28 February 2009

Bad situation for some

Rico says he knows it wasn't his diatribes about illegals, but they're going anyway, according to an article by Kris Guiterrez on FoxNews:
Illegal immigrants are returning home to Mexico in numbers not seen for decades, and the Mexican government may have to deal with a crush on its social services and lower wages once the immigrants arrive. The Mexican Consulate's office in Dallas is seeing increasing numbers of Mexican nationals requesting paperwork to go home for good, especially parents who want to know what documentation they'll need to enroll their children in Mexican schools. "Those numbers have increased percentage-wise tremendously," said Enrique Hubbard, the Mexican consul general in Dallas. "In fact, it's almost 100 percent more this year than it was the previous two years."
The illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has dropped 11 percent since August of last year, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Its research shows 1.3 million illegal immigrants have returned to their home countries. Some say illegal immigrants are leaving because a soft economy has led to fewer jobs, causing many laborers to seek work elsewhere. Others argue that a tough stance on immigration through law enforcement has spread fear throughout the illegal population.
"There's no question there's a variety of suggestions that people are in fact returning," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "Remittances, which is the money immigrants send home to Mexico, have gone down dramatically over the past year. Again, probably part the economy, but also part enforcement, leading to fewer people being here."
Advocates for immigrants are disturbed by the trend. Albert Ruiz, an organizer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, agrees that more undocumented immigrants are going home, but says families are being torn apart in the process. If a father is deported, Ruiz says, his family members in America are forced either to fend for themselves or follow him to a country where they've never even lived. "So the mother is saying we should return home with the breadwinner of the family to Mexico, and the children are saying, I don't want to leave, I'm a US citizen, I don't know that country," said Ruiz.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans to help returning nationals by providing food, medical care, and temporary shelter if needed. But reports are already out in Mexico that the large number of illegal immigrants returning home could drive down wages and put pressure on social services— the same concerns many Americans have with illegals living and working in the US
Rico says it's a bummer that they have to go home to Mexico and ask for food and medical care. Maybe Calderon can figure out how to make jobs for them...

How times have changed

Rico says the colonel is crazy for flying a Russian helicopter, but Elizabeth Bumiller has the whole story in The New York Times:
Colonel James Brandon flew Blackhawks when Moscow was considered a mortal foe of the United States and spent years in the Army studying enemy aircraft. So he now finds it a little bizarre to be piloting an old Mi-17 Russian helicopter, a legacy of the Soviet invaders here, in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan. “If somebody had told me in the 1980s that I’d be flying an Mi-17 twenty years later,” Colonel Brandon said last week, “I’d have said they were crazy.”
But, in a case of going to war with not only the military you have, but the military your enemy once had, Colonel Brandon is a leader of a bumpy American effort to build an Afghan Air Force from the wreckage up. To do that as quickly and (relatively) cheaply as possible, the United States is training American pilots to fly the helicopters of the former Soviet Union— Colonel Brandon calls them “flying trucks”— so the American pilots can in turn train, or retrain, Afghan pilots who once flew for the Russians, the Taliban, or powerful warlords.
The program, which is projected to cost American taxpayers $5 billion into 2016, is aimed at giving Afghanistan the ability to defend itself from the skies and one day allowing the Americans to leave. But for now it reflects all the problems of getting Afghan forces to stand on their own. “We’ve got a long way to go,” said Brigadier General Walter Givhan of the United States Air Force, the program’s commanding general, who oversees eight American instructor-pilots and the 33 not-always-operating aircraft of the Afghan Air Force.
One problem is that many of the eighty or so Afghan pilots being trained do not speak English, an issue when American instructor-pilots are barking out orders to them in helicopters careering above Kabul. There is no room in the cramped Mi-17 cockpit for an interpreter, and in any case things usually happen too fast. “We don’t have time to ask a translator to say, ‘Don’t hit the mountain,’ ” said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Lancaster, the commander of the helicopter squadron of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, the American unit that is building up what is officially called the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
A training flight last week to practice helicopter “gun runs” in the cold, brilliantly clear skies just outside of Kabul was a case in point. Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Jones, a pilot from Fort Rucker, Alabama, was instructing Bakhtyar Bakhtullah, a colonel in the Afghan air corps, in stomach-churning swoops so aerial gunners could practice blasting machine guns out the helicopter’s doors. The target was an abandoned armored vehicle lying in the valley below. But when Colonel Bakhtullah, one of the best Afghan pilots, banked sharply left, his turn was jarring (mildly terrifying might be another way to put it), which was the result, Colonel Jones said later, of relying too much on the foot-operated tail rotor pedal and not enough on the helicopter’s control stick.
Colonel Jones, who had mostly used hand signals in the cockpit to communicate with Colonel Bakhtullah, decided he would try to explain the procedure later with an interpreter on the ground. “That I couldn’t fix today,” Colonel Jones said. “It was too technical.”
Americans have in the past been taught to fly Mi-17s, mostly for military exercises to teach them how to counter enemy aircraft. (The Mi-17 is used all over the world, including by Iran and North Korea.) The Afghan program is modeled after an earlier American effort to build up the Iraqi Air Force, which also includes some Mi-17s. But the Russian helicopters, which make up the bulk of the Afghan fleet, have an ironic resonance in a country where in the 1980s the United States supplied guerrillas with Stinger missiles to shoot Soviet helicopters down.
These days, the American pilots encounter some resentment from the Afghans who have been flying the Russian helicopters for decades— Colonel Bakhtullah has been a pilot since 1981— and wonder why they must take instruction from Americans who just learned to fly the helicopters in a four-week course at Fort Bliss, Tex. The Americans say that the Afghans have not had a real air force since the Russians left two decades ago, and that they were often improperly trained in the first place. But Colonel Jones said he understood the Afghan point of view and tried to make suggestions rather than demands. “We’re really trying not to come across as conquering heroes,” he said.
The Afghan pilots also complain about their salaries, some $200 to $300 a month, which are paid by the Afghan air corps. “No one cares for us,” said Ehsan Ehsanullah, one of the best Afghan pilots, after a training flight last week. He said he made more money in the 1990s, when he was flying for the Taliban. The bigger problem is that the demands of the war cut into what the Americans consider vital training hours. Sometimes, they say, they will arrive for a scheduled training session to find that the helicopter is needed to transport troops or cargo to Kandahar. Last month one such flight ended in disaster when an Mi-17 piloted by two Afghans crashed in the province of Herat, killing all thirteen Afghans aboard.
(Military regulations require that United States pilots fly Mi-17s if there are Americans aboard, and the American pilots can fly only those Mi-17s that have certified parts and that Americans maintain. Colonel Jones’s training helicopter was a secondhand Mi-17 that the United States bought for Afghanistan from the Czech Republic.)
One bright spot is the new $183 million headquarters of the Afghan air corps, paid for by the Americans. It includes two hangars, barracks, a medical unit, and classes in English. In a nearby compound there are classes in helicopter maintenance. One morning last week, an American civilian contractor from Fort Bliss, Robert Luna, was instructing a class of Afghans about the Mi-17’s power control panel. He said he had been teaching the Mi-17 to Americans at Fort Bliss since 1999. “It was kind of, ‘Know your enemy,’ back then,” Mr. Luna said. “Now it’s, ‘Teach your allies.’ “
General Givhan remains optimistic about the program, which late last year trained the Afghans to transport their president, Hamid Karzai, on special Mi-17s. Before that, the Americans flew Mr. Karzai everywhere. The program, General Givhan said, is “our ticket out of here.”
Rico says if politics makes for strange bedfellows, so does war...

Not true, but funny

Too good to be true, as usual

Urban Legends blows away the recent mass email Rico sent out about the issue of illegals getting Social Security:
As petitions go, this one is likely doomed to failure. Why? Because it's an email petition, a glorified chain letter with no guarantee of reaching, let alone convincing, the elected officials to whom it's addressed. Even if copies do somehow make their way to Washington, there's no way for the "signatures" to be authenticated. Most, in fact, are redundant. On every one of the several dozen copies I've received, each from a different sender, the first 200 or so names are identical. Why would anyone in a position of power take such a document seriously?
If you want to make your opinions known, and especially if you want them to count, it's much more effective to send personal messages directly to the parties concerned, whether they be your Congressional representatives, heads of government agencies, or the President himself.
At least one variant of this petition is prefaced with the bogus claim that Latino immigrants are set to demand that all public facilities in the US be staffed by people who speak Spanish. I could find no evidence whatsoever to corroborate this claim, nor is it clear what connection it could possibly have to immigrants' eligibility for social services.
Rico says he will now have to resend his email, apologizing for his gullibility...

Equality is a good thing

The Los Angeles Times has a blog about the latest fashion trend:
Eagle-eyed viewers of Sunday's Academy Awards telecast might have noticed a small white ribbon pinned to jacket lapels of several attendees, including Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins and Josh Brolin and original screenplay winner Dustin Lance Black. This was not, however, a show of support for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union or the Quebecois peace movement (both if which have used the white ribbon as their symbol), nor did it signify that either fellow had won third prize at a county fair.
Splendid sarcasm aside, there was a point:
The strip of white fabric, with a knot tied in the middle, has been worn as a symbol of marriage equality, and it was created by Angeleno Frank Voci. He was motivated by the passage of Proposition 8 in November, which made marriage between same-sex couples illegal in California. He said his main goal was to keep the dialogue going and awareness high after the initial rallies and protests died down. "I was thinking about causes and ribbons and was just playing around with a piece of ribbon and tied it in a knot and had this 'eureka!' moment: 'tie the knot'!"

Not eligible, durn

Rico says he was hopeful when he started reading the article by Francesca Lunzer Kritz in the Los Angeles Times:
Not surprisingly, questions remain on the decision to subsidize COBRA health insurance benefits for some people who recently lost their jobs and, with it, their health coverage. This element of the recently enacted stimulus bill offers eligible individuals a 65% reduction in their premiums for up to nine months.
But his hopes were dashed; turns out the dates are wrong, of course:
Employers are still scrambling to understand the rules and comply with them; the timing for receiving notice is extremely tight. If you think you're eligible for the subsidy, but haven't received notice yet, you should soon. Employers have sixty days from date of enactment (that is, by 17 April) to send notices to assistance-eligible individuals who lost coverage between 1 September 2008, and 16 February 2009. For those eligible for the assistance who lost employment-based health insurance on or after 17 February of 2009, the employer generally has 44 days from the date the employee lost coverage to provide a COBRA notice that includes an explanation of the subsidy. In any event, if you've lost your job since 1 September and think you qualify, you can contact your company's benefits or HR department to get things started.
Rico says he started his COBRA back when the landmine went off in his head in 2007, so this won't apply (he thinks; if anyone knows otherwise, email him immediately, with his thanks).
[Update: Rico says that he got a letter from his previous employer, implying that this may apply to him after all. Goody.]

Bet he doesn't smack her around

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen was the picture of tradition at her hush-hush Catholic wedding to football phenom Tom Brady, sources told the Daily News.
The Brazilian bombshell, famous for modeling barely-there bikinis and Victoria's Secret lingerie, wore a flowing fairy-tale veil over a long, ivory lace dress by Italian luxury designer Dolce & Gabbana. Grainy footage of Bundchen walking outside St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica was posted Friday on the celebrity news site TMZ.com.
Bundchen, 28, and Brady, 31, had no immediate comment on reports of the intimate Thursday night nuptials. The ceremony was so secret guests didn't realize they were attending a wedding until they arrived. Instead, they "thought they were going to a christening at a church," an unnamed source said.
The bicoastal newlyweds holed up in their Brentwood manse, celebrating with friends.
The genetically gifted couple shelled out a reported $11 million for the California house to be near Brady's eighteen-month-old son with ex-girlfriend Bridget Moynahan.

The girl's just confused...

Rico says it's an old story, a battered woman forgiving her man, but it's still stupid:
Rihanna has reunited with her boyfriend, R&B singer Chris Brown, some three weeks after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting her. E! News reports the two are together at Sean "Diddy" Combs' Star Island mansion in Miami Beach. Brown was booked by the Los Angeles Police Department for making criminal threats but his case has not yet been presented to the District Attorney, who will ultimately decide what charges, if any, will be filed. A spokeswoman for the district attorney, Jane Robison, says Brown's scheduled March court date might be postponed while detectives gather more evidence for their case against him. "The District Attorney is being even more thorough than usual with this case," Robison said. "They don’t want to mess it up."

Wrong direction, as usual

The Washington Post has an article by Mary Beth Sheridan and Paul Duggan about the DC bill:
Supporters of the D.C. vote bill expressed optimism yesterday that the legislation would be stripped of an amendment that would turn the nation's capital into one of the easiest places in America to own a gun. Senate Republicans added the gun amendment to the bill just before it was approved Thursday by the chamber. District of Columbia officials call the measure a public-safety threat. The House is expected to pass its version of the bill next week without any gun language. The differences between the bills will have to be hashed out in a conference between the chambers.
"That's why you have conferences. I'm sure there will be an effort to fix this," said Tom Davis, the former Republican congressman from Virginia who was the original architect of the bill. He said the legislation appeared to have enough support to pass without the gun amendment attached.
The House vote, expected Wednesday, could mark the first time in three decades that a D.C. voting-rights bill cleared both chambers. The measure would expand the House by two seats: one for the District and another for the next state due to receive an additional representative based on population. That would go to Republican-leaning Utah for the next few years, offsetting the Democratic gain from the District. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill. It is widely expected to face a court challenge, however.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said he considered the gun amendment "disappointing, but not fatal." He spoke yesterday after he and other members of D.C. vote advocacy groups met with House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, a supporter of the bill. "Certainly the leadership in both the House and Senate is committed to getting a D.C. voting rights bill, and getting a bill without a gun amendment, if possible," Henderson said. He added that his group is urging legislators to pass the bill without the gun language. Hoyer branded the gun amendment "inappropriate and wrong", telling the Politics Program on WTOP: "I hope it won't be in the final product."
What could complicate negotiations on the gun amendment is the strong support it received in the Senate. It passed 62 to 36, winning one more vote than the D.C. vote bill. Democrats from pro-gun states such as Virginia supported the measure, as did most Republicans. Senate staff will have to "feel out how hard people want to push on this" gun issue in the negotiations, said one aide on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which handled the bill in the Senate. "There's a lot of behind-the-scenes things that could happen," said the aide, who was not authorized to comment on the record. Senate officials, for example, could agree to bring up the gun issue at another point in exchange for dropping it from the D.C. vote bill. The amendment is similar to a gun bill that passed the House in the last session of Congress.
Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted that the amendment would be removed in conference because Democrats don't want it. The amendment drew widespread support, he said, because "people don't want to vote against the National Rifle Association." But, he added, if the amendment was dropped, legislators could approve the bill and still get credit for their pro-gun stance in the earlier vote. "You can have your cake and eat it, too," he said.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from D.C., said she met yesterday with House leadership about the bill. When asked about the gun amendment, she said, "I intend to have a bill that is acceptable to the people of the District of Columbia."
Before June, when the Supreme Court struck down the city's 32-year-old handgun ban, the District's firearms control laws were among the nation's toughest. The amendment, in addition to abolishing nearly all of the city's gun regulations, specifies that the District "shall not have the authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms".
"The only thing it seems to leave alone are the criminal laws we have on the carrying of a firearm in public," said D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. "It looks like it squashes everything else, including registration."
The D.C. Council and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty approved municipal legislation after the Supreme Court ruling that allows ownership of handguns in the city, but with restrictions. Nickles said yesterday that he thinks the rules are "consistent with the latitude given by the Supreme Court to regulate in this area". Residents whose backgrounds qualify them to own guns are allowed to keep revolvers or semiautomatic handguns in their homes or places of business but must register them with police. A resident who kept a gun loaded and unlocked would be subject to prosecution if a child got hold of the weapon.
Echoing a sentiment voiced by congressional supporters of the amendment, an NRA spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam, said yesterday that the city's handgun rules "are way over the top. It makes it as difficult as possible for law-abiding people to be able to have a firearm for self-defense".
If the amendment became law, District residents would remain subject to federal firearms laws, which set minimum age requirements for gun ownership (18 for rifles, 21 for handguns) and ban gun possession by people who have been convicted of felonies or domestic violence or have been found mentally incompetent by a court. Unlike the 50 states, however, the District could be prohibited from expanding on the federal laws to toughen its firearms restrictions, Nickles said. For example, 26 states, including Maryland and Virginia, have laws requiring safe storage for guns. Virginia, Maryland, and California have laws limiting buyers to one handgun purchase a month. A dozen states, including Maryland, require handgun owners to register their weapons with authorities or obtain licenses to possess them.
Rico says the District needs to join the rest of the country and get with the Second Amendment...

Another similarity

After Arkady Renko got shot in the head (and lived) in Stalin's Ghost, he was asked:
So how has the recuperation been going? You're looking well, everything considered. Are you yourself?
He answered:
How would I know?
Rico says he knows the feeling...

More Kelley brilliance

Very confident monkey

More similarities

Rico says that Arkady Renko decides to get himself a motorcycle:
Arkady checked out his new acquisition. New to him. The Ural had to be thirty years old, at least. A spare tire was secured on the back of the sidecar, which looked like a large sandal and had the major amenities: a shovel and a windshield. The machine-gun mount had been cut off. Arkady had noticed when he first saw the bike that it was stamped in various places with a star, meaning it had come off a military assembly line. Stalin's engineers got their hands on some German BMWs, took them apart, strengthened this, simplified that, and when they put the bikes back together, they were Russian. Cossacks [the Urals] might be a lowly transporter of potatoes now, but they had carried heroes to Berlin... The Ural's engine wasn't symphonic, but it was steady, its power dedicated not to speed but to traction and, since the sidecar was connected to the bike, it drove like a car. No leaning.
Oddly enough, that's just the motorcycle that Rico's been eying for himself, down the road:This version is called the Safari; only eighteen available, at a mere fourteen grand apiece... Rico wants one. (The advantage of the sidecar: it doesn't fall over when you stop, thus improving Rico's lifespan. Plus they look cool as shit.)

The other civil war

Rico says it may be a peculiarly American form of the motivational speech (and one can only imagine the translation), but it's funny as hell, which is rare for an Iraq-war video.

Civil War for the day

The dead at Antietam.

27 February 2009

Just stop kissing them

The New York Times has an article by Malcolm Gay about the problem of elephants and herpes:
Zookeepers at the St. Louis Zoo feared the worst when they noticed that Jade, a two-year-old elephant calf, was acting sluggish this month. The calf was limping slightly, her appetite was down, and the keepers, wary of a deadly herpes virus prevalent in the country’s Asian elephant population, sent a blood sample to a laboratory for analysis.
“That’s pretty much the first thing we do when we see something amiss with our Asian elephant calves,” said Martha Fischer, curator of mammals at the St. Louis Zoo. “It’s such a mysterious disease, and it has presented itself in so many different ways; anything could be a symptom.”
Veterinarians began monitoring the 1,100-pound calf around the clock. They fed her fluids intravenously and started her on antiviral drugs. Still, her condition worsened. Her head became swollen at the jaw and forehead, and her tongue, normally bubble-gum pink, became pale and speckled by an intricate pattern of red bruises. Results from the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington soon revealed that Jade was fighting a previously unknown strain of the virus.
Researchers say the disease, elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, has killed one of five Asian elephant calves born in North American zoos since 2000. It accounts for more than half of all deaths of juvenile elephants in North America, and researchers, working with available tissue samples, estimate that it has killed some 24 elephants since 1983. Still, the researchers know little about the disease, including how it is transmitted. Nor can they say whether it will remain dormant after its initial assault only to re-emerge, like some herpes viruses in humans. The disease cannot be detected in the blood unless symptoms are evident, researchers say, and they are unsure what percentage of elephants carry any of the five known strains.
“We’re still trying to figure out the epidemiology,” said Laura Richman, the research associate who heads the Smithsonian laboratory that analyzed Jade’s blood sample. “We’re still trying to figure out how it’s transmitted, and why certain elephants die and others don’t.” Ms. Richman, who first identified the virus in 1995, says that many mature elephants may carry a latent form of the disease but that calves may be more susceptible because their immune systems are not fully developed. The virus exists in captive and wild elephant populations, Ms. Richman said, and often affects only one elephant at a time. “There aren’t big outbreaks where you’ll see whole herds of elephants coming down with the virus,” she said. “It’s probably just a matter of which elephants are shedding at what time, but we don’t know— whether it is a secretion of saliva or something else— we just don’t know how it’s transmitted.”
The virus infects the cells that line the body’s blood vessels, causing hemorrhaging. The subsequent vascular collapse often kills its victims within weeks or even days. Antiviral drugs have been successful in six North American cases, but about twice as many calves have died from the virus even after receiving the drugs, leaving researchers uncertain about how best to fight it. “We’re not sure that the drugs we’re using are effective against EEHV,” Ms. Fischer said. “We’re not sure what the dose should be. It’s a little bit of a shot in the dark.”
The St. Louis case is shaping up as a trove of information. Jade’s symptoms have largely subsided, Ms. Fischer said, and she appears to be recovering. Blood tests on the zoo’s seven other elephants revealed that another calf, Maliha, carried a very low level of the virus, and researchers say they believe the antiviral drugs she is receiving have stopped its progression. “I’m not about to say Jade’s out of the woods, but we’re really pleased with her condition,” Ms. Fischer said. “We’re hoping to be able to go back and determine whether the drugs were effective.”
Asian elephants have been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since the mid-1980s. The organization further reports that a combination of ivory poaching and a loss of natural habitat have caused wild elephant numbers to plunge by about 50 percent in the past 75 years to 40,000 to 50,000. Although experts say the elephant herpesvirus has evolved over millions of years, the dwindling population puts the species at greater risk from the disease.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the disease, said Mike Keele, deputy director of the Oregon Zoo: “What’s the prevalence of it in the wild population, and how does it affect survivability?” Mr. Keele said that his zoo’s elephant population had not suffered a herpes outbreak, but that zookeepers were training a six-month-old male calf to take medications and allow daily inspections of his tongue to guard against an attack. “There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen here,” Mr. Keele said. “We don’t know how long this virus has been in our population, but no one ever thought to look for it.”
Rico says that, as a fellow sufferer, he can commiserate; herpes is no fun. Fortunately, it doesn't kill humans.

From my cold, dead (and old) fingers

Courtesy of my friend Pat, this latest gub law outrage, via UPI:
President Obama's Deputy Attorney General designate David Ogden is circulating a draft of an executive order in which, firearms possession would be severely limited by people over sixty. An assistant to Ogden told us, "It appears that, in these changing times, it is no longer necessary to allow the elderly to be armed. With all of their physical ailments and increasing senility, to leave them in control of a deadly weapon would be ludicrous."
While the Executive Order may sound too powerful, experts in constitutional law state that it is not actually un-constitutional.
"It's a question of wording." states Columbia Law Professor Dr. John Braxton. "The Constitution forbids the Congress, that is, the legislative branch, from passing any laws infringing on gun ownership. The executive branch is not included in this proviso. As long as the Congress doesn't get involved, it's technically a non-issue."
The Justice Department was discussing the idea of a gun ban for seniors during the Carter and Clinton Administration, but public opinion stopped these initiatives. Now, the Obama White House believes differently.
An unnamed aide close to Ogden agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity: "Clinton and Carter didn't have as much of a mandate as President Obama. They were both Southerners, and the Second Amendment was sacrosanct to their constituents. However, President Obama comes from a new sort of politics, where divisive issues like firearms do not apply to him. Quite frankly, it's a shame that no one has had the good conscience to have done this already. It's a simple process, and the majority of the American people will understand it and follow the law."
The enforcement mechanism for this particular executive order has not been published. It is likely that the confiscation of weapons will be similar to Great Britain's handgun ban, in which citizens willingly gave the weapons to police.
It is expected that the executive order will be given around the beginning of July, when senior-related gun deaths reach their peaks.
The aide to Ogden stated: "For eight years you see the rolling back of regulation, and crime has skyrocketed. In fact, in Massachusetts alone, murders have risen 50% since 2002. Armed robbery has also risen dramatically. With such circumstances, we must act boldly."
Rico says that they're talking out their ass, as usual. The actual Second Amendment to the Constitution states:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Note the lack of reference to Congress, or anyone else in particular. It says "shall not be infringed", and that's what it means. Anything else is wishful thinking on the part of 'well-meaning' liberals. (And they should fire Professor Braxton, if that's how he interprets the law of the land.) Given all the over-sixty gub owners that Rico knows, this ain't gonna happen, people.

A true, if sad, story

Courtesy of my friend Doug, this, taken from the log of an airline pilot:

My lead flight attendant came to me and said, "We have an HR on this flight." HR stands for 'human remains'.
"Are they military?"
"Yes," she said.
"Is there an escort?"
"Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck."
A short while later a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier.
The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us. "My soldier is on his way back to Virginia," he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words on his own. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him, and he said no. I told him that he had the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand. He left the flight deck to find his seat.
We completed our preflight checks, pushed back, and performed an uneventful departure. About thirty minutes into our flight, I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin: "I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying is on board," he said. He then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife, and two-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia. The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane. I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when he asked me if there was anything I could do.
"I'm on it," I said. I told him that I would get back to him.
Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of e-mail-like messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the telephone of the dispatcher. I explained the situation I had on board, and what it was the family wanted. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.
Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher and this is the text:
Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family. The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be seen on the ramp.
It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.
I sent a message back: thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, "You have no idea how much this will mean to them." Then things started getting busy for the descent, approach, and landing.
After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge, with fifteen gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.
"There is a team in place to meet the aircraft," we were told. It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. The ramp controller said "Take your time."
I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said, "Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. He is a private, a soldier who recently lost his life. He is under your feet in the cargo hold. Escorting him today is an army sergeant. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you."
We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying; that's something you just do not see.
I was told that, after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft. When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined in, and soon the entire aircraft were clapping. 'God bless you', 'I'm sorry', 'Thank you', 'Be proud', and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one. Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made. They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.

Rico says we should all remember the words of George Orwell:
We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us.

Rico knows how he feels

Rico says he's reading Martin Cruz Smith's book Stalin's Ghost. Great stuff, as usual.
In this Arkady Renko novel (great detective character, by the way), he gets shot in the head, but survives.
There is a description of things all-too-familiar to Rico: "He exercised his memory by reading. Or recollecting telephone numbers and connecting them to names. The oldest numbers came to the fore, reestablishing their precedence: passport, army service, phone numbers for faces he hadn't seen in years. More recent numbers were wisps of fog."

Rico says it's been 27 months since he got 'shot' in the head by his angioma, and his memory is doing better than Arkady's, but it ain't perfect yet.

Bartz cleans house

Business Week has an article by Robert Hof about the changes at Yahoo:
Just six weeks after taking over as chief executive of Yahoo! (YHOO) from co-founder Jerry Yang, Carol Bartz has now made it quite clear who's in charge and what demands she'll place on her executive team. On 26 February, Bartz announced an overhaul of the embattled company's management. The new, streamlined structure is intended to make the company "a lot faster on its feet", Bartz wrote in a post on Yahoo's official blog.
In one of the biggest changes, Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen, who joined Yahoo in June of 2007, will leave in the next few months after a new CFO is chosen. Jorgensen was a close ally of former Yahoo President Sue Decker, who left in January after being passed over for the top job. Jorgensen's departure follows those of mobile chief Marco Boerries earlier this week and news head Neeraj Khemlani, who's leaving for Hearst as vice-president and special assistant to the CEO for digital media.
The changes, though largely expected after recent reports in the blog BoomTown, are no less momentous for a company that for years has been hobbled by slow decision-making and ineffective execution on those decisions. As far back as 2006, one executive who has since left, Brad Garlinghouse, penned a now-famous 'Peanut Butter Manifesto' that outlined those management problems. The new management organization has all major executives reporting directly to Bartz, who lamented in her blog post that there's "plenty that has bogged this company down". "It looks like she isn't afraid to go in with a chain saw," says Kevin Lee, CEO of search marketing firm Didit.
Rico says that, in the Zelig quality of his life, he met Ms. Bartz back when he was working at Claris and she was head of Autodesk and came to see Bill Campbell. (Hey, it's not like we hung out or anything, just that Rico got introduced.)

Civil War for the day

The Harvest of Death by Timothy O'Sullivan, taken at Gettysburg on 6 July 1863.

26 February 2009

It's all in the definition

Rico says his old buddy Tex has decided he's gonna become 'trailer trash', but not just any old trailer...

Not gonna be in any porn movie for Rico

Rico says it's interesting (his ladyfriend thought so), but not what he'd want to wake up next to every day... (Any day, for that matter.)
The world's most pierced woman, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has added to her collection with a 6,005th piercing, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported. Elaine Davidson, of Edinburgh, Scotland, made the Guinness World Record official in 2000 when she had a mere 462 piercings, 192 of which were in her face.
Nine years later, the Brazilian-born nurse has thousands of piercings, including more than 1,500 that she says are 'internal'. Surprisingly, Davidson says she doesn't like getting pierced. "To break the record you have to get to a high level," she told the Telegraph. "I wanted to break the record. My family [doesn't] even like tattoos or piercings. But I am happy. I decided to change myself and be me."
Rico says this woman has issues...

Hey, it's a job...

According to a Fox News article by Hollie McKay, Vivid Entertainment is offering Nadya Suleman (the infamous 'Octomom') a million bucks to do an eight-part (with eight guys; dig the symbolism) porn movie. Who knows, it might even been good, as such things go...

A hero's welcome, and appropriate

According to the BBC, the stars of Slumdog Millionaire were mobbed (there's video if you click the post title) upon their return to Mumbai:
Huge crowds gave the child stars of Slumdog Millionaire a rousing heroes' welcome as they returned to Mumbai from LA after the film's Oscar glory.
The young actors were greeted with garlands and held aloft by the crowds as they stepped out of Mumbai airport. Composer AR Rahman, who won two Oscars, received a similar welcome as he arrived in his home city of Chennai. The film, a rags-to-riches story about the winner of the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, won eight Oscars. The children were flown to Los Angeles for last weekend's 81st annual Academy Awards. Two of them, Azharuddin Ismail (who plays the youngest Salim) and Rubina Ali (who plays the youngest Latika) still live in the slums in western Mumbai.
The crowds sang Jai Ho, Mr Rahman's theme tune for the film, as the stars arrived home. Hundreds of friends, fans and relatives jostled to catch a glimpse of them as dozens of police tried to keep control. The children came out of the airport with their arms around each other and waved at the frenzied crowds before getting into Mercedes cars for the journey home.
Rubina Ali, nine, clutched a small fluffy brown rabbit toy. "This is the proudest moment of our lives. I cannot believe my daughter has become world famous," her father, Rafiq Asghar Ali Quereshi, said. Her mother said she had prepared her daughter's favourite chicken biryani dish to celebrate her return.
The commotion continued as Azharuddin Ismail and Rubina Ali returned to their slum neighbourhoods. One of the huts was damaged as crowds crammed into the slums and Azharuddin had to be taken to a relative's house for safety.
But neighbours were in awe and proud of the children's achievements. One man, Aftaab, said: "See how destiny changes overnight! One day the family was in such bad condition that daily life was a struggle, today the whole world is watching them."
There was an outcry when it emerged that Rubina still lives with her family in a one-room shack while ten-year-old Azharuddin's family home, located under a tarpaulin by a busy road, was recently demolished. The film makers have strongly denied charges of exploitation, saying the children were paid above local wages, funds have been set up to pay for their education and they have been enrolled in school for the first time. The Indian state authorities have also said they will provide the families with free housing, saying the children have "brought laurels to the country".

Why you should always carry a handcuff key

Crazy up, crazier down

Rico says you couldn't get him to do this with a gun...

Shoot first and ask questions later

Rico says that, if you don't like snakes, don't watch this.
(You have been warned.)

Oh, Bobby, say it ain't so

Rico says he had such high hopes for Bobby Jindal, too... But apparently the pundits didn't like what he had to say, according to a column on Boston.com: "Insane. Childish. Disaster. And those were some of the kinder comments from political pundits about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and his response to President Obama's speech to Congress Tuesday night. Jindal, 37, a Rhodes scholar and son of Indian immigrants, is considered a rising star in Republican ranks and a likely 2012 presidential candidate. GOP leaders, looking for a fresh face for the party's image, tapped Jindal earlier this month for the high-profile task of rebutting Obama's first address to a joint session of Congress.
But in both style and substance, Jindal's speech has drawn flak from Republicans and Democrats alike. His criticism of government spending for emergency economic relief has been widely panned, especially given his state's receipt of billions in federal assistance after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And Jindal's voice and earnest, awkward delivery fell flat.
David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist who has criticized aspects of the stimulus plan, nonetheless called Jindal's arguments "insane" and tone-deaf given the dire economic challenges the country faces. Rush Limbaugh, arguably the nation's most prominent conservative voice, defended Jindal on his radio show yesterday while acknowledging that "stylistically", Obama had outshone Jindal. "The people on our side are making a real mistake if they go after Bobby Jindal," Limbaugh said. "We cannot shun politicians who speak for our beliefs just because we don't like the way he says it."
Republicans had high hopes for Jindal after his appearance Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, where he delivered a forceful, concise critique of Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan and explained his decision to reject some of the money allotted for his state.
Jindal was headed to Disney World yesterday with his family for a vacation. But his chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, said his boss had prepared carefully for the speech and that his message was strong. "It's a challenge for anybody to follow Obama. The guy is one of the most gifted speakers of our generation," Teepell said. "Bobby's his own harshest critic. He's always looking for ways to improve."

We've seen this act before

David Coursey has a column in PC World about the lack of Steve:
Regardless of what Apple honchos said at today's shareholder meeting, I have come to the sad conclusion that Steve Jobs will never return to the helm at Apple. This is another of those “I hope I am wrong, but...” posts that I hate to write. But, skipping the shareholder meeting is a more than subtle hint that Jobs won’t be back in the active role he’s enjoyed, if at all.
Expanding upon the above paragraph takes me down a road I don’t want to travel. So, I will keep Steve in my prayers and hope the future proves me wrong.
It is unfair to expect anyone to be a suitable successor to Steve Jobs. I was following Apple after Jobs was forced out in 1985 and replaced first by John Sculley and, later, Gil Amelio. Both made the mistake, I think, of believing they were running a computer company. Apple under Steve Jobs is not a company but a phenomenon. A micromanaged manifestation of one man’s view of technology, design, and the world. Apple is about a sensibility as much as it’s about anything else.
True, smart business decisions have helped. Sculley and Amelio could never get the OS issue solved. Jobs did it in a way that seemed almost graceful. Building a new operating system using Unix under the Apple user interface has been a huge win.
Apple also, wisely, reversed its traditional course of “our way or the highway” and embraced both Windows and Intel. It was not until the iPod came to Windows that the music player really took off. I think I called it a three-year-old “overnight sensation” when iTunes for Windows hit it big.
Going to the Intel processor has given Apple a great platform for innovating around the edges, which is really what the company does best: Take things that other people have already done or invented and, if not perfect them, then at least run them through Steve Jobs’ view of how the world ought to be.
Outsiders are not privy to how decisions are made at Apple. People who know are afraid of getting fired if they tell, which probably says quite enough. Still, I’d like to get a handle on the extent to which other people have ideas that Jobs accepts vs. 'only Steve has the great ideas'. My impression is the latter has been true in the past. Is it still true? I hope not, but the idea of a meeting where a dozen people tell Steve that he’s wrong and live to tell about it just doesn’t sound like the Apple we know and (begrudgingly) love.
As for the present: Tim Cook is not a succession plan. Nor is Phil Schiller, though I like him a lot. We should expect that Apple has a decent product pipeline in place, so the immediate future has likely been decided. But does anyone at Apple have the gravitas (and vision) to cut the deals that made the iTunes Store such an incredible success? No one in the industry or even global business seems to be able to build whole ecosystems the way Jobs can.
This is significant because of the incredible control Jobs exerts over Apple, and Apple exerts over the environment in which it exists. Microsoft is bigger, but has never achieved the level of world domination Apple enjoys in its, albeit, much smaller world. You can thank the antitrust regulators for that, plus Microsoft’s decision not to get into the PC hardware business.
As long as Steve Jobs can read a memo or look at designs and say, “this one, not that one”, Apple remains in good hands. But, we have already seen what happens when Apple loses its vision. When that happens, as it eventually must, it's not clear Apple’s creative culture will be able to pick up where one man’s vision leaves off.
Rico says he was working at Apple during the Sculley/Amelio interregnum; it was ugly. Whoever they pick to run the place now, they better be damn smart...

Correct nomenclature, please

Rico says everyone continues to refer to the military action in Iraq as a 'war'. Technically, that's not true, ever since then-President Bush declared victory. (And see how well that worked...)
What we have in Iraq is an occupation, rather like what we did in Germany after 1945. The difference is that the Iraqis (some of them) are doing what we feared the Germans would do: continue the war by unconventional means.
So, no war. We won that, by any normal standard.
We don't have to 'end' the war again, either. We just need to fold our tents and come home, thus ending the occupation. What the Iraqis will have to deal with once we're gone, of course, will be shitty, but that'll be their problem.
Unfortunately, we did all this to increase the supply of oil out of the Iraqi fields, which isn't happening, thus we'll continue to pay ugly prices at the pump. (Currently back up to two bucks a gallon for regular around here.)
If we can get out under five thousand dead, of course, we'll be doing well...

Civil War for the day

The 26 January 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly featured this illustration, showing the First Shot of the Civil War. This shot was fired on 10 January 1861 by South Carolinians on Morris Island at the Union ship Star of the West, as it attempted to reinforce Major Anderson at Fort Sumter.

25 February 2009

Where are they now?

Rico says Alycia Lane is now being referred to as the 'former Philly news babe' in the New York Post. He assumes the 'former' applies to her news job, not her babe-ness, because that she's still got. According to the Page Six column in the Post, she was sighted "mulling new TV offers with agent Gregg Willinger over lunch".
Rico says he hopes she gets something soon; he's suffering serious 'news babe deprivation'...

Getting old ain't for sissies

Also courtesy of my friend Dave Kitterman, an oldie but a goodie.

Kids, don't try this at home

Courtesy of my friend Dave Kitterman, a scary solution to a flat tire.
Rico says he's heard of it, but he's never tried it, and doesn't want to. (They're Germans, by the sound of them, and crazy.)

Quote for the day

Courtesy of my friend Bill Calloway, this pertinent quote:
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.
Noah Webster, An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, 10 October 1787
Rico says before anyone votes on the recent gun laws proposed in Congress, they ought to go back and reread the Founding Fathers...

What'd they expect?

Rico says the Republicans get eight years to fuck up the economy, and Obama's been in office all of, what, a couple of weeks, and everybody's pissed that he hasn't figured out how to fix it yet:
Republicans and Democrats in Congress are reacting to President Barack Obama's speech, in which he warned Americans that the economy faces a "dire day of reckoning", but one the country can recover from. Democrats reacted enthusiastically to the president's speech, praising both the messages President Obama tried to send to Americans and the oratory skills he employed in his first address to Congress. Representative Neal Abercrombie from Hawaii had this reaction: "He reaches the world, really," said Abercrombie. "His sense of confidence and his ability to take that sense of confidence and extend it to his listening audience is second to or probably commensurate to that of President [Franklin] Roosevelt."
Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, says President Obama recognized the economic crisis Americans face and laid out steps he has taken and will take to deal with it. Nadler also reacted to the president's statement that the United States will not employ torture in interrogations of suspected terrorists. "It's a terrible comment, and it's pathetic, that we are in a situation where he had to say that. At the same time I am certainly glad he said that," Nadler said. "We do not torture, and we are going to have to take various measures which I hope that this administration will join with us in Congress to take steps to make sure that no future president no future administration can do some of the things that unfortunately it is all too clear happened during the last administration."
House Republicans largely repeated opposition criticisms of President Obama's economic stimulus plans and assertions that the president and majority Democrats intend to sharply expand government. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, said the president is "a great orator", but he had this response to the economic points in President Obama's speech: "It was an optimistic speech and there were some good lines about fiscal responsibility," said Flake. "Unfortunately there was a lot of indication that we are going to be spending a lot of money, I'm not sure to what effect."
"The president's comments on spending seem to me to be very much at odds with the huge spending bill last week, almost increasing by 80 percent the discretionary spending of the federal government," said Congressman Roy Blunt, the former House Republican whip.
Lawmakers are preparing to receive President Obama's budget, which arrives on Capitol Hill on Thursday. The arrival of a president's budget always sparks partisan political battles about spending priorities.
Democratic Congressman Jim Moran spoke about the president's challenge to Democrats and Republicans to work together. "He is a president deserving of these times. We are lucky to have him, but there is some real question in my mind as to whether the Congress is going to be deserving of his leadership," said Moran. "We're going to have to get our act together - particularly the Republican party. They need to do something more than just say "no" to everything he proposes."
President Obama's commitment in his speech to cutting wasteful and ineffective government programs brought a positive reaction from fiscally-conservative Democrats, known as the Blue Dogs. Members of the group praised the president for clear and honest talk about the economy, saying he demonstrated his commitment to long-term fiscal responsibility, transparency in budgeting and cutting the federal deficit.

Civil War for the day

24 February 2009

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

The Sun-Times has an article by Lynn Sweet about the Illinois senator problem:
Senator Dick Durbin held a 59-minute meeting Tuesday with embattled Senator Roland Burris and afterwards said Burris told him he will not resign. Durbin said he told Burris he would not support his candidacy in 2010. Durbin said he asked Burris if he was going to run in 2010 and Burris said he has not decided. A source told the Sun-Times that Burris is not going to run. In any case, the uproar surrounding Burris would make it politically impossible to run since almost every major Democrat in the state has asked Burris to step down.
"I told him that under the circumstances I would consider resigning if I were in his shoes. He said he would not resign, and that was his conclusion," Durbin said. "People in Illinois are bone weary of this stuff." They "want this Blagojevich burlesque to end."
Burris left the Durbin suite of offices through a side door. Trapped by reporters while waiting for an elevator, Burris said “it was a good meeting” and he was “under orders not to say anything about this.” Those orders are self-imposed and from his lawyer, he said.
Meeting reporters after speaking with Burris in his Capitol office, Durbin said he told Burris he was “disappointed” Burris gave incomplete testimony to the Illinois House about the circumstances surrounding his appointment from ousted Governor Blagojevich. Since Burris is staying, Durbin said he will find ways to work cooperate and work together.

Tougher than Rico feared

Rico says his dropped iPhone only required a reboot (which he didn't know how to do, otherwise he'd've done it) to come back to life.
Amazing how you get used to having something until you don't.
But someday he'll still break down and buy a new 3G iPhone, just 'cause...

Stonehenge, revealed

Added to Gerald Hawkins' book on Stonehenge, this video (courtesy of my friend Kelley) should explain how 'primitive' man built the thing. Rico says he saw the real Stonehenge back in 1969, and is still amazed at it and fascinated by it.

Ten bucks down the drain

Rico says that, lured by the trailers, he went to see The International yesterday. There he learned two lessons:
One, do not hand your iPhone to a known spazz; he will drop it on the concrete floor and break it.
Two, do not believe the trailers; they're a separate art form.
Okay, movie review time. The International purports to be a fast-paced thriller based on current events, with a grand shoot-out inside the Guggenheim Museum in New York (actually a reconstructed version on a film stage). It stars people you've actually heard of (Clive Owen, who did The Bourne Identity and Sin City before, and Armin Müller-Stahl, who did The Peacemaker and Leningrad before, though he's looking old now) and Salman Rushdie (in a sleeper role) and Vincent Pastore (of The Sopranos), and certainly keeps things moving, in the currently popular frenetic Hollywood style. Let's ignore all the holes and inconsistencies in the plot, and just focus on the easy stuff:
Why do directors think having people shoot machine-pistols endlessly looks so cool? Aren't they aware (or don't care, more likely) that full auto fire will empty the magazine in a few seconds, and that dragging a dufflebag full of extra clips down the sidewalk is going to attract attention, even in New York?
Why do directors (or their writers) have someone get shot in the guts, survive because they're wearing a bulletproof vest, and then strip off the vest in time to get shot in the guts again?
Why do people get gutshot multiple times, and still take long enough to die to have a conversation?
Rico says it's 118 minutes of ho-hum; that would be 60 minutes of ho and 58 minutes of hum... (Worse yet, we got there early, waiting until the showtime of 7.30, whereupon they ran a half hour of previews, mostly for television shows, and the damned movie didn't start until eight...)
Rico says one star (because you have to reserve no stars for something really bad...)

Civil War for the day

A reenactment at New Market, Virginia.

23 February 2009

The ugly underside of black politics

Rico says he used to live in Oakland a decade ago, and the Your Black Muslim Bakery was known to be trouble even then. The New York Times has an aricle by Tim Arango about how they still are:
When Chauncey Bailey, the editor of The Oakland Post, in Oakland, California, was gunned down in broad daylight on a city street eighteen months ago, it was not the end of his journalism. In some ways, it was a new beginning. After his death, a group of reporters— some retired, some out of work— with support from foundations and the University of California at Berkeley, banded together to continue his investigation into a local business called Your Black Muslim Bakery and to look at any role the bakery may have played in Mr. Bailey’s murder and at the role of the police in its investigation.
The group, named The Chauncey Bailey Project, has had a deep impact on the city’s public life, revealing a jailhouse videotape that suggested a wider conspiracy in the murder and which the police seemingly ignored, and helping force the resignation of the Oakland police chief, Wayne Tucker. The group has said that much of its work is done, but it says it will not shutter the operation completely until the investigation of Yusuf Bey IV, a son of the founder of the bakery, has been completed. Mr. Tucker suggested that an indictment was likely during a news conference after his resignation and that it would show a larger conspiracy in the murder of Mr. Bailey. Mr. Bey has denied culpability in the murder in an interview with one of the reporters on the project.
Rebecca Kaplan, a City Council member, publicly credited the group of reporters with airing the police’s dirty laundry. “Even if everything was an honest mistake, the Chauncey Bailey case is shining a light on what we need to be looking at,” Ms. Kaplan said.
Robert Rosenthal, the executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley that became the headquarters for the project, said the participants came together in part as a result of the decimation of local media, which precluded large-scale investigative work. “I think the issues of downsizing and economic turmoil are the catalyst for this,” said Mr. Rosenthal, a former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Mr. Bailey had a place in Oakland newspaper lore not necessarily as a gifted reporter but for his ubiquity in the community and ear for neighborhood chatter. He was once fired from The Oakland Tribune for an ethical breach, but had another act as editor of The Oakland Post. There he began to look into Your Black Muslim Bakery, now defunct but once a prominent institution in the city’s black community. It sprouted in the late 1960s against the backdrop of the Black Power movement and was once praised for giving jobs to young African-Americans. The bakery went bankrupt in 2006, leaving a wake of violence, an unpaid loan to the city of Oakland, problems with the Internal Revenue Service, and unrest. Its founder, Yusuf Bey, died in 2003. His son Yusuf Bey IV was briefly the leader of the organization, but now sits in jail, charged with kidnapping, torture, and carjacking. The charges are not related to the Bailey investigation.
On 2 August 2007, Mr. Bailey was shot three times with a sawed-off shotgun as he walked to work after eating breakfast at McDonald’s. Days later, a former dishwasher at the bakery, Devaughndre Broussard, was charged with the murder.
The project formed in the fall of 2007. It modeled itself on The Arizona Project, which was created after the 1976 car-bomb murder of Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter who had been writing about organized crime. The reporters began by examining the bakery. “Pretty soon, we found the bakery was a cesspool,” said Bob Butler, an independent journalist who was a longtime reporter for CBS Radio before he was laid off in 2006.
In a series of articles published last year in The Tribune, The Contra Costa Times, and on a Bay Area television station, KTVU-TV, the journalists reported a longstanding relationship between the detective in charge of the Bailey case and the younger Mr. Bey. It also found that the detective had not included in his case notes data from a tracking device on Mr. Bey’s car that showed him outside Mr. Bailey’s apartment the night before the murder, the articles said.
Mary Fricker, a retired reporter who had worked for 20 years at The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, pored over databases and old files and documented a pattern of sexual assault and misconduct by the founder of the bakery. She joined the project, even though she lives two hours north of Oakland in wine country, and spent many nights on a colleague’s couch. “Could the local media have done this story? No, especially because it came at a time when local media was imploding,” Ms. Fricker said.
The pivotal point for the project occurred on an afternoon last spring. Over a sushi lunch in a downtown Oakland restaurant, a source slipped Thomas Peele, a reporter for The Bay Area News Group, a videotape. The tape, secretly recorded by the police, showed Yusuf Bey IV sitting with associates in a jailhouse room, bragging about being a part of Mr. Bailey’s murder. It raised critical questions— still unanswered— about why the police had not charged Mr. Bey in the murder. The reporting also led to a number of investigations by agencies outside Oakland. The Bailey murder case has been taken from the Oakland police and turned over to the Alameda County district attorney’s office. Jerry Brown, the California attorney general, is investigating the way police handled the case.
More recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in to investigate allegations raised by the project that the chief of internal affairs at the department had beaten a drug suspect, who later died. The project also reopened a decades-old murder case in Santa Barbara, California, where a precursor to the bakery operated in the 1960s.
Last month the head of Oakland’s police, Chief Tucker, announced he would step down, in part as a result of the handling of the Bailey murder investigation. “We made mistakes on that case,” he said at a news conference, and acknowledged that Yusuf Bey IV is “the one we want” to complete the case. Reporters involved in the project gently point out that they have pushed the inquiry further than Mr. Bailey might have.
Mr. Bailey, who was posthumously named Journalist of the Year by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his “fierce commitment to investigative journalism in the face of personal danger”, was not regarded as an investigative journalist. He had written a draft of an article on the bakery, but it had been killed because its reporting was subpar, according to Paul Cobb, the publisher of The Oakland Post.
“There’s been more scrutiny of the Oakland Police Department because of his death than he ever would have accomplished at The Oakland Post,” Mr. Peele said.
Martin Reynolds, the editor of The Oakland Tribune and an executive with The Bay Area News Group, the paper’s parent company, has been heartened by the strong reaction to the project. “The response from our readers has shown that the best way to preserve our relevance is through investigative reporting,” said Mr. Reynolds, who has steadily cut his own company’s newsrooms. “It’s what we can still do better than anyone else.”
Rico says better late than never, but what a fucking can of worms, even for Oakland...

The Navajo deserve to win one

The New York Times has a cogent editorial about a current issue before the Supreme Court:
The federal government has a long history of cheating American Indians, and not all of this dirty dealing is in the distant past. On Monday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a suit by the Navajo, who lost millions of dollars’ worth of coal royalties because the government helped a coal company underpay for their coal. A lower court ruled for the Navajo Nation. The Supreme Court should affirm that well-reasoned decision.
The Navajo’s huge reservation, the Dinetah, spreads across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The United States holds the lands in trust and manages their large coal deposits. Peabody Coal had a lease to mine on that land. The terms provided that, in 1984, the interior secretary could make a reasonable adjustment in the royalty rates paid to the tribe.
That year the department increased the royalty rate to twenty percent of gross proceeds. After Peabody protested, the Reagan administration’s interior secretary met with a Peabody lobbyist, without informing the Navajo. The secretary then signed a memo blocking the increase and called for the Navajo to negotiate with Peabody. The tribe, already under severe economic pressure, ended up agreeing to a rate of just twelve and a half percent. The Navajo eventually sued, arguing that the government violated its duty to look out for their interests, and that it cost them as much as $600 million in royalties.
They lost in the Supreme Court on one set of legal theories, but are now relying on other laws. The Washington-based United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled for the Navajo. In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel concluded that several federal laws impose the sort of fiduciary duty the Indians assert. The appeals court also made clear that the government did not live up to this duty. The ruling found that the Interior Department met “secretly with parties having interests adverse to the Navajo", adopted those parties’ “desired course of action in lieu of action favorable to the Navajo", and misled the Navajo about its actions.
The government’s behavior was “indefensible”, according to four former interior secretaries, who submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court. The Obama administration, which has inherited the Bush administration’s position in the case, should not continue to stand up for these misdeeds.
Rico says we've screwed the Dine for 150 years (since Kit Carson), we should stop.

Killing them softly

Rico says this article in The New York Times by Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez talks about the fascinating stuff we don't know about:
More than seventy United States military advisers and technical specialists are secretly working in Pakistan to help its armed forces battle al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the country’s lawless tribal areas. The Americans are mostly Army Special Forces soldiers who are training Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops, providing them with intelligence and advising on combat tactics, officials said. They do not conduct combat operations, officials added.
They make up a secret task force, overseen by the United States Central Command and Special Operations Command. It started last summer, with the support of Pakistan’s government and military, in an effort to root out al-Qaeda and Taliban operations that threaten American troops in Afghanistan and are increasingly destabilizing Pakistan. It is a much larger and more ambitious effort than either country has acknowledged. Pakistani officials have vigorously protested American missile strikes in the tribal areas as a violation of sovereignty and have resisted efforts by Washington to put more troops on Pakistani soil. President Asif Ali Zardari, who leads a weak civilian government, is trying to cope with soaring anti-Americanism among Pakistanis and a belief that he is too close to Washington. Despite the political hazards for Islamabad, the American effort is beginning to pay dividends.
A new Pakistani commando unit within the Frontier Corps paramilitary force has used information from the Central Intelligence Agency and other sources to kill or capture as many as sixty militants in the past seven months, including at least five high-ranking commanders, a senior Pakistani military official said. Four weeks ago, the commandos captured a Saudi militant linked to al-Qaeda in the Khyber Agency, one of the tribal areas that run along the border with Afghanistan.
Yet the main commanders of the Pakistani Taliban, including its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and its leader in the Swat region, Maulana Fazlullah, remain at large. And senior American military officials remain frustrated that they have been unable to persuade the chief of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to embrace serious counterinsurgency training for the army itself. General Kayani, who is visiting Washington this week as a White House review on policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan gets under way, will almost certainly be asked how the Pakistani military can do more to eliminate al-Qaeda and the Taliban from the tribal areas.
The American officials acknowledge that at the very moment when Washington most needs Pakistan’s help, the greater tensions between Pakistan and India since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November have made the Pakistani Army less willing to shift its attention to the al-Qaeda and Taliban threat.
Officials from both Pakistan and the United States agreed to disclose some details about the American military advisers and the enhanced intelligence sharing to help dispel impressions that the missile strikes were thwarting broader efforts to combat a common enemy. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the increasingly powerful anti-American segment of the Pakistani population.
The Pentagon had previously said about two dozen American trainers conducted training in Pakistan late last year. More than half the members of the new task force are Special Forces advisers; the rest are combat medics, communications experts, and other specialists. Both sides are encouraged by the new collaboration between the American and Pakistani military and intelligence agencies against the militants. “The intelligence sharing has really improved in the past few months,” said Talat Masood, a retired army general and a military analyst. “Both sides realize it’s in their common interest.” Intelligence from Pakistani informants has been used to bolster the accuracy of missile strikes from remotely piloted Predator and Reaper aircraft against the militants in the tribal areas, officials from both countries say.
More than thirty attacks by the aircraft have been conducted since last August, most of them after President Zardari took office in September. A senior American military official said that nine of twenty senior al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders in Pakistan had been killed by those strikes.
In addition, a small team of Pakistani air defense controllers working in the United States Embassy in Islamabad ensures that Pakistani F-16 fighter-bombers conducting missions against militants in the tribal areas do not mistakenly hit remotely piloted American aircraft flying in the same area or a small number of CIA operatives on the ground, a second senior Pakistani officer said.
The newly minted 400-man Pakistani paramilitary commando unit is a good example of the new cooperation. As part of the Frontier Corps, which operates in the tribal areas, the new Pakistani commandos fall under a chain of command separate from the 500,000-member army, which is primarily trained to fight Pakistan’s archenemy, India. The commandos are selected from the overall ranks of the Frontier Corps and receive seven months of intensive training from Pakistani and American Special Forces. The CIA helped the commandos track the Saudi militant linked to al-Qaeda, Zabi al-Taifi, for more than a week before the Pakistani forces surrounded his safe house in the Khyber Agency. The Pakistanis seized him, along with seven Pakistani and Afghan insurgents, in a dawn raid on 22 January, with a remotely piloted CIA plane hovering overhead and personnel from the CIA and Pakistan’s main spy service closely monitoring the mission, a senior Pakistani officer involved in the operation said.
Still, there are tensions between the sides. Pakistani F-16s conduct about a half-dozen combat missions a day against militants, but Pakistani officers say they could do more if the Pentagon helped upgrade the jets to fight at night and provided satellite-guided bombs and updated satellite imagery. General Kayani was expected to take a long shopping list for more transport and combat helicopters to Washington. The question of more F-16s— which many in Congress assert are intended for the Indian front— will also come up, Pakistani officials said.
The United States missile strikes, which have resulted in civilian casualties, have stirred heated debate among senior Pakistani government and military officials, despite the government’s private support for the attacks. An American official described General Kayani, who is known to be sensitive about the necessity of public support for the army, as very concerned that the American strikes had undermined the army’s authority. “These strikes are counterproductive,” Owais Ahmed Ghani, the governor of North-West Frontier Province, said in an interview in his office in Peshawar. “This is looking for a quick fix, when all it will do is attract more jihadis.” Pakistani Army officers say the American strikes draw retaliation against Pakistani troops in the tribal areas, whose convoys and bases are bombed or attacked with rockets after each United States missile strike.
Rico says good news is good news, even if we don't hear about it...

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