19 December 2014

History for the day

On 19 December 1984, Britain and China signed an accord returning Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

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

Making it happen

Obama Intends to Lift Several Restrictions Against Cuba on His Own

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MICHAEL R. GORDON 

Administration officials said travel and commerce restrictions could be lifted as early as next month.

BBC News - Apple to team up with IBM

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28323682


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BBC News - Apple profits up on iPhone sales

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28434334


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BBC News - Secret video of 'exhausted workforce' in Chinese factory making Apple products

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30540538


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BBC News - Fish discovered at new record depth of 8km in Pacific

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30543122?ocid=global_bbccom_email_19122014_top+video


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White House Doesn’t Rule Out Cybercounterattack in Sony Hack | TIME

http://time.com/3640419/sony-hack-north-korea-white-house/?xid=newsletter-brief


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18 December 2014

Tech in Cuba


Slate has an article by Ellery Roberts Biddle, an expert on digital culture in Cuba and the editor of Global Voices Advocacy, an international citizen media project promoting free speech online, about Cuba and technology:
The bombshell announcement that the US and Cuban governments have decided to re-establish diplomatic ties after more than fifty years of estrangement brought tears, joy, awe, and disbelief to Cubans across the globe. (And some anger from Cuban-Americans, too.) While President Obama’s speech was watchable in real time— televised and streamed live on the White House website— those outside of Cuba had to wait patiently for the text of Raul Castro’s speech to be transcribed and uploaded to Cuban state media sites. The brief address delivered by Cuba’s commander-in-chief was not streamed live because Cuba’s rickety Internet infrastructure could not support it. At least not yet.
Among thousands of other questions flying around the Internet and the streets of Miami, Havana, and Washington is the question of technology. What will these changes mean for Internet access and mobile telephony in Cuba? For now, little is certain. But there are a few things we can glean from what both leaders have said— and haven’t said— so far.
While Western advocates may rush to focus on how this will affect government policy and practice around the Internet, like surveillance and censorship, the impact of yesterday’s economic reforms on the tech environment in Cuba may be the most critical change to watch at the moment. With more money, more Cubans will be buy mobile phones and service. This does not mean that they will have Internet access— 3G is scarce at best on the island. But it will accelerate the changes that are already taking in place in Cuba, due to peoples’ increasing ability to connect with one another through mobile telephony. More than ever, news and information that once traveled only by word of mouth will now circulate more quickly and in greater volume. And Cubans’ ability to communicate with friends and family abroad will likely increase, too.
We can also anticipate an influx of tech objects and hardware on the island— computers, mobile phones, hard drives, and pen drives are all in high demand in Cuba, and they are not easy to come across. The changes will, without question, make it easier for Cubans to obtain tech objects that will in turn enable greater communication and information sharing on the island.
Greater access to capital will also enable more Cubans to get online at hotel business centers and Internet cafes, where rates (ranging from $4.50 to $12.00 per hour) are out of reach for most of the population. This will increase not only the number of Cubans who use the Internet themselves, but also the quantity and diversity of digital media in circulation on the island. Videos, music, news, and literature regularly circulate secondhand via pen drive, mobile phone apps, and other lightweight mechanisms for data storage; a person with Internet access downloads a video, puts it on a pen drive, and circulates it hand-to-hand among friends who watch the video, copy it, and distribute it to more friends. The importance of these second-hand networks, what Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo once termed Cuba’s “Internet offline”, must not be overlooked.
It is hard to glean much from what the two leaders said about telecommunications policy specifically. After acknowledging that US sanctions on the country have for years “denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe,” Obama stated:
I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba. Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.
This promising but vague assertion raises a lot of questions— what kinds of businesses is he talking about? What kinds of goods? In recent years, telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T have pushed to loosen restrictions on their industries in an effort to enter negotiations with the Cuban government. And they have made progress since Obama came into office. But this is only one of two hurdles. The second is the Cuban government, which, like every country, imposes requirements and restrictions on foreign businesses that wish to establish themselves on their soil.
With a few exceptions, foreign companies can enter contracts with the Cuban government only if they are willing to transfer fifty-one percent ownership of their holdings on the island to the Cuban government itself. In effect, this means that all foreign businesses are still majority-owned by the Cuban government. It is hard to imagine that the Cuban state policy on this has changed altogether. Obama’s words suggest that this may have been part of their negotiations, but Raul Castro’s only mention of the issue suggested that the ball was still in Obama’s court. The Cuban president didn’t discuss changing Cuban tech policy or infrastructure, but said only that he “called upon the government of the United States to remove obstacles hindering telecommunications.”
So plenty remains uncertain. Obama cannot unilaterally dismantle all US government policies limiting contact and commerce with Cuba; as both leaders noted, the embargo is codified in legislation that only Congress can change. And, although Obama advocated for leaders on both sides to move forward and leave behind their respective legacies of “colonialism and communism” it is not clear how this will play out in practice. Old habits die hard, and trust is no easier to build in the digital era than it was in 1961.
Rico says they need to get on with this; he's gotta be in Havana in May of 2015...

Beatle for the day

Paul McCartney appears as a hologram within the gameplay of Destiny in the music video for Hope for the Future, a single he wrote exclusively for the game:


Rico says he saw this on Late Night with the ladyfriend, but it's a game, so it doesn't really interest him...

What the announcement on Cuba really means


Buzzfeed has an article by Hayes Brown about the changing situation with Cuba:
The Obama administration recently announced that, after more than fifty years, the U.S. would be overhauling its policies toward Cuba. The most visible sign of the US’ stance on Cuba since 1960— the year after Communist leader Fidel Castro took control of the island— has been the economic embargo on Cuba, blockading most travel and nearly all trade to the island country.
After the embargo was put into place, a failed US attempt to launch a counterrevolution against Castro at the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, sowed mistrust between the two countries that has lasted for decades.
The US isn’t fully lifting the embargo now. But, under the newly announced rules, the US will allow export of goods to be used by Cuba’s fledgling private sector. That includes, according to the White House, “certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.” The goal is to “make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards” and depend less on the Cuban government for things. For those asking, yes, Americans will now be allowed to import Cuban cigars (photo, above) and rum, but no more than a hundred dollars' worth.
The embargo has for years been opposed internationally, particularly since the Cold War ended in 1991. Recently, there’s been a shift inside the US, too.
Since 1961, the two countries have had no official diplomatic ties. Now the State Department is launching talks to restore those ties, and open an embassy in Havana.
One of the things that will change under the new rules: some of the restrictions on travel. When Jay Z and Beyoncé went to Havana last year, it was under the auspices of a special kind of visa. The Americans went to Cuba under what’s called a “people-to-people” license, designed to facilitate cultural exchange between Americans and Cubans. Because of that, they were forced to forgo most touristy things in favor of a strictly adhered to schedule of things like walking tours of Havana’s architecture.
The US will also review Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation that’s been in place since 1982, thanks to its Cold War-era support of communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. This isn’t the first set of adjustments that the Obama administration has made toward U.S.-Cuba policy since taking office, but it is certainly the biggest. Back in 2009, the White House announced that it was lifting the ban on travel for family members visiting Cuba and restrictions on remittances paid back to family members still living on the island. The US also freed telecommunications providers to work with Cuban companies and added some humanitarian items to the list of those things able to be shipped to Cuba.
The Associated Press has recently revealed how USAID tried to foment dissent through a US-built Cuban Twitter, as well as by trying to co-opt Cuban hip-hop artists. USAID director Rajiv Shah recently resigned, but it’s unclear if the two are related.
American USAID contractor Alan Gross, whom Cuba had accused of spying, returned home as part of a separate deal. The US also swapped three convicted Cuban spies for a US intelligence asset, and Cuba agreed to release 53 political prisoners.
But congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, are unhappy with the policy shift. GOP senators are already promising to block funding for embassy work and any US ambassador to Cuba’s confirmation.
So, for those of you who have always wanted to legally own a Cuban cigar: welcome to the future.
Rico says he wonders why it is that he can only hear JFK's voice saying 'Cuber':

Boko Haram, kidnapping more women and children

Ben Mathis-Lilley has a Slate article about those Boko Haram wackos:
The reports have become so routine as to have a numbing effect, and here's another: more than a hundred women and children have been kidnapped in northeastern Nigeria, and the terrorist group Boko Haram is likely responsible. 
From Reuters:
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped more than a hundred women and children and killed 35 other people during a raid on the remote northeast Nigerian village of Gumsuri, a security source and resident said on Thursday.
The militants were also reported to have burned down a medical center as well as some houses and stores.
In October of 2014, Boko Haram's purported leader denied reports that a potential truce might lead to the return of the two-hundred-plus girls kidnapped from a school in the town of Chibok in April of 2014.
Rico says that somebody's gotta find these assholes and kill them...

Exonerated, seventy years after execution


Slate has an article by Laura Bradley about justice, a little late:
In 1944, it took twelve white men ten minutes to convict fourteen-year-old George Stinney Jr. (photo) for beating two young white girls to death. On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullins vacated the decision, which sent Stinney to the electric chair on what civil rights advocates have said for years was a coerced confession.
In Alcolu, a small town in South Carolina, NBC News reports that Stinney confessed to beating two girls, ages eleven and eight, with a railroad spike. He weighed 95 pounds when he was arrested, and was so small he had to sit on a phone book in the electric chair when he was executed within three months of the murders.
Civil rights advocates have pushed for the case to be reopened for years, NBC News reports. “He is often cited as the youngest person executed in the US in the twentieth century,” according to NBC News. According to The Grio, his trial lasted around three hours, with no witnesses called to his defense. “No physical evidence or trial transcript exists,” The Grio reports.
NBC News notes that “in a 2009 affidavit, Stinney’s sister said she had been with him on the day of the murders and he could not have committed them.”
Ray Brown, who’s producing a film called 83 Days, based on Stinney’s execution timeline, said he was overwhelmed by the ruling. “It’s never too late for justice,” Brown said. “There’s no statute of limitations on justice. One of the things I can say about South Carolina and I can give them credit for is that they got it right this time. During a period of time in our nation where we seem to have such a great racial divide, you have a southern state that has decided to admit they made a mistake and correct it.”
Rico says yeah, great; Stinney, wherever he is, surely is happy they corrected it...

Nigeria sentences 54 soldiers to death for refusing to fight Boko Haram.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/12/17/nigeria_sentences_54_soldiers_to_death_for_refusing_to_fight_boko_haram.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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Cuban cigars legal: Embargo stands, but travelers can import $100 of tobacco and alcohol products.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/12/18/cuban_cigars_legal_embargo_stands_but_travelers_can_import_100_of_tobacco.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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Navy ghostswimmer robot fish looks like a shark.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/12/18/navy_ghostswimmer_robot_fish_looks_like_a_shark.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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Mark Seymour
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Russia's currency crisis calmed down today. Don't expect it to last.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/12/17/russia_s_currency_crisis_calmed_down_today_don_t_expect_it_to_last.html


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No surprise in Sony hack; it's NK

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/12/17/u_s_officials_say_north_korea_a_key_player_in_sony_hack.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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Fwd: Interesting



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Begin forwarded message:

From: Esha Thornton <eshathornton@gmail.com>
Date: December 17, 2014 at 20:52:17 EST
To: Mark Seymour <mseymour@proofmark.com>
Subject: Interesting

History for the day

On 18 December 1957, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, the first civilian nuclear facility to generate electricity in the United States, went online.

How America’s Relationship With Cuba Will Change - NYTimes.com

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/17/world/americas/cuba-sanctions.html?emc=edit_th_20141218&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=55770404&_r=0


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NOAA Arctic Report Card Shows a Rapid Rise in Arctic Air Temperatures | TIME

http://time.com/3639361/noaa-arctic-report-climate-change-polar-bears/?xid=newsletter-brief


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Civil War for the day

A snowball fight among Confederate soldiers.

17 December 2014

Havana in 2015, hopefully

Rico says things are looking better for the Sesquicentennial of the CSS Stonewall...

Alan Gross, Che Guevara portrait: Former Cuba prisoner captured in strange juxtaposition.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/12/17/alan_gross_che_guevara_portrait_former_cuba_prisoner_captured_in_strange.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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Regal, AMC, Cinemark, and Carmike will not play Sony’s The Interview movie following terror threats.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/12/17/regal_amc_cinemark_and_carmike_will_not_play_sony_s_the_interview_movie.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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The Army's JLENS surveillance blimp takes to the skies over Maryland.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/12/17/the_army_s_jlens_surveillance_blimp_takes_to_the_skies_over_maryland.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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U.S.-Cuba prisoner exchange: This could be the beginning of the end of the embargo.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2014/12/17/u_s_cuba_prisoner_exchange_this_could_be_the_beginning_of_the_end_of_the.html?wpsrc=slatest_newsletter&sid=5388f344dd52b8e411003d4e


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A holiday story


Rico's friend Dave, the arch-perv, forwards this holiday story:
Police work can be entertaining as well as dangerous. Recently, a female sheriff's deputy arrested Patrick Lawrence, a twenty-two year old white male, who was fornicating with a pumpkin in the middle of a field at night. The next day, at the Gwinnett County, Georgia courthouse, Lawrence was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, public indecency and public intoxication.
The suspect explained that he was passing a pumpkin patch on his way home from a drinking session when he decided to stop. 'You know how a pumpkin is soft and squishy inside, and there was no one around for miles, or at least I thought there was no one around', he stated.  Lawrence went on to say that he pulled over to the side of the road, picked out a pumpkin that he felt was appropriate to his purpose, cut a hole in it, and proceeded to satisfy his pressing need. 'Guess I was really into it, y'know?' he commented, with evident embarrassment.
In the process of doing the deed, Lawrence failed to notice an approaching sheriff's car, and was unaware of his audience until Deputy Brenda Taylor approached him.
'It was an unusual situation, that's for sure,' said Deputy Taylor. 'I walked up to Lawrence and he's just humping away at this pumpkin.' Taylor went on to describe what happened when she approached Lawrence. 'I said: 'Excuse me sir, but do you realize that you're having sex with a pumpkin?' He froze and was clearly very surprised that I was there, and then he looked me straight in the face and said: 'A pumpkin? Shit... is it midnight already?' The court and the judge could not contain their laughter. Lawrence was found guilty only of public intoxication, fined a hundred dollars, and sent on his way. The Washington Post wrote an article describing this as "the best come-back line ever".
Rico says it's not only the best comeback line, it's the best line while coming, ever...
(But the pumpkin became a golden carriage, as Disney explains: "The Pumpkin Coach is a beautiful coach made for Cinderella by her Fairy Godmother so she can attend the ball. At the stroke of midnight, it turned back into a pumpkin", so he didn't understand the story, either.)

America and Cuba to open diplomatic relations


Buzzfeed has an article by a bunch of reporters about the news out of Cuba:
What we know so far: 
The U.S. and Cuba have reached a historic agreement to normalize relations.
America will open an embassy in Havana.
There will be relaxed restrictions on US travelers visiting Cuba, and Americans can return with a limited number of goods, including cigars.
Part of the agreement was the release of Alan Gross, an American held in Cuba for five years on espionage allegations, for humanitarian reasons. Both nations have also exchanged alleged spies who were imprisoned.
The White House credited Pope Francis in bringing the longtime rivals to the negotiating table. Alan Gross thanked President Obama in his remarks, and said he supports the new policies towards Cuba. “What a blessing it to be a citizen of this country and thanks to President Obama for everything you have done today and leading up to today.” He also thanked people who visited him and “subjected themselves to some of my ranting. To all those who tried to visit me but were unable to: thank you. I’m at your service as soon as I get some new teeth.” (Gross lost about five while in prison.)
Gross said he had the “utmost respect for and fondness of the people of Cuba. In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected. Cubanos are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly. I truly hope we can get beyond these mutually belligerent policies.”
Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, who was part of the congressional delegation to welcome newly-freed Alan Gross, shared that Gross had kind words for John Kerry, who had also flown into Andrews. “Secretary Kerry’s plane flew in around the same time and Alan said to the Secretary of State: ‘thank you for not forgetting me’,” McGovern said. McGovern, who has long been pushing for changes to America’s policy towards Cuba, told BuzzFeed News that he and other members of Congress who were part of the delegation only found about Gross’ release from a Cuban jail last night. Vice President Joe Biden called McGovern on Tuesday night to share the news. McGovern called Gross “gracious and grateful” to members.
When Gross’ lawyer told him over the phone that he would be flown back to the US, there was a long pause. Then he said: “I’ll believe it when I see it,” the family spokeswoman said. When Gross boarded the plane, filled with elected officials, “there was a big bowl of popcorn waiting for Alan, because that was one of the things he said he missed over the last five years.” There was also a corned beef beef sandwich on rye with mustard, and latkes with applesauce and sour cream.
When the pilot announced they had left Cuban airspace. Alan stood up on the plane, took a deep breath, and called his two daughters. President Obama called him on the plane on the way back and congratulated him on his freedom. Gross thanked him. When the plane landed, more elected officials met Gross. Secretary of State John Kerry was coincidentally at Andrews Air Force Base, and watched Obama’s speech with Gross.
Text of remarks by Raul Castro (on screen):
Fellow countrymen, since my election as President of the State Council and Council of Ministers, I have reiterated in many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality, in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national independence and self-determination of our people.
This stance was conveyed to the US Government, both publicly and privately, by Comrade Fidel on several occasions during our long-standing struggle, stating the willingness to discuss and solve our differences without renouncing any of our principles.
The heroic Cuban people, in the wake of serious dangers, aggressions, adversities, and sacrifices has proven to be faithful and will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice. Strongly united throughout these fifty-six years of Revolution, we have kept our unswerving loyalty to those who died in defense of our principles since the beginning of our independence wars in 1868.
Today, despite the difficulties, we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released this statement:
“Today, the United States secured the release of a Cuban individual from a Cuban prison who provided critical assistance to the United States. Information provided by this person was instrumental in the identification and disruption of several Cuban intelligence operatives in the United States, and ultimately led to a series of successful Federal espionage prosecutions. This man, whose sacrifices were known only to a few, has spent nearly twenty years in a Cuban prison due to his efforts on behalf of the United States. While many details of this individual’s cooperation remain classified, with his release today we can now discuss some of his contributions to our national security.
He provided the information that led to the identification and conviction of Defense Intelligence Agency senior analyst Ana Belen Montes; former Department of State official Walter Kendall Myers and his spouse Gwendolyn Myers; and members of the Red Avispa network, or Wasp Network, in Florida, which included members of the so-called Cuban Five.
In light of his sacrifice on behalf of the United States, securing his release from prison after twenty years in a swap for three of the Cuban spies he helped put behind bars is fitting closure to this Cold War chapter of US-Cuban relations.” 
Jeb Bush and the Republicans, of course, didn't like it:
Jeb Bush spoke out against the policy changes, according to USA Today: “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship” until Cuba changes, Bush said. Bush is the former governor of Florida. He has announced he was “actively exploring” the possibility of running for president in 2016.
Two Republican senators effectively threatened to block congressional funding for a future US Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.
“I anticipate I’ll be the chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee” in the new Congress, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a press conference hours after the release of American prisoner Alan Gross from a Cuban prison was announced, along with the administration’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba, including opening an embassy there. “I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated, and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said. “I intend to use every tool at our disposal in the majority to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” Rubio said.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted: “I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time.”
Much of the policy changes can be achieved through executive actions but, because Congress has ultimate control over how Federal funds will be spent, Obama can’t begin the process of constructing a new embassy in Havana without congressional approval.
A Senate Democratic appropriations aide acknowledged the administration also can’t simply repurpose funds that have already been appropriated to the State Department, explaining: “Any repurposing must be approved by the Appropriations Committee,” which, starting in January of 2015, will be controlled by the Republicans.
Rubio said that opponents of the changes in US policy toward Cuba will look to see if all of the changes fall within the “letter of the law”, though he acknowledged that many of the changes announced by the Obama administration fall “within the purview of the presidency”. Rubio said he had learned of the planned changes last night, and had received a call from Secretary of State John Kerry to brief him this morning. “This Congress is not going to lift the embargo,” Rubio said. Rubio criticized the changes, arguing that the shift will perpetuate the Cuban dictatorship, as well as the Venezuelan regime, which Cuba supports. He criticized Obama for swapping actual spies for a civilian, which he argued would set a precedent for other innocent Americans to be held hostage abroad.
House Speaker John Boehner called the deal part of a “long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship” in a statement:
Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom, and not one second sooner. There is no ‘new course’ here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies. If anything, this emboldens all state sponsors of terrorism, as they now have an even better idea of what the president meant when he once told Russian leaders he would have ‘more flexibility’ after his re-election. We have seen this before, and I fear we will see it again.
Despite these reservations about the President’s changes in our policy toward this Communist regime, we all feel great joy and relief for Alan Gross and his family. Americans does not forget our own, and we speak out today because we have a moral responsibility not to forget anyone anywhere who longs for liberty and dignity.
Rico says he'd long hoped for this; now, maybe, he and his friends might be able to afford to go to Havana next year for the sesquicentennial of the CSS Stonewall...

Apple for the day: nyet


The BBC has an article about Apple and Russia:
Technology giant Apple says it cannot sell products online in Russia because the rouble's value is too volatile for it to set prices. The company stopped sales of its iPhones (photo), iPads, and other products in the country after a day in which the currency went into free-fall. The rouble has lost more than twenty percent this week, despite a dramatic decision to raise interest rates from nearly eleven percent to seventeen percent.
By afternoon, the rouble was flat, with one dollar buying 68 roubles. Its all-time low, set on Wednesday, saw one dollar buying as many as 79 roubles.
Apple last month increased its prices in Russia by twenty percent, after the weakening rouble left products in the country cheaper than in the rest of Europe.
Russia's central bank said it had spent almost two billion dollars intervening in the currency market. It has spent around eighty billion dollars trying to prop up the rouble this year, but despite that, the currency has lost more than half its value against the dollar since January of 2014, with cheaper oil and Western sanctions over its stance over the Ukraine the chief factors. Both of these have weakened the Russian economy.
Russia's central bank has pledged fresh further measures to try to stabilize its currency, with First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov describing the situation as "critical".
The rouble's slide this week was prompted by fears that the US was considering a fresh set of sanctions against the country for its support for separatists in the Ukraine.
Rico says the old Khruschev line rings a little hollow these days:

The Hobbit for the day




Angela Watercutter has a Slate review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies:
The final chapter of Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien saga hits theaters today. As a movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is fine. If nothing else, it’s a greatest-hits collection of everything you’ve loved about Jackson’s Middle Earth epics— dragons! battles! sorcery! and stuff!— in one series-ending package. It’s also the last piece you’ll need to complete that neat row of DVDs on your entertainment center. You just have to wait a few more months for it to get out of theaters.
A lot of smack gets talked about Hollywood’s penchant for taking breaking books into multiple films in pursuit of the almighty box office dollar. But while previous book-splitting infractions— Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games— have resulted in a series’ final novel being cut in two, Jackson took what is essentially the first (and shortest, if you don’t count the “appendices”) book of a series, The Hobbit, and turned it into three features totaling eight hours released over three years. It was a bit ambitious, if not egregious, and probably a bigger commitment than anyone should have to make seeing their favorite book come to the big screen.
But what if Jackson’s Tolkien saga isn’t made for the big screen at all? Sure, Jackson’s films look great as big, high-frame-rate 3-D spectacles, but the first two Hobbit films, at least until the end of The Desolation of Smaug, mostly felt like a likable group of chaps taking a jaunt through the countryside. Fine, but kind of boring. (As Wired’s Laura Hudson noted last year when discussing the penultimate film’s “crisis creep” problem: “This isn’t a story about saving the world. It’s about a bunch of dwarves on a side-quest for some loot.”) You took a similar journey to the multiplex each year to see them, like a duty-bound dwarf, but you knew you were going to get three hours of Beginning or Middle, but never the Epic Conclusion.
But next year is when the saga truly ends, when you can plop down in front of the television during the holidays and watch all three movies. In order. The way they were meant to be seen. Then follow that with the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s taken thirteen years, six trips to the theater, and more than seventeen hours (1,032 minutes), but the series is finally complete. Soon it will sit next to your new Batman discs, ready for the next binge-watching weekend or drinking-game-ready marathon. Huzzah!
Look, do I know that Peter Jackson just made six massive movies so you could be a completist about your media collection? No. And he probably didn’t. Considering how much he futzed with framerates and such, he definitely is here for the cinematic experience of the thing. But, after deciding The Hobbit needed three movies, he did say “much of the story… will remain untold if we do not take this chance” to split two films into three. He wanted to ensure the entirety of Tolkien’s universe had a movie counterpart, and left nothing to chance. He also knew going in that he could take as much time as he wanted. People weren’t going to be able to see his masterpieces only in triple-features at willing cinemas; they could watch on DVD or tune in to one of those marathons on Encore if they wanted to take in his films. Also, he’s a nerd for this stuff; he probably wants to be able to watch as long a version of Tolkien’s tale in his living room too. (One day, at least. Maybe not right now. Right now he needs to chill.) He also came of age as s director in the DVD generation. Surely he knows that being a fan means collecting all your favorite movies and binge-watching big trilogies for sport.
That’s okay. Because, frankly, walking out of The Battle of the Five Armies, the emotion I felt most was relief. I no longer had to wait in anticipation for another Tolkien adaptation from Jackson, didn’t have to breathlessly watch another new trailer and wonder about what he was working on in his Weta Hobbit hole. I knew. We’ll all know. The campaign is complete. You can love his Middle Earth sagas or hate them, or just think they’re bloated, but Peter Jackson has succeeded in making the most complete film adaptation of Tolkien’s universe he could.
And, one day, when you look around the room at your friends or family and say: “Guys, anyone want to see if we can get through both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies this weekend?”, you just might thank him.
Rico says you're better off not watching this POS at all... (Rico would never say that, and anyone who did would be liable for a smack in the gob.)

Idiot for the day


Slate has an article by Elliot Hannon about yet another dumb kid with gubs:
A high school student in Virginia was arrested recently for bringing a full arsenal of weapons to school. Local police were able to intercept eighteen-year-old Austin Martin after “the K9 Unit alerted on the student’s vehicle, which resulted in Middlesex Sheriff’s Office detectives recovering four loaded firearms, two of which were handguns, several knives, and over six hundred rounds of ammunition,” the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office said in a release. Some of the ammunition didn’t fit any of the weapons in Martin’s vehicle, meaning he presumably has more guns somewhere else.
It’s a pretty terrifying haul for a kid to bring to school, no matter how they were intended to be used, and police are still investigating the incident. Martin has been charged with a felony count of bringing firearms on school property and released on $1,500 bond.
Rico says that this was, to use an ugly phrase, a bit of overkill... And why did he get out so cheap (given that the bond fee is only $150), if he might still have other gubs somewhere?

Off the list


Conal Urquhart has a Time article via the BBC about the latest dumb move by the EU:
A top court of the European Union has annulled the bloc's decision to keep the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on a list of terrorist groups.
The decision had been based not on an examination of Hamas' actions, but on "factual imputations derived from the press and the internet", judges found. The court said the move was technical and was not a reassessment of Hamas' classification as a terrorist group. It said a funding freeze on the group would continue for the time being.
Hamas dominates Gaza and fought a fifty-day war with Israel earlier this year. Under its charter, the movement is committed to Israel's destruction.
Responding to the ruling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was a "murderous terrorist organization", which should be put back on the list immediately.
Israel, the United States, and several other nations have designated Hamas a terrorist organization due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence.
Hamas, which was founded in 1987, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and reinforced its power in Gaza the following year after ousting its Fatah rivals. Its supporters see it as a legitimate resistance movement against Israel, with whom it has fought for years.
In December of 2001, the Council of the European Union, representing the governments of member states, adopted a "common position" and a regulation to combat terrorism. It established a list of designated entities and people whose funds would be frozen. Hamas' military wing, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, was named on the initial list, and its political wing was added two years later.
Hamas contested the decision and the EU's General Court found it had been "based, not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities, but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet".
The court said it was therefore annulling Hamas' designation, but would temporarily keep existing measures against the group "in order to ensure the effectiveness of any possible future freezing of funds".
This would be maintained for three months, or, if an appeal is brought before the European Court of Justice, until it was closed, it added. "The court stresses that those annulments, on fundamental procedural grounds, do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group within the meaning of the common position."
Hamas deputy political leader Moussa abu Marzouk (photo) said the decision was "a correction of a historical mistake". "Hamas is a resistance movement, and it has a natural right according to all international laws and standards to resist the occupation," he told the Reuters news agency.
But European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the EU continued to "consider Hamas a terrorist organization" and would consider its response to the ruling.
The Israeli economy minister called the court's decision immoral. "Israel is strong and can defend itself against its enemies, but those who will suffer from strengthening terrorist groups will be the Europeans themselves," Naftali Bennett warned.
Hours after the ruling, the European Parliament adopted a compromise resolution supporting "in principle, recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution", and calling for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to be "advanced".
The original text had called for unconditional recognition, in line with resolutions passed by several national legislatures in recent months.
Rico says that that's a hell of a great Scottish name, Urquhart. (But the Jews still should've taken Baja when they had the chance, screw the Old Testament...)

Gubs in Australia


Elizabeth Barber has a Time article about the shootout in Sydney:
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (photo) has said that the nation’s gun laws and national security policies are up for serious review after a disturbed man, on bail for being accessory to a murder and facing other charges, was able to acquire a firearm and take over a central Sydney, Australia café, leading to the deaths of two hostages.
The Prime Minister told reporters that it troubled him to be unable to explain how Man Haron Monis managed to get off watch lists, despite a well-documented history of extremist beliefs, mental problems, and violent behavior. He has ordered Federal and New South Wales officials to conduct a massive review of how Monis went for years unnoticed by the authorities. “Plainly, there are questions to be asked,” said Abbott. “And I want answers to those questions.” Among those questions, he said, is how “someone involved in a horrific murder” and out on bail was allowed to have a gun license.
At the time Monis entered the Lindt Chocolat Café in Martin Place, taking seventeen people hostage at gunpoint, he was awaiting trial for acting as an accessory to the murder of his former wife, Noleen Hayson Pal. He was also facing more than forty sexual-assault charges involving seven alleged victims.
Abbott also said it was unclear why Monis was dropped from Australia’s terrorism watch list in 2009. Monis, who is Iranian-born, was added to the list in 2008 and 2009, after he sent threatening letters to the families of dead armed service members. He was sentenced for that crime in 2009 and lost his last appeal just days before the attack.
“He was being looked at,” said Abbott. “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list. I really don’t.”
Monis, fifty, was killed, along with the café manager and another hostage, when police broke the sixteen-hour standoff and stormed the café.
Abbott said he could neither confirm nor deny that Iran had at one point sought to extradite Monis, saying only that Monis “has a very jagged history.”
The Iranian police have said they sought Monis’ extradition fourteen years ago for fraud and “violent” offenses, but were rebuffed by authorities in Australia, where Monis received political asylum and lived on public benefits. Abbot said that Monis appeared to be “having a lend at us”, using a colloquial Australian phrase meaning to fool or trick.
Rico says that this response was to be expected, but they should've given him to the Iranians...

Dalai Lama for the day


Naina Bajekal has a Time article about the end of a long line:
The Dalai Lama has conceded that the title may die with him, and that it is “up to the Tibetan people” to decide whether someone follows him. In a BBC interview, the 79-year-old leader said: “The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease. There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama,” he said.
The fourteenth Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, is the longest-serving leader, having held the title since he was fifteen years old. Each Dalai Lama is thought to be reincarnated in the body of a male child identified by Buddhist priests in Tibet.
A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the current Dalai Lama has been in exile in India ever since an attempted uprising in Tibet in 1959. He now supports a “middle way” with China, hoping for autonomy, but not independence, for Tibet.
The BBC has more:
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has said he realizes that he may be the last to hold the title. But, he told the BBC, it would be better that the centuries-old tradition ceased "at the time of a popular Dalai Lama". He suggested the UK had taken a soft line with China over Hong Kong's recent student-led pro-democracy protests for financial reasons. He also said the international community needed to do more to encourage democracy in China. "China very much wants to join the mainstream world economy," he said. "They should be welcome, but at the same time the free world has a moral responsibility to bring China into mainstream democracy for China's own interests."
The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, after Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in Tibet. Beijing, China views the Nobel Peace Prize-winner as a "splittist", though he now advocates a "middle way" with China, seeking autonomy, but not independence, for Tibet.
In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC's Newsnight program during a visit to Rome, Italy for the 14th World Summit of Nobel Laureates, the 79-year-old spiritual leader conceded that he may not have a successor. Whether another Dalai Lama came after him would depend on the circumstances after his death and was "up to the Tibetan people", he said. He pointed out that the role no longer included political responsibilities; in 2011, the Dalai Lama handed them to an elected leader of the Tibetan government in exile, The move was seen by many as a way the Dalai Lama could ensure the Tibetan community would have an elected leader in place outside the control of China. China has said repeatedly that it will choose the next Dalai Lama.
"The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease," the Dalai Lama told the BBC. "There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won't come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama."
Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest figure is the Panchen Lama, a figure who is meant to play a key role in the choice of the next Dalai Lama.
A young boy was named as Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in 1995, but China rejected this and chose its own candidate. The whereabouts of the Dalai Lama's choice are unknown. 
Rico says it's all stupid...

Kid protection


Mary Green and Dana Rose Falcone have a People article about Angelia Jolie and her kids:
Her kids have shown that they are more than up to the task of stepping in for her on the red carpet, but like most parents, Angelina Jolie says she's not sure if they're prepared for the digital world.
So how does the mother of six make sure her kids are safe on the Internet?  "We have someone who monitors that," Jolie, 39, told People in this week's cover story.
The Unbroken director calls herself "old-school" when it comes to technology, saying she doesn't use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and prefers writing things down in a notebook.
Still, Jolie understands the dangers that the Internet presents to children.  As a result, she and husband Brad Pitt hired a cyber security team to monitor the Internet and social media content that their children, who range from ages six to thirteen, encounter.  "It's a scary new world," the star says.
While Jolie's team controls the Twitter handle @AngelinaJolie, the account remains locked, meaning it doesn't follow anyone or accept followers.
"It's so beyond what we understand," Jolie says of she and Pitt, who isn't active on social media, either. "We wouldn't even know what to look for."
Ultimately, Jolie feels relieved that the technologies her kids use didn't exist when she was younger.  "I got in enough trouble," Jolie says. "It just would have been very documented."
Rico says it's good to be the prince and the princess, in this case, who can afford stuff like this...

Cruise control


Jacqueline Burt has an article about Tom Cruise:
Remember back in the day when those Dianetics commercials first started airing (with the volcano) and Scientology was all crazy mysterious (as opposed to just crazy)? Or maybe you don't remember those commercials, because you're not as ancient as me. That's okay, because chances are you can still remember a time when Scientology was the hot celeb cult religion lifestyle trend pyramid scheme whatever you want to call it, right?
Well, ever since Tom Cruise (photo) started acting a little, shall we say, odd, the church of Xenu has been slowly losing its prestige, with secrets leaking out all over the place in the form of tell-all books and celebrity escapes and snubbed potential spouses, and the latest nail in Scientology's coffin might be the most significant yet, especially because it was hammered in there by none other than L. Ron Hubbard's chosen one.
So, you know how we've all always, always known that Katie Holmes most likely divorced Tom Cruise to get Suri away from Scientology before she got old enough for that creepy, creepy, creepy version of twenty questions that asks people if they blew up planets and shit? But nobody ever confirmed it, exactly. Well, Cruise let the truth slip while giving a (long-ass) deposition as part of his defamation suit against In Touch magazine.
Apparently lawyers asked him if Holmes divorced Cruise to “in part, protect Suri from Scientology," and that's when the Top Gun star flipped, saying: “Listen, I find that question offensive. I find it, those statements offensive. Like with any relationship, there are many different levels to it. You know, I, I find it very offensive. There is no need to protect my daughter from my religion.”
And then the lawyers asked: “And Ms. Holmes has never indicated in any way that was one of the reasons she left you …to protect Suri from Scientology?”
And finally Cruise said: “Did she say that? That was one of the assertions, yes.”
Whoa!! Let's break that down: Did she say that? So right there, we know that Tom is pissed that Katie sang like a cult-traumatized canary. (Uh-oh.) And then we have: that was one of the assertions, yes. Which is code, obviously, for that was one of the blasphemous allegations made by my former wife who will suffer the wrath of Xenu forevermore.
Wow! I must say I'm surprised Cruise didn't deny that one with all the passion of a lovestruck couch jumper. I mean, shoot, Scientology's PR team is gonna have to start working overtime to reverse all the recent damage!! (Either their PR team or their hit men.)
Rico says that it won't be funny if Scientology turns out to have hit men...

Hackers win again


NBC News has an article about Sony and the hackers:
Some movie theater chains are pulling Sony's film The Interview from their lineups in the face of the threat of a September 11th-style attack against theaters who screen the upcoming movie. Hackers who go by the name Guardians of Peace and who stole untold amounts of sensitive data from Sony Pictures Entertainment made the threat. The hackers oppose the release of Sony's comedy, which portrays the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Sony reached out to movie theater owners, following the threat, to say the studio is going forward with plans to release the film, but that it would support theaters' decisions not to show the movie, sources told NBC News. Carmike Cinemas, which has 238 theaters in forty states, told Sony it was pulling the film, sources said. Hours later, a Landmark Theatres spokesperson said it was canceling the movie's New York City premiere, scheduled for Thursday night at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
The stars of The Interview, Seth Rogen and James Franco, have also cancelled media appearances, including a scheduled appearance for tonight on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
A Department of Homeland Security official said that the agency was aware of the threat, but had "no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States."
Rico says that no movie chain in its right mind is gonna risk the threat being real...

Dumb idea


Jack Linshi has a Time article about a ridiculously expensive idea:
The United States Olympics Committee (USOC) has unanimously approved a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.
The four possible bid cities are Boston, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco and Los Angeles in California, whose representatives gave pitches to the committee recently, according to a USOC statement. A selection for the bid will be made in January of 2015, and the International Olympic Committee will select a host city in 2017, after reviewing all submitted bids.
The organization’s last decision to bid to host the Olympics was for the 2016 Games, which was awarded to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil instead of Chicago, Illinois. The USOC had decided not to bid for the 2020 Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo, Japan.
The last Summer Olympics to be held in the US were the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
Rico says it's your tax dollars that are gonna pay for this...

History for the day

Most people won't remember, but Rico does, and Alan Cowell has an article in The New York Times about it:


New inquiry sought in 1961 death of Dag Hammarskjold
Sweden has asked the United Nations to reopen an investigation to establish whether an aerial attack brought down the Secretary General's plane over a mining town in Africa:
It has been one of Africa’s enduring mysteries, redolent of days when mercenaries roamed the bushlands and outsiders scrambled to exploit a continent’s riches as it struggled for independence: how and why did Dag Hammarskjold, then the United Nations secretary general, die?
The DC-6 airplane carrying Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat, crashed in September of 1961 as it approached Ndola, a mining town in Zambia, at the time called Northern Rhodesia. Official inquiries failed to explain what happened.
But last year, a United Nations panel concluded that there was “persuasive evidence that the aircraft was subjected to some form of attack or threat as it circled to land at Ndola.”
Sweden has formally asked the United Nations General Assembly to reopen the investigation. Significantly, the request included an appeal for all member states to release any hitherto-unpublished records, a reference aimed largely at securing the declassification of American and British files, particularly intercepts thought to have been made at the time by the National Security Agency.
The issue is not simply a matter of historical loose ends. “This has been an open wound in Sweden for more than fifty years,” the Swedish envoy to the United Nations, Per Thoresson, told Agence France-Presse. “We are anxious to try to have closure.”
A definitive explanation of the crash would throw light on a critical moment in Africa’s history during the Cold War. It coincided with a time of secession in the neighboring Congolese province of Katanga, where Belgian and other Western mining concerns held lucrative concessions producing uranium and cobalt.
Hammarskjold was on his way to meet a Katangese separatist leader, Moise Tshombe, in Ndola when his plane came down in wooded terrain a few miles from the airport. Delays in locating the wreckage (photo) magnified the question of whether pilot error was to blame, as one early inquiry suggested, or whether there had been foul play.
Conspiracy theories flourished: had the United Nations official died in the crash, or was he killed afterward by mercenaries? Had South Africa sabotaged the plane? Was it deliberately shot down to thwart Hammarskjold’s mission?
In a report issued in September of 2013, a United Nations panel, led by Stephen Sedley, a retired British judge, referred to evidence of a second airplane flying close to or alongside the DC-6, named the Albertina, carrying Hammarskjold.
A Belgian former pilot was quoted as saying that he had been under orders to force the plane to divert to Kolwezi, a mining center in Katanga, and had fired warning shots that accidentally clipped the DC-6 and brought it down. “The aerial attack claim,” the report said, “is in our judgment capable of proof or disproof”. It concluded, moreover, that the United States had access to crucial evidence that could prove to be a so-called golden thread in a maze of uncertainty. “It is highly likely that the entirety of the local and regional Ndola radio traffic on the night of 17th-18th September 1961 was tracked and recorded by the NSA, and possibly also by the CIA,” the report said.
Indeed, the report continued, a Freedom of Information Act request to the NSA drew a response that two of three documents it sought “appeared to be exempt from disclosure by reason of ‘top secret’ classification on national security grounds”.
In his request for a new inquiry at the United Nations, Thoresson, the Swedish diplomat, repeated the call for secret documents to be released. The aim, he said, is “to help shed new light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Dag Hammarskjold and those on board his flight, not only by bringing existing documents forward, but also by providing the conditions necessary to finally hear witnesses whose testimony has so far not been given due attention”.
Rico says some people are not gonna want this to get out...

16 December 2014

Best travel line ever

From the headline on an article by Alexander Maksik in Conde Nast Traveler:

Welcome to Hawai'i. Now go home.

A fat tire on the tarmac


The BBC has an article by Ken Wysocky about a new, hip vehicle:
The minimalist-chic Scrooser, an electric-powered, fat-tired conveyance designed for urban cruising is, as its maker succinctly describes it, a “mini-Harley-Davidson for the sidewalk”. The creation springs from inventor Jens Thieme and IFPE, a mobility-solutions firm  established by Thieme in Dresden, Germany, in 2011. On the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, the Scrooser drummed up nearly two hundred thousand dollars in funding from just over two hundred backers. “We think that means there’s a lot of market potential; that people believe in the Scrooser without even touching it,” says Red Mike, co-owner of Manicx, a multi-media marketing agency, based near Dresden, that represents IFPE.
“It’s for people who thought the Segway was cool, but felt they looked ridiculous on one,” adds Robert Fischer, the agency’s other co-owner. “This is the anti-Segway. And once people can test drive one and start seeing them on the streets, they’ll want one.”
Thieme and company are optimistic that urban commuters, weary of burning fuel as they sit in traffic jams and circle round blocks seeking parking spots, will jump at the chance to weave through the urban obstacle course and park hassle-free on sidewalks and plazas and. unlike riding a bicycle, do it without fatigue.
The Scrooser’s stems from the old Deutsch Democratic Republic (DDR) push-scooters popular in East Germany from the 1960s through the 1980s. But it brings decidedly modern technology to the table in the form of distinctive, specially made fat tires and an electric, rear-wheel hub motor.
Thieme designed the tires, inspired by those found on agricultural machines. Along with adding eye-catching style, the tires also offer a smoother, more stable ride. In fact, the tires are wide enough that the Scrooser can stand up on its own, although a spring-loaded double kickstand, tucked away under the footboard, is available for more stable parking on uneven terrain.
The electric motor maxes out at a thousand watts, but is curbed at only two-hundred-and-fifty so riders cannot exceed local speed limits for motorized vehicles. A Scrooser at full chat scoots along at a serviceable fifteen mph. Riders can elect to use impulse-drive mode for intermittent coasting and electric power, which kicks in whenever a driver pushes off by foot. Or they can keep the Scrooser in direct electric-drive mode by pressing a throttle button on the handlebars, which maintains steady electric power. Impulse-drive mode provides a longer range, over thirty miles, Fischer said.
A 36v lithium-ion battery, a specification favored by many producers of pedal-assist e-bikes. powers the motor. The battery is located amidships, under the footboard, and can be recharged in about three hours via the included standard charger unit (though plans are afoot to develop a quick-charger that would cut that charge time in half). Users can remove the battery for charging inside a home or office without bringing the machine itself indoors, Fischer explains.
The curved frame is made of a high-strength aluminium alloy. The Scrooser weighs a not inconsiderable sixty pounds.
Concerned about thieves? Remove the key and an ignition lock kicks in that prevents the tires from rolling. And, for extra security, users can also employ a pull-out, steel-cable lock embedded in the frame. Moreover, an integrated GPS unit makes it easy to track a stolen Scrooser via a smartphone.
Beta-testing of Scrooser prototypes will begin in January of 2015, and IFPE plans to start production shortly after that, with a price f about four thousand dollars. It enters a somewhat crowded market for eclectic, electric-powered scooters, including the Erector-Set-like, foldable URB-E, the funky Zümaround, and the elegant Unu. But Manicx principal Red Mike believes the Scrooser’s style sensibilities can win the day. “It’s going to get a lot of attention because people have never seen anything like this before,” he says. “It’s going to appeal to tastemakers who aren’t afraid to stand out.”
Rico says it's undoubtedly another one he can't have, but would like...

Rivals join Microsoft in fight over data


The BBC has an article about unlikely allies:
Apple and eBay are among those supporting Microsoft's stand against handing over data stored in Ireland to the US government. A year ago, prosecutors issued a warrant for emails stored by Microsoft in an Irish data center (photo), in connection with a drug-related investigation. The tech giant refused to comply, but was ordered by a judge in July of 2014 to hand over the information.
Microsoft has now filed letters of support from a large number of allies. These include tech firms Verizon, Amazon, Cisco, and HP, as well as trade associations like the US Chamber of Commerce and Digital Rights Ireland.
Various news organizations, such as CNN, the Guardian, and The Washington Post are on board, along with computer scientists from universities including Harvard, Stanford, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Earlier this year, New York judge James Francis said a warrant for online information was the equivalent of a subpoena and had to be obeyed.
The firm and its supporters argue that the center in Dublin, Ireland is outside US jurisdiction, while the prosecutors claim that, as the data itself is accessible by the firm from within the US, this does not apply.
"We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws," wrote Microsoft's Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, in a blog post. "In contrast, the US government's unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk."
Rico says the gummint has really pissed 'em off if Apple and Microsoft are joining forces...

A winter storm may hit this weekend


Sam Wood has a Philly.com article about the weather for the weekend:
Will it be a white Christmas, a grey Christmas, or a blue Christmas? It’s too early to tell, (after all, it’s a week away) but meteorologists say that there’s a decent chance a winter storm could drop some snow over the region this weekend. So, if you’re planning on traveling for the holiday, you might want to build in some extra time for potential delays.
Accuweather is predicting several winter storm scenarios, with one computer model calling for a “potential for accumulating snow” over Pennsylvania, North Jersey, and southern New York (see map, above; Gary Szatkowski, a NWS meteorologist, says the map "looks more white than wet").
“It’s not a certainty,” said Dean Iovino, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey. “We’ll have to see how things line up over the next couple of days.” We can be assured, however, the next few days will be free of stingingly cold weather. “It’s a fairly benign week,” Iovino said. “It looks like it will be on the mild side.”
Temperatures will reach a high of about fifty on Tuesday, dropping to the thirties overnight. On Wednesday, there’ll be more of the same with highs in the mid-fifties with a chance of afternoon showers. Cooler air will bring a chill to the region Thursday and Friday, with highs in the forties.
After the weekend it’s anyone’s guess. Accuweather said there’ll be a storm system moving up from the south. Depending on the track of the storm, there’ll be varying degrees of snow, ice, and rain, just in time to put a damper on your last-minute shopping.
Rico says that Oleg from Two Broke Girls put it best: "What's going to be blue this Christmas? My balls..."

Ex-Marine slays ex-wife and five of her relatives


Stephanie Farr, Morgan Zalot, Barbara Laker, and David Gambacorta have an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about a local wacko:
Who will tell the seventeen-year-old boy at his hospital bedside that his mother, father, sister, grandmother, great-grandmother, and aunt are dead when and if he wakes up?
Who will kneel and take the boy's hand gently into theirs, telling him that things will be okay, never knowing if they really will?
Who will acknowledge that he'll never again look forward to Christmas?
And will they be able to tell the boy that the man he once called uncle, the man accused of slaughtering his entire immediate family, has been captured?
In yesterday's predawn hours, Bradley William Stone, 35, a military veteran from Pennsburg in Montgomery County, systematically killed his ex-wife, Nicole Stone, and five other members of her family in three separate shooting scenes throughout the county, authorities said. Then he disappeared.
The only survivor of Stone's rampage was his nephew Anthony Flick, seventeen. He was shot in the head, according to a family member, but his condition was unknown last night.
Stone's whereabouts also remained unknown. However, about 7 pm, a man out walking his dog on Burpee Road in Doylestown was approached by a man who may have been Bradley Stone. According to Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, the suspect "accosted" the dogwalker, brandishing a knife and demanding that he hand over his car keys. The unidentified victim, who has a concealed-carry permit, pulled out a gun and fired at the attacker, who fled into nearby woods, Heckler said. It was unclear if the shots struck the attacker, who also may have been bitten by the resident's dog, Heckler said.
Investigators wouldn't confirm whether the subject of their search was Stone, but considered it "a strong possibility," due to "similarities" between the two men, Heckler said.
In a statement released later last night by Doylestown Township, the suspect in that incident was described as a white man, about 5 feet 10, wearing camouflage.
Suburban authorities called on Philadelphia Police's Tac Air helicopter for help in the search for that suspect. The chopper was called because it is equipped with thermal-imaging technology that can detect body heat.
The long, brutal, bloody day began about 4:25 am, when police responded to a 911 hang-up call at the house where Nicole Stone's mother and grandmother lived on West 5th Street in Lansdale. Both women were found slain inside, said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.
Just thirty minutes later, at 4:55 am, Montgomery County authorities received a 911 call from Nicole Stone's neighbor at the Pheasant Run Apartments on Main Street in Lower Salford. Responding officers found Nicole Stone, 33, dead inside her residence, Ferman said.
After allegedly killing his ex-wife, Bradley Stone grabbed his two young daughters from her house and dropped them off at the home of one of his Pennsburg neighbors about 5 am, police said.
That was the last confirmed sighting of Bradley Stone, Ferman said. "It's of great significance that the children are safe right now," she said.
While investigating the two scenes, authorities received information that led them to the Souderton home of Patricia Flick, Nicole Stone's sister, shortly before 8 am, Ferman said.
In a day filled with grisly crime scenes, authorities found the grimmest one at Flick's house. Found dead inside were Flick; her husband, Aaron; and their daughter, Nina, fourteen. Anthony Flick, their son, was found with a gunshot wound to the head, according to a relative, and he was rushed to an undisclosed Philadelphia hospital, where he remains in unknown condition.
Although police discovered the Flick family crime scene last, that shooting is believed to have been the first, around 3:30 am yesterday, Ferman said. It's unclear whether Bradley Stone next targeted his ex or the matriarchs of her family.
Sometime after dropping his daughters off at a neighbor's house, Stone ditched his car and his cellphone, which later were recovered by police at an undisclosed location, prosecutors said.
Authorities said Bradley Stone had closely cropped red hair and a red beard, but had shaved both as of Sunday night. He is 5 feet 10 and 195 pounds, and may use a walker or a cane. He also may be wearing military fatigues, police said.
Stone served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 2002 through 2008, according to Captain Eric Flanagan, a public-affairs officer with the Marines. He was discharged in 2011 with the rank of sergeant, said Flanagan, who was unable to describe "the character of his discharge".
While in the Marines, Stone deployed to Iraq and was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, according to Captain Maureen Krebs, another public-affairs officer.
Court records show that Stone pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of intoxicants twice, in 2003 and 2013, and is still on probation for the latter charge.
On his Facebook page, Stone says he likes AC/DC and The Walking Dead, and he has many tributes to fallen soldiers and veterans, specifically in the Marine Corps.
His favorite sayings included this one, from Marine General James Mattis:
"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."
Confusion reigned throughout the day as Montgomery County residents tried to make sense of the bizarre scenes playing out in their neighborhoods. For a good chunk of the morning, people were under the impression that Stone was holed up in a house in Souderton. About 11:45 am, a loud explosion echoed through the neighborhood. Within moments, an armored vehicle sped by, carrying a wounded person who neighbors assumed was Stone. The person was loaded into a waiting medevac helicopter.
Towamencin Township Police Chief Tim Dickinson said that Stone wasn't in the property, after all. He declined to comment on the condition or the identity of the wounded person who had been taken from the house. "Police went there this morning to check the well-being of the residents and they saw movement in the house, and that indicated the suspect might be in the house," he said.
With the Souderton site cleared, investigators turned their focus to Bradley Stone's house, about twenty minutes away on a narrow, sloping street in Pennsburg. A Marine flag swayed in the wind outside the twin home.
Officers used a megaphone to talk to Stone, if he was inside: "Bradley. This is the police. Come out with your hands up. You're under arrest," they said repeatedly. Numerous streets around his house were barricaded. At one point, the officers took an instrument to ram into the front door. No sound or signal came from inside.
In Lansdale, where Stone allegedly gunned down Nicole Stone's mother and grandmother, neighbors said her grandmother was named Patricia Hill. Her mom was Joanne, but neighbors didn't know her last name.
Neighbor Corlie Stills, 62, said that, after Bradley and Nicole Stone split, they apparently had a custody battle over their two children, who Stills and his wife, Barbara, said were both young girls. "Nicole and her ex-husband weren't getting along," Stills said. "They seemed to have a lot of spats," his wife added. "He'd come over to get the children and sometimes the police were called," Stills said. "He wasn't trying to get back with her. He came to get his children."
The couple said that sometimes Stone would show up at the house dressed in Marine fatigues. "He seemed like he was a gentleman, though. He never acted like a butthole around me," Stills said. "They had been separated quite some time."
After dusk fell last night, police tape still cordoned off the section of the Pheasant Run Apartments where Nicole Stone was shot dead.
"I just know her to see her around, she has two little girls," one woman said through her cracked-open front door, several yards down the road from Nicole Stone's apartment. "I have fear. I worry for the children." The woman, who has lived in the complex since 1997, said the apartments are usually quiet. She asked that the Daily News withhold her name because she was afraid.
Another neighbor who lived nearby sat outside smoking a cigarette. That woman, who also requested anonymity, said she and others in the complex were fearful last night knowing that an apparently deranged Bradley Stone was still on the streets. "It's scary. I don't know where or what he could be doing right now," she said. "It's crazy and just so sad for the kids."
Rico says you can always tell a Marine, but you can't tell 'em much, especially when they're shooting at you...
 

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