31 October 2009

Saluting the dead

Rico says it's a sad day when a president gets ragged for doing the right thing, but there is the question of the salute, as one Canadian reporter noted: "Frankly, knowing that he had never worn the uniform of his nation, it bothered me that he would stand there in the dark giving a salute. The closest he ever got to wearing a uniform and saluting in his past was when he was in the Boy Scouts— the Indonesian Boy Scouts."
As Rico remembered, it probably wasn't the exact right thing, either:
Is it appropriate for a non-military person to return a salute or initate a salute to a military person? No, it is not. A military salute is a greeting accorded to those who are or were engaged in the profession of arms and then only for those who have not disgraced themselves and the profession. Aside from being a gesture of respect, it is also an expression of brotherhood. If you didn't earn the right to salute, don't do it.
But maybe it was okay anyway (as it was with Rico):
While it is a breach of the formal protocols, if it is actually out of respect and could not possibly be taken for sarcasm or mockery it would likely be received in the spirit it was rendered.

Don't fuck with the Chinese

Sharon LaFraniere has the story in The New York Times:
A long-running dispute over Google’s efforts to digitize books has spread this month to China, where authors have banded together to demand that their works be protected from what they call unauthorized copying. Two Chinese writers’ groups claim that Google has scanned Chinese works into an electronic database in violation of international copyright standards. The organizations are urging China’s authors to step forward and defend their rights. “Google has seriously violated the copyrights of Chinese authors. That is an undeniable fact,” Chen Qirong, a spokesman for the China Writers’ Association, said by telephone. The group says it represents nearly 9,000 writers. Google has sent a representative to Beijing to meet with officials of the China Written Works Copyright Society, which manages Chinese copyrights. The company insists it has fully complied with copyright protections.
Google’s ambitions to digitize millions of books, in most cases without first seeking permission from publishers or authors, has been contentious in the United States and elsewhere for more than four years.
But most Chinese authors learned of Google’s efforts only this month, after writers’ groups were notified of a potential class-action settlement between Google and American authors and publishers. Some Chinese authors discovered that Google had obtained their works from libraries in the United States and scanned them into its database.
The settlement would allow Google to create a vast library and bookstore where the full text of the digitized books would be available in the United States. For now, the books appear only in the company’s Book Search service, which allows people to read short snippets of copyrighted texts or, if the company has obtained permission, longer excerpts.
“We take the view, backed up by international copyright law, that no copyright is violated in this process since the amount of text displayed is so small and it’s purely for information,” said Courtney Hohne, a Google spokeswoman, in an phone interview from Singapore. “In fact, it’s comparable to a quotation from a book in a review or our Web search results, both of which are perfectly legal.”
Ms. Hohne said it was virtually impossible for Google to discover who holds the rights to all of the millions of books on library shelves. Waiting for copyright holders to surface would doom any effort to create a comprehensive electronic index, she said. If a copyright holder does object, Google removes the snippets or even all reference to the book from the search engine, she said.
The Chinese groups see it differently. “It is as if you have something nice in your living room and Google takes it and puts it in its living room,” said Zhang Hongbo, deputy director general of the Chinese copyright society. “We are definitely opposed to using our works without our permission.”
The class-action settlement, if approved, would create a registry of copyright holders and allow them to share in revenue generated through online book purchases or subscriptions to the database. Mr. Zhang said Chinese authors didn’t like the proposed settlement either. “We think that reconciliation is extremely unfair,” he said. “We don’t accept it.”
The settlement is currently being rewritten, in part because of opposition from the Justice Department. Marybeth Peters, the top copyright official in the United States, told Congress in September that the settlement could put “diplomatic stress” on the government because it would affect foreign authors whose rights were protected by international treaties. The governments of France and Germany oppose the deal.
A few Chinese authors have suggested that Google has not only scanned in their works, it has published selections of them online without obtaining permission. No such cases could be immediately confirmed, and at least a few authors appeared to be mistaken about whether their books could be viewed.
Ms. Hohne said more than fifty Chinese publishers had allowed parts of 60,000 books to be read online at books.google.cn. Typically, publishers have agreed to allow Google to show about twenty percent of the book and link to sites where readers can buy it, she said.
Rico says it's a legal quagmire, and he hopes Google can find its way out...

Stupid rule, anyway

Rico says Jack Curry has the story in The New York Times, but it's always been a stupid American League rule; if everyone plays, everyone should have to hit:
Andy Pettitte held his black Louisville Slugger bat close to his chest, treating it as carefully as if he were carrying a three-month-old baby. He wore blue-and-white batting gloves and a blue helmet. He was a pitcher trying to prove that he could fake it as a hitter. “I’ve got my name on it,” Pettitte said, happily displaying the barrel of the bat. “I’ve got my own signature model.”
Now that the setting for the World Series has switched to this National League city for the next three games, the Yankees will watch pitchers bat against the Phillies. The Yankees will try not to grimace as pitchers who have not swung bats for four months will swing them in the most important games of the season. Pettitte will be the first to take some cuts, in Game 3 on Saturday night. “Hopefully, I get a hit somewhere,” said Pettitte, who did not sound too hopeful.
Actually, the Yankees will probably not cringe when C.C. Sabathia hits in Game Four or Five. More than any Yankee pitcher, Sabathia, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall and more than 300 pounds, looks and acts like a hitter. Sabathia stands tall in the batter’s box, holds the bat steady, takes a short stride into the ball, and has a fluid swing.
Sabathia also has a strategy that could be called the Babe Ruth approach. Pettitte laughed as he explained that the difference between him and Sabathia is that Pettitte is trying to “get the ball through the infield” and Sabathia is trying to bash the ball 400 feet, but Pettitte was not joking. Sabathia confirmed Pettitte’s characterization. “I’m trying to hit a homer,” Sabathia said. “If I hit a single, I hit a single. I hit a double, I hit a double. I’m trying to go deep.”
In addition to looking the part of a hitter, Sabathia also has the best statistics among Yankee pitchers. Sabathia is 24 for 92 (a .261 average) with three homers and fourteen runs batted in. Surprisingly, Sabathia has only one walk and three sacrifice bunts in his career, overwhelming evidence that he considers himself a hitter and not a pitcher who is trying to hit. He uses a 35-inch, 33-ounce bat, which is heavier than Albert Pujols’s bat.
Pettitte, who swings a 34-inch, 31-ounce bat, is much more of hacker. As Pettitte took his initial swings against Tony Pena’s 70-mile-per-hour fastballs Friday, he showed little bat speed. Still, the bar was so low that Robinson Cano gave Pettitte a high-five because Pettitte lifted a ball to the outfield.
“There was never any point where I was the best hitter on my team,” Pettitte said. “I think I hit like .350 in high school, but I didn’t have any home runs. Even in my senior year, I only hit on the days I pitched.”
The more Pettitte swung Friday, the more comfortable he became. Pettitte hit several line drives to left field, prompting Derek Jeter to shout, “That a boy, Pe-tee-tay.”
Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Famer who is a Yankees adviser, challenged Pettitte: “You got the line drives,” Jackson said. “You got any pop?”
Pettitte pulled off his helmet and smiled. But Pettitte met the challenge and followed with a shot that nearly hit the left-field warning track. Pettitte, who is 25 for 186 (.134) with one homer, is the only current Yankee pitcher with a hit in the World Series. He had a single in a 15-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game Six in 2001 and is 2 for 16 in the postseason. “Being in the National League definitely helped me,” said Pettitte, who played with the Houston Astros for three seasons. “At times, I felt like I had a chance.”
If Chad Gaudin starts Game Four, does he have a prayer of getting a hit? It would be stunning, because he is 1 for 32 with 16 strikeouts. A.J. Burnett, who is a candidate to start Game Five, was with the Florida Marlins for seven seasons and has more at-bats than any other Yankee pitcher. But that also means Burnett has failed a lot. He is 35 for 266 (.132) with three homers and a whopping 126 strikeouts. Mostly, Manager Joe Girardi hopes the pitchers are skillful enough to produce some sacrifice bunts.
Throughout Sabathia’s batting practice, Jeter teased Sabathia after the pitcher clubbed some impressive shots. During Sabathia’s last round, he lined a ball over the right-field fence for one of those homers that he routinely tries to deliver. “Yeah, we can go now,” shouted Jeter, who began walking off the field.
Two minutes later, all the Yankees walked off the field, too. Sabathia and the other pitchers were finished hitting. Soon, the Yankees will discover if they are finished hitting for their entire visit here.

It was soybeans after all

Nicolette Hahn Niman has an article in The New York Times about the reality of global warming (hint: it ain't meat that's the problem):
IS eating a hamburger the global warming equivalent of driving a Hummer? This week an article in The Times of London carried a headline that blared: “Give Up Meat to Save the Planet.” Former Vice President Al Gore, who has made climate change his signature issue, has even been assailed for omnivorous eating by animal rights activists.
It’s true that food production is an important contributor to climate change. And the claim that meat (especially beef) is closely linked to global warming has received some credible backing, including by the United Nations and University of Chicago. Both institutions have issued reports that have been widely summarized as condemning meat-eating.
But that’s an overly simplistic conclusion to draw from the research. To a rancher like me, who raises cattle, goats and turkeys the traditional way (on grass), the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat— that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in giant lagoons and cutting down forests to grow crops to feed them— cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian.
So what is the real story of meat’s connection to global warming? Answering the question requires examining the individual greenhouse gases involved: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides.
Carbon dioxide makes up the majority of agriculture-related greenhouse emissions. In American farming, most carbon dioxide emissions come from fuel burned to operate vehicles and equipment. World agricultural carbon emissions, on the other hand, result primarily from the clearing of woods for crop growing and livestock grazing. During the 1990s, tropical deforestation in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Sudan, and other developing countries caused 15 percent to 35 percent of annual global fossil fuel emissions.
Much Brazilian deforestation is connected to soybean cultivation. As much as seventy percent of areas newly cleared for agriculture in Mato Grosso State in Brazil is being used to grow soybeans. Over half of Brazil’s soy harvest is controlled by a handful of international agribusiness companies, which ship it all over the world for animal feed and food products, causing emissions in the process.
Meat and dairy eaters need not be part of this. Many smaller, traditional farms and ranches in the United States have scant connection to carbon dioxide emissions because they keep their animals outdoors on pasture and make little use of machinery. Moreover, those farmers generally use less soy than industrial operations do, and those who do often grow their own, so there are no emissions from long-distance transport and zero chance their farms contributed to deforestation in the developing world.
In contrast to traditional farms, industrial livestock and poultry facilities keep animals in buildings with mechanized systems for feeding, lighting, sewage flushing, ventilation, heating, and cooling, all of which generate emissions. These factory farms are also soy guzzlers and acquire much of their feed overseas. You can reduce your contribution to carbon dioxide emissions by avoiding industrially produced meat and dairy products.
Unfortunately for vegetarians who rely on it for protein, avoiding soy from deforested croplands may be more difficult: as the Organic Consumers Association notes, Brazilian soy is common (and unlabeled) in tofu and soymilk sold in American supermarkets.
Methane is agriculture’s second-largest greenhouse gas. Wetland rice fields alone account for as much 29 percent of the world’s human-generated methane. In animal farming, much of the methane comes from lagoons of liquefied manure at industrial facilities, which are as nauseating as they sound.
This isn’t a problem at traditional farms. “Before the 1970s, methane emissions from manure were minimal because the majority of livestock farms in the U.S. were small operations where animals deposited manure in pastures and corrals,” the Environmental Protection Agency says. The E.P.A. found that with the rapid rise of factory farms, liquefied manure systems became the norm and methane emissions skyrocketed. You can reduce your methane emissions by seeking out meat from animals raised outdoors on traditional farms.
Critics of meat-eating often point out that cattle are prime culprits in methane production. Fortunately, the cause of these methane emissions is understood, and their production can be reduced. Much of the problem arises when livestock eat poor quality forages, throwing their digestive systems out of balance. Livestock nutrition experts have demonstrated that by making minor improvements in animal diets (like providing nutrient-laden salt licks) they can cut enteric methane by half. Other practices, like adding certain proteins to ruminant diets, can reduce methane production per unit of milk or meat by a factor of six, according to research at Australia’s University of New England. Enteric methane emissions can also be substantially reduced when cattle are regularly rotated onto fresh pastures, researchers at University of Louisiana have confirmed.
Finally, livestock farming plays a role in nitrous oxide emissions, which make up around 5 percent of this country’s total greenhouse gases. More than three-quarters of farming’s nitrous oxide emissions result from manmade fertilizers. Thus, you can reduce nitrous oxide emissions by buying meat and dairy products from animals that were not fed fertilized crops; in other words, from animals raised on grass or raised organically.
In contrast to factory farming, well-managed, non-industrialized animal farming minimizes greenhouse gases and can even benefit the environment. For example, properly timed cattle grazing can increase vegetation by as much as 45 percent, North Dakota State University researchers have found. And grazing by large herbivores (including cattle) is essential for well-functioning prairie ecosystems, research at Kansas State University has determined.
Additionally, several recent studies show that pasture and grassland areas used for livestock reduce global warming by acting as carbon sinks. Converting croplands to pasture, which reduces erosion, effectively sequesters significant amounts of carbon. One analysis published in the journal Global Change Biology showed a 19 percent increase in soil carbon after land changed from cropland to pasture. What’s more, animal grazing reduces the need for the fertilizers and fuel used by farm machinery in crop cultivation, things that aggravate climate change.
Livestock grazing has other noteworthy environmental benefits as well. Compared to cropland, perennial pastures used for grazing can decrease soil erosion by 80 percent and markedly improve water quality, Minnesota’s Land Stewardship Project research has found. Even the United Nations report acknowledges, “There is growing evidence that both cattle ranching and pastoralism can have positive impacts on biodiversity.”
As the contrast between the environmental impact of traditional farming and industrial farming shows, efforts to minimize greenhouse gases need to be much more sophisticated than just making blanket condemnations of certain foods. Farming methods vary tremendously, leading to widely variable global warming contributions for every food we eat. Recent research in Sweden shows that, depending on how and where a food is produced, its carbon dioxide emissions vary by a factor of ten.
And it should also be noted that farmers bear only a portion of the blame for greenhouse gas emissions in the food system. Only about one-fifth of the food system’s energy use is farm-related, according to University of Wisconsin research. And the Soil Association in Britain estimates that only half of food’s total greenhouse impact has any connection to farms. The rest comes from processing, transportation, storage, retailing and food preparation. The seemingly innocent potato chip, for instance, turns out to be a dreadfully climate-hostile food. Foods that are minimally processed, in season and locally grown, like those available at farmers’ markets and backyard gardens, are generally the most climate-friendly.
Rampant waste at the processing, retail, and household stages compounds the problem. About half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away, according to University of Arizona research. Thus, a consumer could measurably reduce personal global warming impact simply by more judicious grocery purchasing and use.
None of us, whether we are vegan or omnivore, can entirely avoid foods that play a role in global warming. Singling out meat is misleading and unhelpful, especially since few people are likely to entirely abandon animal-based foods. Mr. Gore, for one, apparently has no intention of going vegan. The 90 percent of Americans who eat meat and dairy are likely to respond the same way.
Still, there are numerous reasonable ways to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through our food choices. Because it takes more resources to produce meat and dairy than, say, fresh locally grown carrots, it’s sensible to cut back on consumption of animal-based foods. More important, all eaters can lower their global warming contribution by following these simple rules: avoid processed foods and those from industrialized farms; reduce food waste; and buy local and in season.
Rico says cow farts and damned soybeans are the problem; may Al Gore eat both...

More places that Rico would like to visit

Christine Chow has an article about Singapore in The New York Times:
As Singapore’s thirst for cocktails has grown steadily over the last few years, a new generation of bars and clubs has emerged in some memorably unusual places. Ground zero for the city’s new breed of night life is the Dempsey Hill neighborhood. Where army barracks once stood surrounded by tropical jungle, bars and restaurants have been sprouting at a breakneck pace. The result combines a laid-back atmosphere with alfresco settings, all just a few miles from downtown.
The area trailblazer, way back in 2006, was Richard Goh, who opened Oosh Bar and Lounge (22 Dempsey Road; 65-6475-0002) on almost 100,000 square feet of lush green property. “Dempsey was just a nature enclave when I chanced upon it,” Mr. Goh said. “I had a vision that it could be transformed into a resort lifestyle venue.”
Indeed, Oosh may evoke memories of your last tropical getaway. Live musicians often entertain at the main bar; out in the garden, Balinese-style pavilions are set among moodily lit waterfalls and reflecting pools. Service can be slow, but strong cocktails and the stirring décor are distraction enough.
A more recent addition to Dempsey is the White Rabbit (39C Harding Road; 65-6473-9965), where a young and well-heeled crowd competes for attention with the space itself: a charmingly restored chapel, complete with stained-glass windows, which houses a bustling restaurant and alcove lounge leading out to a garden bar. The whimsical theme is carried through from topiary sculptures to “reinvented” takes on classic cocktails, like the Black Forest mojito, which is made with Chambord.
“I think locals and expatriates alike respond well to unique, multifaceted concepts,” said Tengwen Wee, a co-owner of the White Rabbit. “We’ve seen a growing base of discerning clientele in Singapore.”
Mr. Wee’s latest addition to the party scene fills a surprisingly underrepresented niche on this tropical island: the beach bar. Opened in May on the resort island of Sentosa, just off the city’s coast, the Shack (120 Tanjong Beach Walk, Sentosa; 65-6278-9934) is an aptly unpretentious moniker for this breezy hangout, where the bar resides within an old shipping container and beer barrels have been recycled as tables.
Wild Oats (11 Upper Wilkie Road; 65-6336-5413) promises a lower-key experience at its hidden-away location within the residential maze of Mount Emily. Keep your eye out for an elegant, sprawling colonial mansion with a tranquil terrace out front. While the drinks selection is rather standard, there is an ambitious menu of bar food (the owner, Willin Low, is also the chef at the nearby Wild Rocket restaurant).
The most unlikely setting of all may be at KPO (1 Killiney Road; 65-6733-3648) in downtown Singapore, where a bar and lounge share space with an operating post office. During the day, KPO is a sleek cafe, but after dark, it fills with down-tempo beats and a mix of locals and tourists. A second floor also opens up at night, with a lovely open-air balcony where bar stools are arrayed to overlook the whizzing traffic below.
“KPO’s a great chill-out alternative to clubs and pubs,” said Vanessa Murthy, 31, while sharing drinks with a group of friends. “Singapore’s night life definitely offers a lot of variety nowadays.”

Nothing becomes some men like the leaving of it

Rico says even the doubly-named Abdullah Abdullah could tell it was better for his country (and probably his lifespan) if he bailed on the election in Afghanistan. Dexter Filkins and Alissa Rubin have the story in The New York Times:
Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to President Hamid Karzai, plans to announce on Sunday his decision to withdraw from the 7 November run-off election, effectively handing a new five-year term to Mr. Karzai, according to Western diplomats here and people close to Mr. Abdullah.
But Mr. Abdullah seemed to be keeping his options open until the last second, as he has done throughout the Afghan political crisis. Those close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said he was still trying to decide whether to publicly denounce Mr. Karzai, whom he has accused of stealing the 20 August election, or step down without a fight.
American and other Western diplomatic officials said late Saturday that they were worried that a defiant statement by Mr. Abdullah could lead to violence and undermine the credibility of Mr. Karzai, and they were urging him to bow out gracefully. Obama administration officials have scrambled for weeks to end the deadlock, trying to ensure a credible government as President Obama weighs whether to increase the American military presence in Afghanistan.
People close to Mr. Abdullah said that his representative met with Mr. Karzai on Saturday, but were unable to make any progress on the issue that soured personal talks between the rivals on Thursday: mainly, Mr. Abdullah’s demands that the Afghan election system be overhauled to forestall more fraud in the second round.
Following the first round of voting, a United Nations-backed panel threw out nearly a million ballots— one third of Mr. Karzai’s total— on the grounds that they were fake.

Places that Rico would like to visit

The New York Times has an article by Victoria Burnett about Barcelona:
If you’ve walked in the creamy Barcelona sunlight through the streets around the Paseo de Gracia, you will be no stranger to the elegant charm of the Eixample, the imposing 19th-century grid that is the city’s geographical and architectural heart. Magnificent modernist buildings gaze proudly over the tree-lined boulevards. Delights beckon from every shop front: sleek furniture, elaborate tapas, chic couture, and handmade chocolates.
Hidden from view, however, behind the Eixample’s grand facades is a little-advertised patchwork of public gardens and courtyards that offers refuge from the urban rush and an intimate view of everyday Barcelona life. Many of these green spaces have been carved in recent years from the patios that form the center of each city block, and are reached down narrow passageways or by cutting through a building. They are the ideal place to pause between the sights of the Eixample, which stretches from the old city to neighborhoods like Gracia, especially if you have children in tow.
As you stroll around the Quadrat d’Or — the central section of the Eixample known for its modernist gems — step into the gracious garden of the Palau Robert, a late-19th-century mansion that hosts the Catalan tourist office. Filled with stately palm, cypress, and orange trees, the gardens were part of the estate of Robert Robert i Surís, a Spanish grandee. You can reach the garden through the door of the palace, at Paseo de Gracia, 107, or through two gates around the corner on Diagonal.
This is drought-stricken Barcelona, however, not well-watered Paris or London, and some of the Eixample’s gardens are paved and spare; more interesting as places to watch people than to spot flora.
If you take a few minutes out of your hunt for designer cookware at the popular shop Vinçon (Paseo de Gracia, 96; 34-93-215-6050), you can sit in the peaceful courtyard behind the shop and check out the undulating balconies on the rear facade of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà. You may even catch a couple of the residential building’s lucky occupants shooting the breeze.
Or for a taste of local life, pop into the courtyard at the end of the Pasaje Rector Oliveras, where children clamber on the climbing frame in the shadow of the Gothic Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was moved stone by stone from the old city in the late 1800s. A local resident said the neighbors use the garden for alfresco dinners in summer, so, you never know, you may even snag an invitation to partake of some pa amb tomaquet.
Or cool your heels — literally — in the shallow, turquoise swimming pool reached via a dark passageway at Calle Roger de Llúria, 56, one of the first patios returned to the public by the city in the late 1980s and home to a looming brick water tower. (Entry during summer costs 1.45 euros, about $2.20.)
“The patios are like a window onto Barcelona,” said Francesc Muñoz Ramírez, a professor of urban geography at the Barcelona Autonomous University, during a recent afternoon stroll through the Eixample. “You can be an urban voyeur and watch the business of the city from the inside.”
This speckle of green in the Eixample’s urban lattice is a nod to the vision of Idelfons Cerdà i Sunyer, the progressive civil engineer whose design for the district marks its 150th anniversary this year. When he submitted his plan in 1859, the city Cerdà had in mind was to be functional rather than flamboyant, a breed of socialist utopia where rich and poor would live side-by-side in city blocks of identical size wrapped around parks and kitchen gardens.
Back then, Barcelona was a teeming, disease-ridden warren of streets, clustered around the port and hemmed in by medieval walls beyond which lay the wide expanse that became the Eixample. Life for the working class was grim and short; the average person died before his or her 36th birthday. Onto this squalid, airless muddle, Cerdà grafted his huge, orderly grid, an ambitious expansion that was an heir of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s plan for remodeling the chaotic center of Paris earlier in the decade.
Cerdà foresaw the needs of modern life and created a template from which the city has evolved to become one of Europe’s most vibrant and enticing. Thrilled by the potential of railways, he designed wide streets that could handle trains and trams. To help visibility and, some believe, to allow trams to turn, he cut the corner of each block at an angle, creating the graceful chamfered corners so characteristic of the Eixample.
Cerdà’s plan became the DNA of modern Barcelona, but his detractors condemned it as vulgar and monotonous and many of its egalitarian precepts were ignored. “Cerdà’s vision was so avant-garde, so modern that few people at the time recognized his genius,” said Lluís Permanyer, a Catalan journalist who has written books on the Eixample. “It is only today that we are realizing how important he was.”
Some streets became more equal than others, with grand avenues sprouting elaborate mansions that made the Eixample a showcase for modernist architects like Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, while nearby streets languished, unpaved and without sanitation.
Greedy developers constructed more, and taller, buildings than Cerdà intended, cutting the light and public space that were supposed to make his city sanitary and pleasant (like other 19th-century urban planners, he believed good ventilation would prevent the spread of disease). The patios inside each block became cluttered with warehouses, garages, and offices.
However, the green spaces that Cerdà believed would define the Eixample prefigured a very contemporary need. As part of an effort to make Barcelona greener, the city has created 40 gardens and plans to add more, as well as create a network of pedestrian-only areas.
“We’re returning to Cerdà’s original concept,” said Professor Muñoz. “The vision we have for the city now isn’t very different from the one he had, 150 years ago.”
Through June of 2010, the Barcelona Center for Contemporary Culture () is organizing exhibitions, walks, and seminars to mark Cerdà’s urban design legacy.
An extensive list of Barcelona’s often-overlooked public gardens — like the serene grounds of the Barcelona Seminary (Calle Diputación, 231) or the courtyard of the Casa Elizalde cultural center (Calle Valencia, 302), where you can often catch a weekend children’s show — can be found on the website of ProEixample, a public-private partnership dedicated to revitalizing the Eixample.

More on changes to the internet

The New York Times has an article by Choe Sang-Hun about the moves by ICANN to allow non-Latin scripts:
By the middle of next year, Internet surfers will be allowed to use Web addresses written completely in Chinese, Arabic, Korean and other languages using non-Latin alphabets, the organization overseeing Internet domain names announced Friday in a decision that could make the Web more accessible. In an action billed as one of the biggest changes in the Web’s history, the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted during its annual meeting in Seoul to allow such scripts in Internet addresses.
The decision is a “historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet,” said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s president and chief executive. “We just made the Internet much more accessible to millions of people in regions such as Asia, the Middle East, and Russia.”
This change affects domain names: anything that comes after the dot, including .com, .cn or .jp. Domain names have been limited to 37 characters: 26 Latin letters, 10 digits, and a hyphen. But starting next year, domain names can consist of characters in any language. In some Web addresses, non-Latin scripts are already used in the portion before the dot. Thus, ICANN’s decision Friday makes it possible, for the first time, to write an entire Internet address in a non-Latin alphabet.
Initially, the new naming system will affect only Web addresses with country codes, the designators at the end of an address name like .kr (for Korea) or .ru (for Russia). But eventually, it will be expanded to all types of Internet address names, ICANN said.
Some security experts have warned that allowing internationalized domain names in languages like Arabic, Russian, and Chinese could make it more difficult to fight cyberattacks, including malicious redirects and hacking. But ICANN said it was ready for the challenge.
“I do not believe that there would be any appreciable difference,” Mr. Beckstrom said in an interview. “Yes, maybe some additional potential but at the same time, some new security benefits may come too. If you look at the global set of cybersecurity issues, I don’t see this as any significant new threat if you look at it on an isolated basis.”
The decision, reached after years of testing and debate, clears the way for ICANN to begin accepting applications for non-Latin domain names on 16 November. People will start seeing them in use around mid-2010, particularly in Arabic, Chinese, and other scripts in which demand for the new “internationalized” domain name system has been among the strongest, ICANN officials say.
Internet addresses in non-Latin scripts could lead to a sharp increase in the number of global Internet users, eventually allowing people around the globe to navigate much of the online world using their native language scripts, they said. This is a boon, especially for users who find it cumbersome to type in Latin characters to access Web pages. Of the 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide, more than half use languages that have scripts that are not based on the Latin alphabet.
Hong Jong-gil, an Internet industry analyst at Korea Investment and Securities in Seoul, said the new names would help children and old people who had not learned the Latin alphabet. But he did not foresee any major increase in the number of Internet users, because Internet penetration has less to do with whether one has to type in English-alphabet domain names and more to do with “whether you can afford a PC and your community has broadband access”.
Agencies that help companies and individuals get Internet domains welcomed the ICANN decision, noting it would be good for their own businesses. “This is great news for us. This opens a new demand for domain names,” said Yang Eun-hee, an official at Gabia.com, an Internet domain agency. “There will be a rush among businesses to get new local-language Web addresses to protect their brand names. These days, a big company typically has dozens or hundreds of domains for their products, and it will be quite a cost to get all the new names.”
Observers agree that the change could make a difference for many businesses. “A lot of companies will end up having double domains, the existing one in English and a new one in the local script,“ said Choi Kyoung-jin, an analyst at Shinhan Investment. “A Korean domain name may be useful for Koreans but it’s not for foreign customers.”
Users who do not use the Latin alphabet can now reach Web sites by asking search engines to provide their links. But a change in the domain name policy has become inevitable, Internet industry officials said. For example, there are so many .com Web addresses that it has become next to impossible to find an English word or an intelligible combination of two English words not already in use, they said. “Today’s decision opens up a whole new Internet territory,” Ms. Yang said. “The Internet will become more multi-lingual than before.”

Correction: 30 October 2009
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the origins of the World Wide Web. It was first devised two decades ago, not four; it is the Internet that has roots going back four decades.

History for the day

On 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India, was assassinated. William Stevens had an article in The New York Times:
So thoroughly had Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dominated Indian politics over the last two decades that even some of her critics said she was what held the fractious country together. Many called her Madam, Madamji, Mrs. G., Indiraji, Amma (Mother), or just 'She'. Not everyone thought of her in kind terms, but all knew who 'She' was, and her assassination leaves an incalculable void in the life of the country. Her sudden disappearance from the public scene represents a considerable challenge to the future of the Indian experiment in democracy.
Hours after her death, her forty-year-old son, Rajiv Gandhi, was sworn in as her successor. It is his abilities and performance that are, perhaps, the biggest uncertainty for many people as the nation tries to adjust to the events of today.
Charan Singh, another former Prime Minister, who failed to hold an opposition Government together in 1979 and 1980, thereby paving the way for Mrs. Gandhi's return from three years out of power, expressed as much horror as anyone else when he heard the news of Mrs. Gandhi's assassination. But when he heard about Rajiv Gandhi's rapid elevation, he said it confirmed his fear that "democracy is being gradually eroded in this country in order to establish a dynastic rule". Whether that interpretation turns out to be correct, or whether Mr. Gandhi's swift installation as Prime Minister will exercise a stabilizing influence, is not clear.
What seems clearer is that Mr. Gandhi, because of his mother's death, appears at the moment to be in an almost invulnerable political position. By law, parliamentary elections should be held by next 20 January, when the five-year life of the present Parliament expires. It was widely expected that Mrs. Gandhi would set the elections for late December or early January. It was also widely believed that her Congress-I Party would win enough seats to keep her in power, even if with a drastically reduced majority or at the head of a coalition government.
Whatever doubt there was stemmed largely from the negative baggage she had acquired during her years in power: for example, the suspicion after the 1975-77 period, when she declared a state of emergency and suspended civil rights, that she was authoritarian at heart; or her apparent acceptance of power politics, as in this year's bald attempts to topple duly elected state governments hostile to her party, or what was commonly perceived as a serious erosion of political institutions, for which she was largely blamed.
Rajiv Gandhi, though he has involved himself as leader of the Congress-I Party at the very lowest levels of power politics, comes to office essentially without such baggage. His image is still mostly that of Mr. Clean, a nickname he won in 1981 when, campaigning for a seat in Parliament, he promised to rid Indian politics of venality and corruption.
More important to the relatively narrow consideration of winning an election, he now wears the mantle both of a martyr's son and of the Nehru dynasty. There are some who think that if an election were called tomorrow, this combination would produce a Congress-I majority larger even than the two-thirds majority won under his mother's leadership five years ago.
It is not known, however, if and when elections will take place. Beyond that, it is an open question whether Mr. Gandhi has either the tough, pragmatic shrewdness of his mother or the idealistic depth of his grandfather, Jawharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.
The combination of Nehru's idealism and Mrs. Gandhi's adroit use of power on the international scene is credited by some students of Indian foreign policy with having placed this country among the world's most influential nations. During Mrs. Gandhi's tenure, for example, India has solidified its position as a leader of the third world and of the Commonwealth, and become the dominant power in South Asia.
Closer to home and to the moment, Mr. Gandhi must confront the possibility of rioting between Hindus and Sikhs. In his first radio address to the nation tonight, he called for "maximum restraint" on the part of all Indians. Moreover, he must now confront the intractable problem of Punjab, where the Sikhs have been pressing for political autonomy and religious rights. Some say they fear that Sikh terrorism might convert the wealthy but unhappy breadbasket state into a Northern Ireland on the Subcontinent.
If Mrs. Gandhi's assassination is indeed the work of Sikh terrorists, as was commonly believed here today, the Punjab situation has been made just that much worse.
Rico says the son, Rajiv, was assassinated in turn:
Rajiv Ratna Gandhi (20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991), the elder son of Indira Nehru and Feroze Gandhi, was the 7th Prime Minister of India from his mother's death on 31 October 1984 until his resignation on 2 December 1989 following a general election defeat. He became the youngest Prime Minister of India when he took office (at the age of 40).
Rajiv Gandhi was a professional pilot for Indian Airlines before entering politics. While at Cambridge, he met Italian-born Antonia Maino whom he later married. He remained aloof from politics despite his mother being the Indian Prime Minister, and it was only following the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 that Rajiv entered politics. After the assassination of his mother in 1984 after Operation Blue Star, Indian National Congress party leaders nominated him to be Prime Minister.
Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to a major election victory in 1984 soon after, amassing the largest majority ever in Indian Parliament. The Congress party won 411 seats out of 542. He began dismantling the License Raj - government quotas, tariffs and permit regulations on economic activity - modernized the telecommunications industry, the education system, expanded science and technology initiatives and improved relations with the United States.
In 1988, Rajiv reversed the coup in Maldives antagonising the militant Tamil outfits such as PLOTE. He was also responsible for first intervening and then sending Indian troops (Indian Peace Keeping Force or IPKF) for peace efforts in Sri Lanka in 1987, which soon ended in open conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group. In mid-1987, the Bofors scandal broke his honest, corruption-free image and resulted in a major defeat for his party in the 1989 elections.
Rajiv Gandhi was an active amateur radio operator, and used the callsign VU2RG.
Rajiv Gandhi remained Congress President until the elections in 1991. While campaigning, he was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) group. His widow Sonia Gandhi became the leader of the Congress party in 1998, and led the party to victory in the 2004 elections. His son Rahul Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and the General Secretary of All India Congress Committee.
Rajiv Gandhi was posthumously awarded the Highest National Award of India, Bharat Ratna, joining a list of forty luminaries, including Indira Gandhi.

Civil War for the day

British reenactors, firing at Fort Brockhurst, Gosport, England.

30 October 2009

Wogs win one

Rico says he's not sure why they bent the rules for this guy (probably because he's a doctor, not a grunt), but the Associated Press has the story via Military.com:
The U.S. Army will make an exception to a decades-old rule and allow a Sikh doctor to serve without removing his turban and cutting his hair, an advocacy group said Friday.
Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi is the first Sikh to be allowed to go on active duty with a turban, beard, and unshorn hair in more than twenty years, according to the New York-based Sikh Coalition.
The decision does not overturn an Army policy from the 1980s that regulates the wearing of religious items, Acting Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Gina Farrisee wrote in a letter to Kalsi and posted online by the Sikh Coalition.
Instead, the Army's decision follows a long-standing practice of deciding such requests on a case-by-case basis, the letter said. Farrisee said the Army had weighed Kalsi's request against factors such as "unit cohesion, morale, discipline, safety, and/or health."
There's no indication that the overall policy is being reconsidered, said Army spokeswoman Jill Mueller, adding that she could not confirm that the Army had reached a decision in the case until she received word from her superiors that Kalsi himself had been notified.
But Sikh Coalition director Amardeep Singh said he was hopeful the Army would announce a full policy shift. "This bodes well for the future," he said. "My guess is the Army's going to be seeing a lot more Sikhs requesting to be a part of the Army. This issue is not going away."
The 32-year-old Kalsi, of Riverdale, New Jersey, is an emergency room doctor. He promised to serve in the Army in exchange for help paying for his medical training. A similar case, that of Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, will be decided after he receives the results of his dental board exams, Amardeep Singh said.
A number of members of Congress wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him to allow the men to serve while wearing the turban, beard, and unshorn hair required by their faith. "We do not believe that any American should have to choose between his religion and service to our country," the letter said.

More internet weirdness

Rico says his friend Bill Calloway is prone to sending him odd photos off the internet. Here's one of an albino moose (sure to become winter food for some hunter) and some dollar-bill origami:

Well, at least that's not in doubt any more

The Telegraph has an article by Allan Hall about Hitler's criminality (as if there was any doubt):
Fritz Darges died at 96, with instructions for his manuscript about his time spent at the side of the Führer to be published once he was gone.
Darges was the last surviving member of Hitler's inner circle, and was present for all major conferences, social engagements, and policy announcements for four years of the war.
Experts say his account of his time as Hitler's direct link to the SS could discount the claims of revisionists, who have tried to claim the German leader knew nothing of the extermination programme. Right-wing historians have claimed the planning for the murder of six million Jews was carried out by SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Mainstream historians believe it inconceivable that Hitler did not issue verbal directives about the mass killings in Darges' presence. Other courtiers, such as armaments minister Albert Speer and propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, had their diaries published post war with no reference to hearing Hitler order the Final Solution.
Darges died still believing in the man who engineered the Jewish Holocaust was "the greatest who ever lived." His memoirs will be published now in accordance with his will.
Darges trained as an export clerk but joined the SS in April of 1933. His zeal for National Socialism soon earmarked him for great things, and by 1936 he was the senior adjutant to Martin Bormann, Hitler's all-powerful secretary.
"I first met the Führer at the Nuremberg party rally in 1934," he said in an interview given to a German newspaper shortly before his death at his home in Celle. "He had a sympathetic look, he was warm-hearted. I rated him from the off."
After serving in the SS panzer division Wiking in France and Russia, he was promoted to the Führer's personal staff in 1940. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and was awarded the Knights Cross, the highest gallantry award for bravery in the field.
Much of his time after 1942 was either spent at Hitler's eastern headquarters, the 'Wolf's Lair' at Rastenburg, East Prussia, or at his holiday home, the Berghof, on a mountain in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria. "It was a very familial atmosphere at the Berghof," he recalled. "One time we went off to Italy together with Eva Braun and her sister Gretel in an open-topped car. I had to organise all the finances. I had the feeling that Eva's sister was interested in me, but I didn't think I should become the brother-in-law of the Führer. As adjutant I was responsible for his day-to-day programme. I must, and was, always there for him, at every conference, at every inter-service liaison meeting, at all war conferences. I must say I found him a genius."
But Darges misjudged the "warm-hearted" Führer deeply during one conference at Rastenburg on July 18 1944, two days before a bomb plot nearly succeeded in killing him.
During a strategy conference a fly began buzzing around the room, landing on Hitler's shoulder and on the surface of a map several times. Irritated, Hitler ordered Darges to "dispatch the nuisance". Darges suggested whimsically that, as it was an 'airborne pest', the job should go to the Luftwaffe adjutant, Nicolaus von Below. Enraged, Hitler dismissed Darges on the spot. "You're for the Eastern Front!" he yelled. And so he was sent into combat. But, despite the dramatic end to his time with Hitler, he would still hear nothing against "the boss". "We all dreamed of a greater German empire," he said. "That is why I served him and would do it all again now," said the man who had a career after the war selling cars.

Mafia justice, caught on tape

The Telegraph has the story:
The horrific footage, captured by closed circuit cameras, shows the assassin walk up to a man in broad daylight outside a bar in Naples and shoot him three times. As the victim slumps to the ground, the hitman then finishes him off with a bullet to the head and calmly walks away. Blood can be seen spreading onto the pavement from the head of the dead man, who is still holding a cigarette in his hand.
The dead man was Mariano Bacio Tarracino, 53, and is believed to have been connected to a mafia clan involved in a drug trafficking turf war with a rival group. Anti-mafia investigators said they released the horrific footage of the murder, which happened in May, because they still had not managed to find the killer, despite the fact that the angle of the surveillance cameras means that his face is clearly visible beneath his baseball cap. He even seems to be smirking after carrying out the execution.
"We have decided to circulate the video as widely as possible, urging the co-operation of whoever can provide information to identify the killer and his lookout," the Naples' office for anti-mafia investigations said in a statement.
His shooting was met with apparent indifference by bystanders who were caught on film outside the bar, in Naples's central Sanita district. A man holding a toddler in his arms looks at the victim and walks away, while a woman is seen rubbing off her scratch-and-win lottery card as the execution takes place. No witnesses have so far come forward.
Italy's third biggest city is home to the Camorra crime syndicate, a rival to the better known Cosa Nostra mafia of Sicily, and many locals have become resigned to violence on the streets after decades of deadly feuds.
The killing, in the middle of a busy neighbourhood, was "chilling", said a former head of the Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, who is now a member of the Anti-Mafia Commission. The scale of organised crime and the state's apparent inability to combat it was an "absolute emergency" for Italy.
An investigative journalist who wrote a best-selling expose of the Camorra, Roberto Saviano, said the indifference of bystanders was perhaps the most shocking element of the video. "When a city's at war, people stop caring about the things they see around them. This video shows that in some parts of Italy, life isn't worth anything". Mr. Saviano, whose book Gomorrah earned him death threats from the Mafia, which means he has had to live under police escort for the last three years, said the killer's ice-cold composure marked him out as a professional hit man.
"First he walks in the bar, looks around, and then he comes out and starts shooting." The mundane surroundings of the assassination and its brutality could help to "dispel Hollywood myths about Mafia violence and show what a Camorra execution is really like," he said.

Must've been for his money

Rico says the Guardian has an article by David Smith out of Johannesburg:
He is old enough to be her great-great-grandfather. But Ahmed Muhamed Dhore, a Somalian who claims to be 112 years old, said he had realised a "dream" by marrying a 17-year-old bride.
Dhore– who says he was born in 1897, the year that Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee– already has 13 children by five wives, but said he would like more with his newest, Safiya Abdulle.
Hundreds of people attended the extraordinary ceremony this week in Guriceel, in the region of Galguduud. "Today God helped me realise my dream," Dore said. He and his new wife, who is almost a century his junior, are from the same village in Somalia, he said, adding that he had waited for her to grow up to propose. He says his children and two other wives agreed to the marriage, as did Abdulle's parents.
"I didn't force her, but used my experience to convince her of my love, and then we agreed to marry," the groom said. The bride's family said she was "happy with her new husband". Somali adolescent girls are often married off to older men.
Dhore has 114 children and grandchildren. His oldest son is 80 and three of his wives have died. This was his first marriage for three quarters of a century.
Rico says it's unfortunate there are no pictures of the wedding, but thankfully there won't be any of the wedding night, either...

Thank goodness

Rico says that al-Reuters has the story of the decline and fall of the decrepit Latin alphabet:
The body in charge of assigning the world's Internet users their online addresses said it had agreed to allow the use of any of the world's scripts, no longer just the Latin alphabet. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which approved the change at a meeting in Seoul, said in a statement it could lead to a dramatic rise in the number of Internet users. "This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet," ICANN's President and CEO Rod Beckstrom was quoted as saying. "We have just made the Internet much more accessible to millions of people in regions such as Asia, the Middle East, and Russia."
The program will be rolled out in stages, starting on 16 November. Initially, it will allow internationalized domain names (IDNs) using scripts such as Chinese, Korean, or Arabic for the country code designators at the end of an address name.
Eventually, the use of IDNs will be expanded to all types of Internet address names.
ICANN was set up in 1998 and operated under the aegis of the U.S. Commerce Department. It decides what names can be added to the Internet's top level domains (TLDs) such as .com as well as country designations. Last month, the U.S. government agreed to changes that in effect meant ICANN would no longer report solely to the United States.
Rico says we shouldn't have let go of ICANN; it will now work with the precision and efficency of the UN...

Now they're drinking buddies

Seems that Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts PD are hanging out now. WBZ-TV from Cambridge has the story:
Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley were spotted at a pub in Cambridge Wednesday night. The owner of the pub said the two sat in a booth together and talked for about an hour.
Over the summer, Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct while responding to reports of a possible break-in at Gates' home. Gates accused the officer of racial profiling.
The incident led to a nation-wide debate over racial profiling and race relations, when President Barack Obama commented on the situation by coming to Gates' defense. All three men later sat at a table outside the White House in what became known as the 'beer summit.'

Falling back

National Geographic has an article about Daylight Savings Time:
Daylight saving time in most of the United States ends at 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, 1 November. Contrary to popular belief, no federal rule mandates that U.S. states or territories observe daylight saving time. Most U.S. residents set their clocks one hour forward in spring and one hour back in fall. But people in Hawaii and most of Arizona, along with the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands, will do nothing. Those locales never deviate from standard time within their particular time zones.
The federal law first passed in 1918 and, thanks to a 2005 revision that went into practice in 2007, now stipulates areas that observe daylight saving time must switch back to standard time at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November.
Likewise, the new daylight saving time rule requires that regions that observe daylight saving time begin at the same time on the second Sunday in March.
Rico says there's a lot more at the site.

Civil War for the day

29 October 2009

Old-time music, same old drunken stupidity

Not in Pennsylvania, they don't

ABC News has an article by Alice Gomstyn about what's happening in less benighted states:
What makes a grocery store stand out from its competitors? Try a fresh, cold beer on tap. More stores are adding beer and wine selections in an effort to appeal to consumers who now prefer to drink at home instead of at bars and restaurants.
Last week, a Piggly Wiggly store in Myrtle Beach, S.C. introduced taps dispensing craft beers into growlers-- half-gallon, glass containers also sold at the store-- for $9.99 to $12.99. As with Piggly Wiggly's more traditional alcohol offerings-- wine and canned and bottled beer-- customers aren't allowed to drink their purchases at the store. But what they lose in instant gratification, beer lovers might gain in savings.
"It's a lot cheaper to buy it from us than to pay $4 or $5 for a beer at a bar," said store manager Timmy Parrott. Parrott's thinking seems to be increasingly popular among retailers large and small as more stores look to off-premises alcohol sales-- sales of alcohol outside of eateries and bars-- to grow their business and meet customer demand.
Earlier this year, the pharmacy chain Walgreens announced it was returning beer and wine to its store shelves after abandoning the products more than a decade earlier. Discount chain Family Dollar is testing beer sales at ten of its Florida stores this year. There was "a groundswell of interest saying, 'Hey, now that you've got these great coolers here, it'd be great if you stocked some beer too,'" said Family Dollar spokesman Josh Braverman.
Between September of 2008 and last month, the number of U.S. stores engaged in off-premises beer sales jumped by nearly 2,600, while wine sellers increased by more than 3,000, according to market research giant Nielsen. The increase occurred despite the fact that the total number of U.S. grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, and others declined by more than 3,000.
"While there's lots of disarray going out there in general because of the economy, there are more stores that are deciding they want to get into the beverage alcohol business," said Danny Brager, vice president and group client director for the beverage alcohol team at Nielsen. The trend is largely driven by the recession, Brager said, as more cost-conscious consumers choose to skip the bar scene to spend a night at home, drink in hand, Brager said. "A big night in is replacing a big night out these days more and more, so retailers are recognizing that consumers are looking to stores to buy products more so than going out and enjoying an alcoholic beverage while they're out," he said.
Rico says you can read the rest here if you care...

Throughout the universe in perpetuity

Rico says its the latest hip legal phrase, according to an article by Dionne Sarey and James Hagerty in The Wall Street Journal:
Decked out in sequined black and gold dresses, Anne Harrison and the other women in her Bulgarian folk-singing group were lined up to try out for NBC's America's Got Talent television show when they noticed peculiar wording in the release papers they were asked to sign. Any of their actions that day last February, the contract said, could be "edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity."
She and the other singers, many of whom are librarians in the Washington, D.C., area, briefly contemplated whether they should give away the rights to hurtling their images and voices across the galaxies forever. Then, like thousands of other contestants, they signed their names. Ms. Harrison figured the lawyers for the show were trying to hammer home the point that contestants have no rights to their performances, "but I think they're just lazy and don't want to write a real contract," she says.
Lawyers for years have added language to some contracts that stretches beyond the Earth's atmosphere. But more and more people are encountering such everywhere-and-forever language as entertainment companies tap into amateur talent and try to anticipate every possible future stream of revenue.
Experts in contract drafting say lawyers are trying to ensure that with the proliferation of new outlets— including mobile-phone screens, Twitter, online video sites and the like— they cover all possible venues from which their clients can derive income, even those in outer space. FremantleMedia, one of the producers of NBC's America's Got Talent, declined to comment on its contracts.
The terms of use listed on Starwars.com, where people can post to message boards among other things, tell users that they give up the rights to any content submissions "throughout the universe and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed". Lucasfilm Ltd., Star Wars creator George Lucas's entertainment company that runs the site, said the language is standard in Hollywood. "But, to be honest with you, we have had very few cases of people trying to exploit rights on other planets," says Lynne Hale, a Lucasfilm spokeswoman.
In a 15 May 2008, "expedition agreement" between JWM Productions LLC, a film-production company, and Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., a shipwreck-exploration outfit, JWM seeks the rights to footage from an Odyssey expedition. The contract covers rights "in any media, whether now known or hereafter devised, or in any form whether now known or hereafter devised, an unlimited number of times throughout the universe and forever, including, but not limited to, interactive television, CD-ROMs, computer services, and the Internet."
Odyssey said the wording was standard entertainment-law contract language. Jason Williams, JWM's president, said he feels a bit strange when his lawyers start using "cosmic language", but it's prudent. "These days there is an enormous amount of concern about how rights get appropriated," he said. "Paranoia is paramount."
The space and time continuum has extended to other realms outside the arts, including pickles. A 189-word sentence in a September agreement between Denver-based Spicy Pickle Franchising Inc. and investment bank Midtown Partners & Co., which has helped raise capital for the sandwich and pickle shops dotted across the region, unconditionally releases Spicy Pickle from all claims "from the beginning of time" until the date of the agreement. "We're trying to figure out how to cover every possible base as quickly as possible," says Marc Geman, chief executive officer of Spicy Pickle. "When you start at the beginning of time, that is pretty clear." As for the wordy language, he says, "the length of the paragraph is only limited by the creativity of the attorney".
Midtown Partners CEO John Clarke didn't realize the wording was in the contract until it was pointed out and said it "probably is a little extreme". Had he drafted the contract, he says he may have suggesting substituting "dating back to the birth date of the oldest party involved".
James O'Toole, politics editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recently signed a release form for WQED, a PBS TV station in Pittsburgh, before he appeared on a news talk show. The contract allows the TV station to make use of "any incidents" of his life and reproduce his image or voice "throughout the universe in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereinafter devised". Mr. O'Toole, who says he didn't bother to read the release before signing it, took the news calmly. "I'm very popular in some of the far reaches of the Milky Way," he says. Even so, he says, "I don't think I've missed out on a lot of potential income."
Jacquelyn Thomas, general counsel for WQED, says the company has "never gotten any pushback" on this language. "I don't mean to sound like a science-fiction nut, but it's not inconceivable that media will move beyond Earth," Ms. Thomas says.
Members of the Washington-area Bulgarian folk ensemble Slaveya signed a contract before they tried out for America's Got Talent that said their work could be 'edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity'.
Some legal experts rail against such language as imprecise and unnecessary. Ken Adams, a Garden City, N.Y., attorney and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who advocates for clarity in contract language, says references to outer space and the end of time are silly. That kind of language could even be a way of drumming up business, he says. "It adds an aura of magic; you're dabbling in the occult and you, of course, need a lawyer to guide you through the mysteries."
But Eric Goldman, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law who specializes in intellectual-property and Internet law, says the language could be "a stroke of brilliant foresight". Referring to geographical limits loosely can be dangerous, he says. For instance, "the United States is an ambiguous term... American Samoa, yes or no?" 'Throughout the world' would be one alternative, but that excludes possible future markets, he says. Some day, Mr. Goldman adds, people might ask, "What were they thinking? Why didn't they get the Mars rights?"
Rico says he will now incorporate this bullshit into all his legal agreements, in perpetuity...

Google eats another industry

The New York Times has an article by Jenna Wortham and Miguel Helft about another Google move:
GPS navigation devices were the latest must-have tech toys just two years ago, and shares of device makers like Garmin and TomTom were soaring.
That didn’t last long. In a turnabout that has been remarkably swift even for the fast-moving technology business, those companies have suffered as competition has pulled down prices, and as more people have turned to their cellphones for directions. In the latest blow to the business, Google announced a free navigation service for mobile phones on Wednesday that will offer turn-by-turn directions, live traffic updates and the ability to recognize voice commands. The service will initially be available on only one phone, the new Motorola Droid, but will be expanded to more phones soon.
In a briefing in advance of its announcement, Google said that the service might be supported by advertisements in the future. That would make driving directions the latest form of information to shift from being a paid service to one that is ad-supported.
“This is consistent with a certain pattern of Google, where they are able to build volume and usage of a product and then subsidize it with advertising,” said Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligent, a research firm. The losers, he said, were companies like TomTom and Garmin, along with the cellphone carriers, which offer navigation services by subscription.
Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said that he didn’t view the new service as hurting an industry. Instead, he said, it is a boon to consumers, made possible by the increasing power of smartphones and the growing ubiquity of Internet access. “Obviously we like the price of free, because consumers like that as well,” he said. But analysts say that if successful, Google’s service could chip away at sales of stand-alone GPS devices and the subscription services offered by cellphone carriers.
Sales growth for those devices is already slowing. In 2007, global shipments of stand-alone navigation devices grew a hefty 131 percent from the year before, according to data from the research firm In-Stat. But the firm predicts that shipments will grow just 19 percent this year from 2008, and a price war has hurt the industry’s profits.
“With a free alternative that is just as good, I don’t see much positive growth for the likes of TomTom, Navigon, or Garmin,” said Dominique Bonte, director of navigation research at ABI Research. “If it’s free and a good service, why would you pay for something you can get for free?”
Google’s announcement also reflects a broader shift toward consolidation in the gadget world.
The smartphone is already the Swiss Army knife of the digital age, able to transform into a camera, music player, or game machine at the swipe of a finger. Now it is increasingly a navigation device too. Many people still prefer dedicated GPS devices, which tend to display maps faster, since the data is typically stored in the device rather than downloaded over a wireless network. But the list of smartphone shortcomings is shrinking. Smartphone users can download applications that offer spoken directions and live traffic updates. And at $100 to $300 apiece, smartphones are competitively priced with GPS units, which average about $177.
By 2013, phone-based navigation systems, which are already more popular among younger smartphone owners, will dominate the market, according to a recent report.
The makers of navigation devices have not ignored the spread of smartphones. But Google’s move could make it harder for them to adapt. TomTom, based in Amsterdam, introduced a $100 navigation application for the iPhone in August. The company said the program had been downloaded close to 80,000 times. Garmin recently released the Nuvifone, a hybrid of a navigational device and a cellphone that has generally received poor reviews. “Turn-by-turn navigation on a handset is what we’re been doing with the Nuvifone,” said Ted Gartner, a spokesman for Garmin, which declined to release sales figures for the phone. “Google’s announcement reaffirms that consumers want their smartphones to double as a navigation device.”
Julien Blin, principal analyst at JBB Industry, called Garmin’s phone a “desperate move”, adding: “The Nuvifone is around $300, and you can get an iPhone for a comparable amount that can now do the same thing.”
Shares of both TomTom and Garmin plummeted Wednesday after Google’s announcement. Garmin’s shares fell 16 percent to $31.45 on Nasdaq, while TomTom’s shares closed around 21 percent lower on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.
Google’s navigation service, which for now works only in the United States, is part of a new version of Google Maps for Mobile, software that will work on the growing number of phones that run Google’s Android operating system. Google executives said they eventually hoped to offer the service on Apple’s iPhone and other mobile devices. But they said this would be up to those device makers. Apple and Google have clashed over Apple’s reluctance to approve an application that works with the Google Voice calling service.
As mobile services that involve location have become increasingly important, the underlying mapping data has become a valuable strategic asset. Google recently began creating its own digital maps in the United States, ending a contract with the map data provider TeleAtlas, which is owned by TomTom. A year earlier, Google had chosen TeleAtlas to replace Navteq, a map data provider that Nokia acquired for $8.1 billion in 2007. Google and Nokia are rivals in mobile phone operating systems.

More on pirates

CNN.com has the story of real-life piracy:
The British Royal Navy has found the yacht belonging to a British couple missing in the Indian Ocean since last week, but the yacht was empty, the British Ministry of Defence said Thursday. A ministry spokesman said it appeared the couple, who are feared kidnapped by pirates, had been transferred to another vessel. "There's nothing to indicate that they've been harmed," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named in line with policy. The yacht was found in international waters, but the spokesman refused to give a more exact location.
Paul and Rachel Chandler set off from the Seychelles for Tanzania on 21 October on their 38-foot-yacht, the Lynn Rival, according to their blog. They have not been heard from since, but a distress beacon was activated on 23 October, according to naval officials.
International military forces have been treating the case as a "potential hijacking", Lieutenant Ian Jones of Britain's Royal Navy told CNN. "We have no confirmation that anything has been pirated," he added. There are many possibilities, he said, adding he was aware of the reports of piracy but that hijacking was "far from certain".
Britain's Foreign Office issued a statement this week saying it is "extremely concerned for their safety," while pointing out it had not confirmed reports they were taken captive.
Pirates have been very active off the east coast of Africa in the past several years, operating out of lawless Somalia.
Two vessels were attacked the day after the Chandlers set sail. One of them, a cargo ship, was successfully boarded and seized off the Seychelles, while the other fought off its attackers near the Kenyan coast.
On Thursday, pirates attacked and boarded a Thai-flagged fishing vessel about 200 miles north of the Seychelles, according to the European Union Naval Force. EU NAVFOR aircraft spotted the pirates onboard and said the vessel now appears to be heading toward the Somali coast. The Thai vessel is the eighth ship held by criminals at the Somali coastline, EU NAVFOR said. Attacks in the region have significantly increased this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors shipping crimes. But successful attacks have gone down as a result of a strong presence of international monitors.
The first nine months of this year has seen more pirate attacks than all of last year, the bureau reported 21 October. From 1 January until 30 September, pirates worldwide mounted 306 attacks, compared with 293 in all of 2008, it said. More than half of this year's attacks were carried out by suspected Somali pirates off the east coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, a major shipping route between Yemen and Somalia. Out of those attacks, Somali pirates successfully hijacked 32 vessels and took 533 hostages. Eight people were wounded, four were killed and one is missing, the bureau said.
But it certainly sounds like it's high time for some Q-ships to lie off Somalia, attract some pirates, and blow the shit out of them. Of course, you can go buy Rico's book on the subject, too:


Courtesy of my friend Bill Champ, a sign for our times...


When Rico asked his friend Alan what he should be doing, he (foolish boy) assumed Rico meant working. While Rico could probably be doing something ("Do you want fries with that?"), in reality he wouldn't be worth his pay (and most employers would get pissed when he lay down for a nap every day after lunch, siesta be damned), and surely not at any job that paid what he used to make. (Which wasn't astronomical, but a lot.) Rico fears he would end up like the guy who was with him in Rehab, who's been fired from several positions because he just can't keep up.
Rico's time at the bokken class last night reminded him that, for fifty years, he's been a dabbler; one who does a little of something, just enough to know he's not gonna give it the effort it requires to be really good at it.
The only thing that Rico has really worked at (without major economic success, thus far) is writing, this blog being but one example. His books and magazines are proof of that. Feel free to go buy one (or more; no need to scrimp) and support Rico's act.

Civil War for the day

In honor of the World Series, baseball during the Civil War.

28 October 2009

You can help

Rico says he put a deposit (hey, he had to; the Civil War Gasm is coming) on a Blakeslee box (which holds extra rounds for Rico's magnificent Spencer rifle) from Larry Romano. Now they want the rest of their money. Go buy one of Rico's gubs (or some of his books or badges) and help him acquire this beautiful thing.

Get 'em while you can

Rico says he just bought a cheap ticket on Southwest; they're running a special sale (sure, it has limitations; what deal doesn't?) with tickets less than a hundred bucks. Fly, dammit! It's your duty as an American to spend money and end this recession.

Bad medical humor

Rico says his volunteer driver Tom (bless him; Rico would be seriously screwed without him every week) has to go to the doctor for his annual cat scan today. Rico hopes they find the cat in good health...

Civil War for the day

Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, this image of Native American recruits swearing in; probably to the Union army, but it could be either side.

27 October 2009

Firmness is important

Courtesy of my ladyfriend Chris:
There is more money being spent on breast implants and Viagra than on Alzheimer's research.
This means that, by 2040, there should be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely no recollection of what to do with them.

The real war in Afghanistan

No peacenik hippie, him

The Washington Post has an article by Karen DeYoung about a conflicted member of the conflict:
When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan. A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.
But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.
"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him."
While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?"
Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do," he said in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final.
"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the "second-best job I've ever had," his dominant experience is from the Marines, where many of his closest friends still serve. "There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there; a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.
Rico says go here to read the rest of this long article.

Bombs and votes; hard choices

The Associated Press has an article by Qassim Abdul-Zahra about the on-going problems in Iraq:
A long-sought political consensus in Iraq over how to conduct crucial upcoming elections fell apart Tuesday over the thorny issue of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, an Iraqi lawmaker said Tuesday. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, told The Associated Press an agreement by the nation's leaders the night before over an emergency proposal to break the deadlock had fallen apart over who will control the fractious northern city split between Arabs and Kurds. Othman said the vote over the election law would not take place Tuesday.
The proposal was agreed upon last night by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others as the capital was reeling from the worst bombing incident in two years the day before that killed 155 people. The bombing galvanized Iraq's Shiite-dominated government to make a push to smooth over differences in the divided government and wrap up the electoral law so that the contests could proceed on time in January.
With Iraq's public already angry over the bombing and the resurgence of violence, the politicians appeared to not want to risk further angering people by delaying the elections with their internal wrangling.
Observers, including the United States, worry that failure to agree on the guidelines would delay the crucial vote and allow violence to spiral out of control once more in Iraq.
In oil-rich Kirkuk, which is claimed by Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomens, the dispute focuses on whether all the people living there should be allowed to vote in the election.
During the Saddam era, tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced under a forced plan to make Kirkuk predominantly Arab. Since the 2003 invasion, many of these Kurds have returned, and other groups now claim there are more of them than before, which could sway the vote in their favor and bring Kirkuk and its oil fully under Kurdish control.
Proposals to solve the problem have included assigning the province's seats to the three groups ahead of time and dividing it into ethnic constituencies. Kurds have rejected these plans as unconstitutional.
Rico says the old line about separating the Kurds and Whey still applies, as soon as we can figure out who the fuck the Whey are...

Oh, that's okay, then...

The Wall Street Journal has an article by Andy Pasztor about the Northwest pilot problem:
The pilots of Northwest Flight 188 who overshot their destination told investigators that they were poring over their personal laptops in the cockpit while frantic air-traffic controllers were trying to establish contact. That was part of a sequence of events, along with an unfortunately timed bathroom break and a chat with a flight attendant in the cockpit, that distracted the pilots and caused them to fall out of radio contact with controllers for more than an hour.
Air safety experts have said investigators may never be able to conclusively back up the version of events laid out by the pilots of Flight 188, partly because the cockpit voice recorder captured only the last 30 minutes of some conversation. Even portions of that were later mistakenly recorded over by mechanics.
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration continue to pursue other possible theories, including that the crew may have nodded off at the controls. But the airline's officials believe the pilots' version of the events.
The flight's saga, during which controllers worried the jetliner might have been hijacked, appears to offer examples of two of the biggest safety hazards in commercial aviation: lax cockpit discipline and pilot complacency.
Commercial pilots are finding they have less to do during routine portions of flights as engines, navigation devices, and automated flight-management systems have become more sophisticated and reliable. Equipment malfunctions occur so rarely that one of the biggest worries among safety experts is how to keep pilots engaged in monitoring flight instruments. Crews, meanwhile, look for ways to fill idle time on long flights, sometimes leading to spells of inattention.
No mechanical problems were reported aboard the Airbus A320 during last week's flight. The jetliner was cruising on autopilot at 37,000 feet. The two pilots, Captain Timothy B. Cheney and first officer Richard Cole, hold unblemished training records and are highly experienced at the controls of the A320.
The missteps began when a female flight attendant brought meals into the cockpit and the captain ducked out for a bathroom break, according to people familiar with the details
The flight attendant stayed inside the cockpit for a brief chat, just as controllers were instructing the crew to switch to another radio frequency. The co-pilot, engaged in conversation with her, missed the instruction, and the captain didn't return until later, according to consultant Greg Feith, a former safety board investigator.
As the plane crossed state lines, neither pilot realized the jet no longer was on the correct radio frequency and that controllers were growing worried about their failure to stay in contact. The pilots continued to hear radio chatter, but told investigators they didn't notice that they hadn't heard from a controller for a long time. The aircraft was traveling unusually fast as it neared Minneapolis, due to a stiff tailwind, according to Mr. Feith. That may have added to the crew's confusion about the plane's position.
Investigators said the pilots recounted that they became engrossed in a heated discussion about a newly designed work-schedule system, a controversial topic among pilots since Northwest was merged with Delta Air Lines Inc. Both pilots retrieved their laptops and the first officer demonstrated to the captain how the new scheduling system worked.
During what the safety board described as a "concentrated period of discussion", neither pilot monitored the progress of the airplane nor air-traffic control communications. The pilots failed to notice when Northwest dispatchers sent repeated messages that popped up on the cockpit display screens. Five minutes before the scheduled landing, a flight attendant called the cockpit on the intercom to inquire about preparing the cabin for landing. It was then, the pilots told investigators, that they realized they had overshot Minneapolis and re-established contact with controllers.
When controllers quizzed the pilots about what happened, the terse response was "just cockpit distraction" and "dealing with company issues", according to an NTSB summary.
Though pilots say it happens relatively infrequently, cockpit crews do open up personal laptops while cruising in good weather during quiet periods when automated flight-management systems are fully engaged. Crossword puzzles, magazines and other diversions are more common. But no amount of automation reduces the responsibility of today's pilots to carefully listen and respond to ground controllers.
According to some pilots, members of other crews have even been known to play DVDs on laptops in the cockpit to pass the time on particularly long overwater and international flights.
Federal safety rules prohibit laptops in cockpits below 10,000 feet, but allow them during cruise. However, Delta put out a statement saying the airline expressly forbids pilots from using laptops at any time or engaging in personal activity that could distract from flight duties. The pilots have told associates that Northwest's procedures, which are being integrated with Delta's, allowed laptop use at cruise altitude. The FAA has signaled it plans to suspend or revoke their licenses.
According to investigators, the Northwest jet's cockpit voice recorder only picked up radio transmissions between the crew and controllers, not any direct discussion between the pilots themselves. That is likely to further reduce the amount of useful information that can be retrieved to buttress the pilots' chronology.
In its summary, the safety board also disclosed that during most of the incident the pilots didn't have headsets on to keep tabs on air-traffic control. Instead, according to investigators, the crew reported using speakers built into a portion of the cockpit to listen to radio communications at cruise altitude. Investigators said they are still examining the plane's flight-data recorder to try to unravel crew activity.
Rico says that firing both of these idiots, and disciplining the flight attendant, might go a long way toward preventing another of these incidents...

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