24 May 2015

Why Memorial Day



Tessa Berenson has a Time article about the holiday:
It’s easy to forget what Memorial Day actually means while you’re sitting by the pool and looking ahead at summer vacation, but the day signifies much more than just a three-day weekend.
Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor both Union and Confederate dead.
It’s unclear exactly where the holiday originated—Charleston, South Carolina, Waterloo, New York, Columbus, Georgia, and other towns all claim to be the birthplace of the holiday. The event in Charleston that may have precipitated the holiday offers poignant evidence of a country struggling to rebuild itself after a bloody war: 257 Union soldiers died in prison in Charleston during the Civil War, and were buried in unmarked graves, and the town’s black residents organized a May Day ceremony in which they landscaped a burial ground to properly honor the soldiers.
In the years following the Civil War, Memorial Day celebrations were scattered and, perhaps unsurprisingly, took root differently in the North and South. It wasn’t until after World War Two that the holiday gained a strong following and national identity, and it wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967.
The final event that cemented the modern culture of Memorial Day in America was in 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, designating Memorial Day as the last Monday in May rather than May 30th, as it had previously been observed. This ensured a three-day weekend, and gave the day its current status as the unofficial beginning of summer, mixing serious reflection with more lighthearted fun.
Rico says it's mostly a day off for working folks...

Coyotes in California again...

...and not ones bringing illegals across the border, as Rico's friend Kelley reports:

Kacey Montoya reports for the KTLA 5 News at 10 that a girl was attacked by a coyote while walking with her parents in Irvine:
A three-year-old girl was attacked by a coyote while walking with her parents in Silverado Park in Irvine, California on Friday evening. The incident occurred around 5:50 pm near the intersection of Equinox and Silverado in Irvine, according to Farrah Emami with the Irvine Police Department. The girl suffered superficial wounds, and was treated at a local hospital and released. Officials were still searching the neighborhood for the coyote.

Gay rights in Ireland? Amazing


The New York Times has an article by Danny Hakim and Douglas Dalby about a surprising vote in Ireland:
Ireland became the first nation to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.
With the final ballots counted, the vote was 62 percent in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, 38 percent opposed.
The turnout was large— more than sixty percent of the 3.2 million eligible voters cast ballots, and only one district out of 43 voted the measure down. Cheers broke out among the crowd of supporters who had gathered in the courtyard of Dublin Castle (photo, above) when Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile announced that the ballot had passed, 1,201,607 votes to 734,300.
Not long ago, the vote would have been unthinkable. Ireland decriminalized homosexuality only in 1993, the Catholic Church dominates the education system, and abortion remains illegal except when a mother’s life is at risk. But the influence of the Church has waned amid scandals in recent years, while attitudes, particularly among the young, have shifted.
“Today Ireland made history,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny said at a news conference, adding that “in the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement. This decision makes every citizen equal and I believe it will strengthen the institution of marriage,” Kenny said.
The vote is also the latest chapter in a sharpening global cultural clash. Same-sex marriage is surging in the West, legal in nineteen nations before the Irish vote and 37 American states, but almost always because of legislative or legal action. At the same time, homosexuality is illegal across much of the Middle East, and gay rights are under renewed attack in Russia and parts of Africa.
The results showed wide and deep support for a measure that had dominated public discourse and dinner-table conversation in the months before the vote. Supporters celebrated in gatherings and on the streets, with the rainbow colors of the gay rights movement and Yes vote buttons conspicuously on display.
Surprising many who had predicted a generational divide, the support cut across age and gender, geography and income, early results showed. With early vote counts suggesting a comfortable victory, crowds began to fill the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the center of British rule. By late morning, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, conceded the outcome on Twitter: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”
For older activists, the moment marked a profound evolution for their country. For the world, it suggested how far the gay rights movement has come, to make such a significant step in a country with a storied history as a religious stronghold.
“Throughout my youth, adolescence and young adulthood, it was a criminal offense to be gay,” said David Norris, a seventy-year-old Irish senator and longtime activist. He said he had faced “total isolation” as a young man. “There was silence on the subject,” he said. “It wasn’t mentioned in the newspapers, it wasn’t mentioned in the broadcast media. Then there was a fear of criminal prosecution, of being involuntarily placed in a lunatic asylum, losing your job, being socially destroyed. It was a terrible situation.”
The referendum changes Ireland’s Constitution so that civil marriage between two people is now legal “without distinction as to their sex”. It requires ratification by both houses of the Irish Parliament and the president. Though a formality, the date when gay and lesbian couples can marry will be determined in that process.
There was support for the measure across the political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Kenny of the center-right Fine Gael party, and his Labour coalition partner, which had pushed for the referendum. Sinn Fein, an opposition party, also expressed support.
Many placed the results in a national context, saying it pointed not only to change but also to the compassion and tolerance of the Irish people. Alex White, the government’s minister for communications, said: “This didn’t change Ireland— it confirmed the change. We can no longer be regarded as the authoritarian state we once might have been perceived to be. This marks the true separation of church and state.”
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, said: “There are two Irelands, the elite Ireland and the hidden Ireland. And today the hidden Ireland spoke.”
About twenty countries have already legalized same-sex marriages. Here is a list of when each did:
2001 The Netherlands
2003 Belgium
2005 Canada and Spain
2006 South Africa
2009 Norway and Sweden
2010 Argentina, Iceland, and Portugal
2012 Denmark
2013: Brazil, England and Wales, France, New Zealand, and Uruguay
2014 Luxembourg and Scotland
2017 (law becomes effective) Finland 
Gay rights activists around the world had said a victory would be an important milestone.
“I think this is a moment that rebrands Ireland to a lot of folks around the world as a country not stuck in tradition, but one that has an inclusive tradition,” said Ty Cobb, the international director of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group.
Late in the campaign, four Catholic bishops urged parishioners to vote against the measure. But as ballot boxes were opened one by one, and paper yes and no votes stacked up in front of counters at long tables in a cavernous hall, optimism among referendum supporters grew. Campaigning on both sides of the debate had been underway for months, with posters, billboards and commercials. One opposition commercial said, “You should be able to have reservations about gay marriage without being called a homophobe”, while a commercial supporting same-sex marriage featured young people encouraging their parents to vote.
Thousands are believed to have returned to Ireland to take part in the vote; plane tickets from London were sold out on Friday night.
Ireland’s paradigm shift from a quasi-theocracy to a leader on gay rights was the result of a sustained campaign by gay activists. They set up a network of support groups around the country and fused a grass-roots movement with aggressive social media outreach and a registration drive that brought in more than a hundred thousand new voters since last November. Tens of thousands of doors were knocked on, extensive leafleting campaigns took place, and posters were ubiquitous.
“Commentators just don’t seem to have grasped that this has been the culmination of a ten-year campaign to change attitudes in this country,” said Colm O’Gorman, chief executive of Amnesty International (Ireland) and a leading gay rights campaigner.
Leaders on both sides tried to strike a conciliatory note, though they said some issues remain to be sorted out, from rules on surrogacy to the ability of religious groups to hew to their views.
“The personal stories of people’s own testimonies, as to their difficulties growing up being gay certainly struck a chord with people,” said Jim Walsh, an Irish senator who opposed the marriage referendum, during a television interview. “I would like today to not get back into the arguments that we had during the campaign, but to wish them well,” he said. “But I think that, going forward, we will need to address issues which are going to arise.”
In a news release, the Iona Institute congratulated the Yes side for “a very professional campaign that in truth began long before the official campaign started.” But it also said “we will continue to affirm the importance of the biological ties and of motherhood and fatherhood” and urged the government to “address the concerns voters on the No side have about the implications for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.”
Nick O’Connell, 42, from a rural area in County Kilkenny in the Irish Midlands, was cradling a celebratory drink in a Dublin bar, the Back Lounge. He said he had been too afraid to come out as gay until his mid-twenties. “Today I’m thinking of all those young people over the years who were bullied and committed suicide because of their sexuality. This vote was for them, too.” He added: “This is different from other countries, because it was the people who gave it to us, not a legislature.”
Rico says that, among other things he thought he'd never see, it'd be this in Ireland...

History for the day


On 24 May 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge (illustration) , linking Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York City, was opened to traffic.

Veterans seek Battle of the Bulge memorial


Erin Arvedlund has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about local vets:
A dwindling group of elderly Philadelphia veterans wants to build a Battle of the Bulge memorial in Washington Square, a site within the city's Historic Mile they believe is a fitting place to remember the key World War Two confrontation.
In the process, they are fighting a new battle, against bureaucracy and time. They need money, political will, and permission from local and federal government agencies.
"We're the only major city in the country that doesn't have a monument to the Battle of the Bulge," said Norbert McGettigan, 89, who grew up in Overbrook and lives in Woodside Park (photo, right). He was wounded three times during World War Two.
The Battle of the Bulge, waged from 16 December 1944 until 25 January 1945, was a major turning point of the war in Europe. It gained fame for later generations via the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers.
Philadelphia was home to thousands of veterans of the Bulge, including Stanley Wojtusik (photo, left), a native of South Philadelphia who now lives in Torresdale. He graduated from John Bartram High School in 1943 and immediately joined the Army. He was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.
Wojtusik founded a local Bulge veterans chapter in 1989. Today, there are fewer than two hundred members.
"We were all in our late teens when it happened," said McGettigan. "And Philadelphia had one of the largest contingents of Battle of the Bulge vets living here. As in Vietnam," he added, "there were a lot of African-American veterans in the battle from here in Philadelphia."
The battle marked the first time the Army desegregated during World War Two, when, in an effort to repel attacking German forces, the Allies turned to thousands of African-American GIs. (Officially, the military didn't desegregate until 1948.)
To gain their proposed monument a Washington Square location, Wojtusik and McGettigan approached Representative Robert Brady, the influential chairman of Philadelphia's Democratic Party, and City Councilman David Oh. The veterans also need permits from the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior, as well as funds. So far "no one has actually stepped up to help," said Doreen McGettigan, Norbert's wife (photo, center).
Preliminary designs call for an eight-by-eight-foot stone monument. Washington Square is already home to the Revolutionary War memorial.
For the vets, aging is the enemy today, Norbert McGettigan said: "We survived the war. Now we need to survive long enough to build this." The worst part "was the living conditions," he recalled. "We didn't shower or change clothes for four months. I went from 160 to 125 pounds." Much of his division, the 106th, was captured or killed in the fighting. He was reassigned to the 69th Infantry, which went on to liberate prisoners at a Nazi concentration camp.
Wojtusik, 89, also served with the 106th Infantry, and was captured. Using a walker, Wojtusik recently addressed American Legion Post 405 at the Union League. "We really need foot traffic, we need young people to walk by this and see this," he said.
The battle took place during an exceptionally cold winter, as German forces attacked American soldiers defending an eighty-mile front in the Ardennes forest of Luxembourg and Belgium.
German troops "bulged" through the line, although six hundred thousand troops ultimately repelled the threat. It was the Army's largest World War Two land battle, with nearly ninety thousand casualties, nineteen thousand of them deaths.
Thus far, the veterans group has raised only a few thousand dollars for the monument, which members estimate will cost over a hundred thousand dollars.
Andre McCoy, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and Post 405 member, leads the monument committee. "It's long overdue to acknowledge the battle. It could have changed the course of the war," he said.
Donations can be sent to Philadelphia chapter treasurer Gary Lambert at 123 Garfield Avenue, Collingswood, New Jersey 08108. Visit battleofthebulge.org for more information.
Meetings of the local chapter of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge are at 12:30 pm on the last Wednesday of every month at the Coast Guard Station at Columbus Boulevard and Washington Avenue in Philadelphia.
Rico says there's already one in Valley Forge:



Space for the day



Dan Kedmey has a Time article about Saturn:
Saturn will come closer to Earth this weekend than at any other time of the year, giving us earthbound creatures an incomparable view of its rings. For a closer look, “community observatory” Slooh trained Internet-connected telescopes on the planet during peak viewing hours. The images are shown in the video above, which includes expert commentary from Slooh astronomer Will Gater and Cornell University planetary scientist Dr. Jonathan Lunine.
Rico says that Galileo would've liked to have this technology...

The song in Rico's head

The Who, of course:

23 May 2015

Scenes from Hershey, Cuba

Philly.com has a series of photos of Hershey, but the one in Cuba, not Pennsylvania:


The Washington Post has an article by Nick Miroff about the origin of the town:
Along the coastal highway thirty miles east of Havana, the road signs point to a turnoff for Camilo Cienfuegos City. It doesn’t exist. At least not by that name.
AIR-shee” is what everyone still calls it: Hershey. That much remains.
Most of the rest of the model town founded by chocolate tycoon Milton S. Hershey in 1916 is in a state of heartbreaking ruin. The looming sugar mill, once among the world’s most advanced, is a gutted, ghostly hulk. Its rusting machinery spills from the wreckage as if blasted by a bomb or kicked apart by a giant.
Up and down Hershey’s grid of neatly-laid residential streets, many of the original company-built houses remain, with clapboard siding and some of the only screened-in front porches anywhere in Cuba. The old company hotel and several of the bigger, stately flagstone homes, where the American supervisors lived, have caved in.
Gone, too, is the Hershey Social Club, the golf course and other traces of the American experiment that flourished here until it was obliterated by a revolution that did not share the northern ideals of private industry and social progress held dear by “Mister Hershey.”
“Everything has been destroyed,” said Amparo DeJongh, 92, the first person born in the town and one of the few who stayed to see it fall apart.
“It’s horrible what they have done,” she said.
With American businesses pushing harder than ever now against the Cuba trade embargo and angling for a return after a 50-year lockout, a new optimism has reached forlorn rural towns such as Hershey, even if no one really expects the Americans to get the mill running again or the smell of molasses to return any time soon.
Hershey, as much as anywhere on the island, is a place to excavate a buried U.S. legacy in Cuba, and one that doesn’t fit the government caricature of scheming mobsters and predatory capitalists. The real story of the town, like the wider American enterprise in Cuba, is more complicated than that.
Long before gangsters such as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano muscled into Cuba, the island was a destination for a different kind of American entrepreneur. Hershey arrived when rural Cuba was still reeling from the devastation of two bloody independence wars against Spain, culminating in the 1898 U.S. military intervention that turned the island into an American protectorate.
Land was cheap, and Cuba needed help.
It was a time of supreme American confidence in the power of private industry as the engine of social progress: a force that could build a New York skyscraper 800 feet into the air, assemble automobiles in a matter of hours and make a delicacy for the wealthy— chocolate —into an affordable treat for the masses.
That was how Milton Hershey made his fortune. He’d put his name on a model town in Pennsylvania built around his vision of scientific planning and corporate benevolence. With sugar prices peaking during World War I, he chose to build another all-American town, this time amid the ­oceanic sugar cane fields on the bluffs overlooking Cuba’s north coast.
He did not come to Cuba to extract profits the cheapest way possible. Like fellow Pennsylvania industrialist Andrew Carnegie, Hershey believed in the power of great men and great public works.
Along with the mill — one of the most technically sophisticated in the world at the time — Hershey built modern utilities, schools, health clinics and subsidized housing for his workers. The town’s ballpark was one of the island’s most beautiful, drawing teams from all over the island.
“Movies would screen in Hershey a week after their debut in Havana,” remembers DeJongh, a singer who used to perform on the radio. “I loved Clark Gable. And Marlene Dietrich,” she said with a girlish giggle.
Hershey bars and Hershey Kisses were so plentiful “they would expire, and the shopkeepers would just throw them away,” DeJongh remembered, something unthinkable now.
The Americans brought everything to Hershey, including a system of social stratification and racial segregation that Fidel Castro’s revolution would also seek to erase.
“Black people weren’t allowed to cross into this side of town, and we weren’t allowed to live in these houses either,” said Berta Campoalegre, 81, who got a job in the mill after it was seized by the Castro government. She gave birth to triplets in 1967, and the government gave her one of the nicer homes Hershey had built for plant supervisors, where the family still lives today. “All thanks to El Jefe,” she said. The Boss. She didn’t mean Hershey.
DeJongh, who speaks of the town’s founder reverentially, said she remembers the condescension of his U.S. plant managers. “They looked down on us Cubans,” she said. “I have to be honest about that.”
Hershey’s greatest technological achievement was a state-of-the-art electric railway running 57 miles from Havana to the port of Matanzas, with his town in the middle. The rail cars could gather raw cane for delivery to the mill and ship it out again through the ports in either city, with passenger service that linked dozens of rural towns and hamlets along the way.
The railway was the only one of its kind in Cuba. Resourceful engineers still keep the creaky rail cars running today, although breakdowns are frequent and the bare-bones passenger service offers a jarring, sweaty ride.
Hershey left no heirs when he died in 1945, giving most of his fortune to charity. He had already instructed his executives to sell off his Cuba holdings, the company’s only properties outside the United States. It proved to be a prescient business decision.
By 1959, when Castro took power, the Hershey mill and tens of thousands of acres of cane fields around it were in the hands of Cuban sugar magnate Julio Lobo, one of the island’s richest men. Castro nationalized it, along with the railway, the town’s peanut oil factory, power plants and eventually every other business in Cuba.
Hershey was still a beloved figure in the town, but Lobo was easily cast as a capitalist villain by the revolutionaries, recalled Agustin Perez, who was a teenager at the time. His father and grandfather worked for Hershey.
“When Lobo took over, he wanted to cut costs. He reduced the number of jobs at the mill and closed the main cafeteria in town,” a place Hershey had opened to offer food at prices accessible to all Cubans, according to Perez, who left his home town 20 years ago and works as a sugar engineer in Florida.
When the new Castro government seized the mill, he said, it reopened the town cafeteria and hung a sign outside that read: “Thanks to the Revolution.”
Sugar that once went into Hershey chocolate bars and Coca-Cola was sent to sweeten Soviet tea. The town and its mill were renamed for Camilo Cienfuegos, a revolutionary hero and one of Castro’s top commanders, killed in a 1959 plane crash at age 27. But the new name never stuck.
Perez, who worked at the mill for 25 years, said it remained productive long after its nationalization, getting replacement parts from the Eastern Bloc countries, and later from Japan and Sweden.
But when the Soviet Union collapsed and took Cuba’s economy with it, global prices for sugar were already depressed. The mill began grinding toward a slow death and closed for good in 2003.
The government retrained some of the workers for jobs in nearby tourist resorts and oil fields and built a new ceramic tile factory in town. But many Hershey residents left for Havana, ­Miami and beyond. The pall hasn’t lifted.
The town’s heart, its entire purpose for existing, was gone, abandoned to the elements and to scavengers. Today, cows graze among the red iron detritus of empty vats and giant cogwheels forged in Ohio and Pennsylvania nearly a century ago. “We can’t keep living like this,” said Elis de Cary Rojas, who runs a nail salon in her home, earning 40 cents a manicure. “Something has to change.”
She moved back to the town with her young daughter a few years ago, preferring its peace and quiet and space to a cramped Havana apartment. The sense of ruin around her is depressing, Rojas said. “There’s nothing here, no playgrounds, no parks, no ice cream shop,” she said. “But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s still a beautiful place.”
She’s heard a rumor recently that the Hershey company wanted to return. Or maybe it was Julio Lobo’s family.
It didn’t matter. Rojas is 23. She said she just wants someone — anyone — to bring the town back to life.
Rico says it's yet another reason to visit...

Tomorrowland, maybe


Steven Rea has a review in The Philadelphia Inquirer about Tomorrowland:
Although Tomorrowland's ambitions are right up there with Back to the Future and The Wizard of Oz, the plucky Floridian, played by Britt Robertson in the time-hopping Disney adventure, is unlikely to be remembered in decades to come, or even in months to come, once the next teenage dystopian fantasy inserts itself into movie houses.
The brainy daughter of a NASA scientist, Casey is willful and hopeful and looks to the skies with awe, but she's not a protagonist with depth or dimension, or with a souped-up DeLorean, or a trio of exceptionally needy friends, either.
And Tomorrowland, which takes its name from the Disney theme parks and its inspiration from Uncle Walt himself, with bonus visions from Verne, Edison, and Tesla,  isn't going to change the world. Even though that's literally what the Brad Bird-directed movie is about.
Along with Robertson, recently seen acting more her age (25) in Nicholas Sparks' The Longest Ride romance, Tomorrowland stars George Clooney as a disgruntled inventor by the name of Frank Walker. His disgruntledness is explained in extended flashbacks to the 1964 World's Fair, where kid actor Thomas Robinson is Frank, proudly unpacking a duffle bag at the Hall of Invention to show his contraption, a jet pack, to the judge. It kind of works, too, but the judge (Hugh Laurie; we'll see more of him) tells Frank to take a hike.
A little girl with an upper-crusty accent, Athena is her name, Raffey Cassidy is the wide-eyed Brit who plays her s,ees something in Frank and his gizmo. She hands him a pin with a "T" on it, and gestures for him to follow as she tries out the World's Fair ride It's a Small World. Thanks to the pin, Frank gets to go on a very special detour.
So, there is Casey in the more-or-less here-and-now, with her NASA cap and her voice-messages to Dad (played by Tim McGraw) telling him not to worry that she's disappeared again. And there is grown-up, shut-in, cranky Frank. And there is the juvenile, jet-packing Frank. And there is Athena, whose role in all this is pivotal. At a few uncomfortable intersections, it's a bit peculiar, too.
Bird, the whiz-bang director behind the Pixar gems The Incredibles and Ratatouille, segued smoothly into live-action (emphasis on action) with 2011's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. But for all the covert convolutions of a Tom Cruise Impossible Missions movie, Bird moved things along with rocketing assuredness and wit.
It proves harder to move the multilayered plots and predicaments of Tomorrowland along. The film is burdened with an earnest, cautionary message that turns the American Indian legend about two wolves, one good, one evil, into an ultimatum, a metaphor of idealism vs. doom.
Visually, Tomorrowland, with its Jetson skyscrapers and whooshy effects, can dazzle. But then it morphs into Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (sun-dappled fields of wind-blown wheat), or Martin Scorsese's Hugo (you'll see), or offers yet another society-on-the-brink-of-the-apocalypse tableau. Come to think of it, with all the tricky, shifting planes of space and time, the father/daughter story, the what-have-we-done-to-our-planet scenarios, and even the NASA logo, Tomorrowland plays like a kiddie version of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. Just not as pretentious, nor quite as long.
Rico says it'll probably be dumb, but it's got George Clooney in it, so he'll see it...

Online booze


Tom Huddleston, Jr. has an article in Fortune about booze:
Drizly raised thirteen million dollars in its quest to sell you booze on your smartphone, and investors are getting pumped about selling booze on-demand.
Drizly Inc., one of the biggest players in the market for online alcohol ordering, lets customers order booze online, or via a smartphone app, with the promise that it will be delivered within the hour. Drizly told The Wall Street Journal that the investment comes with a valuation of about forty million dollars.
Founded two years ago, Drizly partners with wine, beer, and liquor retailers looking to expand their geographical reach while still managing to comply with local alcohol sales and delivery laws. The company currently serves fifteen markets— including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C.— though Drizly plans to use the new influx of funds to bring that total to thirty markets, while doubling its staff to eighty people, by the end of 2016.
“‘We’re in an industry that hasn’t moved in eighty years, since the end of Prohibition,” Drizly co-founder and CEO Nick Rellas told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s a hundred-billion-dollar market and less than one percent is online, so that’s a compelling opportunity.”
Drizly isn’t the only company that wants people to order more booze with their phones. Startups such as BrewDrop, DrinkFly, and Minibar are some of the competitors looking to compete with Drizly in various markets, while other sites with broader offerings, like Delivery.com, offer online sales of alcohol along with other products.
The financing announcement brings Drizly’s overall fundraising total to just under eighteen million dollars, which includes a two million dollar seed investment the company landed last year from a group that included Atlas Ventures and Breakaway Ventures. The company’s latest funding round was led by venture capital firm Polaris Partners, and also included other venture and strategic investors.
Rico says this may be happening, but not in benighted Pennsylvania...

Lehigh Valley howlin' over coyotes


Charles Malinchak has an article in The Morning Call about coyotes (they're not just in California any more):
These days, residents of Bethlehem Township's Hope Ridge condominium community are keeping a watchful eye out for stealthy omnivores that have roamed the earth for hundreds of thousands of years: coyotes.
Don Wright, president of the condo association for the community on Hope Road, said concerns from a resident who has spotted coyotes while walking her small dog prompted him to ask township commissioners this month if they would consent to a coyote hunt.
The commissioners said no, but the request underscored an increasing concern in suburbs and even big cities. In New York City, for example, no one's idea of a wildlife haven, coyotes have been spotted seven times this year, from wealthy upper Manhattan to the blue-collar precincts of Queens and Brooklyn.
Because they are fanged and fierce-looking, coyotes tend to make people shudder. But attacks on humans are rare. "There are very, very few incidents of them interacting with people," said Cheryl Trewella, Pennsylvania Game Commission information and education supervisor.
Coyotes inhabit every county in the state, including Philadelphia, Trewella said. Since the 1980s, their numbers statewide have increased despite a yearlong hunting season coupled with a liberal trapping season that runs from 26 October to 22 February. The latest record of coyotes trapped was sixteen thousand for the 2011-12 season.
"We're having a terrible time," said Dorothy Charles (photo) of Upper Macungie Township. "Usually it's two that come into our yard. The other day it was three. We have a fenced yard, so they evidently are jumping over."
Elaine Biondi of Lower Macungie Township saw what she believed to be two coyotes chasing two deer along the Little Lehigh Creek in the Millbrook Farms townhouse community last month. "They are moving into areas where you wouldn't expect," Biondi said.
That's not necessarily the case. Coyotes live just about anywhere, because they eat just about anything: rabbits, rodents, cats, fruit, birds, and insects. Their mainstay is deer, which are superabundant in Pennsylvania.
The reason people seldom see coyotes is that they usually hunt by night. But this is the time of year the females have pups— five to seven per litter— so they'll venture out from their dens any time of day.
"They're going to be looking for an easy meal any way they can get it," said Nate Roberts, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Trappers AssociationRoberts said many of the group's members have animal control permits that allow them to trap coyotes outside the usual season, so they are often called on to remove them from populous areas.
Wright said the woman in his condo community came to him because she was concerned the coyotes might try to eat her dog. "It was about a month ago," he said. "She said she's seen them at least three times since and the last time it was carrying something. I haven't personally seen them, but it is a safety thing. We have small dogs and children in the community, so the advice is not t walk alone and [to keep an eye out. …There's nothing we can do about it except be vigilant."
Hope Road connects William Penn Highway to Freemansburg Avenue and is bordered on the west by Route 33. The well-developed area includes a PennDOT maintenance yard and a large field owned by Bethlehem Township.
The coyote sightings there surprised township Commissioner Mike Hudak, because it's so developed, and unlike the area around his own home off Wilson Avenue. He lives about a hundred yards from the Lehigh River, a place where sightings and the yipping call of the coyotes is almost a common occurrence. "We kind of like it," Hudak said. "It's nice to see wildlife get a foothold after all the land has been developed." He said coyotes never have been a problem, though they do rile his dogs. He believes one of his dogs, a Chow mix, once took a bite out of one. "We heard a lot of yipping that night… but they really are no big deal and we don't feel threatened," he said.
Charles, the Upper Macungie resident, said she is mainly worried for her five-pound Yorkshire terrier (photo). "Several of us in the neighborhood have small dogs, and we're afraid to even go out on the patio," she said. "We always have a lot of bunnies in our yard. I said to my husband in the last couple of days, 'I don't see any bunnies.'"
Little can be done to discourage coyotes, Trewella said, other than making sure lids are secured to garbage cans and not leaving the cans out all night. Small dogs might fall prey to a coyote, but they might also be carried off by a great horned owl. "They are one of those species that made their own destiny. They are just here and will remain here. They are part of our ecosystem,'' she said.
Roberts, of the trappers association, said coyotes typically shy from human contact. But rabies and other diseases can make them aggressive. "If they're approaching you, or close to a lot of people, that's a big issue," he said. "It could get bad quickly."
Residents who want to reach licensed trappers for help with coyotes can email the trappers association at http://patrappers.com/contact/

Coyote facts
• Fossil records indicate coyotes' ancestors existed in eastern North America in the Pleistocene period, a million years ago.
• Coyotes are monogamous, maintaining pair bonds for several years. Young coyotes, born in April and May, leave the family when they are about six months old and disperse up to a hundred miles.
• They move alone or in packs, communicating with a variety of yips, barks and howls.
• Eastern coyotes, the kind found in Pennsylvania, are larger than their western counterparts and likely evolved from interbreeding between coyotes and gray wolves. Adult males weigh 45-55 pounds and females weigh 35-40 pounds.
• Coyotes' dens are found under overturned trees, in piles of tree stumps, in rock dens, and in dug-out red fox dens.
Source: Pennsylvania Game Commission
Rico says the coyotes were here before Columbus, and they'll be here when we're gone. (And hopefully will eat that woman's stupid little rat dog...)

How school dress codes shame girls


Laura Bates, co-founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, which collects stories of sexual harassment and gender discrimination from minor incidents to more severe situations, has a Time article about school sexism:
Some of our most powerful and lasting ideas about the world around us are learned at school: Hard work pays off. Success comes from working together. Girls’ bodies are dangerous and harassment is inevitable.
This might sound inflammatory, but it is not an exaggeration. It is the overriding message being sent to thousands of students around the world by sexist school dress codes and the way in which they are enforced.
In the past month alone, a Canadian teen says she was given detention for wearing a full length maxi dress because it violated her school dress code by showing her shoulders and back, and a UK school announced plans to ban skirts altogether.
These are just the most recent cases in an ever-growing list that has seen shoulders and knees become a battleground, leggings and yoga pants banned, and girls, in some cases, reportedly told to flap their arms up and down while their attire was inspected, or asked to leave their proms because chaperones considered their dresses too ‘sexual’ or ‘provocative’.
Many schools respond to criticism of dress codes by citing the importance of maintaining a ‘distraction free’ learning environment, or of teaching young people about the importance of dressing appropriately for different occasions.
But at the Everyday Sexism Project, where people from around the world share their experiences of gender inequality, we have received over a hundred testimonies from girls and young women who are affected by the dress codes and feel a strong sense of injustice.
One such project entry read:
“I got dress coded at my school for wearing shorts. After I left the principal’s office with a detention I walked past another student wearing a shirt depicting two stick figures: the male holding down the females head in his crotch and saying ‘good girls swallow’. Teachers walked right past him and didn’t say a thing.”
Girls are repeatedly told the reason they have to cover up to avoid ‘distracting’ their male peers, or making male teachers ‘uncomfortable'.
“At my school our dress code dictates everything about a girl's outfit: knee length shorts or skirts only, no cleavage, no bra straps, no tank tops. We can’t even wear flip flops, and girls will be given detention and sent home for breaking any one of these rules. There’s no dress code for men, and the reasoning? Girls can’t dress “provacatively” [sic] because it could distract and excite the boys.”
I can’t help feeling there is a powerful irony in accusing a girl of being ‘provocative’– in projecting that societal assumption onto her adolescent body– before she is even old enough to have learned how to correctly spell the word.
One student says she was given three specific reasons for the school dress code:
“1) There are male teachers and male sixth formers [high school seniors]
2) Teachers feel uncomfortable around bras etc.
3) Don’t want the boys to target you or intimidate you”.
This sends an incredibly powerful message. It teaches our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualized, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them. It prepares them for college life, where as many as one in five women is sexually assaulted, but society will blame and question and silence them, while perpetrators are rarely disciplined.
The problem is often compounded by a lack of any attempt to discipline boys for harassing behavior, which drives home the message that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent. We have received thousands of testimonies from girls who have complained about being verbally harassed, touched, groped, chased, followed, licked, and assaulted at school, only to be told “he just likes you”, or “boys will be boys”. The hypocrisy is breath taking.
Meanwhile, the very act of teachers calling young girls out for their attire projects an adult sexual perception onto an outfit or body part that may not have been intended or perceived as such by the student herself. It can be disturbing and distressing for students to be perceived in this way and there is often a strong element of shame involved.
“I’ve been told by a teacher that the way I was wearing my socks made me look like a prostitute in my first year of school, making me thirteen, and I’ve been asked whether I’m ashamed of myself because I rolled my skirt up,” wrote one young woman.
The codes aren’t just problematic for sexist reasons. One project entry reads:
“At age ten I was pulled out of my fifth grade class for a few minutes for a ‘special health lesson’. As an early bloomer, I already had obvious breasts and was the tallest in my class. I thought they were giving me a paper about reproductive health that’s normally given to the twelve year old girls. Instead I was told to cover my body more because I was different.”
Other incidents have also seen boys banned from school for having hair ‘too long’ or wearing traditionally ‘feminine’ fashion, from skinny jeans to skirts. A transgender student said he was threatened with having his photo barred from the school yearbook simply because he chose to wear a tuxedo to prom. Black girls are more likely to be targeted for ‘unacceptable’ hairstyles. The parents of a twelve-year old African-American student said she was threatened with expulsion for refusing to cut her naturally styled hair. Her mother was told she violated school dress codes for being “a distraction”.
At this point it starts to feel like such ‘codes’ are less about protecting children and more about protecting strict social norms and hierarchies that refuse to tolerate difference or diversity.
This is a critical moment. The school dress code debate will be dismissed by many for being minor or unimportant, but it is not.
When a girl is taken out of class on a hot day for wearing a strappy top, because she is ‘distracting’ her male classmates, his education is prioritized over hers. When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible. Students are being groomed to perpetuate the rape culture narrative that sits at the very heart of our society’s sexual violence crisis. It matters very much indeed.
Rico says this has been going on for a very long time, and doesn't look to change any time soon...

22 May 2015

The transformation of slavery


Rico's friend Kema, she of the on-line Slavery Museum, sent a Slate article by Peter H. Wood, professor emeritus of history at Duke University, about slavery:
During the second half of the seventeenth century, a terrible transformation, the enslavement of people solely on the basis of race, occurred in the lives of African Americans living in North America. These newcomers still numbered only a few thousand, but the bitter reversals they experienced— first subtle, then drastic— would shape the lives of all those who followed them, generation after generation.
Like most huge changes, the imposition of hereditary race slavery was gradual, taking hold by degrees over many decades. It proceeded slowly. On any given day, in any given place, people can argue about local weather conditions. “Is it getting colder?” “Will it warm up again this week?” The shift may come early in some places, later in others. But eventually, it occurs all across the land. By January, people shiver and think back to September, agreeing that “it is definitely colder now.” In 1700, a seventy-year-old African American could look back half a century to 1650 and shiver, knowing that conditions had definitely changed for the worse.
Some people had experienced the first cold winds of enslavement well before 1650; others would escape the chilling blast well after 1700. The timing and nature of the change varied considerably from colony to colony, and even from family to family. Gradually, the terrible transformation took on a momentum of its own, numbing and burdening everything in its path, like a disastrous winter storm. Unlike the changing seasons, however, the encroachment of racial slavery in the colonies of North America was certainly not a natural process. It was highly unnatural— the work of powerful competitive governments and many thousands of human beings spread out across the Atlantic world. Nor was it inevitable that people’s legal status would come to depend upon their racial background and that the condition of slavery would be passed down from parent to child. Numerous factors combined to bring about this disastrous shift— human forces swirled together during the decades after 1650, to create an enormously destructive storm.
By 1650, hereditary enslavement based upon color, not upon religion, was a bitter reality in the older Catholic colonies of the New World. In the Caribbean and Latin America, for well over a century, Spanish and Portuguese colonizers had enslaved “infidels”: first Indians and then Africans. At first, they relied for justification upon the Mediterranean tradition that persons of a different religion, or persons captured in war, could be enslaved for life. But hidden in this idea of slavery was the notion that persons who converted to Christianity should receive their freedom. Wealthy planters in the tropics, afraid that their cheap labor would be taken away from them because of this loophole, changed the reasoning behind their exploitation. Even persons who could prove that they were not captured in war and that they accepted the Catholic faith still could not change their appearance, any more than a leopard can change its spots. So, by making color the key factor behind enslavement, dark-skinned people brought from Africa to work in silver mines and on sugar plantations could be exploited for life. Indeed, the servitude could be made hereditary, so enslaved people’s children automatically inherited the same unfree status.
But this cruel and self-perpetuating system had not yet taken firm hold in North America. The same anti-Catholic propaganda that had led Sir Francis Drake to liberate Negro slaves in Central America in the 1580s still prompted many colonists to believe that it was the Protestant mission to convert non-Europeans rather than enslave them.
Apart from such moral concerns, there were simple matters of cost and practicality. Workers subject to longer terms and coming from further away would require a larger initial investment. Consider a 1648 document from York County in Virginia, showing the market values for persons working for James Stone (estimated in terms of pounds of tobacco):
Francis Bomley for six years: 1500
John Thackstone for three years: 1300
Susan Davis for 3 years: 1000
Emaniell, a Negro man: 2000
Roger Stone for three years: 1300
Mingo, a Negro man: 2000
Among all six, Susan had the lowest value. She may have been less strong in the tobacco field, and as a woman she ran a greater risk of early death because of the dangers of childbirth. Hence John and Roger, the other English servants with three-year terms, commanded a higher value. Francis, whose term was twice as long, was not worth twice as much. Life expectancy was short for everyone in early Virginia, so he might not live to complete his term. The two black workers, Emaniell and Mingo, clearly had longer terms, perhaps even for life, and they also had the highest value. If they each lived for another twenty years, they represented a bargain for Stone, but if they died young, perhaps even before they had fully learned the language, their value as workers proved far less. From Stone’s point of view they represented a risky and expensive investment at best.
By 1650, however, conditions were already beginning to change. For one thing, both the Dutch and the English had started using enslaved Africans to produce sugar in the Caribbean and the tropics. English experiments at Barbados and Providence Island showed that Protestant investors could easily overcome their moral scruples. Large profits could be made, if foreign rivals could be held in check. After agreeing to peace with Spain and giving up control of Northeast Brazil at midcentury, Dutch slave traders were actively looking for new markets. In England, after Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he rewarded supporters by creating the Royal African Company to enter aggressively into the slave trade. The English king also chartered a new colony in Carolina. He hoped it would be close enough to the Spanish in Florida and the Caribbean to challenge them in economic and military terms. Many of the first English settlers in Carolina after 1670 came from Barbados. They brought enslaved Africans with them. They also brought the beginnings of a legal code and a social system that accepted race slavery.
While new colonies with a greater acceptance of race slavery were being founded, the older colonies continued to grow. Early in the seventeenth century, no tiny North American port could absorb several hundred workers arriving at one time on a large ship. Most Africans, such as those reaching Jamestown in 1619, arrived several dozen at a time aboard small boats and privateers from the Caribbean. Like Emaniell and Mingo on the farm of James Stone, they tended to mix with other unfree workers on small plantations. All of these servants, no matter what their origin, could hope to obtain their own land and the personal independence that goes with private property. In 1645, in Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Captain Philip Taylor, after complaining that “Anthony the negro” did not work hard enough for him, agreed to set aside part of the cornfield where they worked as Anthony’s plot. “I am very glad of it,” the black man told a local clerk, “now I know myne owne ground and I will worke when I please and play when I please.”
Anthony and Mary Johnson had also gained their own property in Northampton County before 1650. He had arrived in Virginia in 1621, aboard the James and was cited on early lists as “Antonio, a Negro.” He was put to work on the tobacco plantation of Edward Bennett, with more than fifty other people. All except five were killed the following March, when local Indians struck back against the foreigners who were invading their land. Antonio was one of the lucky survivors. He became increasingly English in his ways, eventually gaining his freedom and moving to the Eastern Shore, where he was known as Anthony Johnson. Along the way, he married “Mary, a Negro woman,” who had arrived in 1622 aboard the Margrett and John, and they raised at least four children, gaining respect for their “hard labor and known service”, according to the court records of Northampton County.
By the 1650s, Anthony and Mary Johnson owned a farm of 250 acres, and their married sons, John and Richard, farmed adjoining tracts of 450 and 100 acres respectively. In the 1660s, the whole Johnson clan pulled up stakes and moved north into Maryland, where the aging Anthony leased a three hundred-acre farm, called Tonies Vineyard, until his death. His widow Mary, in her will of 1672, distributed a cow to each of her grandsons, including John Jr., the son of John and Susanna Johnson. Five years later, when John Jr. purchased a forty-four-acre farm for himself, he named the homestead Angola, which suggests that his grandparents had been born in Africa and had kept alive stories of their homeland within the family. But, within thirty years, John Jr. had died without an heir, and the entire Johnson family had disappeared from the colonial records. If we knew their fate, it might tell us more about the terrible transformation that was going on around them.
Gradually, it was becoming harder to obtain English labor in the mainland colonies. Civil war and a great plague reduced England’s population, and the Great Fire of London created fresh demands for workers at home. Stiff penalties were imposed on sea captains who grabbed young people in England and sold them in the colonies as indentured servants. (This common practice was given a new name: “kidnapping”.) English servants already at work in the colonies demanded shorter indentures, better working conditions, and suitable farmland when their contracts expired. Officials feared they would lose future English recruits to rival colonies if bad publicity filtered back to Europe, so they could not ignore this pressure, even when it undermined colonial profits.
Nor could colonial planters turn instead to Indian labor. Native Americans captured in frontier wars continued to be enslaved, but each act of aggression by European colonists made future diplomacy with neighboring Indians more difficult. Native American captives could easily escape into the familiar wilderness and return to their original tribe. Besides, their numbers were limited. African Americans, in contrast, were thousands of miles from their homeland, and their availability increased as the scope of the Atlantic slave trade expanded. More European countries competed to transport and exploit African labor; more West African leaders proved willing to engage in profitable trade with them; more New World planters had the money to purchase new workers from across the ocean. It seemed as though every decade the ships became larger, the contacts more regular, the departures more frequent, the routes more familiar, the sales more efficient.
As the size and efficiency of this brutal traffic increased, so did its rewards for European investors. Their ruthless competition pushed up the volume of transatlantic trade from Africa and drove down the relative cost of individual Africans in the New World at a time when the price of labor from Europe was rising. As their profits increased, slave merchants and their captains continued to look for fresh markets. North America, on the fringe of this expanding and infamous Atlantic system, represented a likely target. As the small mainland colonies grew and their trade with one another and with England increased, their capacity to purchase large numbers of new laborers from overseas expanded. By the end of the century, Africans were arriving aboard large ships directly from Africa, as well as on smaller boats from the West Indies. In 1698, the monopoly held by England’s Royal African Company on this transatlantic business came to an end, and independent traders from England and the colonies stepped up their voyages, intending to capture a share of the profits.
All these large and gradual changes would still not have brought about the terrible transformation to race slavery, had it not been for several other crucial factors. One ingredient was the mounting fear among colonial leaders regarding signs of discontent and cooperation among poor and unfree colonists of all sorts. Europeans and Africans worked together, intermarried, ran away together, and shared common resentments toward the well-to-do. Both groups were involved in a series of bitter strikes and servant uprisings among tobacco pickers in Virginia, culminating in an open rebellion in 1676. Greatly outnumbered by these armed workers, authorities were quick to sense the need to divide their labor force in order to control it. Stressing cultural and ethnic divisions would be one way to do that.
Lifetime servitude could be enforced only by removing the prospect that a person might gain freedom through Christian conversion. One approach was to outlaw this traditional route to freedom. As early as 1664, a Maryland statute specified that Christian baptism could have no effect upon the legal status of a slave. A more sweeping solution, however, involved removing religion altogether as a factor in determining servitude.
Therefore, another fundamental key to the terrible transformation was the shift from changeable spiritual faith to unchangeable physical appearance as a measure of status. Increasingly, the dominant English came to view Africans, not as “heathen people”, but as “black people”. They began, for the first time, to describe themselves, not as Christians, but as whites. And they gradually wrote this shift into their colonial laws. Within a generation, the English definition of who could be made a slave had shifted from someone who was not a Christian to someone who was not European in appearance. Indeed, the transition for self-interested Englishmen went further. It was a small but momentous step from saying that black persons could be enslaved to saying that Negroes should be enslaved. One Christian minister was dismayed by this rapid change to slavery based on race: “These two words, Negro and Slave” wrote the Reverend Morgan Godwyn in 1680, are “by custom grown Homogeneous and convertible”; that is, interchangeable.
As if this momentous shift were not enough, it was accompanied by another. Those who wrote the colonial laws not only moved to make slavery racial; they also made it hereditary. Under English common law, a child inherited the legal status of the father. As Virginia officials put it in 1655: By the Comon Law the Child of a Woman slave begot by a freeman ought to bee free.”
But within seven years that option had been removed. Faced with cases of “whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free,” the Virginia Assembly in 1662 decided in favor of the master demanding service rather than the child claiming freedom. In this special circumstance, the Assembly ignored all English precedents that children inherited the name and status of their father. Instead, the men in the colonial legislature declared that all such children “borne in this country shal be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.” In Virginia, and soon elsewhere, the children of slave mothers would be slaves forever.
Now the terrible transformation was almost complete, with the colony of Virginia leading the way. An additional legal sleight of hand by the land-hungry Virginia gentry helped speed the process. For several generations, as an incentive toward immigration, newcomers had received title to a parcel of land, called a “headright”, for every family member or European servant they brought to the struggling colony.
By expanding this system to include Africans, self-interested planter-magistrates, who were rich enough to make the initial investment in enslaved workers, managed to obtain free land, as well as valuable labor, every time they purchased an African worker.
In the decades before 1700, therefore, the number of African arrivals began to increase, and the situation of African Americans became increasingly precarious and bleak. Sarah Driggus, an African American woman who had been born free during the middle of the seventeenth century, protested to a Maryland court in 1688 that she was now being regarded as a slave. Many others of her generation were feeling similar pressures and filing similar protests. But fewer and fewer of them were being heard. The long winter of racial enslavement was closing in over the English colonies of North America.
Rico says this shit would last until 1865...

Honoring the dead


Kristin E. Holmes has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about cleaning military statues:
Eugene Hough pulls out a toothbrush and wax to restore honor to the World War One-era statue  (photo) tarnished by years of exposure to sun, snow, and rain. The Bryn Mawr veteran brushes away the cracked green patina and reveals the gleaming metal underneath. When he's done, the bronze sculpture of a soldier with his fist hoisted high will have reclaimed its luster on its pedestal in Northern Liberties.
Hough calls it an effort not only to polish the exterior but also to elevate the history. That mission prompted Hough, who served in the National Guard, to cofound Saving Hallowed Ground, a local nonprofit that aims to preserve and protect monuments that honor "veterans and patriots" and their contributions. "It's important to learn from the monuments and not compromise them," said Hough, 57.
Since the group was founded three years ago, Saving Hallowed Ground has helped restore thirty monuments and twelve plaques at locations such as Paoli Battlefield Historical Park, the Radnor War Memorial, and Palmer Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Hough founded the organization in 2012 with Marty Costello and Jerry Sweeley, fellow members of the American Legion. The Wayne-based group's efforts are funded by donations from foundations and private individuals.
Francis Ortner Jr., of the Paoli Memorial Association, called Saving Hallowed Ground "very instrumental" in maintaining the battlefield's monuments.
Hough traces his fascination with the field to his grandfather, an architect whose portfolio included monument design. "He talked about monuments embodying the stories of time," Hough said. "Books are great, but monuments reflect the communities they are in."
Saving Hallow Ground enlists the aid of area students and community members to help spruce up monuments using rags, toothbrushes, mild soap and water, waxes, and emulsifiers. After the job is complete, the group researches the event and names associated with the monument and makes a presentation in the community.
At the Northern Liberties site at Second and Spring Garden Streets, Hough is working on a monument that is missing two crucial pieces. He has joined the effort to replace them. A bayonet and one of three plaques containing the names of neighborhood veterans who served in World War One were stolen, said Mary Dankanis, former community coordinator of Northern Liberties Neighbors Association.
Known as Over the Top, the statue is part of a series of bronze doughboy sculptures created by John Paulding. (Doughboy is an informal term referring to American infantrymen who fought in World War One.) The Northern Liberties statue was dedicated in 1920, after neighbors went door-to-door to solicit donations to erect the monument.
Dankanis isn't sure when the Doughboy parts were stolen, but she has worked intermittently for years to replace them. She has written to veterans groups, museums, and military scholars, hoping to find a record of the names listed on the missing plaque.
Dankanis didn't know that what she was seeking was only a few miles away in a box at the Fishtown home of Jake and Mildred Veasey.
For decades, the couple have kept a program from the statue's dedication ceremony that Mildred Veasey's father, a World War One veteran, had attended. Charles Burg had served on a ship near South Africa. His name is one of those on the missing plaque.
Burg saved the dedication program that included all 1,080 names inscribed on the three plaques. "He was very angry when he found out the plaque was missing," said Veasey, 83. "He told his daughters: 'Hold on to this. One day someone will want these names'," said Jake Veasey, 81.
That someone was Mary Dankanis.
After Dankanis and Hough were featured in an article published about the statue and the World War One centennial, the Veaseys contacted her.
Now all, including Hough, are part of an effort to replace the missing pieces. Hough already has facilitated the making of a bronze bayonet that he hopes will replace the missing one. He plans to join with the community in seeking a grant to replace the plaque from the Penn Treaty Special Services District, a foundation that distributes community funding provided annually by the SugarHouse Casino to benefit nearby neighborhoods.
"We are ecstatic that we found the names," said Rick Angeli, of Northern Liberties, a Penn Treaty board member.
Ultimately, Hough wants the students and community members to research the names of servicemen listed on the plaque. Maybe they will discover more about such veterans as Burg. "There are a lot of these monuments and plaques in churches, town squares," Hough said. "What are the stories behind them? Who are these people?"
Rico says it's a noble endeavor.

21 May 2015

Scam for the day

He's back:
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The song in Rico's head

It's the 1968 song Tighten Up, by Archie Bell & The Drells:

20 May 2015

Kensington abduction, sexual assault

Robert Moran has an article at Philly.com about yet another predator:
A 24-year-old Hunting Park man was arrested in the 1 May 2015 predawn abduction and sexual assault of a 22-year-old woman in the city's Kensington section, police said.
Manuel Cintron of the 4000 block of North Sixth Street allegedly approached the woman in the 2000 block of East York Street, pointed a gun at her, and forced her into a minivan. Police said he drove her a short distance away and sexually assaulted her.
Earlier that morning, Cintron allegedly attempted to abduct another woman at 12th and Ruscomb Streets in Logan, but she was able to fight him off and ran to a SEPTA bus for help.
Rico says this is why women should arm themselves...

French idiots for the day


The BBC has article about an incident at Cannes:
Film producer Valeria Richter, who had part of her left foot amputated, says she was stopped at the Cannes Film Festival for not wearing high heels. She told the BBC that red carpet officials pointed at her shoes and said: "No, no, this won't work, you can't get in like this". Richter, who was eventually allowed in, spoke after Cannes was accused of turning away women in flat shoes. The festival has denied heels are part of the official dress code. A spokeswoman said ushers had been "reminded" of this, suggesting women in flat shoes would now be admitted.
However, numerous festival-goers have reported seeing women being turned away.
Among them was Asif Kapadia, whose Amy Winehouse documentary premiered in Cannes last weekend, who said his wife had been stopped on the red carpet but was "eventually let in".
Richter told the BBC she "couldn't keep her balance" in heels, after having her big toe and part of her left foot amputated. She was stopped four times on her way into the premiere of Gus Van Sant's Sea of Trees on Saturday. "They pointed their finger at my shoe and then were waving their fingers at me," she said. "It was quite obvious it was my shoes that was an issue. Obviously, I could wave my foot at them," she said, "and that would make the situation a little awkward for them, because I had a visible explanation for not wearing heels". Although Richter was eventually granted entry, she said "many of my colleagues who can't wear heels were rejected and did not come in."
Emily Blunt (photo) opted for heels on the red carpet, despite expressing dismay over the flat shoes 'rule'. Blunt, whose latest film Sicario debuted in Cannes on Tuesday, called the alleged ban on flat shoes "very disappointing. Everyone should wear flats, to be honest," she said. "We shouldn't be wearing high heels anyway. That's my point of view. I just prefer wearing Converse sneakers." However, the star opted for heels at the red carpet premiere of her film, which also stars Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux has said "rumors" of a ban on heels were "unfounded".
Writing on Twitter, he said: "For the stairs, the regulations have not changed: 'no smoking, formal wear'. There is no mention of heels."
But the row is awkward for Cannes in a year when it was seeking to address sexism in cinema. The festival opened with a female-directed film for the first time since 1987, and organizers have endorsed a series of Women in Motion talks by stars such as Isabella Rossellini and Salma Hayek.
Wendy Constance, a children's author who attended Cannes in the 1970s, tweeted that  the festival had a less-than-stellar reputation when it came to women's clothes. "Back in 1971, when I started work I asked for the rule about women not wearing trousers to be changed. It was. Forty-four years later. It's ridiculous that women are still being expected to conform," she added. "Some women like high heels, but a lot of us don't!"
Rico says he knows that 'French idiots' is redundant, but appropriate, and he couldn't agree more with the 'high heels are dumb' (and bad for your feet and legs) argument... (Make the straight men wear them, and the rule will be changed instantly.)

Alien origin of the oceans


The BBC has an article by Alok Jha about the origins of Earth's ocean:
Look at our blue planet from afar, and you could easily conclude that the Earth is nothing more than a world of water. More than seventy percent of its surface is covered by oceans, to an average depth of 3,700 meters. Over eons, that water has shaped continents, built our atmosphere and contains (somewhere in its depths) the cradle of life.
To locate the source of our oceans, we should start with the raw ingredients.
Today, our oceans hold millions of life forms, from bacteria to blue whales, and sit at the center of our planet’s ecology, climate, and weather. Water drives the world’s winds, it temporarily becomes clouds or ice sheets at various locations, and it connects the poles via languorous deep-sea currents, processes that are all reflections of water’s singular role in absorbing and moving the Sun’s energy around our planet.
For these and many other reasons, as far as life is concerned, the oceans are the Earth.
But these oceans have not always existed on our planet. And the water within them is alien, arriving here many hundreds of millions of years after the Earth first took shape, over four billion years ago. Back then, the surface of our planet was an unrecognisable hell: volcanic and bone dry.
Our oceans’ water, the substance precious to every life form and which has come to define our planet, arrived in frozen lumps from space during one of the most violent episodes in our planet’s early history.
Around five billion years ago, all the ingredients for our oceans were floating in a planetary nebula
To locate the source of our oceans, we should start with the raw ingredients. Water is the second most common molecule in the universe and each one is made from two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.
The hydrogen comes from the moments after creation itself, the Big Bang. As the universe exploded into being some fourteen billion years ago, some of the energy that came out of the unimaginable fireball began to condense into particles and radiation.
Within its first three minutes, some of the newly-formed electrons and protons had slowed down enough to capture each other by mutual attraction. All of the hydrogen in the universe was made here and, to this day, it remains the most common atom in the universe.
The oxygen atoms came millions of years later. As the universe continued to expand, clouds of hydrogen clumped together and their mutual gravitational attraction eventually became so intense that the atoms at the center of the clouds began to fuse into helium. The first stars were born and they burned for billions of years until the hydrogen fuel at their centres had run out. At that point, the stars collapsed and began to fuse their helium.
Through multiple stages of fusion, this first generation of stars produced many of the heavy elements we know, from helium to iron. Eventually, the gravitational pressure within them was not strong enough to fuse the heavy atoms that had been created, and the stars died in explosions that were, momentarily, brighter than the rest of the galaxies in which they existed.
Their cores collapsed into a dense collection of particles known as a white dwarf, while the explosions created vast surrounding clouds of newly-minted atoms of carbon, neon, sulphur, sodium, argon, chlorine and, crucially, oxygen. This region of space became the factory for all our water molecules.
Those stellar remnants, called planetary nebulae, are among the most beautiful objects in space. The radiation from the white dwarf star lights up the surrounding gas clouds, producing vivid fluorescent colours and astronomers have been moved to give them evocative names such as the Cat’s Eye, Starfish Twins, Blue Snowball, Eskimo, and the Ant.
Around five billion years ago, all the ingredients for our oceans, all the hydrogen and oxygen that would end up as water molecules on the surface of our planet, were floating in the planetary nebula into which our Sun was born, igniting out of a cloud of collapsing hydrogen gas. In that nebula, well outside the range of the young Sun’s inexorable gravitational pull that would otherwise have sucked them in, molecules and atoms floated between vastly bigger dust grains (big in atomic terms, but still only a millionth the width of a human hair) made from carbon, silicon, and other elements.
There wasn’t much around, just a few thousand atoms per cubic centimeter, and most of that was hydrogen. But this region of space became the factory for all our water molecules. The water molecules that are now in our oceans came together by chance on these carbon and silicon dust grains. The road they took to get there was achingly slow and inefficient.
On average, one hydrogen atom would land on a dust grain about once per day but, given their tiny mass, the atoms would often bounce away from the grains almost as soon as they had landed. Oxygen atoms tended to stick around for a bit longer when they hit the grains.
Randomly, and very rarely, atoms of both oxygen or hydrogen would strike these grains of dust and, even more rarely, they would do so at the same time and for long enough and be close enough on the dust grain to form chemical bonds with each other.
Each water molecule on Earth started its precarious existence on one of these dust grains, when an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms shackled themselves to the dust and began to share their outer electrons on their new home. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, as it tumbled through space and collided with more hydrogen and oxygen, each grain of dust acquired successive layers of ice, until it had doubled in size. By the time the Solar System was a million years old, it was full of specks of carbon and silicon carrying their mantle of irregular, amorphous ice. Eventually, those ice-encrusted dust grains were drawn closer together and they coalesced into slightly bigger grains. The individual particles grew, first to a few millimetres across to form tiny stones, which then combined successively into rocks, boulders, asteroids and, eventually, planets. All of the objects we know of in our Solar System appeared, phoenix-like, from the random dance of the ashes of a star that had exploded into death millions of years before.
Before the oceans could get to our planet, our planet had to form. In its first few million years, a huge disc of rocks and ice orbited the Sun. It took twenty million years for the Earth (and other planets) to coalesce from that swirl of debris. Our early planet, over four billion years ago, was a ferociously hot place. The surface was covered in volcanoes, much of the ground ran with molten magma, and huge rocks struck the surface on a regular basis.
One of the colliding rocks was the size of a small planet and its impact gouged out a chunk of the Earth’s crust and mantle, which began orbiting our planet and became the Moon. Underground on Earth, the decay of radioactive elements produced enormous heat. There is a reason why these first half billion years are known as the Hadean era, named for Hades, the hellish underworld of the ancient Greeks.
Most, if not all, the water on the surface of the Earth at this time came from the rocks and ice that had coalesced to form it in the first place. But the early planet had trouble keeping hold of that water. Without a fully-developed atmosphere in place, the water molecules escaped the Earth and boiled off into space.
All the while, more water was being pushed to the surface by the colossal geological processes that gave Earth its internal structure. Heavy elements, such as iron, largely flowed to the center, and the distinct layers of crust, mantle, and core we see today began to form. Water and other volatile compounds from the rocks were driven upwards as the mantle cooled. Volcanoes and other fissures in the crust allowed superheated water vapour to escape into the atmosphere.
Around a half billion years into its life, the atmosphere and temperature had stabilized on Earth and the water vapor that had been driven into the air began to condense out. And it rained. And rained. Possibly for millennia. If nothing else, the deluge recounted by countless mythical creation stories correlates with what happened in the earliest, most tumultuous years of the Earth.
The Earth now had some water on its surface. But those early oceans, depleted by the warm conditions of the Hadean Earth, did not contain nearly the amount of water we see on our planet today. Most of our oceans arrived from elsewhere. Around the same time as the deluge was raining down on the surface of the Earth, the inner planets of our Solar System were pummeled by comets and asteroids that were rich in alien water. The evidence for these events, known collectively as the Late Heavy Bombardment, are carved into the surface of the Moon.
No-one knows how many objects hit the Earth, and how much water they brought. But this period of intense bombardment lasted from four and a half billion to just under four billion years ago and, by the end of it, the Earth had all of its oceans.
Exactly where these comets and asteroids came from is uncertain. One way to work it out is to examine the relative proportions of heavy water in comets and asteroids that come from different parts of the Solar System. Heavy water contains deuterium, a form of hydrogen that contains a neutron as well as a proton in its nucleus.
Measurements from some of the most recently-studied comets, including Halley, Hyakutake, and Hale-Bopp, show that they have double the proportion of deuterium in their water, compared with the water in the Earth’s oceans.
In late 2014, the mystery got deeper with early results from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. Rosetta had spent ten years flying three hundred million miles through space to catch up to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, one of the Jupiter family of comets.
An on-board spectrometer found around three times more heavy water there (compared to regular water) than on Earth. If these comets are representative of the early solar system (and there is little reason to think otherwise), then they could not have provided the same water that is now on Earth, and we need to keep looking elsewhere to find the ultimate source of our planet’s water.
Once our oceans were in place, the next challenge faced by our young planet was to hang on to them. Helpfully, our planet happened to be in just the right place. The Earth formed in the Sun’s habitable zone, a distance from our star that is neither too close nor too far away for liquid water to exist on the surface. As if we needed a reminder of how lucky our location is, right next to us in the Solar System are two salutary lessons:
Venus is closer than the Earth to the Sun, and often cited as our evil twin, an example of how things might have turned out on our planet if everything had gone wrong. Its inability to hold onto oceans is a key example; the intense solar radiation on this planet would have created a humid world after the water had arrived in the Late Heavy Bombardment. Water vapor would have reached all the way to the highest reaches of the planet’s thick atmosphere.
The higher the water went, the more likely it was to encounter energetic ultraviolet radiation coming from the Sun, whereupon each water molecule would have been torn apart into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen, being so light, would easily have then escaped into space.
Fast-forward billions of years and we are left with a planet devoid of any oceans of liquid water.
Mars gives us the other extreme, showing what happens to water that ended up too far from the Sun during the Late Heavy Bombardment. When there isn’t enough solar energy to keep rivers and oceans of water moving, a planet can enter a state of runaway glaciation. The polar ice caps expand and, because water ice is white, the fields of frozen water reflect away increasing amounts of the sunlight landing on the surface.
In a vicious cycle, this causes the planet to get even colder. This is likely what happened on Mars, which orbits just outside the Sun’s liquid-water zone. There is evidence that water did flow on the surface of the red planet at some point in its history, but it doesn’t flow today.
Fortunately for us, the Earth faced neither runaway glaciation nor did its water inexorably boil away. A billion years into its life, it finally had all the pieces in place, a stable atmosphere, perfect position in the solar system and a clement environment, to maintain the vast, defining oceans that we see today.
Rico says we were, fortunately, in the 'Goldilocks' zone...
 

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