30 November 2009

Another great one gone

Rico says he was otherwise engaged at the time, but John Haag died back in 2008:
John Haag, 6 April 1926 to 24 November 2008. John Haag, of Bellefonte, died at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, in the arms of his wife, Corene Johnston. Haag was born in Sandpoint, Idaho, the son of Joseph Paul and Bertha Belleville Haag. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sisters, Janette Smith of Boulder City, Nevada and Virginia Cox of Vancouver, Washington, along with a whole passle of loving and beloved nieces and nephews, including a few great-nieces and nephews, and even a couple of great-greats. John traveled the world during four years in the Merchant Marine during World War Two, and three years in the Navy during the Korean War. He eventually attended both the University of Washington at Seattle, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and Reading University in Reading, England. He was both a Fulbright and a Woodrow Wilson fellow. After completion of his graduate work in 1961, he accepted a faculty position in English at Penn State's University Park Campus, where, for more than thirty years, he cultivated the development of young writers in the ways that he had been mentored by Theodore Roethke, James Wright, and Stanley Kunitz. Students from as long ago as the 1960s stayed in touch with 'The Perfesser' until the end of his life. Some have gone on to win acclaim with their own writing. Haag once decided to publish "from A to Z" and, over the course of the next few years, had poems accepted by a number of magazines and other periodicals, with names beginning with the letter "A," and progressing through the alphabet. The letter "S" was represented by Scientific American. He also published two chap books, small, paper-backed volumes of poetry. His hardcover Stones Don't Float: Poems Selected and New, won the 1996 Ohio State University's The Journal award in poetry. Haag was an orchid aficionado, and past president of the Central Pennsylvania Orchid Society. With his friend, the author Bill Russell, Haag learned and taught others about the pleasures of wild mushrooms during woods walks and haute cuisine pot lucks. After his retirement from Penn State, Haag spent most Tuesday mornings drinking coffee and hanging out with other retired guys and the regulars at Webster's Book Store & Cafe on Allen Street in State College. A celebration of the rowdy, sui generis poet's life was held at Webster's on 14 December 2008
Rico says he only knew Haag through a mutual friend, Kelley, and never met the man, but admired the hell out of his writing. He is missed.

Snuck by again

Rico says that would be the round number:

Jarheads do it right, yet again

Courtesy of my friend Bob Leone, this little-known story out of 11 September:
During a visit with a fellow chaplain, who happened to be assigned to the Pentagon, I had a chance to hear a first-hand account of an incident that happened right after Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. The chaplain told me what happened at a daycare center near where the impact occurred. This daycare had many children, including infants who were in heavy cribs. The daycare supervisor, looking at all the children they needed to evacuate, was in a panic over what they could do. There were many children, mostly toddlers, as well as the infants that would need to be taken out with the cribs. There was no time to try to bundle them into carriers and strollers.
Just then a young Marine came running into the center and asked what they needed. After hearing what the Center Director was trying to do, he ran back out into the hallway and disappeared.
The director thought, 'Well, here we are, on our own.' But in about two minutes the Marine returned with forty other Marines in tow. Each of them grabbed a crib with a child, and the rest started gathering up toddlers.
The director and her staff then helped them take all the children out of the center and down toward a park on the Potomac near the Pentagon. Once they got about three-quarters of a mile outside the building, the Marines stopped in the park, and then did a fabulous thing; they formed a circle with the cribs, which were quite sturdy and heavy, like the covered wagons in the Old West. Inside this circle of cribs, they put the toddlers, to keep them from wandering off. Outside this circle were the forty Marines, forming a perimeter around the children and waiting for instructions. There they remained until the parents could be notified and come get their children."
The chaplain then said, "I don't think any of us saw or heard of this on any of the news stories of the day. It was just an incredible story of those Marines responding willingly and quickly to a tactical problem that presented itself. But would we have expected any less of them?"
Remember Ronald Reagan's great compliment: "Most of us wonder if our lives can make any difference. Marines don't have that problem."

The Swiss say nein, danke

Charles Bremner has an article in The Times on reaction to cultural changes in Switzerland:
Swiss voters defied their Government and clerics yesterday and approved a ban on building minarets, reflecting an alarming hostility to a rising Muslim minority. Fifty-seven per cent of voters in a referendum supported the direct democracy initiative, which ensured international embarrassment for Switzerland and a backlash in the Muslim world, upon which the country depends for exports. A large majority of the 27 cantons supported the move, inspired by the Right, with opposition strongest in the German-speaking part of the country. In Geneva, home to United Nations agencies, the voters rejected the initiative by nearly 60 per cent. Overall turnout was 53 per cent, a relatively low figure by the standards of Swiss democracy. Opponents of the measure saw this as a reflection of apathy among many voters who would not have approved the ban. The referendum was initiated by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest group in the federal parliament, after residents opposed the construction of a minaret in Langenthal, north of Berne.
The “yes” is the latest act by European voters in support of anti-immigrant parties after electoral successes over the past decade by far-right groups in Austria, the Netherlands and France. A jubilant SVP insisted that the vote had nothing to do with intolerance, only with the imposition of Islamic politics and culture. “In no case does this impinge on religious freedom,” Oskar Freysinger, a prominent SVP politician, said. “This has nothing to do with the practice of religion.”
The populist vote appalled the Swiss Establishment, which had assumed on the basis of opinion polls that a substantial majority would reject the ban. “This is another blow to the world’s view of Switzerland as a nation of tolerance and civilisation,” a senior Swiss diplomat said.
The government, the business world, and most churches had urged voters to turn down the minaret ban, which they said breached the Swiss Constitution and its guarantees of freedom of religion. The proposal, which is to include a sentence in the Constitution prohibiting the construction of minarets, would only “serve the interests of extremist circles”, the Government said.
After the vote it pledged to respect the outcome. “Muslims in Switzerland are able to practise their religion alone or in community with others and live according to their beliefs just as before,” a statement said.
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the Justice Minister, said that the vote reflected a fear of Islamic fundamentalism, but the ban was “not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies”. “I am assuming our trade relations with other countries will become more difficult,” she said.
The vote reflected the strong feeling against Muslims, whose numbers have grown over the past 20 years to about 350,000 or four per cent of the population. Most are from Turkey and the Balkans. Only four modest-sized or small minarets exist in Switzerland, where there are about 150 prayer houses. None is used to call the faithful to prayer.
Hans-Rudolf Merz, the Swiss President, had sought to reassure the nation before the vote. “Muslims should be able to practise their religion, and have access to minarets in Switzerland too, but the call of the muezzin will not sound here,” he said.
The SVP used the issue as an assault on what it depicts as the inroads of political Islam in Switzerland, including aharia practices and oppression of women. “We just want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland,” Walter Wobmann, head of a committee backing the initiative, said after the vote. The SVP’s campaign used posters that depicted a burka-clad woman and a Swiss flag bristling with menacing minarets. The party also exploited heavily in its campaign a remark by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, describing minarets as the “bayonets of Islam”.
The vote was in sharp contrast to opinion polls, which predicted that between 53 per cent and 54 per cent would reject the proposal.
Ulrich Schlüer, an SVP parliamentarian who drafted the initiative, told The Times that he had been certain of victory. “We are still at the beginning of the process. We compare our situation to Germany, France, or England — the problems they have in their suburbs,” he said. “That is what we do not want here.” The SVP rejects the Government’s view that a ban would breach the law on freedom of religion. “This is not against Islam. The minaret is a symbol of political power,” Mr Schlüer said.
The Swiss political world is worried at the prospects of a worldwide Muslim backlash of the kind that hit Denmark after a newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Swiss-made”, the most trusted brand in the world, is at stake, business leaders said. Gerold Bührer, president of the Swiss Business Federation, reminded the country that it earned £10 billion a year from Muslim countries and that Geneva alone received 174,500 visits from the Gulf last year.
Last night about 300 people protested outside the Parliament building in Berne. In front of a model of a minaret they held up signs saying: “This is not my Switzerland”. A young woman pinned to her jacket a piece of paper saying: “Swiss passport for sale”.
Amnesty International said that the vote would probably be overturned by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights.

Oops is now a golf term

Steve DiMeglio has an article in USA Today about the mysterious crash of Tiger Woods:
Tiger Woods, who rarely has shared anything about his personal life during a golf career that has made him the highest-paid athlete in the world, finally broke his silence Sunday about his car crash in the wee hours of Friday morning. The world's Number One golfer said in a statement on his website Sunday that the accident — in which he drove his black Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant and then a tree in front of his next-door neighbor's house near Orlando — was his fault. Woods praised his wife, Elin Nordegren, for "courageously" pulling him out of the wrecked SUV. And apparently referring to reports in the National Enquirer two days before the crash that suggested he was having an affair, Woods said malicious rumors about him and his family were "irresponsible."
His statement, however, did little to temper a storm of questions surrounding the incident. And for the third day in a row, Woods and his wife canceled a meeting with Florida Highway Patrol officers who want to interview them. FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said the move was "highly unusual" but that the couple were not required to give a statement.
The incident occurred outside Woods' luxury home about 2:25 a.m. ET Friday, police said. Authorities said after Woods, 33, crashed his SUV into the neighbor's tree, Nordegren used a golf club to smash a backseat window, gain entry to the vehicle and then pull out her 6-1, 185-pound husband. Police reported that, when officers arrived, Woods was lying on the ground with facial cuts, drifting in and out of consciousness.
"This situation is my fault, and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and me. I'm human, and I'm not perfect," wrote Woods, who has won 83 titles around the world, including 14 major championships, second only to the 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
"This is a private matter, and I want to keep it that way," Woods wrote. "Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible. The only person responsible for the accident is me. My wife, Elin, acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble. She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false." Left unanswered, however, are many questions. Where was Woods going at that hour? What caused the accident? And why remain quiet about it? Some answers could come Tuesday, when Woods is scheduled to hold a news conference at the Chevron World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, California. The tournament benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. But Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, said Sunday in a text message to USA Today that no decision had been made about whether Woods will attend or play in the tournament.
The accident — and the lack of details about it — could tarnish Woods' gold-plated brand on Madison Avenue, warns Robert Tuchman, executive vice president with Premier Global Sports, which puts corporate marketers together with potential endorsers. "In the marketing world, there's always a stigma when things like this happen. Fair or not, the damage is done," Tuchman says. "Tiger Woods had a squeaky-clean image. You won't see his sponsors pull out. But other potential sponsors might hesitate."
Brand strategist Ernest Lupinacci thinks Woods made a mistake by waiting until Sunday to make a statement. "It took him two days to say, 'I was in a one-car accident'? He should have spoken up sooner," says Lupinacci, a creative director who wrote many Nike ad campaigns as well as the Priceline.com commercials starring William Shatner. "If he had said, 'I had to go get baby wipes at CVS,' it would have been none of our business. Now people are going to ask: 'Why did it take that long to make that statement? Why won't he talk to the police?' There's always going to be questions, because the perception is the bigger problem. Nature — and gossip — abhors a vacuum. Either Tiger can tell us the story, or TMZ can tell us. Until he issues a statement, there's a vacuum. That vacuum will suck up everything and anything it can."
But sports marketing specialist Bob Dorfman doesn't think the incident will affect Woods' relationship with sponsors such as Nike, AT&T, Gatorade, or EA Sports.
Woods ranked No. 1 in Sports Illustrated's "Fortunate 50" list in 2009 with total winnings and endorsement earnings of $99.7 million. This year, Woods became the first billion-dollar athlete, according to Forbes, having amassed that total in winnings, endorsement money, appearance fees, and other earnings since joining the PGA Tour in 1996.
"It seems like this is, at worst, a personal thing between him and his wife," says Dorfman, the executive creative director at Baker Street Partners in San Francisco. "If alcohol or drugs were involved, that might cause some problems. He's been perfect so far. I certainly think they'd be forgiving of this indiscretion." Florida authorities said after the incident that alcohol was not involved. PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw declined to comment. Nike, which has been Woods' biggest sponsor since he turned pro, said in a statement, "We are extremely sorry to hear about Tiger's accident but are pleased that he's doing fine. We are thinking of him and wish him well."
Woods and Nordegren, 29, live in the Windermere, Florida estate with their two children, Sam, 2, and Charlie, 9 months. The $2.4 million home is part of the exclusive Isleworth subdivision. An Arnold Palmer-designed golf course and a chain of small lakes run through the subdivision, which is enclosed with high brick walls and is home to CEOs and other sports stars such as the NBA's Shaquille O'Neal and the LPGA tour's Paula Creamer.
Woods has gone to great lengths to keep his personal life private — his 155-foot yacht is called Privacy — and except for criticism of his temper on the golf course and a few curse words of his that have been heard on television broadcasts, Woods has kept his name out of the spotlight beyond golf, his endorsements, and charity work.
This year, in a posting on Facebook, Woods wrote that people don't see his or his wife's name in gossip magazines and tabloids "because we're kind of boring."
Windermere Police Chief Daniel Saylor told reporters Friday night that two of his officers found Woods lying in the street, with his wife hovering over him. "She was frantic, upset," Saylor said. "It was her husband laying on the ground." Police said Woods was going in and out of consciousness, his lips were cut, and blood was in his mouth when officers arrived. Saylor said Woods' wife told officers that she was in their house when she heard the accident. Saylor said she told officers she "broke the back window with a golf club." Saylor said he had no knowledge of any argument between Woods and his wife. "She supposedly got him out and laid him on the ground," Saylor said.
The air bags in the 2009 Cadillac 4x4 Escalade that Woods was driving did not deploy, which means the vehicle was traveling at less than 33 mph. After being taken to Health Central Hospital in nearby Ocoee by ambulance, Woods was treated and released Friday. "Tiger Woods was in a minor car accident outside his home last night. He was admitted, treated, and released today in good condition," said a joint statement released Friday by the Health Central Hospital and Woods' office.
Police first tried to interview Woods on Friday but said his wife asked the officers if they could return the next day because Woods was sleeping. On Saturday, in a call put through the FHP dispatch, Steinberg told officers traveling to Woods' home the golfer and his wife were unavailable to talk. On Sunday, troopers arrived at the Woods home and his attorney, Mark NeJame, provided the troopers with Woods' driver's license, registration, and current proof of insurance, as required by Florida law. The Escalade was not impounded but instead was taken to a private yard with damage to the front and both rear passenger windows broken.
"Since he is not required by Florida law to give a statement, we can't force him to," Montes told USA Today. "This is highly unusual, because most drivers in minor traffic crashes usually give us a statement. But he is not breaking any laws. They have not rescheduled a meeting, and by all indications, we will not get a statement from him." The crash remains under investigation, the FHP said.
"We have been informed by the Florida Highway Patrol that further discussion with them is both voluntary and optional," Steinberg wrote in an e-mail. "Although Tiger realizes that there is a great deal of public curiosity, it has been conveyed to FHP that he simply has nothing more to add and wishes to protect the privacy of his family."
In a tape of a 911 call from Friday that was released Sunday by the FHP, an unidentified man told dispatchers that a black Cadillac Escalade hit a tree and "I have someone down in front of my house." The call is inaudible at several points because of the bad connection. "I came out here just to see what was going on," the man told dispatchers. "I see him, and he's laying down." One woman is heard in the background yelling, "What happened?"
Meanwhile, a woman linked to Woods by a report in the National Enquirer told the Associated Press on Sunday that "this is not a story I have anything to do with". Rachel Uchitel, a party hostess, told the AP, "I resent my reputation is getting completely blasted in the media." National Enquirer executive editor Barry Levine told the AP that his paper's story on Woods and Uchitel "stands for itself". Uchitel, who lost her fiancé in the 11 September terrorist attacks, met Sunday with prominent lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented Nicole Brown Simpson's family in the O.J. Simpson case. Allred also represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment case against former President Bill Clinton. "At some point," Allred said Sunday, "we'll decide what the next step should be."

Oops is now a legal term

Rico says that The Seattle Times has an article about legal fuckups by the likes of Mike Huckabee (and others) that led to the deaths of four police officers:
Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old Tacoma man being sought for questioning in the killing of four Lakewood police officers, has a long criminal record punctuated by violence, erratic behavior and concerns about his mental health. Nine years ago, then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee granted clemency to Clemmons, commuting his lengthy prison sentence over the protests of prosecutors. "This is the day I've been dreading for a long time," Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas' Pulaski County, said when he was informed that Clemmons was being sought for questioning in connection with the killings.
Clemmons' criminal history includes at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and at least eight felony charges in Washington. The record also stands out for the number of times he has been released from custody despite questions about the danger he posed.
Huckabee, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year, issued a statement calling the slaying of the police officers "a horrible and tragic event".
If Clemmons is found responsible, "it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State," Huckabee said. He added that Clemmons' release from prison had been reviewed and approved by the Arkansas parole board. Clemmons had been in jail in Pierce County for the past several months on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child. He was released from custody just six days ago, even though was staring at seven additional felony charges in Washington state.
Clemmons posted $15,000 with a Chehalis company called Jail Sucks Bail Bonds. The bondsman, in turn, put up $150,000, securing Clemmons' release on the pending child-rape charge.
Clemmons lives in Tacoma, where he has run a landscaping and power-washing business out of his house, according to a police interview with his wife earlier this year.
He was married, but the relationship was tumultuous, with accounts of his unpredictable behavior leading to at least two confrontations with police earlier this year. During the confrontation in May, Clemmons punched a sheriff's deputy in the face, according to court records. As part of that incident, he was charged with seven counts of assault and malicious mischief.
In another instance, Clemmons was accused of gathering his wife and young relatives around at 3 or 4 in the morning and having them all undress. He told them that families need to "be naked for at least five minutes on Sunday," a Pierce County sheriff's report says. "The whole time Clemmons kept saying things like trust him, the world is going to end soon, and that he was Jesus," the report says.
As part of the child-rape investigation, the sheriff's office interviewed Clemmons' sister in May. She told them that "Maurice is not in his right mind and did not know how he could react when contacted by law enforcement," a sheriff's report says. "She stated that he was saying that the Secret Service was coming to get him because he had written a letter to the President. She stated his behavior has become unpredictable and erratic. She suspects he is having a mental breakdown," the report says. Deputies also interviewed other family members. They reported that Clemmons had been saying he could fly and that he expected President Obama to visit to "confirm that he is Messiah in the flesh."
Prosecutors in Pierce County were sufficiently concerned about Clemmons' mental health that they asked to have him evaluated at Western State Hospital. Earlier this month a psychologist concluded that Clemmons was competent to stand trial on the child-rape and other felony charges, according to court records.
Clemmons moved Washington in 2004, after being released from prison in Arkansas, state Department of Corrections records indicate. That would mean he had gone five years or so before landing in serious trouble with authorities here, according to a review of his criminal record.
Clemmons started Sea-Wash Pressure Washing Landscaping with his wife, Nicole Smith, in October 2005. The license for the business expired last month.
News accounts out of Arkansas offer a confusing — and, at times, conflicting — description of Clemmons' criminal history and prison time.
In 1990, Clemmons, then 18, was sentenced in Arkansas to 60 years in prison for burglary and theft of property, according to a news account in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Newspaper stories describe a series of disturbing incidents involving Clemmons while he was being tried in Arkansas on various charges.
During one trial, Clemmons was shackled in leg irons and seated next to a uniformed officer. The presiding judge ordered the extra security because he felt Clemmons had threatened him, court records show. Another time, Clemmons hid a hinge in his sock, and was accused of intending to use it as a weapon. Yet another time, Clemmons took a lock from a holding cell, and threw it toward the bailiff. He missed and instead hit Clemmons' mother, who had come to bring him street clothes, according to records and published reports. On another occasion, Clemmons had reached for a guard's pistol during transport to the courtroom.
When Clemmons received the 60-year sentence, he was already serving 48 years on five felony convictions and facing up to 95 more years on charges of robbery, theft of property and possessing a handgun on school property. Records from Clemmons' sentencing described him as 5-foot-7 and 108 pounds. The crimes were committed when he was 17.
Clemmons served eleven years before being released. News accounts say Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence, citing Clemmons' young age at the time the crimes were committed.
But Clemmons remained on parole and, soon after, landed in trouble again. In March 2001, he was accused of violating his parole by committing aggravated robbery and theft, according to a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was returned to prison on a parole violation. But in what appears to have been a mistake, Clemmons was not actually served with the arrest warrants until leaving prison three years later. As a result, Clemmons' attorney argued that the charges should be dismissed because too much time had passed. Prosecutors dropped the charges.

The songs in Rico's head

Civil War for the day

From the Old Baldy newsletter, Admiral Dupont.

29 November 2009


Rico says, courtesy of his cousin Kevin Kitterman Roth, these cartoons:


Rico says it's just three years ago tonight that the land mine went off in his head. In the words of the Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip it's been...

One of these days you'll be able to read all about it in Rico's assisted-biography:

Rico's own history

Rico says he and the ladyfriend spent several hours traipsing around the Lambertville flea market, buying other people's discarded crap. It was, for November, a very nice day, and they got a lot of good crap.

Civil War for the day

Rico says that would be Fort Clinch in northern Florida, which is extensively covered in the current issue of Civil War: Weapons & Tactics.

28 November 2009

T2 isn't just Schwartzenegger any more

Rico says the ladyfriend signed up for it, so we're doing a second Thanksgiving (yup, the whole turkey and fixings schtick) this year...

Civil War for the day

Issue Three is now available.

27 November 2009

Dumbass is the only word for it

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts have an article in The Washington Post about two morons who decided it'd be 'fun' to go to the state dinner at the White House, even though they hadn't been invited. Seems they thought it would improve their segment on The Real Housewives of Washington... The Secret Service was not amused:
Michaele Salahi spent seven hours in a posh Georgetown salon getting ready for her big night out. She was going to the White House for the Obamas' first state dinner. Creating the perfect hair and makeup for the glamorous blonde for such a special occasion would take time, of course. But then there were the cameras, the takes and retakes.
The Northern Virginia socialite was being taped by a production crew for Bravo cable channel's forthcoming The Real Housewives of Washington.
"It was a lot of schmoozing with the staff," James Packard-Gomez, CEO of Erwin Gomez Salon, said Thursday, explaining why the hair and makeup session lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The salon was abuzz because Michaele and her husband, Tareq, were among the 320 VIPs invited to join the president and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "They were asking, 'So, what do you think of them getting invited to this?' "
The stylist doing Michaele's hair asked to see the White House invitation, Packard-Gomez said. "She starts rummaging through her purse, and then said, 'It must be out in the car.'"
Would the film crews get into the White House, too? "'We tried,'" he says she told them, "'but they wouldn't let them in.' "
But the White House says there never was an invitation. Somehow the aspiring reality-TV stars managed to get themselves in Tuesday night and were photographed with Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, causing an international uproar about security at the executive mansion.
The Secret Service said the Salahis crashed the party and that the agency is investigating how the couple penetrated presidential security. The Salahis' attorney, Paul W. Gardner, posted a statement on the couple's Facebook page: "My clients were cleared, by the White House, to be there. More information is forthcoming."
The Salahis did not respond to e-mails Thursday. But their publicist, Mahogany Jones, said in an e-mail: "We will be addressing this specifically with several media platforms." Meanwhile, CNN announced that the now-famous couple would appear on Larry King Live on Monday night.
Bravo and the local production company it has contracted, Half Yard Productions, said the production team was aware that the Salahis were headed to the state dinner and took the couple's word that they were on the guest list. A film crew followed the Salahis on the drive to the White House but did not attempt to follow them onto the grounds.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams, an invited guest at the dinner, told the Today show that he noticed the couple's SUV being turned away from the East Gate entrance. A camera crew was with them, and a woman touched up the Salahis' makeup and hair, Williams said.
It is still unclear whether the couple managed to meet or be photographed with President Obama, Michelle Obama, or the guest of honor. Guests went through a formal receiving line in the Blue Room before dinner, but a White House official said Thursday that he did not know if the couple went through the line. India's embassy did not respond to a call for comment.
This is not the first time the Salahis have represented themselves as power players: On the couple's joint Facebook account are pictures of them in the first family's glass-enclosed viewing area after the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
"Tareq & Michaele were honored to be invited to President Obamas private viewing box at the Lincoln Memorial," the posting reads. "Naturally this picture was taken after his departure... The glass is not only bullet proof, but also electrified. Never try to touch this special protective glass." Other images from inauguration weekend show them with Oprah Winfrey, Jack Black, Forest Whitaker, and Gayle King.
The Salahis got a foothold in DC society with their Oasis Winery in Hume. That was before a nasty family feud shut down the vineyard. The couple also attempted to establish social bona fides with their America's Polo Cup events, which led to sniping among DC polo insiders about the organization's legitimacy and charitable giving.
People who attend exclusive Washington parties with administration or congressional insiders say the Salahis haven't been seen there; Tareq gave just $1,600 in political contributions ($600 to George Allen, $1,000 to Jim Moran) over the past nine years. But they have made no secret of their dreams of reality-TV stardom. Bravo announced this year that it would bring the Real Housewives franchise to Washington after series set in New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, and Orange County in California, proved wildly popular. The shows have made mini-stars of unknown women, some of whom have leveraged the fame into dishy memoirs and merchandise lines. In Washington, cameras for Half Yard have taped a half-dozen women at parties, workplaces, and homes. Michaele, a former Redskins cheerleader, has been one of those most conspicuously followed.
No casting decisions have been finalized, meaning that, without compelling footage, any one of them could be cut at any time. It's unlikely, however, that the Salahis went to the state dinner in hopes of securing a place on the show. "I don't think they're afraid of being cut: They create a lot of drama on the show," said a source who has known the couple for years.
The Secret Service said Thursday that its procedures to ensure a tight bubble of security around the White House were not followed for the state dinner when the couple entered with other guests on the southeast side of the White House, but the agency did not provide details. "We're being intentionally vague on that," said spokesman Ed Donovan. "All we are saying is that procedures we have in place weren't followed."
The Salahis' joint Facebook page, where so much of Tuesday night's adventure unfolded and unraveled, was lit up with scores of messages Thursday: some teasing, some comforting, many exulting over the couple's newfound fame:
"I have to give it you guys ;) that's how you make an entrance, LOVE IT!!! Happy Thanksgiving!!!"
"Wow... National News... Nice!!!"
"I just saw you guys on the local San Diego news channel! Nice job!"
"That was truly an unbelievable caper and should get you either a one year gig on a reality show, or a one year gig stamping license plates."
Rico says he votes for a year stamping out license plates...

Courtesy of Dave Kitterman, this about Iraq:
This statue currently stands outside the Iraqi palace, now home to the Fourth Infantry division. It will eventually be shipped home and put in the memorial museum in Fort Hood, Texas. The statue was created by an Iraqi artist named Kalat, who for years was forced by Saddam Hussein to make the many hundreds of bronze busts of Saddam that dotted Baghdad. Kalat was so grateful for the Americans liberation of his country that he melted three of the heads of the fallen Saddam and made the statue as a memorial to the American soldiers and their fallen warriors.
Kalat worked on this memorial night and day for several months. To the left of the kneeling soldier is a small Iraqi girl giving the soldier comfort as he mourns the loss of his comrade in arms.
Rico says it's trite, but heartfelt...

Don't all move at once

Courtesy of Dave Kitterman, this about changes in Portland:
The United States' first marijuana cafe opened on Friday, posing an early test of the Obama administration's move to relax policing of medical use of the drug. The Cannabis Cafe in Portland, Oregon, is the first to give certified medical marijuana users a place to get hold of the drug and smoke it, as long as they are out of public view, despite a federal ban.
"This club represents personal freedom, finally, for our members," said Madeline Martinez, Oregon's executive director of NORML, a group pushing for marijuana legalization. "Our plans go beyond serving food and marijuana," said Martinez. "We hope to have classes, seminars, even a Cannabis Community College, based here to help people learn about growing and other uses for cannabis."
The cafe, in a two-story building which formerly housed a speak-easy and adult erotic club Rumpspankers, is technically a private club, but is open to any Oregon residents who are NORML members and hold an official medical marijuana card.
Members pay $25 per month to use the 100-person capacity cafe. They don't buy marijuana, but get it free over the counter from "budtenders". Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., it serves food but has no liquor license.
There are about 21,000 patients registered to use marijuana for medical purposes in Oregon. Doctors have prescribed marijuana for a host of illnesses, including Alzheimer's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Tourette's syndrome.
On opening day, reporters invited to the cafe could smell, but were not allowed to see, people smoking marijuana. "I still run a coffee shop and events venue, just like I did before we converted it to the Cannabis Cafe, but now it will be cannabis-themed," said Eric Solomon, the owner of the cafe, who is looking forward to holding marijuana-themed weddings, film festivals, and dances in the second-floor ballroom.
The creation of the cafe comes almost a month after the Obama administration told federal attorneys not to prosecute patients who use marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states which have legalized them.
Rico says exchanging an erotic club for a marijuana club sounds like an even exchange...


Courtesy of Bill Calloway, this about a fawn born prematurely (via Caesarean section) after a pregnant doe was hit by a car in the UK:
At just six inches tall and weighing just over a pound, he is now in an incubator in the intensive care unit at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Buckinghamshire. He has only recently opened his eyes.
Les Stocker, founder of Tiggywinkles, said, "Rupert's mother had very severe injuries. We got the fawn out and got him breathing, then put him into an incubator and on oxygen. He is now being fed by a tube." Staff are optimistic Rupert, now five days old, will make a full recovery. "Deer are very, very tricky, but this one has spirit. He's an extremely feisty little guy and quite pushy," Mr Stocker said.

Civil War for the day

Earl Van Dorn (17 September 1820 to 7 May 1863) was a career United States Army officer, fighting with distinction during the Mexican-American War and against several tribes of Native Americans. He also served as a Confederate general during the Civil War, noted for his defeats at Pea Ridge and Corinth in 1862 and his murder by a civilian in the spring of 1863.
Short, impulsive, and highly emotional, Van Dorn was also a noted painter, writer of poetry, was respected for his skill at riding a horse, and also known for his love of women. This last trait would lead to his death in 1863, when his alleged womanizing became public knowledge. A reporter at the time dubbed him "the terror of ugly husbands" shortly before Van Dorn's murder.
It was Van Dorn's reputation as a womanizer, not a Union bullet, that led to his death. In May of 1863, he was shot in his headquarters at Spring Hill in Maury County, Tennessee, by Dr. James B. Peters, who claimed that Van Dorn had carried on an affair with his wife Jessie. Alone in his office at the home of Martin Cheairs (now known as Ferguson Hall), Van Dorn was writing at his desk, and Peters entered and shot him once in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Peters was later arrested by Confederate authorities, but was never brought to trial for the killing. In defense of his actions, Dr. Peters stated that Van Dorn had "violated the sanctity of his home".

26 November 2009

A good dinner

Rico says that this, fortunately, is how his Thanksgiving ended up…

Giving thanks

Rico says this is how Thanksgiving day started out; fortunately, it was a property managed by the ladyfriend, not where he lives, so the stress was much less. But, still, it's not how you want your holiday to begin…

Civil War for the day

25 November 2009

Rico says Verlyn Klinkenborg has an article in The New York Times about a place Rico's been, when he lived in California as a young man:
Something about a sea otter looks so insouciant. Drifting on its back, bobbing up and down in the waves, it looks over at the humans standing on the rocks as if to exaggerate its ease in the water, its complacent, buoyant virtuosity. There is not merely one sea otter here on the north side of the point at Año Nuevo State Park, a couple of dozen miles north of Santa Cruz, California. There are perhaps twenty in sight, parents and young.
Where we stand, the sand is mottled with dark brown scraps of fur, as if the sky had been raining swatches. This is the accumulated debris left behind by the catastrophic molting of several thousand elephant seals, which begin coming ashore in December to give birth, to mate, to bask and to shed all of their fur and a layer of their skin before slipping into the sea again. The main contingent of elephant seals has not yet arrived, only a lone female, so much handsomer than her suitors. She lies well up the beach, under a scrub of shade, soft and gray. She turns her head to look at us a few yards away, her moist black eyes almost beseeching.
Both the sea otter and the northern elephant seal came through severe bottlenecks in the past century. These are the survivors of tiny, relict populations after being hunted nearly to extinction for their blubber and their fur. And, in a sense, Año Nuevo has come through several bottlenecks, too. Like so many of California’s state parks, it narrowly averted being closed during the ongoing state budget crisis.
But the real bottleneck in the first half of the 20th century was simply lack of protection. Before California created this refuge for elephant seals in 1958, Año Nuevo was a deeply puzzling place. The low, rocky point was a place of unbelievably rich intertidal life, yet it was overburdened by development plans and surrounded by farms growing row-crops heavy on pesticide — brussels sprouts mostly.
Setting aside the park’s 4,000 acres was a start. But it has taken another 50 years to begin to protect the landscape in which Año Nuevo Point is set. What you see there now is a steadily developing patchwork of protections, the remarkable result of private efforts, state and municipal programs, reclamation trade-offs, and the gradual substitution of small organic farms for the old toxic monocultures. The protections are by no means complete. But it’s hard to imagine a more vivid demonstration of the value of coastal protection and the ways in which it can be done.

Quote for the day

Rico says it's a classic line: You have cop hair.

More balls than Rico

FoxNews.com has the story:
The adventurer known as the 'jetman' has crashed into the sea on what was supposed to be a record setting journey. Yves Rossy hoped to become the first person to make an intercontinental flight with a jet pack by crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. The Swiss airline pilot and aviation inventor told a news conference: "It's going to be historic" before adding "no one has ever done this before".
Rossy launch his record attempt from the skies above Tangier in Morocco on Wednesday, jumping out of a light airplane from 6,500 feet above the ground. Once airborne he unleashed his wings and fired up his engines. He was followed throughout the attempt by a team of paramedics in a helicopter, which was challenged to follow him via camera. For several minutes, the team lost sight of the adventurer, eventually locating him in the ocean about halfway through a flight that was expected to last fifteen minutes.
"Winds were certainly difficult today," the organizers' Twitter feed said.
A rescuer dropped from the plane into the stormy seas and pulled Rossy to safety, though it was unclear what happened to the wing itself. Designed by Rossy, the wing is made of carbon fiber. With fuel, it weighs around 132 pounds, and because of the dangers involved, he wears a flame retardant suit.
Stuart Sterzel, spokesman for sponsors Webtel.mobi, said the wing malfunctioned, possibly due to engine failure. Rossy was flown to a hospital in the southern Spanish city of Jerez for a precautionary checkup.When flying, Rossy looks like a comic book hero with the contraption propelling him at a speed of more than 180 mph. Rossey has made a number of successful record-breaking attempts in the past, last year flying from Calais to Dover crossing the English Channel. "He's a courageous man," Sterzel told reporters on a beach outside this southern Spanish town, where Rossy was supposed to land. He said Rossy would probably attempt the crossing again next year.
Rico says the guy's definitely got some serious balls, but as for brains...

A state dinner and now they want all the business

Rico says the Indian prime minister is barely out of the White House and he's already getting importuning emails (in what passes for English, if you're Indian) from Mumbai (and, yes, it's long; skip on down):
Dear Sir/Madam,
We take pleasure in introducing ourselves (Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd.) as a very competitive and professional data conversion house.
Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd., is a successful offshore business process outsourcing (BPO) service provider with an impeccable track record of delivering services to its clients in North America and Europe. Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd.'s management team comprises of experienced technocrats & service-industry professionals, who had served in different parts of the World for many years and traveled worldwide. The management team is passionate, committed, and highly qualified. We offer wide range of BPO services with the support of robust infrastructure, experienced manpower and latest technology. Our outsourcing services help to focus on your core business and result in an increased revenue, competitive edge, and market share. Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd. operates out of Mumbai, Financial Capital of India, which is top rated as a business friendly city in the world with easy access to all modes of transports.
Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd.'s Services Offerings:
We, at Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd. offer a offshore outsourcing solution to all information needs of your Organization such as data entry, data capture, imaging solutions, forms processing, OCR/ICR, Data Conversion, Electronic Publishing and document work flow management.
Our senior management has significant expertise in information management in the global Healthcare, Insurance, Legal, Academic, Scientific, Technical, Financial and Market Research.
We at Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd. due to our lower operating cost could offer one of the lowest rates in the industry, about 50% lower than comparable conversion houses. Our rates are typically US $0.60 - $0.65 per 1000 characters for capture + markup or US $1.50 - $2.00 per page for the same.
Data Entry:
We specialize in capturing and processing of data from diverse input sources, such as printed and scanned images, fax, Web forms, Microfilm and e-mails using a variety of techniques such as double entry, look-up table search, logical checks, proofreading etc. We do data entry for forms processing, data indexing, e-books, database marketing, direct mail , market research, banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, education and content for e-learning and On Line data entry. We are equipped to handle small and very large volumes of data capture.
Scanning / OCR clean up:
At Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd., we are equipped with the latest high speed scanning equipment and our scanning services are probably one of the lowest cost services you will ever find. We are capable of scanning books & paper larger than A3 Size ( 11.8 X 18.7") ( 300 X 475 mm). We will scan 150 to 1200 DPI true color, B&W or grayscale, TIFF , JPG or GIF formats. Scanned files will be indexed as per requirement and sent via FTP or burnt on to CD, DVD or magnetic optical disks for On-Demand retrieval. We have multilingual OCR capability and will clean up your OCR up to 99.999% accuracy and convert to full searchable text XML/SGML/HTML format or text searchable PDF.
E-Publishing Services:
Files in Hardcopies/QuarkXpress/PageMaker/FrameMaker/ MS word/Star Office Documents/PDF/TIFF/MIF etc are processed and delivered via FTP / Email / CD in client specific formats like PDF, PS, SGML/XML/XHTML/HTML/eBook or to some proprietary format etc.
Digital Typesetting Services:
We perform a full range of Pre Press services including copy editing and typesetting for Scholarly, Scientific, Technical and Medial books & Journals. We perform typesetting in Quark, FrameMaker and in TeX, LaTeX..
Document Management:
We provide electronic document management by means of converting physical paper documents in to electronically manageable information. Data from various documents, like medical survey & registration entry form, business cards, catalogues; handwritten manuscript and Hand-drawn content such as cursive script are collected processed and stored in a specified format for further processing.
Forms Processing:
We convert structured and non-structured forms on a rule-based process and provide it in various formats for effective information retrieval. We capture data from all types of handwritten forms accurately, rapidly and cost-effectively. We work with a variety of applications including Coupon redemptions, Credit card applications, Insurance claims, Medical claims, Patient records, Product registration cards, Shipping documents, Subscriptions, Surveys etc.
Claims Processing:
We have extensive experience in converting all types of claims forms including HCFA and UB92 (Single / Multi / Attachment / COB), RX claims, Medicaid, Foreign claims, Superbills, Medicare RP, Dental, and Vision claims. Your non-standard paper claims can be converted as long as there are identifiable rules and procedures for conversion.
Microfilm/ Microfiche Imaging & Conversion:
Our micrographic lab is equipped with the state of the art high high speed microfilm & microfiche scanning and printing equipment from Sunrise and Canon. We can scan upto 600 DPI images from microfilm or microfiche, index & convert the text and images to a full-text searchable ( XML /SGML/HTML) format or to PDF format. We can also print to A3 size from microfilm and Microfiche . We can process 16 mm and 35 mm microfilm, microfiche positive or negative film and print A3 size copies and write to CD-ROM, DVD-ROM or Optical Disc for instant On-Demand service.
Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd. has built-in redundancy for all mission critical resources. Multiple internet links with firewall & antivirus system, captive power generator, uninterrupted power supply system and stand-by systems along with branded computers and structured networks allow us to deliver uninterrupted service round the clock.
Manpower & Training:
We recruit suitable candidates with sound academic background. Further they are screened for their expertise and inducted into appropriate projects through customized and well-proven training methods. Swift Information Technologies adapts on-the-job training for continuous improvement to render sustained quality service.
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We have well-defined processes in place to measure, monitor, and improve all activities. The continual improvement system allows us to meet the customers’ requirement consistently.
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We take utmost care for the data processed by strict adherence to security standards. Non-disclosure agreement imposed to the employees, access restriction to duplicating devices and 24x7 manned-security are some of the administrative, physical and technical safe guard measures in place.
We understand the proactive communication with its customers by having 24x7x365 online and telephonic customer support team.
Advantage Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd.:
Proven track record in delivering services worldwide
Established processes to scale up operations quickly
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Meet turnaround time consistently
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Worldwide satisfied clientele
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Availability of large pool of talented manpower

I trust the above will help you to get an idea about our Company. If you have further questions please do not hesitate to write to us.
For most assignments we do a proof of concept for our clients with a sample conversion.
We would be pleased to do the same for you.
If you have test samples ready, you can send us the samples and we will convert the same and return for your assessment. This will help you to judge our capabilities.
It would be our privilege to associate with your Organisation. We look forward to a positive response from you as well as a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

Best regards.
Anupam Shukla
Business Development Manager
Swift Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

More of Rico's favorite music

That would be Alan Stivell, a Breton musician who rocks out with archaic instruments and ancient tunes. From Wikipedia:
Alan Stivell (born Alan Cochevelou 6 January 1944) is a French and Breton musician and singer, recording artist, and master of the Celtic harp who, from the early 1970s, revived global interest in the Celtic (specifically Breton) harp and Celtic music.
Alan was born in the Auvergnat town of Riom. His father Georges (Jord in Breton) Cochevelou was a civil servant in the French Ministry of Finance, who achieved his dream of recreating a Celtic or Breton harp in the small town of Gourin, Brittany. In 1953, at the age of nine, Alan began playing the instrument under the tutelage of his father and Denise Megevand, a concert harpist. Alan also learned Celtic mythology, art, and history as well as the Breton language, traditional Breton dance, and the Scottish bagpipe and the bombarde, a traditional Breton instrument from the oboe family. Alan began playing concerts at eleven years old and studying traditional Breton, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk music, also learning the drum, Irish flute, and tin whistle. He competed in and won several Breton traditional music competitions in the Bleimor Pipe band. Alan spent his childhood in Paris, with its cosmopolitan influences from France, Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere, but he fell in love with Breton music and Celtic culture in general, and often went back in his teens to Brittany.
Alan's first recording came in 1960 (Musique gaelique), a single that was followed by the LP Telenn Geltiek in 1964. He already recorded solo harp and harp backing singers in 1959 with Breiz ma bro ('Brittany my country') and a Mouez Breiz ('Voice of Brittany') with the female singer Andrea Ar Gouilh. His stage name, Stivell, means "fountain" or "spring" in Breton. This name refers both to the Breton renewal and to his name "Cochevelou", an evolution of kozh stivelloù, the old fountains.
With a new bardic harp with bronze strings, Stivell began experimenting with modernized styles of music known as celtic rock. In 1966, Alan Stivell began to perform and record as a singer. The following year, he was signed by Philips; it was the birth of the New Breton and Celtic music movement. In 1968, after two years of touring, Alan joined the Moody Blues to perform in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Rico says that leads to another of his favorite bands:

History for the month

Rico says how did we get past the 22nd and no one mentioned this?

History for the day

On 25 November 1986, the Iran-Contra affair erupted as President Reagan and Attorney General Edwin Meese revealed that profits from secret arms sales to Iran had been diverted to Nicaraguan rebels.

Rico says remember when the world was quaint and different? We had relations (of a sort; it was the Shah, after all) with Iran, and we had a nice little war going in Nicaragua...

Civil War for the day

The execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt on 7 July 1865 for the assassination of President Lincoln.

24 November 2009

The Fureys, Eddie & Finbar

Rico says they're one of his favorite groups, and it's nice to see their stuff:

Gangs are gangs, whether in Minnesota or Somalia

Andrea Elliott has an article in The New York Times about deluded young men:
Federal officials on Monday unsealed terrorism-related charges against men they say were key actors in a recruitment effort that led roughly twenty young Americans to join a violent insurgent group in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda. With eight new suspects charged Monday, the authorities have implicated fourteen people in the case, one of the most extensive domestic terrorism investigations since the Septenber 11th attacks. Some of them have been arrested; others are at large, including several believed to be still fighting with the Somali group, al-Shabab. The case represents the largest group of American citizens suspected of joining an extremist movement affiliated with al-Qaeda, senior officials said. Many of the recruits had come to America as young refugees fleeing a brutal civil war, only to settle in a gang-ridden enclave of Minneapolis.
The men named on Monday face federal charges including perjury, providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill, maim, kidnap, or injure people outside the United States. Law enforcement officials are concerned that the recruits, who hold American passports, could be commissioned to return to the United States to carry out attacks here, though so far there is no evidence of such plots.
“The potential implications to national security are significant,” said Ralph S. Boelter, the special agent in charge of the Minneapolis field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He added that the nationwide inquiry would continue with the cooperation of many Somali immigrants and that more arrests might be coming.
The disclosures are the government’s first public account of a recruitment operation that it says has largely focused on Somali-American men from the Minneapolis area. Those young men included Shirwa Ahmed, 26, who carried out a suicide attack in northern Somalia in October 2008, becoming the first known American suicide bomber. Since then, at least five other recruits have been killed in Somalia, relatives and friends say, and four defendants have entered guilty pleas.
The court documents, which included unsealed indictments and criminal complaints, provide chilling details about the experience of the recruits, who began to enlist in al-Shabab in September of 2007. They attended training camps in Somalia run by Somali, Arab, and Western instructors, who taught them to use machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and indoctrinated them with anti-American and anti-Israeli beliefs, according to one complaint. Two of the Minneapolis recruits took part in an ambush against Ethiopian troops, and many others were involved in combat, according to the documents.
One of the fighters, Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, later returned to Minneapolis and emerged as a recruiter, officials said. A 32-year-old cab driver and divorced father of two, Mr. Faarax had sustained a leg injury while fighting with al-Shabab, a senior law enforcement official said.
In the fall of 2007, he attended a meeting at an unnamed Minneapolis mosque in which participants spoke by telephone with co-conspirators in Somalia about the need for fighters, according to the complaint. Mr. Faarax told potential recruits he had experienced “true brotherhood” while fighting in Somalia, that to “fight jihad will be fun” and “not to be afraid,” according to the complaint. He is estranged from his family, a close relative said in an interview, and “seemed to have developed another family at his place of worship.” Another man accused of recruiting, Abdiweli Yassin Isse, encouraged others to join the fight in Somalia, raising money for their travel through a fake charity, according to the complaint. A third man, Mahamud Said Omar, is accused of helping to finance the recruitment. Officials said Mr. Omar, who was arrested in the Netherlands on 8 November, conspired with nine of the recruits, paying for trips to Somalia and providing some of the Minneapolis men with hundreds of dollars to buy AK-47 rifles.
Most of the young Somali-American men suspected of joining al-Shabab had come to the United States as small boys or teenagers, after the 1991 collapse of Somalia’s last fully functioning government. These young refugees largely settled in the Minneapolis area, struggling to support single-mother households in a poor urban neighborhood that was rocked by the violence of Somali street gangs. But many overcame the obstacles in their paths, making it to college and charting paths as engineers, medical technicians and businessmen.
From Minnesota, these young men showed little interest in the political events of their homeland, relatives and friends recalled. That changed in December 2006, when the Ethiopian military invaded Somalia, routing an Islamist insurgency. The invasion, backed by the United States, prompted an outcry among Somalis in the diaspora.
After the Ethiopians dismantled the Islamist insurgency, its youth and militia wing— known as al-Shabab, which means “youth”— regrouped in southern Somalia and began a new insurgency intended to topple the occupation and install an Islamic state. In its internet-driven propaganda, al-Shabab aggressively recruited foreign fighters from the West, refashioning a formerly nationalist cause into a religious movement that carried the endorsement of Al Qaeda.
Friends of the men who left described them as having been driven by a mix of nationalist and religious fervor. Some wanted to defend their country against foreign invaders; other saw this “defensive jihad” as their religious duty, the friends said.
Interest in the movement appeared to wane as news spread last summer that some of the recruits had been killed. In early June, Somalis in Minneapolis learned that 17-year-old Burhan Hassan, a gifted student who had once dreamed of attending Harvard, had been shot in the head in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. The shooting happened shortly after he had told his mother, by phone, that he was planning to defect from al-Shabab, the boy’s uncle, Osman Ahmed, said.
A senior law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Hassan appeared to have been killed by other members of al-Shabab. Since then, four of the other Minneapolis recruits have also died, including a 27-year-old convert to Islam, said friends of the recruits who received phone calls informing them of the deaths. Through DNA matches, federal officials have confirmed only the deaths of Mr. Ahmed, the suicide bomber, and Jamal Sheikh Bana, a 20-year-old engineering student.
Still, there are indications that enlistment continues. Last month, the Nevada Highway Patrol stopped a rental car carrying five young Somali men who said they were en route to a wedding in San Diego. A lawyer with knowledge of the case said three of the men soon crossed the Mexican border, en route to an airport. The group included two of the men accused Monday of recruiting, Mr. Faarax and Mr. Isse, a friend of the men said. The men are still at large. The friend, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the FBI’s investigation had made an underdog out of al-Shabab, which is aiding recruitment. “They are reinforcing it,” the friend said.

Nice work if you can get it

Erik Larson has an article at Bloomberg.com about the latest twist in the Bernie Madoff saga; the case is Securities Investor Protection Corp. v. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, 08-01789, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan):
Irving Picard, the liquidator for Bernard Madoff’s investment advisory business, has asked a judge to approve $22.1 million in fees for him and his team with the law firm Baker & Hostetler LLP, for five months of work on the case. The fees, which include a ten percent “public interest discount” from the firm’s normal rates, cover work performed on the liquidation from 1 May through 30 September, according to a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.
Picard, hired by the Securities Investor Protection Corp. to recover assets and repay victims, won his first request in August for $14.7 million in fees for work from 15 December to 30 April. Some victims objected to that request, claiming Picard was burning through cash while approving victims’ claims too slowly. Picard has recovered about $1.4 billion in assets for victims who thought they had $65 billion in their accounts. He is also seeking the return of about $15 billion in fake profit through so-called clawback lawsuits against Madoff’s biggest investors and beneficiaries, including Madoff’s wife and sons.
“No single document could comprehensively set forth all of the tasks engaged in by the trustee since his appointment,” Picard said in the filing. “This task is ongoing and will be engaged in for a number of years in order to fully understand the scope and depth of the fraud perpetrated by Mr. Madoff.”
Picard is seeking a hearing on the matter before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland, who approved the previous request. Additional fees for international law firms and forensic accountants on the case will also be considered. The new fee request averages $4.42 million a month for five months of work, or about $210,476 per business day. That’s more than Picard’s first fee request, which averaged $3.67 million a month for four months, or $175,000 per business day.
“Unfortunately, one of the problems we have in the way these cases are managed is that there’s very little oversight in relation to fees,” Stephen French, a partner at Legalbill.com LLC, a firm that analyzes legal costs for companies, said today in a phone interview. “There’s no specific set of expectations that he is placed under that he could then be held accountable to.” If approved, the fees will be paid by SIPC, which is overseeing the liquidation and is financed by the brokerage industry. Some victims argued after the first fee request that SIPC is low on cash and needs the money to make required payments of as much as $500,000 for each account.
Picard says his fee payments won’t come from money earmarked for victims, and SIPC has repeatedly said that it isn’t low on cash. The Washington-based entity recently requested an increase in its U.S. Treasury line of credit to $2.5 billion from $1 billion and increased fees it charges member firms, SIPC President Stephen Harbeck said in an interview last week.
Picard in October said he had approved initial repayments of $534.2 million to 1,558 victims who invested directly with Madoff’s firm. Another 1,303 victims had their claims denied. The payments are considered to be SIPC advances on the group’s allowed claims of $4.43 billion. Victims with allowed claims will receive a share of the money Picard recovers.
One time-consuming dispute in the liquidation, based on a review of court filings, stems from Picard’s method for calculating claims in the case by using victims’ cash deposits minus their withdrawals. Hundreds of victims argue that years’ worth of fake profit should be included. A judge will decide if Picard’s method is correct at a hearing scheduled for 2 February.
“I don’t begrudge an attorney his fees for work performed, but this is just another kick in the stomach to the victims he continues to make life miserable for,” Helen Chaitman, a lawyer and a Madoff victim who sued Picard over his claim-calculation method, said in an email. “This is a travesty of justice.”
Madoff, 71, pleaded guilty in March and is serving a 150-year sentence. The global nature of the con man’s fraud has resulted in extensive international legal work for Picard and his team, including lawsuits against “feeder funds” that directed customer money to Madoff.
Picard has filed lawsuits in Europe and throughout the Caribbean, including Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands and hired International law firms in all of these jurisdictions, according to the filing. Picard’s share of the fee request is $835,605, based on 1,198 hours of work on the case at a rate of $697.50 per hour, according to his filing. Picard spent 385 hours reviewing claims, 68 hours working on previously filed lawsuits, and 92 hours responding to press inquiries, he said. “The trustee has expended a substantial amount of time in connection with his efforts to liquidate the estate, advance the cause of customer-claimants and initiate litigation and negotiations for the return of customer property,” Picard said of himself in the filing.

Civil War for the day

Rico says some things are perfect, even if someone else wrote it:
Fuck the South. Fuck 'em. We should have let them go when they wanted to leave. But no, we had to kill half a million people so they'd stay part of our special Union. Fighting for the right to keep slaves - yeah, those are states we want to keep.
And now what do we get? We're the fucking Arrogant Northeast Liberal Elite? How about this for arrogant: the South is the Real America? The Authentic America. Really?
Because we fucking founded this country, assholes. Those Founding Fathers you keep going on and on about? All that bullshit about what you think they meant by the Second Amendment giving you the right to keep your assault weapons in the glove compartment because you didn't bother to read the first half of the fucking sentence? Who do you think those wig-wearing lacy-shirt sporting revolutionaries were? They were fucking blue-staters, dickhead. Boston? Philadelphia? New York? Hello? Think there might be a reason all the fucking monuments are up here in our backyard?
No, No. Get the fuck out. We're not letting you visit the Liberty Bell and fucking Plymouth Rock anymore until you get over your real American selves and start respecting those other nine amendments. Who do you think those fucking stripes on the flag are for? Nine are for fucking blue states. And it would be 10 if those Vermonters had gotten their fucking Subarus together and broken off from New York a little earlier. Get it? We started this shit, so don't get all uppity about how real you are you Johnny-come-lately "ooooh, I've been a state for almost a hundred years" dickheads. Fuck off.
Arrogant? You wanna talk about us Northeasterners being fucking arrogant? What's more American than arrogance? Hmmm? Maybe horsies? I don't think so. Arrogance is the fucking cornerstone of what it means to be American. And I wouldn't be so fucking arrogant if I wasn't paying for your fucking bridges, bitch.
All those Federal taxes you love to hate? It all comes from us and goes to you, so shut up and enjoy your fucking Tennessee Valley Authority electricity and your fancy highways that we paid for. And the next time Florida gets hit by a hurricane you can come crying to us if you want to, but you're the ones who built on a fucking swamp. "Let the Spanish keep it, it’s a shithole," we said, but you had to have your fucking orange juice.
The next dickwad who says, "It’s your money, not the government's money" is gonna get their ass kicked. Nine of the ten states that get the most federal fucking dollars and pay the least... can you guess? Go on, guess. That’s right, motherfucker, they're red states. And eight of the ten states that receive the least and pay the most? It’s too easy, asshole, they’re blue states. It’s not your money, assholes, it’s fucking our money. What was that Real American Value you were spouting a minute ago? Self-reliance? Try this for self-reliance: buy your own fucking stop signs, assholes.
Let’s talk about those values for a fucking minute. You and your Southern values can bite my ass because the blue states got the values over you fucking Real Americans every day of the goddamn week. Which state do you think has the lowest divorce rate you marriage-hyping dickwads? Well? Can you guess? It’s fucking Massachusetts, the fucking center of the gay marriage universe. Yes, that’s right, the state you love to tie around the neck of anyone to the left of Strom Thurmond has the lowest divorce rate in the fucking nation. Think that’s just some aberration? How about this: 9 of the 10 lowest divorce rates are fucking blue states, asshole, and most are in the Northeast, where our values suck so bad. And where are the highest divorce rates? Care to fucking guess? 10 of the top 10 are fucking red-ass we're-so-fucking-moral states. And while Nevada is the worst, the Bible Belt is doing its fucking part.
But two guys making out is going to fucking ruin marriage for you? Yeah? Seems like you're ruining it pretty well on your own, you little bastards. Oh, but that's ok because you go to church, right? I mean you do, right? Cause we fucking get to hear about it every goddamn year at election time. Yes, we're fascinated by how you get up every Sunday morning and sing, and then you're fucking towers of moral superiority. Yeah, that's a workable formula. Maybe us fucking Northerners don't talk about religion as much as you because we're not so busy sinning, hmmm? Ever think of that, you self-righteous assholes? No, you're too busy erecting giant stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in buildings paid for by the fucking Northeast Liberal Elite. And who has the highest murder rates in the nation? It ain't us up here in the North, assholes.
Well this gravy train is fucking over. Take your liberal-bashing, federal-tax-leaching, Confederate-flag-waving, holier-than-thou, hypocritical bullshit and shove it up your ass.
And no, you can't have your fucking convention in New York next time. Fuck off.

23 November 2009

Sundance said it best

Rico says for those who've been known to complain that he posts pieces that are 'too long', this advice from the Sundance Kid:
                     Skip on down!

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy

Philip Rucker has an article in The Washington Post about the condition of Major Nidal Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter:
Major Nidal M. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing thirteen people at Fort Hood, Texas, is paralyzed from the chest down and doctors believe his paralysis will be permanent, Hasan's lawyer said Sunday. "He has no sensation from the nipple area down," Hasan's civilian attorney, John P. Galligan, said in a telephone interview.
During a closed-door hearing in Hasan's hospital room on Saturday that lasted about an hour, a magistrate ruled that Hasan be confined until his military trial, Galligan said. "In the middle of this hearing, he started to nod off and go to sleep," Galligan said. "When I've spoken with him, he's coherent, but your ability to have any meaningful exchange with him is limited in time and subject."
Hasan has been recovering from gunshot wounds at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he is in intensive care. He has been receiving letters and cards, which the government has been copying before delivering, Galligan said. Now under pre-trial confinement, Hasan faces greater restrictions on visitors and the military can transfer him to another hospital or jail, he said.
Hasan will remain in confinement until his court-martial, a date for which has not been set. He has been charged with thirteen counts of premeditated murder in the 5 November massacre, but Galligan said he "fully anticipates" that military prosecutors might file additional charges.

Prats & wankers

Andrew Gilligan has an article in the Telegraph about the British hostility towards their American counterparts in Iraq:
The deep hostility of Britain’s senior military commanders in Iraq towards their American allies has been revealed in classified Government documents leaked to the Daily Telegraph. The British chief of staff in Iraq, Colonel J.K.Tanner, described his US military counterparts as “a group of Martians” for whom “dialogue is alien,” saying “Despite our so-called ‘special relationship,’ I reckon we were treated no differently than the Portuguese.”
Colonel Tanner’s boss, the top British commander in the country, Major General Andrew Stewart, told how he spent “a significant amount of my time” “evading” and “refusing” orders from his US superiors. At least once, say the documents, General Stewart’s refusal to obey an order resulted in Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir David Manning, being summoned to the State Department for a diplomatic reprimand of the kind more often delivered to “rogue states” such as Zimbabwe or the Sudan.
The frank statements were made in official interviews conducted by the Ministry of Defence with Army commanders who had just returned from Operations Telic 2 and 3 – the first, crucial year of “peacekeeping” operations in Iraq, from May 2003 to May 2004.
A set of classified transcripts of the interviews, along with “post-operational reports” by British commanders, has been leaked to the Daily Telegraph.
The disclosures come the day before the Chilcot inquiry is due to begin public hearings into Britain’s involvement in Iraq. Among the issues it will investigate is the UK-US relationship.
The leaked documents paint a vivid picture of the clash between what General Stewart described as “war-war” American commanders and their British counterparts, who he said preferred a “jaw-jaw” approach.
General Stewart bluntly admitted that “our ability to influence US policy in Iraq seemed to be minimal.” He said that “incredibly,” there was not even a secure communication link between his headquarters in Basra and the US commander, General Rick Sanchez, in Baghdad.
Colonel Tanner said that General Sanchez “only visited us once in seven months.” Colonel Tanner also added that he only spoke to his own US counterpart, the chief of staff at the US corps headquarters in the Green Zone, once over the same period.
Top British commanders angrily described in the documents how they were not even told, let alone consulted, about major changes to US policy which had significant implications for them and their men. When the Americans decided, in March of 2004, to arrest a key lieutenant of the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr – an event that triggered an uprising throughout the British sector – “it was not co-ordinated with us and no-one was told that it was going to happen,” said the senior British field commander at the time, Brigadier General Nick Carter. “Had we known, we would at least have been able to prepare the ground.” Instead, “the consequence [was] that my whole area of operations went up in smoke… as a result of coalition operations that were out of my control or knowledge and proved to be the single most awkward event of my tour.”
Among the most outspoken officers was Colonel Tanner, who served as chief of staff to General Stewart and of the entire British division during Operation Telic 3, from November of 2003 to May of 2004. He said: “The whole system was appalling. We experienced real difficulty in dealing with American military and civilian organisations who, partly through arrogance and partly through bureaucracy, dictate that there is only one way: the American way. I now realise that I am a European, not an American. We managed to get on better with our European partners, and at times with the Arabs, than with the Americans. Europeans chat to each other, whereas dialogue is alien to the US military… dealing with them corporately is akin to dealing with a group of Martians. If it isn’t on the PowerPoint slide, then it doesn’t happen.”
General Stewart was more diplomatic, but said: “As the world’s only superpower, they [the US] will not allow their position to be challenged. Negotiation is often a dirty word.” General Stewart added: “I spent a significant amount of my time ‘consenting and evading’ US orders… Things got sticky… when I refused to conduct offensive operations against [al-Sadr’s] Mahdi Army as directed [by the US]. This resulted in the UK being demarched by the US, by [Paul] Bremer [the US proconsul in Iraq] through State [the US State Department] to the UK Ambassador in Washington.”
A “demarche” in this context was a formal diplomatic reprimand of a kind not normally handed out to friendly allies such as Britain. General Stewart said that the US military “were mortified” that it had got so far and said he “was always fully supported in the UK by the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Joint Operations”.
Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph told how leaked “post-operational reports” detailed major shortcomings in the planning and execution of the war and peacekeeping phases.
Most of the documents – apart from some which might compromise sources – referred to yesterday and today are published online at Telegraph.co.uk

History for the day

Masha Gessen has an article on Slate about an obscure place in history:
Never have I heard so many snide comments about an upcoming trip. "Don't bother coming back," said a co-worker, laughing nervously. Birobidzhan has a way of making people laugh. Several of my colleagues were convinced I was joking. The word itself is not inherently funny, but the idea for which it stands is bizarre enough and its history is macabre enough that it makes people giggle. It is also ridiculously far away.
So, where am I? I am just about as far away from my home in Moscow as Moscow is from New York. To get here, I endured an eight-hour Aeroflot flight, followed by two and a half hours aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway, finally disembarking less than fifty miles short of the Chinese border at tracks so poorly lit that I had to ask someone where the station was. When I finally found the station, I discovered it has two signs, one in Hebrew and one in Russian. The Hebrew faces the tracks, and though it is a fair bet that virtually no one on the Trans-Siberian can read it, it communicates all the necessary information. (I assume it says Birobidzhan, but I can't read it, either.) The Russian faces the town and says "Railroad Station", and this, too, is all anyone needs to know.
This part of Russia is hazy territory, geographically speaking. Have you ever considered where Siberia ends? Any Russian schoolchild knows that it begins at the Ural Mountains, but few have ever considered the other side of Siberia. But that is precisely where I am: on the other side of Siberia, in the Russian Far East, where the Jewish Autonomous Region was declared to exist in 1934. I am here to write the history of the worst good idea ever. Autonomism was once the rational alternative to Zionism. Whoever came up with the idea of moving Jews to the Middle East, to live on arid land surrounded by hostile Arabs? Jews should live where they are, speak the language they speak, and enjoy the protection of an established military.
Jews never had land in Tsarist Russia. Specially formed committees began prospecting for an appropriate place for Jews almost as soon as the Soviet Union was formed, following the Russian Civil War, in 1922. They tried the Crimea and parts of Ukraine and found them too densely populated for the task of resettling a million or more people. And then they stumbled upon an underpopulated border region in the Far East. According to a prospecting report written in 1927, the area was distinguished by difficult terrain. The mountains, while not especially high, were formed by rocks meeting at such extreme angles that traversing the mountains, even on horseback, was prohibitively difficult. The terrain in the valley was mostly wetland. Life in the valley was made especially difficult by blood-sucking insects of several varieties. The prospecting committee reported that people wore nets and eventually adjusted to the insects, but the cattle suffered terribly. The locals tended toward a nomadic lifestyle, largely because of the difficulty of maintaining pasture. The locals, in any case, were few; mostly Cossacks forcibly exiled here in the 1860s in order to fortify the borders.
That's right. The rational Soviet alternative to the crazy concept of settling the Jews in a Middle Eastern desert surrounded by Arabs was to settle the Jews in Far Eastern swampland surrounded by Cossacks. "The locals can barely imagine life in a densely populated country," the prospectors warned, "and view the planned land settlement as a looming catastrophe."
That it was. The first train with 600 new settlers from Ukraine and Belarus onboard arrived 28 May 1928. At what was then called Tikhonkaya (Little Quiet) Station, they were met by snow, which would soon be followed by torrential downpours; heavy summer rains were the norm, but this was extraordinary even by Birobidzhan standards. The land they planned to work was flooded for most of that summer, making planting impossible. Cattle were brought in for the new settlers, and an anthrax epidemic ensued. Whoever could manage it scrambled to return home.
Such were the beginnings of the Jewish Autonomous Region, which celebrates its 75th birthday this year.

No hell below us, above us only sky

Rico says the phrase is from Imagine by John Lennon, but it fits right in with this Slate article by Dahlia Lithwick:
Pop quiz: Which of the following names represents a nonsectarian, universal deity: Allah, Dios, Gott, Dieu, Elohim, Gud, or Jesus
If you answered "none of the above," you are right as a matter of fact but not law. If you answered Allah, you are right as a matter of law but not fact. And if you answered Jesus, you might have been trying to filibuster David Hamilton, Barack Obama's first judicial nominee.
Hamilton, nominated last March, has seen his confirmation stalled until last week in the Senate, in part because his opponents claim he's a judicial activist for an opinion he wrote about God's proper secular title. In a 2005 case, Hinrichs v. Bosma, Hamilton determined that those who pray in the Indiana House of Representatives "should refrain from using Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal," and that such prayer must hereinafter be "nonsectarian".
Bosma questioned the practice of opening state legislative sessions with sectarian Christian prayers that included a prayer for worldwide conversion to Christianity. Hamilton found this to be a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, because it was government speech that favored one religious sect over another. In a post-judgment order, Hamilton also wrote that the "Arabic word Allah is used for 'God' in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures" and that Allah was closer to "the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language's terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers" than Jesus Christ. Hamilton, himself a Christian, also added that "if and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court."
For these words of clarification, Hamilton has been pilloried for months as a judge determined to chase Christians out of the public square in order to make more space for Muslims. In an interview last spring with Christianity Today, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Hamilton had ruled that "saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be okay." That's factually true but hopelessly misleading, which was of course the point. But as a result, Hamilton for months awaited an up-or-down vote despite a distinguished record as a U.S. district judge in Indiana for more than fifteen years, the highest ABA rating, as well as endorsements from the president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Federalist Society and his home-state Sen. Richard Lugar.
The real problem here isn't Hamilton but the fiction, built into the Supreme Court's religion jurisprudence, that there can be such a thing as a neutral, non-sectarian religious invocation that will make everyone present feel both included and respected. It has led to a crazy quilt of Establishment Clause doctrine that, depending on the judge and the weather, permits public Christmas displays of secular religious symbols (Santas, reindeers, teddy bears in Santa hats) so long as they have been drained of any strong sectarian meaning. This compromise leaves both deeply religious and deeply skeptical Americans outraged in about equal measure. It also leads to bizarre claims about secular religious symbols, such as Justice Antonin Scalia's insistence at a recent oral argument that it's "outrageous" to conclude that "the only war dead that a cross honors are Christian war dead." In his view, a Christian cross on government land honors Christians and non-Christians alike. It's a secular symbol, in his view, because it doesn't offend him.
The Supreme Court has sliced and diced religious symbols and prayers into the impossible-to-apply paradoxes of secular vs religious and heartfelt, thus unconstitutional. For the millions of Americans, both religious and secular, left standing out in the public square with just a teddy bear in a Santa hat, this is an insult.
Opponents of Judge Hamilton should acknowledge that he was not privileging Allah over Jesus. He was trying to thread the constitutional needle that deems God's name— whatever the language—secular, but Jesus' name sectarian. The truth is, Hamilton has gone out of his way to impose a constitutional test that defies both logic and common sense. That makes him more "neutral umpire" than "judicial activist" by my lights. It takes a brave man to impose a test guaranteed to promote the unpopular fiction that America is one nation, under a secular deity to be named later, indivisible.

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