31 August 2008

Screw the internet, why doncha?

The New York Times has a column about Comcast's new cap on broadband usage: 250 GB per month.
Supposedly that affects only one percent of its customers.
It's the thin edge of the wedge, however; the big providers have long wanted to capitalize on people's expanding usage of the Net:
On the Internet, consumer behavior does not stand still. As the technology company Cisco stated in a report last winter, “today’s ‘bandwidth hog’ is tomorrow’s average user.”
Om Malik, the founder of the technology Web site GigaOm, called the cap “the end of the Internet as we know it.”
DSLReports.com, a Web site about consumer broadband information, said it indicated “a significant shift in the U.S. broadband market that won’t be reversible.”
Comcast’s cap does not amount to Internet metering, the charging of different prices for different broadband speeds or usage, but the change to Comcast’s policy does not rule out metering in the future.
In June, Time Warner Cable began a metering trial in one Texas city by offering various monthly plans and charging extra when consumers exceeded their bandwidth limit. AT&T has said that it is considering a similar pricing plan. The concept is not a foreign one; consumers already pay by usage for water and electricity. But broadband access has seemed unlimited, and any stifling of that is sure to concern some customers.
According to Comcast, a customer would have to download 62,500 songs or 125 standard-definition movies a month to exceed the caps. But high-definition video and video gaming require a higher amount of bandwidth. Derek Turner, the research director for the nonpartisan media policy group Free Press, said broadband caps could create a disincentive to view online video.
Rico says he doesn't watch video on-line, and he sure as hell won't start now...

Everybody's in the shit, weather-wise

The Chinese, the Indians (dot, not feather), the Cajuns, and the Arctic have all been hit hard by Nature: an earthquake in China, floods in India (a broken dam, not a storm), a hurricane in New Orleans, and the Northwest Passage won't freeze over this year.
Can't avoid an earthquake, the flood was a man-made disaster, Gustav won't get to Category 4, and while sailors have longed to take the Northwest Passage for centuries it's not good news for the polar bears.

Rico says he'll pass on any more disasters, thank you very much; he's had enough of his own...

Just a heartbeat away

Sarah Palin is going to take some heat as the election season wears on. The Los Angeles Times has a column on her background:
Plucked from near-political obscurity to become Senator John McCain's running mate, Palin either has pitch-perfect political instincts or has benefited from a spectacular run of luck that has landed her in the ultimate right place at the right time.
It is easy to see why McCain was drawn to her; their political resumes have much in common. The 44-year-old Republican has sold herself as a political maverick willing to buck her party over principle, an ethics reformer who quit a lucrative job rather than play ball with the old boys' network and a pragmatist who will reach across the aisle to get her agenda enacted. Like McCain, she has at times been a black sheep in her own party. Also like McCain, she has been accused of overstepping ethical bounds on occasion.
"The landscape up here is littered with people who have underestimated her," said Eric Croft, a Democratic former state representative who enlisted her help when he investigated a Republican oil commissioner for ethical breaches. "Maybe she is not ready for prime time, or maybe she is going to litter the national landscape with people who have underestimated her."
"She was the right voice at the right time," said rental car executive Andrew Halcro, who ran as an independent against Palin and Democratic former Governor Tony Knowles. "The previous governor had, like, a 20% approval rating. They were tired of this relentless, brute, ignoring-the-public mentality. Then the FBI raids. All she had to do was show up... and she got elected."
"There's a real question whether she's a Republican or a Democrat," said GOP state Representative Mike Hawker. It is doubtful that Democrats would try to claim Palin; she is against abortion even in cases of rape and incest, sued the federal government to take polar bears off the endangered species list, has said creationism should be taught in schools and advocated a constitutional ban on providing healthcare benefits to same-sex partners.
Palin has a "sort of Reaganesque, kind of Teflon quality," due to her charm and "force of personality."
The Anchorage Daily News was enthusiastic: "You go, girl!" its editorial said. It credited her with bucking the GOP establishment and exhibiting a personal toughness that will be an asset to the GOP ticket. But then it fretted: "She's a total beginner on national and international issues. Governor Palin will have to spend the next two months convincing Americans that she's ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency."

A most civil man

Upon rewatching Ken Burns' series on the Civil War of late, Rico was yet again struck by how incredibly cogent and smart Shelby Foote was. He died, lamentably, in June of 2005. He had the kind of military service you'd expect: "Foote was commissioned as a captain in the United States Army during World War II and lost his commission after visiting a female friend in an army vehicle without permission. He returned to the United States and joined the Marines, in whose service he spent the remainder of the war."

Rico says you can always tell a Marine, but you can't tell 'em much... You can, however, enjoy Mr. Foote's incredible three-volume history of the Civil War, The Civil War: A Narrative by buying it from Amazon (click the title to go there).

Finally getting through it

Rico says he's been forcing himself to finish Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk. It's been a very long time since he put a book down without finishing it, and the author of Fight Club deserves that.
Especially because he had some cool ecological information that Rico put in his Hubris blog.

There's not really a pattern here, is there?

Rico says he had to go back and look, just to be sure, but this is his pattern since he could vote:
1972 Democratic McGovern rather than Nixon
1976 Democratic Carter rather than Ford
1980 Democratic Carter rather than Reagan
1984 Democratic Mondale rather than Reagan
1988 Democratic Dukakis rather than Bush the First
1992 Independent Perot rather than Bush the First
1996 Democratic Clinton rather than Dole
2000 Republican Bush the Second rather than Gore
2004 Republican Bush the Second rather than Kerry
2008 Democratic? Republican? Obama rather than McCain, but Palin rather than Biden

Rico says it's going to be a hard decision this year...

Another bunch of lovely wackos

The Sunday Morning show on CBS had a piece on Burning Man.

If you're ever in that part of the world (the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles outside of Reno, Nevada) at the right time (typically the Labor Day weekend, thus right now), you owe it to yourself to go, even at $295 per ticket (it was way cheaper either time that Rico went):
If you can get past the crowds and the dust and even the occasional sandstorm, the experience can be illuminating.
The playa is what folks call the flat, dusty landscape. It was once a lakebed.
The people who find their way here from all over the world are called Burners.
Black Rock City has its own post office, its own radio station. There's even a census bureau, complete with a countess.
"They call me that because I’ve been in charge of the Black Rock Census for the last few years, so I count burners. One burner. Two burner. Three burner. Five burner." The Countess says you'd be surprised just who attends Burning Man. But the Countess went on to add a brief note of caution: "As long as you can survive in the desert, that’s really the kicker. If you can't handle the dust storms, if you can't handle camping out here for a long time in the heat and the cold night and preparing yourself for that? It's probably not the best place."
Larry Harvey has been the guiding spirit behind the festival since 1986, when it started as a small gathering on a beach in San Francisco. Then, as now, it ended with the ceremonial burning of the guest of honor.
Twenty-one years later and a 1,000 times larger, the spirit of Burning Man still burns brightly.
Rico says you can buy videos of Burning Man here. (No commission to Rico, just fifteen bucks to the videographer.)
Rico says he misses attending, but if you want to know where it all came from, go here.

Sumbitch is clever and funny

There's a reason Rico has this cartoon in his sidebar; because it's not only funny but insightful and politically aware, and the guy insists on drawing hot little cartoon women not wearing much clothing...

Rico feels compelled to respond

It has come to Rico's attention that some of his readers have been overheard complaining about his constant imprecations that they should buy some of his stuff.
In the old days, complainers among the crew would have been flogged.
However, since Rico can't actually have you flogged, you'll just have to put up with a short dissertation on why he continually whinges about pelf. (And when was the last time you heard either of those words, much less both in the same sentence?)

Let us remember, however, that about eighteen months ago Rico was quietly employed as a contractor at BristolMyersSquibb in Princeton, New Jersey. One evening, as he was amusing himself at the computer, a little biological landmine went off in his head. This led to some seven weeks in Jefferson hospital, followed by some seven weeks of in-patient rehab at Bryn Mawr Rehab hospital, followed by some eight weeks of out-patient rehab at Bryn Mawr, followed by a year or so of general getting-his-shit-back-together, during which his income has, needless to say, dropped considerably.

So when Rico implores you to spend some of your hard-earned cash on his various items, it's because there's some things in life (like taking his devoted ladyfriend on a richly-deserved vacation to some place with warm water) that he can't afford otherwise.

Anyone wishing to be flogged further can email me and I will be happy to oblige them.
Anyone wishing to be supportive is encouraged to choose from any of the multiple funding options in my sidebar.

The motherwhat of all storms?

Ray Nagin, still the beleaguered mayor of New Orleans, has a new problem: Hurricane Gustav. While the precise track is still uncertain, the cone of uncertainty includes his poor city, still reeling from Katrina, three years on. But with Gustav now a Category Five hurricane, he's not taking any chances, telling residents "You need to be getting your butts moving out of New Orleans now" and issuing a mandatory evacuation order which, for once, residents seem to be responding to.

Rico says he has a friend, John Robinson, who's getting out of Nawlins right now; let's hope things go well for him, as his house is on high ground and thus survived Katrina...

30 August 2008

It will make your blood run cold

The writer Elie Wiesel who, as (amazingly) a survivor of Auschwitz and Birkenau and Buchenwald, certainly knew why, once said these names should only be whispered in the dark for the next thousand years.
That's him in the photo, second row, seventh from the left:
Rico says there's another saying, just as important, that he once saw on a signpost, listing perhaps a dozen of these names, on a streetcorner in Berlin: Lassen Wir Vergessen (Lest We Forget).

Lust object for the day

It's one of those 'guy things' that you either get or you don't, but Rico will get one (even though it's Russian) when he can; they're not cheap (about twelve grand), but it's way less than a car.
Rico says he also really likes the idea of a motorcycle that doesn't fall over when you stop...

Better than a sharp stick, but not by much

With his 'surprise' choice for vice president, John McCain has given the Democrats a nicely political poke in the eye. A woman, sure, but a conservative one who's Pro-Life (hell, even Rico is pro-life, he's just pro-abortion, too), pro-gun, pro-hunting, and pro-a lot of things the Democrats won't like. And better looking than that one the Democrats didn't pick, too...
Given that John McCain is one of the least ethnic candidates in a long time (unless you consider the Irish as ethnic), it was a hell of a smart move. (And they haven't even trotted out her Inuit husband yet, either.)
Rico says it's going to be an interesting couple of months until the election.

Joke 'em if they can't take a fuck

Having had some bullshit with some of his creditors of late, Rico says he is reminded of a story told to him, years ago now, by Jerry Marsullo, the co-owner of Megabooks (now, lamentably, gone) in Palo Alto, California:

Seems a Russian guy that Jerry knew back in New York (Rico did mention that Jerry was from New York, didn't he? Use the appropriate accent in your head.) got called into the IRS office to be asked some questions about his tax returns. Being a good citizen, and a recent one at that, the guy dutifully goes down to the office at the appointed time, only to be told that Mr. Schwartz, his examiner, was busy and he could take a seat and wait.
Which, being a good citizen, he did.
But he was also a self-employed one, a plumber as Rico recalls, and thus losing money while sitting there.
But, being a good citizen, he waited.
Every half hour or so, he would go up to the desk and inquire about the condition of Mr. Schwartz, only to be told to go back and sit down until he was called.
Which, being a good citizen, he did.
Until about two hours into the process, when he marched up to the desk, was told that Mr. Schwartz was still busy, and that he should go sit back down.
"No." (You have to imagine the Russian accent here.)
"No?" The receptionist is, not surprisingly, surprised; that's not a word she was used to hearing.
"No. I have appointment Mr. Schwartz, nine am, but now it nearly noon."
"Sir, if you would..."
"No?" Again, incredulously.
"No. I am leaving."
"But, sir, you can't do that."
"No?" Now it's his turn to be incredulous. "Why? Are you KGB?" (This was, of course, an era in which those initials still meant something.) "You come to my house, take me away, beat me, shoot me? No." He leans in close enough that the receptionist can feel his breath on her face. "You just want the money."
He leaves and goes home.
That afternoon, Mr. Schwartz calls to ask, nicely, when would it be possible for him to come back to the office and speak with them?

So, always remember, they just want the money.
They can't shoot you, they can't beat you, they can't even have you arrested. So tell them to shut up and call you tomorrow and ask nicely...

Just one more thing we love about Jersey

Medical waste washing up on the beaches. USA Today, like all the other news outlets, has an article on beach closings and reopenings:
The town of Avalon allowed swimmers back into the ocean at some of its beaches on Friday afternoon, after closing all of its beaches in the morning because six syringes were found. An additional sweep turned up nothing.
Ocean City closed all its beaches for part of the day after five needles washed up, but reopened half of them by the late afternoon.
Earlier in the week, nearly 200 syringes washed up in Avalon, forcing the town to close some of its beaches throughout the week.
On Thursday, Ocean City banned swimming on part of its beach after six syringes were found on the sand.
Environmental activists say the discovery of syringes in Avalon is one of the worst single cases in years of medical waste washing up on the shore. In the 1980s, thousands of beach-going days were lost because of waste washing ashore, and that discovery sparked a ban on trash dumping off the New Jersey coast.
Three South Jersey lawmakers are urging the Legislature to increase fines for ocean dumping after medical waste washed ashore and fouled beaches at the start of the long Labor Day weekend. Senator Jeff Van Drew and Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam want to double the current $50,000 per day fine allowable under the state's clean water law, and are crafting legislation to make that happen.
State investigators were trying to identify the culprits by tracking serial numbers from the syringes, and the Attorney General's Office has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.
So much for a profitable Labor Day weekend...
Rico says when they find whoever is responsible for this, and they will, they should be forced to rebury all this trash using just their hands and maybe a small shovel...

A ringing in my ears

When Rico woke up this morning, the theme from The Odd Couple was playing in his head:
dah dah dah ta daaah, dah ta daaah dah
But he had to do a search at Television Tunes (highly useful, obviously) to make sure which show it was from.

Civil War for the day

James Worrell of the Delaware Blues, looking good.

29 August 2008

Things Rico hopes never to have to see

Apparently Microsoft has come up with a way to check the validity of your pirated Windows OS installation and then nag you about it until you break down and buy the real stuff...

Good vintages

Rico went to see the new movie Bottle Shock with the ladyfriend (who loves wine and quirky movies, so he thought we were in business). We had both liked Sideways, another quirky movie about wines and California. (There's also some similarity to Fight Club, but you'll have to trust me on that one.) With Bottle Shock based on a real story, that seemed a plus as well. (You can read a review, not by Rico, that says it's "a film for oenophiles, not cinephiles" here and order yourself some of the real Chateau Montelena's wine here.) Rico says it was very quirky; it took both of us awhile to get into it.
Overall, Rico says he'd have to rate it a good Netflix movie, seen from the couch with a nice bottle of something you like; in the theatre, with only popcorn, it was just okay... (However, seeing Freddy Rodriguez as Gustavo on his Ural motorcycle made Rico salivate for one again.)
The acting was excellent, of course; you'd expect no less from the likes of Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Dennis Farina (though whoever put him in that gawdawful checked suit should be shot), and Bradley Whitford, with a host of minor character actors you never heard of. The 'intern', Sam, played by Rachael Taylor, was California-hot at its finest (though she's Australian, apparently):

The rich are different than you or me...

...they have more money. (That's the punchline to an old joke, supposedly a conversation between Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
But the Peripatetic Engineer, over at the Sandbox blog, has a classic:
I’m back after a little vacation. The Mrs. and I cashed in some frequent flier miles and took a trip to Paris and into Provence. I thought I was totally away from The Sandbox until two Lamborghinis showed up one day and parked in front of the Hilton Tour Eiffel. They both had Abu Dhabi registrations. (But not low numbers, so they must have belonged to a low-level sheikh) My wife asked my why they would have Abu Dhabi license plates if they were in France. I explained to her that the sheikh probably loaded his personal cars into his personal jet airplane before departing for France. She found the concept of someone having that much wealth difficult to reconcile with her life experience. But, as she is fond of saying, “The rich are different”.
Rico says he can't imagine having that much money, either, but he'd like to...

Looks like it's not Piyush

The current television-talking-head speculation is that McCain's pick for vice president is going to be Sarah Palin, the female governor of Alaska. (News clue: a private plane bearing a woman and her children flew last night from Alaska to Ohio, where McCain currently resides. The final announcement wasn't made until noon today.)

There goes Rico's notion of the Dream Ticket Upside Down (white guy on top, ethnic on the bottom) of McCain and Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. Of course, with hurricane Gustav bearing down on New Orleans (just what they don't need), Bobby's probably got his hands full.
But Palin's an interesting choice; according to Wikipedia, she was first runner-up in the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant (which shows), and she hunts, eats moose burgers, ice fishes, rides snowmobiles, and owns a float plane. Palin holds a lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association. She admits that she used marijuana when it was legal in Alaska, but says that she did not like it. Her husband, Todd, a native Yup'ik Eskimo, works for BP on the North Slope. Her son, Track, the eldest of Palin's five children, now serves in an infantry brigade and will be deployed to Iraq in September. She also has three daughters: Bristol, 17, Willow, 13, and Piper, 7. Palin's second son, Trig Paxson Van Palin, has Down's syndrome.

A female politician, married to a Native American, who shoots, and has a son (named Track; that'll get him grief from some sergeant) in the Army in Iraq and another with Down's syndrome, and killed the Bridge to Nowhere project. Pretty much covers all the bases; if McCain softens up a little, Rico says he might have to reconsider his vote come November...

Not nice, even for Democrats

Seems that Jimmy Carter took his moment on the stage at the Democratic convention to piss down the leg of John McCain. That's alright, that's what your supposed to do in politics. But to accuse McCain of "milking every possible drop of advantage" from the five years he was held in captivity as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, that's just plain white-trash mean.
Especially since McCain did such a nice job (and his handlers are to be commended for it) with his 'welcome to the campaign' television commercial...

Civil War for the day

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, hero of Gettysburg, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

28 August 2008

More from Rico's childhood

Rico says that driving late at night when he was a teenager, especially if he was going up to Lake Tahoe (something about the altitude), gave just the right conditions for the ionospheric skip to deliver XERB out of Tijuana, Mexico. The late-night voice, so distinctive you still recognize it immediately even decades later (they still use him, or imitators, in commercials), was, of course, the inestimal Robert Weston Smith, more formally known as Wolfman Jack. (This was well before everyone else saw him in American Graffiti.) His voice still echoes down the years as the quintessential rock-n-roll disc jockey...

Only the first time

The Huffington Post has an on-line article as a follow-up to an AP report that three 'meth heads' arrested in a Denver suburb with "two high-powered rifles, two wigs, camouflage clothing, a bulletproof vest and two walkie-talkies" in their truck were not a 'credible threat' to Barack Obama.

Rico says that Dallas in 1963 may, unfortunately, soon look awfully familiar...

Two out of three

Saddam Hussein. Bad guy. Dead.
King Hussein of Jordan. Good guy. Dead.
Barack Hussein Obama. Good guy. Not dead. Yet. (See related story above.)

Made it, finally

At long last (Rico says he couldn't bear to sit through it), the Democrats nominated Barack Obama and Joe Biden as their ticket. Now it's on to the general election and much sturm und drang in the interim...

Separated at birth

Rico watched Seven Samurai again today. Splendid Kurosawa movie. Highly recommended, and very Japanese. Toshiro Mifune at his comic finest, too. But doesn't Seiji Miyaguchi (fourth from the left above and at left below) look just like Pat Paulsen?

Hit it right on the money

Rico didn't even have to fake the image this time; when he opened the blog, there it was, in round numbers. Thanks for your patronage. (Now please go buy some of my books or badges and support my act.)

Civil War for the day

The grave of my ancestor, William Jones, killed at Murfreesboro.

27 August 2008

Probing Rico's head

Rico went for a tuneup to the shrink today; the ladyfriend was concerned that my recent falling out with my until-then oldest and dearest friend had made me depressed. It did, for awhile (along with really pissed off), but now Rico is merely sad, and realizes that he'll just have to get along without the dumb fuck for the rest of his life...

Rico's bookshelf

Empires of the Sea: the Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World, besides having the longest subtitle of any recent book, looks interesting as hell, and will have to be purchased soon:
In Empires of the Sea, acclaimed historian Roger Crowley has written his most mesmerizing work to date–a thrilling account of this brutal decades-long battle between Christendom and Islam for the soul of Europe, a fast-paced tale of spiraling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar and features a cast of extraordinary characters: Barbarossa, The King of Evil, the pirate who terrified Europe; the risk-taking Emperor Charles V; the Knights of St. John, the last crusading order after the passing of the Templars; the messianic Pope Pius V; and the brilliant Christian admiral Don Juan of Austria.
This struggle’s brutal climax came between 1565 and 1571, seven years that witnessed a fight to the finish decided in a series of bloody set pieces: the epic siege of Malta, in which a tiny band of Christian defenders defied the might of the Ottoman army; the savage battle for Cyprus; and the apocalyptic last-ditch defense of southern Europe at Lepanto–one of the single most shocking days in world history. At the close of this cataclysmic naval encounter, the carnage was so great that the victors could barely sail away “because of the countless corpses floating in the sea". Lepanto fixed the frontiers of the Mediterranean world that we know today.
Roger Crowley conjures up a wild cast of pirates, crusaders, and religious warriors struggling for supremacy and survival in a tale of slavery and galley warfare, desperate bravery and utter brutality, technology and Inca gold. Empires of the Sea is page-turning narrative history at its best–a story of extraordinary color and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises, and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts. It provides a crucial context for our own clash of civilizations.
About the Author
Roger Crowley was born in 1951 and spent part of his childhood in Malta. He read English at Cambridge University and taught English in Istanbul, where he developed a strong interest in the history of Turkey. He has traveled widely throughout the Mediterranean basin over many years and has a wide-ranging knowledge of its history and culture. He lives in Gloucestershire, England. He is also the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West.
With the second-longest title of recent books, Near Death on the High Seas: True Stories of Disaster and Survival by Cecil Kuhne also looks destined for Rico's shelves:
In Near Death on the High Seas, Cecil Kuhne collects terrifying and astounding experiences of sailors confronting the awesome, raw power of the sea. These tales —filled with everyday heroes and survivors— comprise a riveting and often breathtaking collection of extraordinary stories that show the terrible ferocity of the untamable ocean.

Mimicking real life, yet again

The new book Mutiny, by David Hagberg and Boris Gindin, is the story of the real mutiny that inspired The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.

The death of China

Men's Journal, in its August issue, had an interesting article on the environmental crisis brewing in China:
About 740 miles south of Beijing is the drab metropolis of Lanzhou, one of the world's most polluted cities. Given that China has 16 of the 20 filthiest cities on Earth, this is a real feat, even by regional standards...
Battered by controversy over the violent clampdown on protests in Tibet this spring and the tragic death of 65,000 people in an earthquake seismically smaller than the one that killed 67 people in California nineteen years ago, China is desperate to present an environmentally friendly face with an Olympic-size makeover...
Every city remakes its infrastructure somewhat when it hosts the Olympics, but Beijing's renovation has been so over-the-top, it's ridiculous...
The authoritarian government will not be able to hide the environmental nightmare that is contemporary China...
In any event, the attempts to clear the air for the athletes are a Potemkin village that will topple over the minute the global media heads home, leaving residents with the same thick smog and foul water they've been living with for years...
Its heavy dependence on coal-fired power plants and the explosive growth in automobiles that wealth brings has propelled China past the US in the unenviable category of "most CO2 pumped into the atmosphere"...
Far more Chinese are killed by pollution each year— 656,000, according to the World Health Organization— than in the US or anyplace else, and cancer rates are skyrocketing...
Today 320 million Chinese— almost equal to the entire population of the US— drink unsafe water...
Tainted water kills almost 100,000 Chinese every year...

In an accompanying chart, the magazine reveals the magnitude of the disaster:
Carbon dioxide emissions in China will double from 2006 to 2030.
Lakes and rivers too polluted for irrigation or industrial use: 28%
City water too polluted for drinking: 90%
Chinese population drinking unsafe water anyway: 25%, equal to 320 million people
Chinese who die from drinking polluted water each year: 95,600
Premature deaths caused by pollution each year: 656,000
Financial losses due to pollution in 2004: $64 billion
Arable land contaminated by pollution: more than 10%
Land affected by desertification: 27%
Portion of the wetlands of the North China Plain (the major growing region) that have turned dry: 83%
Rico says read 'em and weep people; those are statistics from Hell, worse than anything this country went through in the Great Depression...

Rico's bookshelf

Trevanian. A writer with only one name is always intriguing, but his stuff is really, really good. Click the post title to go to all his books available via Amazon; buy any of these three, along with any of the others, and you won't be disappointed. Summer's not over yet, so you can still get some vacation reading in... (Turns out, according to the article in Men's Journal that prompted this post, that Trevanian was a pseudonym protectively adopted by a University of Texas professor named Rodney Whittaker, who was afraid his publishing The Eiger Sanction would get him into trouble at school.)

26 August 2008

Not surrounded, apparently

Rico had to go looking on his walk today, and took these pictures to prove it, but apparently he is not surrounded by residences with 1111 addresses, as he'd thought.
The first one is 1115 Ashton Road, in the street right behind Rico's house, and the second one is 1101.
The third one is 1109 Cloverhill Road.
The bottom one is 1101 Morris Road, two blocks behind Rico's house. The 1111 house on Morris was subsumed by a development on Strawbridge Court.

What's a few lost years, unless it's your only childhood?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Chinese athletes who ended up doing so well at the Olympics (the most gold medals of any country) paid a high price:
If anybody feels a pang of jealousy over China's haul of Olympic gold medals, they need only pause to consider what the athletes went through to get them.
The contrast couldn't be greater than between the Chinese and US athletes. In their post-match interviews, the Americans rambled on about their parents, their siblings, their pets, their hobbies. They repeatedly used the word fun. Shawn Johnson, the 16-year-old gymnast, waxed enthusiastic about the classes she'll take when she returns to her public high school in West Des Moines, Iowa.
"To achieve Olympic glory for the motherland is the sacred mission assigned by the Communist Party central," is how Chinese Sports Minister Liu Peng put it at the beginning of the Games.
The Chinese athletes generally don't have pets or hobbies. Or brothers or sisters (since most are products of China's one-child policy).
"You have no control over your own life. Coaches are with you all the time. People are always watching you, the doctors, even the chefs in the cafeteria. You have no choice but to train so as not to let the others down," gymnast Chen Yibing told Chinese reporters last week after winning a gold medal on the rings. He said he could count the amount of time he'd spent with his parents "by hours... very few hours."
The Chinese sports system was inspired by the Soviet Union. Whereas many US athletes have ambitious parents to nurture their talents, China's future champions are drafted as young children for state-run boarding schools. Scouts trawl through the population of schoolchildren for potential champions, plucking out the extremely tall for basketball, the slim and double-jointed for diving -- regardless of whether they know how to swim.
The final tally gave China 51 gold medals to the United States' 36, and although the Americans won more medals overall (110 to 100), the statistics allowed the Chinese government to claim victory for what Liu called its "scientific" methods.
But the costs are higher than many Westerners would tolerate. China is suspected of using 14-year-old gymnasts and falsifying their ages to get around a rule designed to protect girls' health during the transition into puberty. In sports where younger athletes are permitted, they often take risks that elsewhere would be unacceptable.
Despite the validation provided by the Olympic medal count, China is probably heading in the direction of a more open system where the athletes have more freedom. Having tasted celebrity and the wealth it can bring, many athletes have balked at remaining in a system where they are treated like rank-and-file soldiers.
More sophisticated Chinese are also mindful that being an Olympic superpower doesn't necessarily translate into world dominance. The 1988 Olympics in Seoul were a huge triumph for the Soviet Union and East Germany, which won 55 and 37 gold medals, respectively. By the time the next Olympics took place, in 1992, both countries were defunct.
Rico says he doesn't think the Communists are going to suddenly fall out of power in China, but in case anyone missed it, the place is looking more and more capitalistic every day...

Now Tom might have time for my movie

The Los Angeles Times has an article about the slowdown in film production in LA; seems they were concerned about a possible actors' strike about now, and pushed schedules ahead in the last year or so:
Only one major studio film, DreamWorks SKG's sci-fi flick Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, is shooting on location in Los Angeles, compared with seven studio films that were in production this time last year, according to FilmL.A., the nonprofit group that coordinates film permits for Los Angeles and in unincorporated areas of the county.
The Los Angeles region has seen a steady outflow of feature film projects to other countries and states, about 40 of which now offer a plethora of production rebates and tax breaks that aren't available in California. Since peaking in 1996, annual film production has declined in nine of the last 11 years in Los Angeles.
But Brown and others in the industry say the slowdown has been exacerbated by labor unrest this year, which saw the first Hollywood writers strike in two decades.
To plan for a possible actors strike, studios decided as far back as a year ago to revamp their lineups so that most films would wrap shooting by June 30, when the actors contract expired. As a result, studios have already filmed most of the movies that will be released in 2009, leaving them with fewer movies to shoot this year.
Most studio executives now think an actors strike is unlikely and are moving ahead with big-budget films... The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the acceleration and subsequent falloff in filming that occurred in 2001, when studios prepared for possible strikes by actors and writers.
As noted earlier, Rico sent Mr. Selleck a copy of The Hero Business, hoping he'd want to be Jack Hayes...

Hey, if a cow can figure it out

The Los Angeles Times has an article about an unusual use of Google Earth photography: determining which way cows stand.
German scientists using satellite images posted online by the Google Earth software program have observed something that has escaped the notice of farmers, herders, and hunters for thousands of years: Cattle grazing or at rest tend to orient their bodies in a north-south direction just like a compass needle.
Studying photographs of 8,510 cattle in 308 herds from around the world, zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen and their colleagues found that two out of every three animals in the pictures were oriented in a direction roughly pointing to magnetic north. The resolution of the images was not sufficient to tell which ends of the cows were pointing north, however.
Cows are known to align their bodies facing uphill, facing into a strong wind to minimize heat loss or broadside to the sun on cold mornings to absorb heat, but the fact that the pictures were taken at many locations, at different times of day and in generally calm weather minimized the effect of environmental factors, the researchers said.
Similar results were found in field studies of 2,974 red and roe deer in the Czech Republic, the researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers had been studying magnetism in smaller animals and were looking for a way to extend their work to larger species.

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