31 May 2009

Quote for the day

Rico says he's quoted the guy before, but it's too good not to post again:
“The Jews, the Moslems, and the Christians, they have all got it wrong– the people of the world only divide into two kinds: one fought with brains who hold no religion, the other with religion and no brains.”
Abul’lalah al-Mari, a blind Syrian poet and philosopher, who died in 1056.

How stupid can people be?

Rico says that, according to this article by Herb Wesibaum on MSNBC.com, pretty stupid:
To a con artist, cash is king. International scammers have developed a deviously clever way to trick people into sending them cash. The crooks mail out counterfeit checks or money orders and come up with a creative story to get their victims to wire back thousands of dollars. According to a survey released Wednesday by the Consumer Federation of America, nearly a third of all adult Americans have been approached with fake check scams, and at least 1.3 million have fallen for it. “They didn’t realize the pitch and the check were both phony until they wired off the money,” says Susan Grant, CFA’s director of consumer protection. She says the average victim gets taken for between $3,000 and $4,000.
Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, puts the yearly loss at $20 to $60 billion a year. Her group runs the website fakechecks.org. “These are very persuasive scams that play on people’s vulnerability,” she says.
Here’s another reason so many people get burned by these counterfeit checks: they look legitimate. “They look so real your bank teller can’t always tell it’s a fake,” says Allison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau.
It starts with that bogus check or money order. Why did you get that unexpected check or money order for thousands of dollars? Maybe you’ve won a contest. Maybe you hit the jackpot in a lottery. Maybe it’s payment for a work-at-home job. The storylines are varied, but the con always works the same way: you need to deposit the check and wire off most of the money right away. “Once it’s wired it’s gone, gone, gone,” Greenberg says.
The CFA survey pinpoints one reason why this scam is so successful. Most people (59 percent of those responding) mistakenly believe that when you deposit a check or money order, your bank confirms that it is good before letting you withdraw the money. Forty percent believed they would not be held responsible if the check or money order turned out to be counterfeit. Many victims tell me they asked their bank if the check “cleared” before they wired the money and were told yes. Here’s the deal: When a bank says a check has cleared, it means you have access to those funds. It does not mean the check is good.
If the check bounces, which could take a few days or many weeks, you are responsible to repay your bank for any of the money you withdrew. Bogus checks can be used for almost anything. All the bad guys need to do is concoct a story about why they sent you a sizeable check and why you need to cash it and wire them money.
Here are some of the most common fake check scam scenarios:
Prize and lottery scams: “Congratulations!” the letter says. You’ve won a bundle of money in a contest, sweepstakes, or foreign lottery, one you never entered. The letter looks official and comes with a check for thousands of dollars. You’re supposed to cash it and wire off the money to pay for outstanding fees or taxes. Don’t do it! You never have to pay to claim a prize. If you’re asked to wire off any money, it’s a scam.
Mystery shopper scam: You answer an ad and are accepted as a secret shopper. Your first assignment is to evaluate the MoneyGram payment system at a local Wal-Mart store. The letter tells you to cash the enclosed check— usually between $2,500 and $5,000— keep a couple of hundred dollars for yourself and use the MoneyGram service to wire off the rest. Don’t do it! Never accept a job that requires you to cash a check and wire money. No legitimate company would ever make you do this.
You’re trying to sell something that’s fairly expensive, maybe a car or some furniture. So you place an ad in the newspaper or online. Before long you get an e-mail from an eager buyer who is willing to send you a check for more than the asking price. You’re supposed to wire the extra money to a mover, decorator, shipping company, or some other non-existent entity. Don’t do it! Why? You’re being set up. No legitimate business transaction involves a check for more than the asking price with the requirement that you wire the difference to some person or company. Innocent businesses are also hurt by the fake check scam. Many of these bogus checks use the name, address, and bank account number of legitimate companies. This increases the chance the teller will accept the check. Try to deposit a big check from the El Gordo Lottery and the teller might start asking questions. But a check from Bob’s Auto Supply doesn’t call attention to itself. “Often businesses don’t even know their checks are being used in these scams until they get angry calls from people who want to know where their prize money is,” the BBB’s Southwick tells me.
A few months ago, I warned you about con artists sending out counterfeit Publisher’s Clearinghouse prize notices, along with fake prize checks. Some of those fake checks listed the payer as Alpine Environmental Services of Stanwood, Washington. When the bank realized Alpine’s account number had been stolen it locked up the company’s accounts. The company’s manager, Dennis Dutoit, tells me he could not pay any bills for three days until everything was straightened out. “It created a major mess,” he says.
The bottom line is that it’s not very hard to protect yourself from these fake check scams. In fact, Carmen Christopher, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, was able to sum it up in one sentence: “If you get a check that requires you to wire money, don’t do it!”
Rico says that at least 1.3 million people are even dumber than he thought...

End of an era

The Associated Press has an article about the passing of Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the sinking of the Titantic. Dean was just over two months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic on the night of 14 April 1912, sinking less than three hours later.

A color Kindle is years away

Christopher Dawson has another article on ZDNet.com, this one about the lack of color for the Kindle anytime soon:
An old mentor of mine used to lecture to his classes and peers using 35mm slides. He created them in WordPerfect (this was about 1996) and they consisted of black text on a white background. The didn’t need images, color, or fancy transitions. He was a statistician and the data and his conclusions mattered far more than the presentation.
Even when he finally broke down and traded in the 35mm slides for an LCD projector, his presentations were no-frills, monochrome text. He just couldn’t get slide projectors at conferences anymore, so he had to upgrade. It wasn’t long, though, before the power of this new medium became evident and he realized that color could make data far easier to present in a graphical format. If you were very reading-oriented as he was (I actually edited the first edition of his Clinical Trials Dictionary: talk about “reading-oriented”), then text based slides filled with data tables were fine. Reading-oriented statisticians are easy to find. Many of the doctors, epidemiologists, and research nurses with whom he worked were much more visual and really benefited from this (to him, at least) newfangled way of looking at data.
Why the long story? Because Jeff Bezos announced yesterday that a color Kindle was still years away. According to ChannelWeb, and irect from the Kindle King’s mouth:
There’ll be no public Kindle sales data to chew on, and a color Kindle is years away… a color version of the Kindle e-reader is still definitely in the development phase.
So where does this leave educators, looking to the Kindle and other e-readers as solutions for lowering the cost of textbooks and making it easier for students to have their books accessible anytime, anywhere? If you’re the average statistician reading the average statistics text, then it leaves you right at home.
However, it leave the average student looking for another solution. Although most readers will know that I’m quite the netbook evangelist (for a variety of uses, including electronic textbook formats), I’m not convinced there isn’t a place for a Kindle-ish device if the DRM, cost, and, most importantly, color issues can be resolved. Keep in mind that color e-ink exists: the press release linked here is from 2005.
I’m hoping that the surge of Kindle competitors will drive a shift in the publishing market, as will the increasing availability of 1:1 netbook solutions. If that happens, we may just see color e-readers follow, making electronic textbooks useful to people who don’t miss WordPerfect 5.1.
Rico says he'll wait for Apple to jump ahead of the pack, as usual...

Is it just me, or does Bing look a lot like Google?

Christopher Dawson asks the obvious question on ZDNet.com:
Despite being a devotee of all things Google, I’ve been incredibly excited about Wolfram Alpha. I’ve been using it quite a bit and have its quirks and limitations pretty much down. Those limitations mean that it won’t be a Google killer, but it will be especially useful to students and teachers. Given that, I was even more excited about Microsoft’s “decision engine,” Bing, than I have been about a Microsoft product in a while. Could it combine the focused precision of Alpha with the richness of Google?
During a break tonight between working on scheduling and making some website updates (and trying to block out the tweeting of our baby chicks (a story unto itself; I’ll stick with Bing for now), I pulled up bing.com. Although it isn’t live yet, the site features an interesting video about Bing and what it can provide searchers that other search engines can’t.
Maybe it’s because I can’t get my hands on a live version yet. As soon as I can, I’ll give it a go-round from a proper “just how well can this serve our students trying to leach meaningful information from the web” perspective. For now, though, it just looks like Google to me. Sure, it does some neat things when it senses that you want to buy something, but the ideas of getting a map when you search for a business, related searches, or predictive search are nothing new in Googleland.
Am I missing something revolutionary here? This isn’t my typical anti-Microsoft, pro-Google sentiment. When I saw Alpha, I was genuinely wowed and now turn to Alpha (and point students and teachers to Alpha) when its abilities fit my needs. I didn’t feel that when I watched the Bing video. I do like the idea that Bing includes credible sources, I assume drawn from the now defunct Encarta.
Ultimately, though, I’m just left with the feeling that Bing is simply a spiffed-up Google with Microsoft tools like Expedia and Encarta working in the background. Tell me what, if anything, I’m missing.
Rico says missing? The point? The second-place finish by Microsoft? The who-cares-anyway software?

That's one way to do it

CNN.com has an article about a solution to the abortion issue:
Dr. George Tiller, whose Wichita, Kansas, women's clinic has been the target of anti-abortion protests for years, was shot and killed at his church Sunday morning, his attorneys said. Laura Shaneyfelt, an attorney with the firm of Monnat and Spurrier, confirmed Tiller's death to CNN. The 67-year-old doctor was one of the few U.S. physicians who still performed late-term abortions. He survived a 1993 shooting outside his clinic.
Wichita police said they were searching for a powder-blue Ford Taurus in connection with the killing, which took place outside Reformation Lutheran Church shortly after 10 a.m. Witnesses provided a license number of the car the killer used to speed away from the church, police spokesman Gordon Bassham said.
The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has led numerous demonstrations at Tiller's clinic, condemned the shooting as a cowardly act. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice," the group said in a statement. It offered its prayers for Tiller's family, "that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ."
Abortion is one of the hottest buttons in politics, with opponents arguing the practice is tantamount to the murder of an unborn child. Abortion rights supporters argue that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is best left to the woman.
On its website, Operation Rescue refers to Tiller as a "monster" who has "been able to get away with murder", and abortion rights opponents have launched several efforts to get his clinic shut down.
In March, Tiller was acquitted of 19 counts of performing procedures unlawfully at his clinic. In 2008, a probe initiated by abortion opponents who petitioned state authorities to convene a grand jury ended without charges. The 1993 attack on Tiller left him wounded through both arms. An ardent foe of abortion, Shelley Shannon, was convicted of attempted murder and is serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison for the shooting.
If Tiller was slain because of his work, he would be the fourth U.S. physician killed by abortion opponents since 1993. In addition, a nurse at a Birmingham, Alabama, clinic was maimed and an off-duty police officer was killed in a 1998 bombing by Eric Rudolph, who included abortion among his list of anti-government grievances. Rudolph admitted to that attack and three other bombings, including the attack on the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, and is serving life in prison.
Rico says he's not all that much in favor of 'late-term' abortions, but he doesn't think killing the docs is the way to change that...

Cuba coming back, if slowly

The AP has an article by Matthew Lee about the OAS and Cuba:
A diplomatic tug-of-war over Cuba's outcast status in the Organization of American States takes center stage at the group's meeting this week in Honduras, testing U.S. efforts to engage the communist nation. Numerous Latin American countries are pushing to reverse the 1962 expulsion of Cuba from the 34-country group, although the Cuban government insists it has no interest in returning. An OAS official told The Associated Press that a decision on clearing the way for Cuba to rejoin the group could be postponed unless there is a consensus. In that case, Tuesday's meeting could produce a statement supporting efforts to find a solution. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in El Salvador on Sunday, is scheduled to attend.
In a positive development in U.S.-Cuban relations, a State Department official said Sunday that Cuba has agreed to resume talks with the administration on legal immigration of Cubans to the United States and on direct mail service. US officials say they are ready to support lifting the resolution that suspended Cuba from the OAS, but want to tie readmission to democratic reforms in Cuba. Nicaragua, backed by Venezuela, Bolivia, and others, favors an approach that would declare Cuba's expulsion an error and remove all legal hurdles to it regaining its membership. Diplomats at OAS headquarters in Washington have tried frantically to forge a compromise. Nicaragua has threatened to press for a vote on its proposal. The OAS' assistant secretary general, Albert Ramdin, sought to play down the prospect of a final agreement on Cuba's status. "Theoretically we can always vote, but in practical political terms it seems that it's not an option," Ramdin said in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the meeting site.
A vote could put the U.S. on the spot. Although the OAS generally operates by consensus, a two-thirds majority vote, or 23 countries, is all that's needed for a resolution to pass.
One senior U.S. official involved in the negotiations would not rule out the possibility that Clinton might skip the meeting unless there was a compromise acceptable to the U.S. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.
The administration is committed to a set of principles the OAS approved in 2001 that enshrines democracy as a right of all people in the Western Hemisphere. The meeting comes at a delicate time in President Barack Obama's outreach to Cuba. Already, his administration has lifted travel and financial restrictions on Americans with family in Cuba. In addition Sunday's news that Cuba has consented to restarting immigration talks, Cuba has expressed a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. on fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, and on hurricane disaster preparedness.
Cuban leader Raul Castro and his ailing brother, Fidel, have reacted coolly to the easing of restrictions and demanded an end to the decades-old U.S. embargo on the island. U.S. officials have ruled that out— and Cuba's return to the OAS— until Cuba makes moves toward democratic pluralism, releases political prisoners, and respects fundamental rights. But Cuba's Communist Party daily Granma ended a three-day denunciation of the OAS on Friday by saying Cuba "does not need the OAS. It does not want it, even reformed. We will never return to that decrepit old house of Washington." Some in the OAS, notably the leftist presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela, Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez, maintain that neither the United States nor the OAS can dictate what Cuba has to do to return.
When foreign ministers meet on Tuesday in San Pedro Sula, the US will be the only country in the hemisphere without full diplomatic relations with Cuba. El Salvador, the only other OAS member without such ties, planned to restore them on Monday when its new president, Mauricio Funes, takes office. Clinton was to attend the inauguration of Funes, the first Salvadoran president from the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The FMLN is the second former Central American foe of the United States to take power democratically since Nicaragua elected Sandinista leader Ortega in 2006. It's one more lurch to the left in Latin America.

Civil War for the day

From a book on the same, some splendid Civil War firearms.

30 May 2009

Still ain't an iTablet

Charles McGrath writes another accolade to the Kindle in The New York Times:
On a recent golf trip to South Carolina I showed off to the rest of the foursome by taking along my brand-new Kindle 2. No one seemed impressed that I had already stored on it practically all of Trollope and six volumes of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, along with the latest Lee Child and Dennis Lehane. But I got a reaction when I pressed a button and the slim, envelope-size device read aloud to us, in a bossy, robotic female voice, from Leadbetter’s Quick Tips: The Very Best Short Lessons to Fix Any Part of Your Game: “As you step up to the ball, breathe through your nose, then exhale and whistle as you start the club back.” For the rest of the weekend my playing partner referred to the Kindle, somewhat warily, as The Future.
It’s not. The reading device of the future will surely be backlighted, unlike the Kindle, so you can read in the dark. It will have different typefaces, and will reproduce photographs and illustrations in something better than a murky gray wash. The read-aloud voice will learn how to pronounce “Barack Obama” and will have mastered a tone more expressive than that of the tiresome know-it-all who talks to you from inside your car’s GPS. In the future airlines will also conclude that you don’t have to turn off a reading device during takeoff and landing. On the way back from South Carolina, I had to dash into an airport bookshop for a backup paperback, which sort of defeats the whole point.
But if the Kindle isn’t the future, exactly, it’s a precursor. What it tells you, even if you are an unreconstructed book lover, is that the future will not be as hard to get used to as you imagined. Books are heavy, the Kindle reminds you, and they take up a lot of room. (I wish I’d had a Kindle last summer, when on a nearly monthlong trip to China I lugged along an entire suitcase full of books just so I wouldn’t run out of something to read.) And though we think of them as permanent, our books are slowly combusting right there on the shelves, the pages growing yellow, the bindings stiffening and becoming brittle.
One of the odder sensations of reading on the Kindle, though, is a sensation of eternal presentness. Your books are all there, perfectly preserved. The device even remembers exactly what page you were on last. On the other hand, as you read along, there are very few cues to how near you are to the beginning, how far from the end. You’re always in the middle.
There is, of course, the problem of eternal sameness. Set in the same typeface, everything on the Kindle looks exactly like everything else, except that some books and publications occasionally turn up with unjustified margins, and for some reason a James Patterson novel I tried to read decided to dispense with apostrophes. Poetry, because the screen is so narrow, sometimes looks bad, and so do plays in verse. And you can’t help missing the pleasing variety and design of books, the dust jackets, the illustrations, the layout of the page.
Then there is the problem of finding your way around. Though you can search for a word or a phrase in a Kindle text, it’s hard to skim or jump ahead. That limitation is particularly frustrating with newspapers and magazines, which arrive without tables of contents and can only be viewed section by section and in the order that articles appear.
Trying to read The New Yorker on the Kindle, for example, is a lot like reading that magazine back in the days when it didn’t have a table of contents and you learned what was in it only while flipping through to look at the cartoons— except that on the Kindle the cartoons are all sequestered together, so small and gray they’re scarcely worth bothering with.
And yet these days, as often as not, I read The New Yorker on my Kindle because, like the papers, it arrives silently overnight via the device’s permanent wireless connection, sooner and more reliably than my print subscription, which sometimes takes a week. Sometimes I remember to look at the print version to see if there’s anything I missed, and sometimes I don’t.
Similarly, though I don’t think that reading the newspaper on a Kindle remotely compares with reading the real thing (or even with reading the paper online, for that matter; there are almost no photographs), on a shameful number of mornings, instead of making the Tony Soprano pajama-walk down to the end of the driveway, I have found myself reaching over to the night table for the seductive white gizmo. It’s like having an invisible butler bring you the paper while you’re still in bed. Papers, I should say. For a while, before the monthly payments started to mount up (they run from about $6 to $15), I was getting half a dozen, including The Times of London and The Independent.
Most of us have become so used to reading on screen by now that we’ve probably become brainwashed a little. Compared with your computer screen the Kindle actually looks a little more like real ink on real paper. Essentially the device presents you with a tradeoff. You endure sensory deprivation— sacrificing the pleasure of spreading the newspaper out on the kitchen table, forgoing the feel, heft and texture of a book, or the crispness and shimmer of a well-designed magazine— for the sake of portability and convenience.
And if you’re at all like me, it’s surprising how easily you succumb to convenience, and how little you miss, once they’re gone, all the niceties of typography and design that you used to value so much. Those things still matter, and I don’t think that books will ever disappear— newspapers and magazines are another matter— but it may be that in the future we will keep them around as fond relics, reminders of what reading used to be like.
Among other things, we’ll probably recall that reading used to be more expensive. At the moment Amazon, which makes the Kindle, is selling new books for the device at a heavy discount— under $10 in most cases. Books in the public domain are an even better bargain. I bought all six of Trollope’s Palliser novels, which would easily cost $50 or $60 in paperback, for just 99 cents. Same for Decline and Fall. Books for the Kindle are so cheap and so accessible, turning up on your device within seconds, that you wind up buying them impulsively and almost indiscriminately.
One evening my wife wanted to check a passage from Dombey and Son, which she had been listening to in the car. Ninety-nine cents, a typed-in phrase and, bingo, there it was. Another time I overheard a colleague praising Philipp Meyer’s first novel, American Rust, and for $9.99 I had snagged it even before she was out of earshot.
The keyboard on the Kindle is designed for fingers more microscopic than mine, and the joystick that controls everything is similarly small and so sensitive that on at least one occasion I have inadvertently purchased the wrong book. I could delete it if I want, but why bother? Shelf space on the Kindle is practically infinite.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the Kindle Bookstore. Most current books are available there, but the backlist is strangely spotty. You can buy John Updike’s posthumous book Endpoint, but not any of his Rabbit novels; Philip Roth’s Indignation, but not Sabbath’s Theater.
The poetry selection is particularly skimpy— no Larkin, no Elizabeth Bishop, no Wallace Stevens— but there is an extensive selection of 19th-century erotica by the very prolific Anonymous. One useful feature is a provision that enables you to look at a free sample of a book before deciding whether or not to purchase. This is what convinced me that I needed Leadbetter’s Quick Tips, for example, but also told me that I could probably skip Valerie J. Wood’s 2002 hockey novel Enforcer, about a player named Cal Bowman, a “lean mean skating machine, one of the league’s best fighters, who other teams’ enforcers are eager to taunt, torment, and try to pound into a disabled, bloody mess.”
Over time the selection of books available will doubtless improve, and in the meanwhile for a small fee, you can wirelessly download material from your own computer. Also for 99 cents— the default price apparently— you can subscribe for a month to one of any number of blogs, including Gawker and Fashionista. You will never run out of stuff to read, in other words, and you can take it all with you wherever you go— except possibly the shower. After shelling out $359 for my Kindle I have been reluctant to test the waterproofing.
The screen is small, though not as small as the iPhone’s, on which you can also read books— and if you’re a fast reader, the wait while the tiny black particles realign themselves on the screen after you turn the page is annoying. Yet in many ways the Kindle experience is reading reduced to its essence: deciphering marks on a slate. To say you appreciate written language more when it’s transmitted this way, without the familiar delivery mechanism of paper, print and binding, would be a stretch, but after a while you don’t appreciate it any less.
Rico says he's still gonna wait for the Mac...

That's one way to mend a broken heart

Rico says it's an old story: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy blows up girl's house. But it's an only-in-Iraq version and wouldn't play well here; Rod Nordland's article in The New York Times explains how it works there:
It goes like this: Boy meets girl. They exchange glances and text messages, the limit of respectable courting here. Then boy asks girl’s father for her hand. Dad turns him down. Boy goes to girl’s house and plants a bomb out front. The authorities call it a “love IED,” or improvised explosive device, and it is not just an isolated case. Captain Nabil Abdul Hussein of the Iraqi national police said that six had exploded in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad alone in the past year. “These guys, they face any problem with their girlfriends, family, anyone, and they’re making this kind of IED,” Captain Hussein said. There have been no reported deaths or injuries from the devices used in this way, in Dora or elsewhere. “Usually they’re putting them in front of the doors of their houses, not to kill, but to scare them,” Captain Hussein said.
After six years of war, Iraq is a society with a serious anger management problem. That, along with a lot of men with a lot of experience fashioning bombs and setting ambushes, makes for a lethal mix. The police say that many of the men are former insurgents who are no longer trying to kill foreign troops, but who have an array of bomb-making skills and a stash of TNT. Even without explosives, a popular type of explosive device can be made from common household items including gasoline, a soda can, and a plastic water bottle, with the innards of a cellphone as a remote detonator.
“I’m a detective, and I don’t even know how to make one of these, but all these kids do,” the captain said. “There was a percentage of young men who were cooperating with the al-Qaeda organizations, or the Shia militias. They’ve changed their minds about fighting now, but they still have good experience in how to make IEDs.” As in the days when the insurgency raged, it is pretty hard to trace a homemade bomb, of any variety, to its perpetrator. Once a device explodes, forensic evidence pretty much goes up in smoke. The police in Dora have recorded only one arrest, involving a young man caught and convicted of planting a love IED. He is Omar Abdul Hussein, 18, known by the nickname of Cisco, a former supporter of the country’s main Sunni insurgent group, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, according to Captain Hussein.
Cisco was rejected by his girlfriend’s father three times, and then one day she called to tell him that her father was bringing another suitor over to meet her. Cisco planted a bomb by their garden wall and set it off. Since he lived just next door, it was a short manhunt. Cisco was tried and convicted— of terrorism. “Another guy shot up his girlfriend’s house to force the family to give her in marriage,” Captain Hussein said. “We’ve faced this many times.”
Another police official, Colonel Samir Shatti, said he recalled a recent case of a student who had been upset with his grades, so he planted three soda-can bombs in his teacher’s office, wired them in a series with a timer set for 7:30 a.m., when the teacher would normally arrive. The teacher showed up on time, but nothing went off.
Colonel Yassir Shinoon relates a variation on the theme worthy of Shakespeare, though the Capulets and Montagues were possibly more civil than the two Iraqi families living on the same street in the Shurta neighborhood of south Baghdad. The colonel laughed. “We had to put a permanent police checkpoint in to keep them apart,” he said.
The family on one side of the street was Shiite, and their son wanted to marry the daughter of their Sunni neighbor across the street. The son pumped gas when he was not night-riding with the Mahdi Army militia, in the days when the group went out looking for Sunnis to kill. She was studying at Baghdad University and could not stand the sight of him. In Iraqi society, it was not up to her. But her mother took her side. “How could I accept to marry my daughter, who has a university education, to someone who didn’t even finish primary school?” she said. Spurned, the young man planted a bomb— but in front of his own house, according to the police. Then he called the authorities and accused the neighbors of being Sunni terrorists who were trying to blow his house up.
“We could tell he planted it himself,” said Colonel Shinoon, himself a Shiite, like ninety percent of Iraq’s National Police force. “He thought we would take his side against the Sunnis.” The police refused to arrest the girl’s family, but they also had no hard evidence against the frustrated suitor. The bomb was a dud, anyway. Then the young man planted a second bomb, and this time it exploded, damaging the houses of both families. The neighborhood by then, in 2007, was full of people sympathetic to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The Shiite family had to flee after receiving death threats. The police said that as they left, they sprayed the Sunni family’s house with automatic-weapons fire.
The girl’s mother showed a visitor the bullet holes in her steel external doors, outside walls, window frames, inside walls and garden walls. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Then a measure of peace came, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was more or less extirpated from Shurta, and last year the Shiite neighbors were among the many displaced Iraqis who moved back to what was once the scene of Baghdad’s worst communal violence. They returned to a changed Dora, in an Iraq that in many places is edging toward a post-sectarian society. Colonel Shinoon said the police had visited the Shiite family and told them that they knew their son had been planting bombs, and they warned that he should not expect the police to take his side just because they were co-religionists. “If it weren’t for Colonel Shinoon,” the girl’s mother said, “we would be dead by now.”
Brigadier General Abdul Karim, commander of the National Police’s Seventh Brigade, met with the young man. Colonel Shinoon said the general’s advice was: “Get over it.”
Rico says 'get over it'? This, in a part of the world noted for long nasty memories of slights? (As in "it happened a thousand years ago, but we're still pissed"?) But a 'serious anger management problem'? Rico says he'd fit right in...

Ah, South Beach

Rico says he's spent several glorious days on South Beach in Miami, and often wishes he were there now. This article by Mary Billard in The New York Times explains why:
It was a sunny Monday afternoon, and the scene around the yellow-and-orange cabanas at La Piaggia Beach Club was laid-back and effortlessly chic. Waiters brought trays of chilled rosé, goose pâté, and “les mini cheeseburgers.” Women, wearing cunning coverups that manage to cover up nothing, dipped their manicured feet into the sand. A few attractive young bodies were leisurely sunning near the saltwater pool, but nobody was in the pool itself. It was just for show, as was the plaque on the weathered wooden front door falsely stating that the club was “members only.” With the blue waters and swaying palms, the scene at La Piaggia could almost be mistaken for St. Barts or Mustique. Except, of course, for the surrounding sea wall of beachfront condos that screamed Miami. In recent years, the triangular district at the tip of South Beach has emerged as a chic yet relaxed alternative to the typical Ocean Drive frenzy farther north. It even has a hip moniker, SoFi, which stands for South of Fifth Street— the four-lane thoroughfare that cleaves the neighborhood from the rest of the area.
North of Fifth Street, club kids work off their hangovers at Ocean Drive madhouses like the News Cafe, bachelorettes prowl for gallon-size frozen margaritas (with four straws), and busloads of tourists search for the Versace mansion. All the while, menu-wielding hostesses canvass passersby with two-for-one drink specials.
In contrast, the area south of Fifth almost feels like a gated resort— though, in reality, anyone can waltz in. More European than Daytona-Beach-at-spring-break, the SoFi scene skews a little older, a little more arrived than arriviste, cushioned by the base of wealthy second-home owners from the area’s gleaming condos. And, just as downtown Manhattanites joke that they get nosebleeds north of 14th Street, SoFi residents have taken to saying that there is no reason to go above Fifth to socialize anymore.
For brunch-time gossip, locals pull up to Big Pink, a nouveau diner that functions like a general store. At sunset, Smith & Wollensky or Monty’s South Beach are the big draws, particularly on Fridays, to watch the looming cruise ships slowly move out to sea. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, strains of Y.M.C.A. or Bob Marley can be heard.
And for a crazier party atmosphere, there is the splashy Nikki Beach Club, where bronze bodies lounge on daybeds under private canopies, bottles of Piper-Heidsieck chill in ice buckets, and young women in turquoise Pocahontas-fringed bikinis dance to entertain guests.
While the beauty of South Beach is often obscured by the partying, SoFi denizens also make the most of this picturesque barrier island. Every day at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., yogis meet for mixed-level classes at the pink lifeguard stand at the Third Street Beach, mastering their downward dogs in the ocean breezes while following the trajectory of the sun.
More yogis can be found at South Pointe Park, a 17.5-acre esplanade that reopened on the island’s southern tip in March after a $22 million renovation. During the day, the park is filled with young families, bikers, and dog walkers— all enjoying the dune grass blowing in the breeze, wildflowers sprouting, and waves lapping on the shore. At night, eighteen light towers glow in different colors, illuminating an area that was once a scary needle park.
SoFi rose from the ashes of urban decay. For decades, it was a dangerous no man’s land— the only destination worth visiting probably was the venerable Joe’s Stone Crab, where diners ate secure in the knowledge that valets guarded their shiny Cadillacs.
Then, starting in the mid-1990s, as the revival of South Beach attracted developers to the natural beauty of the point, towering condos with multimillion-dollar apartments began to appear. Restaurants and other businesses trickled back in.
Among the pioneers was Myles Chefetz, who opened Nemo, a trendy spot with an outdoor courtyard, in 1995. “There were no signs of life,” said Mr. Chefetz, who now runs numerous restaurants and other hotspots in SoFi, and is known as the Sultan of South Fifth. “Nemo is in a former bum-laden crack hotel where they used to film Miami Vice.” Hotels soon followed. Today, top-notch accommodations include a beachfront Marriott and the all-suite Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach. They are joined this month by the Sense South Beach, a luxury boutique hotel with eighteen rooms and a rooftop pool. More hotels are on their way. In August, Mr. Chefetz is opening the Prime Hotel, a modern fourteen-unit resort next to Brown’s Hotel. Opening rates are set at $300 a night.
Not that SoFi is sleepy the rest of year; the demand for a happening scene is a Miami imperative. On a warm Thursday evening in late April, a crush of leggy patrons in miniskirts and high heels and their older boyfriends converged at the outdoor tables at Prime Italian, an offshoot of Prime One Twelve, the stylish steakhouse in Brown’s Hotel. (Both are owned by Mr. Chefetz.)
Prime Italian, with its clubby macho décor, is a restaurant conceived to separate pro athletes from their money via a culinary invention called Kobe meatballs. A crowd of overdressed and underdressed clamored for tables near the bar, where, recently, the NBA star Antoine Walker sat watching a Celtics-Bulls playoff game. The scene prompted one visitor to tag it as Bentleyville in honor of the gridlock of $300,000 cars.
Yes, it may be SoFi. But it’s still South Beach.
Rico says he's never stayed at this hotel, but he'd like to, next time...

Jon & Kate Plus Hate

Rico says he couldn't agree more with the opinion column by Gail Collins in The New York Times about Jon & Kate Plus Eight, which is, if not actually the worst television show ever created, will do until that one comes along:
Back before the turn of the millennium, my husband and I wrote a book that contained a lot of lists of the best and worst of the last thousand years. Our friend Alfred Gingold contributed Ten Worst Ideas of the Millennium, which included flagellants, foot binding, wine in a box, trench warfare, and French mime.
I was thinking about that list the other day when I was reading about the crisis on the set of Jon & Kate Plus Eight. This is, of course, the reality series about the Gosselins, who used fertility treatments to conceive twins, and then sextuplets. After four televised years of birthday parties and projectile vomiting during flu season, Jon & Kate’s marriage appears to have hit the rocks of tabloid hell.
And in the process, although we are only nine years into the 21st century, I believe we have already discovered two of the new millennium’s ten worst ideas:
• Fertility treatments that produce enough babies to field an entire team for any sport except tennis.
• Reality shows about the day-to-day lives of any family that is not headed by an aging rock star.

“One day my kids are gonna Google me,” moaned Jon, who was caught frolicking with a 23-year-old teacher while Kate was off on a book tour. After weeks of headlines in supermarket magazines, the Gosselins were back on television this week for the opening of Season Five (Theme: Sextuplets Turn 5, Jon and Kate Aren’t Speaking). It drew a stratospheric cable audience of 9.8 million viewers— approximately five times the ratings for Mad Men.
This is a tradition that stretches back to 1971, when Bill and Pat Loud agreed to let PBS film 300 hours in the life of their “fun family”. By the time the cameras left, the Louds were en route to the cover of Newsweek and Pat had filed for divorce. But Americans have no sense of history and now people are practically begging to be turned into a television series. A number of the current ones involve very large families— one terrifyingly named 18 Kids and Counting.
Once science made it so much easier for people to have six, seven, or eight babies at a time, it seems right that the world would come up with some occupation that would allow the parents to make a living without leaving the nursery. The Gosselins were reportedly paid at least $50,000 an episode, and the family has moved into a $1.1 million house on 24 acres in Pennsylvania.
I can’t help suspecting that the audience for Jon & Kate was initially drawn to the show by the same fascination that compels cable TV to keep producing documentaries about people who weigh 800 pounds. Wow, how does that work out, practically speaking? But reality shows, like any kind of institutionalized gossip, also offer the occasional useful life lessons.
One of the most important is that people who embrace 21st-century public life, whether it is lived on Twitter or TLC, aren’t allowed to complain about the downside. (“I did not sign up for public scrutiny of everything and neither did Kate,” Jon told the television cameras grumpily and inaccurately.)
Recently, as the marriage continued to fray, Kate’s brother and sister-in-law appeared on CBS’s The Early Show to denounce the Gosselins and call for a law against children on reality shows. The kids actually seem well cared for and happy, although you can already imagine how the sextuplets will be tortured in the future by reruns of the potty-training episode. The relatives mainly seemed distressed by a family feud, and compelled to work out their angst by going on national TV to denounce people going on national TV.
My favorite angle is the feminist one. When the world first met the Gosselins, Kate was a more-than-full-time-mother and Jon was going off to work every day as an “I.T. analyst”. (This is a position which is actually a very common occupation for men on reality series. Women tend more toward “Pilates instructor”.)
Then Jon, who appears laid back to the point of being comatose, lost his job. Kate, who was a tad obsessive in the house (she once berated her husband for breathing too loud), produced several best-selling books and made so many promotional tours that her husband found himself in the role of the major caregiver.
By the time they started their current season, Jon’s life crisis was a mirror image of the feminine “problem that has no name” that Betty Friedan wrote about in 1963. He complained that he loved his kids but felt trapped. (“It’s not what I chose, you know. It was kind of chosen for me.”) Kate couldn’t understand why he seemed to resent his “duties” when she was out working to support the family. And anyway, he had lots of household help.
There’s much to mull. But at minimum, when a listmaker of the future starts compiling the Ten Worst Multiple-Birth-Reality-Show-Meltdowns-of-the-Millennium, the Gosselins will have found a place in history.
Rico says he'll vote for all those worst ideas...

But what will they blame global warming on then?

Elisabeth Rosenthal and Felicity Barringer have an article in The New York Times about green lighting (no, not the color, stupid, the environment):
To change the bulbs in the sixty-foot-high ceiling lights of Buckingham Palace’s grand stairwell, workers had to erect scaffolding and cover precious portraits of royal forebears. So when a lighting designer two years ago proposed installing light emitting diodes or LEDs, an emerging lighting technology, the royal family readily assented. The new lights, the designer said, would last more than 22 years and enormously reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions— a big plus for Prince Charles, an ardent environmentalist. Since then, the palace has installed the lighting in chandeliers and on the exterior, where illuminating the entire facade uses less electricity than running an electric teakettle. In shifting to LED lighting, the palace is part of a small but fast-growing trend that is redefining the century-old conception of lighting, replacing energy-wasting disposable bulbs with efficient fixtures that are often semi-permanent, like those used in plumbing.
Studies suggest that a complete conversion to the lights could decrease carbon dioxide emissions from electric power use for lighting by up to fifty percent in just over twenty years; in the United States, lighting accounts for about six percent of all energy use. A recent report by McKinsey & Company cited conversion to LED lighting as potentially the most cost effective of a number of simple approaches to tackling global warming using existing technology.
LED lighting was once relegated to basketball scoreboards, cellphone consoles, traffic lights, and colored Christmas lights. But as a result of rapid developments in the technology, it is now poised to become common on streets and in buildings, as well as in homes and offices. Some American cities, including Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Raleigh, North Carolina, are using the lights to illuminate streets and parking garages, and dozens more are exploring the technology. And the lighting now adorns the conference rooms and bars of some Renaissance hotels, a corridor in the Pentagon and a new green building at Stanford.
LEDs are more than twice as efficient as compact fluorescent bulbs, currently the standard for greener lighting. Unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs turn on quickly and are compatible with dimmer switches. And while fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which requires special disposal, LED bulbs contain no toxic elements, and last so long that disposal is not much of an issue.
“It is fit-and-forget-lighting, that is essentially there for as long as you live,” said Colin Humphreys, a researcher at Cambridge University, who works on gallium nitride LED lights which now adorn structures in Britain.
The switch to LEDs is proceeding far more rapidly than experts had predicted just two years ago. President Obama’s stimulus package, which offers money for “green” infrastructure investment, will accelerate that pace, experts say. San Jose, California plans to use $2 million in energy-efficiency grants to install 1,500 LED streetlights. Thanks in part to the injection of federal cash, sales of the lights in new “solid state” fixtures— a $297 million industry in 2007— are likely to become a near-billion-dollar industry by 2013, said Stephen Montgomery, director of LED research projects at Electronicast, a California consultancy. And after years of resisting what they had dismissed as a fringe technology, giants like General Electric and Philips have begun making LEDs.
Though the United States Department of Energy calls LED “a pivotal emerging technology,” there remain significant barriers. Homeowners may balk at the high initial cost, which lighting experts say currently will take five to ten years to recoup in electricity savings. An outdoor LED spotlight today costs $100, as opposed to $7 for a regular bulb.
Another issue is that current LEDs generally provide only “directional light” rather than a 360-degree glow, meaning they are better suited to downward facing streetlights and ceiling lights than to many lamp-type settings. And in the rush to make cheaper LED lights, poorly made products could erase the technology’s natural advantage, experts warn. LEDs are tiny sandwiches of two different materials that release light as electrons jump from one to the other. The lights must be carefully designed so heat does not damage them, reducing their lifespan to months from decades. And technological advances that receive rave reviews in a university laboratory may not perform as well when mass produced for the real world.
Britain’s Low Carbon Trust, an environmental nonprofit group, has replaced the twelve LED fixtures bought three years ago for its offices with conventional bulbs, because the LED lights were not bright enough, said Mischa Hewitt, a program manager at the trust. But he says he still thinks the technology is important.
Brian Owen, a contributor to the trade magazine LEDs, said that while it is good that cities are exploring LED lighting: “They have to do their due diligence. Rash decisions can result in disappointment or disaster.”
At the same time, nearly monthly scientific advances are addressing many of the problems, decreasing the high price of the bulbs somewhat and improving their ability to provide normal white light bright enough to illuminate rooms and streets. For example, many LEDs are currently made on precious materials like sapphire. But scientists at a government-financed laboratory at Cambridge University have figured out how to grow them on silicon wafers, potentially making the lights far cheaper. While the original LEDs gave off only glowing red or green light, newer versions produce a blue light that, increasingly, can be manipulated to simulate incandescent bulbs. And researchers at dozens of universities are working to make the bulbs more usable. “This is a technology on a very fast learning curve,” said Jon Creyts, an author of the McKinsey report, who predicted that the technology could be in widespread use within five years.
So far, the use of LEDs has been predominantly in outdoor settings. Toronto, Raleigh, Ann Arbor, and Anchorage— not to mention Tianjin, China, and Torraca, Italy— have adopted LEDs for street and parking garage lighting, forsaking the yellow glow of traditional high-pressure sodium lamps. Three major California cities— Los Angeles (140,000 streetlights), San Jose (62,000), and San Francisco (30,000)— have embarked on some LED conversions.
Ann Arbor adopted the technology early, working with Relume Technologies, of Oxford, Michigan, to design LEDs that would fit the globes of downtown fixtures. The $515 cost of installing each light will be paid back in reduced maintenance and electrical costs in four years and four months, said Mike Bergren, the city’s field-operations manager.
Because the light from LEDs can be modulated, in Ann Arbor they have been programmed to perform various useful tricks— to become brighter when someone walks under a light or to flicker outside of a home to guide paramedics to an emergency. And because they do not emit ultraviolet light, they attract no bugs. People who live around Carolina Pines Park in Raleigh say they are pleased with the park’s new LED lights because they can be directed downward, away from home windows.
The lights are also rapidly moving indoors, where they could have an enormous effect on climate change. About twenty percent of carbon dioxide emissions associated with buildings in the United States and the United Kingdom are related to indoor lighting; in some houses the number is as high as forty percent.
This month, LED lights were for the first time the centerpiece at two of the world’s major trade shows for lighting, Lightfare International in New York and EuroLuce in Milan. A growing number of builders are starting to fit them into public buildings, offices and homes.
Ted Van Hyning, director of event technology at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, said the new LED lights in the hotel’s conference rooms use ten percent of the electricity of the fluorescent lights they replaced. And maintenance costs are far lower: a fluorescent bulb might last 3,000 hours, while an LED fixture lasts more than 100,000 hours, Mr. Van Hyning said, adding: “We have six-figure energy costs a year, and these lights could represent a huge saving. Besides, they’re cool and sexy and fun.”
Buoyed by the improvements in the technology, Peter Byrne, a lighting designer and energy consultant for Buckingham Palace, installed the 32,000 custom LEDs in the ceiling of the grand stairwell when older fixtures wore out. Mr. Byrne recognizes that Buckingham Palace is not the average home. “They need high-quality light— they have a lot of gold,” he said, “and gold tends to look silver if you light it poorly.” Still he has started using the technology in other projects, for their light and their environmental benefit. He estimates that half of lights in homes, and particularly those in offices and stores can already be replaced by LEDs. “At this point, LEDs can’t be used in all lights, but that’s changing every month,” Mr. Byrne said. “If you go into Wal-Mart and look at all those twin eight-foot fluorescents above every aisle, you realize that the potential is enormous.”

New Dutch Masters

Rico says click the post title for a New York Times magazine article on a new 'Dutch master' photo exhibit.

Turning the tables

From today's cartoon in the sidebar:

Better late than never, maybe

CNN.com has an article by Bob Kovach about a Buffalo Soldier getting his reward, finally:
Missing for decades, the remains of Corporal Isaiah Mays, a Buffalo Soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, were laid to rest Friday at Arlington National Cemetery. Paying respects were African-American veterans, US Army soldiers, and those who rode for days as part of a motorcycle escort, members of the Missing in America Project, who traveled from as far away as California and Arizona at their own expense to make sure Mays got a proper burial. None was a relative, but they consider themselves his brothers. They stood shoulder to shoulder in an older section of the cemetery, surrounded by the graves of veterans from wars long ago. Some came in Army dress blue uniforms. Others wore uniforms like those worn by the Buffalo Soldiers, who served in the legendary all-black Army units formed after the Civil War.
The crowd stood witness as a color guard folded the American flag and saluted when three rifle volleys pierced the air. A bugler, surrounded by the graves of other fallen heroes, played Taps. William McCurtis, the regimental sergeant major of a Buffalo Soldier reenactment group, voiced perhaps the sentiment of everyone who came: "One more out of 6,000 has had his day of recognition. We need to get the rest recognized."
Mays was born a slave in Virginia in 1858, but spent most of his life west of the Mississippi, joining the famed Buffalo Soldiers as the black cavalry and infantry troops fought in the frontier Indian Wars. In 1889, he was part of a small detachment assigned to protect an Army pay wagon, which was caught in an ambush by a band of bandits. A gunfight ensued, and almost all the soldiers were wounded or killed. Mays was shot in both legs. The bandits made off with $29,000 in gold coins. Despite his wounds, Mays managed to walk and crawl two miles to a ranch to seek help. He was awarded a Medal of Honor on 15 February 1890. More than twenty Buffalo Soldiers have received the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor; no other unit has won more.
Mays left the Army in 1893 and many years later applied for a federal pension. But he was denied. He was committed to an Arizona state hospital that cared for the mentally ill, tuberculosis patients, and the indigent. When he died in 1925, Mays was buried in the hospital cemetery in a grave marked only with a number. Years later, a small group of hospital staff and veterans located his grave and arranged for a formal ceremony on Memorial Day 2001. They were determined that Mays should not be forgotten. A few weeks ago, after receiving court permission, volunteers dug up Mays' remains and transported them from Arizona to Washington so he could be buried with honor at Arlington. After the ceremony, those who gathered to honor Mays posed for photographs and, like good soldiers, they congratulated each other for a hard-won battle. Corporal Isaiah Mays was finally home.
Rico says it's what he deserved...

Finally, justice

An al-Reuters story in The New York Times covers the sentencing of Phil Spector:
Eccentric music producer Phil Spector was given a sentence of nineteen years to life in prison for the murder of a Hollywood actress in 2003. Spector, 69, who revolutionized pop music in the 1960s with his layered Wall of Sound production technique, was convicted in April of second-degree murder by a Los Angeles jury after a second trial. The first trial ended in a deadlock in 2007. Lana Clarkson, 40, a B-movie actress, died of a shot to the mouth, fired from Spector's gun in the foyer of his mock castle home outside Los Angeles on 3 February 2003. The two had met hours earlier at a Hollywood nightclub.
The sentence means that Spector must spend at least nineteen years in prison before being eligible for parole. If not paroled, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Spector, who worked with The Ronettes, The Beatles, Cher, and Leonard Cohen at the height of his fame, denied murdering Clarkson, but did not testify at either trial. He has been held in custody since his 13 April conviction, after being free on bail following his arrest in 2003. Prosecutors said the shooting of Clarkson was part of a pattern of gun play and violence that Spector displayed toward women over the past twenty years, saying he had a problem with rage and was "a bully". Spector's lawyers claimed that Clarkson was depressed about her failing career and had committed suicide.
She worked as a hostess at the House of Blues in Hollywood when she met the man who produced songs like the Righteous Brothers' hit You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. Clarkson starred in such little-known movies as Barbarian Queen and Amazon Women on the Moon. Clarkson's family has also filed a wrongful death civil suit against Spector which has yet to be heard.
Spector had a troubled early life. His father committed suicide, his sister spent time in mental institutions and Spector suffered bouts of severe depression. Shortly before Clarkson was shot, Spector told British journalist Mick Brown in a rare interview that he had a bipolar personality and had "devils that fight inside me".
In 2006, he quietly wed for the fourth time, marrying model/actress Rachelle Short, who is about thirty years his junior.
Rico says it's about time...

Civil War for the day

The public baths (and much needed) at the 140th of Gettysburg.

29 May 2009

A metaphor, perhaps

Rico says there are old movies and there are good movies, and sometimes there are good old movies like 1975's The Wind and The Lion, directed by John Milius and starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen.
Some may see this as an allegory of recent events, with Islam taking its rightful place in the world by killing women and children. They, however, might not have noticed the companies of hard-eyed Marines blowing away Arabs with great abandon... (Milius changed Ion Pedicaris to Eden Pedicaris to make the story have something of a love interest; Ion wasn't very cute. Per the article in Wikipedia: "The respectful and even friendly relationship between Eden Perdicaris and Raisuli (if not their implied romance) was essentially factual, as the real Perdicaris and his captor grew to be friends during the incident.")
Rico says you should rent it and watch it, not just for the great story and incredible cinematography, but the pertinent dialog...

Bummer of a well-paying job

Diana Henriques has an article in The New York Times about the fallout from the Madoff case:
The Ponzi scheme’s victims denounce him as cold-hearted, dishonest, and just plain wrong. No, they are not describing Bernard Madoff, the author of the fraud that has ruined their lives. They are criticizing Irving Picard, the New York lawyer and trustee who has been appointed to represent their interests in the tangled scandal. As claims flow in from thousands of victims, Mr. Picard and his legal team are quietly making life-shaping decisions every day. They decide who will be paid quickly, who will be paid eventually, who will not be paid at all, and who will be asked to pay back money they got years ago. It is not a job for the thin-skinned.
“Cold, cold, cold,” one writer said of Mr. Picard in an open letter on a website. “Get off your false moral high ground and pay already,” another demanded, in comments posted on The New York Times website.
A third critic, a lawyer and Madoff victim named Helen Davis Chaitman, complained that her clients “have been forced to go on welfare, use food stamps, and sell their homes for a fraction of what they are worth” because claims were being paid too slowly.
“He’s standing in the middle of a whirlwind of emotion and has to act like Solomon,” said Kenneth Feinberg, who ran the federal compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and perhaps has the best idea of what the Madoff trustee’s job entails. Like Mr. Feinberg in his day, Mr. Picard must work both in public— primarily in the federal courts in Manhattan— and in private, at the offices of Baker Hostetler in an Art Deco office tower in Rockefeller Center. His public work has made headlines: Seeking to recover more than $10.1 billion, Mr. Picard has sued several prominent Madoff victims, accusing them of being willing beneficiaries of the fraud. He has settled with two offshore hedge funds and gathered a total of $1.25 billion for victims, so far. And he has created a hardship program to speed compensation to victims facing serious financial emergencies, like the loss of medical care or foreclosure. In the first two weeks of that program, 59 out of 144 hardship requests have been approved. Until now, the most demanding and delicate part of Mr. Picard’s work— creating a process for determining who will get up to $500,000 in upfront compensation— has been done largely out of the public eye. Mr. Picard could defend the need for privacy. He was working in a crime scene and sharing records with law enforcement. But with the claims-paying machine finally in shape— and approaching a cruising speed of nearly one hundred cases a week— Mr. Picard agreed to talk publicly about how it operates. “It has taken us awhile to get to this point,” he acknowledged. “But I think we are getting into a rhythm now where we can move things along more quickly.”
As recently as 17 April, only thirty claims had been processed, out of more than 8,800 filed. By Thursday night, with more than fifty people now working on the process, that number was 251, up from 139 ten days ago, according to Mr. Picard’s team.
The pipeline begins at a Dallas center operated by AlixPartners, a corporate consultant that is providing logistical and administrative support. About ten claims arrive each day, but Todd Brents, the director of the center, said his staff was bracing for a surge as the 2 July filing deadline approaches. Each customer’s claim is entered into a central database that allows lawyers and investigators in several locations to work simultaneously. It must be matched against the account history that the trustee’s team has reconstructed from the records found in Mr. Madoff’s offices. Records from before 1996 are on microfilm, which must be printed and scanned into the computers. Bank records go back only seven years. It can be painstaking work.
On problematic claims, Mr. Picard may then call in forensic experts at FTI Consulting, based in West Palm Beach, Florida, to investigate whether an account is tied to Madoff family members or other insiders, for example.
The claim is also reviewed online by staff at the Securities Investors Protection Corporation, the industry-financed agency chartered by Congress to oversee brokerage firm failures. After all, Mr. Picard is spending SIPC’s money. While bankruptcy trustees and their expenses are ordinarily paid from the debtor’s estate, SIPC is paying all the bills in the Madoff liquidation, using money collected from member brokerage firms, not from taxpayers or creditors. The agency also pays up to $500,000 in upfront compensation to eligible customers, who must otherwise wait for reimbursement of additional losses until they can divide the assets Mr. Picard recovers through litigation.
As of Thursday, Mr. Picard had verified customer losses totaling $759.5 million in claims. Most applicants so far have qualified for the maximum benefit, bringing SIPC’s total commitment to $122.1 million. But the decisions don’t satisfy everyone— not by a long shot. Victims who invested through feeder funds are not eligible for SIPC coverage, but think they should be. Although he almost certainly must turn them down, Mr. Picard has encouraged them to file claims anyway in case the courts side with them after the ironclad filing deadline has passed. And many victims, like Ms. Chaitman, are fiercely disputing the formula Mr. Picard is using to measure claims. They say that losses should be based on the last account statement received by victims before the fraud collapsed, which totaled almost $65 billion.
But those final balances are the result of nonexistent investments and fictional profits. Mr. Picard and SIPC say they must therefore limit claims to the difference between the cash paid in and taken out of an account. There is the widespread fear among some— unfounded, Mr. Picard says— that he will sue struggling charities or people of limited means for money they withdrew in the past but no longer have. With SIPC paying the bills, clawbacks will be pursued only if there is a reasonable prospect of a significant recovery, he said.
The best way for Mr. Picard to tame the ferocious criticism is to get as much money as possible into victims’ hands quickly. But even if he does that, he should not expect applause, warned Mr. Feinberg, the former special master for the 9/11 fund. “I told my staff at the fund: with this kind of pain, don’t expect a ‘thank you,’ don’t expect a ‘well done,’ ” he said. “The idea that they’re going to be grateful, to be satisfied? Not in this life.”

Yet more self-delusion from Microsoft

The New York Times has another article about Bing from Miguel Helft:
“Why don’t you Bing it?” A year from now, if you hear someone say that— and actually understand what it means— Bill Gates will be a happy billionaire. That is because it will be a sign that Microsoft is finally making progress in its quest to challenge Google in the Internet search business.
Bing, the name Microsoft gave to the new search service it unveiled Thursday, is its answer to Google— a noun that once meant little but has become part of the language as a verb that is a synonym for executing a web search. After months of, uh, searching, Microsoft settled on Bing to replace the all-too-forgettable Live Search, which itself replaced MSN Search. Microsoft invested billions of dollars in those services and failed to slow Google’s rise, so a new name certainly can’t hurt.
Microsoft’s marketing gurus hope that Bing will evoke neither a type of cherry nor a strip club on The Sopranos but rather a sound— the ringing of a bell that signals the “aha” moment when a search leads to an answer.
The name is meant to conjure “the sound of found” as Bing helps people with complex tasks like shopping for a camera, said Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s online audience business group. And if Bing turns into a verb like, say, Xerox, TiVo, or, well, Google, that would be nice too. Steven Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said Thursday that he liked Bing’s potential to “verb up.” Plus, he said, “it works globally, and doesn’t have negative, unusual connotations.”
Some branding experts said choosing the name Bing was a good start, but also the easiest part of the challenge facing the company, since most people turn to Google without even thinking about it. Michael Cronan, whose consulting firm helped come up with brands like TiVo and Amazon’s Kindle, said Bing’s sound, brevity, and “ing” ending were all positives. “It has a promise that you are going to find what you are looking for, and that’s great,” Mr. Cronan said. “But its success is entirely wrapped up in the quality of the experience that Microsoft can deliver.”
Peter Sealey, a former chief marketing officer at the Coca-Cola Company, said Microsoft should have picked a name that more directly connotes search. “Bing has no equity; it signals nothing,” Mr. Sealey said. “It is going to be an enormous expense to create an image for this thing called Bing.”
Google’s name is a play on the word googol, which is a one followed by one hundred zeroes. The company has said the name speaks to its ambitious mission to organize all the world’s information. Asked about Microsoft’s choice of name at a press conference on Wednesday, Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder, said he did not know enough about the new service to comment on it. Then he deadpanned: “We’ve been pretty happy with the name Google.”
Meanwhile, some tech people were already noting that Bing is also an unfortunate acronym: “But It’s Not Google.”
Rico says damn, he missed that great acronym...

Kicking them to the curb where they belong

Rico says no one loves AOL, and an article by Richard Pérez-Peña in The New York Times tells why even Time-Warner doesn't any more:
Time Warner’s announcement on Thursday that it will spin off AOL was the much-anticipated divorce filing for a multibillion-dollar corporate marriage that came to symbolize an entire era in American business, but that had long been acknowledged as a failure. The company argued that, despite the hype and hosannas that greeted the merger announcement in January 2000, the intervening decade has proved that each piece will be better off going its own way.
The split, which Time Warner executives have said for months was coming, gave a last echo of the dot-com bubble, which burst in the months after the merger was announced. That deal, one of the biggest in history, came at the height of a national infatuation with Internet and media stocks, a time whose reasoning is hard to recall after living through the ensuing bust and boom and in the depths of a severe recession. The merger was fed by heady ideas that did not quite pan out— that big online audiences would necessarily yield big profits, and that there were profound synergies to be had by owning different media.
Jeffrey Bewkes, Time Warner’s chief executive, has set about paring down one of the world’s largest media conglomerates, in particular shedding delivery mechanisms. The company spun off its cable television subsidiary in March. And AOL, though much-reduced in size, remains a supplier of Internet service to millions of people. “We’re focusing the company now on its core content businesses— TV and film production, television networks, and publishing,” Mr. Bewkes said Thursday at the company’s annual meeting. But in other recent comments, he has not ruled out also selling the company’s magazine arm, Time Inc., one of the world’s largest publishers. He added that “for AOL, becoming a standalone company will give it more focus and more strategic flexibility.” It could also make it easier for AOL to attract talent and raise capital. He said the details of the spinoff had not been determined but that he expected it to be completed around the end of the year. With AOL’s revenue and profit shrinking steadily for years, analysts have called it a drag on Time Warner’s stock price. The stock closed Thursday at $23.55, up 55 cents.
“There’s still a substantial business at AOL, but Time Warner investors are giving it little to no— potentially negative— value, so separating out should be a positive,” said Richard Greenfield, a managing director of Pali Capital Research. “It won’t be worth nothing, and people have viewed it as worth nothing, or even a liability.” More important, he said, was the message that Mr. Bewkes is pursuing a clear, well-understood strategy. “They said they were going to get rid of cable. They said they were going to get rid of AOL. And they’re doing it,” he said.
AOL was built on dial-up Internet service, a once-booming and now almost-forgotten business. And like many dot-coms in the 1990s, its stock price ballooned far out of proportion to its financial performance. Before the merger, AOL’s market capitalization was more than twice Time Warner’s, but it had less than one-quarter the revenue of its new partner.
When the merger was announced in 2000, the two companies had a combined market value of more than $300 billion. By the time the deal was consummated in 2001, with Internet stocks plunging and recession taking hold, that had fallen more than $100 billion. Today, the combined market capitalization of Time Warner and the new Time Warner Cable is less than $40 billion.
Steve Case, the AOL chief and co-founder, who was chairman of the merged company until 2003, has been publicly advocating splitting them again since 2005. On Twitter on Thursday, he insisted that the combination could have worked as planned but was poorly run. In one tweet, he wrote, “Thomas Edison: Vision without execution is hallucination. Pretty much sums up AOL/TW failure of leadership (myself included).”
Time Warner’s strategy for AOL has mirrored the entire company’s— a move away from delivery and toward content. It has hired prominent journalists to build a series of online magazines, trying to capitalize on the stream of visitors to its site.
For three years, AOL has been steadily getting out of the business of paid Internet service, becoming more reliant on advertising sales, but that strategy has been hampered by the worst advertising slump in generations. In March, Time Warner named a new chairman and chief executive of AOL, Tim Armstrong, who had headed advertising sales at Google.
AOL has about 6 million paying subscribers in the United States, down from 13 million at the end of 2006. Last year, for the first time, subscription revenue was smaller than ad revenue. Over all, AOL had $4.2 billion in revenue last year, down from $9.1 billion in 2002.
Time Warner as a whole, including the cable unit that is now a separate company, had $47 billion in revenue last year.
Rico says it's an unlamented divorce from a mistake of a marriage...

Look stupid, please, so we'll recognize you

The New York Times has an editorial about new stupid regulations:
A dour turning in this era of ultrasecurity has motor vehicle officials in four states banning open-faced smiles on photo identification licenses. Other states installing high-tech facial recognition programs may follow the lead of Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada, and Virginia in insisting that the citizenry pose with “neutral facial expressions".
Grin, however, and there’ll be retakes until an outlook closer to Grant Wood’s American Gothic is achieved.
The high-tech software is designed to compare a new license photo with existing ones and signal officials when false or stolen identities may be in the works. The technology gets thrown off the track by smiles. So good citizens must stash their exuberance and wax bland in the interests of personal and national security.
Like everything else from plumbing rules to highway speeds, state definitions of a smile are bound to vary. The merest hint of something short of bemusement may make it in Arkansas, one bureaucrat allowed, but no teeth showing and don’t even think of grinning large. Virginia opts to be decidedly unamused. Its camera setting “will send an error message if it detects a non-neutral expression,” an official sternly told a reporter for The Washington Post.
In the modern state of heightened wariness, staring like a dullard sounds no more demeaning than walking in your socks through airport security. Most smiles offered up after toiling through the average DMV labyrinth are forced, anyway.
So frown. And have a nice day.
Rico says he wonders what moron is so gleeful (unless he's sixteen and it's his first license) that he smiles for the DMV camera?

Guantánamo, the threat

The New York Times has an article by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann about the situation in Guantánamo:
Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul and Said Ali al-Shihri may be the two best arguments for why releasing detainees from Guantánamo poses a real risk to America. Mr. Rasoul, who was transferred to Afghanistan in 2007 and then released by the Kabul government, is now the commander of operations for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Mr. Shihri, sent back to his native Saudi Arabia in 2007, is now a leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. Are these two men exceptional cases, or are they emblematic of a much larger problem of dangerous terrorists who, if released, will “return to the battlefield”? To help answer that question, a Pentagon report made public on Tuesday concluded that 74 of the 534 men who have been freed from Guantánamo were “confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activities.” This is a recidivism rate of around fourteen percent, which was up from the Pentagon’s previous estimate in January of eleven percent.
But are things this bad? While we must be careful about who is released, these numbers are very likely inflated. This is in part because the Pentagon includes on the list any released prisoner who is either “confirmed” or just “suspected” to have engaged in terrorism anywhere in the world, whether those actions were directed at the United States or not. And, bizarrely, the Defense Department has in the past even lumped into the recidivist category former prisoners who have done no more than criticize the United States after their release.
Because of national security concerns, the new report does not include the names of the majority of those believed to have engaged in violence, some 45 of the 74. There is surely some legitimacy to that claim. Yet the omissions make it hard to scrutinize the report. That said, thanks to previous Pentagon documents and other public records, we do have a good picture of what the 29 men the report does name have been up to.
First, nearly half of the men on the new list— 14 of the 29— are listed as being “suspected” of terrorist activities, which makes “recidivist” a fairly vague definition. Next, the acts that at least nine of the 29 are either known or suspected of having been involved with were not directed at America or at our immediate allies in our current wars, the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
This group includes men like Ravil Gumarov and Timur Ishmurat, who were convicted in 2006 of blowing up a gas pipeline in Russia. Another former detainee, Ruslan Odijev, was shot by the authorities in the city of Nalchik in the Russian North Caucasus, who suspected he had taken part in a murderous raid against government security forces in 2005. Another Russian, Almasm Sharipov, made the list for “association” with Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamic organization that is not considered a terrorist group by the United States.
Eleven other men named in the report are Saudis who were put on a “most wanted” list the kingdom issued with much fanfare in February. While two of them have clearly taken up jihad against America, the other nine stand accused of fomenting resistance only to the monarchy, according to Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a top American expert on the Saudi program for the rehabilitation of terrorists, who said “None of these guys has engaged in violence.”
In the end, the Pentagon has given out the names of only twelve former detainees who can be independently confirmed to have taken part in terrorist acts directed at American targets, and eight others suspected of such acts. This is about four percent of the 534 men who have been released. Obviously, the percentage would be higher if we were able to factor in the former detainees whose names were withheld. Yet it seems fair to say that the much-hyped fourteen percent figure is likely a large overstatement of former Guantánamo inmates who have taken up arms.
Now, some Americans may argue that even a one percent recidivism rate from Guantánamo would be too high, while others will point out that this rate compares quite favorably to that of the United States writ large, as some two-thirds of people released from prison here are rearrested within three years. We make neither of these arguments. Rather, our point is that the Pentagon should be as accurate as possible about how many of those released pose a threat to America. This is the only way that policy makers can make informed choices about closing Guantánamo, revising military commissions, deporting or repatriating prisoners, or moving them to the United States, and keeping our nation safe.
Rico says one can argue the percentages all you want, or you can play it safe and move them halfway back across the ocean...

History for the day

On 29 May 1953, Chomolungma (Mount Everest) was conquered when (later Sir) Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal became the first climbers to reach the summit.

Rico knows from cutbacks

The New York Times has an article by Michael Luo about families having to 'make do with less':
The Ferrells have cut back on dance lessons for their twin daughters. Vaccinations for the family’s two cats and two dogs are out. Haircuts have become a luxury. And before heading out recently to the discount grocery store that has become the family’s new lifeline, Sharon Ferrell checked her bank account balance one more time, dialing the toll-free number from memory. “Your available balance for withdrawal is $490.40,” the disembodied electronic voice informed her.
At the store, with that number firmly in mind, she punched the price of each item into a calculator as she dropped it into her cart, making sure she stayed under her limit. It was all part of a new regimen of fiscal restraint for the Ferrells, begun in January, when state workers, including Mrs. Ferrell’s husband, Jeff, were forced to accept two-day-a-month furloughs.
For millions of families, this is the recession: not a layoff, or a drastic reduction in income, but a pay cut that has forced them to thrash through daily calculations similar to the Ferrells’. Even if workers have managed to avoid being laid off, many employers have cut back in other ways, reducing employees’ hours, imposing furloughs and even sometimes trimming salaries.
About 6.7 million people were working fewer than 35 hours a week in April because of “slack work or business conditions,” nearly double the number a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent survey of 518 large companies by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting firm, found sixteen percent had cut pay and twenty percent had cut hours or imposed furloughs, far more than the firm has seen in previous recessions. (The actual percentage of workers affected is likely to be significantly lower.)
Some have managed to absorb the shrinking of their paychecks with minimal pain, especially households where a second income has helped cushion the blow. Melissa Saavedra, a customer service technician for the City of Redlands, California, who normally earned about $38,000 a year, took a ten percent pay cut along with other city workers in January. In part because Ms. Saavedra’s husband was still employed at an electronics company, the family of five had so far made only modest adjustments. She and her husband take their lunch to work now; she tries to buy meat on sale at the grocery and clips coupons. “We probably had extra money left over every month,” she said. “Now there’s less of that money, but we’re still O.K.”
For families like the Ferrells, however, who were already just a car repair or an appliance breakdown away from falling behind, even a modest step down can bring hard choices. The furloughs meant a roughly nine percent reduction to Mr. Ferrell’s $72,000-a-year salary as an industrial hygienist, in which he evaluates health hazards in the workplace. The couple and their two sets of twins— the older twins are seven and the younger are 20 months— have had to make do with about $450 less per month.
Should they cut the $315 a month they were spending on ballet lessons for the older twins? What about the $55 a month for the satellite television service they had because they could not get regular cable in their semi-rural home here about 40 miles outside of Sacramento?
Rising living expenses over the last few years had mostly exhausted the family’s savings and led to several thousand dollars in credit card debt. The Ferrells had only recently begun to relax a bit after Mr. Ferrell, 55, received a five percent raise in December. But the furloughs, which are slated to extend at least to mid-2010, took away the raise and then some, dropping Mr. Ferrell’s take-home pay to $4,856 a month from $5,308.
In January, the couple sat down at their computer in their cluttered living room and waded through their major bills, including the mortgage, utilities and car insurance. The Ferrells concluded they had just $1,200 a month left over to cover everything else, from groceries to diapers. Many of their remaining expenses seemed impossible to reduce by much, like the roughly $360 a month for gas. It quickly became apparent how little the family had left over for necessities like food. “People just say: ‘Oh, it’s just a ten percent pay cut. Cut the fat out of your budget,’ ” Mrs. Ferrell said. “But we’ve cut the fat. We’ve cut the fat all along, and so this is really pushing us close to the bone now.”
Mrs. Ferrell began mapping out family dinners a month in advance on a refrigerator whiteboard. Instead of grocery shopping at regular supermarkets, she began loading up her minivan once a month at WinCo, a giant, no-frills discount grocery chain. “That way I can control exactly what I buy,” she said. “I make menus so that I don’t over-shop, or don’t impulse-purchase at the store.”
Mrs. Ferrell estimated the approach saves the family as much as $200 a month.
When the Ferrells told the children’s dance teacher they might have to take a break, she let them attend free for a month. Eventually, the couple decided to continue to pay for lessons, on a reduced schedule, which saved $65 a month.
“They’re little girls, and they shouldn’t have to worry about it,” Mr. Ferrell said. “They should be able to enjoy their childhood. They only get the one.” The couple decided to keep the satellite television because of the children’s programming.
But Mrs. Ferrell has not had a haircut in six months; Mr. Farrell longer than that. They have also cut back on trims for the older twins. “We put a lot of conditioner in,” Mrs. Ferrell said.
When the family ran short on sliced bread, Mrs. Ferrell hauled out the breadmaker. She takes few pictures of their toddlers now, because of the cost of film and developing. The Dollar Store has become a regular stop. The air-conditioning in Mrs. Ferrell’s minivan broke recently. Instead of fixing it, she tries to drive only when it is cool out, or go to places where she knows she can park in the shade.
In the end, a stash of savings bonds that Mrs. Ferrell’s grandparents gave her as a child, which the couple had hoped to save for a home renovation, has become the family’s salvation. In late March, Mrs. Ferrell redeemed one for $2,300. She calculates that at their current rate they have enough bonds to last another year. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, is proposing an additional five percent salary cut. Mrs. Ferrell hopes her family can simply hang on.

Let God sort 'em out

The New York Times has an article by Ismail Khan and Salman Massod about the Taliban:
Multiple bombs exploded in two Pakistani cities on Thursday, just hours after Taliban groups warned people to evacuate several large cities, saying they were preparing “major" attacks. The groups also claimed responsibility for a bloody attack in Lahore a day earlier that killed at least 26 people. Three bombs detonated in Peshawar, northwest of Pakistan’s capital, and one exploded in Dera Ismail Khan, in the country’s troubled west, killing at least eleven people and wounding dozens.
The attacks were reminders of the potency of militants in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed American ally that is fighting a war against the Taliban in its north and west. Pakistan is central to American policy in this region; militants in its lawless tribal areas cross the border into Afghanistan, where the United States is fighting a similar insurgency.
Hakimullah Mehsud, a young Taliban commander and lieutenant of Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, said that more attacks would follow the one in Lahore, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported. Hakimullah Mehsud, who spoke from an undisclosed location, claimed responsibility for the Lahore bombing. “We want the people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Multan to leave those cities, as we plan major attacks against government facilities in the coming days and weeks,” he was quoted as saying in a telephone call to Reuters. He said the Lahore attack was a response to Pakistan’s military campaign against the Taliban in Swat, an area northwest of the capital, which was overrun by militants this year. “We have been looking for a target from the day the military launched the operation in Swat,” he said.
Another Taliban group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab, also claimed responsibility, saying Thursday in a posting on a Turkish militant website that it had staged the assault in Lahore.
The leader of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was in Lahore on Thursday, said in a statement that the country would not be terrorized and that the army remained committed to defeating insurgents. The state minister for information, Sumsam Bokhari, said the attacks were a sign of insurgent weakness. “We are winning the war, and that is why they are resorting to these desperate measures,” he said by telephone.
A copy of a preliminary police report on the Lahore bombing, obtained by The New York Times, said six attackers in a white Toyota van had fired at officials in a building that housed an emergency-response unit. Three attackers escaped while the other three detonated the explosives-laden van, the report said, killing themselves.
The first of the triple bombings in Peshawar occurred at 6:30 p.m., at a secondhand electronics market. Minutes later in the same area, a bomb on a motorcycle exploded near an ice cream shop. The two bombs killed five people and wounded 73, the authorities said. The bomb disposal squad’s chief, Shafqat Mehmood, said both bombs were on timers.
The police said they chased two men they believed to be responsible and killed them. Later, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed car into a police checkpoint on the outskirts of the city, killing three police officers and wounding three more. The police noticed another man advancing suspiciously toward the checkpoint, said Safwat Ghayyur, a police official. “Our men warned the young man approaching the post to stop and, when he did not, they fired at him, killing him on the spot,” he said. In Dera Ismail Khan, a bomb planted in the city’s town hall killed three and wounded seven, Dawn News reported.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said “such cowardly acts could not weaken the government’s resolve to stamp out terrorism.”
The post title is from the famous quote: Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. (Kill them all. God will know His own.)
Arnold Amaury, theologian, to Simon de Montfort at the massacre of Béziers, Languedoc, 22 July 1209

Rico says and never more appropriate than now...
 

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