31 January 2010

More history for the last century

Bat Masterson's memoir of the Old West, for sale.

History for the last century

Civil War books, on a variety of subjects, for sale.

Not cheap, but quality never is

Texas Ranger badges (two kinds), in cast sterling. Go buy 'em now.

30 January 2010

Not straight up, but close enough

Rico's steadily-increasing readership; thanks to all.

As usual, Rico has a better idea

The New York Times has an article by Scott Shane and Benjamin Weiser about the problems of trying the 9.11 plotters:
The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the 11 September plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere. “I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”
The reversal on whether to try the alleged 9/11 terrorists blocks from the former World Trade Center site seemed to come suddenly this week, after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg abandoned his strong support for the plan and said the cost and disruption would be too great. But, behind the brave face that many New Yorkers had put on for weeks, resistance had been gathering steam. After a dinner in New York on 14 December, Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, pulled aside David Axelrod, President Obama’s closest adviser, to convey an urgent plea: move the 9/11 trial out of Manhattan.
More recently, in a series of presentations to business leaders, local elected officials and community representatives of Chinatown, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly laid out his plan for securing the trial: blanketing a swath of Lower Manhattan with police checkpoints, vehicle searches, rooftop snipers, and canine patrols. “They were not received well,” said one city official.
And, on Tuesday, in a meeting Mr. Bloomberg had with at least two dozen federal judges on the eighth floor of their Manhattan courthouse, one judge raised the question of security. The mayor, according to several people present, said he was sure the courthouse could be made safe, but that it would be costly and difficult.
The next day, the mayor, who back in November had hailed the idea of trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other accused 11 September plotters in the heart of downtown Manhattan, made clear he’d changed his mind. The Obama administration official said the decision to back out of plans for a New York trial had broad support but had not yet been made public. Jason Post, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, said Friday night that the mayor would have no comment until the Obama administration had made an official announcement of its intentions. Told of the administration’s decision, a spokesman for Mr. Kelly said, “We were not aware of that.” But the spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said of Mr. Kelly: “He is of the mind that such a decision would give us some breathing room, but that New York has to remain vigilant because it remains at the top of the terrorist target list.”
“It is obvious that they can't have the trials in New York,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, New York's Democratic senior senator.
Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks on Wednesday set off a stampede of New York City officials, most of them Democrats well-disposed toward President Obama, who suddenly declared that a civilian trial for the 9/11 suspects was a great idea, as long as it didn’t happen in their city.
By Friday, Justice Department officials were studying other locations, focusing especially on military bases and prison complexes, and no obvious new choice had emerged. The story of how prominent New York officials seemed to have so quickly moved from a kind of “bring it on” bravado to an “anywhere but here” involves many factors, including a new anxiety about terrorism after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day. Ultimately, it appears, New York officials could not tolerate ceding much of the city to a set of trials that could last for years.
“The administration is in a tricky political and legal position,” Julie Menin, a lawyer who is chairwoman of the 50-member Community Board One that represents Lower Manhattan, including the federal courthouse and Ground Zero, said of President Obama and his Justice Department. “But it means shutting down our financial district. It could cost $1 billion. It’s absolutely crazy.” Ms. Menin said the turning point for her came when she heard Mr. Kelly’s security plan and cost estimates: hundreds of millions of dollars a year. “It was an absolute game-changer,” she said. She wrote a 17 January op-ed article for The New York Times proposing moving the trial to Governors Island off Manhattan; that idea did not catch hold, but the article escalated the outcry against a Manhattan trial.
When the Justice Department announced in November its plans to try Mr. Mohammed and four alleged accomplices blocks from where the World Trade Center stood, Mr. Bloomberg hailed the location as not only workable but as a powerful symbol: “It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center site where so many New Yorkers were murdered,” the mayor said at the time. The federal courthouse had hosted major terror trials previously, he noted, and the police were more than up to the security challenge.
And so it is possible that the reversal will call into question the calibrated effort of Mr. Obama and his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to bring the handling of suspected terrorists out of the realm of military emergency and into the halls of civilian justice.
If the message to al-Qaeda and its supporters in November was that New York City was able, even eager, to bring justice to those who plotted mass murder, the message of January is far less confident. “This will be one more stroke for al-Qaeda’s propaganda,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.
The breakdown of support for the trials in New York might have actually been assisted by the way New York officials were first notified by the Obama administration. Mr. Holder called Mr. Bloomberg and Governor David A. Paterson only a few hours before his public announcement on 13 November; and Mr. Kelly got a similar call that morning from Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office had been picked to prosecute the cases. But, by the time those calls were made, the decision had already been reported in the news media, which was how Mr. Bloomberg learned about it, according to mayoral aides.
One senior Bloomberg official, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to antagonize the White House, said: “When Holder was making the decision, he didn’t call Ray Kelly and say, ‘What do you think?’ He didn’t call the mayor and say, ‘What would your position be?’ They didn’t reach out until it got out there.”
Soon, though, New York real estate executives were raising concerns with the Obama administration, according to Mr. Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. Mr. Spinola said he had received calls and e-mail messages from the board’s members. Residential real estate brokers were “going berserk,” as he put it, worried that they would no longer be able to sell apartments downtown. Commercial brokers feared they would not be able to lease office space.
On 20 November, the Friday before Thanksgiving, the real estate executive William C. Rudin held a meeting at his office to talk about issues with Jim Messina, a deputy White House chief of staff, according to Mr. Spinola. The meeting was not on the topic of the trials, but the executives pressed their case anyway. Mr. Spinola said that he told Mr. Messina, “I hope that the White House was going to put a ton of money into it.”
A turning point came when Mr. Kelly spoke before a large business crowd at a New York Police Foundation breakfast on 13 January. After addressing the year’s highlights in crime reduction, he turned to the 9/11 trials, offering a presentation that was direct and graphic: “Whatever the merits of holding the trial in Lower Manhattan,” he said, “it will certainly raise the level of threat.” He said that “securing this area and the entire city for the duration of this event promises to be an extremely demanding undertaking.” He offered a detailed account of his department’s security plan, with inner and outer perimeters, unannounced vehicle checkpoints, countersniper teams on rooftops, and hazardous-materials and bomb squad personnel ready to respond. And he cited the hundreds of millions it would cost to protect the city.
“The entire audience issued a collective gasp when it became clear that this was an event that could go on for years,” said one guest, Kathryn S. Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City.
The unhappiness grew. During the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala, held on 21 January, Mr. Bloomberg dropped by, and Bloomberg officials said they got “an earful on that” from real estate executives, all of whom were angry about the plan. A week later, his public opinion had changed, and so, it seems, had the ultimate destination of the trials.
Rico says they're trying too hard, as usual; it will be much easier (if about the same price, once you factor in the travel for everyone) if they try the fucks in Federal court in, say, Casper, Wyoming...

Civil War for the day

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Tenth Maine

29 January 2010

Football tickets, going cheap

My friend John Robinson passes along a plea from a guy who needs to sell his season tickets:
Anyone interested in some Saints tickets? My wife doesn’t want to go to the games now because of the couple sitting next to us. (I have attached a picture of the view from our seats.) $3500 each; I have two.
Rico says he can't imagine why any woman would have a problem with this... (Well, he can, but it's understandable.)

Civil War for the day

Cannon at Fort Clinch, Florida.

28 January 2010

States of various Unions

The New York Times has an article about State of the Union speeches by various government leaders:
Americans tend to think of the State of the Union address as our singular event. But while it is a special night, it’s not unique. In fact, leaders around the world deliver a yearly address in which they step onto the podium to score points, lay out agendas, and offer up a flourish or two.
Excerpts follow:

Russia
President Dmitri Medvedev
Address to the Federal Assembly, 12 November 2009 (11,944 words)
Citizens of Russia... the foundation of my vision for the future is the firm conviction that Russia can and must become a global power on a completely new basis. Our country’s prestige and national prosperity cannot rest forever on past achievements. After all, the oil and gas production facilities that generate most of our budget revenue, the nuclear weapons that guarantee our security, and our industrial and utilities infrastructure— most of this was built by Soviet specialists. In other words, it was not we who built it. It is still keeping our country afloat today, but it is rapidly depreciating both morally and physically. The time has come for today’s generation of Russians to make their mark...
Today we are talking about modernization— this is the essential aspect of my address today— about our desire to be modern. We must remember of course that modernity is a fluid notion. It is not a final stage of progress at which point you can rest and relax, as we say— quite the contrary. A truly modern society is the one that seeks constant renewal, continuous evolutionary transformation of social practices, democratic institutions, visions of the future...
I note that in August this year, Russia registered its natural population increase for the first time in the last 15 years. This growth is still only small— just 1,000 people— but still, it is an increase nonetheless. This result was achieved above all thanks to the National Project on Health and the new demographic policy we have been implementing...
Go, Russia!

Norway
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg
New Year’s Address, 1 January 2010 (2,045 words)
Among the first public buildings we know of from the earliest civilizations are granaries. They were used to provide emergency relief in years when crops failed. We remember the story of Joseph advising Pharaoh to build up a store of grain because the seven good years would be followed by seven years of famine. This is ancient wisdom: we should save when times are good so as to be prepared for hard times.
Over the last year, the world has experienced the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s.
This international crisis has also affected Norway. We have a small, open economy, and half of what we produce is sold abroad. When export markets disappear, people at home are hit. Some of those who used to manufacture car components, smelt aluminum or build ships lost their jobs because people abroad stopped buying these goods.
Losing a job is first and foremost a blow for the person concerned. But unemployment also harms the community. With fewer people producing goods, there is less to go round. During this crisis, we have injected a great deal of extra funds to keep the wheels in motion. We have been able to spend more during these difficult times because we were careful when times were good. In this respect, you could say that we have followed the advice Joseph gave to Pharaoh, albeit in a rather different way. The Egyptians built granaries. We built the Government Pension Fund Global.

Britain
Queen Elizabeth II
Speech From the Throne, 18 November 2009 (735 words)
My lords and members of the House of Commons, my government’s overriding priority is to ensure sustained growth to deliver a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses as the British economy recovers from the global economic downturn...
The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Bermuda and our state visit to Trinidad and Tobago and to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in this, the Commonwealth’s 60th anniversary year. We also look forward to receiving the president of South Africa next year...
My government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My government is committed to the Northern Ireland political process and will continue to work with Northern Ireland’s leaders to complete the devolution of policing and justice and to ensure its success.
In Scotland, my government will take forward proposals in the final report from the Commission on Scottish Devolution. My government will continue to devolve more powers to Wales...
My government will work for security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and for peace in the Middle East. Legislation will be brought forward to ban cluster munitions...
My lords and members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

The Netherlands
Queen Beatrix
Speech From the Throne, 15 September 2009 (1,574 words)
Members of the States-General... the economic recession has exposed ethical shortcomings in the way market and society operate. The government has identified flaws in the financial sector both inside and outside the Netherlands, and drawn up proposals for stricter standards and better supervision. Binding agreements will be made on limiting excessive salaries and bonuses.
In these difficult times, the government believes it is important to continue working toward a society in which people feel a sense of togetherness, respect one another and share responsibility. A good upbringing and good education are the foundation of responsible citizenship.
Over the past two years, the government has taken measures to promote social cohesion, safety and security, stability and mutual respect. A persistent, multiyear approach is required to achieve results. The government will therefore continue to devote special attention to youth and young people, civic integration and vulnerable neighborhoods in the big cities.
The lack of integration of certain groups in society, widespread disrespectful and offensive behavior in public places and criminal behavior by groups of young people are stubborn problems that cause a great deal of annoyance. The government is therefore not only taking consistent action against offenders but also tackling the causes of unacceptable behavior.

Philippines
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
State of the Nation Address, 27 July 2009 (4,373 words)
A few days ago Moody’s upgraded our credit rating, citing the resilience of our economy. The state of our nation is a strong economy. Good news for our people, bad news for our critics.
I did not become president to be popular. To work, to lead, to protect and preserve our country, our people— that is why I became president. When my father left the presidency, we were second to Japan. I want our republic to be ready for the first world in 20 years... To those who want to be president, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it. Do it hard, do it well. Don’t pussyfoot. Don’t pander. And don’t say bad words in public...
We inherited the longest-running communist insurgency in the world. Leah de la Cruz is one of 12,000 rebel returnees. She was only 16 when she joined the New People’s Army... She was captured in 2006. She is now involved in an L.G.U.-supported handicraft livelihood training of former rebels. We love you, Leah!...
We inherited an age-old conflict in Mindanao, exacerbated by a politically popular but near-sighted policy of massive retaliation... There is nothing more that I would wish for than peace in Mindanao. It will be a blessing for all its people, Muslim, Christian and indigenous peoples. It will show other religiously divided communities that there can be common ground on which to live together in peace, harmony and cooperation.

South Africa
President Jacob Zuma
State of the Nation Address, 3 June 2009 (4,545 words)
Fellow South Africans... since 1994 we have sought to create a united cohesive society out of our fragmented past. We are called upon to continue this mission of promoting unity in diversity... We must develop a common attachment to our country, our Constitution and the national symbols. In this spirit, we will promote the national anthem and our country’s flag and all other national symbols.
Our children, from an early age, must be taught to pay allegiance to the Constitution and the national symbols, and know what it means to be South African citizens...
Sport is a powerful nation-building tool. Working together we must support all our national teams from Bafana Bafana to the Proteas and the Springboks; from Banyana Banyana to Paralympians.
Our teams can only do well with our support. Allow me to use this opportunity to congratulate our national teams for their performances in the past week, indeed in pulling off a hat trick. The country’s women’s netball team has done us proud by winning the Tri-Nations Netball Challenge. Congratulations to the Sevens Springboks who have become the I.R.B. Sevens World Series champions— and not forgetting the Blue Bulls, who have won the Super 14 finals in a convincing fashion!
We take this opportunity to wish the Springboks well in the upcoming series against the British and Irish Lions.

Another idiot

North Korea said Thursday it has detained an American man for illegally entering the country from China, the second arrest of a US citizen it has reported in the past several weeks. The man was detained Monday and is under investigation, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch. It did not identify him by name or provide other details.
North Korea said late last month that it was holding another U.S. citizen for illegally entering through the North Korea-China border. It did not identify that man, either, but he is widely believed to be Robert Park (shown above), an American missionary who South Korean activists say crossed over a frozen river into North Korea several days earlier to raise the issue of human rights.
Peter Beck, an expert on North Korea conducting research at Stanford University, said that though the circumstances of the most recent detention remain murky, he doubted that either of the cases would have a negative impact on relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
"I don't think the North is in a position to take advantage of having either of them," he said, citing in particular the case of Park, who appears to have entered the country on purpose.

Amazing stamina

The Guardian has an article by Harron Siddique (great name!) about another Haitian survivor:
A teenage girl was rescued alive from under a house in Port-au-Prince yesterday, fifteen days after the devastating earthquake that killed as many as 200,000 people.
Darlene Etienne, believed to be sixteen or seventeen, was dehydrated and had a broken left leg but was conscious when she was dragged out of the rubble by rescuers. A rescue worker, J.P. Malaganne, described her as happy, shocked, and crying. "I don't know how she happened to resist that long. It's a miracle," he said.
Neighbours heard her voice and called authorities, who brought in rescuers. One worker, Claude Fuilla, walked along the crumbled roof, heard a voice, and then saw a little bit of dust-covered black hair in the rubble. He said he cleared some debris, managed to reach the young woman, and could see she was alive. The team then dug out a hole big enough to give Etienne some oxygen and water. She had a very weak pulse but, within 45 minutes, they managed to remove her, covered in dust, from what appeared to be the collapsed porch area of the home. Fuilla said: "I don't think she could have survived even a few more hours."
She was taken to a French military field hospital and then to a hospital ship."We are providing the care she needs, and she will be okay," said Colonel Michel Orcel, a French doctor.
"She was able to survive because she wasn't crushed by the rubble and there was a space where she could lie down," Stephen Sadak, a member of the French rescue team, told Reuters.
One man fed Darlene sweets as rescuers neared her; a throng of neighbours cheered as she was pulled free. The elated crew shouted: "Nous sommes la meilleure équipe au monde!" (Translation: We are the best team in the world!) Her family said she had just started studying when the disaster struck. In all, more than 130 people have been rescued from the rubble.
Meanwhile, Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive said yesterday that trafficking of children and human organs was taking place. "A lot of organisations, they come and they say there are children on the streets. They're going to bring them to the US. And we have already reports of a lot of trafficking. Even of organ trafficking," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "There is trafficking for children and adults also, because they need all types of organs." Bellerive said the issue had been discussed at this week's conference in Montreal, Canada, on Haiti's reconstruction.
Rico says that, given the HIV levels in Haiti, you'd have to be a total idiot to accept an organ from there for transplantation, but desperate people will do desperate things...

Civil War for the day


The 140th of Antietam, the Sunday.

27 January 2010

Something else Rico wants and doesn't need


Rico says he wants one (as he knew he would), and now has to save up: the 64GB version is $700 ($830 with 3G, and why the hell not). As for wanting one, when did need ever have anything to do with it?

LOTR, yet again

Rico says making contact with Christopher Montalbano again reminded him that, while he's currently rereading Lord of the Rings (as he did every few years even before losing short-term memory; no one can remember thousands of pages), it was Mister Montalbano who introduced him to JRR Tolkien's classic back in the Sixties.
One paragraph that did stick, however:
...as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns from the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
Rico says it may not be the best line from the book, but it'll do...

On a side note, it seems that a Swiss company has acquired signed copies of both The Hobbit (for 'over $78,000') and a first edition set of the Trilogy, and they will go on exhibition in 2011. The fact that the movie of The Hobbit is coming out in December of 2011 is purely a coincidence, of course...

Why it has to be a private beach for your wedding


Courtesy of my friend Dave, this uncontrolled-environment error at an otherwise nice wedding.

History for the day


On 27 January 1967, Astronauts Edward White, Roger Chaffee, and Virgil "Gus" Grissom died in a flash fire during a test aboard their Apollo I spacecraft at Cape Kennedy, Florida.

Winter, bleagh

� Snowy Trees Add to the Beauty
Bracing. Invigorating. Stimulating.
Fuck it, it's just cold.
And Rico isn't partial to cold.
At least it's not snowing (photo simulated for effect), so Rico can get out.

Civil War for the day


Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, with the Confederate flag flying in April of 1861. Rico says he'll be there on 12 April 2011, for the Sesquicentennial.

26 January 2010

Tempus ex mente, obscure factum


Rico says it's his long-time (since childhood) friend Christopher Montalbano, now living in Oregon, proudly wearing a t-shirt designed and drawn by Rico's long-time friend Kelley. (The post title? A Montalbano-ism from the old days; translated, it means "Time out of mind, darkly done". There were a lot of drugs and other ways to twist one's head in that era...)

Aussies with attitude

Courtesy of my friend Christopher Montalbano, who lamented my shaving my beard (as has he, apparently):

Scrap irony

The AP has the story, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
The Tabor City sheriff says a North Carolina state senator shot one of two intruders at his home and hospital officials say the man is in fair condition. Multiple media outlets reported that Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said that 74-year-old Senator R.C. Soles of Tabor City shot Kyle Blackburn late Sunday afternoon.
Batten says the shooting occurred when two men went to the senator’s house and tried to kick in his front door. No charges have been filed.
The Democrat has been in the Senate 32 years.
The sheriff’s office said the State Bureau of Investigation was handling the case. A call to an agency spokeswoman was not immediately returned. There was no answer at a number listed for Soles’ home.
A spokeswoman at Loris Community Hospital in South Carolina said Monday that Blackburn was in fair condition.
Rico says what the AP story did not note was that the Senator is not known as a fan of firearms:
Long-time anti-gun advocate State Senator R.C. Soles, 74, shot one of two intruders at his home just outside Tabor City, North Carolina, about 5 p.m. Sunday, the prosecutor for the politician's home county said.
The intruder, Kyle Blackburn, was taken to a South Carolina hospital, but his injuries were not reported to be life-threatening, according to Rex Gore, district attorney for Columbus, Bladen andBrunswick counties.. The State Bureau of Investigation and Columbus County Sheriff's Department are investigating the shooting, Gore said.
Soles, who was not arrested,declined to discuss the incident Sunday evening. "I am not in a position to talk to you," Soles said by telephone. "I'm right in the middle of an investigation." The Senator, who has made a career of being against gun ownership for the general public, didn't hesitate to defend himself with his own gun when he believed he was in immediate danger and he was the victim.
In typical hypocritical liberal fashion, the Do as I say and not as I do anti-gun activist lawmaker picked up his gun and took action in what apparently was a self-defense shooting. Why hypocritical, you may ask? It is because his long legislative record shows that the actions that he took to protect his family, his own response to a dangerous life-threatening situation, are actions that he feels ordinary citizens should not have if they were faced with an identical situation. It has prompted some to ask if the Senator believes his life and personal safety is more valuable than yours or mine.
But this is to be expected from those who believe they can run our lives, raise our kids, and protect our families better than we can.
Rico says he'd be laughing if it was actually funny, but there are too many well-meaning do-gooders out there like Senator Soles... (And we should make sure that any anti-gun activist doesn't actually have one, too.)

Spykaab?


Rico says anyone, even the Dutch, saving Saab is a good thing. (His then-wife drove one for several years.) The New York Times has the story:
Spyker Cars, the Dutch maker of luxury cars, is still in talks with General Motors to buy its ailing Saab brand, but no deal has been reached, spokesmen for both sides said Monday. A GM spokesman, Chris Preuss, declined to say if the company was close to a deal with Spyker, and he said GM was continuing with its plans to shut down Saab’s operations. GM’s interim chief executive, Edward E. Whitacre Jr., has scheduled a news conference for 11:30 a.m. in Detroit, where he is expected to announce that he will become the company’s permanent chief. But Mr. Whitacre also is expected to field questions about the Saab sale.
GM and Spyker negotiated through the weekend trying to work out a deal to save Saab, which GM has decided to jettison as part of its restructuring plan to focus on four core brands, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC.
Swedish media reported that a deal was close, but Mr. Preuss said nothing had been finalized as of Monday afternoon in Sweden. Meanwhile, shares in Spyker surged again Monday on reports that a deal was imminent. Spyker shares rose 29 percent to 2.77 euros on news media reports saying that a deal was close.
A Spyker spokesman, Mike Stainton, told The Associated Press on Monday the reports were "speculation”. He said the negotiations are continuing.
On 6 January, Mr. Whitacre said of Saab: ”It’s real easy. Just show up with the money and you can have it.”
GM has begun shutting Saab down, though its 3,400 employees have not yet been laid off.
A deal for Spyker to buy Saab by itself is unlikely: Spyker sold 23 cars in the first half of 2009, its most recent reporting period, and it posted a net loss of 8.7 million euros ($12.3 million). The six-year-old company has yet to make a profit, but it says funding for its operations have been guaranteed through 2010.
Money for a deal to buy Saab could come from Spyker’s largest shareholder, Russia’s Conversbank Financial Group, or other shareholders. It would also likely involve a large loan from the European Investment Bank, backed by the government of Sweden. Mr. Stainton said the financial structuring of a deal would only be made public at the time it was announced. He couldn’t say whether that was likely to happen this week. Spyker’s shares have been rising since its chairman, Victor Muller, first began a public campaign wooing GM in early December.
Saab Automobile sold around 90,000 cars in 2008, a thirty percent decline from 2007. With another sharp sales decline expected, it filed for protection from creditors while it reorganized in February of 2009. GM said at the time it expected to sell Saab and take $1 billion in losses. GM filed for bankruptcy itself in June and its attempts to sell Saab by a 31 December deadline failed.
Late-breaking news: The deal went through on Tuesday, and Saab is safely sold to Spyker.

Finally got him

Chemical Ali was finally executed on Monday; couldn't have happened to a nicer guy (especially if you're Kurdish). Nada Bakri has the story in The New York Times:
Ali Hassan al-Majid, a symbol of the former government of Saddam Hussein, who ordered a poison gas attack on a Kurdish village in northern Iraq, was executed on Monday. An Iraqi court had sentenced Mr. Majid, 68, to death by hanging last week. Mr. Majid, known as Chemical Ali for his role in the attack on the village of Halabja, in which more than 5,000 Kurds died, was perhaps the most notorious figure from the former regime to be executed since Mr. Hussein was himself hanged in December 2006. Iraq’s state television broadcast pictures of what it said was the execution, showing a man in a black mask and red jumpsuit on a wood scaffold, with a rope around his neck. “His execution turns the page on another black chapter of repression, genocide and crimes against humanity that Saddam and his men practiced for 35 years,” said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a statement.
In court cases that began in August of 2006, Mr. Majid was handed eight death sentences for crimes that ranged from Halabja to a campaign known as Anfal at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in which at least 180,000 Kurds were killed and thousands others displaced, invoking accusations of genocide and serving as a powerful symbol of Kurdish suffering in their quest for self-determination. He was also convicted for his role in crushing a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, in which thousands were killed and displaced. “His execution is great news for all Iraqis,” said Fakhri Karim, an adviser to President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. “He was the killing machine of the former regime.” He was hanged on Monday for his role in the Anfal campaign, an official from the Justice Ministry said.
Kao Mahmoud, a spokesman for the government of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said that Kurdish officials would pursue their efforts to classify the attack on Halabja as genocide.
The government announced his execution shortly after three devastating bombings struck hotels in Baghdad, killing 36 people, in what appeared to be a coordinated attack.
The delays in executing Mr. Majid stood in contrast to the speed with which Mr. Hussein’s death sentence was carried out. Mr. Hussein was sentenced on 5 November 2006; his appeal was rejected on 26 December of that year; and he went to the gallows just before dawn within four days. Video was soon circulated of Mr. Hussein’s confrontation with guards. Ali Dabbagh, the government’s spokesman, said that Mr. Majid’s execution “happened without any violations, shouting, or cries of joy,” unlike that of Mr. Hussein.
Throughout his courtroom appearances and until last week, Mr. Majid remained unapologetic, explaining to the court during the Anfal trial that he had ordered the destruction of Kurdish villages because they were filled with Iranian agents. “I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate villagers,” Mr. Majid had said during one of the hearings. “I am not defending myself, I am not apologizing. I did not make a mistake.”
“Thanks to God,” an unrepentant Mr. Majid said last week when his eighth death sentence was read out in court. On 24 June 2007, the court sentenced Mr. Majid and a former defense minister, Sultan Hashem Ahmed, to death for their role in the Anfal campaign. Mr. Majid’s sentence was set to be carried out on 16 October, but was postponed because of wrangling over Mr. Ahmed’s execution. Several top Iraqi leaders and American commanders wanted to spare him.
Mr. Ahmed received a fifteen-year prison sentence last week for his role in the Halabja attack. It is not clear yet if or when he will be executed. “Until now, there isn’t an executive order to execute him,” said Bosho Dizai, the deputy justice minister. “We don’t know what will happen yet.”
Mr. Ahmed was a top officer for decades, winning respect from many Iraqis for his professionalism. Some American officials said he helped limit the resistance of the Iraqi army to the invasion in 2003, and many Sunni leaders said he was simply a soldier following Mr. Majid’s orders. After the 2003 American-led invasion, Mr. Ahmed fled to Mosul, where General David H. Petraeus, then a major general in charge of military operations in the north, praised him as a “man of honor and integrity” and asked him to surrender in a letter stating that by doing so, he could “avoid capture, imprisonment and loss of honor and dignity befitting a general officer.”
But because of his role in the Anfal campaign, both Shiite and Kurdish officials believed that, if Mr. Ahmed’s life was spared, it could set a precedent by which others who committed crimes would also seek to be let off. Some also feared executing Mr. Ahmed would affect efforts to persuade Sunnis to reconcile with a government now dominated by Shiites.
Mr. Majid, a first cousin to Mr. Hussein, was captured on 17 August 2003, five months after the invasion of Iraq. He was listed as the fifth most-wanted men and as King of Spades in the pack of cards of the Most Wanted issued by the US military in 2003.
He was a soldier in the Iraqi army until Mr. Hussein’s Baath party seized power in a bloody coup in 1968 when he was appointed an aide to the defense minister. When Mr. Hussein became president in 1979, he was promoted to head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. In the late 1980s, he was appointed secretary general of the northern bureau of the Baath Party, where he demonstrated ruthlessness against Kurdish rebels.
Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, he was named military governor of the emirate. In 1991 he became interior minister and was charged with quelling the Shiite uprising that broke out that year against Mr. Hussein in the south. In 1995 he became defense minister, but was dismissed shortly afterward when Mr. Hussein discovered he was involved in smuggling illegal grain to Iran. Three years later, he was brought back and appointed commander of southern Iraq, a position he kept until the invasion.
Rico says he wept not for Chemical Ali... (But too bad they couldn't gas him, instead of hanging him.)

More about the impending tablet

Brad Stone and Stephanie Clifford have an article in The New York Times about the new Apple whatever-they-call-it:
With the widely anticipated introduction of a tablet computer at an event here on Wednesday morning, Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine, and a chance to undo mistakes of the past. Almost all media companies have run aground in the Internet Age as they gave away their print and video content on the Web and watched paying customers drift away as a result.
People who have seen the tablet say Apple will market it not just as a way to read news, books, and other material, but also a way for companies to charge for all that content. By marrying its famously slick software and slender designs with the iTunes payment system, Apple could help create a way for media companies to alter the economics and consumer attitudes of the digital era.
This opportunity, however, comes with a sizable catch: Steven P. Jobs. Mr. Jobs, Apple chief executive, made Apple the most important distributor of music by imposing its own will on the music labels, bullying them into accepting Apple’s pricing and other terms. Apple sold lots of music, but the music labels claimed that iTunes had destroyed the concept of the album and damaged their already deteriorating bottom lines.
With the new tablet, media companies could be submitting themselves to similar pricing restrictions and sacrificing their direct relationship with customers to Apple. For now, at least, the technology and media industries are looking at the brighter side. “Steve believes in old media companies and wants them to do well,” said a person who has seen the device and is familiar with Apple’s marketing plan for it, but who did not want to be named because talking about it might alienate him from the company. “He believes democracy is hinged on a free press and that depends on there being a professional press.”
Part of the media industry’s high hope for the tablet comes from descriptions of the device from analysts and others who have been briefed on it. It will run all the applications of the iPhone and iPod Touch, have a persistent wireless connection over 3G cellphone networks and Wi-Fi, and will be built with a ten-inch color display, allowing newspapers, magazines, and book publishers to deliver their products with an eye to the design that had grabbed readers in print.
Their optimism for the tablet also stems from consumers’ willingness to spend money using mobile devices. In the last decade, while people downloaded music illegally to their desktop computers, they happily paid small amounts of money on their cellphones to download ring tones and send text messages.
The iPhone has provided further proof that the economics of mobile devices are unique: the Apple App Store is expected to generate an estimated $1.4 billion this year, according to an analysis by Piper Jaffray. “The iPhone was a harbinger,” said Trip Hawkins, a founder of Electronic Arts and now chief executive of Digital Chocolate, which makes games for cellphones. “When you have a device that is this convenient and fun for consumers to use, you can get a lot more people interested in paying for and engaging with the content. Big media companies should be all over this like a cheap suit.” Indeed, they already are. The New York Times Company, for example, is developing a version of its newspaper for the tablet, according to a person briefed on the effort, although executives declined to say what sort of deal had been struck.
On Monday, The Times also announced that its media group division had created a new segment for “reader applications”, and named Yasmin Namini, the senior vice president for marketing and circulation, to head it. Executives said the timing was coincidental, prompted not by the Apple device specifically, but by the growing importance to The Times of electronic reading devices in general.
At least three publishers, Hearst, Condé Nast, and Time, have also created mockups of their magazines for tablets, even before such devices have hit the market. “Apple upended the smartphone market with the introduction of the iPhone, and it’s likely that they will, if they enter the tablet market, lead the pace there,” said Thomas J. Wallace, editorial director of Condé Nast. He said that “2010 is going to be the year of the tablet, and we feel we are in a very good position for it.”
To successfully sell their material on the coming wave of tablets from Apple, and other hardware makers like Hewlett-Packard, media companies may first have to adjust other parts of their digital strategies, so consumers don’t simply use the tablet’s browser to get the same content free on the web.
Such shifts are under way.
In October, The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by the News Corporation, began charging for access for certain elements of its iPhone application. Esquire and GQ have taken steps toward charging for digital content, offering iPhone versions of their magazines for $2.99 for each issue. The December issue of GQ was downloaded from the App Store almost 7,000 times, and twice as many times for its January issue. Last week, The New York Times announced plans to begin charging, by next year, frequent website visitors who are not also newspaper subscribers to read the online version.
Media companies may have to swallow hard before tethering their futures to any high-tech company, let alone Apple. Many publishers believe their economic health depends on finding a direct line to their customers, and it is not clear whether Apple and other aggregators of internet content will allow that.
Magazine publishers, for example, maintain sophisticated databases about their customers, which lets them cross-sell products, renew subscriptions, and entice advertisers with statistics about their wealthy readers. A big part of the business is automatic renewals charged to credit cards. But, when magazine publishers sell applications through the iTunes store, they do not get credit card information or even the name of the buyer.
However, Apple, which makes most of its money selling devices, not content, has shown itself in some cases to be a more benevolent warden of online content, than, say, Amazon.com. Unlike Amazon with the Kindle, Apple allows application makers to set their own prices; some, like The Financial Times, give away applications for the iPhone, but then bill customers directly for repeat use.
Nevertheless, concern over preserving the customer relationship is one reason that, late last year, major publishers including Time, Condé Nast, Meredith, the News Corporation, and Hearst announced they had formed a consortium, called Next Issue Media, that plans to run its own online store selling digital issues and collecting consumer information. “It’s fundamental to the business model of publishers,” John Squires, the interim managing director of the consortium, said last month. “We’ve always enjoyed an opportunity to know exactly where our consumers are, and be able to market other products to them. It’s a very key issue for the founding members of this business.”
One branch of big media whose fortunes may not be lifted by an Apple tablet, at least initially, is the television business. Apple has also talked to television networks about offering access, for a monthly fee, to a selection of their hit shows, bypassing traditional distributors.
But, perhaps smarting from their experiences with Apple, many of the old-line media companies— NBC Universal, Viacom, and Discovery among them— shrugged at (or totally dismissed) Apple’s plans for a television subscription package, according to executives briefed on the talks. A person briefed on Apple’s plans confirmed that such a subscription video option was not part of any immediate offering.
Rico says he knew Trip Hawkins in the old days in California, and he knows... But Rico wants a whatever-they-call-it bad enough to sell stuff to get one.

Picasso would laugh

Carol Vogel has an article in The New York Times about fixing Picasso's paintings:
Since 1952, The Actor, a rare Rose Period painting by Picasso, has hung prominently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with other examples of early paintings by the Spanish master. But on Monday it could be found in a new, temporary home, the Met’s conservation laboratory, where experts there are trying to determine the best course of action for this 105-year-old painting’s brand-new feature: an irregular, six-inch tear running vertically along the lower right-hand corner.
On Friday afternoon a woman taking an adult education class at the museum accidentally fell into The Actor, causing the tear. Officials at the museum said that since the damage did not occur “in the focal point of the composition,” they expected that the repair would be “unobtrusive”, according to a statement released on Sunday.
The accident recalled another human-canvas run-in involving a Picasso. In 2006 the Las Vegas casino owner Stephen A. Wynn put his elbow through Le Rêve (The Dream), a 1932 Picasso of the artist’s mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, leaving a sizable hole that has been so artfully repaired that the untutored eye would never know such a fate had befallen it.
But it is difficult to compare a 1932 Picasso with one painted in 1904-5. The early canvases are more delicate and the oil paint is thinner than the enamel-based kind the artist was known to have used later in his career. And then there is the question of whether there’s only one image involved.
The Actor was painted when Picasso was only 23. “He was very poor, and these canvases were expensive,” said John Richardson, the Picasso biographer. He explained that if Picasso made a mistake, he couldn’t afford to throw out the canvas, but rather painted over it. “Nearly all these early canvases have something painted underneath,” Mr. Richardson said. He added: “There are few major paintings from this period and (at four feet by six feet) this is one of the biggest. It’s very important.” Dealers say a painting of this scale and period could be worth well over $100 million.
It’s an image — a tall, gaunt actor, dressed in a commedia dell’arte costume, leaning out across the footlights — that has often been puzzling to viewers, Mr. Richardson said, adding, “People seem to miss out on the fact that the actor is on a stage, which is unusual.” Also unusual is that the prompter’s hands are visible in the right-hand corner.
Whether those hands are now torn, nobody at the Met is saying. Nor are museum officials talking about how they plan to repair the painting. They did say that since the incident happened only on Friday, it will take time to decide the most prudent and effective treatment available.
David Bull, a Manhattan conservator, has not seen The Actor since its tear, and therefore would not talk specifically about the painting, but he said there were all kinds of things that could be done nowadays. “We have many more choices of materials than we used to and many new approaches,” he said. Mr. Bull and several other conservators who have not seen the tear say the next steps depend on many unanswered questions. For starters, is the canvas lined? “In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s there was a passion for lining, but now whenever possible we try to avoid lining because there is always a chance it could destroy the original canvas or make the surface seem dull or heavy,” Mr. Bull said. “If it’s not lined, it will be easier to repair.”
Some experts also wondered whether the canvas had a depression in it from the woman’s fall, and if the tear was straight or branched. And then there was the issue of whether there is a second painting underneath The Actor or on the reverse side. Recent research has revealed that Picasso took an old canvas with a landscape on it, the work of another artist, flipped it over and painted The Actor. (He also painted out the original image.)
Like a gifted plastic surgeon, a seasoned restorer has many options these days and a host of materials and instruments at his disposal, even acupuncture needles. They are not used as they would be in Asian medicine, to puncture a surface, or to sew a canvas, but rather are applied from behind to keep a tear flat. Such needles were used to repair Le Rêve, said William Acquavella, the Manhattan dealer who was involved in an attempt to sell that painting on behalf of Mr. Wynn and who has shown Le Rêve at his gallery since it was torn. “It’s amazing what can be done these days,” he explained, adding that when they are finished restoring The Actor, the tear “will probably only look like a tiny pencil line, if that.”

Who knew?


My friend Bill Champ was quite insistent that this car is not stainless steel, as one might assume, but white gold; given where it sits (yes, that's an entrance to the Mall of the Emirates behind it), he's probably right...

Independent suspension


Courtesy of my friend Dave Kitterman, this splendid ad.

Civil War for the day


Sergeant Boston Corbett, 16th New York Cavalry; the man who shot John Wilkes Booth.

25 January 2010

Brilliance ain't free, people


Rico says it's not like his Civil War magazine, Civil War: Weapons & Tactics, has been getting a zillion subscribers, but having two cancel their remaining subscriptions in the same day is a little disheartening. Okay, one's in jail and the other is a woman in Ohio, but still...
You could go sign up for a subscription here and make him happy, however...

Blink and you missed it


Rico says it comes and goes, and doesn't work even when it's present; this whole 'uploading video' thing is the most inconsistent (and thus unGoogle-like) thing...

Oops is now an airline term


Cal Perry and Nada Husseini have a CNN article about the latest airliner to go down:
British, French, and Cypriot aircraft joined rescue crews searching the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Lebanon, where an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed with ninety people aboard. By midday on Monday, crews had found 23 bodies, but no survivors, the state-run Lebanese National News Agency reported. Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a day of mourning for the victims of the crash, ordering all government departments to close, the agency reported. He praised security forces and the Red Cross for their efforts in the aftermath of the accident.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 left Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut about 2:30 a.m. and was headed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It disappeared from radar a few minutes after takeoff, said Ghazi El Aridi, Lebanon's minister of public works and transportation. Authorities did not immediately know the cause of the crash. "We don't believe that there is any indication for sabotage or foul play," Lebanese President Michel Sulayman said.
The airline said a fourteen-member team of investigators was at the scene of the accident. "We want to figure out the reasons behind this plane crash and we will be very transparent in informing everyone of what happened," Hariri said.
The Boeing 737-800 had seven crew members and 82 passengers, including 51 Lebanese nationals, 23 Ethiopians, two Britons, and citizens from Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Canada, Russia, and France, the airline said. The plane crashed about 3.5 km (2.1 miles) west of the town of Na'ameh. Na'ameh is 15 km (9 miles) south of Beirut. An earlier tally provided by the Lebanese government varied slightly. Among the passengers was the wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon, according to Anne Charlotte of the French embassy.
As worried family members gathered at the Beirut airport for news, the army and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon continued to scour the crash site for survivors. "We hope that we will be able to rescue survivors, but the weather conditions are very bad," Sulayman said.
Government-owned Ethiopian Airlines is one of the largest in Africa. Unlike several African carriers that are not allowed in European air space because of shoddy safety records, Ethiopian Airlines serves Europe. It serves three other continents as well, for a total of 56 destinations. The airline has such a commendable safety record that some expanding airlines in Asia have lured away its pilots at high pay, The New York Times reported in 2006. The airline has experienced two fatal crashes since 1980. In November of 1996, a flight bound for the Ivory Coast, aka the Cote D'Ivoire, was hijacked by three men who demanded that the pilot fly to Australia. Attempting an emergency landing near the Comoros Islands off Africa as the plane ran out of fuel, it crashed. About 130 of the 172 people aboard died, according to published reports. In September of 1988, a flight struck a flock of birds during takeoff. During the crash landing that followed, 31 people of the 105 people aboard died.

Can't seem to kill the guy

Jason Keyser has an AP article about an 'endorsement' by Osama bin Laden:
Osama bin Laden endorsed the failed attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, and threatened new attacks against the United States, in an audio message released Sunday that appeared aimed at asserting he maintains some direct command over al-Qaeda-inspired offshoots. However, U.S. officials and several researchers who track terrorist groups said there was no indication bin Laden or any of his top lieutenants had anything to do with or even knew in advance of the Christmas plot by a Yemen-based group that is one of several largely independent al-Qaeda franchises. A U.S. State Department spokesman said al-Qaeda's core leadership offers such groups strategic guidance but depends on them to carry it out. "He's trying to continue to appear relevant" by talking up the attempted attack by an affiliate, the spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said.
The one-minute message was explicit in its threat of new attacks. Like the airline plot, bin Laden said they would come in response to America's support for Israel: "God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support for the Israelis continues," bin Laden said in the recording, which was released to the al-Jazeera news channel. "The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes of 11 September" he said of the Nigerian suspect in the botched attack on 25 December. "If our messages had been able to reach you through words we wouldn't have been delivering them through planes."
Directing his statements at President Barack Obama— "from Osama to Obama," he said— bin Laden added: "America will never dream of security unless we will have it in reality in Palestine." The message, which White House officials said could not immediately be authenticated, raised again the question of how much of a link exists between al-Qaeda's top leadership along the Afghan-Pakistani border and the handful of loosely affiliated groups operating in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and Iraq. The al-Qaeda leader, who was last heard from in September, seemed intent on showing he remains more than an ideological figurehead, as most analysts have suggested he has become during the terror network's evolution into decentralized offshoots. But some questioned whether al-Qaeda's core leadership was involved.
"They weren't putting the final touches on this operation," said Evan Kohlmann, a senior investigator for the New York-based NEFA Foundation, which researches Islamic militants. Still, the Saudi and Yemeni leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which formed in Yemen a year ago, have a long history of direct personal contact with bin Laden. It is plausible that— if they were able to— they would have informed bin Laden of the airliner plot and sought his approval, Kohlmann said. The Yemen-based group's leader, Nasir al-Wahishi, was once bin Laden's personal secretary, and its top military commander, Qassim al-Raimi, trained in bin Laden's main camp in Afghanistan, Kohlmann said. Two of the group's top members were detainees at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison who were released in November 2007. The Yemen offshoot is largely self-sustaining, with its own theological figures, bomb makers, and a network for funneling in recruits.

"The training and the definition of the attack was by the local leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," said Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. "So, in many ways you can say bin Laden is exploiting for his benefit this particular attack. Bin Laden still wants to claim leadership for the global jihad movement."
U.S. investigators say the Nigerian suspect in the 25 December attempted bombing told them he had been trained in Yemen and given the explosives there by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Abdulmutallab is accused of attempting to blow up the plane with an explosive powder hidden in his underwear as the aircraft approached Detroit Metro Airport. The device failed to detonate.
Bin Laden's message came four weeks after the Yemen-based group made its own claim of responsibility for the bomb plot with a different justification, linking it to Yemeni military attacks on al-Qaeda targets with the help of U.S. intelligence. There was no way to verify the voice on the audio message was actually bin Laden's, but it resembled previous recordings attributed to him. U.S.-based IntelCenter, which monitors militant messages, said the manner of the recording's release, its content and other factors indicated it was credible. White House adviser David Axelrod told CNN's State of the Union that, whatever the source, the message "contains the same hollow justification for the mass slaughter of innocents."
On Friday, Britain raised its terror threat alert to the second-highest level, one of several recent steps the country has taken to increase vigilance after the Christmas Day bombing attempt. The online edition of Britain's The Sunday Times reported that the heightened alert was prompted in part by an Islamic terrorist plot to hijack an Indian passenger jet and crash it into a British city.
Since the Christmas Day attempt the Yemeni government, at the U.S.'s urging, has stepped up its attacks on the group's hide-outs in the rugged country's remote hinterland.
Analysts have long debated how much control bin Laden, who is believed to be somewhere in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, really has over the various organizations using his group's name. "There's definitely communication, there's definitely a process of seeking approval and swearing allegiance, but I don't think that means they go to bin Laden every time they have a question," Kohlmann said.
The al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq demonstrated such independence, carrying out a frenzy of bombings, beheadings, and kidnappings targeting foreigners and Shiite Muslims. That prompted al-Qaeda's Number Two man, Ayman al-Zawahri, to write to the group's leader, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to ask him to avoid "unnecessary bloodshed". The message implied al-Qaeda in Iraq's actions threatened to turn away some of al-Qaeda's supporters. al-Zarqawi was killed in a 2006 U.S. airstrike.
Rico says it's funny if you think about it in the right way: "independent al-Qaeda franchises". Sort of like McTerrorism...

Never thought that would happen


Rico says that, like many other surprises in life, he never thought he'd live to see this one:
Burma's home minister reportedly said Aung San Suu Kyi would be freed when her current period of house arrest expires, scheduled for November. Ms Suu Kyi's detention was extended last year, after a US man visited her house uninvited. Critics say the junta intends to detain her until after elections this year.
Home Minister Maung Oo is reported to have made the comments about Ms Suu Kyi at a provincial town meeting four days ago. The South East Asia correspondent of the BBC, Rachel Harvey, says it is a measure of how tightly information is controlled in Burma that it has taken this long for the reports to filter out. Burmese officials have hinted many times that Aung San Suu Kyi may be released, but this is the first time in recent months that a putative date has been attached to the idea. Aung San Suu Kyi's own lawyer told the BBC he had heard the rumour but could not confirm it.
Ms. Suu Kyi's detention was extended by eighteen months last August, over an incident in which an American man swam, uninvited, to her lakeside home. If she is released in November, key questions remain about the terms of her possible freedom. Those include whether there would be conditions attached, whether her activities would be restricted and, crucially, whether the release would come before or after planned elections.
The Supreme Court is also due to deliver its verdict on a legal appeal against her current detention in the next couple of weeks. But, if the military government says she will continue to be detained until at least November, the court's decision has already been somewhat undermined, says our correspondent.
Maung Oo is also reported to have said the vice chairman of Ms Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, will be released in February. Tin Oo, 82, has been in prison or under house arrest for more than a decade. Analysts say if he is released, he could have a key role in deciding whether or not the NLD participates in the elections due later this year. No date for the poll has yet been set. But if Tin Oo is released in February, and Aung San Suu Kyi remains in detention until November, it could indicate that the elections are pencilled in for a date sometime between the two.

More idiots headed to jail (or worse) in China


Reuters has an article by Ralph Jennings about a resurgence of melamine in the milk:
The health department in Guizhou province stopped the sales of dairy products made by three Chinese companies, the state-run China Daily newspaper said. The products were found to contain melamine, which can cause kidney stones and is meant for making plastics, fertilizers and even concrete. Its high nitrogen content allows protein levels to appear higher when it is added to milk or animal feed.
Guizhou health authorities were unavailable for comment.
China executed two people in November for their role in a huge melamine-tainted milk scandal that killed at least six children and sullied the made-in-China brand. Nearly 300,000 children fell ill in that scandal in 2008, after drinking milk intentionally laced with melamine, sold mainly in that case by the now bankrupt Sanlu Group.
Rico says it's reminiscent of that line by Henry David Thoreau:
Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.

Him again


Erin Alberty has an article in The Salt Lake Tribune about domestic abuse on a small scale:
Actor Gary Coleman was booked into the Utah County jail Sunday after police received reports of a "civil disturbance" at his Santaquin home. Jail records show he was booked on suspicion of domestic assault. However, Santaquin police wrote in a press statement that Coleman was arrested on a warrant alleging he failed to appear in court in a previous case.
A civil case against the "Diff'rent Strokes" star was dismissed on 12 January after a man reached a settlement with Coleman and his wife over allegations Coleman hit the man with a truck during a fight in a Payson bowling alley parking lot. Coleman pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from the incident and was ordered to pay a $100 fine.
Rico says the guy's obviously got some serious anger-management issues, but why doesn't his wife just beat the crap out of him and solve the problem? (Don't bother commenting; Rico is all too familiar with the battered-woman syndrome. If she could, she would.)

Wonder who'll he'll get to play Hitler?


Michael Casey has an AP article at about Oliver Stone's latest:
Adolf Hitler was a psychopath and a monster but rose to power thanks to big business leaders and other supporters who appreciated his vow to destroy communism and control workers, Hollywood filmmaker Oliver Stone said Monday.
Stone, who is working on a ten-part documentary on the 20th Century titled The Secret History of the United States, said the German dictator was "enabled by Western bankers" and managed to "seduce" Germany's military industrial complex.
"Hitler is a monster. There is no question. I have no empathy for Hitler at all. He was a crazy psychopath," Stone told reporters in Bangkok, where he is giving a lecture to high school students on the role of film in peace-building, as part of a visit organized by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation. "But like Frankenstein was a monster, there was a Dr. Frankenstein. He is product of his era."
He said the aim of his documentary, which two historians are helping him with, was to offer a fuller understanding of the 20th Century, and how some of those lessons may be relevant to President Barack Obama in 2010. "What has America become? How can we in America not learn from Germany in the 1930s," the Oscar-winning director asked. Earlier in the day, Stone told about 300 students that his 1991 movie, JFK, was his most controversial to date, and that the United States remains in denial over the possibility that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald could have assassinated John F. Kennedy.
Stone said exploring alternative theories over the JFK assassination remains too sensitive for those in the media or academia who "would be endangering their careers and their position. To this day, many key Americans in power are in total denial about this story," Stone said. "They don't even want to know about the possibility that he was killed by someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald. It is a national fairy tale."
JFK ridicules the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone and suggests a massive conspiracy. Stone's film centered on a theory by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison that a CIA-led mutiny killed the president and the plotters walked away unscathed. Garrison's theories went to court in 1967, but Clay Shaw, the alleged "evil genius" behind the assassination, was acquitted. Stone said Monday he thought it was "a good thing" to revisit the JFK assassination. But he came under fire from the historians and film reviewers who contended Stone had fudged facts, invented characters, and elevated speculation to truth to support his burning belief that the killing was a high-level government conspiracy. "It's an amazing story and I did it," Stone said. "I thought I would be respected for it, and I was lambasted in the establishment press. I was called a myth-maker, a propagandist. I didn't see it coming. I thought the Kennedy murder was safe."
Stone is famous for several other movies, including the Vietnam War films Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon, which won four Oscars, including best picture and best director.

Well, duh


Rico says Katherine Skiba has an article in the Los Angeles Times about cluelessness in Illinois:
If Cook County, Illinois had its druthers, President Obama would be showing up for jury duty today. But court officials were told several weeks ago the prospect was a no-go, a White House official said Sunday. The summons arrived at the president's Chicago home. Obama, a 1991 graduate of Harvard Law School, president of the Harvard Law Review and later a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, would have been bound for the courthouse in suburban Bridgeview had he not been otherwise occupied.
With his first State of the Union address scheduled for Wednesday, it's a busy week for the president. But he'll be having a little fun too. His official schedule today calls for a meet-and-greet with the Los Angeles Lakers, the reigning NBA champions. The White House said players would be joined by coaches, team staffers, NBA officials and former Laker greats. Then, no doubt, it's back to business.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2006 that "in fact, no modern court has had a sitting president on a jury. Ronald Reagan came the closest, when he was summoned in the 1980s by Santa Barbara County, California; he was granted a deferment until he was out of office. Former President Bill Clinton was willing to serve on a case involving a gang-related shooting when he was called in 2003, but the judge dismissed him."
Rico says he'd love to be the defense counsel, arguing against seating "a 1991 graduate of Harvard Law School, president of the Harvard Law Review, and later a professor at the University of Chicago Law School" (let alone a sitting president) on any jury.

Civil War for the day


24 January 2010

Can't wait

PCWorld has an article by Tony Bradley about the upcoming iWhatsit release:
The clock is winding down to the big reveal on Wednesday at Apple's major press event. It could be an iSlate, or an iSlab, or an iTablet, or perhaps even an iPod Tablet Edition. There are almost as many potential names for the mythic device that may not exist as there are pundits speculating about what the device will or won't do... if it exists.
If Apple does not announce a touchscreen tablet device of some kind, it may be the single biggest failing in the history of the rumor mill. There are some rumors that seem wilder than others (like the Apple tablet will have 3D graphics) but there is also a diverse selection of very plausible speculation.
Based on the prevailing rumors, my PC World peer Bill Snyder predicts that the Apple tablet will be all flash with no substance and will not have any place in a business environment. I disagree. While I agree with some of the potential pitfalls Snyder lays out, I believe the Apple tablet PC could be uniquely suited for small business environments.
A platform like the Apple tablet— if it is based on the iPhone mobile operating system and is equipped to run the extensive library of iPhone apps— could be perfect for small businesses. Smartphones in general have evolved to the point that they are just very small computers and, for just about any function a business user could want to perform, "there's an app for that".
There have been times, both as an iPhone owner and as a Windows Mobile smartphone owner, that I have chosen to leave behind my notebook when traveling. The smartphone can get my email, surf the web, conduct instant messaging chats with colleagues, and view and edit documents (with the right tools, depending on the platform).
The legions of iPhone users already try to use the device for everything, and there is a growing segment of apps aimed at endowing the iPhone with more enterprise-friendly capabilities, and enabling the secure integration of the iPhone with the business world.
While newer devices like the Droid and Nexus One have leapfrogged the iPhone in terms of hardware specifications, the iPhone is still relatively fast, has an intuitive interface, is equipped with a clear and bright display, and has apps available for virtually any purpose. The biggest obstacle to simply using the iPhone as a primary mobile computing device is size.
An Apple tablet that provides the brilliant display, extensive battery life, intuitive interface, and endless catalog of apps of the iPhone in a larger form factor that you can actually read and interact with could be a device perfectly suited for small business users. Not only is there "an app for that", but most apps are free or very cheap, especially when compared with the investment required for full-blown computer software.
I certainly don't expect large enterprises to abandon traditional desktop and notebook computers and deploy tens of thousands of Apple tablets, especially if the tablet is running on the iPhone mobile operating system as opposed to the Mac OSX. A Windows-based tablet has an automatic advantage in the enterprise, although the HP device demonstrated by Steve Ballmer at CES this year was less than compelling.
Let's face it, until Wednesday rolls around and Apple unveils the epic new tablet PC (or it doesn't), Snyder's speculation is just as possible as mine. Assuming that Apple launches a tablet PC of some kind or another at this event, the success of that device will be determined by its overall functionality and utility balanced against its price, mixed with a healthy dose of Apple's Teflon reputation and devoted fan base.
Rico says he votes with Bradley on this one...

Another idiot on a plane

Over the line, barely

Courtesy of my friend Bob Leone, this:
Don Cherry, of Hockey Night in Canada, was asked, on a local live radio talk show, just what he thought about the allegations of torture of suspected terrorists. His reply prompted his ejection from the studio, but to thunderous applause from the audience: If hooking up one raghead terrorist prisoner's testicles to a car battery to get the truth out of the lying little camel shagger will save just one Canadian life, then I have only three things to say: "Red is positive, black is negative, and make sure his nuts are wet".

Civil War for the day


Confederate brass howitzers at an unknown place on an unknown date.

23 January 2010

Over and under


Nor shinola, probably

Courtesy of my friend Bill Calloway, this:
A Congressman was seated next to a pretty young woman on an airplane. As they took off, he turned to her and said "Let's talk. I've heard flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger."
The young woman, who'd just opened a book, closed it slowly and said to this total stranger, "What would you like to talk about?"
"Oh, I don't know," said the Congressman. "How about global warming or universal health care?" He smiled smugly.
"Those could be interesting topics," she said, "but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff: grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?"
Visibly surprised by the young woman's intelligence, he thought about it and said, "Hmmm, I have no idea."
Opening her book, the young woman replied, "Do you really feel qualified to discuss global warming or universal health care when you don't know shit?"

Oh, goody, competition

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article by John Cox about the Apple tablet:
Apple's rumored tablet device will be available through both Verizon and AT&T, according to a Foxnews report. If true, that would likely mean that the new Apple device, expected to be unveiled next week, would come with 3G cellular connectivity built in: CDMA for Verizon and GSM/UMTS for AT&T.
It sounds odd for Apple to have a major press event without a final carrier deal. Nevertheless, Apple is in talks with both AT&T and Verizon to support the tablet, according to sources within the companies, writes Foxnews reporter Clayton Morris. Morris cited several unnamed sources at both carriers in his story. As with nearly all stories about the long-rumored device, his story is short on specifics. Much of the account simply rehashes the sniping between the two carriers about the merits of their respective 3G networks. If the carriers' interest is real, it would reflect the belief, or hope, that an Apple tablet would achieve the success of the iPhone. Those hopes are fueled by wildly optimistic estimates, or outright guesses, about how many of the unannounced devices Apple will sell in the first year, such as this one reported by AppleInsider. The report, citing projections by Mike Abramsky, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, says Apple could sell up to five million units in twelve months, yielding $2.8 billion in new revenue based on an average selling price of $600. Apple reported last October that it sold a total of 7.4 million iPhones, all models, just in the fourth quarter ending in September of 2009.
But the key question may be what users have to actually pay to get the device on a carrier's network. Based on Network World's own poll, the tablet's price tag will have a dramatic impact on sales. As of this morning, 52% of respondents said they'd spend up to $699 for such a device; 32% said they'd go as high as $999. Only a tiny fraction is willing to go higher. Yet Apple has traded on its high customer satisfaction scores to offer its products at a premium, the so-called 'Apple tax'. Even a $600 tablet is about three times the price of the iPhone 3GS and six times that of the iPhone 3G (both with two-year AT&T service plans). But those iPhone prices are, as indicated, for subsidized phones. Without a service plan, AT&T offers the iPhone at prices ranging from $499 to $699. The tear-down component analysis by the market research firm iSuppli concluded that Apple's bill of materials for the iPhone 3GS comes to just under $180.
For AT&T, a tablet deal would extend the carrier's existing relationship with Apple as the iPhone's sole U.S. carrier. Currently all iPhones can run on AT&T's older and slower GSM/EDGE network, with typical rates of 75-135kbps. The UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA 3G network boosts that dramatically, to 700kpbs-1.7Mbps downlink and 500kpbs-1.2Mbps uplink, according to the carrier.
The Foxnews story cited a Verizon spokesman who says the carrier is considering tiered pricing for future tablet devices on the cellular network, but he wouldn?t mention the Apple device (Apple and Verizon are also reported to be in talks over bringing the iPhone, or a new iPhone model, to the carrier's network around mid-year). Both carriers currently offer cellular-equipped netbook computers with data plans.
One Verizon source in the Foxnews story said that its version of the Apple device also will have built-in wifi, though it's more likely that all models of the device will support wifi. AT&T has an extensive wifi hotspot network in the U.S. and wifi service is a key element in its wireless strategy.
Rico says he likes the lower end of the pricing model, and doesn't care who the carrier is...

Rico says he's too greedy, sorry

The New York Times has an article by Motoko Rich about how to make money with your Kindle book:
Here’s a riddle: How do you make your book a best seller on the Kindle?Answer: Give copies away. That’s right. More than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-reader, are available at no charge. Although some of the titles are digital versions of books in the public domain — like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice— many are by authors still trying to make a living from their work.
Earlier this week, for example, the Number One and Number Two spots on Kindle’s best-seller list were taken by Cape Refuge and Southern Storm, both novels by Terri Blackstock, a writer of Christian thrillers. The Kindle price: $0. Until the end of the month, Ms. Blackstock’s publisher, Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, is offering readers the opportunity to download the books free to the Kindle, or to the Kindle apps on their iPhone or Windows.
Publishers including Harlequin, Random House, and Scholastic are offering free versions of digital books to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other e-retailers, as well as on author websites, as a way of allowing readers to try out the work of unfamiliar writers. The hope is that customers who like what they read will go on to obtain another title for money.
“Giving people a sample is a great way to hook people and encourage them to buy more,” said Suzanne Murphy, group publisher of Scholastic Trade Publishing, which offered free downloads of Suite Scarlett, a young-adult novel by Maureen Johnson, for three weeks in the hopes of building buzz for the next book in the series, Scarlett Fever, out in hardcover on 1 February. The book went as high as Number Three on Amazon’s Kindle best-seller list.
The digital giveaways come as publishers are panicking about price pressure on e-books in general. Amazon and other online retailers have set $9.99 as the putative e-book price for new releases and best sellers, and publishers worry that such pricing ultimately creates expectations among consumers that new books are no longer worth, say, $25 (the average list price of a new hardcover), or even $13 (a standard list price for trade paperbacks).
Some publishers have tried to take control of pricing by delaying the publication of certain e-books for several months after the books are made available in hardcover. Executives at some houses said that given such actions, offering free content amounts to industry hypocrisy. “At a time when we are resisting the $9.99 price of e-books,” said David Young, chief executive of Hachette Book Group, the publisher of James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer, “it is illogical to give books away for free.”
Similarly, a spokesman for Penguin Group USA said: “Penguin has not and does not give away books for free. We feel that the value of the book is too important to do that.” But some publishers regard free digital books as purely promotional, in the same vein as the free galleys they distribute to booksellers and reviewers to create attention and word-of-mouth buzz for an author. “Most people purchase stuff because somebody has recommended the title,” said Steve Sammons, executive vice president for consumer engagement at Zondervan. Neither Amazon nor other e-book retailers make any money on these giveaways either. But it is a way of luring customers to their e-reading devices.
Free e-books are also a way of distinguishing a less-well-known author from the marketing juggernauts of the most popular books. “You have to show people things, because there’s a lot of competition,” said Ms. Johnson, the author of Suite Scarlett and seven other books. “If they go into a store, they are going to see 4,000 books with Robert Pattinson’s face on it,” she added, referring to movie-tie-in versions of Ms. Meyer’s Twilight series. “Then my book will be buried under them.”
And if a free e-book rises to the top of the Kindle best-seller list— or Barnes & Noble’s ranked list of free e-books— it automatically gives an author more visibility. “When you push to Number One on any best-seller list, that in itself seems to beget publicity,” said Brandilyn Collins, who writes suspense novels with Christian themes and whose novels Exposure and Dark Pursuit were Number One and Number Two on the Kindle best-seller list earlier this month and remain in the Top Ten (and are still available free).
Most of the giveaways are of older titles by an author, with the idea that reading them will convert new fans who will go on to buy more recently released books. Even if only a small percentage of those who download a free book end up buying another one, “that’s all found money,” said Steve Oates, vice president for marketing at Bethany House Publishers, a unit of Baker Publishing Group, whose authors Beverly Lewis and Tracie Peterson had free titles on the Kindle best-seller list this week.
Samhain Publishing, a publisher of romance and erotica, has offered a free e-book title every two weeks for more than a year. Christina Brashear, its publisher, said that the giveaways have led to a noticeable bump in sales. In October, the most recent month for which she has statistics, Ms. Brashear said Samhain offered free digital versions of Giving Chase, a romance novel by Lauren Dane, leading to 26,897 downloads. But paid purchases of some of Ms. Dane’s other novels jumped exponentially. Her earlier novel Chased, which sold 97 copies in September, sold 2,666 digital units in October, and another of her previous books, Taking Chase, which sold 119 copies in September, sold 3,279 in the month in which a free download was available.
With e-books still representing about five percent of the total book market, data on the effect of digital giveaways is still inconclusive. Brian O’Leary, a principal at Magellan Media Consulting Partners, which advises publishers, said that while it appeared that free downloads led to an uptick in actual book buying, there was a risk that free reading could eventually “supplant paid reading.”
Indeed, said Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins, “free is not a business model.”
Authors are torn between wanting to experiment with new formats and wanting to protect their income. Charlie Huston, the author of the Henry Thompson crime trilogy and a series of books about Joe Pitt, a vampire detective, said that “the part of me that grew up in a union household” still feels as if he were occasionally undermining himself by sanctioning digital giveaways by his publisher, Random House. But, he said, “I guess my attitude right now is that I can be afraid of what’s coming or I can try and aggressively embrace it in some form.”
And in some cases, the free e-books work. Pamela Deron, a 29-year-old administrative assistant in Florida, said she downloaded a free edition of Already Dead, the first in the Joe Pitt series, onto her Kindle this month. “There are so many authors out there that fall into obscurity,” Ms. Deron wrote in an e-mail message. “Simply no one knows of them, and some readers are hesitant buying an author they never heard of. Free books allow you to experience the writer as a whole, not just a small tidbit.” She added: “Fifty dollars later, I have the entire Joe Pitt series.”
Rico aays he doubts you can give it away fast enough to make money, but it's an interesting notion... (But isn't 'Christian thriller' a non sequitur?)
 

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