30 September 2008

Yeah, but great tits...

Another thing Rico's not going to do

al-Reuters has the story out of Kathmandu of some guys who'll be lucky not to end up dead:
Dozens of skydivers will attempt the first parachute jumps over Mount Everest next week. At least 34 skydivers from 14 countries, including Britain, the United States, Canada, Denmark and New Zealand plan to jump from an aircraft flying 465 feet above the Everest summit on 2 October.
Hurtling past the 8,850-meter (29,035 feet) peak, the skydivers plan, weather permitting, to freefall for 1 minute before deploying their parachutes and cruising for 8-10 minutes to land in a flat drop zone at 12,350 feet.
"This will be the most important event in the Himalayan adventure since 1953," said Nigel Gifford, owner of the British company High & Wild which has organized the team.
"To freefall in front of Mount Everest with four other highest mountains is an exceptional experience," said Gifford, 62, who climbed Everest in 1976. "It has never been done before."
Mount Everest was first climbed by New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa 55 years ago.
Each participant will wear an oxygen mask and carry a larger than normal parachute to help a fast descent through the thin air of the world's highest drop zone.
"It is a very big adventure, it is a truly historic adventure," said 40-year-old Danish participant Per Wimmer. "This is not walking the path. This is true adventure," said Wimmer, a financier and entrepreneur living in London, adding that the plan was not free from risk. Not finding the drop zone after the fall, extreme cold, and malfunctioning of oxygen masks were some of the potential hazards, Wimmer said.
Rico says these guys are fucking crazy, but he can't wait to see the video...

A new one to Rico

Rico says he just finished reading Hit and Run by Lawrence Block, and now he's got a new author to follow (long after Elmore Leonard and John D. Macdonald, but that how it works sometime). It was slow going in the beginning, but sped up considerably about halfway through. Well written, good story, Rico says check it out.

Joke of the day

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness with an agnostic?
Someone who rings your doorbell for no apparent reason.
Lawrence Block in Hit and Run

It's in a wine bottle, surely it's wine

You can rent Bottle Shock or you can read this column on wine. Either will shatter your precious notions about wine and the making thereof:

"These days, you probably won't find anti-freeze in your bottle, as they famously did with certain Austrian wines in 1985. Or, as in 1987, when methanol was added to some Italian wines and killed 23 people. But the list of what you will find grows ever longer: oak powder, fruit flavourings, acids, cleaning agents, anti-oxidants, and stabilisers. The Australian Wine Research Institute's Analytical Service lists around 40 chemicals that are considered acceptable, including bentonite - an absorbent material, also used in cat litter, which helps remove excess protein from white wine. By comparison, European regulations list over 60 (including three types of bentonite), while the South African list runs to 76."

Rico says he's fortunate in that he doesn't drink a lot of wine, but don't get him started on what they did to Coca-Cola (and why he only drinks the Mexican stuff now)...

One for the good (little) guys

The BBC has the story:
A group of retired Gurkhas fighting for the right to settle in Britain have won their immigration test case at London's High Court. They were challenging immigration rules which said that those who retired from the British Army before 1997 did not have an automatic right to stay. The government said it would now review all Gurkhas' cases.
The regiment moved its main base from Hong Kong to the UK in 1997 and the government had argued that Gurkhas discharged before that date were unlikely to have strong residential ties with the UK. That meant those who wanted to settle in the UK had to apply for British residence and could be refused and deported. The judgement could affect some 2,000 former Gurkhas who retired before 1997.
The judge, Mr Justice Blake, said the Gurkhas' long service, conspicuous acts of bravery, and loyalty to the Crown all pointed to a "moral debt of honour" and gratitude felt by British people. He ruled that instructions given by the Home Office to immigration officials were unlawful and needed urgent revision.
Lawyer Martin Howe said: "Today we have seen a tremendous and historic victory for the gallant Gurkha veterans of Nepal. This is a victory that restores honour and dignity to deserving soldiers who faithfully served in Her Majesty's armed forces. It is a victory for common sense; a victory for fairness; and a victory for the British sense of what is right."
The five ex-Gurkhas involved in the test case were Lance Corporal Gyanendra Rai, Deo Prakash Limbu, Corporal Chakra Limbu, Lance Corporal Birendra Shrestha and Bhim Gurung. Gita Mukhiya also took part on behalf her deceased husband.
Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years and are hand picked from a fiercely contested recruitment contest in Nepal to win the right to join. They have seen combat all over the world, with 200,000 fighting in the two world wars.
Prominent supporter actress Joanna Lumley said it was a "chance to right a great wrong". Lumley, whose father served with the Gurkhas, is one of those leading the campaign. Outside court, she said: "This day is more important than I can tell you because it gives our country the chance to right a great wrong and to wipe out a national shame that has stained us all."
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was a "wonderful vindication" for those who had campaigned for a change in the law. "I've always felt that if someone is prepared to die for this country, then they should have the right to live in this country," he said. "The key thing now is to look at the ruling in detail and to make sure that the government now translates that into action and doesn't try and squirm out of it."
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said in a statement that the Home Office would revise its guidance surrounding the 1997 cut-off date. "I have always been clear that where there is a compelling case, soldiers and their families should be considered for settlement," she said. "We will honour our commitment to the Gurkhas by reviewing all cases by the end of the year."
Rico says brave little brown men with big knives; it's good to see the Brits having to pay up for two hundred years of loyal service by the Gurkhas.

Who knew Ohio was first?

Ohio apparently has early voting, and now same-day registration:
Ohio courts ruled that new voters could register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day. Republicans, who argue same-day voting opens the door to voter fraud, opposed the measure; Democrats backed it.
Monday's Ohio Supreme Court decision, backed by two federal judges, cleared the way for same-day registration and voting during a week-long period up to 6 October, when voter registration ends. The ruling was welcomed by state Democrats, who hope to encourage college students and other groups such as minorities, the poor and the homeless to make use of the same-day voting period. Previously, voters had to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot, which tended to reduce participation among such voter groups. They often favor the Democrats.
The ruling was seen as a victory for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, who had been criticised by Republicans for telling county election organisers to allow same-day voting.
Both Mr. Obama's campaign and the Republican National Committee have urged supporters to make use of Ohio's 35-day early voting period to cast their absentee ballots. The ballots can be sent by post to voters' county election boards or delivered in person to designated places.
A number of states, including the battleground states of Iowa, Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina, allow early and absentee voting. Some voters prefer it because they fear potential problems and long lines at polling stations on election day.
Rico says wait for the screaming if Ohio becomes crucial in the election...

Burn 'em, sure, but in prison?

The Scotsman has another one by Gareth Edwards, about the celebration of the Hindu festival Dusshera, which involves large effigies (up to forty feet high), which are burned during the festival. The only difference here is who's building and lighting them:
It is one of the most famous Hindu festivals in the world, celebrating a symbolic victory of good over evil with the burning of three gigantic effigies. But in Edinburgh, this year, the spectacle of Dusshera will not quite measure up because of health and safety fears. Last year Edinburgh prisoners created effigies up to forty feet high for the event which can be traced back more than 5000 years. While it made for an impressive sight on Calton Hill, the flaming statues also sparked safety concerns. Organisers today admitted they had asked for this year's effigies to be significantly scaled back.
Mohindra Dhall, president of the Scottish Indian Arts Forum, which is organising the event, said the prisoners had once again produced the effigies but this time at about two thirds of the size. "From a health and safety point of view I was told that last year's effigies were fairly hazardous, and there were a few concerns expressed, so we have decided to scale them down this year," he said. "Apart from that we found it was very difficult to get them up to Calton Hill, and then to get them assembled, so hopefully we won't have that problem this year. The work by the prisoners has again been fantastic – we like to give them a free hand to make these effigies, and they have decided to make statues with twenty arms, which looks great. As well as that, some of the detail they have painted on is extraordinary."
Dusshera celebrates Rama's killing the Demon King Ravana, and liberation of his wife Sita – a symbol of the victory of good over evil as portrayed in the great Indian epic Ramayana.
The three effigies – representing the evil king Ravana and his henchmen – are traditionally the centrepiece of the ancient Hindu festival, and are burned in an act symbolising the defeat of the forces of evil.
Barry Fowler, unit manager at Saughton prison, said: "We have scaled down the effigies this year – they are probably about two thirds the size – as I think we maybe got a bit carried away before. So they are smaller, but the prisoners have put in a lot of work on them. We have some very creative prisoners and it is good to see that creativity being put to a positive use to give something back to the community."
This year's festival will start at the Castle Esplanade, where a parade will assemble before leading crowds down the Royal Mile and up to Calton Hill, where events are expected to start at 6pm. The route has been agreed with the organisers after they were told they would not be able to use the traditional route along Princes Street due to the tram works.
Rico says the British are different from us; he's not sure what US prison would let its prisoners make anything forty feet tall, just in case they decided to go over the wall with it...

Another Wilson croaks

The Scotsman has an article by Liam Paterson about Jock Wilson, who died at 105. That's not unusual, especially for a WWII vet these days, but it's where he served that was special:
It has been reported that Britain's oldest veteran of the Normandy landings died on Monday, aged 105.
Jock Wilson, from Dunbar in East Lothian, was an observer for the 79th Regiment Royal Artillery. He made his landing at Juno Beach and took part in the subsequent savage fighting in the beachhead that ended in one of the biggest defeats for German forces in WWII.
Twice wounded in the war, he received the Military Medal for his actions and was also awarded France's highest decoration – the Legion d'Honneur – by Jacques Chirac at the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2004.
Mr. Wilson had only recently celebrated his 105th birthday, where he was presented with a congratulatory telegram from the Queen.
Rico says that's undoubtedly what you want on your hundred-and-fifth, a fucking telegram from the Queen... (But we Wilsons have to stick together, even in death.)

Another mystery

Bloomberg.com has the story:
British police said they were making "significant progress'' in a murder investigation started after Barclays Wealth Chief Operating Officer Frank McGarahan was killed following a fight near a taxi stand.
Detectives were examining security camera footage from the area of Norwich in Norfolk, where McGarahan was assaulted at about 3 a.m. on 28 September. McGarahan, 45, died yesterday in Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge.
A postmortem examination was scheduled for today to establish the exact cause of death for McGarahan, who was kicked and punched by a gang of young men, Detective Superintendent Chris Hobley said.
Rico says when the cops say 'making significant progress', that means 'we don't have a clue'...
Witnesses said he went to help a young couple who were being attacked by a gang of men in their early 20s, and suffered head injuries when the gang turned on him.
A doorman from a nearby nightclub, Darryl Lawton, tried to stop the attack and had his jaw broken by the gang, the Norwich Evening News reported, citing the club's manager, Andy Foster. Foster told the newspaper that Lawton gave McGarahan first aid until an ambulance arrived.
Rico says now that's bravery, getting your jaw broken and still giving first aid to the wounded...

It's spreading

The International Herald Tribune has an article via the Associated Press about the continuing melamine disaster:
South Korean investigators say they have found high levels of melamine in two more Chinese-made food products. The Korea Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that melamine was found in Nabisco Ritz cracker cheese sandwiches and in rice crackers made by Danyang Day Bright Company. Melamine has now been found in six products imported to South Korea, including Misarang snacks made in China and in Chinese-made nondairy creamer imported from Hong Kong. South Korea has banned imports of all Chinese-made food products containing powdered milk.
Rico says uh-oh, the first recognizable brand name... Let's hope they don't import any to this country.

Both poles are white, why not?

The Phoenix lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds. Too cold and too dry, though, so it melts before it hits the ground:
It seems that the interplanetary Earthling probe-droid has also found signs of calcium carbonate and possible clay at its landing site in the plains of the Vastitas Borealis, close to the Martian North Pole. Carbonates and clay on Earth normally form in the presence of water. "We have found carbonate," rejoiced William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, a major piece of kit in Phoenix's armoury. "This points toward episodes of interaction with water in the past."
Excited earthling boffinry chiefs hope for yet more revelations from the far-flung polar probe. However they are in a race against the onset of autumnal gloom on the arctic dune seas of the Vastitas Borealis. The solar-powered lander is already well beyond its expected service life.
"For nearly three months after landing, the sun never went below the horizon at our landing site," said Barry Goldstein, NASA interplanetary robo-probo chief.
"Now it is gone for more than four hours each night, and the output from our solar panels is dropping each week. Before the end of October, there won't be enough energy to keep using the robotic arm."
If the probe can just hold on long enough, Whiteway reckons that Phoenix might even detect snow reaching the Red Planet's surface before it finally conks out. The Canadian scientist is plainly hoping for a white Christmas at the Martian North Pole.
Rico says 'boffin' is British-speak for scientists.

No stupider than anything else of late

The Los Angeles Times has a political blog that, hopefully, is someone's drug-induced fantasy:
It's been one of the most persistent rumors on the internet: an e-mail making the rounds of In-boxes all month, titled Rumor Has It. According to this unsigned e-mail, Biden will step aside as the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket shortly after Thursday night's vice presidential debate against Palin. Biden will, according to the unverified e-mail cite health concerns. He did suffer two brain aneurysms and was hospitalized about twenty years ago. Since Biden's Delaware Senate seat is safe, he could safely return to that job, holding that seat for the party. And the last-minute vacancy would allow Obama to fill it with a woman to counter the GOP's pioneering gender move.
That replacement choice could be Senator Hillary Clinton, who, true to her primary promises, has been out dutifully campaigning anyway for the man who defeated her.
Or Obama would choose Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, daughter of a former Democratic governor. Either one would throw off the Republican strategies and be a potential game-changer.
Switching running mates in mid-campaign may have opportunities but can also be dangerous; the last time it happened was 1972 when another Democratic senator atop the ticket, George McGovern, replaced another Democratic senator running mate, Tom Eagleton, with Sargent Shriver. The new ticket was annihilated by incumbent Republican Richard Nixon.
A spokesman for the Obama campaign dismisses the persistent e-mail message as "not true; an internet rumor."
But Snopes, the website that debunks urban and internet myths, thinks enough of the rumor to add a page called 'Ticket Exchange'; instead of shooting it down, the site classifies the status of the Democratic ticket change rumor as "undetermined."
Rico says that's the ugliest rumor he's heard in a long time, and he hopes like hell it's not true. If Obama is stupid enough (and Biden self-destructive enough) to do it, it would leave Rico in a serious quandary as to who to vote for come November...

Wonder what that phone call was about

The Associated Press has an article by Maggie Michael on the clusterfuck in Egypt:
A European tour group kidnapped in the Sahara Desert was abruptly freed after a phone call to one of the captors, and all 19 hostages piled into a single car, some clinging to the roof as they drove 200 miles to safety.
The accounts by the freed Europeans and their Egyptian guides contradicted reports from Egyptian security officials, who described a dramatic rescue involving gun battles between Egyptian forces and the hostages, with the state news agency quoting the defense minister that half the kidnappers had been killed.
As their captivity dragged into its tenth night, one of their captors received a phone call, the Egyptian drivers said from the hospital. "They told all the Egyptians to stand in one line and they cocked their weapons, and at that moment we thought we were dead," said Hassan Abdel Hakim. "Suddenly the man told us to take one car and leave — there were 19 of us packed into one car, some on the roof. We left everything, we didn't even have room for a spare tire. We only had a GPS to go in the right direction until we met the Egyptian special forces around Eight Bells," he said referring to a defunct airfield in southwestern Egypt.
Michele Barrera, a 71-year-old Italian who was among the group, confirmed the drivers' account in a telephone interview from his home near the northern Italian city of Turin, describing how they were suddenly released. "It was nothing dramatic, they just shouted 'go, go, go!' and they packed all of us in one car, allowing us to drive away," he said.
The car started off at 8 p.m. and drove through the night some 200 miles before being found by what were initially hostile Egyptian security forces, said Sherif Farouq Mohammed, a 36-year-old driver. "They pointed their weapons at us and we were waving our hands trying to tell them that we are the hostages," he said. "Apparently, they received information that the kidnappers were roaming the desert in white vehicles."
The five Italians and five Germans, as well as a Romanian living in Germany, were back in their home countries by Tuesday, after being kidnapped together with eight Egyptian guides and drivers on 19 September.
Abdel Hakim said the kidnappers were ethnic Africans and they spoke their own language, talking to the Egyptians in broken Arabic. He added they appeared to be Muslims, praying and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
The kidnappers were constantly moving the hostages, suggesting they were trying to evade rescuers.
The ordeal began 19 September during a safari on the Gilf al-Kebir, a desert plateau renowned for prehistoric cave art in a remote corner of southwestern Egypt, near the Libyan and Sudanese borders. While the group was camping, heavily armed gunmen in SUVs seized them and took them across the unguarded border into Sudan.
The abduction — the first of its kind involving tourists in Egypt — was an embarrassment to the Egyptian government, which depends on tourism as the country's biggest foreign currency earner. Tour companies feared it was a sign that chaos in violence-torn eastern Chad and Sudan's Darfur region was spilling over into the isolated corner of Egypt.
The kidnappers, who officials said were Sudanese and Chadian tribesmen, reportedly demanded up to $15 million in ransom and were negotiating with German officials by satellite phone. At the same time, Egyptian and Sudanese troops working with German and Italian intelligence experts combed the desert looking for them.
Then, on Sunday morning, Sudanese troops encountered eight of the kidnappers, apparently sent to get fuel and food. In a running gunbattle, six of the kidnappers were killed and two captured, Egyptian and Sudanese officials said. The two kidnappers told authorities the remainder of the gunmen and their captives were holed up in Tabat Shajara in Chad, just across the border with Sudan, some 250 miles southwest of the Gilf al-Kebir. On Sunday night, the remaining kidnappers then apparently released their hostages after taking all their belongings. On Monday, Egyptian authorities denied that any ransom was paid.
Rico says it'd make a great comedy 'caper' movie...

Them, not us

The New York Times has the 'no, no, it was them' story:
Defying President Bush and the leaders of both parties, rank-and-file lawmakers in the House on Monday rejected a $700 billion economic rescue plan in a revolt that rocked the Capitol, sent markets plunging and left top lawmakers groping for a resolution.
The stunning defeat of the proposal on a 228-205 vote after marathon talks by senior Congressional and Bush administration officials lowered a fog of uncertainty over economies around the globe. Its authors had described the measure as essential to preventing widespread economic calamity.
In the end, only 65 Republicans — just one-third of those voting — backed the plan despite personal pleas from President Bush and encouragement from their presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. By contrast, 140 Democrats, or 60 percent, voted in favor, many after voicing grave misgivings. Their nominee, Senator Barack Obama, also backed the bill.
Rico says 'widespread economic calamity'? Just what we fucking needed. (Not.) But when was the last time you saw conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats voting on the same side?
Lawmakers on both sides pointed to an outpouring of opposition from deeply hostile constituents just five weeks before every seat in the House was up for election as a fundamental reason that the measure was defeated. House members in potentially tough races and those seeking Senate seats fled from the plan in droves.

Pay up or get fucked up

Rico says he's the perfect person to send over to Moneybookers.com. (Click the post title and go make their lives miserable. If you know how to really do it electronically, be sure to email Rico and tell him how.)

The dog that caught the car

The New York Times has the story of the idiot pirates:
The Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter loaded with tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition said in an interview Tuesday that they had no idea that the ship was carrying arms when they seized it on the high seas. “We just saw a big ship,” said the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali. “So we stopped it.” The pirates quickly learned, though, that their booty was an estimated $30 million worth of heavy weaponry, heading for Kenya or Sudan, depending on who you ask.
He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”
Rico says, yeah, just like a coast guard, only one the Russians are going to blow the shit out of when their frigate shows up...
Piracy in Somalia is a highly-organized, lucrative, ransom-driven business. Just this year, pirates have hijacked more than 25 ships, and in many cases, they were paid million dollar ransoms to release them. The juicy payoffs have attracted gunmen from across Somalia and the pirates are thought to now number in the thousands.
The piracy industry started about 10 to 15 years ago, Somali officials said, as a response to illegal fishing. Somalia’s central government imploded in 1991, casting the country into chaos. With no patrols along the shoreline, Somalia’s tuna-rich waters were soon plundered by commercial fishing fleets from around the world. Somali fishermen armed themselves and turned into vigilantes by confronting illegal fishing boats and demanding that they pay a tax.
“From there, they got greedy” explained Mohamed Osman Aden, a Somali diplomat in Kenya. “They starting attacking everyone.”
By the early 2000s, many of the fishermen had traded in their nets for machine guns and were hijacking any vessel — sailboat, oil tanker, United Nations-chartered food ship — that they could catch.
“It’s true that the pirates started to defend the fishing business,” Mr. Mohamed said. “And illegal fishing is a real problem for us. But this does not justify these boys to now act like guardians. They are criminals. The world must help us crack down on them.”
The United States and several European countries, in particular France, have been talking about ways to patrol the waters together. The United Nations is even considering creating something like a maritime peacekeeping force. Because of all the hijackings, the waters off of Somalia’s 1,880-mile-long coast are now considered the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.
Kenyan officials continued to maintain that the weapons aboard were part of a legitimate arms deal for the Kenyan military, even though several Western diplomats, Somali officials and the pirates themselves said the arms were part of a secret deal to funnel the weapons to southern Sudan.
Somali officials are urging the Western navies to storm the ship and arrest the pirates, because they say that paying a ransom would only fuel the problem. Western diplomats, however, have said that it would be a very difficult commando operation because the ship is full of explosives and the pirates could use the 20 crew members as human shields.
Rico says it's not hard at all; you just let the Neustrashimy blow the shit out of them...

We do it here, too

The New York Times has the story of a 'stampede' in India:
At least 100 people died in a stampede Tuesday during a religious festival at a north Indian temple, officials said. The victims, most of them men, were suffocated as they rushed down a narrow path from the temple 150 yards above, they said.
Thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit the Chamunda Devi temple at the southern edge of the 15th-century Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
Tuesday was the first day of a nine-day festival called Navratra that celebrates nine incarnations of the Hindu mother goddess Durga. Between 2,000 and 3, 000 pilgrims were present when the stampede began at about 6 a.m.
Stampedes are not rare in India. In August, 148 people died in Himachal Pradesh in similar circumstances. In 2005, a fire and stampede at the Mandhar Devi hilltop temple in western India left more than 250 dead.
Rico says we do it here, we just do it at rock concerts... (But the list of big stampedes is, of late, mostly football [soccer] games and religious events, especially during the Hajj.)

Civil War for the day

The badge of the Seventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, the unit of William Jones, my long-dead relative.

Rhyming couplets

What's weird, among so many other things, is what floats to the surface of Rico's consciousness when he wakes up of a morning. Today it was Scritti Politti. Rico had to go look it up (bless Google) to remember, but it, like Milli Vanilli, was one of those forgettable bands of the 1980s.

29 September 2008

Couldn't get it done, the bastids

Rico says the wealthiest members of Congress are Representative Jane Harman, a Democrat from California, worth over $400 million; Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, worth over $300 million; and Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, worth over $250 million, so what the fuck do they care? (And we mustn't forget Senator McCain who couldn't, when asked, remember how many houses he owned...)

The first one's better

Rico loves it, especially the "I can see Russia from my house" line...

Tina Fey channels Sarah Palin, again

It's official

The Civil War News has an article in the current issue (on page 16) about our upcoming Gasm:
A small group of maybe a dozen Civil War buffs has decided to honor the memory of their ancestors, many of whom fought in the Civil War, by attending as many reenactments during the years of the 150th anniversary of the war as they can.
Rico says it's good that it's out there; now we have to go... Click through to our sites about the history of the war and the reenactments we intend to visit. We'll be reporting events here, there, and there as they occur.

Assholes of the world, unite

A Jimmy Buffett song, they say, but it could be Warren Buffett for all Rico knows, or cares... (Funny, though, no matter who wrote it.)

Why no one loves insurance companies

The ReliaStar Life Insurance Company is trying to get out of paying ten million bucks for Heath Ledger's death, claiming it 'might' have been suicide, even though the coroner's office says it wasn't:

The company is allegedly refusing to pay out Ledger's eight-figure life insurance policy on the grounds that his death could have been a suicide. This, of course, despite the fact that the New York Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death accidental in an official report released in February. The trustees representing Matilda and the estate have filed a lawsuit against ReliaStar for not paying the $10 million and, furthermore, for adding insult to injury by snooping into the late actor's life.
"ReliaStar is entitled to investigate Plaintiff's claim to determine if the 'suicide' provision is applicable," the company said in its response to the lawsuit. ReliaStar's lawyers intend on covering ground already well trod by both the New York Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency, telling Matilda's trustees that the company intends on taking depositions from a litany of Ledger acquaintances, including Mary-Kate Olsen, the masseuse who found the actor's body, costars and colleagues on his final film as well as his agents, doctors and psychologists.
ReliaStar is seemingly attempting to contest payment of the policy on the grounds that Ledger lied on his application, presumably on the questions dealing with whether or not the actor was taking any prescription drugs at the time.
Attorneys for Matilda's trust contend the insurer's investigation is not only insulting but in violation of California law, where the policy was taken out, because the state forbids companies to reexamine insurance applications after a policyholder dies.
in less complicated fiscal news, Heath's father, Kim Ledger, confirmed on Friday that his son's entire inheritance is going to Matilda, his daughter with Michelle Williams, without challenge. The will Heath Ledger signed in April 2003 had left everything to his parents and three sisters, which initially sparked concern that his daughter would not receive any of his estate. Kim, however, confirmed that the family, including Williams, would not be taking any of the estate, but agreed to transfer all of it to Matilda. "There is no claim," he told Australia's Sunday Times. "Our family has gifted everything to Matilda." While Ledger's five-year-old will lists assets and cash of just $118,000, his actual estate has since been pegged between $16 million and $20 million, though the actual figure has not—and no doubt will not—be revealed.

Rico says that's a nice thing, given the amounts involved...

Politics makes strange bedfellows

From the Los Angeles Times:
The Rev. Wiley S. Drake (left, below) suggested that those at his First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park vote for him and for his presidential running mate on the American Independent Party ticket, Alan Keyes (right, below).
Rico says it's the Democrats, upside down...

You never fucking know, do you?

Turns out Cadbury had problems with the Chinese, too:
Cadbury PLC pulled products made at its Beijing plant from Asian store shelves Monday after finding traces of an industrial chemical in its chocolate, making it the latest corporate victim of China's tainted-milk scandal. Cadbury Asia Pacific said it was recalling all 11 products made at the chocolate factory as a precaution after preliminary test results "cast doubt on the integrity of a range of our products manufactured in China." Most of the recalled sweets are sold in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. One product line, Cadbury Eclairs Candy, is also sold in Australia.
The Cadbury recall illustrates the difficulty in containing China's tainted-milk scandal. Since the scandal erupted, regulators around the world have found traces of melamine in food that uses dairy products as an ingredient. The U.S., European Union, India, South Korea and others have recalled or banned products.
Rico says maybe it's better not to eat anything you haven't grown yourself, or bought from someone who did, for awhile, at least until they finish shooting those responsible... (It may take awhile: "Government offices are currently observing a weeklong National Day holiday".)

Gonzales skates

The Associated Press has the story:
A report on a Justice Department investigation into the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys is harshly critical of the politically charged dismissals but does not recommend referring the role of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to a grand jury for possible criminal charges, according to published reports.
The Washington Post and The New York Times said the department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility do recommend, however, that a prosecutor continue to investigate the involvement of lawmakers and the White House in the firings. Gonzales, a longtime friend and adviser to President Bush, resigned last year after coming under blistering criticism for the dismissals. The Wall Street Journal goes into details.
Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's former chief of staff and the man who carried out the dismissal of eight prosecutors, is likely to be the target of much of the report's criticism. The report was expected to indicate that Sampson was working on orders from his higher ups, including Gonzales, Bush's former top political adviser Karl Rove, and Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel.
During the 18-month probe, investigators poured through thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of people.

They should make a movie

The Times has the bizarre story:
Like a scene from a crime thriller film, a prisoner who faced interrogation over a murder was shot to death inside his French jail by a sniper positioned on a nearby hill. The suspected gunman, his rifle still warm from the shooting, was later arrested as he tried to flee the scene on a motorbike. Another inmate, a friend of the dead man, was injured in the attack during which five shots were fired into the exercise yard of the jail at Varces-Grenoble, in southeast France. It was the first time in France that someone in prison had been killed from outside, French Justice Minister Rachida Dati said.
The murdered prisoner was identified by a French newspaper as Sghair Lamiri, who was born in 1979 and had links to organized crime. Lamiri was serving an eight-year sentence for robberies committed in 2001 and 2002 and was about to be questioned about a murder case, Dati said. Ms Dati did not name the suspected gunman, but said he was 58 years old and was in custody. "He denies the facts," she added, "but he was arrested when he was getting to his motorbike which had a false licence plate and his rifle with telescopic sight was still warm."
Rico says it'd take a lot of backstory to make it work, but it sounds like The Day of the Jackal to him...

Convicted? Hell, he's toast now

Fox News has the story of a citizen's doing what the authorities couldn't:
A convicted sex offender died Sunday during a struggle with a father who found the naked man in or near his 17-year-old daughter's bedroom, police said. Police responding to a call from the city's northwest side about 3:20 a.m. found 64-year-old Robert McNally on the hallway floor with his arm around the neck of 52-year-old David Meyers, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Police spokesman Sergeant Matthew Mount said Meyers had a heart condition and may have had a heart attack. An autopsy was planned.
Police said Meyers was naked except for a mask and latex gloves, and had entered the home through a window near the girl's bedroom with rope, condoms, and a knife. He was familiar with the home's layout because it belonged to a relative, police said.
The girl awoke and screamed when she saw the man in her room; the father responded and struggled with the intruder while the girl's mother phoned 911.
Police did not anticipate any charges against McNally.
"If a person breaks into your home, you are justified in using deadly force in defending your family," said Mount. "In this situation, I don't think he was trying to kill him, he was trying to hold him down."
Condoms? Rico says that'd be a nice gesture, except it was because he'd learned not to leave DNA evidence behind... Won't matter for the next time, of course, thanks to the dad's efforts. (Fifty two? Rico thought most rapists had given it up by then...)
Meyers had served 10 years in prison for criminal confinement and sexual deviate conduct and was wanted in Boone County for failure to register as a sex offender. He was registered as a sex offender in Marion County. Police said Meyers lived with his mother and had recently lost his job.
Rico says aha, he had ten years to think about the next time. Lived with his mother and lost his job? No wonder he decided to act out; he just picked the wrong house, the moron...

More work for Gurkhas

The US 5th Fleet in Bahrain on Monday urged the private shipping industry to do more itself against pirates. That would include shippers considering hiring private armed security escorts.

Rico says the Gurkhas are good at this sort of thing, and they can use the money...

Compliment of the day: "The French know how to deal with them, killing one of them. This is very nice," said Lotf al-Baraty, chief of the Yemeni coast guard's Gulf of Aden region.

Not getting away with it this time

The Washington Post has the story:
The U.S. Navy bolstered its force of warships off Somalia on Monday, intensifying its watch over Somali pirates holding a hijacked Ukrainian-operated vessel with crew members, arms and tanks aboard. Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet, said "there are now several U.S. ships" within eyesight of the hijacked ship, Faina, which according to the Kenyan government was bound for Kenya when it was seized last week. The pirates are negotiating for ransom with the vessel's owner.
Speaking by telephone from Bahrain, Christensen declined to say how exactly many other US warships had joined the USS Howard, a guided-missile destroyer, off Somalia. The U.S. ships were staying in international waters off Somalia, Christensen said, while the Somali pirates kept the Faina within the 12-mile territorial bounds of Somali waters. US sailors remained close enough to see the ship, and had established bridge-to-bridge contact via radio, he said.
Pirates have anchored the hijacked vessel a few miles off the Somali town of Hobyo.
The Navy intends to maintain "a vigilant, visual watch of the ship" to make sure pirates don't try to unload the tanks, ammunition, and other arms aboard, Christensen said.
Somali pirates have launched what the International Maritime Bureau calls the biggest surge of piracy on modern record, attacking more than 60 vessels this year off Somalia and in the adjoining Gulf of Aden. The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal, is the main shipping route between Asia and the Middle East to Europe.
Rico says he can hardly wait for the video when the Russians show up, or they try and unload the Faina... (You want piracy? Rico says he'll give you piracy, and a great resolution to it as well: Skeleton Cay.)

Floats like a hummingbird...

Rico says she's the perfect person to send over to Moneybookers.com. (Click the post title and go make their lives miserable. If you know how to really do it electronically, be sure to email Rico and tell him how.)

Numero uno

Rico says Sarah Palin may be number two on the hot politicians list, but this woman's rightfully number one... ("Palin is just behind Italy's Mara Carfagna, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and a darling of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.")


Seven hundred billion dollars. That's 2300 dollars per person in the United States. If they want Rico to pay his part, fine. Just don't take it all out at once...
The White House and congressional leaders agreed on a deal to authorize the biggest banking rescue in U.S. history. The $700 billion program would effectively nationalize an array of mortgages and securities backed by them, instruments whose deteriorating value has clogged the nation's financial system. Lawmakers finished writing the bill late Sunday, after which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared it "frozen," meaning no changes would be made. The bill leaves many mechanics of the operation up to the Treasury. Among these are the crucial issues of how the U.S. government would decide which assets it will buy and how it would decide what to pay for them. The legislation leaves the Treasury 45 days to issue guidelines on those procedures. The bill awaits votes in Congress starting on Monday.
The deal came after tension-filled weekend negotiations, where the specter of a faltering economy collided with the politics of a presidential election to create one of the biggest congressional dramas of recent years. Saturday included a high-decibel exchange between Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and congressional Democrats, a ban on handheld email devices to forestall news leaks, and a battery of lobbying calls from the president and the presidential candidates.
At the bill's core is Mr. Paulson's concept of buying impaired mortgage-related assets from financial firms -- giving them cash to replace the toxic debts that have put them in danger or dissuaded them from lending. The plan is to help the firms restore their capital bases as well as the trust that enables them to borrow and lend at reasonable terms. Without this, officials worry that the credit markets, the lifeblood of the economy, would grind to a halt.
Sellers of assets could include a broad range of financial entities -- not just banks but also credit unions and pension funds. The assets offered to the government must have been originated or issued on or before 14 March 2008.
The Treasury wouldn't get the entire $700 billion for purchasing such assets upfront. Just $350 billion would be immediately available. But the other $350 billion would be available unless Congress specifically holds it back.
Mr. Paulson doesn't expect the funds to unclog the financial situation immediately. "I'm hoping that, in a very fragile system, this restores some confidence when it's announced. But it will take several weeks" before the asset purchases begin to work, he said.
The plan would impose some curbs on executive compensation at firms that sell assets to the government. These include a ban, for those that sell a large amount of securities to the U.S., on creating new "golden parachute" payments to departing top executives. Companies also would have to have provisions to "claw back" past bonuses found to have been based on misleading financial statements.
The Treasury would receive warrants giving it the right to acquire nonvoting common stock or preferred stock in firms benefiting from the bailout. The program would be subject to oversight that includes a bipartisan committee and the Government Accountability Office. The GAO would have an office located within the Treasury Department.
The agreement came together only after concessions on all sides. Democrats backed down from a proposal to let bankruptcy judges alter the terms of mortgages, and from another that would have steered government profits from the package to affordable-housing programs. The Bush administration, for its part, agreed to much broader executive-compensation limits than it originally envisioned, among other things.
At a pivotal point Saturday afternoon, Mr. Paulson met with lawmakers and argued over whether the funds would come in one tranche or in installments. "Damn it, if you think you need $700 billion right away you better tell us," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York told the Treasury secretary, according to two people familiar with the matter. "I'm doing this for you as much as for me," Mr. Paulson shot back. "If we don't do this, it's coming down on all our heads."
Mr. Paulson objected to language that would give a new oversight board power to control how the new program would be run. "All we're talking about is having Groucho, Harpo, and Chico watching over Zeppo," said Representative Barney Frank.
Rico says it's the perfect analogy: the Marx Brothers running Lehman Brothers...

Civil War for the day

A caisson at Murfreesboro in 2003.

28 September 2008

Another trivial advance in blogging

Rico says it's a few minutes of a 'real' blog, but it's all he's got; thank you for your support. (Now go buy a book or something...)

Don't make 'em like that anymore

Jack Webb and Johnny Carson go at it, old-school.

Another kidnapping turns deadly, for the bad guys this time

al-Reuters has the story:
The Sudanese army said it had killed the leader of a group that kidnapped eleven Western tourists and eight Egyptians on Sunday, and said the hostages were now in Chad.
In a statement, the army was quoted as saying one of its units killed five other gunmen and detained two in a gun battle near the Egyptian and Libyan border. The army said "preliminary information" indicated the 19 hostages were inside Chad under the protection of 30 armed men. There was no comment from the Chadian government. The army unit seized a white vehicle belonging to an Egyptian tourism company, along with papers linking the gunmen with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), a Darfur rebel group.
Egypt has identified the tourists as five Germans, five Italians, and one Romanian. The eight Egyptians include the owner of the tour company, whose German wife has been in contact with the kidnappers by satellite phone, according to Egyptian officials.
The Egyptian government and many political analysts have largely ruled out any political motivation behind the kidnapping. Egyptian officials say the kidnappers have demanded a ransom from the German government. One security official put the figure at $6 million euros.
Egypt said this month four masked kidnappers seized the hostages while they were on safari in a remote desert area and took them across the border into Sudan. An Egyptian government official said on Saturday the hostages were inside Sudan.
The Sudanese army, however, said its unit searched for the hostages in the border area with Egypt from Thursday to Sunday but only found empty food cans and "traces of their vehicles in the direction of the Libyan border", the statement said.
On its way back inside Sudan, the army unit encountered a speeding white vehicle whose passengers refused to stop and opened fire at the Sudanese soldiers, the statement said. "As a result of the clash, six of the (gunmen) were killed, including Bakhit the leader of the kidnappers, who is a Chadian national, and the capture of two others, one of them Sudanese."
The statement said the army unit also seized firearms and a rocket-propelled grenade.
A spokesman for the SLA-Unity faction Mahgoub Hussein denied any involvement in the kidnapping.

What? 60 Minutes was wrong?

The New York Times has a report of fresh bombings in Baghdad:
Five bomb attacks struck Baghdad on Sunday, three of them aimed at civilians who were out holiday shopping and strolling. Security sources said at least 27 people had been killed and 84 wounded. The bombings reinforced fears among a growing number of residents that the security situation in Baghdad was deteriorating, even though overall it remained at the most stable level since the American-led invasion in 2003, according to data measured by the United States military command.
The worst of the bombings, in a bustling market of the central Karada district, seemed intended to inflict casualties on people preparing to celebrate a major holiday at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
First, a car bomb blew up inside a parking lot on Attar Street in Karada. Then as crowds gathered, a second bomb exploded in what seemed to be an effort to kill or maim bystanders, several witnesses said.
Brigadier General Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman, said the attacks involved a car bomb and a roadside homemade bomb. He put the toll at 13 dead and 46 wounded. An official at the Interior Ministry, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, gave a toll of at least 19 killed and 72 wounded. Police officers at the scene provided a toll of at least 18 killed and 41 wounded. Conflicting tolls are common in the confusion that follows attacks in Iraq.
Ayman Saadi, a resident, said he ran away when the first bomb went off, expecting a second detonation. “We have become accustomed to these traps,” he said. Nearby, a Karada resident who identified himself as Abbas Jarousha stood in disbelief as he received a call on his cellphone from a stranger telling him that he had found his brother’s phone and that he was dead.
Rico says they really gotta start killing more of the bombers...

More confusion

The Chinese news agency Xinhua has disturbing details on the hijacked ship full of tanks:
Controversy is looming over seized Ukrainian vessel carrying military equipment, with fresh reports indicating that the arsenal was destined for south Sudan and not the Kenyan military.
Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said on Sunday the Somali pirates claim to be in possession of confidential documents showing that the arms were actually destined for southern Sudan and not Kenya. Mwangura said that the hijacked ship, MV Faina, was ferrying the fourth such consignment from the Ukraine to southern Sudan. "One of the cargo arrived at the port of Mombasa in October last year, two in February this year. The seized load of 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and some ammunition was the fourth cargo with military equipment for southern Sudan," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone on Sunday. Mwangura's statement came as a heavily-armed U.S. vessel is monitoring a Ukranian cargo ship hijacked by pirates in Somalia, to ensure they do not remove tanks, ammunition, and weapons on board.
A man claiming to be a spokesman for the pirates said they now want 20 million U.S. dollars to free the cargo ship Faina.
"The pirates are saying that if they are not going to be paid the ransom, they will spill the beans. Maybe they are going to say what is happening in this region because we understand South Sudan is under a United Nations arms embargo and why Kenya allowing the military equipment to pass through Kenyan waters is not known," Mwangura said.
The latest hijackings are part of a surge of daring maritime attacks off the coast of Somalia, a war-torn country that has been without a functioning government since 1991.
The Kenyan government said on Friday that the Ukrainian vessel that was hijacked by Somali pirates off Somali coast is carrying military equipment destined for the East African nation.
A statement from a government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, said the Belize-flagged Faina was carrying an authorized Ukrainian government arms shipment for the Kenyan government to be used by the military in the country.
A US defence official said the destroyer USS Howard is within a few thousand yards of the Faina. The hijacked ship is anchored a few kilometres off the Somalia coast and the pirates have lowered their ransom demands from 35 million dollars to 20 million dollars. The pirates also warned against any attempt to rescue the crew or cargo of the ship.
Mutua said the east African nation would not negotiate with what it called international criminals, pirates, and terrorists, and said efforts to recover the hijacked ship and its cargo would continue. "The Kenyan government, together with its security partners, has established that the ship has not yet docked at any port and is still at sea," the statement said. "However, it should be noted that because the ship had not yet docked at Mombassa, the responsibility of the insured cargo rests with the shipper," said Mutua in a statement. Ukraine's foreign ministry said the ship had a crew of 21 and was sailing towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
Authorities in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland said they are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships for ransom at the port of Eyl. There were reports that at least 100 pirates from the dreaded Somalia Youth Coast Guard were in control of the Faina, which is sailing under a Belize flag.
The ship's captain is said to have contacted a merchant marine call center where he described the pirates before communication was cut off.
Pirates have seized dozens of ships near Somalia's coast in recent months. A Russian Navy vessel is heading to the region and the United States has said it is monitoring developments in the area.
Rico says a few thousand yards is the same as right next door for the Howard and her high-tech armament...

Hey, at least she's on the list

Seems Maxim magazine has published a World's Hottest Politicians list, and Sarah Palin's on it. At number two, admittedly, behind some Italian politician (who is hot) but, hey, Bill's wife isn't on it...
The photos are in reverse order, for no apparent reason; number one is at the lower right. The count, by country: USA: 5, Ukraine: 1, France: 1, Canada: 2, Italy: 1

Rico just wants a little one

A guy gets inked at the London Tattoo Convention.

More religious bullshit

al-Reuters has this photo:
School children participate in the Meskel Ethiopian Orthodox Churches' annual religious celebration to commemorate the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Eleni (Saint Helena) in the fourth century, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Rico says that story is at least two steps removed from reality...

In real life, sure

The Chinese made it back safely from space (good thing). In my father's novel, they splash down in Havana harbor, not the steppes of Inner Mongolia:
Three Chinese astronauts landed safely back on earth on Sunday after a 68-hour voyage and space walk that showcased the country's technological mastery and were hailed as a major victory by its leaders.
Their Shenzhou ("sacred vessel") spacecraft parachuted down to the steppes of northern Inner Mongolia region at dusk. Doctors rushed to open the capsule and check the men as they readjusted to gravity and recovered from the punishing re-entry. Spacewalker Zhai Zhigang was the first to emerge and was helped to a nearby folding chair, where he was greeted with flowers and applause and said he was "proud of his motherland".
Premier Wen Jiabao told the nation minutes later that the three were heroes for their efforts, which put China in an elite club of three nations that have managed a space walk. "The complete success of the manned Shenzhou VII is a great stride forward for China's space technology," he said, adding that the country's efforts were focused only on science. "Chinese people have ceaselessly sought the peaceful development and use of space technology," he said. China's rapidly advancing program has raised disquiet among Western governments and in Japan that it may have military ambitions in space, especially after conducting an anti-satellite missile test last year.
Zhai's brief but historic outing in a Chinese-designed space suit that cost $4.4 million capped a year in which the country has both coped with the tragedy of the devastating Sichuan earthquake and reveled in the Beijing Olympics. The ability to conduct a space walk is key to a longer-term goal of assembling a space lab and then a larger space station, and maybe one day making a landing on the moon.
The fast-growing Asian power wants to be sure of a say in the future use of space and its resources, and has come a long way since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that China "could not even launch a potato into space".
China's first manned spaceflight was in 2003, followed by a two-man flight in 2005. The only other countries that have sent people into space are Russia and the United States.
Rico says it's a major feat, and there's no denying it, but you'll notice they still can't make a helicopter (that's a Russian one in the background)...

Another rich idiot who thinks she can do whatever she wants

Heather Locklear was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of a controlled substance in the upscale Santa Barbara area, authorities said Sunday. Locklear, 47, was pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer Saturday afternoon after a resident reported seeing the actress leaving a parking lot and "driving erratically," patrol spokesman Tom Marshall said.
The officer noticed Locklear's car parked on a state highway and blocking a lane in Montecito, a wealthy community about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles. She was believed to be alone in the car, Marshall said. "In talking with her, (the officer) determines that she seems to be under the influence of something," Marshall said.
Locklear was taken to the police station, where she was tested for alcohol and drugs. She was booked at 7 p.m. on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription medication. She was later released from custody.

Rico says hubris comes with the territory... (So does rehab, and maybe some jail time.)

Another iGoogle place Rico's been

The pont Alexandre II in Paris.

That whistling sound is the shithammer coming down

The Faina with its shipjackers in small boats alongside.
The Russian ship Neustrashimy.
The USS Howard.

The Associated Press continues to report on the shipjacking off Somalia:
As a heavily armed U.S. destroyer patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead Sunday, a Somali pirate spokesman told the Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks. The spokesman also warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship's captain reported that one crew member had died.
Pirates seized the Ukrainian-operated ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts. The ordnance was ordered by the Kenyan government.
The guided missile destroyer USS Howard was stationed off the Somali coast on Sunday, making sure that the pirates did not remove the tanks, ammunition and other heavy weapons from the ship, which was anchored off the coast. A spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet said the Navy remained "deeply concerned" over the fate of the ship's 21-member crew and cargo.
In a rare gesture of cooperation, the Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy (Russian for Intrepid) reaches the area. The Russian ship was still in the Atlantic on Sunday, the Russian navy reported.
Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said he was speaking Sunday from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone — and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship's captain, who also spoke with the AP. It was not possible to further confirm their identities. "We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew," Ali said, adding that "if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies."
Five nations have been sharing information to try to secure the swift release of the ship and its crew — the Ukraine, Somalia, Russia, the United States, and Britain. Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua, however, insisted his country will not negotiate with pirates or terrorists.
Ali said planes have been flying over the Faina. It was not known which country the planes belonged to. He also said others who made earlier ransom demands did not speak for the pirates holding the ship.
A man who said he was the captain of the seized ship and who identified himself as Viktor Nikolsky told the AP that a Russian crew member died Sunday because of hypertension. "The rest of us are feeling well," Nikolsky said, adding that he could see three ships about a mile away, including one carrying an American flag.
Both Ali and Nikolsky spoke on a satellite phone number the AP got from a Somali journalist who spoke to Ali earlier in the day. The conversation lasted about 30 minutes. Ali spoke in Somali with a central Somalian accent and Nikolsky spoke in broken English. Russian media had earlier identified Nikolsky as the first mate, yet he identified himself to the AP as the ship's captain. It was not possible to immediately resolve the discrepancy.
US Navy spokesman Lieutenant Nathan Christensen told the AP that the San Diego-based USS Howard had made contact with the Faina on Sunday. "While we can't get into details, I will say there has been basic bridge-to-bridge communication established with the ship," Christensen told the AP in a phone interview from the 5th Fleet's Mideast headquarters in Manama, Bahrain. Christensen said the Navy was aware of one crew member's death, but did know what the cause was.
Pirate attacks worldwide have surged this year and Africa remains the world's top piracy hotspot, with 24 reported attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center. Attacking ships has become a regular source of income for pirates in Somalia, a war-torn country without a functioning government since 1991.
Christensen said the Faina was anchored off Somalia's coast near the central town of Hobyo. "What's on board is of concern to us as much as the criminal activity," Christensen told the AP, adding that the Navy does not want the tanks and other weapons to end up in the 'wrong hands'. Christensen refused to say what the crew of the American destroyer would do if the pirates began to offload the tanks and weapons. "It's a very complex situation and we do not want to speculate on any particular aspect of it," he said. According to its web site, the USS Howard has surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, torpedoes, and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun.
Rico says one should note the precipitous drop in ransom from the earlier $35 million to a 'mere' $20 million; a few shells across the bow from the Neustrashimy, though, and it might drop to zero...

Petulance is unbecoming

Apparently Barack Obama's campaign is upset by ads like these (though Rico hasn't seen one yet) that have been appearing in Pennsylvania; click 'More' at the end of the first one to see them all:

Obama's campaign general counsel Bob Bauer wrote to stations in Pennsylvania seeking to censor the ads. "Unlike federal candidates, independent political organizations do not have a right to command the use of broadcast facilities," Bauer wrote. "Moreover, you have a duty 'to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising. This advertising is false, misleading, and deceptive," Bauer continued. "We request that you immediately cease airing this advertising."

The NRA says Obama's camp are sending out these "intimidating cease and desist letters" to cable operators and television stations, threatening their FCC licenses if they run the ads. The NRA charged that "Obama and the DNC have been using strong-arm tactics reminiscent of Chicago machine politics to try and cover up the truth and silence NRA by forcing the stations to assist them in hiding Obama's radical anti-gun record."

Rico says none of this should have come as a surprise; the Democrats haven't been pro-gun in a century or more, and the NRA, thankfully, always has been...

Take your religion and shove it

Rico wonders many things. One of them, of course, is the all-too-common compulsion toward religion. He's never had it, doesn't really understand it, and is constantly amazed at how it affects other people. (We're not even talking suicide bombers here, just good ol' boys who dress up in robes and burn crosses.)
Each religion, of course, seems to work in different ways.
There are no born-again Jews, for instance. You can convert to Judaism, of course, but you have to work at it, and some Jewish sects won't let you in unless you're born to a Jewish mother.
Buddhists, of course, are all born again; it's the point of reincarnation. Rico isn't totally sure about reincarnation (though he surely has his suspicions about it, given this kshatriya thing he's prone to), but he likes the whole scheme of Buddha's teachings more than the others.
Christians, of course, are big into being born again. Some of them won't have a thing to do with you unless you are, but that's fine with Rico. Some, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, come around and bother you of a Sunday morning (including one of the hottest little wenches of Rico's young life, but that's a story for another time). Some, like the Mormons, mostly seek converts outside the country, among the innocents abroad.
All in all, a strange and puzzling phenomenon, this religion.
And don't get Rico started on the fucking Moslems...

Having had an NDE, Rico can report no bright lights, no welcoming dead relatives, no voices from 'beyond'. But maybe he just didn't get close enough to the border to report accurately on what lies on the other side. One day, like everyone else, he'll find out and, like everyone else, will undoubtedly be surprised...


Screw global warming, and screw Moneybookers.com, too. (Click the post title and go make their lives miserable. If you know how to really do it electronically, be sure to email Rico and tell him how.)

Civil War for the day

At the 139th Remembrance Day in Gettysburg, observers loll on a town porch before the speech.

The real reason

Rico says if you don't think both concerns are true, you know nothing about Congress...

Gordon Gecko would've been proud

The New York Times has the article about the consequences of greed:
Two weeks ago, the nation’s most powerful regulators and bankers huddled in the Lower Manhattan fortress that is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, desperately trying to stave off disaster.
As the group, led by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., pondered the collapse of one of America’s oldest investment banks, Lehman Brothers, a more dangerous threat emerged: American International Group, the world’s largest insurer, was teetering. A.I.G. needed billions of dollars and had suddenly begged for help.
Days later, federal officials, who had let Lehman die and initially balked at tossing a lifeline to A.I.G., ended up bailing out the insurer for $85 billion. Their message was simple: Lehman was expendable. But if A.I.G. unspooled, so could some of the mightiest enterprises in the world.
An exploration of A.I.G.’s demise offers important insights into the mystifying, virally connected — and astonishingly fragile — financial world that began to implode in recent weeks.
Although America’s housing collapse is often cited as having caused the crisis, the system was vulnerable because of intricate financial contracts known as credit derivatives, which insure debt holders against default. They are fashioned privately and beyond the ken of regulators — sometimes even beyond the understanding of executives peddling them.
Originally intended to diminish risk and spread prosperity, these inventions instead magnified the impact of bad mortgages like the ones that felled Bear Stearns and Lehman and now threaten the entire economy.
In the case of A.I.G., the virus exploded from a freewheeling little 377-person unit in London, and flourished in a climate of opulent pay, lax oversight, and blind faith in financial risk models. It nearly decimated one of the world’s most admired companies, a seemingly sturdy insurer with a trillion-dollar balance sheet, 116,000 employees and operations in 130 countries.
Cassano resigned after the London unit began bleeding money and auditors raised questions about how the unit valued its holdings. By 15 September the unit’s troubles forced a major downgrade in A.I.G.’s debt rating, requiring the company to post roughly $15 billion in additional collateral — which prompted the federal rescue.
Rico says if you care about the whole mess, read the whole thing; it made his head hurt. But a public (and hopefully televised) flogging is the right thing for all involved...

27 September 2008

Faking it? Would they do that?

Seems the Xinhua news agency broadcast the launch of the Shenzhou VII space mission, complete with reports on conditions in the capsule. The only problem? They posted the data on their website several hours before the launch of the missile...

Felony stupid on a grand scale

According to the New York Times, the pirates who hijacked the ship carrying the Russian tanks have now holed up in a 'notorious pirate den' on the coast of Somalia, and are asking $35 million in ransom:
According to Mohamed Osman Aden, a Somali diplomat in Kenya, the Ukrainian-owned vessel was headed to Xarardheere, on the barren Somali coast. Xarardheere is an isolated fishing village that has thrived on organized crime and has frequently been used as a pirate hide-out.
Mr. Mohamed said that while the cargo in this case was extremely unusual — 33 Soviet-designed T-72 tanks and a large supply of ammunition and grenade launchers, all intended for the Kenyan military — the tactics were pretty typical.
“These guys just want the money,” he said.
The Kenyan government said in a statement on Saturday that it “does not and will not negotiate with international criminals, pirates, and terrorists, and will endeavor to recover the hijacked ship and military cargo.”
American warships in the Indian Ocean were closely tracking the ship, and a Russian frigate, the Dauntless, was on its way.
Diplomats in Kenya said Saturday that military operations involving several countries were being discussed but that the plan was to wait a few days before considering a strike.
Rico says the Russians will pay the money, but to the relatives of the dead Ukrainian sailors, after they drop their new fuel-air bomb (see above) on the 'pirate den'...

The First Amendment goes just so far

This Sunday, thirty-three evangelical Protestant pastors in 22 states will participate in a 'pulpit initiative' conceived by an Arizona-based Christian legal organization (the Alliance Defense Fund) which hopes to overturn the Internal Revenue Code's 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt organizations, including churches.
The pastors plan to endorse John McCain in hopes the IRS will come after their congregations' tax exemptions. ADF then intends to fight their cases all the way to the Supreme Court, whose conservative justices, it hopes, will hold the ban on endorsements unconstitutional.

Another great one gone

Paul Newman is dead. Ten-time Academy Award nominee. Over eighty great movies, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Exodus (1960), The Hustler (1961), Harper (1966), Torn Curtain (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Sting (1973), Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976), Absence of Malice (1981), The Verdict (1982), and Road to Perdition (2002).

Rico says a moment of silence, please...

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