30 November 2008

Worth repeating

Rico suspects he posted this one before, but it's worth seeing again (or for the first time). (And that last word is 'passport', in case it's cut off. Sorry.)

Another great one gone

Being a touch preoccupied with his own problems, Rico says he sometimes misses events, or at least the less-than-earth-shaking ones, like the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (more properly Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn), who died back in 2008. If nothing else (and he wrote many great books; see the list below), his writings on the Gulag will remain as his memorial.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), also a great movie
An Incident at Krechetovka Station (1963)
Matryona's Place (1963)
For the Good of the Cause (1964)
The First Circle (1968)
Cancer Ward (1968)
The Love-Girl and the Innocent (1969)
August 1914 (1971)
The Gulag Archipelago (three volumes) (1973–1978)
Prussian Nights (Finished in 1951, first published in 1974)
A Letter to the Soviet leaders (1974)
The Oak and the Calf (1975)
Lenin in Zürich (1976; later incorporated into the 1984 edition of the expanded August, 1914)
Warning to the West (1976; 5 speeches)
The Mortal Danger: Misconceptions about Soviet Russia and the Threat to America (1980)
Pluralists (1983; pamphlet)
November 1916 (1983)
Victory Celebration (1983)
Prisoners (1983)
Godlessness, the First Step to the Gulag (1983)
August 1914 (1984; much-expanded edition)
Rebuilding Russia (1990)
March 1917 (1990)
April 1917 The Russian Question (1995)
Invisible Allies (1997)
Russia under Avalanche (1998; pamphlet in Russian)
Two Hundred Years Together (2003) on Russian-Jewish relations since 1772

Vengeance is a Hebrew word, after all

The International Herald Tribune has an article from the AP on the killings in India:
Israelis already familiar with the threat of attack came to grips with new vulnerability, as at least seven Israeli families prepared to bury loved ones slain at a Jewish center tucked quietly at the end of an alley in faraway India.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said nine people - most Israelis, some dual citizens - were killed in an attack on a Jewish center in Mumbai last week, part of a spectacular assault on symbols of luxury and foreign appeal across the city. Indian commandos stormed the building Friday, but none of the hostages were found alive.
Two of the victims, a rabbi and his wife, ran the five-story center. Others were visitors drawn - like many Jews who travel abroad - by the hope of finding a touch of home. The rabbi, Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, and his 28-year-old Israeli wife, Rivka, were members of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sect, Chabad-Lubavitch, based in New York. The sect has thousands of outreach envoys on missions all over the world. The two were sent on a mission to provide Jewish businesspeople and backpackers "with a kosher place to eat, a warm place to visit, put on phylacteries, hear a sermon, or receive a blessing from a rabbi," said Rivka Holtzberg's brother, Shmulik Rosenberg. Israelis living in the sprawling city were like family at the center, where Rivka would cook for dozens of visitors, he said.
"She went with courage to this mission in India," he added. "She had no fear." Neither did her husband, he said. The Holtzbergs will be flown to Israel for burial, Rosenberg said. A Chabad spokesman said they most likely would be buried Monday. The couple's toddler son, Moshe, who celebrated his second birthday Saturday, was spirited out of the five-story building by a center employee, unharmed but his pants soaked with blood. Another son, who was ailing, was in Israel at the time.
By late Saturday, three other victims at the Chabad center, Nariman House, besides the Holtzbergs had been positively identified: Bentzion Chroman, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a US citizen who lived in Jerusalem, and an Israeli tourist, Yocheved Orpaz. Israeli news media reported that the victims were found wrapped in prayer shawls, in accordance with Jewish burial tradition. The media speculated that one of the hostages wrapped the bodies before he was killed.
At the Chabad sect's center in Israel, Kfar Chabad, Sabbath began before the hostages were confirmed dead. Orthodox Jews are forbidden to use telephones or other electrical devices until the Sabbath ends at sundown Saturday. On Friday night, worshippers recited the Book of Psalms, prayers Jews sometimes recite in the hope of averting tragedy. But, when the Sabbath ended, their worst fears were confirmed. "Chabad is one big family," said Moni Ender, spokesman for the group. "We all know everyone, so it is a terrible, intimate and profound loss."
A 17-year-old seminary student at Kfar Chabad, Chezky Vogel, said the brutality of the attack shocked him. "That such a thing could happen in a place like this - you feel very vulnerable," Vogel said.
The attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai was the top story in all the Israeli news media Saturday night. Major Israeli networks dispatched reporters to Mumbai. Dozens of attacks on Jewish sites inside Israel and across the globe, like the deadly bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, have given a unique perspective to Jews, including those in Israel, the only Jewish state. They see themselves as a continuing target for attacks of this kind, and Israeli officials said the assault on Nariman House was no coincidence.
"The fact that the attack took place at the Chabad house is the clearest sign that the attack was directed against Jews and Israelis," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday.
On the streets of Jerusalem, residents were aghast at the crime but accustomed to the pattern. "It was a horrendous and horrible perpetration of malice and barbarism," Michael Bregman, 42, of Jerusalem said. But "it comes as no surprise" because militant groups have announced they are "going to target Jews wherever they are," he added.
Rico says they're easy targets, the Jews, but the Israelis have a way of taking revenge, however long it takes. (Remember the Wrath of God operation against the Palestinian terrorists? Years after Munich...)

Breastfeeding may come back into fashion

CNN has an article by Elizabeth Cohen:
Several samples of infant formula have tested positive for trace amounts of the toxic contaminant melamine or a related compound, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday. Of 77 samples tested, one contained trace levels of melamine, FDA spokeswoman Judy Leon told CNN. A trace amount is defined as less than 2,500 parts per billion, she said. On Tuesday, the agency had said that one sample had tested positive. But Thursday, the FDA said two tests of a sample of Nestle's Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron showed melamine at levels of 137 and 140 parts per billion.In addition, Mead Johnson's infant powder, Enfamil LIPIL with Iron, had three positive tests for cyanuric acid, at an average of 247 parts per billion, also well below the FDA trace level. Cyanuric acid is a compound created when melamine breaks down.
The testing program was initiated after contaminated infant formula in China was linked to thousands of illnesses and a number of deaths among infants.
The FDA said it checked with all manufacturers licensed to distribute baby formula in the United States and determined that none of the components in U.S.-sold infant formula are from China.
Leon said the sample that tested positive most likely became contaminated through the manufacturing process or through contact with can liners. Last month, the FDA set the safety threshold for melamine at 2,500 parts per billion for foods other than infant formula. The agency said it did not have enough data to set a safety threshold for infants.
A spokeswoman for the Atlanta, Georgia-based International Formula Council, a trade group, said she had not seen the data, but was encouraged that the quantity found was below levels deemed safe in infants by the governments of China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Canada and New Zealand. "Apparently these trace levels can be found in lots of food," said spokeswoman Mardi Mountford. The FDA also found trace levels of melamine in several samples of medical formula supplements for the elderly, but the amounts posed no health risk to adults, Leon said.
Though U.S.-based companies can import ingredients from China for nutritional supplements for adults, there is an import ban on dairy products and components, she said.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of can liners, flame retardant, cleaning products, fertilizers and pesticides. It does not occur naturally in food. Because it contains nitrogen, its addition to food products can wrongly suggest an inflated protein content. Ingesting melamine in large doses over an extended period of time could cause kidney stones and other illnesses, though small amounts pose no such danger for adults, agriculture and health experts say.
Its presence in Chinese infant formula has led to the hospitalization of more than 12,000 children and the deaths of several in China, according to the FDA, which said it is not aware of any such illnesses in the United States.
This month, the FDA announced that it was limiting the import of all dairy products from China until they have been proven free of melamine.
Rico says the executives of any company found with melamine in their products should be forced, everyone from the president of the company on down, to eat a hundred pounds of whatever it is...

He can go, any time

Rico says Arlen Specter is an old, staunch, and stupid Republican, and will hopefully get beaten like a rented mule by Chris Matthews (or whoever runs against Specter) in the next election in 2010:
The GOP moderate said he expected challenges from the left and right as he seeks a sixth term. "I'll be prepared, whoever my opponents are," Specter said on CNN's Late Edition. "Feeling good," quipped the Republican, who has survived bouts with a brain tumor and cancer while serving in the Senate. "Top of my game."

Kinda kills the innocent plea, don't it?

Rico says it's hard to say 'What gub?' with a straight face after you shoot yourself in the leg with it.
Of course, doing that in New York City is kinda dumb, too, given their sense of humor, or lack of it, about gubs...
The Washington Post has an article by Mark Maske about Plaxico Burress and his legal and medical problems:
Plaxico Burress's attorney told the Associated Press he's been informed that the New York Giants wide receiver will face a charge of criminal possession of a weapon. Burress will turn himself in Monday morning and will plead not guilty to the charge. He suffered a thigh wound when he reportedly shot himself in the leg accidentally Friday night at a New York nightclub. According to several reports, Burress was not properly licensed to carry the weapon in New York.
Burress was released from a New York hospital on Saturday. He already had been ruled out of today's game against the Washington Redskins because of a previous hamstring injury. There also are questions about the role of Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce in the incident. Pierce reportedly was with Burress at the New York nightclub at which the shooting took place Friday night.
The New York Daily News reported today that Pierce potentially could face criminal charges as well. Pierce allegedly attempted to hide the gun after the shooting, police sources told the Daily News. The New York Post reported that, according to records, Burress does not have a permit to carry a gun in New York. Burress had a concealed-weapon permit issued to him in Florida but records show it expired in May and New York does not recognize out-of-state permits anyway, the newspaper reported. The report in the Daily News indicated the same thing. Thomas King, the president of the New York Rifle and Pistol Association, told the Post: "New York has the most restrictive pistol-licensing system in the United States. It recognizes absolutely no out-of-state permits. An out-of-stater never has the authority to carry" there.
The Post reported that criminal possession of a loaded weapon is a felony in New York that is punishable by up to a year in prison. The Daily News reported that Burress faces up to five years in prison for the felony..
Pierce's attorney was in discussions with the police to attempt to prevent Pierce from being charged for his role in the incident, according to the Daily News report. The Daily News reported that Pierce took the gun and put it somewhere in New Jersey after the shooting.
According to the Daily News report, Pierce applied pressure to Burress's wound after the shooting and berated Burress for taking a loaded handgun into the nightclub. Burress told Pierce not to call 911 and initially didn't want to go to the hospital but, after being helped out of the club by Pierce, went to a hospital two hours later with his wife and a friend, the Daily News reported. The Giants reported the incident to police and officers were turned away from Burress's home in New Jersey by his wife around 5 p.m. Saturday, according to the newspaper.
According to the report in the Daily News, Pierce's attorney told police that Pierce would cooperate with the investigation if not charged. A Giants official went to New Jersey on Saturday to retrieve the weapon and turn it over to police but officers still planned to obtain a warrant to search Pierce's car, the Daily News reported.
The Daily News reported that Burress shot himself when he fumbled with the gun after it slipped down his pants leg. Burress initially was turned away at the nightclub because he had a gun but was let in around midnight after telling the club's management that he needed the firearm to protect himself.
The Giants indicated in a written statement Saturday that Burress suffered an injury to his right thigh in an accidental shooting Friday. Burress was released from a New York City hospital Saturday afternoon, according to the Giants' statement. The Giants declined to release details of the incident, indicating that it could become a matter for law enforcement officials. The Giants did not indicate how seriously Burress was hurt but there was a report that he could be ready to play again within a couple weeks. Burress, 31, also faces possible discipline by the NFL under its personal conduct policy. The Giants indicated in their statement that they'd been in contact with NFL security officials. The NFL has a gun policy that prohibits players from taking firearms to team- and league-related events. The policy reportedly also warns players about carrying unlicensed firearms, saying that could subject them to league discipline as well as criminal charges. The NFL guns and weapons policy reads, in part: "If you violate this policy on guns and other weapons, you are subject to discipline, including suspension from playing. And if you violate a public law covering weapons--for example, possession of an unlicensed firearm--you are not only subject to discipline, including suspension from playing, but also subject to criminal prosecution."
Rico says with a name like Plaxico, even unarmed you're already in trouble. But while Pierce was dumb, Burress was really dumb... (Hey, Rico's been dumb, too, even in New York City, but he never shot himself, or anyone else.)

Another iGoogle place Rico's been

The Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Worldwide reaction

Rico says various capitals are undoubtedly reacting to the news out of Washington:
Berlin: Ein schwarzer Mann im Weißen Haus? Unglaublich.
Paris: Un homme de couleur dans la Maison Blanche ? Incroyable.
Rome: Un uomo di colore nella Casa Bianca? Incredibile.
Peking: 一個黑人在白宫裡? 難以相信。

Too crazy for Rico

Courtesy of my friend Dave, who usually sends me naughty videos, a clean (if almost unbelievable) one...

Something in the air, apparently

Rico says that, according to his ladyfriend, who keeps up on such things, the Angioma Alliance reports that a majority of people with brain bleeds (like Rico) have them in the fall. (His was on 29 November 2006.)
Now he notes, upon clicking through the list of blogs in his sidebar, that two of his favorites, Pete Puebla's blog of his tour in Iraq and Bated Breath, both closed up shop on 11 December 2006.
No apparent connection, but an interesting coincidence...

A lot of similarities

Rico says all but the end of their terms of service, hopefully...

Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in 1809. (A state for only 17 years in 1809.)
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. (Not even a territory in 1809.)
Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer in Illinois.
Barack Obama became a lawyer in Illinois.
Abraham Lincoln was married in November of 1842.
Barack Obama was married in October of 1992.
Abraham Lincoln was representative from the 7th District of Illinois from 1847 to 1849.
Barack Obama was representative from the 13th District of Illinois from 1997 to 2004.
Abraham Lincoln held no further elected office.
Barack Obama was US senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008.
Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865.
Barack Obama will be president of the United States from 2009 through who knows when...

Death-by-feet, or some ludicrous charge

The Washington Post has an article about the Wal-Mart disaster:
Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of holiday shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down. Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in the video from Friday may prove difficult, said Detective Lieutenant Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.
Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said. At least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries. The store in Valley Stream on Long Island closed for several hours before reopening.
Police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the Wal-Mart doors before its 5 a.m. opening at a mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked the employee, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour, to the ground as he opened the doors.
Rico says that'll be a hard charge to prove, even if they can identify the perps...

Saw it first run

Rico says the new movie Milk, while important, is ancient history for him. Living in the Bay Area at the time, he saw the whole stupid, sad thing played out on the nightly news. The only bright note in the saga was the fact that Dan White committed suicide after he got out of jail. (Now if only he'd done that before he killed two of the best and the brightest in San Francisco, we might have seen things improved by now, let alone not had Dianne "never met a gun law I didn't like" Feinstein as a Senator from California, nor faced the recent and stupid no-gay-marriage law there..)
Rico says he's not sure if he'll see the movie or not, but it may be the best thing Sean Penn's ever done...

Ancient history, unless you're Tibetan

The Times has a review of the troubled history of China and Tibet, including the escape of the Dalai Lama over the Himalayas in 1959. (They're all pdfs, so you'll have to go read them yourself by clicking the post title.)

Until his last breath

The Times has a story by Rhys Blakeley:
The sole Bombay gunman captured alive has told police he was trained in Pakistan and ordered to "kill until the last breath", according to a leaked account of his interrogation. Azam Amir Kasab, 21, a Pakistani national, claimed the terror strikes, which left nearly 200 dead, were intended to kill as many as 5,000 people and that he and his fellow militants were ordered to target whites – especially Britons and Americans. The claims were made in what a police source said was a transcript of his questioning.
Kasab was captured after being shot in the hand by police in a standoff near Chowpatty beach, a popular evening destination for local families in south Bombay, also known as Mumbai, on Wednesday night. A policeman and one other terrorist were killed in the same encounter.
Earlier, Kasab and his accomplice had sprayed the concourse of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Bombay's main train station, with gunfire, killing indiscriminately. While there, he was caught on camera wielding an automatic rifle. The photographs of the boyish gunman, wearing combat trousers, sneakers, a black t-shirt and a blue haversack stuffed with ammunition, promise to become a defining image of the assault on Mumbai, the deadliest terror strike unleashed in India in 15 years.
In a statement, Kasab said he had been trained by Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a well-known Pakistani-based militant group that has been linked to several operations carried on Indian soil. The group is thought to have been behind the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament in Delhi, where terrorists stormed the building with guns and grenades, taking hostages as part of a suicidal mission. The statement said: "I was trained by militants of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba in Pakistan for three months and asked to cause maximum casualties in Mumbai." Police said that each terrorist was given six to seven magazines with 50 bullets, eight hand grenades, an AK-57 rifle, an automatic pistol, and a supply of dry fruits. Kasab was taken to hospital after his arrest. Reports said he pleaded with staff not to be allowed to die.
A British security source said it was too early to be sure of the statement's veracity, as India has long demonstrated a "knee-jerk response" to point the finger at Pakistan for terrorist outrages, he said, but that this did not mean that the response was incorrect. There will be apprehension, however, over the reputation of the Bombay police to place undue pressure on suspects in custody. It is thought that early questioning was carried out by officers from Bombay's Anti-Terrorism Squad and that experts in areas such as terrorist tactics and financing will be drawn in later.
Ajit Doval, a former head of India's Intelligence Bureau, told The Times it was unlikely that Kasab had yet being given "the third degree" – a term that can mean anything from arm twisting to a severe beating and torture, methods commonly employed by Indian police. "This is far too high profile a case for anything illegal or any undue pressure tactics to take place during questioning," he said. "It is not as if this guy can protest his innocence."
It is possible, however, that Kasab, who was being held in Bombay's Lamington Road police station, could be administered a "truth serum" - sodium pentothal - another method used widely in India but banned in most democracies.
A document filed by the Bombay police on the basis of the interrogation says that Kasab and his accomplices were trained for three months before a month's break. During further training, the group was taught how to hijack a vessel at sea. The statement added that the terrorists were indoctrinated by being shown images of "atrocities on Muslims in India".
Kasab is said to have admitted sailing from the port city of Karachi, in Pakistan. About midway through the journey to Mumbai, police believe the terrorists hijacked a second boat, a fourteen-metre fishing vessel, which was later found off the coast of Mumbai with one dead body aboard – that of a crew member whose throat was cut. Four or five other crew members had been killed and dumped overboard.
Finally, the terrorists used inflatable dinghies to make their way on shore. Local witnesses said that they saw a small inflatable boat carrying at least eight men, now believed to have been the terrorists, landing at the Badhwar Park area of Colaba just before the first attacks took place. When one local fisherman confronted the men they levelled their guns at him and said "Humko tension hai" (we are feeling very tense).
Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attacks on Mumbai, as has a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Pakistan-based militant organisation.
Rico says hide and watch; this is going to get more complicated before it's over.

OPEC is having problems. Awww...

The International Herald Tribune has the story by Jad Mouawad:
Over the summer, the OPEC cartel couldn't prevent oil prices from surging to record levels even when its members pumped full out. Now, the producers seem equally unable to stop prices from collapsing as the global economy cools down. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries left an informal meeting in Cairo this weekend without an agreement to reduce production, but with rising doubts about fraying discipline and tensions within the group that accounts for 40 percent of the world's oil exports.
So, great uncertainty still looms over the market. Have producers managed to draw a line in the sand, or will oil prices keep falling in coming months?
After topping $147 a barrel in July, prices have slipped by more than $90 because of lower economic growth around the world. Prices could keep falling next year, analysts say, with some predicting new lows of around $30 a barrel. On Friday, oil futures in New York closed at $54.43 a barrel, having dropped on Nov. 20-21 below $50 - their lowest in more than three years. The cartel said it would consider reducing production when it meets in Algeria next month.
OPEC members need prices between $60 and $90 a barrel to balance their budgets, so the prospect of lower prices and crimped revenues is daunting. Even Saudi Arabia indicated over the weekend that it considered $75 a barrel to be a "fair price," a far higher figure than most analysts expected from the kingdom.
As the Cairo meeting this weekend illustrated, there are unmistakable signs that the group is struggling to maintain its unity. "It is at times when the organization is under pressure that its cohesion is tested," said Raad Alkadiri, an energy expert at PFC Energy, a consulting firm, who was in Cairo during the meeting. "Right now, there is a sense it's not in the driving seat."
The oil market has gone full circle at an astonishing speed. Prices have now returned to their level in 2002 levels, before demand spiked, production outside of OPEC disappointed, and investors flocked to commodities believing the market would only rise. Global growth, the biggest factor for oil demand, is under severe stress, new supplies are coming on the market, oil inventories are brimming, and investors are fleeing commodities.
In the United States alone, oil demand plunged by 2.6 million barrels a day in September, or nearly 13 percent, according to monthly data released last week by the US Energy Department. Demand reached 17.7 million barrels a day, the lowest monthly level since October 1995. Overall global oil consumption could drop for the first time in 25 years this year and may not recover before 2011, according to analysts. Some analysts say OPEC needs to cut output by at least three million barrels a day to make up for declining demand in industrialized nations.
Meanwhile the credit crisis is hurting the ability of producers to finance new developments, and crimping high-cost producers such as tar sands or deep water offshore, who need prices between $60 and $80 a barrel to be viable. This means supplies could be affected as oil companies cut back their investment spending. If prices keep falling, some existing fields could also become uneconomical, and might be forced to shut down.
Behind its façade, the cartel is facing its toughest test in years. The meeting, which was billed as an informal consultation rather than an official event, failed to resolve deep-seated issues such as how much each country is currently pumping and to what degree they should reduce production. Instead, producers tried to stay on message.
"OPEC is united," said Shukri Ghanem, the Libyan oil minister, as he sped out of the meeting Saturday without slowing down for questions, his words echoing through the vast lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel. But there were signs of tensions. The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, are unwilling to approve further supply reductions before other members of the cartel - particularly Iran and Venezuela - follow through on previous commitments to cut output.
Analysts said the Saudis wanted to show other members of the cartel just how serious they were about sharing the burden between all producers. But even as the Saudis appear ready to play hardball, with the risk of pushing down prices further, OPEC is also laying the grounds for a more coordinated approach with other producers. The OPEC secretary general, Abdalla El-Badri, has asked producers outside of the cartel, such Russia, Mexico, and Norway, to restrain their own supplies to prop up prices, as some of them did in the late 1990s when prices slumped below $10 a barrel. These countries will attend the group's next meeting in Algeria. "Our concern is about overproduction," said Abdullah Al-Attiyah, Qatar's energy minister. "If you're producing oil and no one is buying it, this is the concern."
Rico says it looks like a lot of 'after you, Alphonse', with everyone wanting to be the last one to cut production. (And couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys.) Rico is doing his part, of course, since he doesn't drive at all...

Or this one (especially for Vista users)

Rico says the line "Voice recognition didn't even listen to me" is priceless...

Damn, saved by the Constitution

The Los Angeles Times has a blog entry that will warm the cockles of any Hill-hating heart:
The president-elect, no-drama Barack Obama, is expected to name his new secretary of State, all-drama Hillary Clinton, as early as tomorrow as part of the week's rollout for his national security team. But can he?
As pointed out by a number of bloggers in recent hours, including our eloquent friend Susan over at Wake Up America, there's a clause in the U.S. Constitution (Article One, Section Six) that prohibits senators (or representatives) from taking a civil office if the legislator has voted to increase the pay for that job.
"No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office."
A president-elect who's a former part-time constitutional law professor, even one without his BlackBerry, presumably is aware of this prohibition, obviously designed to prevent double-dipping and raising your own salary, which is only allowed in Wall Street banks. And Obama surely knows of its historical precedents. And if Obama makes the appointment of his former bitter rival, she'll no doubt take office as the point person for U.S. foreign policy.
But the appointment of the loser of the Democratic presidential nomination by the winner of that nomination and of the subsequent general election wouldn't be properly Clintonian without some extra dramatic flourishes. This is likely only the beginning of such chapters.
Apparently, President Nixon ran into the same problem when he wanted to appoint Ohio's Republican Senator William Saxbe as attorney general. The solution back then, since dubbed the 'Saxbe fix', was for Congress to pass another law (not without some outspoken dissent from Democratic senators, by the way) reducing the Attorney General's pay so Saxbe wouldn't benefit financially from the higher salary he'd previously voted on. Similar fixes occurred when President Jimmy Carter named Edmund Muskie secretary of State and Hillary Clinton's own husband Bill named Lloyd Bentsen to head Treasury.
So much for the actual money aspect and strict construction.
We're not lawyers. But we do speak English. And to our eyes that constitutional clause doesn't say anything about getting around the provision by reducing or not benefiting from the increase of said 'Emoluments'. It flat-out prohibits taking the civil office if the pay has been increased during the would-be appointee's elected term. Period. Which it has. This seems more like a TV scriptwriter's trick to keep everyone hanging around through the commercials starting tomorrow.
Rico says he doubts this will solve the Hill-as-SoS problem, but it's a start...

It's only there today, so check it out

Rico says that would be the Day By Day cartoon in the sidebar; very strange and funny, today, if you ever saw THX 1138, that is... (Especially if you were lucky enough, as Rico was, to have seen THX 1138 4EB, Lucas' student film. Another of Rico's Zelig moments...)

A hopeful sign

Courtesy of my friend Bill, the lowest price he's found in Texas, this one at a station in Dallas. Beats the lowest around Philly by thirty cents a gallon, and must be making the ragheads scream...

Civil War for the day

Remembrance Day in Gettysburg, 2003. (Missed it, this year; too bad, too, since Rico intends on doing a portion of a nice little Ray Bradbury story as a video, and it needs Remembrance Day as a backdrop.) Rico is in the middle of the back row, with the walrus mustache. (Other members of the Delaware Blues are scattered throughout.)

29 November 2008

Two years and counting

It's been a very confusing, interesting, frustrating, wonderful, terrible two years. Two years ago, late in the evening (about the time shown above), the landmine went off in my head, and nothing's been the same since.
Some things, like my relationship with Christine, are as good as, if not even better than, they were.
My employability is about zero, but I find things to do, and some of them even make money.
My friends, mostly, have continued to support me.
Life, all in all, ain't bad, and it sure as hell beats the alternative.

The hell with it, Rico's going to bed

Having tried via acupuncture to improve the vision in his right eye, Rico says he finds he is very tired, even though it's only just after 8pm. So he's going to bed. Good night.

Things you find by accident

Rico says he was just looking up the proper spelling of djellaba when he found a glossary of interest; clicking the post title will take you to this site, and its brief glossary of terms, including:
Abdullah Khalil Abdullah - 20-year old Palestinian student shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.
Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) - Alternately called Fatah Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Black September, Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims. An international terrorist organization lead by Sabri al-Banna that split from the PLO in 1974.
Ahmad Shah Masood - Afghan defense minister under ousted President Rabbani, now leads anti-Taliban forces.
Al-Zulfiquar Shaheed - Former Prime Minister Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, won a landslide victory with his new Pakistani Peoples Party and was subsequently subject to a coup d'etat by the military junta. Mercilessly and despicably assassinated on April 4, 1979.
Beit Nuba - one of three Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli forces after the cease fire of the war of 1967. (Track title from "Citadel")
Betrayal - A referral to Arafat shaking hands with Yitzak Rabin, a representation of capitulation and cooperation between the PLO and the government of Israel.
Bhutto - The surname of the famous Pakistani political family which includes Former Prime Ministers Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and daughter former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Black September, The Return of - Palestinian terrorist group formed in response to Jordan's King Hussein attempt to drive Palestinians out of Jordan in September 1970. Black September was responsible for taking hostage Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. Eleven Israeli athletes were killed. Associated with Abu Nidal.
Blue Mosque - The great Blue Mosque of Istanbul. One of the principal mosques in Turkey. Also called Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The Mosque was built in just 7 years during the first and second decades of the 1600s in Istanbul by master Ottoman architect Sinan. The Mosque stands as one of the great architectural masterpieces in the Middle East.
Druse - A religiously liberal, non-fundamentalist faction of Islam which believes in reincarnation and the teachings of Muhammad but do not condemn drinking alcohol, fornication, resurrection, fasting, or the hajj to Holy Mecca.
Fatah Guerrilla - Fatah is the mainstream faction of the PLO, headed by Palestinian President and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat
Fatwah - Legal opinion concerning Islamic Law.
Fedayeen -suicide squads, literally "those who sacrifice themselves"
Hamas - An acronym for The Islamic Resistance Movement formed in 1987 dedicated to the restoration of an Islamic Palestinian State. Hamas is almost exclusively portrayed as a terrorist organization in western media however the number of members of Hamas is in the area of tens of thousands and includes a variety of social services, homeless shelters, food distribution centers, schools, hospitals, clinics, low cost housing, financial assistance and religious schooling throughout Palestine's Gaza and West Bank. Hamas members have run candidates for elections and do stage many peaceful political activities. There are indeed hard-core militant Hamas members who are responsible for violent and terrorist acts but they are certainly in the vast minority.
Hebron Massacre - A reference to the 29 Palestinian worshipers who were massacred by an Israeli settler with an automatic weapon while they were praying at the Abraham Mosque on February 25, 1994 in the holy West Bank city of Hebron.
Iz el-Deen - Also known as Al-Qassam, an armed militant faction of Hamas responsible for bombings (including a large number of suicide bombings), assassinations, and kidnappings of those opposed to its existence.
Islamaphobia - A term to describe the irrational fear of Islam.
Jarnail Singh - Leader of a Sikh community in Punjabi who was taken by the Indian Mansa district police in 1993 and held for approximately two weeks before mysteriously disappearing. Thought to have been murdered by the government of Indira Ghandhi.
Jazirat-Ul-Arab - According to the Arabs, Arabia is an island, an arid subcontinent separated from Africa, Asias and Europe by seas of sand. The word "Jazîrat" means "island", thus the term translates as, "Arab Island".
Jellaba - Jellaba is the ruling social group who control most of the politics and economics as well as culture, and ultimately, the corrupt legal system of Sudan.
Kabul - The capital city of Afghanistan. A city in ruins due to the horrors of an 18-year ongoing war which has devastated that country.
Katyusha - Russian-made rocket frequently used in attacks against Israel
Khan Younis - (from Hamas Arc) Second-largest city of the Gaza Strip and home of the second largest refugee camp
Maroon - This is a reference to the "marooned" state of being which describes the Palestinian people.
Mazar-I-sharif - A city considered to be a stronghold of Taliban opposition forces in Northern Afghanistan overtaken by the Taliban in August 1998.
Vampire of Tehran - Iranian serial killer, 28-year-old Gholamreza Khoshrou Kouran Kordieh. Khoshrou was condemned to 10 death sentences this month after confessing on television to the kidnap, rape and murder of nine girls and women aged 10 to 47 in four the course of four months during 1997. His death sentence was carried out when he was publicly hanged from a mobile crane on 13 August 1997.
Zul'm - Also Zulüm, a Turkish word meaning "torture". The human rights record in Turkey is appalling and torture is both widespread and systematic.
Rico says you might assume a little pro-Palestinian bias in this set of definitions...

Killing Jews can be an unhealthy practice

The Jerusalem Post has an article by Yaakov Lappin about the massacre in Mumbai:
The worst fears of family members, desperate for news of their loved ones in Mumbai's Chabad House, were realized Saturday, as the Foreign Ministry announced that the bodies of four Israelis and two Jews from other countries had been recovered from the building. The grim tidings came after a dramatic and drawn-out Indian commando raid on the building, lasting over two days, came to a close. Israeli media reported that some of the victims were found wrapped in prayer shawls, in accordance with Jewish burial tradition. The reports speculated that one of the hostages had wrapped the bodies before he was killed.
According to unconfirmed reports attributed to Indian security sources, most of the hostages were found bound and gagged by the commandos, and had been shot long before Indian forces landed on the roof from a helicopter on Thursday night. There were conflicting reports about other bodies found in the building. At least one, and possibly three, are believed to be of Israelis or Jews. The bodies of an Indian police officer and of a terrorist have also recovered from the building, the Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post.
The Indian commandos fought their way slowly down the multi-story building, as intermittent exchanges of fire and explosions were broadcast on Indian satellite news networks to the world. The 60-hour terror rampage across India's financial capital ended on Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen holed up in a luxury hotel engulfed in flames. The official death count stood at 195, but was expected to rise after police finish searching the rooms at the landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Five of the Chabad House victims had been named by press time as Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who ran the Chabad House; kashrut supervisors Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a US citizen who lived in Jerusalem; Bentzion Chroman, an American-Israeli from Bat-Yam; and Yocheved Orpaz, of Givatayim, who had arrived in India to visit her daughter and two grandchildren. A sixth victim is a Mexican Jewish woman. Israeli officials are waiting for DNA tests on some of the bodies to be completed.
The Israeli police will send out a crime scene investigation team to Mumbai on Sunday morning to assist in the identification process, a police spokesman said. The team will join the six ZAKA rescue and recovery workers who are already there. The forensics team will fly on a military transport aircraft, which will also be used to fly bodies back to Israel for burial. Speaking from the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, Foreign Ministry official Haim Hoshen told the Post on Saturday that there was no doubt the Chabad House was the target of a premeditated and planned assault. Hoshen was staying at the nearby Oberoi Hotel when the building came under attack, and described hearing a number of powerful explosions go off around him as he attended a reception. There were unconfirmed reports suggesting that Chabad officials tried to negotiate with the terrorists inside the Chabad House, in several calls to Holtzberg's mobile phone - presumably after the victims had been killed. On Friday, Hoshen described how Indian counter-terrorist forces held "tactical breaks" in their raid, during which they armed themselves with heavier weapons as they worked their way down the building's floors, eventually isolating the gunmen on the ground floor.
Reports suggest that two or three gunmen were involved in the Chabad House attack. On Friday, the Israeli consulate confirmed that four Israelis were among the group of hostages rescued by Indian special forces from the Oberoi hotel on Friday. Two of the freed Israelis, businessmen Yossi Veingratten and Ephraim Zamir, touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport on Saturday night. The two described their dramatic rescue by Indian security forces, before Zamir broke down in tears as he recounted the ordeal. Both said they had been advised to barricade themselves in their rooms as gunfire and explosions raged across the hotel. Veingratten said he had plenty to eat because he had brought kosher food with him. Zamir marveled with relief that "all those gunman" couldn't get "one little Iraqi Jew."
The Foreign Ministry said four Israelis in Mumbai remained unaccounted for. The names of the missing Israelis were compiled from reports by worried family members in Israel, who say their loved ones have failed to made contact since the terrorist outrages on Mumbai began last Wednesday. "We do not know their status or whereabouts of these four. This does not necessarily mean that harm has come to them," a Foreign Ministry official said.
After waiting for Shabbat to end, officials at the Israeli consulate in Mumbai spent Saturday evening notifying family members who had arrived in India of the deaths of their loved ones. The first to be notified were Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg and his wife Yehudit, the parents of Rivka Holtzberg. In an interview for the Chabad website shortly before Shabbat started in Mumbai, Chabad Rabbi Dov-Ber Goldberg said he was hosting the Rosenbergs and two of the Israelis from the Oberoi hotel. "We have received instructions from the Indian police and embassy staff not to discuss our location," he said. "We are continuing to deal with all of the sorrowful events here," Hoshen said by phone from the consulate on Saturday. "We will soon go and meet a victim's family to officially inform them of what happened." Hoshen said the consulate's second major task was working with the Indian authorities to transfer the bodies to Israel for burial as soon as possible, a mission made more difficult by an Indian legal protocol which requires that the bodies of all murder victims be autopsied. Since autopsies are bitterly opposed by haredim on religious grounds, Foreign Ministry officials were negotiating with Indian officials to drop this requirement. "We are trying very hard to avoid this for the sake of the haredi family members. This is a bureaucratic obstacle. So far, we have not met refusal on the part of the Indian authorities," an Israeli official said.
Rico says he always marvels at 'religious opposition' to autopsies; it's okay to have them cut open by explosions, but not by doctors. (Oh, he knows, it's just the fucking Word of God...) And as for "the forensics team will fly on a military transport aircraft", Rico says he wonders who else might be on that airplane, and what they'll be carrying...

Why is Jamie Foxx not Jamie Foxx?

Because his real name is Eric Marlon Bishop. Who knew? Who cared?
As a struggling comic, Foxx changed his name after he noticed that women were often called up onstage on amateur night at comedy clubs. So one night, he signed in with a unisex moniker at a Santa Monica, California club and "they picked Jamie Foxx. 'Is she here?' And I said, 'Yeah, brother, right over here, man,' " he told Jet magazine.

Rico won't miss her, sorry

Rosie O'Donnell writes on her blog that her NBC variety show, her first TV gig since leaving The View, won't being continuing.
In her signature online shorthand, O'Donnell writes: "there will b no more. no ratings. bad reviews. yet still – a thrill 4 me."
The Wednesday night show attracted just five million viewers, down even from the previous week's low-rated Knight Rider. The night was dominated by an ABC televised interview with Barack and Michelle Obama by O'Donnell's View nemesis Barbara Walters.

Just kidding

Engadget had an article back in August (hey, Rico doesn't always find 'em when they happen) by Joshua Topolsky about the Bloomberg oops with Steve Jobs:
You have to figure major news outlets keep obituaries on hand for all kinds of public figures and celebrities; still, you can't help feeling a bit of a chill upon learning that notice of Steve Jobs' death mistakingly hit the wires. A slip-up at news outlet Bloomberg caused the lengthy obituary to roll across a number of screens before being pulled, but not before a tipster was able to send off a copy to the gossip site Gawker. Under normal circumstances, this would probably come off as a random gaffe with minimal impact, but given recent reactions concerning Jobs' health, this comes off as a rotten-timed moment in journalistic and technical butterfingerism.
Rico says that Jobs, fortunately, turned out to be fine...

A decline? Rico hadn't noticed

An article by Lee Bains on Switched.com talks about the fall and rise of spam:
While the volume of spam recently plunged in the wake of the McColo shutdown, some experts suggest that spam is again on the rise, according to stories by Computer World and the BBC. Researchers at IronPort Systems and MessageLabs agree that spam numbers have increased over the last week, although their exact figures, and predictions for the future, differ.
A senior product manager with IronPort, Nick Edwards reported to Computer World that, despite an increase of nearly 10 billion since McColo's shutdown on 13 November, spam volume is still at less than half of the 153 billion prior to that date. Matt Sergeant, however, a technologist at MessageLabs, does not deliver such cheery news; he claims that the amount of spam currently online is nearly two-thirds of what it was prior to 13 November.
While folks at IronPort seem to be optimistic about spam numbers remaining low, and Messagelabs researchers seem more cautious, both Edwards and Sergeant are confident that spam levels will not return to their high-water mark. This, they say, is largely due to the destruction of the Srizbi botnet, which, Sergeant told Computer World, had accounted for half of all spam.
Still, there is dissent among the ranks of anti-spam researchers. According to the Washington Post, Srizbi was resurrected earlier this week According to the article, the worldwide network of Srizbi-infected computers, over 500,000 strong, are equipped with a feature that, in the event the master servers go down, will locate the new servers once they are established. If they're right, we should see a huge spike in spam volumes in the not-too-distant future.
At this point, there's little to do but wait and see.
Rico says public beatings, if not public hangings, live on the intenet, would go a long way to cutting this shit down...

All it takes is money

The New York Times has an article by John Tagliabue about the Ferrari factory:
To walk through the back gate of the Ferrari automotive works here and stroll down Viale Enzo Ferrari is to enter a museum of architecture. To the left is a wind tunnel designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, a soaring tangle of immense gray tubes and cubes where Ferrari’s ear-splitting, nerve-tickling, expensive automobiles are tested for aerodynamic properties. To the right is the finishing plant for engine blocks and other components, designed by Marco Visconti — three sets of huge glass blocks floating on greenery.
Farther down is the sprawling new assembly hall, designed by Jean Nouvel, the French architect who won the Pritzker Prize this year, in gleaming metal and mirrored glass. One side faces a masonry wall of the old Ferrari works, erected in the 1940s by Enzo Ferrari, who started building his sports cars after World War II. In the evening, the ruddy color of the old wall is illuminated, casting an eerie red glow on Mr. Nouvel’s creation.
“We had three goals,” said Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Ferrari’s president, who began commissioning star architects, beginning with Mr. Piano, in 1997. “We wanted to renew Ferrari’s organization, to eliminate the division into series A and series B among our employees, and to maintain, not to lose, the spirit of Ferrari.”
What gives Ferrari’s project its edge is its ambition to rebuild the entire Ferrari works, from engine block foundry to final assembly plant, not just one building, according to designs of leading architects. Moreover, the project is reaching its conclusion just as the global financial crisis, which will sweep away many of the bonuses that bought Ferraris in the past, undercuts the automobile market.
Last year Ferrari sold about 6,400 cars, including 1,761 in the United States and Canada. In the first eight months of this year, sales rose almost 25 percent, to 4,953. If sales should soften in traditional markets, like the United States, Ferrari is rapidly opening new markets. It entered China in 2004, and last year sold 200 cars there. “There will always be 6,000 people in the world who will want a Ferrari,” Mr. Montezemolo said. Ferrari’s results are good news for its parent company, Fiat. Though Ferrari accounts for only about 6 percent of Fiat’s total revenue, it generates more than 26 percent of its profit.
Rico says he's not sure he'd want one even if he could afford one, but it's nice that they're out there...

Poor babies, losing their djellabas

The New York Times has an article by Jad Mouawad about the latest oil crisis:
Faced with plunging oil prices and shrinking revenues, members of the OPEC cartel suggested on Saturday that they might lower production for the third time this year when they meet in Algeria next month. But the group’s unwillingness to seek an immediate cut in output even as demand craters in the United States and the world edges into a broad recession reflects the difficulties the cartel is facing in trying to stop prices from falling.
At a chaotic news briefing held in a hotel lobby here, OPEC’s president, Chakib Khelil, stressed that compliance with previous production cuts was satisfactory. But even as the organization tries to present a unified front, it is facing the incredibly tough task of trying to stop prices from falling at a time when demand is no longer growing. After six years of rising prices and little tension within the group, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are growing distrustful of one another’s pledges to trim production. As a result, OPEC has proved ineffective at slowing the slide in prices, let alone reversing it. After reaching a historic high in July, oil has lost $90 a barrel, to about $55, as economic growth suddenly slowed in recent months and the financial system seized up.
At their last two meetings in recent months, OPEC members pledged to withdraw two million barrels a day from the market. It is inevitable that OPEC will have to reduce its production more in coming months, analysts said.
Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, said the group would “do what needs to be done” to shore up prices. Mr. Naimi also said that $75 a barrel was a “fair price,” echoing comments made by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in an interview with Al-Seyassah, a Kuwaiti newspaper, that was published the same day. It is the first time in years that Saudi officials have talked about a specific price.
Oil prices gained 9 percent last week, after rebounding from three-year lows, as markets anticipated that OPEC would cut its production on Saturday. They were unchanged in thin trading on Friday in New York at $54.43 a barrel but could slip back below $50 again next week.
OPEC does not publish production figures from its members, so countries have to rely on so-called secondary sources, which include estimates by oil consultants and monthly figures published by the International Energy Agency.
Some producers believe that Iran and Venezuela, which have been the most vocal in calling for new production cuts to shore up prices, are not carrying enough of the burden. Others, like Angola, see little upside to reducing their own output while they seek to attract new investors. Some, like Saudi Arabia, do not want to lose both market share and revenue while others benefit from their production cuts.
At the same time, OPEC producers are desperate to stem the slide. Most producers need prices of $60 to $90 a barrel to balance their budgets.
Rico says you need to watch that sand-to-skyscrapers video again, this time in reverse...

Different, fer sure

Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC, might not be better, but he'd sure as hell be different:
There's been a lot of speculation that Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball" is mulling a run against Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter in 2010. The blog FiveThirtyEight reported Friday that Matthews was "staffing up" and was likely to run. Matthews quickly denied it. The Harrisburg Patriot-News said today that Matthews "isn't ready to say he's running for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, but he continues to talk with top Democrats about the possibility," including Democratic State Committee Chairman T.J. Rooney and executive director Mary Isenhour. Matthews, who once ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Pennsylvania, started all this speculation himself in April when he said "I want to be a Senator."
Naturally, some pollsters have been feeling out his chances. A Quinnipiac University survey conducted Nov. 19-24 showed Specter leading Matthews 45 percent to 43 percent with 2 percent preferring someone else, and 19 percent who were undecided or didn't answer. Specter draws the support of 72 percent of Republicans, 25 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents. Matthews so far only gets the backing of 55 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents.
At this point, Matthews' favorable to unfavorable ratio mainly shows that most voters (60 percent) haven't heard enough about him. Specter is viewed favorably by 56 percent compared to 23 percent who see him unfavorably. That 19 percent say they don't know enough about a five-term incumbent seems odd. His favorability rating among fellow Republicans is 60 percent.
"Matthews has been on MSNBC wall to wall during the election season, but is a question mark for 60 percent of the voters," said Quinnipiac's Clay Richards. "Specter has been relatively invisible the past year and has a strong 56 percent favorable rating."
Rico says he's not sure of Matthews' politics, but he's sure he doesn't like Specter's...

Dodged another one

Harkamal Singh has an on-line article about NYC:
After the federal government warned of a potential al-Qaeda attack, as the city shifted into Thanksgiving holiday mode, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have stepped up patrols in the city's subways and trains.
The increased police presence results from a "plausible", but not specific, report that al-Qaeda terrorists had discussed the use of suicide bombers against city mass transit operations. Police sources said the information came from a Pakistani citizen arrested overseas within the past week.
According to NYPD spokesman, Paul Browne, "The New York City Police Department is aware of an unsubstantiated report indicating that al-Qaeda terrorists discussed targeting mass transit in New York City and vicinity. We have no information indicating that these discussions advanced beyond the aspiration stage."
The horrors of terror bombings in recent years in London and Madrid have accentuated the exposure of mass transit systems to attack. The vulnerability of the city's tightly packed passenger trains and subway cars has long been a source of concern for cops, and target for would-be terrorists.
A person briefed about the proceedings, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the intelligence-gathering work, said the threat may also be directed at the passenger rail lines running through New York, like Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road. The threat surfaced on one of the busiest travel days of the year and when tens of thousands of tourists are in New York City for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Maybe concealed carry isn't a good idea

But the article in the Los Angeles Times by Seema Mehta, Michelle Maltais, and Kimi Yoshino failed to mention that carrying a firearm in California is so against the law:
Most shoppers headed to the Toys R Us in Palm Desert on Friday morning clutching their "door buster" ads and their shopping lists. At least two men walked into the busy store armed with their guns. Instead of the usual frantic chaos on Black Friday, the year's busiest shopping day, mayhem erupted in the electronics department about 11:30 a.m., leaving two men dead in a gunfight and crowds of shoppers ducking for cover.
Joan Barrick, 40, of Desert Hot Springs said she was buying a Barbie Jeep for her daughter when two women started brawling. As the women swung at each other, the men they were with also started arguing.
The younger of the two lifted up his shirt and flashed his handgun, pulling the grip from his baggy pants pocket. The other man yanked out his own handgun and started chasing him down the aisle and firing, witnesses said.
Barrick hid behind a stack of DVDs and recited the Lord's Prayer. "If I'm going to die, I need to make peace," she said. "A lot of people were crying. I was crying. We were all very, very scared."
As the two men ran shooting through the aisles, shoppers dumped their purchases. LaToya Jenkins, 20, had already bought a remote-control bike. She dropped it and ran. Others left behind shopping carts full of the bargain-priced toys they had come in search of. Several witnesses saw the gunmen clearly. Some cried out warnings: "He has a gun!" and "¡Pistola! ¡Pistola!" Barrick was so close she could see the smoking gun. "This is horrible," said a shaken Sara Frahm, 25. "I'm never shopping on Black Friday again."
Clarisa Valerio, 45, of Thermal said that when the man first brandished his gun, she heard him threaten to kill the other. She didn't believe it was real. "Since we were in a toy store, I thought it was a toy gun," Valerio said in Spanish. "My husband pushed me and said: 'Let's go. Didn't you hear what he said?'" As her husband started heading to safety, Valerio turned back when she remembered that her daughter, 18, was still checking on the price of a toy car set. The shooting started almost immediately. "I was hysterical," Valerio said. "This man pushed me to the ground. He put his arms around me and his disabled wife and held me."
Riverside County sheriff's officials declined to release the names of the dead men, whose bodies were found near the front of the store. Police retrieved handguns on the floor near both of them.
"These guys ran into each other, they squared off against each other, they killed each other," said Sheriff's Captain Daniel Wilham. "It's a miracle that these were the only two people killed, given it was a crowded toy store." Wilham said it appeared there was some "previous hostility" between the two couples.
Even after the shooting, one woman was still screaming angrily. In video footage posted on the website for KESQ-TV, the woman is being handcuffed and led to a police car. "I'm going to . . . kill you right now!" she shouted, slamming her fists on the car. "I'm going to kill you! Yeah, you!"
Toys R Us officials released a statement saying they were "outraged by the act of violence... and by the fact that anyone would compromise the safety and security of our customers and employees. Our understanding is that this act seems to have been the result of a personal dispute between the individuals involved. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday," the statement said.
In the first moments after the shooting subsided, the store became eerily quiet. Some people remained frozen in their tracks. Others tried to find the friends and family they had become separated from. Dozens of shoppers poured out a back emergency exit and fled to the nearest havens: a Jiffy Lube and a World Gym. Saul Diaz, an assistant manager at Jiffy Lube, said a stampede of about 45 people ran into the store, a few distraught and crying. "They were running fast, straight into the car bays," he said. "There was a couple of ladies with little kids, about three years old. They were all pale. The kids were shouting, 'Mom, I'm scared.' " One crying woman walked into the gym with an infant cradled in her arms.
Outside Pizza Hut, where witnesses were being interviewed, three-year-old Landon Stitt sat on the grass munching on his pizza. He spoke matter-of-factly, almost as if he was describing a video game: "I saw it," he said. "They were fighting. They were shooting." He shaped his fingers into a gun, then fired into the air. As night fell, the coroner's office had still not removed the bodies from the store. But authorities said they expected Toys R Us to be open for business this morning.
Rico says 'baggy pants pocket' is probably code for 'young black male', which may also explain the notoriously bad shooting here...

Another job Rico is happy he doesn't have

Of many, being a bouncer in a nightclub is certainly one. But there are people who'll do it, fortunately, and this guy is one. He also writes well, so (as JB Briggs would say) check it out. (And why does Street Life from Sharky's Machine keep playing in Rico's head when he sees the 'Clublife' logo?)

Instead of football, Monday night sky

MSNBC has an article by Joe Rao on the celestial phenomena that will show up in the sky on Monday night:
Every once in a while, something will appear in the night sky that will attract the attention of even those who normally don't bother looking up. It's likely to be that way on Monday evening, 1 December.
A slender crescent moon, just 15 percent illuminated, will appear in very close proximity to the two brightest planets in our sky, Venus and Jupiter.
People who are unaware or have no advance notice will almost certainly wonder, as they cast a casual glance toward the moon on that night, what those two "large silvery stars" happen to be? Sometimes, such an occasion brings with it a sudden spike of phone calls to local planetariums, weather offices and even police precincts. Not a few of these calls excitedly inquire about "the UFOs" that are hovering in the vicinity of our natural satellite.
Venus has adorned the southwestern twilight sky since late August. No other star or planet can come close to matching Venus in brilliance. During World War II, aircraft spotters sometimes mistook Venus for an enemy airplane. There were even cases in which Venus drew antiaircraft fire. This winter, Venus is the unrivaled evening star that will soar from excellent to magnificent prominence in the southwest at nightfall. The interval by which it follows the Sun will increase from nearly three hours on Dec. 1 to almost four hours by 1 January. It's probably the first "star" you'll see coming out after sunset. In fact, if the air is very clear and the sky a good, deep blue, try looking for Venus shortly before sunset.
Jupiter starts December just above Venus and is moving in the opposite direction, dropping progressively lower each evening. By month's end Jupiter meets up with another planet — Mercury — but by then Jupiter is also descending deep into the glow of sunset. In January, Jupiter will be too close to the Sun to see; it's in conjunction with the Sun on 24 January.
A very close conjunction of the crescent moon and a bright star or planet can be an awe-inspiring naked-eye spectacle. The English poet, critic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) used just such a celestial sight as an ominous portent in his epic, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In addition, there are juxtaposed crescent moon and star symbols that have appeared on the flags of many nations, including Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Algeria, Mauritania, and Tunisia.
Also on Monday evening, you may be able to see the full globe of the moon, its darkened portion glowing with a bluish-gray hue interposed between the sunlit crescent and not much darker sky. This vision is sometimes called "the old moon in the young moon's arms." Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was the first to recognize it as what we now call "earthshine."
As seen from the moon, the Earth would loom in the sky some 3.7 times larger than the moon does for us. In addition, the land masses, the oceans and clouds make the Earth a far better reflector of sunlight as compared to the moon. In fact, the Earth's reflectivity varies as clouds, which appear far more brilliant than the land and seas, cover greater or lesser parts of the visible hemisphere. The result is that the Earth shines between 45 and 100 times more brightly than the moon.
The Earth also goes through phases, just as the moon does for us, although they are opposite from what we see from Earth. The term for this is called "complementary phases". On 27 November, for example, there was a new moon for us, but as seen from the surface of the moon that day, there appeared in the lunar sky a brilliant full Earth. A few nights later, as the sliver of a crescent moon begins to appear in our western twilight sky, its entire globe may be glimpsed.
Sunlight is responsible for the slender crescent, yet the remainder of the moon appears to shine with a dim blush-gray tone. That part is not receiving sunlight, but shines by virtue of reflected earthlight: the nearly full Earth illuminating the otherwise dark lunar landscape. So earthshine is really sunlight which is reflected off Earth to the moon and then reflected back to Earth.
Keep in mind that this head-turning display of three celestial objects crowded together will be merely an illusion of perspective: the moon will be only about 251,400 miles from Earth, while Venus is nearly 371 times farther away, at 93.2 million miles. Meanwhile, Jupiter is almost 2,150 times farther away than our natural satellite at 540.3 million miles.
Those using binoculars or a small telescope will certainly enjoy the almost three-dimensional aspect of the moon, but Venus will be rather disappointing appearing only as a brilliant blob of light, for right now, it's a small, featureless gibbous disk. That will change in the coming weeks, however, as Venus approaches Earth and the angle it makes between us and the Sun allows it to evolve into a "half-moon" phase in mid-January, and a lovely crescent phase of its own during the latter part of February and March.
Jupiter, on the other hand, is a far more pleasing sight with its relatively large disk, cloud bands, and its retinue of bright Galilean satellites. All four will be in view on Monday evening, with Callisto sitting alone on one side of Jupiter, and Ganymede, Io, and Europa on the other side. Io and Europa will in fact, appear very close to each other, separated by only about one-sixth the apparent width of Jupiter.
As beautiful as the view of Venus, Jupiter and the moon will be from North America, an even more spectacular sight awaits those living in parts of Western Europe where the moon will pass in front of Venus. Astronomers refer to this phenomenon as an "occultation," taken from the Latin word "occultÄ re," which means "to conceal."
Rico says, in the immortal words of Joe Bob Briggs, 'check it out'.

Another iGoogle place Rico's been

The Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris.

One worth keeping

The Washington Post has an article by Michael Shear about Samantha Power, who doesn't like Hillary either:
Samantha Power, the Harvard professor who was forced to resign from Barack Obama's presidential campaign last spring after calling Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a "monster", is now advising the president-elect on transition matters relating to the State Department, which Clinton is slated to head.
Power is listed on Obama's transition Web site as part of the team reviewing national security agencies. Her duties, according to the site, will be to "ensure that senior appointees have the information necessary to complete the confirmation process, lead their departments, and begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in."
In short, she is part of a team that is likely to work directly with Clinton, a potentially awkward situation for the two women. Obama is expected to officially announce Clinton as his choice for secretary of state after the Thanksgiving holiday. Transition officials declined to comment. A spokesman for Clinton did not respond to an e-mail sent yesterday evening. Power has been on the list of review team officials since mid-November; the Associated Press first called attention to her presence on the list yesterday. But people close to the transition suggested too much was made of Power's comment at the time, and said that she has made moves to bury the hatchet with Clinton and that the senator accepted those efforts. If so, that could pave the way for Power to reemerge as a key adviser for the new president after being barred for months from appearing on television as a foreign policy surrogate for Obama.
Power, who is close to Obama, resigned in March after being quoted in the Scotsman newspaper, saying that Clinton "is a monster" and that "she is stooping to anything. . . . The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive."
The same day the comments were published, Power was forced to resign. In a statement at the time, she said she made "inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign."
Then locked in a tight battle with Obama for the Democratic nomination, Clinton responded with a statement urging donors to contribute to show that "there is a price" for the kind of attack politics that Power's comment represented.
After leaving the campaign, Power remained active in the public debate. In a 13 August article in the New York Review of Books, she argued that Obama had an opportunity this year to reverse the decades-long advantage that the Republican Party had with voters on national security and foreign policy issues. "Although few have focused on this, the Democratic Party today is also in a strong position to show that it will be more reliable in keeping Americans safe during the twenty-first century," she wrote. "If the party succeeds in doing this, it will not only wake up the United States and the world from a long eight-year nightmare; it will also lay to rest the enduring myth that strong and wrong is preferable to smart and right."
Power was at one time considered a contender for a top post in an Obama administration. But her name has not surfaced recently, and she is not listed as a lead official on the State Department review team.
Rico says Clinton (the Hill, not the Bill) is a fucking monster, and will stoop to anything... He dreads her being Secretary of State, but it looks like nothing will prevent her from getting the job.

First in, first out

The Philly firefighter who blogs as "First In" has a splendid little post (click the post title to go there) about the 'Engine 14 and Ladder 15' firehouse in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. Even if you don't care about firefighters (and you should; one might save your life some day), it's worth reading:
Take a look at this picture. What you are looking at is a typical Philadelphia Fire Department “Double House.” It has an engine and a ladder company housed together. The Engines carry the hose and pump the water. The Ladders carry the big main ladders and all of the other assorted tools we need to deal with whatever emergency we are called on to respond to.
The Mayor’s plan calls for the closing of Engine 14. But Engine 14’s area of operations, known as a 'local', won’t shrink or go away. Other Engine companies will have to try and cover their local.
That means while the station will remain open and Ladder 15 will still be there, there will be no Engine there to pump water. There will be four less firemen on duty each shift. When a fire or other incident breaks out, another Engine will have to come from further away. When Ladder 15 arrives at the scene of a house fire in the middle of the night and people stand on the sidewalk screaming that people are trapped, they will have no water to put the fire out with. Now if the next company who is supposed to be coming is out on a call (what are the odds of that in a city of 1.5 million 911 abusers?) the wait for another Engine just got longer and the fire just got bigger.
What do you think the odds are that one of the firemen standing on that sidewalk is going to risk his life trying to save that person trapped inside… and get killed or injured in the process? What are the odds that the person who was trapped doesn’t make it, either? I’d say the odds are sky high. It’s a lead pipe cinch.
When a city has a four billion dollar budget and can’t finance police and fire protection adequately, keep libraries and swimming pools open, and otherwise fund the essential services we need, why are we paying taxes in the first place? When the Federal Government has unlimited billions to bail out companies who horrendously mismanaged their assets and made criminally, unethically unsound business practices aided by an inept and complicit Congress, why should they get one red cent of taxpayer dollars?
When we have to stand on a sidewalk watching a house burn, who gets the blame?

Continuing shitstorm in India

The International Herald Tribune has an article by Keith Bradsher and Somini Sengupta about the on-going Mumbai disaster:
Indian commandos staged a dramatic helicopter raid and battled pockets of militants on Friday, as security forces tried to end the bloody assault by terrorists on Mumbai, the financial and entertainment capital of India. The police said the death toll had reached 143 with the discovery of 24 bodies in the luxury Trident-Oberoi Hotel.
Commandos slid down ropes from a hovering army helicopter Friday morning as they stormed a Jewish center that had been seized. The blue-uniformed troopers landed on the roof and soon made their way inside Nariman House, home to the Orthodox Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitch. A gun battle was raging inside the building, with several explosions and heavy firing throughout the day, but there was no word on the fate of hostages assumed to be held there. (Rico says the word is five hostages dead, all Jews.)
Indian Army and paramilitary commandos also made their way through two charred luxury hotels, searching survivors and bodies while continuing to battle gunmen from the teams that had struck the city Wednesday night. In addition to the Jewish center and the hotels, the terrorists, armed with grenades and automatic weapons, hit at least four other sites on the southern tip of Mumbai - the main train station, a hospital, a cinema, and a historic café.
Although there was still no definitive word on the identity or affiliation of the attackers, an Indian official said one of the assailants captured alive was a Pakistani citizen. The assertion by R.R. Patil, the home affairs minister of Maharashtra State, where Mumbai is located, could further increase tension between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states who have fought wars in the past.
Pakistan said Friday that it was prepared to send its intelligence chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to India to share information in the investigation into the attacks.
News agencies cited police reports that 93 foreigners - some of them wearing Air France and Lufthansa uniforms - had been rescued Friday from one of the hotels, the Oberoi. The reports also quoted the Mumbai police chief, Hassan Ghafoor, as saying that 24 bodies had been found and that the security forces had completed their operation there.
At the other hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, several trucks carrying members of India's elite Rapid Action Force arrived at 1:15 p.m. Friday. The troopers appeared to be starting an assault on the hotel, where an army official said at least one militant was still holding hostages. At least eight grenade explosions were heard, followed by small-arms fire. Lights were seen going on in rooms on the hotel's fifth floor. Outside the hotel, a sniper took up position in a cherrypicker.
The leader of a commando unit that was involved in a gun battle Friday morning inside the Taj said he had seen a dozen dead bodies in one of the rooms.
His team also discovered a gunman's backpack, which contained dried fruit, 400 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, four grenades, Indian and American money, and seven credit cards from some of the world's leading banks. The pack also had a national identity card from the island of Mauritius, off the southeastern coast of Africa.
The attackers were "very, very familiar with the layout of the hotel," said the commander, who disguised his face with a scarf and tinted glasses. He said the militants, who appeared to be younger than 30 years old, were "determined" and "remorseless."
Fears were growing in Mumbai that the death toll would rise. Dozens of people, and perhaps many more, remained trapped in the hotels, though it was uncertain if any were being held hostage. More than 300 people were known to have been wounded.
The police said 14 officers had been killed in the city, along with nine gunmen. Nine suspects had been taken into custody, they said.
Earlier in the day, an army general, N. Thamburaj, was quoted as saying that he expected all anti-terrorist operations in Mumbai to be wrapped up by midafternoon.
There was still much mystery around the group behind the attack, which terrorism specialists said was unusual in its scale, planning and boldness.
In a televised speech Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed forces "based outside this country" in a thinly veiled accusation that Pakistan was involved. A day later, the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying that, according to preliminary reports, "some elements in Pakistan are responsible."
On Friday, Pakistan seemed anxious to defuse the mounting crisis in relations with its neighbor. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said India and Pakistan should work together to defeat a common enemy and urged New Delhi not to play politics over the attacks in Mumbai, Reuters reported.
"Do not bring politics into this issue. This is a collective issue," the foreign minister said during a visit to Ajmer, India. "We are facing a common enemy, and we should join hands to defeat the enemy."
President Asif Ali Zardari called Singh, Reuters reported, to say he was "appalled and shocked" by the terrorist attacks. "Non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own agenda, but they must not be allowed to succeed," he was quoted as saying.
The attacks could threaten recent U.S. efforts to reduce the overall enmity between Pakistan and India, which were meant to enable Pakistan to focus more military resources against the rising threat of the Taliban in its lawless tribal areas.
Singh had issued a warning Thursday that seemed clearly aimed at Pakistan, which India has often accused of allowing terrorist groups to plot anti-Indian attacks. "The group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country," Singh said. "We will take up strongly with our neighbors that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them."
The suspicions raised by the attack seemed a blow to relations between India and Pakistan, which had been recovering from a low earlier this year after India accused the Pakistani intelligence agency of abetting the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan. India has frequently accused Pakistan-based militant groups of fueling terrorist attacks on Indian soil, though lately it has also acknowledged the presence of homegrown Muslim and Hindu militant organizations.

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