31 January 2009

Gubs by the mile

Rico says a couple of people sent him this one and, if you're a gub nut like Rico (and this guy, even though he'd never fired one before), you'll like it:

No footage of him firing the Lewis gun, though; sorry.

Quote for the day

"For the past two months, I've done a great deal of heavy drinking and fucking beautiful women."
Shelby Foote to Walker Percy, in late February of 1954

Rico says he's been reading Shelby Foote: A Writer's Life by C. Stuart Chapman, and he's finally (halfway through the book) at the point for which he got the damned book originally, Shelby's writing of his monumental Civil War.

Rico says that examinations of anyone's life, much less that of a writer, evokes nothing so much as that word used by V.I. Kydor Kropotkin in one of Rico's favorite (though all-but-unknown) films, The President's Analyst: Tedium... tedium... tedium...

Every morning & night, like clockwork

The New York Times has an article by Tara Parker-Pope on one of Rico's favorite things:
Several studies show that people who eat diets high in fruits and vegetables have lower cancer rates. Now a large body of research suggests that berries may be among the most potent cancer-fighting fruits. In numerous laboratory studies, researchers at Ohio State University have found that black raspberries inhibit the development of oral, esophageal, and colon cancers in rats. Some human studies have also suggested a benefit from berry consumption. In one small study of patients with familial adenomatous polyposis, a genetic condition that raises the risk for colon cancer, patients given black raspberry extract had up to 59 percent fewer rectal polyps than those taking a placebo; the findings were published in November’s Cancer Prevention Research journal. Another study showed black raspberry powder reduced symptoms for patients with Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition.
The main berries being researched include black and red raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and elderberries. Although blueberries have numerous health benefits, they don’t appear to have the same cancer-fighting properties as other berries, researchers say. Berries contain a number of healthful compounds including vitamins A, C, E, and folic acid; selenium; calcium; polyphenols; and compounds called anthocyanins, which give berries their color.
While berries, particularly raspberries, look like a promising super food, many people may not find it practical to eat them on a regular basis. A human would have to eat about a pound of berries a day to ingest the equivalent doses used in the rodent studies. Another concern is whether variations in climate and growing techniques may alter the concentration of the beneficial compounds found in the fruit. Although frozen berries can substitute for fresh when they are out of season, the fruits are expensive and may be too costly for most people to eat daily.
As a result, researchers are trying to identify the key ingredients that make berries cancer fighters. In a study published this month in Cancer Prevention Research, scientists compared rats who ingested a diet of whole black raspberries or a concentrated powder of black raspberry anthocyanins to rodents who ate a regular diet. The study found that the anthocyanin powder worked just as well as whole raspberries for slowing tumor growth. Both groups of rats consuming either whole berries or anthocyanin powder developed 50 percent fewer esophageal tumors compared to untreated rats.
“We’re quite encouraged by that,” said Gary Stoner, professor emeritus and former head of the Cancer Prevention Program at Ohio State University. “It’s not total inhibition, but it was pretty substantial. It tells us the anthoncyanins in the berries are pretty important and they are deserving of more research.” Although the verdict on berries as cancer fighters is still out, Dr. Stoner says more people could benefit by eating them. Studies already show people with diets high in fruits and vegetables are healthier, and berries are a particularly tasty fruit. Dr. Stoner says frozen berries are a good option, because they won’t spoil, can be eaten year round and often are cheaper than fresh berries. Concentrated berry powders are also available at health food stores. Dr. Stoner says he starts every morning with a shake made with strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries mixed with yogurt and milk. “We think, for the average American, probably the consumption of three to four helpings of berries every week is a good thing,” he said. “We know berries have so many effects on processes related to cancer development. They are one of the food stuffs you probably should consider consuming every day, or at least a few times a week.”
Rico says he has raspberries and strawberries on his cereal every morning, sometimes some as hand-food during the day, and raspberries on his Haagen-Dazs every night. (The ladyfriend is a big blueberry fan; Rico likes them in muffins, but not on his cereal. She'll be pissed they didn't make the grade.) If he doesn't eat a pound a day, it's not for lack of trying...

Don't cry for me, Argentina...

...or you poor working stiffs in the US, either. According to an article by Eric Dash and Louise Story in The New York Times, it seems the clowns on Wall Street still don't get it:
There was none of the old swagger at Citigroup headquarters on Friday. The bonus checks had landed, and some of the bankers were grumbling. After a year of yawning losses at the company, employees lamented that times were getting lean. The giant bank, the recipient of two multibillion-dollar rescues from Washington, had paid out only about $4 billion in bonuses.
Only?
If you’ve never worked on Wall Street, it is hard to wrap your head around the idea that a company that lost nearly $19 billion in a single year, as Citigroup did in 2008, could still pay its employees billions in bonuses. It is probably even harder to believe that some of those employees grumble about it. “I feel like I got a doorman’s tip, compared to what I got in previous years,” said a thirty-something investment banking associate at Citigroup’s offices in Lower Manhattan. That kind of glum talk is being heard all over Wall Street, where money is the measure and bonuses the ultimate yardstick. To bankers and traders, bonuses, which account for the bulk of their pay, justify those long days and sleepless nights spent crunching numbers or watching bond prices dance across computer screens.
But with everyone from President Obama on down chastising bankers for paying themselves billions in bonuses at a time taxpayer money is propping up the financial industry, once-unthinkable questions are starting to arise. Could bonuses, the stuff of Wall Street dreams, become a thing of the past? Could this decades-old incentive system, born of the private partnerships that once ruled Wall Street, be replaced? If so, by what?
For all the tectonic shifts reshaping the financial landscape, one thing has not changed: the bonus culture. Wall Streeters who make a lot of money for their employers expect to reap the rewards. In the parlance of the industry, they expect to eat what they kill.
But bonus resentment is building. On Friday, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, proposed a bill to cap workers’ pay at banks that received bailout money at $400,000, including bonuses. Even now, with Wall Street awash in red ink, stars are pulling down millions. “It’s just not acceptable. You’re talking about the same banks that caused the foreclosure crisis, took record bonuses in the past and continue to,” said George Goehl, executive director of National Training and Information Center, a nonprofit community reinvestment group in Chicago.
Some politicians are calling for banks to claw back bonuses because they were based on earnings that vanished in the financial crisis. President Obama lashed out on Thursday, calling bankers shameful for awarding themselves nearly $20 billion in bonuses for 2008.
Many senior banking executives, including Vikram Pandit, the chief executive of Citigroup, agreed to forgo 2008 bonuses. But Washington policy makers did not limit bonuses for rank-and-file employees when the government hastily arranged the sweeping bailout last fall. So banks were free to pay what they wished for 2008, and pay they did. At Citigroup, Mr. Pandit in November was planning to reduce the total bonus pool by about 40 percent from 2007 levels. But after the company grabbed a second lifeline from Washington, executives reduced payouts even more, cutting the total in half, according to several people close to the situation. One of those people said officials in the Treasury Department, then under Henry M. Paulson Jr., signed off on the size and the structure of the compensation plan. Pay for several dozen of Citigroup’s senior managers was cut between 40 and 85 percent, and the bank imposed new policies to claw back ill-gotten bonuses and limit severance pay.
That could set the stage for a new round of changes. Wall Street compensation in general— and bonuses in particular— are coming under intense scrutiny from lawmakers. Possible reforms include caps on pay, greater use of stock compensation, and mandates to return more money to shareholders, rather than workers. The government could also request a seat on the board of every company that accepted taxpayer money.
Even some bankers, at Citigroup and other institutions, said they felt a bit ashamed about getting bonuses in hard times like this. But none of them offered to return the money. “I’m certainly not giving my bonus back,” said the Citigroup banking associate, who, like other several other Citigroup employees, declined to disclose his payout and asked to remain anonymous, for fear of angering his bosses.
Granted, bonuses are down from the heady days of the bull market. According to an estimate released this week by the New York State comptroller, which set off the recent uproar, payouts for 2008 at New York financial companies fell about 44 percent from the previous year. But bankers are still taking home about as much as they did in 2004, when the industry was flush.
A confluence of powerful forces drove bonuses to record heights in recent years. Traditionally, banks set aside about half of their annual revenue for employees’ compensation. But since the 1970s, and particularly over the past decade or so, the financial industry boomed, and so did pay. In recent years, the explosive growth of lucrative areas like hedge funds and private equity unleashed a war for talent, inflating pay and employees’ expectations even more.
But for many banks and their employees, the old calculus of risk and reward also changed. For most of their histories, traditional Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers were private partnerships. Partners staked their own money in the markets. When firms went public, Wall Street used shareholders’ money. Banks also were able to reward employees with both cash and stock, and bonuses assumed a larger role in total compensation.
By 2007, just before the financial crisis hit, the average worker in the financial industry was earning 70 percent more than counterparts in other fields. The bonus culture runs deep. Executives and rank-and-file workers argue that lawmakers and others who complain about bonuses do not understand how this industry works. Bonuses, Wall Streeters say, are a crucial part of total compensation, and are often treated as deferred salaries. And generally bosses weigh individual performance more heavily than the company’s overall results.
In other words, people who made the company a fortune in, say, foreign exchange trading, deserve bonuses even if their colleagues in mortgage bonds ran up losses that crippled the bank. At Citigroup, for instance, bonuses for currency and interest rate traders, who as a group had a good year, fell 40 to 50 percent. Bonuses for senior bankers shrank by about the same amount. But junior bankers, whose bonuses are smaller, were not cut as much. Some mortgage traders got no bonuses at all.
“Compensation will vary based on each person’s performance— again, relative to the overall performance of the company,” Mr. Pandit said in a year-end memo outlining the bank’s pay principles in 2008.
Of course, many Wall Street employees never expected the good times to end. They lived large, believing bonuses would always arrive, so they are ill prepared, both emotionally and financially, to cope with a sudden drop in income. “Without a doubt, $18 billion is a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket on Wall Street,” said Gustavo Dolfino, president of the WhiteRock Group, a headhunter for the banks. “These bonuses are down, and the salaries are not enough for these people. They can’t live on $150,000 to $180,000, so they haven’t saved any money. They put it on credit lines and at bonus time, they thought they’d pay it off.”
Rico says he'll give 'em a 'drop in the bucket'; a drop-kick in the ass, more like... (And they "can't live on $150,000 to $180,000"? Rico says they should try living on his income, the ungrateful bastards.)

Non-equivalent response

The AP has a story by Diaa Hadid about the latest out of Gaza:
Palestinian militants fire a rocket from Gaza that landed close to the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon without causing any damages or injuries, an Israeli military spokesman said. Israeli forces and Gaza militants are supposed to refrain from attacking each other under a fragile cease-fire. But the truce has been breached several times, making diplomatic efforts to build a lasting agreement difficult.
The rocket attack was the first from Gaza since Thursday. There was no claim of responsibility from any Palestinian militant group.
Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers stopped fighting in late January after a fierce three-week Israeli offensive meant to halt eight years of near-daily rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israel. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, about half of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, three of them civilians, according to the government Since then, Palestinian militants have fired rockets sporadically toward Israel and killed one soldier on Tuesday. Israel has conducted retaliatory strikes and pounded border tunnels it says Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons from Egypt.
Without a political agreement to anchor the cease-fire, Gaza and Israel's southern region are expected to continue to be unstable. The biggest winners in the Gaza war, however, appear to be hard-liners on both sides who are likely to continue taking uncompromising positions. On Friday, top Gaza Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayeh emerged in public for the first time since the war began, to declare victory. In Israel, leading hawk Benyamin Netanyahu is the front-runner in elections just a week away. Hamas has ruled out a long-term cease-fire with Israel if officials do not open sealed border crossings with the coastal territory. Israel is unlikely to do so while the militant group rules Gaz and holds captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was seized in a cross-border raid in 2006.
Rico says what do you want to bet that "without causing any damages or injuries" does not appear in the news articles about Israel's response to this?

Oh, that's even better

The Los Angeles Times has a story by Andrew Malcolm that's reminiscent of the Soviet Union:
Illinois authorities began today erasing the presence of Governor Rod Blagojevich from public property. A day after the state legislature ousted the first governor in Illinois history (and the 8th in US history), transportation crews began covering some 32 state tollway signs that say: "Rod R. Blagojevich, Governor." They were erected five years ago at a cost of $480,000.
Those signs are everywhere in Democratic Illinois, because the proud public servants of that super state and the fine, fine city of Chicago spare no expense in ensuring that the good citizens of that historic state, the honest taxpayers who work from morning until night to support their families and the dreams of their little children who deserve an excellent education and an extraordinary future, are able to exercise their fundamental rights as citizens of a free Illinois to be fully informed as to which esteemed elected official should get credit for the impressive tollway, airport, street improvement, or other really good things that happen there.
Just in case those very same names should ever come up again on, say, a re-election ballot.
According to hallowed Illinois tradition, traffic accidents, construction projects, and other annoyances or impediments for people actually trying to get somewhere in the Land of Lincoln, are not deemed to require a sign taking responsiblity for the ungodly mess. Not until some months after things are cleaned up and looking good.
On the other hand, when a formerly fine public servant who's been deemed fit to serve several times by those same well-educated voters runs afoul of the party, or more likely of federal prosecutors, then their cult of personality must be erased immediately. And they never officially happened.
Just for fun, start counting the number of days until you hear another illinois Democratic politician, President Barack Obama, utter the name of his one-time friend and ally in public. Prediction: The final number will be right up there with number of dollars in the economic stimulus package.
The new Democratic governor, Patrick Quinn, was lieutenant governor and hadn't spoken to the Democratic ex-governor since mid-2007 because they belong to different factions of the one-party rule there. Quinn today called the state's constitutional officers, all of whom happen to be Democrats, to a meaningless symbolic meeting so that cameras could show state government getting back to meaningless symbolic meetings.
In one of the least memorable statements in recent political history, Quinn noted that God put eyes in the front of human heads so that people can look forward and that is what he intends to do, look forward. With his eyes. On the front of his head.
According to the rules of Illinois political scandals, Quinn referred to Blagojevich only as "my predecessor" and said he expected to hear merely silly "chirping" from the disgraced Democrat.
The tollway signs will cost about $15,000 each to cover up Blagojevich's unreasonably long name. State officials just happened to have the coverup material handy. The work will be done largely at night, allegedly to minimize traffic disruptions. One day Rod is there protecting Illinois tollways. The next, poof, he's gone. It's easier for everyone that way.
Governor Patrick Quinn's fine Irish name will not go up on the same signs.
At least not until things settle down and no one is looking.
Rico says he loves a fine hand with the sarcasm, and Malcolm's got one...

Imitiation is the sincerest form of flattery

The Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, the Republicans nominate Sarah Palin. The Democrats elect Barack Obama, the Republicans choose a black man (Michael Steele) as the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Rico says it's not going to get them back into the White House, not for a long time... (Thanks to FDR and the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution, we can't re-elect Obama more than once, so they'll have a chance, assuming Biden isn't a shoo-in by then, in 2016...)

No more Blago blag, but the next best thing

The New York Times has an article by Susan Saulny on the Blagojevich fallout:
Temperate, unfussy and, at times, so independent that he can be out of the loop, the 41st governor of Illinois could not be any more unlike the man he replaced, the attention-loving showman, Rod R. Blagojevich, who was removed from office on Thursday. And that has a lot of people in Illinois breathing a sigh of relief.
“What you see is what you get,” said one of Mr. Quinn’s longtime allies, State Representative John Fritchey, a Democrat. “He is an apolitical creature in a political world.” Already, in his first hours as governor, Mr. Quinn was charting his own course: in a series of interviews and public appearances he promised an honest, transparent and accessible administration. He reached out to include in his decision-making some of the state’s other elected officers who had long been shut out by Mr. Blagojevich. And he signed an executive order that made an official state entity out of a reform commission he established as lieutenant governor last month.
Unlike Mr. Blagojevich, who disdained the capital and lived in Chicago, Mr. Quinn, a divorced father of two adult sons, plans to move into the governor’s mansion. That alone signals a whole new day. “He’s the anti-Blagojevich, for sure,” said State Representative Jack Franks, a Democrat.
Mr. Blagojevich is, apparently, not a fan. “He’s going to raise taxes on people,” the former governor said of Mr. Quinn on Thursday after being ousted from office. “He’s going to hurt people. And that’s part of the deal here. Get me out of the way. He’s going to raise the income tax on people by Memorial Day. And he’ll probably allow a sales tax on gas, too.” But even Mr. Blagojevich vouched for Mr. Quinn’s straight as an arrow reputation. Asked whether Mr. Quinn was corrupt, Mr. Blagojevich said simply, "No." Still, this being Illinois, Mr. Quinn probably should not grow accustomed to such political generosity.
Although far from a political novice, Mr. Quinn is untested at meeting the kinds of challenges before him now: a crisis of confidence in government, a $4 billion budget gap, and a record level of unpaid bills to day care and health care providers and others. And he knows it: “This is not a garden variety crisis,” Mr. Quinn said in an interview. “It will be a test for all of us, starting with me, to keep our eyes on the common good.”
Since that morning, at 6:45, when Mr. Quinn said he got a call about the arrest, life has not been the same. “It’s a bit surreal, when you think about it,” he said.
Mr. Quinn said he was not sure whether he would run in 2010, when Mr. Blagojevich’s term ends. As it was, he had not decided what to do when his term as lieutenant governor was up.
Rico says he wishes Quinn well; being the governor of any state is hard, but Illinois, with all the Chicago machine politics, is even harder...

You can go to Dell

Rico says just what we (don't) need, another 'smart' phone, this one from Dell:
Rumors of Dell's foray into the smartphone market are once again in the news, thanks to a Wall Street Journal article that said the PC maker has been working on prototypes for the past year.
The number two PC maker, which is struggling to stave off a continued erosion in PC market share, has prototypes built on Windows Mobile and the open source Google Android platform, with launches expected as early as next month, the Journal reported. In addition, Web site Apple Insider pointed to recent statements by analysts for Kaufman Brothers that suggest Dell could be making a splashy smartphone announcement at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona in February. Dell spokesperson David Frink told InternetNews.com that the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.
Rico says he doesn't comment on rumors or speculation much, either, just all the time...

Civil War for the day

Union troops step off at an unknown reenactment.

30 January 2009

No more blag about Blago

Rico says that the Governor of Illinois dropped right off the fucking map once he was impeached (as he should have awhile back); as soon as he was deposed, no more Google articles, but here's a AP timeline of his decline and fall:
13 January 2003: Blagojevich is sworn in.
30 June 2006: United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says he has witnesses to "very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" in the Blagojevich administration.
7 November 2006: Blagojevich is re-elected, handily beating Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka.
9 December 2008: Federal agents arrest Blagojevich on corruption charges that include an alleged effort to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.
17 December 2008: The Illinois Supreme Court rejects the state attorney general's effort to remove Blagojevich from office. She had argued the governor's legal and political troubles amounted to a disability.
19 December 2008: Blagojevich proclaims his innocence and says he will not resign.
30 December 2008: Blagojevich names former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to replace Obama in the Senate. Senators at first suggest they will block him, but he is later sworn in.
9 January 2009: The Illinois House votes 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, the first Illinois governor in history to be impeached.
26 January 2009: The Illinois Senate opens Blagojevich impeachment trial. Claiming trial is unfair, Blagojevich goes on media blitz in New York to proclaim his innocence.
29 January 2009: The Illinois Senate votes unanimously to remove Blagojevich from office and bar him from holding office in the future. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn sworn in as governor.
30 January 2009: Blagojevich who?

That about sums it up

The on-line article on CNet.com by Ina Fried has an appropriate headline:
Windows 7 less annoying, but also less secure?

Rico says that's pretty much all you gotta say, but she goes on:
Microsoft's efforts to make Windows 7 less annoying than Vista may also be making it less secure than its predecessor.
With Windows Vista, the operating system popped up a warning any time a major change was being made to the system, whether by the OS or by a third-party application. With Windows 7, users can choose how often to be notified, with the current default set to notify only when a third-party application is making a change.
Blogger Long Zheng, however, is drawing attention to an apparent shortcoming in that approach. Because changes to the user account control setting itself are being made within the OS--and not by a third party--malicious code could turn off such alerts entirely with the user getting little notice that such a change had been made. Zheng said he and fellow blogger Rafael Rivera have come up with a simple proof-of-concept code to show the vulnerability.
Microsoft is trying to thread a difficult needle here. The prompts issued by the User Account Control program, though annoying, help alert users to changes to their system. But if the prompts are so annoying that people turn off the setting--or stick with older operating systems--than things aren't secure either.
Zheng proposes, at a minimum, that Microsoft's default setting also warn users if a change is being made to UAC itself. That seems reasonable to me.
A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment.
Rico says but the best part is the author's bio:
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft.
Rico says now that's a classic...

Coring the Apple

Slate has an article by Farhad Manjoo (hey, Rico says he doesn't make 'em up, he doesn't have to) about the impending departure of Steve Jobs from Apple:
On Wednesday afternoon, Steve Jobs announced he was taking a leave of absence from Apple until June, as his health problems were "more complex" than he'd previously let on. Last week, Farhad Manjoo reported from a Jobs-less Macworld conference, where he got a glimpse of Apple's not-so-thrilling future without the legendary CEO.
Just before the holidays, Apple announced that CEO Steve Jobs would not deliver the keynote address at Macworld, the annual conference that he's long used as a platform for his flashiest product announcements. The company's terse press release made Apple-watchers suspicious about the company's motives. Jobs, a cancer survivor, hasn't looked great lately— he's skinny, his voice sounds thin, and at recent events, he has, uncharacteristically, given much of the stage time to subordinates. Last week, an anonymous source told Gizmodo that Jobs' health was "rapidly declining" and that the Macworld pullout was Apple's way of reducing his presence at the company— preparation, the source implied, for Jobs' imminent death. In response, Jobs posted a letter claiming that he was suffering from a hormone imbalance and that doctors expected a full recovery within a few months. For now, Jobs remains CEO, which is fortunate for all involved: On Tuesday, we got a glimpse of what Apple would look like without him, and it wasn't good.
Taking Jobs' place at Macworld was Phil Schiller, the company's senior vice president of marketing and one of Jobs' top lieutenants. Schiller is a familiar presence at Apple events— he's the big, smiling fellow who gets called on to assist when the head honcho needs to demonstrate something cool on the iPhone. Schiller seems as if he'd be a natural as CEO: He's charismatic, he has command of every product detail, and he's also proved able to articulate the company's bigger-picture goals. Yet watching him give a State of the Apple address was like puzzling over a Zune after spending years with an iPod— all the same basic functions are there, but the experience is somehow naggingly dull and awkward.
Part of Schiller's problem was a lack of good material— he had nothing grand to announce. Previous Macworlds gave us the iPhone, dazzling new iMacs, and the MacBook Air. This year we got a new MacBook Pro in the same style as other laptops Apple has been selling for months, plus updated versions of several programs, including the company's photo management, movie-editing, and productivity apps. Schiller also announced that Apple had convinced record labels to drop copy-restriction schemes on all songs sold in the iTunes store— in other words, iTunes has now caught up to Amazon's unrestricted music store.
But it wasn't only that Schiller had nothing great up his sleeve; he also lacked his boss's ethereal style. Jobs has a gift for spinning mere product announcements into rich narratives about a newer, more advanced way of life. He speaks slowly and plainly but with undisguised awe at the power of his company's innovations. Take a look at him unveiling the iPhone at Macworld 2007; he explains why it makes much more sense for a mobile device to have a flexible touchscreen keyboard than the hard keys found on competitors' products and, in five minutes, eviscerates the logic behind every other device: "What happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can't turn around and add a button to those things— they've already shipped!" Steering clear of jargon, he goes over the clear benefits of his alternative— benefits like "works like magic!"
And finally, there's what an ad-man would call "the reveal." He pulls out the device, then reveals its showiest features— flicking a finger across the screen to scroll down a list of music, pinching it to zoom in on an image, flipping the phone on its side to show how it automatically shifts between portrait and landscape mode. Jobs is given to superlatives and simple, powerful declarations of awesomeness— "phenomenal," "the best," and "Boom!" seem to be his favorite words. His excitement is infectious. By the end of any Jobs keynote, you're ready to open your wallet.
There are people who find this style off-putting. It's a mainstay of Apple criticism that Jobs is merely a showman, not a technologist, and that his success has as much to do with skillful press management as with actual innovation. Whatever you make of the carping, it's certainly true that Jobs' style is central to the company's brand and the fierce connection it forges with its customers. His product announcements prompt hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free press coverage and whip up greater and more loyal fans, generating ever-greater interest in the company. At several Macworld keynotes, I've witnessed dangerous stampedes on the escalators and in the aisles. Most corporations beg you to buy their products. Apple's customers beg the company to let them have whatever it is they happen to be selling this quarter.
At some point, all that will end. Jobs will eventually leave the company. There are no obvious plans for succession; in addition to Schiller, observers finger Tim Cook, Apple's COO, and Scott Forstall, who helped develop Mac OS X and the iPhone's software, as contenders for the job. But Tuesday's keynote illustrated how difficult it will be for any of those guys to replace Jobs. As Schiller spoke, the response was more country club than rock concert; people appreciated some of his announcements, but you got the sense they were clapping to be polite. There were long stretches when I had nothing better to do than to surf the Web on my iPhone. (Thanks, Steve!) There was nothing unique about his style, nothing to keep the audience rapt. The entire affair reminded me of countless presentations I've been to by other execs. Apple without Steve Jobs, it seems, will be just like Microsoft or Oracle, an ordinary tech firm with perfectly adequate products and no sizzle.
This year marks Apple's last at Macworld. The conference is produced by the media company IDG, not by Apple itself, and in the same press release announcing that Jobs wouldn't participate this year, the company noted that "trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers." There are good reasons for the firm to skip Macworld. The event takes place in January, an odd time to announce new products, and Apple can command the world's press to its events at a moment's notice, setting its own timeline for releasing new things.
But Macworld isn't just a trade show. Spurred by excitement over Jobs' keynotes, the event is a kind of pilgrimage, a time for Apple-lovers to revel in their unabashed fandom. After the keynote I wandered around the expo hall talking to Apple-istas who'd come to mark the end of an era. Several exhibitors told me they hadn't made up their minds about whether to sign up for next year, saying that Apple is shrouded in even more mystery than usual these days. The big question for the company's fans and investors: what happens to a cult without a leader?
Rico says that, unlike most cults, this one has a lot of followers who'll buy the insanely great products, even without Steve at the helm. (Remember the interregnum? People still bought them then, too.) Rico says he did then, and will again. He wishes Steve well, but Apple even better...

Gordon Gecko was right

The New York Times has an article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Stephen Labaton about President Obama's reaction to the Wall Street mess:
President Obama branded Wall Street bankers “shameful” on Thursday for giving themselves nearly twenty billion in bonuses as the economy was deteriorating and the government was spending billions to bail out some of the nation’s most prominent financial institutions. “There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses,” Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. “Now’s not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them, and I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them.”
It was a pointed flash of anger from the president, who frequently railed against excesses in executive compensation on the campaign trail. He struck his populist tone as he confronted the possibility of having to ask Congress for additional large sums of money, beyond the seven hundred billion already authorized, to prop up the financial system, even as he pushes Congress to move quickly on a separate economic stimulus package that could cost taxpayers as much as nine hundred billion.
This week alone, American companies reported as many as 65,000 job cuts, and public anger is rising over reports of profligate spending by banks and investment firms that are receiving help from the bailout fund. About half of that seven hundred billion is still available, but the new administration has yet to announce how it will use it, and many analysts think it will take far more to stabilize the banking system.
Should Mr. Obama have to go to Congress to seek more money for the bailout fund to avert the failure of more banks, he would most likely encounter opposition within both parties and demands for tighter restrictions on pay for executives of institutions that receive government assistance. Mr. Geithner has already signaled a willingness to impose stricter compensation limits as part of a revamped approach to dealing with the banking crisis, but with his strong words on Thursday, Mr. Obama seemed intent on reassuring Congress and the public that he would step up the pressure on bankers before granting them additional assistance.
Mr. Obama was reacting to a report by the New York State comptroller that found financial executives had received an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for 2008, less than for the previous several years, but the same level of bonuses as they received in 2004, when times were flush. “That is the height of irresponsibility,” Mr. Obama said. “It is shameful. And part of what we’re going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and some discipline and some sense of responsibility.”
The Obama administration and lawmakers have begun to consider ways to control executive pay; the bailout fund, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, would be the main vehicle for exerting such control. The administration of former President George Bush issued guidelines last October to try to control executive pay at companies receiving government help, but so far they have done little to curb large salaries.
During his confirmation hearings, Mr. Geithner said the administration is preparing rules that would require executives at companies receiving taxpayer money to agree that any compensation above a certain amount— he did not specify how much— be “paid in restricted stock or similar form” that could not be liquidated or sold until the government had been repaid.
Some lawmakers, meanwhile, have said they are considering so-called “clawback” provisions that could be invoked by the government to take back bonuses and executive pay from officials at companies that encountered problems.
In the meantime, public outrage is already forcing some companies to rein in their lavish spending. John Thain, the former Merrill Lynch executive who was forced out of Bank of America, said this week he would reimburse Bank of America for an expensive renovation of his office that included an $87,000 area rug and $35,000 commode.
But it took the urging of the Obama administration to force Citigroup, which received an infusion of taxpayer funds last year, to abandon plans to buy a fifty million corporate jet. On Thursday, Mr. Obama made reference to the jet, without singling out Citigroup by name; his remarks came one day after the president met at the White House with business leaders, including Richard Parsons, the new chairman of Citigroup.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, issued his own warning on Thursday, saying companies would be summoned to testify if taxpayer money was involved. “Whether it was used directly or indirectly, this infuriates the American people, and rightly so,” Mr. Dodd said. “So I say to anyone else who does it, if you do it, I’m going to bring you before the committee.”
There is also political pressure to rein in pay in industries beyond banks and investment firms. The pressure reflects the substantial disparities between pay increases for senior executives, the low rate of wage growth for workers and the frequent disconnect between compensation and the long-term strategic success or failure of corporations.
Mr. Obama’s message on Thursday was reinforced by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who pledged in an interview with CNBC and The New York Times that the government would spend the remaining $350 billion of the troubled assets money “wisely and prudently and transparently”. Mr. Biden said that he, like the president, was outraged by reports of large bonuses going to Wall Street executives. “I’d like to throw these guys in the brig,” he said. “They’re thinking the same old thing that got us here, greed. They’re thinking, ‘Take care of me.’ ”
Rico says that whoever Citigroup was going to buy that jet from is now out the fifty million, however, and will probably have to lay off some of their workers... What goes around, comes around. But Rico says a few of the bastards should go up on lampposts as a caution to the others...

Okay, a fucking personal note

Rico says the ladyfriend is always on him about writing something personal, as opposed to all the political and historical blather he usually posts, so here goes...
(And if you're bored, wait awhile; Rico will undoubtedly come upon something in the news to rant about.)
First off, what the fuck is Rico doing up at this previously ungawdly hour of 4.45?
The ostensible reason was to feed the cats; the big fat-and-yet-hungry female cat has developed the trick of jumping up and down on her sleeping humans until one of them (usually the ladyfriend, because she's a lighter sleeper) gets up and feeds them.
The actual reason is that Rico, like many aging baby boomers, let alone those with brain shunts, has to get up and pee in the wee-wee (that's a urinary joke) hours of the morning. In addition, he recently twisted something in his back (as yet undetermined), and as a result his leg hurts, as if someone were stabbing him in the hip or the calf with a small sharp object.
So why is he still up, blathering on in the blogosphere?
Because the ladyfriend's alarm will go off in an hour or so anyway (she still has to go off and do that work thing), and our friend Greg will arrive a few hours after that, to assist Rico in our self-propelled renovation of the apartment.
Because he might as well spend the time writing Cowboys & Indians as lying there sleepless.
But first there was some cereal to eat, and some solitaire to play on his iPhone, and then the ladyfriend got up and went to work.
Okay, enough about Rico. On to other things...

Gone, and good riddance

Rico says that didn't take them long, once they got around to it:
The Illinois Senate voted 59-0 on Thursday to remove Blagojevich from office. Moments later, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to prevent Blagojevich from ever holding political office in the state again.
After the Senate vote, the "Welcome" sign with Blagojevich's face, which visitors saw as they entered the Capitol in Springfield, was quickly brought down. Maintenance crews also arrived, first removing the gold nameplate with Blagojevich's name. Using drills and a ladder, they then brought down the five-foot-high sign to make the official change. Workers also removed the former governor's official state picture positioned atop a state outline and a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln.
"Was that quick enough?" one worker said to laughter. An employee standing nearby as the picture was taken away said, "Do we need someone to throw a shoe?"
Moments later, the picture of new Governor Pat Quinn was placed were Blagojevich's picture used to be. Blagojevich, who was elected governor twice after terms as a US representative and state lawmaker, was arrested on federal corruption charges in December. Federal authorities alleged, among other things, that Blagojevich was trying to sell the Senate seat that became vacant after Barack Obama was elected president. During the impeachment trial's closing arguments, Blagojevich appeared before the senators, saying he had done "absolutely nothing wrong".
Rico says no one in the court system has ever done anything wrong, but they get convicted anyway, of criminal stupidity in this case... (The topically clever 'shoe throwing' reference is, of course, to the Iraqi custom used at the departure of Saddam Hussein. Given what happened to him, ex-governor Blagojevich should consider himself lucky just being deposed.)

Civil War for the day

Johnny Reb lining up for a reenactment.

29 January 2009

Some guys just don't get it, do they?

Rico says ol' Rod just ain't gonna go easy, is he:
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, thank you very much. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be here today and present my closing argument, my chance to be able to talk to you, talk to the people of Illinois, and talk to anybody else who is listening...
I wanted to be able to bring in witnesses from Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, to Senator Dick Durbin, to Senator Harry Reid and Bob Menendez, to every single person connected with any conversation I may have had in relation to picking the United States senator. Unfortunately, these rules have prevented me from being able to do that...
This is the United States of America. It's guaranteed by the Constitution. It's a fundamental civil liberty that every American enjoys. And imagine what it would be like to live in a country like this if you weren't allowed to be able to defend yourself.
And of course an impeachment trial is not a court of law. It's different. But whether it's a court of law, or an administrative hearing, whether it's schoolyard justice when one kid hits another, but the kid that hit him wasn't the one who did it and he's got other boys he'd like to have tell the teacher he didn't do it, whether it's that or it's an impeachment process where you are seeking to remove a governor who was twice elected by the people, I think fundamental fairness, fundamental justice, natural law and constitutional rights suggest I should be able to bring witnesses in to say I didn't do the things they said I did.
Now, when I made that case to people, they listened to me and were supportive. But they also said to me, "If you feel so strongly about it, Governor, then why don't you go to the Senate and tell them yourself? Why don't you go there and tell them instead of you just telling us?"
And so that's why I'm here. I'm here to talk to you and appeal to you, to your sense of fairness, your sense of responsibility, your commitment to the Constitution, your commitment to basic fairness. And I'm asking you, as I speak to you today, to imagine yourself walking in my shoes...
Now, the articles of impeachment, as they're configured, are broken up basically in two portions. One is a portion that alleges that I abused the executive discretion that the governor's given. And then the other is the allegations in the criminal complaint...
The evidence is the four tapes. You heard those four tapes. I don't have to tell you what they say. You guys are in politics, you know what we have to do to go out and run and run elections. There was no criminal activity on those four tapes. You can express things in a free country, but those four tapes speak for themselves. Take those four tapes as they are and you will, I believe, in fairness, recognize and acknowledge, those are conversations relating to the things all of us in politics do in order to run campaigns and try to win elections...
How can you impeach me on a charge that happened in the first term? You didn't impeach me then. And then the people chose me again because they evidently approved of what I did because they understand that they'd like to have a leader who's going to go out and try to get results for them...
Now, I have a recollection of actually remembering this...
So I believe in all of the evidence that has been presented to you; in fact I know there hasn't been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing. You haven't proved a crime and you can't because it hasn't happened. You haven't given me a chance to disprove a crime. But so far a crime has not been proven here in this impeachment proceeding...
Now, I'm asking you to look at the evidence that you've heard here and to ask yourself, is it the right precedent to set to throw a governor, twice elected by the people, out of office without proving any wrongdoing? Is that the right precedent to set?
...I cannot possibly admit to something I didn't do...
But I want you to know, I want you to know, I never, ever intended to commit a criminal act...
Rico says he edited out hundreds, if not thousands, of words of endless blather. Go there if you need to read the whole thing. The guy's so obviously guilty... (But he oughta be impeached just because he can't shut the fuck up, no matter what else he did or didn't do.)

A very small amount

Someone sent Rico a slideshow of a new Stanley tape measure, that uses really traditional increments:

And, for those who know, in addition to these CH increments, there are also VCH, RCH, and VRCH increments, which are progressively finer...

Oh, yeah, sure

Rico says these guys are slick. But if you go there, consider yourself warned in advance; there's no such thing as a fucking free lunch...

This is amazing


It would be science fiction, but it's science fact. (And if they're doing it at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, it's gotta be real.) If the Army spends enough money, it might even work...

The death penalty sounds appropriate

The New York Times has an article by Gardiner Harris about the peanut disaster:
The Georgia food plant that federal investigators say knowingly shipped contaminated peanut butter also had mold growing on its ceiling and walls, and it has foot-long gaps in its roof. More than five hundred people in 43 states have been sickened, and eight have died, after eating crackers and other products made with peanut butter from the plant, which is owned by the Peanut Corporation of America. More than one hundred children under the age of five are among those who have been sickened.
The plant sells its peanut paste to some of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, including Kellogg and McKee Foods. As a result of the contamination, more than one hundred products have been recalled, mostly cookies and crackers. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the outbreak to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Georgia. On 9 January, investigators descended on the plant for a thorough inspection, which was completed Tuesday. The report from the inspection, first posted on the Internet by Bill Marler, a lawyer, cites twelve instances in 2007 and 2008 in which the company’s own tests of its product found contamination by salmonella.
In each case, the report states, “after the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.” It is illegal for a company to continue shipping a product until it gets a clean test, said Michael Taylor, a food safety expert at George Washington University.
In a press conference Tuesday, Michael Rogers, director of the division of field investigations at the FDA, said that the company’s tests showing salmonella contamination should have led the company to take actions to eliminate the contamination. “It’s significant, because at the point at which salmonella was identified, it shouldn’t be there, based on the manufacturing process that’s designed to mitigate salmonella, actually eliminate it,” Mr. Rogers said. The firm took no steps to clean its plant after the test results alerted the company to the contamination, he said, and the inspection team found problems with the plant’s routine cleaning procedures as well. The plant also stored pallets of peanut butter next to supplies of peanuts, the inspectional report says. Finished products should be stored far from raw materials to reduce the chances of re-contamination of the finished goods, according to federal rules.
The report describes a plant that was not constructed to produce safe food. “There were open gaps observed” near air-conditioner intakes that were as large as a half-inch by two and one-half feet long, the report stated. Previous inspections of the plant by the Georgia State Agriculture Department found dirty surfaces, grease residue, and dirt buildup throughout the plant. They also found rust residue that could flake into food, gaps in warehouse doors large enough for rodents to enter, and numerous other problems.
A spokesman for the Peanut Corporation did not immediately return a phone message.
Rico says a phone message? What about some federal marshals with an arrest warrant? What about just locking all the company executives inside the building and burning it down (merely as a preventative measure, to remove the contamination, of course)? This reminds Rico of that great scene at the end of Lawrence of Arabia, when the British medical officer inspects the horrific conditions in the Turkish hospital and says, vehemently and so Britishly, "Outrageous! This is outrageous!" So's this...

Civil War for the day

28 January 2009

A good joke, unless you're a blonde

A trucker stops for a red light and a blonde jumps out of her car, runs up to his truck, and knocks on the door. The trucker lowers his window and she says "Hi, my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load." The trucker ignores her and proceeds down the street.
When the truck stops for another red light, the girl catches up again. She jumps out of her car, runs up, and knocks on the door. Again, the trucker lowers his window. As if they've never spoken, the blonde says brightly, "Hi my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load!" Shaking his head, the trucker ignores her again and continues down the street.
At the third red light, the same thing happens again. All out of breath, the blonde gets out of her car, runs up, and knocks on the door. The trucker rolls down his window, and again she says "Hi, my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load!"
When the light turns green the trucker revs up and races to the next light. When he stops this time, he hurriedly gets out of the truck, and runs back to the blonde. He knocks on her window, and after she lowers it, he says "Hi, my name is Bobby, it's winter in Minnesota, and I'm driving a fucking salt truck!"

Yet another quote for the day

Rico says he can't find the damned reference, so he can't yet prove it was Joseph Heller who said it, but it sums up Rico's attitude, in spite of all the evidence (like poor Kenny Cauthen, who didn't make it even though we all thought for sure he would):
I know that we all die. The evidence is around us every day. But I thought, surely, in my case, an exception could be made.
(Turns out it was William Saroyan; Rico should've done a better search of his own blog, as he'd quoted him before, and that not even a year ago...)

More ancient Rico history

Having stumbled upon a stash of old portfolio material, Rico says he's still proud of the work he did on Studio, the magazine of the Western Art Directors Club in Palo Alto, many moons ago. (How many? 1985...)
Volume 1, Number 1 had a nice photo spread of the WADC board of directors (including Rico, along with Larry Wright, Lauren Smith, Bob Weaver, Barbara Zenz, Marilyn Martin, Gil Tutone, Randy Hull, Sandra Rath, and Larry Williams, most of whom, at this remove, Rico says he hardly remembers, sorry); an article (written by Rico) on the Cray computer used by Digital Productions in LA; an article about Primo Angeli, a famous San Francisco designer; and a lot of pretty graphics.
It was a short-lived (only a few issues) production, but it was nice while it lasted...
Longer-lived, because it was actually lucrative, was Graphics Journal, first published by Sandpiper Publications in Mountain View, California back in November of 1983. The publisher, Frank Sisti, is (sad to say) dead now, but Rico was the originator of the publication (a companion to Sisti's long-running Printing Journal), and its managing editor. The advertising manager was a man who became a good friend of Rico's, Dwight Mitchell, until he (the dumb sumbitch) died, too. Fortunately, Rico has not, as of yet, joined them, wherever they are...
Graphics Journal is also where Rico discovered and first bought the Berkeley Oldstyle font from ITC (after a complicated process; the font wasn't really released yet), which he uses (to the exclusion of almost everything else) in all his own books (which you can buy here).
The magazine had, on every cover, a section we called (because it was, this being a tabloid) 8x10, which featured illustrations and (mostly) photos from local artists and photographers. One special one (to Rico) was the one where he published the previously-unpublished photo of a couple of Corsairs from WW2, taken by his late uncle:
Some other bits of Rico's history that turned up whilst searching for the Graphics Journal cover, including an issue of the newsletter for the Old Baldy Civil War Round Table (now being done by Don Wiles):the newsletter of the Faultline Shootist Society, now mostly defunct, out in Gonzales, California:Border Beat, where Rico had a couple of his stories published (for free, dammit):and a promotional flier for the Timothy Patrick Miller presentation of Ambrose Bierce: Live on Stage, which is where Rico got to meet the inestimal Mr. Miller (with whom he's going to film, come the spring of 2010, Zone of Fire in and around Austin, Texas):

Another quote for the day

From my friend Pat DeCarlo, this about an outspoken Australian:
T.B.Bechtel, a city councilor from Newcastle in New South Wales, was asked on a local live radio talk show just what he thought about the allegations of torture of suspected terrorists. His reply prompted his ejection from the studio, to thunderous applause from the audience: "If hooking up a terrorist's prisoner's nuts to a car's battery cables will save just one Australian's life, then I have just three things to say: 'Red is positive, black is negative, and make sure his nuts are wet.'"
Rico says that he wishes American politicians had the balls (wet or dry) to say stuff like that...

Quote for the day

"It used to be an elite few. Now anyone can make a book and it looks just like a book you buy at the bookstore."
Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, a print-on-demand company.

There's a whole article on the subject, if you care:
In 2008, Author Solutions, which is based in Bloomington, Ind., and operates iUniverse as well as other print-on-demand imprints including AuthorHouse and Wordclay, published 13,000 titles, up 12 percent from the previous year.
This month, the company, which is owned by Bertram Capital, a private equity firm, bought a rival, Xlibris, expanding its profile in the fast-growing market. The combined company represented 19,000 titles in 2008, nearly six times more than Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books, released last year.
Otherwise just go buy one of my books (published via Booksurge and CreateSpace, thank you very much.

And there's always hope:
"When Lisa Genova, a former consultant to pharmaceutical companies, wrote her first novel, Still Alice, a story about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease, she was turned down or ignored by 100 literary agents. Ms. Genova paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. A fellow author discovered the book and introduced Ms. Genova to an agent, and she eventually sold Still Alice for a mid-six-figure advance to Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which released a new edition this month. It had its debut on The New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on Sunday, at number five."
Rico says he'll take a 'mid-six-figure advance' for any of his, especially the upcoming Cowboys & Indians...

So much for global warming

Courtesy of the Peripatetic Engineer, this from Abu Dhabi:
Snow in the UAE gives new meaning to the phrase "no words to describe"; apparently there is no word for snow in the local dialect. The Inuit should lend them one, they have extra.

And here's the local news report:
Snow covered the Jebel Jais area for only the second time in recorded history yesterday. So rare was the event that one lifelong resident said the local dialect had no word for it.
According to the RAK Government, temperatures on Jebel Jais dropped to -3°C on Friday night. On Saturday, the area had reached 1°C. Major Saeed Rashid al-Yamahi, a helicopter pilot and the manager of the Air Wing of RAK Police, said the snow covered an area of five kilometres and was 10cm deep. “The sight up there this morning was totally unbelievable, with the snow-capped mountain and the entire area covered with fresh, dazzling white snow,” Major al-Yamahi said. “The snowfall started at 3pm Friday, and heavy snowing began at 8pm and continued till midnight, covering the entire area in a thick blanket of snow. Much of the snow was still there even when we flew back from the mountain this afternoon. It is still freezing cold up there and there are chances that it might snow again tonight.”
Aisha al Hebsy, a woman in her 50s who has lived in the mountains near Jebel Jais all her life, said snowfall in the area was so unheard of the local dialect does not even have a word for it. Hail is known as bared, which literally translates as cold. “Twenty years ago we had lots of hail,” said Ms al Hebsy. “Last night was like this. At four in the morning we came out and the ground was white.”
Jebel Jais was dusted in snow on 28 December 2004, the first snowfall in living memory for Ras al Khaimah residents.
“I had flown there in 2004 when it snowed, but this time it was much bigger and the snowing lasted longer as well,” said Major al-Yamahi. At the base of the mountains, residents also reported severe hail on Friday night. “We had hail. Last night was very cold, but there can only be snow on Jebel Jais because it’s the tallest,” said Fatima al-Ali, 30, a resident of a village beneath the mountains. In Ras al-Khaimah City, 25 km from Jebel Jais, sheet lightning and thunder shook houses. Main roads from Qusaidat to Nakheel were still badly flooded on Saturday, while temperatures at the RAK International Airport fluctuated between 10 and 22°C.
Mr. Varghese, an observer at the RAK Airport Meteorological Office, told of the storms that hit the emirate on Friday night. “We had thunderstorms with rain for more than twelve hours and we had around 18mm of rain,” Mr. Varghese said. “The rain, along with the cold easterly winds and low-lying clouds, could have bought the temperatures further down on the mountains.”
Giorgio Alessio, a meteorologist at the Dubai meteorology office, said: “In thunderstorms, the rain comes down very rapidly from higher levels, and the rain that usually forms can reach the ground in some places as snow. In the next few days the weather regime is completely different and will return to normal for the season, with a maximum temperature of 23°C or 24°C. The night might cool down in the desert below 10°C. There is variability in the weather from year to year but it hasn’t shown a trend in getting colder or getting warmer.”
The RAK Government plans to transform the 1,740m Jebel Jais into the UAE’s first outdoor ski resort, using Australian technology that will allow tourists to ski in temperatures up to 35°C.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai also had heavy rain on Friday night.
Rico says sure, it's a local phenomenon; so is a lack of ice at the North Pole... What does it all mean, especially for the poor polar bears? Who the fuck knows. Hide and watch. (And how do you say "What's all this cold white shit outside?" in Arabic?)

Good review of a great movie

Over on Slate, Dennis Lim reviews Slumdog Millionaire:
This is a movie with a conveniently fluid notion of reality. In this fairytale vision of squalid poverty, the slums of Mumbai are bathed in golden light, and hardscrabble lives are energized by jacked-up camerawork and the cool, cosmopolitan pop of M.I.A. on the soundtrack. We see the real-world horrors that might befall a kid from these parts— begging syndicates, religious violence, abusive cops— but experience them simply as plot contrivances, hurdles to be cleared as we wait for him to get the girl and go from rags to riches while he's at it.
Slumdog is nothing if not a transglobal movie— funded with British and American money, shot entirely in India by a British director with a largely Indian cast and crew, from a script by a British writer adapting a novel by a London-born Indian author— and it's instructive to compare the reactions from around the world.
Premiering at the big North American film festivals at Telluride and Toronto last fall, Slumdog was crowned an underdog Oscar contender, a film that could go from barely getting a release (its original distributor, Warner Independent, folded last year) to the ultimate Hollywood jackpot, just as its hero, Jamal, makes his way from the slums to the biggest prize on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
While the film won near-unanimous praise when it opened here in November, in the United Kingdom, thanks perhaps to residual colonial guilt, there were a few more dissenting voices. A columnist at the London Times called it "poverty porn", bringing up the question of exploitation that has largely been elided in stateside discussions.
And in India, where Slumdog opened last week, the debate has been vigorous. Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, the focal point of a key scene in Slumdog (he doesn't actually appear), wondered on his blog if the film would have received as much attention had it been made by an Indian director. Some locals have questioned its selective portrait of Mumbai, which ignores the middle class. Some slum residents, meanwhile, have taken exception to being called "slumdogs" (a term invented by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy; the original novel, by Vikas Swarup, is called Q&A). Despite all this pre-release publicity and mostly positive reviews, Indian audiences have so far stayed away.
It is understandable that the conversation has taken on a more serious tone in India, which has long been sensitive to depictions, by Indians and outsiders alike, of its lower socioeconomic classes. The great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was criticized in Parliament for "exporting poverty". When the BBC aired French director Louis Malle's Phantom India, an epic travelogue that sought to capture the contradictions and complexities of Indian society, it led to a minor international incident, culminating in the expulsion of the BBC's New Delhi bureau.
The slums in Slumdog Millionaire are brighter and livelier than any we've seen before. Boyle is a gifted stylist and, for better or worse, an indiscriminate sensualist, the kind of filmmaker capable of finding tactile pleasure wherever he looks, from the junkie deliriums of Trainspotting to the cosmic reveries of Sunshine. For Boyle the director, the slums are above all an endless source of motion and color. The scene that best sums up his attitude comes early in the film, when young Jamal, stuck in an outhouse but determined to obtain Amitabh Bachchan's autograph, holds his nose and (in a nod to the famous toilet-bowl interlude in Trainspotting) gleefully dives into the outdoor latrine.
Some would argue that Boyle is guilty of aestheticizing poverty. That's a loaded charge, with its own problematic assumption about what poverty should look like. I would contend that the movie's real sin is not its surfeit of style but the fact that its style is in service of so very little. The flimsiness of Beaufoy's scenario, a jumble of one-note characterizations and rank implausibility, makes Boyle's exertions seem ornamental, even decadent. Beaufoy has suggested that Mumbai itself inspired this narrative sloppiness: "Tonally it shouldn't really work," he wrote in the Guardian. "But in Mumbai, not for nothing known as Maximum City, I get away with it." This is a corollary to the all-too-easy defense that Slumdog is awash in clich├ęs because it is an homage to Bollywood movies. The resemblance, in any case, is superficial. Some of Slumdog's melodramatic tropes are Bollywood (and Old Hollywood) staples, but the limp dance number that closes the film lacks both the technique and the energy of vintage Bollywood.
If Slumdog has struck a chord, and it certainly seems to have done so in the West, it is not because the film is some newfangled post-globalization hybrid but precisely because there is nothing new about it. It traffics in some of the oldest stereotypes of the exoticized Other: the streetwise urchin in the teeming Oriental city. (The success of Slumdog has apparently given a boost to the dubious pastime of slum tourism—or "poorism," as it's also known.) And not least for American audiences, it offers the age-old fantasy of class and economic mobility, at a safe remove that for now may be the best way to indulge in it.
Eager to crank up the zeitgeist-y significance, the marketing machine at Fox Searchlight, which ended up buying Slumdog, told New York magazine that "the film is Obama-like" for its "message of hope in the face of difficulty." (Other journalists have since picked up on the meme.) Slumdog has been so insistently hyped as an uplifting experience ("The feel-good film of the decade!" screams the British poster) that it is also, by now, a movie that pre-empts debate. It comes with a built-in, catchall defense— it's a fairy tale, and any attempt to engage with it in terms of, say, its ethics or politics gets written off as political correctness.
A slippery and self-conscious concoction, Slumdog has it both ways. It makes a show of being anchored in a real-world social context, then asks to be read as a fantasy. It ladles on brutality, only to dispel it with frivolity. The film's evasiveness is especially dismaying when compared with the purpose and clarity of urban-poverty fables like Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados, set among Mexico City street kids, or Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, set in inner-city Los Angeles. It's hard to fault Slumdog for what it is not and never tries to be. But what it is— a simulation of "the real India", which it hasn't bothered to populate with real people— is dissonant to the point of incoherence.
Rico says "dissonant to the point of incoherance"? Maybe. But still a great movie; see it before it's gone.

Casa D'Ice isn't nice

Hey, the guy's blog is subtitled "What's on my mind... whether you like it or not".
Rico says he's got the right idea, however...

Civil War for the day

General George Armstrong Custer and his unknown dog.

27 January 2009

Don't know when to quit, as usual

The Times has an article by James Hider and Sheera Frenkel about Hamas blowing it again:
The fragile ceasefire in Gaza was under severe strain yesterday after Palestinian militants blew up an Israeli border patrol, triggering an Israeli air strike inside the blockaded enclave. The outbreak of violence was the worst since Israeli forces ended their three-week offensive against Hamas, the Islamist rulers in Gaza, more than a week ago. It came as George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, headed into the region to seek ways of ending the decades-old conflict.
Despite the attack, a senior Hamas official told The Times that the movement, which is shunned by the West and labelled as a terrorist organisation, was holding talks with European diplomats and expected to be brought into more mainstream talks soon. The fighting began when Palestinian militants triggered a roadside bomb near an Israeli army vehicle on the border, killing one soldier and wounding three others. Palestinian officials said that a 24-year-old man was killed in the resulting gunfire.
No Palestinian faction claimed responsibility for the bombing but it was lauded by the main groups. An Israeli aircraft opened fire on a motorcycle in the south of the strip, wounding a Palestinian militant and another man after the attack. “I don't care who fired,” said Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister. “Hamas controls Gaza and is responsible for everything that happens. Whenever they fire at me from Gaza, set off a bomb or launch a missile or smuggle weapons, Israel will respond.”
Israeli officials said that they expected similar attacks as their envoys try to hammer out a longer-term truce with Hamas in talks mediated by Egypt, where Mr Mitchell made his first stop in his Middle East tour. President Obama said before dispatching his envoy: “The moment is ripe for both sides to realise that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. Instead it's time to return to the negotiating table.”
Mr. Mitchell, who compiled a report in 2001 into ways to tackle violence in the region, is not scheduled to talk to Hamas officials during his visit but Hamas hoped there would be progress in the truce talks.
“I think there will be a change in the dialogue with Hamas in the near future,” said Ihab el-Ghusiem, a Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman in Gaza City. “In the last year there have been many backdoor meetings and dialogue with Europeans. I personally sat with them myself. They reached the conclusion that they must talk with Hamas because we are not going anywhere soon.”
Israel has held only indirect talks with Hamas through Egyptian intermediaries in an attempt to persuade Hamas to end its constant rocket attacks into southern Israel. Hamas says that it will keep up the barrage until Israel opens its borders.
Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, expressed hope that a longer-lasting armistice could come into effect next month.
Mr. Mitchell faces a deeply complex task, underscored yesterday when Abul Gheit warned Britain, France and Germany against sending ships to patrol the waters off Gaza in an attempt to end arms smuggling to Hamas. Israel insists that it will only open the borders if there is monitoring to halt the flow of contraband arms.
The Egyptian minister said that Europe must understand Arab and Muslim feelings as anti-Israeli resentment rises and warned that the deployment could “have consequences in Palestinian and Arab relations with you”.
Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, said: “We expected France, whose motto is liberte, equalite, fraternite to send hospital ships to treat the children burnt by banned weapons or to set up a humanitarian bridge... rather than deploy a navy ship to reinforce the blockade.”
Mr. Mitchell's mission could be further complicated after Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said that Israel had every right to defend itself against Hamas, and blamed Hamas for the most recent bloodshed, in which 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died. “It is regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defence instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza.”

Backwards, as usual

Rico says another 'calm and quiet' one goes ballistic, but (like all the others) shoots himself last instead of first:
Portland police say the 24-year-old man accused of killing two teenage girls and wounding seven other people in a downtown shooting rampage has died. Erik Ayala turned the gun on himself after a Saturday rampage on a busy street outside an under-21 nightclub.
Police said he had a head wound and died Tuesday at a Portland hospital. Neighbors and the manager of his apartment complex described Ayala as a calm and quiet person. Ayala had worked for the state as a data entry clerk from 2006 to 2007 but was believed to be unemployed. Investigators say they continue to search for a motive.
Rico says if only these guys would just get depressed and blow themselves away, quietly, first...

Good and getting better

Rico says he has, so far, read the first five of the splendid Erast Fandorin series of books by Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili, who writes as Boris Akunin, and looks forward to reading the rest. (And will doubtless be disappointed when he gets to the end of what's been published.) Buy them, or get them out of your library (as Rico is) and read them. If you like Sherlock Holmes, or any of the other detectives out there, you will not be disappointed.

Newer is better


Rico says that, if it's electronics, always wait for the newer version, and the new Kindle is no exception:
The new device corrects some of the design flaws of the first model, adding round buttons instead of those strange angular ones, and smaller side buttons to avoid accidental page turns.
The new Kindle likely uses the new Broadsheet microchip from Epson and eInk, which makes the display technology for the Kindle. eInk’s chief executive, Russell J. Wilcox, described the technology to me a few weeks ago, saying that it breaks the screen into 16 pixel sets and can update them in parallel, allowing for faster screen refreshes and a generally more responsive screen. He added that the technology was somewhat analogous to putting a better graphics card in a computer and would help e-readers become better full-featured devices. “It’s the same brightness, it looks the same reading a page, but it’s night and day for user activity for anything than other than reading,” Mr. Wilcox said. “If you are reading a book, you are just going to read page by page and it might not make that much of a difference. But if you want to do anything else with your device, zooming in, look up words, whatever, you really appreciate the speed. It’s a major change.”
Rico says he's saving his nickles (but $360 will require selling some more of his gubs, so go and buy one...)

So he says

Rico says that Barack Obama may have tried to make nice with the ragheads (in an interview with al-Arabiya, he said he wanted to persuade Muslims that “the Americans are not your enemy"), which is a good thing for a president to do, especially early in his administration, but Rico isn't the president, doesn't have to make nice with anyone, and so he reiterates: we are their enemy, because they are our enemy. Not every last one of them, of course, just as they don't even hate every last one of us, but the vast majority, sure. And if you don't believe him, hide and fucking watch...

Another great one gone

John Updike died today at a hospice outside Boston. He was 76 and lived in Beverley Farms, Massachusetts.

Ugly problem, simple solution

Jennifer Miller has an article in the Delaware County Daily Times about the recent spate of arson in Coatesville:
Representatives from local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies said Monday afternoon they are doing everything possible to stop what seems like a never-ending string of city arsons and to prosecute anyone eventually held responsible. District Attorney Joseph Carroll, State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski, and Special Agent in Charge Mark Potter of the BATF&E joined city Police Chief William Matthews at a news conference in City Hall and attempted to reassure the public that all possible resources are being used. The conference was held a day after a suspicious fire destroyed fifteen row homes in the 300 block of Fleetwood Street, adding to roughly thirty other city fires under investigation, nearly half of which have occurred in the last three weeks.
The high-ranking law enforcement officials also wanted to show the public agencies are indeed working together no matter what some skeptical residents may believe. “I want to assure you, the Coatesville Police Department is not alone in this,” Matthews said. Pawlowski, a Chester County resident, said Governor Ed Rendell had called him Sunday night to discuss what the state police could offer Coatesville and had asked him to meet with Matthews. “Governor Rendell is very concerned for the safety of citizens, and he understands the fear of the citizens,” Pawlowski said.
Earlier Monday, infuriated residents poured into City Hall, expecting city officials to brief them on the arson investigation. While city officials responded to demands Sunday and answered residents’ questions after they stormed City Hall, by Monday afternoon officials were less accommodating and told residents to return Monday night during a City Council meeting.
About noon, reporters and cameramen followed roughly fifty residents inside City Hall as they attempted to force city officials into holding an impromptu meeting. The demands worked on Sunday, with Matthews, City Manager Harry Walker and City Council arriving at City Hall to address an unruly and angry crowd of more than a hundred citizens. But about 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Walker entered City Council chambers, where residents were grilling City Councilman Kareem Johnson, and stood on a chair to announce no formal meeting had been scheduled and city officials would not be answering questions. “Right now your government is working very hard on this to curb and suppress the outbreak of arsons,” Walker said. “No meeting has been called officially by this city. We are not prepared to have a meeting.” Walker told residents they could attend Monday night’s City Council meeting, where the arsons would be the focal point. While state police fire marshals have assisted from the early stages, Pawlowski said state police have increased the number of their investigators and offered technology and other investigative tools. Additionally, Potter said, ATF has offered its “unique investigative expertise to assist our partners”. Potter said the ATF, state police, district attorney’s office, and Coatesville Police Department are unified and on the same page. “We will work together day and night to assist the investigation,” Potter said.
Carroll, who recently moved to the city, previously sent his detectives to the city to assist with the arson investigation on which they continue to work. “All law enforcement agencies recognize the significance of what’s going on here in Coatesville,” Carroll said. “Everything is being done that can possibly be done by law enforcement at this point.” Carroll warned residents not to patrol the neighborhoods at night because it could actually hinder investigators’ efforts to identify criminals. Instead, Carroll advised residents to be vigilant from their homes and report any suspicious people immediately. The news conference offered reassurance to the public that investigators have a handle on the situation.
Matthews said the combination of resources and investigators is not a recent development and the team effort was launched prior to the weekend’s devastating arson that destroyed fifteen homes. But, while the city has logged more than thirty arsons since late 2007, only in the last several weeks did the city call in the ATF. Matthews also addressed the public’s recent criticism over his failure in the last twenty months to launch an organized Town Watch, a project on which he has repeatedly said he has been working. “We are going to implement a viable Town Watch program. We have hundreds of citizens willing and able to help,” Matthews said. “Until it is organized, I’m asking citizens to be on alert.”
To foster a quicker responses to arsons, officials released a phone number for a roving police patrol supervisor during late evening and early morning hours. Residents can call 610.636.0514 to report suspicious activity. The Citizens Crime Commission is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the fires. The Citizens Crime Commission tip line is 215.546.TIPS.
Rico says a Town Watch is good, but an alert citizen with a big ol' shotgub will do more to bring this arson binge to an end than anything else...
 

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