30 June 2009

Go buy a bunch; Christmas is coming

Adapted and performed by Timothy Patrick Miller, an award-winning voice actor and story teller & a critically acclaimed creator and performer of one-person shows, these stories were originally published in 1909.
Enlisting in the 9th Indiana Volunteers in 1861, Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce became a topographical engineer in Hazen's Brigade. Rising to the rank of Lieutenant, he saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Western Campaign, including Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Kennesaw Mountain, where he was severely wounded. Following the war, he moved to San Francisco and began a career as a journalist. He also wrote books and stories, often with a macabre theme. His Devil's Dictionary justified the nickname of 'Bitter Bierce', but his Civil War remembrances showed the depth of the emotional scars he carried to his grave.
The CD contains the famous Bierce story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, along with A Son of the Gods and A Horseman in the Sky. Available from CCNow for a mere $9.95 plus shipping.

Rico can see why

ABCNews.com, among others, has the story of the Argentinian woman who caused the governor of South Carolina to spend state money on an affair:
Maria Belen Chapur, a former television producer, remains under the radar because of intense media scrutiny surrounding her. But in a brief statement conveyed through a television report on Buenos Aires' C5N channel, the 41-year-old said she indeed was involved with Sanford and that the published e-mail correspondence between the two was obtained from her account by a hacker.
The former journalist did not directly acknowledge the affair or mention the embattled governor's name, saying she won't speak about her private life, which has already been made too public and painful. But her statement offered extensive details about how the "the author of this evil action" broke into her e-mail account. She denied that the hacker was a friend of hers.
Chapur's friends and colleagues told ABC News she is a sophisticated and intelligent woman, and that the relationship between the two was simply a matter of love. Chapur is "refined and professional," said news anchor Eduardo Feinmann, to whom Chapur sent her statement. He added that he wasn't shocked when he heard about the affair, and thinks she might really be in love.
Sanford said in a tearful press conference last Wednesday that he had known the woman, whom he didn't identify by name, for years, but that the relationship only turned romantic in the last year. The governor said he met her three times over the last year.
Rico says that, given what she looks like, he can certainly see how Sanford did what he did, having done exactly the same thing (no state money, but whilst married) with a woman whose three names started with Maria and who strongly resembled Ms. Chapur...

Oh what a surprise

MSNBC.com has an Access Hollywood article about Jacko:
Less than a week after Michael Jackson’s sudden death, multiple reports are beginning to surface that question whether Michael Jackson is the biological father of any of his children. One report even states that ex-wife Debbie Rowe is not the biological mother of two of the singer’s children to whom she gave birth. According to a report in Us Weekly, multiple sources claim to the magazine that Jackson’s dermatologist (and Rowe’s former boss), Arnold Klein, is the biological father to Prince Michael, 12, and Paris, 11. “He is the dad,” a Jackson source claimed to the mag. “He and Debbie signed an agreement saying they would never reveal the truth.” When contacted by Us Weekly, Klein would not comment.
Access Hollywood spoke with Klein’s publicist who confirmed that Klein was a very close friend of Jackson’s for twenty years. The publicist said that Klein is grieving right now, and that his attorney will not let him speak until the dust settles and the coroner’s report comes out. According to a report by TMZ.com, the Jackson children’s biological family tree is actually even more of a mystery. The website claims that, in addition to not fathering his two eldest children, that Jackson did not father his youngest, Prince Michael II, 7, either. TMZ also claims that Rowe is not the biological mother of Prince Michael and Paris. TMZ cites multiple sources in claiming all three Jackson children, “were conceived in vitro— outside the womb,” using a sperm donor and that Rowe’s eggs were not used. The website claims she was used as a surrogate and paid well for carrying the children.
As for Prince Michael II, TMZ reported the surrogate that Jackson used was not told to whom the baby she was carrying would go. Three days after the baby was born at Grossmont Hospital in San Diego County, a lawyer for Jackson reportedly picked up the baby and delivered the newborn to the singer. TMZ has also reported that it is not known if Jackson selected the donors himself or if he was unaware of whose sperm and egg was being used. The site goes on to claim that documents do exist outlining all of the arrangements surrounding the births of all three children. In addition to claiming that neither Jackson nor Rowe are biological parents to the three children, TMZ also claims that Jackson never filed the paperwork necessary to adopt the children.
Rico says lessee, fair skin, straight blonde hair, blue eyes, nah, they gotta be Michael's kids...

Universal crap, unfortunately

ZDNet has a post by Zack Whittaker about the latest change in plugs:
In a brave move, the vast majority of mobile phone manufacturers in Europe have signed an agreement which sees future mobile phones across a variety of brands and models all sharing the same charger port: the micro-USB. This means every phone you will find in Europe, starting next year apparently, will be fitted with the same charging port and be compatible with any charger. One charger for every EU mobile phone; fantastic news.
As of yet, the agreement is undertaken by such names as Nokia; Sony Ericsson; Motorola; Research in Motion, who make the BlackBerry (most BlackBerry devices already have this port); Samsung; and even Apple, which make the iPhone. What is surprising about the last company is that this may cause the end and death of the almighty Dock connector.
However, there is no legal reason why these companies can go ahead with using other ports. The agreement undertaken by these companies is not legally binding and only voluntary. On the other hand, this port agreement could open up different levels of possibility, as the micro-USB port is not only a charging port but can also be used as a data connector.
Rico says it's a great notion, but he already has one on the battery pack for his iPhone, and they suck; it's so tiny you can't tell which way is up, and it falls out...

Swatting the Taliban

al-Reuters has an article by Kamran Haider about Pakistan and the Taliban:
Pakistani soldiers are clearing the last pockets of Taliban in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, after two months of fighting, the military said. Fighting in the northwest has forced nearly two million people from their homes, most of them from the former tourist valley of Swat.
No Taliban leaders have been among the approximately 1,600 militants the army has reported killed in Swat. Independent casualty estimates are not available. A Swat Taliban spokesman said this week his leaders were alive and determined to fight on. Analysts say eliminating Taliban leaders is key to ending the insurgency. The government has announced rewards for eighteen senior Swat Taliban, including top leader Fazlullah. The army says it is out to kill them.
The army can hold main towns and roads, but militants can be expected to lurk in far-flung corners of the valley. The security forces are struggling to stop suicide bombers striking in main cities such as Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar, and the government has already said bomb attacks are likely in Swat even after the military officially winds up its operation there.
Soldiers are expected to remain in the valley for at least a year but the military, which is about to get embroiled in what is likely to be a much tougher fight against the Taliban leader in South Waziristan, will want to see police quickly assuming greater responsibilities.
The Taliban attacked poorly paid and equipped police in the run-up to the offensive, and some abandoned their posts. Doubts have been raised about the effectiveness of the police. Analysts also say it will be important to establish quickly a robust civil administration that should focus on some of the grievances that the Taliban exploited, including an ineffective judiciary.
The government has said power, gas, and phone lines are being restored and the displaced can start going home within days. The North West Frontier Province government is expected soon to make an announcement on when people can start going back. Authorities have said people will be allowed to go back to specific areas in phases. But aid workers say many of the displaced are worried about security and reluctant to go home, fearing the Taliban will make a comeback.
Rico says the whole thing reads like something out of The Man Who Would Be King...

Stupid site, great logo

InformationWeek has an article by Paul McDougall about the acquisition of The Pirate Bay by the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory X:
Swedish tech company Global Gaming Factory X said Tuesday that it has reached an agreement to acquire controversial file sharing outfit The Pirate Bay for about $7.7 million.
Global Gaming said it would introduce legitimate business models to Pirate Bay's Web site, which had become a haven for illegal file sharing. Pirate Bay's Swedish founders in April were ordered jailed for one year and fined $3.6 million.
"We would like to introduce models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid for content that is downloaded via the site," said Global Gaming CEO Hans Pandeya, in a statement. Padeya said Pirate Bay draws enormous amounts of Internet traffic but added that it needs to adopt legitimate business models to stay in operation. "The Pirate Bay site is among the top one hundred most visited Internet sites in the world. However, in order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model which satisfies that requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary," said Pandeya. "Content creators and providers need to control their content and get paid for it. File sharers need faster downloads and better quality," he added.
The deal could see The Pirate Bay evolve in a manner similar to that followed by Napster. A nexus for illegal peer-to-peer swapping several years ago, Napster was acquired by a string of legitimate vendors that instituted pay-to-play business models on the site.
Also Tuesday, Global Gaming said it agreed to acquire Peerialism, a Swedish company that specializes in the development of p2p file sharing technology. The move is not unrelated to Global Gaming's buyout of The Pirate Bay.
Rico says he couldn't care less about filesharing or games, but it's still a great logo...

The Southwest's little-known history

George Johnson has an article in The New York Times about Native American migrations:
From the sky, the Mound of the Cross at Paquimé, a 14th-century ruin in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, looks like a compass rose— the roundish emblem indicating the cardinal directions on a map. About thirty feet in diameter and molded from compacted earth and rock taken near the banks of the Casas Grandes River, the crisscross arms point to four circular platforms. They might as well be labeled N, S, E, and W.
“It’s a hell of a long way from here to Chaco,” says Steve Lekson, an archaeologist from the University of Colorado, as he sights along the north-south spoke of the cross. Follow his gaze 400 miles north and you reach Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, a major cultural center occupied from about A.D. 900 to A.D. 1150 by the pueblo people known as Anasazi. Despite the distance, Dr. Lekson believes the two sites were linked by an ancient pattern of migration and a common set of religious beliefs.
But don’t stop at Chaco. Continue about sixty miles northward along the same straight line and you come to another Anasazi center called Aztec Ruins. For Dr. Lekson the alignment must be more than a coincidence. A decade ago in The Chaco Meridian: Centers of Political Power in the Ancient Southwest, he argued that for centuries the Anasazi leaders, reckoning by the stars, aligned their principal settlements along this north-south axis— the 108th meridian of longitude. In an article this year for Archaeology magazine, he added two older ruins to the trajectory: Shabik’eschee, south of Chaco, and Sacred Ridge, north of Aztec. Each in its time was the regional focus of economic and political power, and each lies along the meridian. As one site was abandoned, because of drought, violence, environmental degradation— the reasons are obscure— the leaders led an exodus to a new location: sometimes north, sometimes south, but hewing as closely as they could to the 108th meridian.
“I think the reason is ideological,” Dr. Lekson said on a recent visit to Paquimé. “The cultural response to something not working is to move north, and when that doesn’t work you move south. And then you move north again and then you move south again, and then you finally say the hell with it, I’m out of here, and you go down to Chihuahua.”
For many of Dr. Lekson’s colleagues that is an awfully big leap. With all the ambiguities involved in interpreting patterns of dirt and rock— the Anasazi left no written history— archaeologists have been more comfortable focusing on a particular culture or a particular ruin. Dr. Lekson is constantly reaching— some say overreaching— to make connections between isolated islands of thought. Scheduled for publication this summer, his new book, A History of the Ancient Southwest, will go even further, offering a kind of unified theory of the Native American population movements that have puzzled Southwest archaeologists for many years.
“Steve has definitely been the one who has dragged us kicking and screaming into ‘big picture’ archaeology,” said William D. Lipe, emeritus professor of archaeology at Washington State University. “In many ways, Steve’s ideas and publications have driven much of the intellectual agenda for Southwestern archaeology over the last 20 or more years.” That does not mean, Dr. Lipe added, that he buys the idea of the Chaco meridian.
On a walk around Paquimé, Dr. Lekson points out his evidence. Casas Grandes, the Spanish name for the ruins, means “big houses,” and the multistory structures remind him of the palatial “great houses” at Chaco and Aztec. Inside the structures, people moved from room to room through T-shaped passages like those at Anasazi sites. At the House of the Pillars, a row of three colonnades formed a grand entranceway. “No one around here had colonnades except at Chaco,” Dr. Lekson says. A coincidence or a connection?
Paquimé also hints at other influences. Ball courts, used for ceremonial games, are typical of those found in southern Mexico and Central America. Effigy mounds, in which dirt was shaped to form birds and other figures, resemble those built long ago by Native Americans in the Ohio Valley. A long sinuous row of mud and stone called the Mound of the Serpent seems to undulate like a snake.
“This thing runs north and south,” Dr. Lekson says. “I love it.” He points toward a prominent hill on the horizon called Cerro de Moctezuma. Barely visible on its summit are the remains of a centuries-old stone watchtower. Nearby, he says, is another snakelike mound running north and south. “It’s not as easy to see,” he says. “You have to believe it.”
There is plenty of evidence that ancient Americans were keenly aware of the cardinal directions. Watch the night sky long enough and it becomes clear that there is one star that does not move while the others circle around it: the north star or Polaris. Motivated perhaps by this knowledge, some ceremonial structures at Chaco are aligned on north-south axes, and the earthen walls at Paquimé zig and zag as though, Dr. Lekson says, they were “laid out on giant graph paper or with the old children’s toy Etch A Sketch.” Throughout the Southwest, modern pueblo religions typically include four sacred mountains, one for each direction, and pueblo people tell stories of ancestors moving south because of bad things that happened in the north.
If these people had been “meridian compulsive,” as Dr. Lekson puts it, they had the astronomical knowledge to plot and follow a long straight line. “Lining things up is not an issue,” he says. “The question is why.”
Chaco Meridian came with a warning: “This book is not for the faint of heart, or for neophytes. If you are a practicing Southwestern archaeologist with hypertension problems, stop. Read something safe.” Few of Dr. Lekson’s colleagues heeded the advice.
“Steve is possibly the best writer in Southwest archaeology,” said David Phillips, curator of archaeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. “Our academic writing has this inherent gift of taking something interesting and making it dull and boring. And Steve doesn’t have that problem. He thinks outside the box, and the rest of us comb through his ideas. Having said all that,” Dr. Phillips added, “I personally think that the Chaco meridian is a crock.” In a vivisection of the theory, available online, Dr. Phillips laid out his objections. To begin with, the meridian is not exactly a straight line: if you zoom in, there are deviations of a few miles. Dr. Phillips also noted overlaps in the chronology of the rise and fall of the settlements. For example, Aztec, depicted in Dr. Lekson’s book as the last outpost before the southward migration, was still occupied when Paquimé began.
In a good-natured rejoinder, Dr. Lekson answered these and other points. It is no surprise, he said, that the meridian “wobbles.” Driven by the north-south compulsion, the leaders “did the best they could, lacking chronometers and GPS.” He also disagreed that the overlapping timeline was a problem: “If I were the High Panjandrum, I’d surely send a gang ahead to build a comfortable palace before I dragged my Royal Self over hill and dale to the new Pleasure Dome in Xanadu.”
Debates like this can go on forever. Where the two archaeologists fundamentally disagree is over how a theory should be constructed. To Dr. Phillips, Dr. Lekson is arguing more like a lawyer than a scientist— marshaling corroborating evidence for what he already has decided is true. “Anyone can take any position and find evidence,” Dr. Phillips said. “Done properly, science means that you stop yourself and figure out what the opposite is— the null hypothesis— and you prove the null hypothesis couldn’t possibly be true. By process of elimination, your desired outcome becomes more plausible. This gets back to Karl Popper. You can only falsify.”
But Dr. Lekson insists that archaeology can advance only by pushing beyond the Popperian ideal, trying to make sense of all the data with plausible accounts of what was happening historically in the ancient Southwest. “We were trained to treat ancient Pueblo societies like cultures in laboratory petri dishes,” he recently wrote. “Sprinkle the right amount of rainfall on the proper soil and up popped pueblos.” What has been neglected, he says, is an appreciation for the unquantifiable. “Unless you understand the broad outlines of the story— the history,” he says,— the questions you are asking could be pointless. “You may be answering them very, very nicely and staying close to the data and doing good conservative science, but you could be asking the wrong questions and wasting a lot of money and time doing it.” With its grand sweep, the new book, History of the Ancient Southwest, is vintage Lekson, and there is no reason to think the book will be any less controversial than the meridian theory, which forms but one thread of the saga. “Lots of people could do what I’m doing, but they are choosing not to,” Dr. Lekson said late one afternoon at Paquimé. “It’s professionally dangerous to some extent.” As he cracked open a Tecate, he described his frustrations at the slow pace of the field. “The Southwest is one of the most heavily studied archaeological regions in the world, bar none except maybe downtown Athens,” he said. “Per square mile, probably more money and time and energy and thought have been invested than anywhere else. If we can’t take a stab now and try to put everything together, we should probably just hang up our trowels and say, ‘Let’s quit. We’re not learning anything. We’re just spinning our wheels.’”
Rico says the photo is of Chaco Cañon in New Mexico; he's been there, too...

Lost and found

Sam Roberts has an article in The New York Times about a historian doing obscure but important work:
On the Avenue of the Americas, there is a block where the first cellphone call was completed in 1973. On West 125th Street, where the old Blumstein’s department store stood, nothing marks the place where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was stabbed in 1958. Then there is the spot on Fifth Avenue where Winston Churchill, crossing against the light, was struck by a car in 1931 and nearly killed. And what about the old Winter Garden Theater at 691 Broadway? In 1864, on the very night that Confederate sympathizers singled out the Lafarge Hotel next door in their plot to burn down New York, the Booth brothers— John Wilkes, Junius Brutus Jr. and Edwin— starred in Julius Caesar. The benefit performance, which was billed as the brothers’ sole joint engagement, raised $3,500 for the Shakespeare statue that still stands in Central Park.
Andrew Carroll, 39, an amateur historian, is embarking this week on a fifty-state journey to uncover, memorialize, and preserve these and other sites where history happened serendipitously, and which, for one reason or another, have been relegated to anonymity. “It’s sort of a reverse scavenger hunt,” he said. “Trying to find things that aren’t there.”
His nonprofit Here Is Where campaign, in collaboration with National Geographic Traveler, might seem quixotic, but so did two of his earlier efforts that proved to be immensely popular. In 1993, when he was an English major at Columbia, he founded the American Poetry and Literacy Project with Joseph Brodsky, the nation’s poet laureate. They distributed free poetry books across the country. Five years later, he launched the Legacy Project, a repository for soldiers’ wartime letters and e-mail messages home. Mr. Carroll’s latest crusade was inspired by a story he read fifteen years ago about a dramatic rescue that occurred during Abraham Lincoln’s first term as president. The president’s son Robert Todd Lincoln was about to board a sleeping car at Exchange Place in Jersey City one night when he fell between the platform and the train as it started to pull out of the station. “My coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform,” Lincoln recalled years later. “Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.” Mr. Carroll hopes to install a marker at the site, now a PATH station. “We’re all attracted to great stories, and in that way history sells itself,” he said. If history is taught by rote, though, students will tune out, he said. “The more we make history about memorizing names and places and dates we’re going to lose the next generation.” Those great stories, he said, reveal some of the eternal truths about human nature, humanity’s brutality, heroism, resilience. “For every John Wilkes Booth,” he said, “there was an Edwin.”
New York is rich in historic sites that have escaped the lore of the city. Kalustyan’s, the Middle Eastern and Indian food market at 123 Lexington Avenue, at 28th Street, is the only building in the city still standing where a president of the United States was sworn in. (On 20 September 1881, Vice President Chester A. Arthur took the oath at his home there after President James A. Garfield died of gunshot wounds.) A small plaque in the locked vestibule for the apartments upstairs is the only hint of anything historic.
In 1908, baseball’s greatest hit, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, was published by the composer’s company on West 28th Street and made its debut with a performance at the Amphion, an opera house on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. No marker identifies either site.
Mr. Carroll’s exploration will take him to Fairfield, Connecticut, the home of Ely Parker, an American Indian lawyer who worked with General Ulysses S. Grant and was credited with drafting the articles of surrender that Robert E. Lee signed at Appomattox. In Baltimore, he plans to visit the site of the shop where Mary Katherine Goddard printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that includes all of the signatories.
Mr. Carroll discovered that hotels often have rich histories. He learned, for example, that Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X once worked at the Parker House in Boston. The Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, Mr. Carroll’s hometown, has agreed to install a marker that commemorates a moment on 27 November 1925, when the poet Vachel Lindsay was timidly approached at dinner by a busboy who placed three poems he had written next to Lindsay’s plate. Lindsay was so impressed that he shared them with his audience at a poetry reading that night, prompting journalists to report on the “busboy poet”. His name was Langston Hughes.
“What Andy’s doing is sensational,” said Keith Bellows, the editor of National Geographic Traveler, “in that he’s peeling back a layer of history to expose Americans where they live and where they travel to things they otherwise might not have been aware of.” Mr. Carroll begins his fifty-state expedition with a trip to Maine to explore the sites of the 1855 Portland Rum Riot against Neal S. Dow, the prohibitionist mayor. “This trip is just the kickoff,” said Mr. Carroll, who is paying for his tour with a book advance. “I’m going to be doing this for life.”

Steve's back! Yay!

Miguel Helft has an article in The New York Times about the return to Apple of its founder:
Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and chief executive, officially returned to work on Monday after a five-month medical leave. But for some investors the issues raised by Apple’s secrecy about Mr. Jobs’s health problems and liver transplant are likely to linger. “Steve is back to work,” Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, said on Monday. “He is currently at Apple a few days a week and working from home the remaining days.” As was the case with Mr. Jobs’s leave, his return to work was accompanied by only minimal disclosures. Mr. Dowling declined to say whether Mr. Jobs’s role had changed from what it was before his leave, and he declined to discuss his health. He also would not say when Mr. Jobs first returned to work at Apple. Mr. Jobs was at work on the corporate campus a week ago, according to a person who saw him there.
The Apple chief’s official return comes just before the self-imposed deadline for his medical leave. When Apple announced his leave in January, the company said he would be back at work by the end of June. Mr. Jobs underwent a liver transplant about two months ago, but word of the operation did not surface until earlier this month. Last week, a hospital in Tennessee confirmed that he had surgery there and said his prognosis was excellent.
News of the operation rekindled a controversy among shareholders and corporate governance experts about Apple’s scant disclosures regarding the health of Mr. Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer. His return to work is not likely to quell the debate. “We don’t know much,” said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “We know he is back at work and that he had a transplant. Given how important he seems to be to the value of this business, we ought to have the facts in front us that the board had in bringing him back.” During his absence, Apple said little about Mr. Jobs other than repeating that he would be back at the end of June. Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management, said Apple’s insistence on secrecy damaged the company’s credibility.
“At every stage, the rumor mill was more informative and accurate than the company’s external communications,” Mr. Sonnenfeld said. “The fact that they’ve gotten away with it sets a very low bar.” With Mr. Jobs’s return widely expected, Wall Street’s reaction to the news on Monday was muted. Apple shares closed at $141.97, down 47 cents.
Tim Cook, the chief operating officer, who managed the company during Mr. Jobs’s absence, kept its business humming, analysts said. But Mr. Jobs’s vision, attention to product detail and ability to inspire employees are unmatched and have shaped Apple’s success, so the hope is that he will stick around, said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. “Everyone is glad to have him back, but is understanding that things can change,” Mr. Munster said.
In Silicon Valley and beyond, critics and fans of Mr. Jobs alike said they were elated by his return to work, which appeared to signal that his health had stabilized. “The entire Valley is happy to see that he is back,” said Paul Holland, a veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist. “Certainly many of us had our doubts.” Mr. Holland, who is a partner at Foundation Capital, said the return of Mr. Jobs was good news for the region and the industry because of the broad impact that Apple has had. “To have a hit company that has been booming for several years is very important for the symbolism it represents for the Valley, as well as for the impact it has on business,” Mr. Holland said.
Mr. Jobs’s return was also welcome news on Apple’s campus in Cupertino, California, Mr. Dowling said. “We’re very glad to have him back,” he said.
Rico says they should all just shut up and leave the guy alone; he'll do amazing things, now that he's back, and hopefully the stock price will climb... (Rico only has a few shares, but every dollar counts.)

More family film

Another place Rico wants to be

T-shirt for the day

Civil War for the day

The men of the 56th Pennsylvania, reenacted.

29 June 2009

Another iGoogle place Rico's been

Yosemite, California.

Not Butch nor Sundance, but the other guy

This classic photo of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, taken at the John Swartz Photographic Studio in Fort Worth, Texas on 21 November 1900, includes other, lesser-known members of their gang. The one seated at the far left is William Richard Carver. (Click the post title for his full history.) He was born on 12 September 1868 in Wilson County, Texas. After being falsely accused of a murder, he headed out to become an outlaw. His first bank robbery, in August of 1896 in Nogales, Arizona, was a failure. By May of 1897, however, he'd joined the Ketchum Gang, and they held up a Southern Pacific train in Lozier, Texas. In September, they robbed the Colorado and Southern Flyer Gulf Express at Folsom, New Mexico, escaping with $3500. In July of 1899, they held up the same train in the same place again, taking $50,000 this time. By September of 1900, he's hooked up with Butch and Sundance, and robs a bank in Winnemucca, Nevada, getting over $32,000 in gold. When he and George Kilpatrick ride into Sonora, Texas on 2 April 1901 to buy supplies, the sheriff attempts to arrest him; in the shootout, Kilpatrick is wounded and Carver is killed. He was buried in the Sonora Cemetery on 4 April 1901.

Reversing the trend

The New York Times has an article by Clifford Levy about the changes in the gambling laws in, of all places, Russia:
One of the largest mass layoffs in recent Russian history is to occur on Wednesday, and the Kremlin itself is decreeing it, economic crisis or not. The government is shutting down every last legal casino and slot-machine parlor across the land, under an anti-vice plan promoted by Vladimir Putin that just a few months ago was widely perceived as far-fetched. But the result will be hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work.
And, in a move that at times seems to have taken on almost farcical overtones, the Kremlin has offered the gambling industry only one option for survival: relocate to four regions in remote areas of Russia, as many as 4,000 miles from the capital. The potential marketing slogans— Come to the Las Vegas of Siberia! Have a Ball near the North Korean Border!— may not sound inviting, but that is in part what the government envisions. All the same, none of the four regions are prepared for the transfer, and no casino is expected to reopen for several years. As of 1 July, not even two decades after casinos began proliferating here in the free-for-all post-Soviet era, the industry’s workers will be out on the street.
“This is shaking my life to the core— such a blow for me and my family,” said Irina Mysachka, 32, a single mother who is a supervisor at the Shangri-La Casino in Moscow, which appears as orderly and preened (if your tastes run to fire-breathing neon dragons and other Oriental kitsch) as any similar luxury attraction in the United States.
“The authorities are taking this step without thinking at all,” she said. “They have not considered what this decision means for the workers. With the crisis, it is going to be very difficult for us.” Unable to find a job in Moscow, she said she was going to leave her five-year-old son, Yegor, with her mother and venture abroad.
Aleksandr Osin, 24, who has been at Shangri-La for five years, said he would try his luck in the insurance business, but was not hopeful. “We all thought that this was some kind of government thing that would not happen,” he said. “But now we know.”
The law that started the whole process was introduced in 2006 by Mr. Putin, then the president and now the prime minister, who spoke of the perils of the blackjack tables and the one-armed bandits, of shady characters having a grip on the industry.
The casinos have repeatedly asked for a reprieve, proposing a regulatory body to cut down on abuses, and lately pointing out that the ban would create hardships for workers during the crisis. The industry has also said it pays more than $1 billion a year in taxes. But Mr. Putin and his protégé, President Dmitri Medvedev, have not yielded. “The rules will not be revised in any way,” Mr. Medvedev said last month, “and there will be no backsliding, although various business organizations have been lobbying for precisely this.”
The gambling industry here does not have the loftiest of reputations, and many Russians will not grieve for it. Still, many of the forty or so casinos in Moscow sought in recent years to behave more respectably, even as hundreds of slot-machine parlors retained a seedy, enter-at-your-own-risk feel.
The gambling industry says the ban will leave more than 400,000 people without work in Russia, at a time when it has been hard hit by the economic downturn: the World Bank predicts the economy will contract by 7.9 percent this year. The government has put the figure at 60,000 people, though industry analysts say that is absurdly low. Storm International, a gambling conglomerate controlled by a British expatriate, Michael Boettcher, said that until recently, it alone employed 6,000 people at Shangri-La and several other casinos in Moscow.
Casinos in Russia are now to be confined to the Altai region of Siberia; the coastal area of the Far East, near the border with North Korea and China; Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania; and the Azov Sea region in the south. Until casinos open there, Russia will be one of the few countries in Europe without them, though underground ones are likely to be established.
After the law passed, federal officials and casino executives seemed certain that it would be watered down, which is apparently why neither the casinos nor the four regions did anything to prepare. “You know, in our country, the decisions are made by only one person,” said Samuil Binder, deputy executive director of the Russian Association for Gaming Business Development. He was referring to Mr. Putin.
After the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991, gambling sprang up everywhere in Russia, from first-class locations in Moscow to side-alley hangouts in the provinces. The crazy-quilt growth was something of a metaphor for capitalism here, full of possibilities and schemes and corruption. The industry has been largely unregulated, and especially in recent years, almost anyone could get a license, for as little as $50. Russia is not a strait-laced place— rates of smoking and drinking are high— but an outcry about gambling ensued. “It is not only young people, but also retirees who lose their last kopecks and pensions through gambling,” Mr. Putin said in 2006. His plan was announced during a spy scandal between Russia and its neighbor Georgia, and the timing suggested that Mr. Putin was in part seeking to wound the Georgian diaspora here, which is said to have an influential role in the industry.
As with the workers, it seems to have dawned on the gamblers themselves only recently that the casinos are closing. “It is going to be strange, and even now, it’s hard to believe,” said Aleksei Ustinenko, 29, a construction executive who was playing at Shangri-La. “Here we are, in one of the biggest, most beautiful, most expensive cities in the world,” he said. “And yet other people can decide that I cannot gamble if I want to.”
Some casinos said they might try to devote some space to private poker clubs, which they believe will be allowed under the law. But executives say such clubs are far less lucrative, and will employ very few workers. And so laborers have been pulling down gambling signs and carting slot machines from sites all over Moscow. “There was a time when all these clubs and casinos grew like a cancer tumor,” said Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov. “We will close them all. By 1 July, Moscow will be clean.”

Only in New York

"We don't use gloves, so it's more manly than baseball."
Rico says that may or may not be true, but cricket is still a hell of a game...

Forty years on, will the Iranians do the same?

The whole world is watching was coined in 1968, in Chicago. Police were beating protesters in the streets, using gas, and trying to put down an on-going political protest. (Can you say Teheran?)
The reunion offered an utterly different view, saying that the officers had been “the only thing that stood between Marxist street thugs and public order,” and adding: “For decades the collective Left has white-washed what really happened during the riots of 1968 and 1969. Chicago Police officers who participated in the riots continue to endure unending criticism— all of which is unwarranted, inaccurate, and wrong.”
“From the pictures the media showed, it always looked like poor little Jimmy was getting attacked by the police, but what they didn’t see was what Jimmy did just a minute before. Everybody who got hit during the convention may not have deserved it, but 95 percent of them did.”
Rico says he's sure the Iranian police would say the same thing...

No news is no news

The New York Times has an article by Brian Stelter about getting the news out of Iran:
“Check the source” may be the first rule of journalism. But in the coverage of the protests in Iran this month, some news organizations have adopted a different stance: publish first, ask questions later. If you still don’t know the answer, ask your readers. CNN showed scores of videos submitted by Iranians, most of them presumably from protesters who took to the streets to oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election on 12 June. The websites of The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Guardian newspaper in London, and others published minute-by-minute blogs with a mix of unverified videos, anonymous Twitter messages, and traditional accounts from Tehran.
The blogs tend to run on a separate track with more traditional reporting from the news organizations, intersecting when user videos and information can be confirmed. The combination amounts to the biggest embrace yet of a collaborative new style of news gathering— one that combines the contributions of ordinary citizens with the reports and analysis of journalists. Many mainstream media sources, which have in the past been critical of the undifferentiated sources of information on the Web, had little choice but to throw open their doors in this case. As the protests against Mr. Ahmadinejad grew, the government sharply curtailed the foreign press. As visas expired, many journalists packed up, and the ones who stayed were barred from reporting on the streets. In a news vacuum, amateur videos and eyewitness accounts became the de facto source for information. In fact, the symbol of the protests, the image of a young woman named Neda bleeding to death on a Tehran street, was filmed by two people holding camera phones.
“It’s incredible, the volume of stuff coming out” from Iran, said Matthew Weaver, who sounded exhausted Thursday evening after blogging for more than ten days for The Guardian newspaper’s website. When rallies and conflicts occur “first the tweets come, then the pictures, then the YouTube videos, then the wires,” he said. “It’s extraordinary.” Most important, he said, what people are saying “at one point in the day is then confirmed by more conventional sources four or five hours later.”
CNN encourages viewers to upload pictures and observations to iReport.com, its Web site for citizen journalism. Every upload is posted automatically on iReport.com, but each is studied before being shown on television. In the vetting process, CNN contacts the person who posted the material, asks questions about the content and tries to confirm its veracity. Lila King, the executive in charge of iReport, said the staff members try to “triangulate the details” of an event by corroborating stories with multiple iReport contributors in a given area. Farsi speakers at CNN sometimes listened intently to the sound from the protest videos, discerning the accents of Iranian cities and transcribing the chants and screams.
Because the videos and images are not taken by a CNN employee, the network cannot completely vouch for their authenticity. But without professionals at the scene— CNN’s remaining correspondent was pulled out last week after the government imposed prohibitive restrictions— they provide the all-important pictures to tell the story.
In an indication of how difficult the process can be, CNN had received 5,200 Iran-related submissions and had approved about 180 of them for use on television.
Iran is now the third biggest traffic driver to iReport.com, behind the United States and Canada. One month ago, Iran ranked No. 63 on the list of countries. Ms. King called Iran a “watershed moment” for citizen dispatches, and for the first time an iReport producer sits at the main CNN newsgathering desk.
Bill Mitchell, a senior leader at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists, said the extent of user involvement shown in the Iran coverage seems to be a new way of thinking about journalism. “Instead of limiting ourselves to full-blown articles to be written by a journalist (professional or otherwise), the idea is to look closely at stories as they unfold and ask: is there a piece of this story I’m in a particularly good position to enhance or advance?” he said in an e-mail message. “And it’s not just a question for journalists,” he added.
Nico Pitney, the senior news editor at The Huffington Post, started to aggregate Iran news on 13 June, the day after the election. By the middle of last week, the blog— with several updates an hour during the day— had received more than 100,000 comments and five million page views. Mr. Pitney said blogs like his produce a synthesis of professional reporting and reliable amateur material. Essentially, the news tips that reporters have always relied upon are now being aired in public.
In a recognition of the Web’s role in covering the protests, Mr. Pitney was invited by the White House to ask a question at a presidential press conference last week. He forwarded to President Obama an e-mailed question from an Iranian. “We’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming directly out of Iran,” the president said.
Even anonymous Internet users develop a reputation over time, said Robert Mackey, the editor of a blog called The Lede for The New York Times’s website, who tracked the election and protest for almost two weeks. Although there have been some erroneous claims on sites like Twitter, in general “there seems to be very little mischief-making,” Mr. Mackey said. “People generally want to help solve the puzzle.” Readers repeatedly drew Mr. Mackey’s attention to tweets and photos of protests in the comments thread of the blog. Some even shared their memories of the geography of Tehran in an attempt to verify scenes in videos. Over time, the impromptu Iranian reporters have honed their skills. Some put the date of a skirmish in the file descriptions they send. Others film street signs and landmarks. But the user uploads can sometimes be misleading. Last Wednesday, Mr. Mackey put a call out to readers to determine whether a video was actually new. A commenter pointed to a two-day-old YouTube version.
Cases like this show why the publication of tweets and Flickr photos can be awkward. Echoing others, Mr. Weaver of The Guardian’s blog said his manner of reporting had made some of his colleagues uncomfortable; he recalled one colleague who remarked, “Twitter? I won’t touch it. It’s all garbage.” On a couple of occasions, The Guardian’s blog featured video clips that were later discovered to be days old. Mr. Weaver said readers of live blogs are “a bit more forgiving” of those incidents, in part because bloggers are transparent about what they do and do not know.
Television anchors were frequently put in the same position while covering Iran. Last Wednesday, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith showed a YouTube video of police officials beating and dragging people. “We do not know when or where this video was from,” Mr. Smith told viewers. “We do not even know if it was staged, although we have no reason to believe that.” All he knew for sure was that it was “recently uploaded to YouTube”. For news organizations that face reporting constraints, that has become a good enough starting point.

It comes in threes, they say

Billy Mays is dead, shy of 51. He joins a list of famous people who went recently, including Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and (missed that one) Natasha Richardson (also from a head injury).

Enough of that

Rico says he'll be taking back control of this blog, thank you very much, yet politely asks Mr. Seymour to just sit down, shut up, and bask in the reflected glory generated by all the work Rico does around here. (And, as for standing naked before the world, Rico says he likes to wear a little clothing, just for modesty's sake, but carry a big gub...)

Enough of this third-person

I, Mark Wilson Seymour, will no longer hide behind my alter ego, Rico, but will stand naked before the world and take responsibility for each and every word in this blog, whether written by me or purloined from an unsuspecting website... (sound of a gunshot)

Not me, honest

These guys are going into foreclosure in Nevada:
5776 Spring Ranch Parkway $245,000 Chartered Realty Partners IV Mark W Seymour and Kristine M Seymour

Don't know who he is, but I'm sure not married to anyone named Kristine, especially spelled with a 'K'...

Civil War for the day

The CSS Stonewall, later the Japanese battleship Kotetsu.

28 June 2009

One to see

Rico says we went to see Away We Go last night, and so should you. Besides being a sweet love story (especially if you've ever been pregnant), it has an incredible collection of actors, many of them from television shows you'll recognize:
John Krasinski, the father of the unborn child, worked on The Office.
Maya Rudolph, the pregnant girlfriend, worked on Saturday Night Live.
Catherine O'Hara, who plays Krasinski's mother, did SCTV and Waiting for Guffman and played Allie Earp in Wyatt Earp.
Jeff Daniels, who plays Krasinski's father, was in a bunch of movies and played Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Gettysburg.
Allison Janney, who played an ex-girlfriend, was in both The West Wing and Two and a Half Men, giving her a sweep of the Sheen family (and why weren't they in this?)
Jim Gaffigan, who played Janney's husband, was in a bunch of television shows.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, who played another ex-girlfriend, was in The Dark Knight.
Melanie Lynskey, who played the wife of one of his friends, was also in Two and a Half Men.
All in all, a great cast and a great movie. (But how did O'Hara and Daniels ever have this nice Jewish boy? Genetics is amazing, at least in Hollywood...)

Civil War for the day

Fort Clinch in Florida.

27 June 2009

Snuck by Rico when he wasn't looking, yet again

California, the first time, part one

Mostly our trip to Disneyland...

California, the first time, part two

(The title runs long, about thirty seconds; wait for it.)
More Disneyland, the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur, San Francisco, and flying home.

Hard work, hard men

Celia Dugger has an article in The New York Times:
Zimbabwe’s military, controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s political party, violently took over diamond fields in Zimbabwe last year and has used the illicit revenues to buy the loyalty of restive soldiers and enrich party leaders, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Friday.
The party, ZANU-PF, has used the money from diamonds— smuggled out of the country or illegally sold through the Reserve Bank— to reinforce its hold over the security forces, which seemed to be slipping last year as the value of soldiers’ pay collapsed with soaring inflation, Human Rights Watch researchers said.
Zimbabwe’s government roundly denied the charges in the report, which cited visits by its researcher to the diamond fields in February and interviews with soldiers, miners and other witnesses. The information minister, Webster Shamu, of ZANU-PF, said in a telephone interview that the report’s aim was to tarnish the country’s image, block the sale of its diamonds internationally and, “in so doing, deny Zimbabwe much needed foreign currency. The whole report is just not true,” he said.
Last year Zimbabwe’s state media depicted the military blitz, code-named Operation No Return, in the Marange district as a push to restore order in the midst of a lawless diamond rush in the area. But the Human Rights Watch report charged that the military killed more than two hundred miners and used the push to seize the Marange fields. Some miners died when soldiers opened fire from helicopters with automatic rifles mounted on them, the group said. Many of the dead were taken to the morgue at Mutare General Hospital, or buried in mass graves, the report says. Army brigades are being rotated into the diamond fields, discovered in 2006, so more soldiers can profit from the illegal trade, the report says. Villagers from the area, some of them children, are being forced to work in mines controlled by military syndicates and have complained of being harassed, beaten and arrested, the report says. “It’s a big cash cow for the military and the police, especially since Zimbabwe is virtually bankrupt,” Dewa Mavhinga, the Zimbabwean lawyer who was the main researcher for the report, said in an interview.
Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled for 29 years, is now governing with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who spent the past three weeks in Western capitals seeking assistance for Zimbabwe’s devastated economy. President Obama and European heads of state have generally declined to aid Zimbabwe’s government directly, in part because of concerns that it continues to flout the rule of law.
The Human Rights Watch report is the latest sign of growing international concern about charges of killings and human rights abuses in the diamond fields southwest of the city of Mutare. “While Zimbabwe’s new power-sharing government, formed in February 2009, now lobbies the world for development aid, millions of dollars in potential government revenue are being siphoned off,” the report said.
The World Federation of Diamond Bourses, an umbrella group of 28 bourses in 20 countries, called on its members in April not to trade diamonds that originate in the Marange deposits in Zimbabwe. “Somewhere along the line, we have to stand up and be counted,” Michael Vaughan, the federation’s executive director, said.
On Sunday, representatives of the Kimberley Process, an alliance of industry, civic and government officials set up to stop the flow of so-called blood diamonds, will be traveling to Zimbabwe to explore whether the country is complying with the alliance’s standards. A coalition of nonprofit groups is lobbying to have Zimbabwe suspended from membership in the Kimberley Process. “There’s rampant smuggling out of the country,” said Annie Dunnebacke of Global Witness, one of the nonprofit groups. “The military is profiting from the trade and is directly involved in the sale of the diamonds.”
At a time when Zimbabwe is struggling to pay civil servants and soldiers a stipend of $100 a month, the extra income from diamond mining for soldiers is serving “to mollify a constituency whose loyalty to ZANU-PF, in the context of ongoing political strife, is essential,” the Human Rights Watch report said. Soldiers rioted in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, in December to protest pay that had become virtually worthless as inflation increased to astronomical levels. Analysts and Western diplomats said at the time that Mr. Mugabe might lose his grip on power if he were unable to sustain the patronage he had deployed for decades.

Arivaca, quiet no more

Rico says his peripatetic mother once lived in the sleepy little Arizona border town of Arivaca; according to this article by Jesse McKinley and Malia Wollan in The New York Times, it ain't sleepy now:
“Somebody just came in and shot my daughter and my husband!” the woman shouted to the 911 dispatcher. “They’re coming back in! They’re coming back in!” Multiple gunshots are then heard on a tape of the call. The woman, Gina Gonzalez, survived the attack after arming herself with her husband’s handgun, but both he and their ten-year-old daughter died. The killings, last month, have terrified this small town near the Mexican border, in part because the authorities have now tied them to what they describe as a rogue group engaged in citizen border patrols.
The three people arrested in the crime include the leader of Minutemen American Defense, a Washington State-based offshoot of the Minutemen movement, in which citizens roam the border looking for people crossing into the country illegally. Former members describe the group’s leader, Shawna Forde, 41, as having anti-immigrant sentiments that are extreme, at times frightening, even to people accustomed to hard-line views on border policing.
The authorities say that the three suspects were after money and drugs that they intended to use to finance vigilantism, and that members of the group may have been involved in at least one other home invasion, in California. “There was an anticipation that there would be a considerable amount of cash at this location,” said Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, since, he said, Ms. Gonzalez’s husband, Raul Flores, had previously been involved in narcotics trafficking, an assertion the family denies.
A Pima County public defender representing Ms. Forde had no comment on the case. Nor did lawyers for the other suspects, Jason Bush, 34, and Albert Gaxiola, 42. All three remain in custody, charged with first-degree murder, assault and burglary.
Merrill Metzger, who worked for the group for six months just as it was getting started in 2007, said Ms. Forde had often traveled from Washington to Arizona with weapons. In March, while stopping over at his home in Redding, California, she presented a plan for the group to undertake, Mr. Metzger, her half-brother, said in a telephone interview. “She was sitting here talking about how she was going to start an underground militia and rob drug dealers,” he said. Mr. Metzger quit the group, alarmed, he said, by a number of things, including Ms. Forde’s demand for extreme loyalty, right down to the choice of cuisine. “I had to take an oath, and part of the oath was that I couldn’t eat Mexican food,” he said. “That’s when red flags went up all over for me. That seemed like prejudice.”
Another former member, Chuck Stonex, a retired independent contractor, said Ms. Forde had talked about buying a ranch near Arivaca and building a compound. He said that in October, he took an excursion with her into the desert north of here, where, wearing camouflage and carrying handguns and rifles, they searched for illegal immigrants. “It’s just like hunting,” Mr. Stonex said, describing the tracking skills the group used. “If you’re going out hunting deer, you want to scout around and get an idea what their pattern is, what trails they use.” Mr. Stonex said he treated one of the suspects, Mr. Bush, for a flesh wound the day of the attack on Ms. Gonzalez’s family. Ms. Gonzalez had presumably shot Mr. Bush in warding off the attackers, but, Mr. Stonex said, the wound did not raise his suspicions, because, he said, Ms. Forde offered what seemed a plausible explanation: “They’d been jumped by border bandits. They were very relaxed, having casual, normal chitchat,” he recalled.
Small numbers of Americans have always viewed border patrolling as a patriotic duty, but the most recent incarnation— the Minutemen movement, which takes its name from citizen militias formed during the Revolutionary War— gained steam in 2005, when hundreds of volunteers flocked to border locations.
Their patrols initially drew praise from some political leaders, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, but also raised concerns that the activities were thin veils for racism and xenophobia. Over time, the movement has also suffered from infighting, with some groups, like Ms. Forde’s, advocating increasingly confrontational tactics while others have simply monitored the border and reported illegal crossings to the authorities.
Since the killings here, members of some better-known groups involved with the movement have scrambled to disassociate themselves from Minutemen American Defense. Others had begun doing so well beforehand. The 750-member San Diego Minutemen, for instance, started warning people on its website in January to avoid Ms. Forde.
According to Ms. Gonzalez’s 911 call, the killers arrived shortly after midnight on 30 May, dressed in uniforms resembling those of law enforcement personnel. They told the family that they were looking for a fugitive. Actually, the authorities say, the three suspects believed that Ms. Gonzalez’s husband, Mr. Flores, 29, was holding both drugs and money at their remote home.
Sheriff Dupnik has said there is ample drug activity between here and the border. The suggestion has angered the residents of Arivaca, a town of retirees, artists, and working people about fifty miles south of Tucson. “This is a good town,” said Fern Loveall, 76. “It’s a good place to live, and it’s a good place to raise kids. What they’re saying about it isn’t true.”
Members of Mr. Flores’s family also denied that he had had any connection to the drug trade. “He was a good guy,” said Gilbert Mungaray, his 80-year-old grandfather. “I know what happened, but I can’t imagine why.”
The family’s house was silent this week. An American flag hung on the porch, and three pink roses adorned the front door. Down a dirt road, at the local community center, a picture of Brisenia, the slain daughter of Mr. Flores and Ms. Gonzalez, had been placed in a frame with a small black ribbon affixed to it.
For the regulars at La Gitana Cantina, a friendly establishment with a mixed clientele of Anglos and Mexican-Americans, emotions have ranged from abject sorrow to rage. “I’ve had people come into the bar and just put their heads in their hands, and all the sudden they’ve got tears pouring down their face,” said Karen Lippert, a bartender. She added that while Mr. Gaxiola was a local, the two other suspects were not. “This is not us guys,” she said. “It’s the not the way us guys operate.”
Rico says 'us guys'? This is Arizona, not Chicago... (He also says he used to eat in the Gitana when he visited his mother there.)

Better than just getting shot...

The AP has a story by Lara Jakes and Pamela Hess about Guantánamo:
Stymied by Congress so far, the White House is considering issuing an executive order to indefinitely imprison a small number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, considered too dangerous to prosecute or release, two administration officials said Friday. No decisions have been made about the order, which would be the third major mandate by President Obama to deal with how the United States treats and prosecutes terrorism suspects and foreign fighters.
One of the officials said the order, if issued, would not take effect until after the 1 October start of fiscal 2010. Already, Congress has blocked the administration from spending any money this year to imprison the detainees in the United States, which in turn could slow or even halt Obama's pledge to close the Navy prison in Cuba by 21 January. The administration also is considering asking Congress to pass new laws that would allow the indefinite detentions, the official said. Both officials spoke Friday on condition of anonymity. The possibility of an executive order was first reported by ProPublica, an independent public-interest newsroom, and The Washington Post. "A number of options are being considered," one of the officials said. Asked if the detainees would be indefinitely held overseas or in the United States, the official said: "There's not really a lot of options overseas."
Under one White House draft being discussed, the administration officials said, detainees would be imprisoned at a military facility on U.S. soil but their detention would be subject to annual presidential review. U.S. citizens would not be held in the system. Such detainees would also have the right to legal representation during confinement and access to some of the information that is being used to keep them behind bars. Anyone detained under this order would have a right to challenge his detention before a judge.
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington office, said the organization strongly opposes any plans for indefinite detention of prisoners. "We're saying it shouldn't be done at all," he said Friday.
Without legislative backing, an executive order is the only route Obama has to get the needed authority. The order also would only apply to current detainees at Guantánamo, not ones caught and held in future counterinsurgent battles.
There are 229 detainees being held at Guantánamo. At least eleven are expected to be tried in military tribunals, and one has been transferred to United States for prosecution by civilian federal courts. Still others, including four Chinese Muslims known as Uighurs who were transferred to Bermuda this month, have been sent to other nations. The Obama administration is trying to relocate up to one hundred Yemeni detainees to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation. Obama said in May he was looking at continued imprisonment for a small number of Guantánamo detainees whom he described as too dangerous to release. It's not clear how many detainees could fall into that category.

Civil War for the day

26 June 2009

Gub advice

Courtesy of my friend Dave, good advice...

Good guys, if unknown

How many bloggers get their picture taken from a news helicopter? Damn few, Rico suspects. This is one, a Philadelphia firefighter who blogs at First In. Rico says (like Joe Bob Briggs) check it out...

One to see

The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow from a script by Mark Boal, is the best non-documentary American feature made yet about the war in Iraq. This may sound like faint praise and also like a commercial death sentence, since movies about that war have not exactly galvanized audiences or risen to the level of art. The squad of well-meaning topical dramas that trudged across the screens in the fall of 2007 were at once hysterical and noncommittal, registering an anxious, high-minded ambivalence that was neither illuminating nor especially entertaining. And the public, perhaps sufficiently enervated and confused by reality, was not eager to see it recreated on screen.
So let me put it another way, at the risk of a certain cognitive dissonance: if The Hurt Locker is not the best action movie of the summer, I’ll blow up my car. The movie is a viscerally exciting, adrenaline-soaked tour de force of suspense and surprise, full of explosions and hectic scenes of combat, but it blows a hole in the condescending assumption that such effects are just empty spectacle or mindless noise. Ms. Bigelow, whose body of work (including Point Break, Blue Steel, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker) has been uneven but never uninteresting, has an almost uncanny understanding of the circuitry that connects eyes, ears, nerves and brain. She is one of the few directors for whom action-movie-making and the cinema of ideas are synonymous. You may emerge from “The Hurt Locker” shaken, exhilarated and drained, but you will also be thinking.
Not necessarily about the causes and consequences of the Iraq war, mind you. The filmmakers’ insistence on zooming in on and staying close to the moment-to-moment experiences of soldiers in the field is admirable in its way but a little evasive as well. The Hurt Locker, which takes place in 2004 (and was filmed mostly in Jordan), depicts men who risk their lives every day on the streets of Baghdad and in the desert beyond, and who are too stressed out, too busy, too preoccupied with the details of survival to reflect on larger questions about what they are doing there.
The filmmakers, perhaps out of loyalty to their characters, are similarly reticent. But within those limits, The Hurt Locker is a remarkable accomplishment. Ms. Bigelow, practicing a kind of hyperbolic realism, distills the psychological essence and moral complications of modern warfare into a series of brilliant, agonizing set pieces.
Her focus is on Delta Company, an Army unit whose job is to detect and defuse— or carefully detonate, it all else fails— the IED’s that seem to pop up everywhere, like mushrooms in the rain. Some of the devices are brutishly simple, others fiendishly elaborate, but each one lays the groundwork for a cruel and revealing test of character.
And much as Ms. Bigelow excels at setting up and cutting together these live-wire moments of danger, they are not feats of technique-for-its-own-sake as much as highly concentrated, intimate human dramas. The engagements between Delta Company and its shadowy adversaries contain an element of theater. The bomb-makers mingle with Iraqi bystanders to observe and assess their work, standing on balconies and at windows watching impassively as the Americans shout, sweat, and gesticulate, actors in a show whose script they are fighting to control.
Not that the soldiers are all on the same page. The Hurt Locker focuses on three men whose contrasting temperaments knit this episodic exploration of peril and bravery into a coherent and satisfying story. Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is a bundle of nerves and confused impulses, eager to please, ashamed of his own fear and almost dismayingly vulnerable. Sergeant J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is a careful, uncomplaining professional who sticks to protocols and procedures in the hope that his prudence will get him home alive, away from an assignment he has come to loathe.
The wild card is Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), who joins Delta after its leader is killed, and who approaches his work more like a jazz musician or an abstract expressionist painter than like a sober technician. A smoker and a heavy metal fan with an irreverent, profane sense of humor and a relaxed sense of military discipline, he approaches each new bomb or skirmish not with dread but with a kind of inspired, improvisational zeal.
As he gropes for the wires that will ignite a massive car bomb or traces a spider-weblike cluster of shells buried under a street, he looks like a man having the time of his life. Not that he is frivolous, though to Sanborn he seems insanely reckless. Rather, to quote a Robert Frost poem, James is a man whose work is play for mortal stakes.
And Mr. Renner’s performance — feverish, witty, headlong and precise — is as thrilling as anything else in the movie. In each scene a different facet of James’s personality emerges. He can be callous, even mean at times, but there is a fundamental tenderness to him as well, manifest in his affection for an Iraqi boy who sells pirated DVDs and his patient solicitude when Eldridge, under fire and surrounded by dead bodies, has an understandable bout of panic.
There is more friction between James and Sanborn: competition, incomprehension, but also a brand of masculine love similar to the passion between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Point Break. In one scene Mr. Mackie and Mr. Renner trade stomach punches in a ritualistic display of affectionate aggression that looks as if it will end in either sex or murder, and Ms. Bigelow’s insight is that the tense comradeship of soldiers rests, often tenuously, on barely suppressed erotic and homicidal impulses.
The Hurt Locker opens with a quote from Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times, declaring that “war is a drug". And it is certainly possible to see Will James as a hopeless war addict, a danger junkie sacrificing good sense and other people’s safety to his habit. But his collection of mechanisms from bombs that nearly killed him and the blend of serenity and exhilaration that plays over his blunt, boyish features when he finds a new one suggest otherwise.
Eldridge is a decent guy, dangerously out of his element but making the best of a bad situation. Sanborn is a professional, doing a job conscientiously and well. But James is something else, someone we recognize instantly even if we have never seen anyone quite like him before. He is a connoisseur, a genius, an artist. No wonder Ms. Bigelow understands him so perfectly.
Rico says she made Point Break, Blue Steel, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker? That's a hell of a resume. He'll be going to see this one...

What? Politicians on the take? What's next? Snow in the winter?

The New York Times has an Associated Press article about Charlie Rangel and a couple of other Congresspeople who were (allegedly, allegedly) on the take:
The House ethics committee is investigating whether five Democratic lawmakers, including two committee chairmen, received improper gifts in traveling to Caribbean conferences in 2007 and 2008. The committee said it was investigating Charles Rangel of New York, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Michigan; Donald Payne of New Jersey; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee; and Donna Christensen, the delegate from the Virgin Islands.
The annual Multinational Business Conference on Caribbean affairs is held in a different country each year, and it is officially sponsored by the Carib News Foundation. The Carib News is a small Caribbean newspaper based in New York City.
The lawmakers under scrutiny said the Committee on Standards of Conduct— the ethics committee’s full name— approved the travel in advance, as required by House rules. Despite that approval, there are indications that the committee is questioning whether corporations with lobbyists actually financed the lawmakers’ transportation, hotels, meals and other expenses. House rules approved in 2007 severely limit lawmakers and their staffs from accepting travel from an entity that employs or retains a registered lobbyist. That could be why the committee is examining the last two times the annual conference was held, instead of all thirteen.
In preliminary interviews, investigators asked whether there were any sponsors other than the Carib News Foundation, said I. Lanier Avant, chief of staff to Mr. Thompson. Lawmakers said it was their understanding that the Carib News Foundation alone paid their expenses.
“Congressman Rangel complied with all of the ethics rules related to this trip, which was approved by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct,” said his spokesman, Emile Milne. “He looks forward to a speedy resolution of this matter and will have no further comment until the committee completes its work.”
Attempts to reach Representative Payne’s office for comment Thursday night were unsuccessful.
Mr. Avant, Mr. Thompson’s top aide, said, “Neither Chairman Thompson nor I have any knowledge of any corporation or private entity that funds the Caribbean News Foundation. The only sponsor, the sole sponsor of the trip Chairman Thompson took was the Caribbean News Foundation, to his knowledge.”
Ms. Christensen said: “My staff and I are confident that we followed the required procedures in regards to travel to the conference. I look forward to a quick and just resolution to the matters at hand.”
Ms. Kilpatrick said, “The organizing foundation submitted the required information to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.” After the committee approved the trip, she said, she submitted “my request to travel and received written approval from the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to attend the conference.”
Mr. Rangel already is investigation by the committee on other matters, including his use of official resources to contact donors, his lease arrangements for apartments, and his compliance with financial disclosure requirements.
A four-member subcommittee will conduct the investigation. The ethics committee, without any other notification, posted an announcement of the investigation on its Web site on Wednesday night.
Rico says he is shocked, shocked, to find Congressmen and -women being accused of taking money from outside organizations...

Right to carry things too far

The New York Times has an editorial that, for once, might be right about guns:
Beyond farce in statehouse politics — think New York, Illinois and South Carolina — there can be danger. Think Tennessee, where the Legislature just overrode the governor’s veto and rescinded a law barring patrons from carrying handguns in bars and restaurants.
Once again, politicians caved to the gun lobby’s “right to carry” agenda which insists that there is no place— campuses, workplaces, churches— that should be off limits to guns.
We fear that Governor Phil Bredesen, a gun owner and hunter, was right when he warned his state: “It’s an invitation to a disaster.”
The governor found no safety in provisions that ban the licensed gun toters from drinking alcohol— is it the honor system or will bartenders do a search?— and allow bar and restaurant owners to opt out by posting a notice prohibiting guns. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for owners to post warnings of the dangers inside at the doorways of gun-friendly places.
The pity is that more than thirty states have similar laws. Travelers might want to check for sensible places to eat, unless they really believe the gun lobby’s propaganda that an armed diner at the next table offers an extra comfort.
Another measure to allow licensed teetotaling owners to pack concealed guns in restaurants is making progress in Arizona, where Governor Janet Napolitano vetoed the idea four years ago. Now that Ms. Napolitano has gone to Washington to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security, the Legislature is at full gun play, with the bill’s sponsor insisting there’s nothing “inherently evil” in mixing guns and liquor.
Not all of the news is bad. In Texas, the Legislature enacted a ban on the mentally ill buying weapons and sidetracked proposals to allow guns on campus and in the workplace. The latter two died in Missouri and Alabama, too. And in Colorado, Governor Bill Ritter vetoed legislation designed to gut the regulation of gun shows.
So, reason and public safety can prevail against the gun lobby. And, while the restaurant industry seeks some meager “compromise” language in the Arizona bill, why not consider an alternative? Karaoke is good for business, so why not offer fast-draw virtual shootouts? It is the only way we would feel safe about guns in bars.
Rico says he's all for carrying concealed, but he's seen a few drunks in bars who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a gub, much less carrying one...

Gay history for the day

The New York Times has a couple of opinion pieces, one by Lucian Truscott IV, the grandson of the famous Lucian Truscott, Jr. and the son of Lucian Truscott III, a Korean War veteran) and one by Fred Sargeant, about the famous Stonewall raid on a gay bar in New York on 27 June 1969:
I was perhaps the unlikeliest person in the world to cover the Stonewall riots for The Village Voice. It was 27 June 1969. I had graduated from West Point only three weeks earlier and was spending my summer leave in New York before reporting for duty at Fort Benning, in Georgia. After a late dinner in Chinatown, I was about to enter the Lion’s Head, a writers’ hangout on Christopher Street near the Voice’s offices, when I blundered straight into the first moments of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar a couple of doors down the street. Even a newly minted second lieutenant of infantry could see that it was a story... Another myth is that the police raid on the Stonewall was part of a broader crackdown on gay bars in the summer of 1969, a mayoral election year. In fact, the Stonewall operation was the work of a Police Department deputy inspector, Seymour Pine, and officers from the morals unit, and they carried it out without the knowledge of the officers of the local police precinct, whom they suspected of taking payoffs from the Stonewall and other Mafia-run gay bars in the Village. Deputy Inspector Pine had two stated reasons for the raid: the Stonewall was selling liquor without a license, which it was, and it was being used by a Mafia blackmail ring that was setting up gay patrons who worked on Wall Street, which also seems likely.
The owner of the Stonewall, Tony Lauria, was reputed to be a front man for Matty Ianniello (known as “Matty the Horse”), a capo in the Genovese crime family who oversaw a string of clubs in the city. New York’s gay-bar scene at the time was a corrupt system apparently designed to benefit mobster owners, who served watered-down drinks at inflated prices, often made with ill-gotten liquor from truck hijackings.
Lucian K. Truscott IV is the author of, among other books, Dress Gray.
I was nineteen years old when I met Craig Rodwell. He was 26. It was just after Thanksgiving in 1967, shortly after he’d opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Mercer Street near the New York University campus. One day in the shop— considered to be the first literary gay bookstore— the beat cop stopped by to tell us we needed to pay him off each week. Craig told him we wouldn’t pay; a few days later we had a break-in and the cash box was taken. For Craig, it was an opportunity to make the connection between police corruption and prejudice, a topic that he would bring up time after time in the shop’s newsletter, The Hymnal.
This was the backdrop to our lives in late June of 1969, when we were on our way home from a Friday night dinner with friends in Washington Square Village. We swung by the Oscar Wilde because anti-gay vandalism was a continuing problem. Then we headed home. When we crossed Sixth Avenue we began to see people out on Christopher Street near the Stonewall Inn.
As we made our way down the street, I could hear the pings of the coins thrown against the paddy wagon parked outside the bar. Policemen were trapped inside and each time they ventured out the coins would fly. I remember thinking that the crowd was expanding into something I’d never seen before— it quickly grew into the hundreds. Usually in raids on bars, the employees were loaded into the wagon first, then those patrons who had been selected for arrest followed. Other patrons would be sent outside, where they would normally disperse quickly. But this time the customers weren’t fleeing. The police had misread the crowd and their ability to handle it.
After things settled down on Friday night, we decided that we had to take action— to bring a larger purpose to the evening’s events. And so the next day, we started to leaflet. It sounds primitive today, but in 1969 it was an effective means of communication. People were accustomed to getting leaflets, and they would read them. And Craig knew how to write them. Craig also made calls to the newspapers, letting them know that there would be a lot of people converging in the Village on Saturday night.
Getting coverage was a challenge. The press had a bias against gays then, and it perpetuated the view of Stonewall as the time the drag queens fought back. But for Craig and for me, it was the moment the gay-rights movement shifted from what we thought of as a “letterhead” movement of press releases to one of action. Older gays saw the path to equality as going through the power structure. We saw it as going around the power structure. We wanted to exploit the attention this riot received, attention that we had not been able to get before.
That second night turned into a general melee— more police, more protesters— but Craig and I stayed until the end. For us, the end was the beginning. We had witnessed the crowd at work; we had been a part of it. It was not necessarily a crystalline moment and a conscious act of collective gay liberation, but gay liberation was at its heart. The word was out.
Fred Sargeant is a retired lieutenant from the Stamford, Connecticut police department.

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