he says.
He points to the golden bird hovering above him: "You see that plate she holds in her talons? It's the Coast Guard shield. But not when I sailed on her. The swastika was emblazoned there."
The ship now known as the Eagle was born in the world-famous shipyard of Blohm and Voss in Hamburg, Germany, the builders of the battleship Bismarck.
It was 1936, the Nazis were in power and the Kriegsmarine was growing fast.
To train sailors in the ways of the sea a magnificent barque was commissioned, the flagship of the training fleet. Adolf Hitler was present at her launch, and Rudolf Hess gave a speech. She was christened Horst Wessel after the storm trooper "hero" whose song, the Horst-Wessel-Lied, became an anthem of the Third Reich.
The eagle on her prow was the Nazi Party's eagle, the Parteiadler.
"The Eagle is an emblem of force, strength and bravery; I'm not surprised it was chosen," says Holtkamp.
Hitler only came on board once: "His boots had nails which scratched the deck but no one dared question him', Holtkamp says.
When World War Two broke out in 1939, the cutter was initially kept in harbor to house a branch of the Hitler Youth. But, in 1942, with the addition of anti-aircraft guns, she was commissioned for active service in the Baltic.
A year later, in a small town near the German-Dutch border, a tall teenager named Holtkamp was preparing to be called up to the military. "I was due to be drafted, probably into the Army, and that meant the Eastern front," he recalls. "Well, I didn't want to go there, so I volunteered for the Navy. We were all eagerly hoping to be on a small boat in the Mediterranean, maybe in Greece, with beaches and beautiful girls. But most of us didn't get that."
Instead, Holtkamp found himself in the Baltic port of Kiel staring at his new home, a training ship. "When I first saw the ship it was colder than hell. I looked up that great tall mast and thought, 'My God, in this weather I'm gonna go all the way up there?' I was scared. I was also disappointed. Horst Wessel was the only ship in the Navy named after a Nazi, and even then we didn't want to be associated with anything Nazi-like."
Life on the boat was cramped, as it still is for today's young cadets. "We had hammocks back then. You would bounce into the guy next to you. But the camaraderie was fantastic. I loved the ship, the ocean, my buddies. I hated the discipline. We had an officer who was a real SOB; I never hated anybody in my life like this man. He was an SOB first class."
Holtkamp and his fellow recruits were put to work - rigging the sails, scrubbing the teak deck with holystone (a soft sandstone), polishing the brass, and taking watches, some of the very same jobs that cadets today are taught.
Meanwhile, overhead, they kept their eyes glued to the sky in fear. Every plane could be a Russian bomber. "And what would we do? We had guns installed, but what good would they be?" he asks. "Then one day I saw a formation coming over the harbor - American bombers with their bomb bays open. And we'd be a good hit with two hundred of us on board. I knew I couldn't leave the ship. So I watched as they dropped the bombs right next to us."
During a more peaceful spell in Danzig (now the Polish port of Gdansk) he had time to get acquainted with "forbidden" American records, which were still being played despite the war.
"St. Louis Blues. Stormy Weather. Bei Mir Bis Du Shein [an English-language song taken from a Yiddish comedy in New York City]. All these songs I had never heard; I learned every one them. There was this fascination with Americans and the English, even through their bombing raids, that never ceased."
He didn't know it then, but very soon Holtkamp would experience American and British culture from much closer range.
In April of 1945 the British arrived, seized the Horst Wessel, and hoisted the Union Jack. Holtkamp, meanwhile, was handed over to the Americans. "I became a prisoner of war, a prisoner of the US Army. I finally got where I wanted to be!" he laughs. "I was shipped off to a camp with a hundred thousand people there. I will never forget my first day behind barbed-wire fences. The most desolate day ever. There was nothing. There were no tents, no roof over our head. We were living out in the open. On the first day I said to the fellow in front, 'Hey you've got something crawling out of your collar!' He replied, 'You've got something crawling out of yours too!' We had lice."
Conditions slowly improved, with latrines, water, and bread and Spam to eat. Holtkamp began teaching himself English to become a translator and earn privileges.
"I learned four-letter words, every one you could imagine. And then, one day, the British came in. "They said, 'My God, this is a terrible camp! Not the kind we keep for our prisoners.' They brought in tents and took care of us better. And ultimately the British sent me home."
While he had been in the POW camp, the Horst Wessel had become a war prize. The Allies were dividing up the spoils. "My father told me the ship was in Bremerhaven. The whole town was totally bombed-out, but there was my ship. And the captain, the SOB, he was still there, and he remembered me. He said: 'Holtkamp this is your opportunity! We need people to take the ship to an Allied port.' "I said, 'Which port?' He said, 'Probably the Russians.' I said, 'No thanks! A nice trip to Leningrad and they'll ship me right back. Oh yeah, sure! I don't think so.' And that was the last time I saw the Horst Wessel. I waved her goodbye. "I was so sad about leaving her. We all were, my buddies and I. But I hoped to go on to greater things."
What none of them realized was the ship was not destined for Russia at all.
For Holtkamp, meanwhile, an opportunity soon came to emigrate to America, the land he had been so fascinated by. It was 1949 and the US had just opened the border. "When I arrived in New York City they kept asking me the same questions over and over. What did I think of Hitler? Was I in the Hitler Youth? What do I think of democracy?
"I said, 'If democracy is the same thing I went through in your prison camp I don't think I'm gonna like it.'" He was surprised when, the following year, 1950, he received a draft notice for the US Army, signed by President Truman. His military days were not over after all. Holtkamp served two years in the Army during the Korean War, before settling in Connecticut, where, later that decade, he enrolled in university.
"One Sunday afternoon in 1959, I took a young girl out dancing. And on the drive back we came over the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. I looked down in the harbor and there I saw her. I knew immediately it was my ship. "I said to my date: 'I'm sorry we can't go home yet!'"
When he arrived at the gates to the Coast Guard Academy some kind guards let him in, intrigued by his story and obvious enthusiasm. "I went down to my old deck where I always slept and, guess what, there was a Coca-Cola machine!"
How had the Horst Wessel washed up in Connecticut?
Holtkamp has spent many years reconstructing the story, which he tells in his biography of the ship: A Perfect Lady.
It transpires that, when the Allied commanders sat round the table in 1946 to divide up the spoils from the German fleet they did so by drawing names from a hat.
Three pieces of cardboard were folded up, popped in a cap, and the American, British, and Russian commanders took their turns at lucky dip.
The Horst Wessel was indeed drawn by the Russian commodore. But secretly, under the table, he agreed a swap with the American officer, who was desperate to bring the tall ship back to the US.
And so, in June of 1946, an American crew, assisted by the original German captain and his remaining sailors, steered the newly rechristened Eagle from Bremerhaven, through an Atlantic hurricane, to New York City.

USCGC Eagle
The tallest mast is a hundred and fifty feet tall, roughly equivalent to a fifteen-story building
The ship is three hundred feet long, roughly equivalent to a football field
She weighs just under seventeen hundred tons, and the hull and decks are made of steel
She has 23 sails measuring more than twenty thousand square feet, and six miles of rigging
Speed under full sail is seventeen knots
Next year will be the seventieth anniversary of this epic transit and, in celebration, the Eagle is due to return to Germany.
She is undergoing a thirty million dollar refit, from keel to crow's nest, in preparation for what is hoped will be another seventy years of active service.
Rather than a symbol of war she has become an emblem of peace and partnership between the two nations. "When the Germans launched her back in 1936 they built her as a training vessel. Here we are, eighty years later, and it's doing the same great job they designed it for," notes Captain Cummings.
Over the years, Holtkamp has become a frequent and welcome visitor to the academy in New London, Connecticut, having worked nearby at IBM for 28 years.
"I'm happy that the Coast Guard has the Eagle, because we used to be trained for war. But the Coast Guard is there to help people," he says. "They take people off ships when they're sick. They rescue people. These things are good things; they're wonderful things.
"So I'm very happy that the Coast Guard has the Eagle. If I was a young man I think I'd join the Coast Guard, too."
Rico says WHAT

Calais migrant crisis


The BBC has an article about the latest migrant crisis:
A man has been killed as at least fifteen hundred migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel in Calais recently, French police said.
Eurotunnel, which says incursions are now a nightly occurrence, said migrants had been removed from the site. It advised freight services to consider alternative transport.
It comes as the British government comes under pressure to combat the crisis. Speaking after a meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee, Home Secretary Theresa May (photo, top) said the UK was pressing for the rapid installation of over a mile of new security fencing, which it has pledged to pay for, at Coquelles, near the tunnel entrance. May added there were some migrants "particularly trying to get into the Eurotunnel and on to the trains before that security fencing is going up". France's interior minister said over a hundred police officers were being sent to Calais to reinforce security at the site.
The man who died is described as Sudanese, aged between twenty and thirty. French police said he was probably crushed by a lorry (photo, bottom) which was exiting one of the shuttles that transport vehicles through the tunnel. He is the ninth person to die trying to access the tunnel since June of 2015.
Eurotunnel says its passenger services are running, with a delay of two hours on the UK side and one hour on the French side. Freight services face a one-hour delay before check-in on the UK side; with an estimated more than six-hour wait to check-in in France. P&O ferries and DFDS Seaways say all their services are operating to schedule between Dover and Calais.
Eurotunnel said some two thousand migrants had tried to get into the terminal on Monday. A spokesman said it was an issue for the government to "sort out", adding. "We need them to stop the migrant flow from Calais, but it appears to be too much for them to handle."
May said some migrants had reached Britain through the Chunnel, but did not say how many had arrived.
Speaking after the Cobra meeting, she said: "Crucially, what we are looking at now is improving security at the railhead at Coquelles, so we can ensure people are not trying to come through the tunnel. That means some urgent work in government, but also with Eurotunnel, and Eurotunnel has a role to play here in the measures they themselves put in place to protect their trains."
Lorry driver Sean Swan took nearly a day to travel from the M20 to Calais on Tuesday, and said he only got through because he was carrying live fish. "I was given a police escort from Junction 8 all the way to Dover, even after making the officer aware that it was now illegal for me to drive. We bypassed thousands of stranded lorries. At one stage I felt drunk with tiredness at the wheel of a forty-ton machine." He said that, in the past month, migrants had managed to board the train on every journey he made from France to Britain.
Drivers found with migrants hiding on their vehicles can be fined but many are afraid to challenge them. "They are jemmying the padlocks off, with hammers, crowbars, and Stanley knives. On one side you risk your life, and on the other you risk your livelihood."
Rico says he would suggest solutions to the French, but they might be considered inhumane and deadly, so he won't...

Nepal nixes the world’s largest slaughter


Alissa Greenberg has a Time article about changes in Nepal:
Nepal’s Gadhimai Temple Trust, which oversees the world’s biggest animal sacrifice every five years, announced that no slaughter would take place at this year’s festival.
The announcement comes on the heels of an international movement against the event, which led the Indian Supreme Court to prohibit animals from being shipped or shepherded across the border to be killed as offerings.
“With your help, we can ensure the festival in 2019 is free from bloodshed,” the chairman of the temple trust, Ram Chandra Shah, said in a statement announcing the ban. “Moreover, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is a momentous celebration of life.”
Gauri Maulekhi, consultant for Humane Society International/India (HSI) and trustee for People for Animals Uttarakhand, who was among the petitioners in the Supreme Court case, called the move a “tremendous victory for compassion” but acknowledged that the hardest task is still to come. Maulekhi said the HSI would spend the three and a half years until the next festival in 2019 educating would-be celebrants in the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and West Bengal about the temple’s decision.
HSI estimates that more than a half-million goats, chickens, and buffalos, along with other animals, were decapitated at Gadhimai in 2009. The festival, which dates back about three hundred years and which some say has even more ancient roots, is based on a dream founder Bhagwan Chowdhary had featuring Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power. In the dream, Gadhimai demanded a sacrifice after freeing Chowdhary from prison, promising power and prosperity in return. Chowdhary prepared an animal offering, establishing a legacy of tradition and blood that would last nearly three centuries.
Rico says the animals will be pleased, though probably eaten later anyway...

Co-pilot error


Kevin Freking has an Associated Press article about the Virgin Galactic crash:
Federal safety investigators said the crash of a Virgin Galactic spaceship last year was caused by a catastrophic structural failure triggered when the co-pilot unlocked the craft’s braking system early.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators said the resulting aerodynamic forces caused the brakes to actually be applied without any further action by the crew. Investigators said no safeguards were built into system to overcome the error of the co-pilot. The spaceship broke apart over the Mojave Desert during a test flight ten months ago. The accident killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot.
NTSB officials said early in the investigation that the co-pilot prematurely unlocked equipment designed to slow the descent of the spacecraft during initial re-entry. Simply unlocking the spacecraft’s brakes shouldn’t have applied them, but that happened anyway.
In determining the probable cause of the accident, board members were focused on prioritizing the lack of systems put in place to mitigate or overcome human error. Scaled Composites developed the craft for Virgin Galactic, and NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the company “put all its eggs in the basket” of the crew doing everything correctly.
“My point is that a single-point human failure has to be anticipated,” Sumwalt said. “The system has to be designed to compensate for the error.”
NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said he hoped the investigation will prevent such an accident from happening again. He said the NTSB learned “with a high degree of certainty the events that resulted in the breakup. Many of the safety issues that we will hear about today arose not from the novelty of a space launch test flight, but from human factors that were already known elsewhere in transportation,” Hart said.
Virgin Galactic has been proceeding with its plans for space flight and is now building another craft. Company officials have said in recent months that their commitment to commercial spacecraft has not waivered despite the crash, and they expect the company to resume test flights later this year. Eventually, the company envisions flights with six passengers climbing more than sixty miles above Earth.
Rico says yeah, sure, blame the co-pilot, he's dead... (And, no, Rico has no plans to go, even if he could afford it, which he can't.)

Gubs for the day


Richard Pérez-Peña has an article in The New York Times about gub laws:
His family called him unstable and violent, so John R. Houser was ordered by a judge to be taken against his will to a mental hospital in 2008. Despite that sign that Mr. Houser was mentally troubled, he passed a background check and was able to legally purchase the gun he used last week to kill two people in a Louisiana movie theater, because that hospital stay was not defined by officials as an involuntary commitment.
Dylann Roof, who is charged with shooting nine people to death in a Charleston, S.C., church last month, was also able to buy the gun he used in the massacre. He should have failed a background check, federal officials said, because he had previously admitted to illegal drug possession. Yet because of a clerical error in South Carolina and the confusion that caused the federal authorities who examined his record, he was not stopped from his making his purchase.
Continue reading the main story
RELATED COVERAGE
Dondie Breaux, whose 21-year-old daughter, Mayci, was killed in the shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, La., last week, was consoled outside the Church of the Assumption in Franklin, La.An Outpouring of Support as Two Towns Mourn Lafayette Shooting VictimsJULY 27, 2015
Pat Bernard paid her respects to the victims of the shooting at a vigil erected at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, just down the road from the movie theater.Lafayette Shooting Adds Another Angry Face in the Gunmen’s GalleryJULY 24, 2015
Dylann Roof outside the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., last month.Background Check Flaw Let Dylann Roof Buy Gun, F.B.I. SaysJULY 10, 2015
Dylann Roof’s Past Reveals Trouble at Home and SchoolJULY 16, 2015
As these two cases show, the one system that gun rights and gun control advocates both agree on, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is supposed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, is riddled with problems. While the system, in operation since 1998, has prevented more than 2.4 million sales, it still has major gaps, with spotty cooperation from the states and a narrow definition of who is considered too mentally ill to own a gun.
Continue reading the main story
Guns and Mental Illness
A selection of articles from a New York Times series about weapons and mental health.
Trying to Prevent the Next Killer RampageSEPTEMBER 6, 2000
Man and His Son's Slayer Unite to Ask WhyAPRIL 12, 2000
Hole in Gun Control Law Lets Mentally Ill ThroughAPRIL 11, 2000
The Well-Marked Roads to Homicidal RageAPRIL 10, 2000
They Threaten, Seethe and Unhinge, Then Kill in QuantityAPRIL 9, 2000
“It works tremendously well when it’s given the tools to work,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group. “But it’s widely inconsistent from state to state.”
The National Rifle Association, which declined to comment for this article, has argued that the background check system, and the database of prohibited gun buyers, should be repaired before any other controls are considered. Gun control advocates say that ignores the biggest flaw of all in the system, that about 40 percent of all gun sales are exempt from background checks because the seller is a private party, often operating online or at a gun show.
Federally licensed gun dealers are required to conduct a background check before each gun purchase, but private sellers are not.
Under federal law, the list of prohibited buyers is supposed to include people convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors, drug abusers and those convicted of certain drug crimes, and anyone whom a court has involuntarily committed for being dangerously mentally ill.
But there is no requirement that the states participate in adding names to the database. Putting the states’ convicted criminals on the list of prohibited buyers generally works fairly smoothly, but the systems for adding people with drug problems have been erratic, and those for the mentally ill even more so, experts say.
Some states have highly automated record-keeping, while others have more room for human error and some still work with paper records; some scour old cases for names to add, but most do not bother; and the states use varying standards for committing people to mental hospitals against their will.
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Some states have put hundreds of thousands of people with involuntary commitments on the list over the years, but in other states, the figure is in the single digits, according to records kept by both the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the gun industry, and gun control advocates.
On Sunday, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana argued that if Mr. Houser had been involuntarily committed in his state, he could not have passed a background check. That is because of a law the governor signed last year, requiring the state’s courts to report such rulings to the federal database. Mr. Jindal urged other states to strengthen their laws and make sure such information is reported to the federal government.
“Absolutely, in this instance, this man never should have been able to buy a gun,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
But until that 2014 law was signed, Louisiana was far behind most states, adding just four names of mentally ill people to the prohibited buyer list through 2013. Like several other states, it had contended that privacy laws prevented its courts from passing on the names of people committed to mental hospitals.
“States really don’t need to pass laws to send these names to the federal database, and a lot of states just go ahead and do it, but a lot of them think they do need these laws,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an advocacy group.
Other states have complained about the cost of keeping up the records, and even states with policies of sharing the names with the federal database vary widely in how aggressively they do so. Georgia has reported fewer than 9,000 people over the years; Virginia, with a smaller population, has reported more than 231,000.
The 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 others and then himself, prompted a push to put involuntarily committed people on the list, and the federal government provided the states with some additional money for the effort.
The results gave some indication of how much was missing. From 2006 to 2014, the total number of prohibited buyers in the federal database tripled, to 12.9 million. The number who were put there for mental illness increased more than 12-fold, to nearly 3.8 million.
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Elephant lover 5 minutes ago
It is impossible for a psychotherapist to tell which mentally ill person is "a danger to himself and others". Not only that,...
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This is another case where metal illness is a component of the killings. History is repeating it's self over and over. It was present at Va...
Peter 14 minutes ago
The failures of the background check system must be laid directly at the feet of the NRA who has consistently intimidated lawmakers into...
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In 2008, Mr. Houser’s family asked a court in Georgia to commit him, and a Probate Court judge, Betty Cason, had him detained and sent to a mental hospital; it is not clear when he was released. But that was not an involuntary commitment for treatment, which would have required that the court report him to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which in turn would have reported him to the federal government, Judge Cason said in an interview on Monday.
Sherry Lang, a spokeswoman for the Georgia bureau, agreed that “there was not an involuntary commitment done on him.”
An involuntary commitment would have required going back to court and obtaining a formal ruling that he should be held longer, because he posed a risk to himself or others. Most of the court records, as is typical in such cases, were sealed, so it remains unclear whether the state or his doctors sought such a ruling.
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The federal rules interpreting the gun law specifically say that temporary detention for evaluation does not count as commitment, and does not bar someone from buying a gun. Neither does checking into a mental hospital voluntarily. Gun control advocates call that a loophole that allows people who are mentally unstable to buy a gun because they have never gone through the court system.
Mr. Houser bought his .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun at a pawnshop last year, and used it to kill two people watching a movie and wound nine others, before taking his own life.
Mr. Roof, who was captured after the Charleston shooting, was able to buy a gun because of sloppy record-keeping, officials say — another problem encountered in the background check system. He was arrested on Feb. 28 in Columbia, S.C., and law enforcement officials said that he admitted illegal drug possession to a police officer, which should have barred him from buying a gun.
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Experts say state and local authorities vary widely in whether they bother to add a drug offender to the federal database without a conviction. Even if they do, there is often a delay.
When Mr. Roof went to buy a gun in April, and a background check was requested, the F.B.I. examiner who handled the request saw that he had a recent arrest, and tried to get the police report. But a jail clerk had attributed the arrest to the wrong police force, so the F.B.I. examiner called the wrong agency, and never obtained the report.
If, after three business days, the F.B.I. has not given an answer to a background query, a gun dealer is free to make the sale. Mr. Roof walked out of the store with the semiautomatic pistol he would take to the church in Charleston two months later.
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