28 February 2010

The power of the badge

Rico says his father sends along this one:
A DEA officer stops at a ranch in Texas and talks with the old rancher. He tells the rancher: "I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs."
The rancher says: "Okay, but don't go in that field over there", and points out the location.
The DEA officer explodes, saying: " Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government behind me." Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removes his badge and proudly displays it to the rancher. "See this badge? This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish, on any land, no questions asked. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?"
The rancher nods politely, apologizes, and goes about his chores. A short time later, the old rancher hears loud screams and sees the DEA officer running for his life chased by the rancher's big Santa Gertrudis bull.
With every step, the bull is gaining ground on the officer, and it seems likely that he'll get gored before he reaches safety. The officer is clearly terrified.
The rancher throws down his tools, runs to the fence, and yells at the top of his lungs: "Your badge. Show him your badge!"

Toys for big boys

Rico says his friend Bill Champ sends along these splendid products:
Salt & pepper shakers

27 February 2010

Well, I'm back, he said*

Rico says he was away for a week, in Florida with his father, thus no posts. It was a good trip, except for being way too cold. (Only by comparison with Florida, of course; compared to most of the rest of the country, it was balmy.)

*What Sam Gamgee said at the end of Lord of the Rings, in case you didn't recognize the quotation.

18 February 2010

A perfect couple

Rico says he's not sure for what (though an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout comes to mind), but they're a pair, that's for sure. Mark Landler and Alan Cowell have an article in The New York Times on the latest between these two:
The confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program appeared to deepen Tuesday, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton escalated her verbal assault during a Persian Gulf visit, and Russia joined the United States and France in bluntly questioning Iran’s ultimate intentions in enriching uranium. Speaking in Jidda as she prepared to end a three-day regional visit, Mrs. Clinton said that it would create “quite dangerous” problems if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, potentially setting off a nuclear arms race. Mrs. Clinton offered a list of Iranian actions that, she said, contradicted its protestations of peaceful intent, including the disclosure last year of a hitherto secret nuclear facility near Qum. “You have to ask yourself: why are they doing this?” Mrs. Clinton said. Referring to Iran’s insistence that it is not seeking nuclear weapons, she said, “The evidence doesn’t support that.”
Only last week, Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to a higher level, ostensibly to feed a medical reactor in Tehran. At a news conference in Tehran on Tuesday, reports said, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated that Iran was ready to suspend enrichment if it could exchange its low-enriched uranium stockpile for processed fuel rods from abroad. But he said the swap should be “simultaneous”, a demand already dismissed by the United States and its allies. “We are still ready for an exchange, even with America,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, according to Reuters.
Mrs. Clinton’s comments seemed to amplify the verbal sparring that began Monday when she said Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps gathering ever greater political, military, and economic power. By way of a response, the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Tuesday that America itself answered to the description of a military dictatorship.
And, as the exchanges intensified on Tuesday, Russia also entered the debate about Washington’s campaign to secure stricter sanction against Iran, saying penalties could not be ruled out if Iran did not persuade world powers that its intentions were peaceful.
Russia also joined the United States and France in signing a letter to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, asserting that Iran’s uranium enrichment and its failure to notify the I.A.E.A. beforehand were “wholly unjustified, contrary to U.N. Security Council resolutions, and represent a further step toward a capability to produce highly enriched uranium.” The letter, dated 12 February and obtained from diplomatic sources in Washington, said that if “Iran goes forward with this escalation, it would raise new concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, visiting Moscow, on Monday urged Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, to support stiffer sanctions against Iran, but Mr. Medvedev withheld public support. On Tuesday, Natalya Timakova, Mr. Medvedev’s spokeswoman, said Russia’s position had not changed and the Kremlin believed Iran should have “broader and more active cooperation” with world powers on its nuclear program. “The international community needs to be certain that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful,” she said, “but no one can rule out the use of sanctions if these obligations are not fulfilled.”
Iran has reacted sharply to the latest American criticism. Mr. Mottaki “raised questions about the United States military dictatorship in the region,” the English-language broadcaster Press TV said on Tuesday, and accused Washington of practicing “modern deceit,” using “fake words” to disguise its intentions in the Persian Gulf area.
“We are regretful that the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tries to conceal facts about the stance of the U.S. administration through fake words,” Press TV quoted him as saying. Mr. Mottaki was speaking at a news conference alongside his visiting Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu. He also accused Washington of interfering in the internal affairs of other states by undermining their “scientific and technological achievements,” an apparent reference to Iran’s nuclear program which Iran says is for peaceful purposes permitted under international law.
“Those who have been the very symbol of military dictatorships over the past decades, since the Vietnam war until now, see everyone else in the same way,” The Associated Press quoted Mr. Mottaki as saying. Mrs. Clinton’s current visit to the region, he said, was “overflowing with contradictions and incorrect actions.”
On Monday, Mrs. Clinton encouraged Iran’s religious and political leaders to rise up against the Revolutionary Guards, coming as close as any senior administration official has to inviting political upheaval in the country. She chose to issue the call in Doha, Qatar, just across the waters of the Persian Gulf from Iran itself. “We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Her visit was seen as part of the Obama administration’s attempt to shore up support for more stringent sanctions directed at the Revolutionary Guard Corps. But Mr. Mottaki urged Russia and China not to follow Washington’s lead, The A.P. said.
While China has offered steady resistance to the idea of stricter sanctions against Iran, which supplies oil to Beijing, Russia’s stance has seemed slightly more ambivalent. Russia has appeared in recent weeks to be edging closer to supporting stricter sanctions, but still seems to have reservations. Unlike other permanent members of the Security Council, Russia has a regional relationship with Iran that it does not want to inflame.

Tempers are flaring in Hollywood

Rico says he remembers the Kennedys well, having been alive and cogent in 1960 when JFK was elected, and looks forward to this mini-series, even if everyone else doesn't, according to Dave Itzkoff's article in The New York Times:
A new mini-series about John F. Kennedy’s presidency that is being prepared by the History channel does not yet have a cast or a premiere date. Not a frame of footage has been shot. It does, however, have prominent critics who want it brought to a halt. The critics, including Theodore C. Sorensen, a former Kennedy adviser, say they have read the scripts for the project and that those contain errors of fact and emphasis. But like a similar controversy over a 2003 television film about Ronald Reagan, the dispute over the embryonic Kennedy series seems to say as much about the enduring place of the Kennedys as a battleground in the culture wars as it does about history itself.
The mini-series, called The Kennedys, is the brainchild of Joel Surnow, a creator of the Fox action show 24 and an outspoken political conservative. That raised alarms among Kennedy partisans when the History channel said in December that it would pick up the project.
Now a documentary filmmaker who makes no secret of his liberal politics is releasing an internet video in which Kennedy scholars say the scripts offer a portrait of the president and his family that is, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, a hatchet job.
“It was political character assassination,” the filmmaker, Robert Greenwald, said of the screenplays in a telephone interview. “It was sexist titillation and pandering, and it was turning everything into a cheap soap opera of the worst kind.” Mr. Greenwald said he is hoping that his thirteen-minute video and an accompanying petition will take on lives of their own on the web. A title card at the film’s conclusion reads: “Tell the History Channel I refuse to watch right-wing character assassination masquerading as ‘history.’ ”
The charges come as a surprise to the members of the production team behind The Kennedys, who say that the scripts for the eight-part series are still being rewritten, and that criticism of the project is premature.
“Next year, when it’s done and it’s on the air, if people want to criticize it, so be it,” said Stephen Kronish, the screenwriter for The Kennedys, who said he identifies himself as a liberal Democrat. “But at this stage of evolutionary development it seems that Greenwald’s agenda becomes all the more obvious.”
Given the résumés of the players in the debate, it is understandable why everyone sees agendas everywhere. On one side is Mr. Surnow, an Emmy Award-winning producer and friend of prominent conservatives like Rush Limbaugh. During Mr. Surnow’s tenure as executive producer, his hit series 24 was criticized for its seemingly permissive attitude toward torture.
On the other side is Mr. Greenwald, the founder of the advocacy media company Brave New Films, who has created documentaries like Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, a condemnation of the Fox News Channel, and Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers.
Before turning to nonfiction films, Mr. Greenwald was a director and producer of made-for-television movies. From his contacts in that industry— agents, managers, casting directors, and location scouts— he said he began receiving copies of The Kennedys scripts this year. He then recruited a group of historians to appear in his video, including Mr. Sorensen and Nigel Hamilton, whose 1992 best seller J.F.K.: Reckless Youth was criticized by the Kennedy family.
They say The Kennedys screenplays contain many factual errors, some benign and others less so. For example, they say the scripts refer to exit polling for the 1960 presidential election when exit polling had not yet been invented; and that President Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps during the Bay of Pigs crisis in April 1961, when in fact he signed an executive order creating the corps one month earlier.
Beyond this, they say the scripts invent scenes that never occurred, like an exchange that suggests Kennedy came up with the idea for the Berlin Wall. As Mr. Sorensen bluntly says in the video, “Every single conversation with the president in the Oval Office or elsewhere in which I, according to the script, participated, never happened.”
In another scene cited, a Secret Service agent approaches the president while he is having sex in a pool with a young woman who is not his wife; in yet another, the president asks his brother Robert, “What do you do when you’re horny?” and tells him that if he doesn’t have sex with unfamiliar women “every couple of days I get migraines”.
In short, The Kennedys “does everything in its power to demean and make them quite disgusting figures,” Mr. Greenwald said. “No network or cable channel has ever done anything anywhere close to this, in the way in treats a president.”
But the debate around The Kennedys recalls a similar flare-up around the mini-series called The Reagans that CBS was to show in 2003. In that case the network canceled its planned broadcast after conservatives criticized the project; before it was shown, and based on scripts and portions of the film. The conservatives complained about depictions of Ronald Reagan as being insensitive to AIDS victims, and that Nancy Reagan was shown as being reliant on a personal astrologer. (The Reagans later played on Showtime, the cable channel.)
Mr. Kronish, the screenwriter for The Kennedys, said that the History channel’s standards for producing its mini-series are more rigorous than the broadcast networks’, and that his finished scripts will require bibliographic annotations and legal vetting before filming proceeds. He also said that he was drawing upon non-fiction works, including books by Seymour Hersh, Robert Dallek, David Talbot, and others. “If I’m wrong,” he said, “I guess all of them are wrong.”
Mr. Kronish acknowledged that some factual details, like the date that the Peace Corps was established, were changed for concision or dramatic license, but not with malicious intent. “This is not a documentary,” he said. “It is a dramatization.” As its author, Mr. Kronish said, it was his job to “take these people off the dusty pages of history and make them come alive. We do not go into this with an agenda other than to be factually accurate and entertaining,” he said. “The rest of it, let the chips fall where they may.”
David McKillop, the senior vice president of programming and development for the History channel, said that Mr. Kronish had already begun submitting annotated drafts of his scripts, and that the channel stands by their accuracy.
Mr. Greenwald said that he was not seeking to censor the History channel. “Anyone has a right to do whatever they want,” Mr. Greenwald said. “I would never suggest that History channel doesn’t have a right. What I’d suggest is something called the History channel should not be doing political propaganda.”
Mr. Kronish, for his part, said that he was “not out to destroy the sacred cow” of the Kennedy presidency, but that in being faithful to history, the mini-series would necessarily contain elements that might upset Kennedy adherents. President Kennedy “was part of my youth and the first president I was aware of,” he said. “But there are things that are part of their story and aren’t admirable, because they were human.”

Tempers are flaring in the kitchen

Julia Moskin has an article in The New York Times about chef wars:
New York City's restaurant world has never been cuddly, but last week may have seen its first shouting match prompted by a Twitter post. During last Wednesday’s snowstorm, the owner and chef of JoeDoe restaurant in the East Village, Joe Dobias, tweeted that his deliveries from upstate purveyors had arrived, but not fish from a local supplier. He didn’t post the supplier’s name, but the next morning, Robert DeMasco of Pierless Fish— who also delivers to restaurants like Daniel and Esca— called Mr. Dobias to tell him that his business was no longer welcome. Then things became loud.
Mr. Dobias, who has been airing grievances on the Internet since opening the restaurant in 2008, shrugged off the conflict in an interview on Thursday and said that he had found a new purveyor. “What are we, teenage girls now?” he said. “How is it good business to make decisions off some lame thing you read on the Internet?”
Mr. Dobias is an extreme example of how chefs are now going online to confront customers, bloggers, critics, rivals and sometimes even their bosses.
“Maybe he should get to work instead of spending his time Twittering,” said Mr. DeMasco, adding that the delivery had arrived early but that Mr. Dobias hadn’t been there to receive it.
For many chefs in the current economic climate, cooking no longer seems enough. To make their names, they need to develop online personas as well as culinary ones. And, with instant access to the web, chefs— who have traditionally been walled up behind the dining room— are bursting out and talking back, often more profanely than can be conveyed here.
In January, the chef Jason Neroni of Blanca, north of San Diego, blasted back at anonymous critics who had posted negative comments on Yelp.com. “Yelp is for cowards,” he tweeted, who don’t have the courage “to say anything while in your restaurant”.
Ulrich Sterling of Agua Dulce in Midtown recently vented on Twitter about customers who email from the table. “I don’t care what email you have to send out,” he wrote, it can wait. Stop. Drink. Eat. Enjoy the company.”
Ryan Skeen, who was unhappy as executive chef at Allen & Delancey on the Lower East Side in November, said that he deliberately— and successfully— provoked the restaurant’s owner, Richard Friedberg, into firing him with a series of posts on Twitter, culminating in “Get me ...out of NYC I can’t do it anymore” on 11 November. “I knew that Eater would pick it up immediately,” he said last week in an interview, referring to the website that breathlessly covers the New York food world. “And then the owners would have to do something.” He was fired days later. (Mr. Friedberg said Mr. Skeen was let go because of the way he ran the restaurant; “Twitter had nothing do with it; I never even read it.”)
Mr. Skeen, who said he is now developing recipes for a new restaurant in Manhattan, has barely posted since. “My girlfriend and my publicist told me to cut it out,” he said.
But it seems likely that more and more chefs will be jockeying for attention on the Internet. The lure of free publicity is enormous.
“JoeDoe is a character I play online to keep my name in front of people,” Mr. Dobias said. “I just need them to come into my restaurant, and then my food will do the talking and I can shut up.”
Other chefs see an opportunity for control. “Before the Web and Twitter, restaurants were completely controlled by the press, and chefs and restaurants just had to sit back and take it,” said Kristine Lefebvre, wife of the Los Angeles chef Ludovic Lefebvre. “Now we have a voice.”
Amanda Cohen of the East Village vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy was displeased by a New York Times Dining Brief review last year, and wrote a lengthy response on her restaurant’s website. When Sarah DiGregorio of The Village Voice wrote last month that the tofu at Baohaus on the Lower East Side seemed “slicked with mucus”, an owner, Eddie Huang, responded online: “She was probably right,” he said in an interview. “With tofu, if you don’t fry it just right, it does get mucus-like, so I posted on Yelp that everyone who came in would get a free tofu bao. And I made sure they were perfect.”
Not many chefs use Twitter to do more than promote their specials. Ivy Stark of Dos Caminos, Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco, and Dave Schuttenberg of Cabrito are lively exceptions. But the few who have found their voice online have often done so in a spectacular manner, and those posts are often noted, linked and re-tweeted on food blogs like Eater and New York magazine’s Grub Street.
Last week, Mr. Dobias aired on Twitter a longing to run his bicycle over the editor of Grub Street, Daniel Maurer, because of perceived slights. “Obviously Joe Doe is feeling a little stressed,” Mr. Maurer responded on the blog, adding jokingly, “we’d like to offer him a massage.” Mr. Dobias’s tweet was deleted.
Mr. Skeen noted that chefs may get infuriated by blogs, but they benefit from the notoriety they generate. “They want us to be rock stars, which doesn’t have anything to do with what we do in the kitchen,” he said. “But, on the other hand, let’s be honest, we’re getting paid twice as much as we used to.”
Many chefs say they join the online scrum to protect their restaurants. They say the pressure for immediate success has become intolerable— bloggers, Yelpers, and the like weigh in too early and too often. According to Foodbuzz, a central site for food blogs, 11,000 writers upload posts to the site. “On the one hand, the Internet opened everything up, which is great,” Mr. Huang said. “And on the other hand, it lowered everything down, which is too bad.”
Baohaus, which opened in December, is much loved by commenters on Yelp, but Mr. Huang is touchy about online slights: last week, he posted a rant on his blog, in response to a post on Chowhound that mildly queried the authenticity of his boiled-peanut recipe.
For most chefs, using social media like Twitter and Facebook is a simple, conscious marketing decision to keep their names in front of the public.
Those who do it tend to be extroverted in person and online, like the Lefebvres, (Ms. Lefebvre, a lawyer, appeared topless in Playboy magazine in 2007 when she was a contestant on the reality-TV show “The Apprentice”). The Lefebvres took to the Internet last year to respond to a blogger’s critique that the tuna tartare served at their restaurant LudoBites was served too rare— it is raw, on purpose— and that the sweetbreads were “lackluster”, though as the blogger, Diana Hossfeld, admitted in the post that she had never had sweetbreads before. Ms. Lefebvre posted a lengthy response to Ms. Hossfeld’s blog that the writer said reduced her to tears. (They have since reconciled.) “I didn’t mean to take her apart, but her words were ignorant and ill-informed, and they would have stayed up there forever,” Ms. Lefebvre said. The Lefebvres have expanded their publicity campaign to Twitter. Last week, they tweeted on the progress of 2,000 portions of fried chicken and Mr. Lefebvre’s mood, leading up to Saturday’s L.A. Street Food Fest. “It’s a way for people to understand a chef’s process, and frankly, how hard we are working to make a living in this business,” she said. “Maybe following us, seeing how hard we are working, would make someone think twice before trashing a dish.” Ms. Lefebvre has found perhaps the most practical application for a chef’s Twitter feed: immediately filling restaurant tables when there are no-shows.
The online dialogue has not just been between chef and public, but between chef and chef. Mr. Dobias took a swipe at David Chang. Mr. Skeen called out his fellow chef Jim Lahey on Twitter, criticizing his decision to complain about a Times review of his Chelsea pizzeria, Co. And Mr. Huang of Baohaus violated the final culinary taboo last week when he posted a list of Asian restaurants he thought were awful, shattering a stone-etched code: do not criticize another chef outside the community. “I never wanted to be part of a community,” he said. “Why should I back you up when your food is dishonest?”
Mr. Huang has a particular beef with restaurants that dumb down Asian food, or that lower the high standards of flavor and technique that he identifies with his Taiwanese family’s cooking. He also said that exaggerated trash talk is part of the hip-hop culture he was immersed in as a clothing designer, before turning his talents to the kitchen. He called Joe’s Shanghai a “hellhole,” and said of Anita Lo’s Rickshaw Dumplings, “The dumplings are horrible and the kitschy Chinese branding is offensive.” He seems confident in his judgments. “I don’t put you on blast unless you are a serious problem,” he said.
Rico says it's the closest thing to oblivion that the Internet offers: Mr. Dobias’s tweet was deleted.

Wait for the riot

Rico says that there will be riots over this, or he'll be surprised. Alan Baker (Russell's son) and John Eligon have an article in The New York Times about the latest cops-getting-away-with-murder case in New York:
Citing insufficient evidence, federal authorities said Tuesday that they would not bring a civil rights case against the New York City police officers involved in the killing of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old black man who was shot by the police outside a strip club in Queens on his wedding day. The decision by the Justice Department came after prosecutors and federal agents reviewed the case, in which five police officers fired fifty shots into the Nissan Altima that Mr. Bell was driving. The car struck a detective in the leg and hit a police van just before the officers began firing their weapons. Mr. Bell was killed and two passengers, Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, were wounded. None of the men had guns, although the police officers apparently believed at least one did.
In their review, officials from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not find enough evidence to prove that the officers had willfully acted to deny the men their constitutional rights, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
“Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence, nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation,” the statement said.
Any disciplinary action now lies with the Police Department, whose critics saw the shooting as an indictment of police training and the department’s use of deadly force. The department can now pursue an administrative review of the case and the officers involved. Seven officers, including four of the five who shot at the car, have been internally charged with breaking departmental rules. Of the five who opened fire— Detectives Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver, Marc Cooper, and Paul Headley and Officer Michael Carey— all but Detective Headley remain on desk duty, with no gun and shield, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman. Lieutenant Gary Napoli, the supervising officer that night, is also on desk duty, he said, facing internal charges of failing to supervise the operation.
Two other officers, Detective Robert Knapp and Sergeant Hugh McNeil of the Crime Scene Unit, were also charged internally, the detective with failing to thoroughly process the crime scene and the sergeant with failing to ensure that thorough processing was done.
If internal charges are substantiated, some of the officers could be fired. Mr. Browne said that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, would not comment on the matter because “he is the final arbiter” of any punishment.
Detectives Isnora, Oliver, and Cooper were acquitted by a Queens judge in April of 2008 of criminal charges. The two other officers who opened fire were not charged criminally.
On Tuesday, federal officials met with Mr. Bell’s family; his fiancée, Nicole Paultre Bell; and others to tell them of their decision. Later, many in the Bell family and their supporters expressed disappointment in a news conference at the headquarters of the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
Paultre Bell said she hoped to get the attention of the White House. “There is a history of black men being killed by police officers, and something needs to be done,” she said. “We’re hoping to eventually meet with President Obama, and that he’ll do something, because this is a national problem.”
Michael Hardy, a lawyer for Ms. Paultre Bell and for Mr. Benefield and Mr. Guzman, read a statement from Mr. Sharpton, who has been a spokesman for the Bell family. Using a cane and wearing a boot on his right foot, Mr. Guzman called Mr. Bell “the people’s champ” and asserted that police violence was disproportionately affecting urban communities and black and Latino men.
Lawyers for the officers involved expressed support for the government’s position.
Paul P. Martin, a lawyer for Detective Cooper, said he was not surprised by it. “There’s no basis for them to bring a federal proceeding,” Mr. Martin said.
Anthony L. Ricco, the lawyer for Detective Isnora, who was struck by Mr. Bell’s car and who fired the first shot, said he spoke with his client, who was “very relieved.”
The lawyer added that Detective Isnora was hopeful he would be cleared of internal charges and that he hoped to attend law school.
Detective Oliver, who fired 31 shots, was told of the decision by his lawyer, James J. Culleton. “I called him, and he was very relieved and very happy,” Mr. Culleton said. “It took a long time for this decision to come down.”
Michael J. Palladino, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association, said he was “gratified” with the government’s decision.
Mr. Benefield, Mr. Guzman, and the family of Mr. Bell still intend to move ahead with a civil lawsuit. Mr. Sharpton said he hoped that a civil case, as well as possible departmental charges, would “bring some justice” to Mr. Bell’s family and his wounded friends.

Bad boys loose in Philly

Rico says the police have had their hands full, dealing with the 'flash mob' phenomenon in downtown Philly, and the Inquirer has the story:
Deejay Walker, 18, a senior at Strawberry Mansion High School, has traveled in after-school crowds since he was 16. Often, he said, he and his friends head for the Gallery. "Everybody hangs out here," Walker said. "We call this our territory." It's not uncommon for tempers to flare, he said, and on Tuesday afternoon, when, police said, about 150 teenagers took to the streets outside the mall and wreaked havoc on the neighborhood, it all started as a fight near the food court. "If you're somewhere and you see a lot of people, it just triggers something. You just act wild," Walker explained. "It's fun."
Yesterday, Philadelphia police responded by taking a "hard line" against young troublemakers. Officers and the mall's security guards swarmed the Gallery with radios and guns, patrolling walkways, leaning over railings to survey the crowds, and gathering at key positions to make their presence known. The officers were deployed to the mall and surrounding areas in response to a rampage Tuesday, when a mob of teenagers flooded the Gallery and spilled into surrounding blocks. The crowd vandalized the nearby Macy's store, started fights, knocked pedestrians to the ground, and turned a usually peaceful shopping district upside down for the second time in two months.
Trouble often starts, Walker said, when shoulders brush or bump. One or both people feel insulted, so they curse or shove back. "You can do whatever," Walker said. "Your boys will back you up." As he spoke, two men passing through the crowd knocked against each other. "Damn!" one snapped as the other hastily walked away. "You see?" Walker said. "It just happened."
Police say they believe Tuesday's fight, like several others in the last year, may have been organized in part through text messages and social-media sites.
Fifteen teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, were arrested Tuesday and charged as juveniles with disorderly conduct and rioting. One girl was charged with assault, police said, and a 14-year-old boy was taken to the hospital, knocked unconscious. He has been released, police said.
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said yesterday that teenagers who started trouble would be arrested and prosecuted, and police will encourage the school to expel or discipline the student. "This is unacceptable, and I don't think they realize what they're doing to the image of the city," Bethel said, adding that most teenagers who hang out in Center City do not cause trouble. "We need them to know there's going to be consequences."
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said parents needed to get involved in curbing teen violence.
According to James Golden, chief safety executive for the Philadelphia School District, the students arrested were from eight high schools: Simon Gratz, George Washington, Bartram, Olney West, Lincoln, Mastbaum, Ben Franklin, and Ombudsman Hunting Park, a disciplinary school.
SEPTA also beefed up police presence, assigning officers at Center City subway stations and concourses, SEPTA Police Chief Richard Evans said, in case there were problems with large groups of youths that get pushed underground. During school days, SEPTA police overlap the day and evening shifts when school is dismissed, almost doubling the normal manpower. They focus their efforts on some "problem stations," but Evans said the closest subway stops to the Gallery, at 11th and Eighth Streets on the Market-Frankford Line, were not normally a problem.
Tuesday's incident was similar to one in December at the Gallery, which investigators said was organized on Facebook. Gangs of youths were turned away from the Gallery on 18 December and then roved through Center City. The teens assaulted some holiday shoppers.
Last May, more than 100 youths met near Broad and South Streets and started a melee, ransacking a corner store, attacking several taxis, and pulling a woman from her car. That, too, was planned in part on the Internet, police said they believed.
Courtney Poaches, 20, an employee at Payless Shoe Source in the Gallery, said that violence had become routine at the mall and that she feared security could do little to prevent it. "This is getting out of control. It's every day, every single day," Poaches said. "They outnumber our guards."
Tuesday's trouble started about 4:45 p.m. with a crowd of teenagers in the Gallery who were chased out by security guards, police said. The youths poured out of the mall and made their way to Macy's at 13th and Market Streets, where they rampaged, knocking over displays and causing about $700 worth of damage, police said. Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said the damage was confined to displays and fixtures. "We're just glad no one was hurt," she said.
"I was walking through Macy's to the train at about 5:20ish when mobs of kids began swarming the store," said Sandy Astrono, 39, who works in offices above Macy's. "I ran to the shoe department, thinking someone had a gun," Astrono said. "Security guards were running, and some of the kids had their shirts off and were fighting."
After the teens left Macy's, about 60 of them headed west on Market toward City Hall, frightening pedestrians and knocking some to the ground. The crowd ended up at City Hall, where they engaged in a snowball fight and assaulted one another, Bethel said, until police moved in. The incident lasted about 45 minutes.
City Councilmen Jim Kenney and Frank DiCicco watched the mayhem unfold from Kenney's second-floor office, which faces Market Street on City Hall's east side. They saw throngs of teenagers flowing up the stairs from the subway, pouring briefly into Macy's, then emerging from the department store, fists flying. "It was nauseating and frightening, and sad that one young person would actually stand over another person and kick them in the face," Kenney said. He and DiCicco asked Mayor Nutter and Council President Anna C. Verna to sue the social-media sites involved, but said what they really want is a mechanism for detecting similar organized threats and alerting police. "The citizens of this city have the right to shop, work, use public transportation, and not be pummeled to the ground," Kenney said. "This is urban terrorism. If they're using those sites to conduct this thuggery, then I want to find out if it's true, and I want to get the appropriate legal action to get them to warn us."
School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said the district needed to find ways of reaching young people before another tragedy occurs. "What happened can't happen again," Ackerman said. "We were lucky nobody was killed. Something like that could happen again. For a short time, downtown was almost out of control."
On Friday, city, school district, and merchant association officials met to discuss how to deal with mobs of students at the Gallery, Golden said. District officials are now weighing whether to suspend or expel those involved in the mayhem. The student conduct code requires students to comply with school rules while riding a bus or traveling to and from school or to and from school-related activities.
Officials are also looking at how other cities deal with the problem of teens who cause trouble at malls. "We've seen a growing number of these incidents, although not an epidemic," said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety & Security Services, a Cleveland consulting firm. The nature of social media makes it "virtually impossible" for school officials to monitor, he added.
In public comments at yesterday's School Reform Commission meeting, Ackerman said she had spoken with Nutter and school officials, and some suggested that the district monitor Facebook and other social-networking sites for possible trouble. "I don't want to do that," Ackerman said. "I would like to work with young people to come up with a respect for human dignity and valuing other people just because we deserve it."
Rico says the news had a lot of video of young black men (hey, they were; in Philly, what did you expect?) 'wilding' in the streets. Rico humbly suggests that the police department ensure that every cop downtown is packing a Taser, and is trained in its use; a little Mace, a little Taser, and their enthusiasm for this sort of thing will fall off dramatically...

Older and better

Warming, like it or not

The New York Times has yet another editorial insisting that the Earth continues to get warmer; Rico says he will ignore the snow outside his door and say they're probably right:
Disclosures of isolated errors and exaggerations in the 2007 report from the United Nations panel on climate change do not undermine its main finding: that the planet has been warming gradually for more than a century, and that human activity is largely responsible. But the misstatements have handed climate skeptics a public relations boost.
That’s not good news at a time when world leaders need to make tough decisions to control greenhouse gas emissions and when public confidence in the science is essential. Given the stakes, the panel cannot allow more missteps and, at the very least, must tighten procedures and make its deliberations more transparent.
The panel’s chairman, Rajendra K. Pachauri, an Indian engineer, is also under fire for taking consulting fees from business interests. Mr. Pachauri says he does not profit personally and channels the fees to a nonprofit research center he runs in New Delhi. Yet as the person most responsible for the panel’s integrity, he cannot afford even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
All this follows last November’s uproar over leaked e-mail messages that, while they had nothing to do with the panel’s reports, portrayed climate scientists as thin-skinned and fully capable of stifling competing views.
The controversy over the 2007 report has been stoked by charges of poor sourcing and alarmist forecasts, prominently a prediction— in a 938-page working paper— that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. This was clearly an exaggeration, though it was not included in the final report. An overblown warning of crop failures in North Africa did make it into the final report.
Set against the bulk of the panel’s work— for which it received a Nobel Prize in 2008— these errors seem small, the result of sloppiness, not deliberate misrepresentation. But they are still costly.
In a recent editorial in the journal Nature, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote that while the scientific understanding of climate change remains “undiminished,” the “perceived misbehavior of even a few scientists can diminish the credibility of science as a whole.” Dr. Cicerone is right on all counts: given the complexity and urgency of climate change— and its vulnerability to political posturing— scientists engaged in the issue must avoid personal agendas and be intellectually vigilant and above reproach.

Spik Engrish, dammit!

War, maybe, at the top of the world

Jim Yardley has an article in The New York Times about an old conflict turned new again:
For years, Nepal never bothered too much with policing its northern border with China. The Himalayas seemed a formidable-enough barrier, and Nepal’s political and economic attention was oriented south toward India. If Nepal was a mouse trapped between elephants, as the local saying went, the elephant that mattered most was India.
But, last week, a Nepalese government delegation visited Beijing on a trip that underscored, once again, how China’s newfound weight in the world is altering old geopolitical equations. As Nepal’s home minister, Bhim Rawal, met with China’s top security officials, Chinese state media reported that the two countries had agreed to cooperate on border security, while Nepal restated its commitment to preventing any “anti-China” events on its side of the border.
Details of the meetings were not yet known, but the two countries were expected to finalize a program under which China would provide money, training and logistical support to help Nepal expand police checkpoints in isolated regions of its northern border. The reason for the deal is simple: Tibet.
At a time when President Obama’s decision to meet with the Dalai Lama has infuriated China, Mr. Rawal’s meetings in Beijing could have greater practical effect on the lives of Tibetans. Prodded by China, Nepal is now moving to close the Himalayan passages through which Tibetans have long made secret trips in and out of China, often on pilgrimages to visit the Dalai Lama in his exile in India.
If it once regarded Nepal with intermittent interest, China is now exerting itself more broadly toward its small Himalayan neighbor, analysts say; partly because of its concern that Nepal could become a locus of Tibetan agitation, partly as another South Asian stage in its growing soft-power fencing match in the region with India.
“Nepal has become a very interesting space where the big players are playing at two levels,” said Ashok Gurung, director of the India China Institute at The New School. “One is their relationship with Nepal. And the second is the relationship between India and China.”
In the broadest sense, India and China share similar goals in Nepal. Each wants Nepal’s political situation to stabilize and is watching closely as the country’s Maoists negotiate with other political parties over a new constitution that would fundamentally reshape the government. Each is also worried about security, as India is concerned about political agitation on the Nepalese side of their shared border, as well as the possibility that terrorists trained in Pakistan could transit through Nepal.
But India is also paying close attention to what many India experts consider newfound Chinese activism in South Asia, whether by building ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, or signing new agreements with even the tiniest South Asian nations like the Maldives. An expanding Chinese presence in Nepal would be especially alarming to India, given that India and Nepal share a long and deliberately porous border.
“India has always been concerned about what access China might have in Nepal,” said Sridhar Khatri, executive director of the South Asia Center for Policy Studies in Katmandu. “India has always considered South Asia to be its backyard, like a Monroe Doctrine.”
From China’s perspective, Nepal’s geopolitical significance rose after Tibetan protests erupted in March 2008, five months before Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. Those protests began inside China, in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and other Tibetan regions, but also spread across the border to Katmandu, where an estimated 12,000 Tibetans live. Even as Chinese officials were able to block international media coverage of the crackdown under way in Tibet, the protests in Nepal attracted global attention as photographs circulated of the Nepalese police subduing Tibetan protesters. In a few cases, media outlets mistakenly identified the photographs as coming from inside Tibet.
“There was a shift after March,” Mr. Gurung said. “The Chinese realized that Nepal is going to be an important site where they could potentially be embarrassed on Tibetan issues.”
V. R. Raghavan, a retired general in the Indian Army, said that China for years had tacitly allowed Tibetans to cross into Nepal, many of whom were making pilgrimages or attending universities in India. But the March protests made China realize that it had a “southern window” that needed to be closed, he said. “Every movement of important personages and priests and others from Tibet has taken place through Nepal,” said General Raghavan, now director of the Delhi Policy Group, a research institute. Chinese officials tightened security on their side of the border in the name of preventing pro-Tibet agitators from slipping into, or out of, the country. They also pushed Nepal to become more vigilant.
Last fall, Mr. Rawal announced that Nepal, for the first time, would station armed police officers in isolated regions like Mustang and Manang on the border with Tibet. Meanwhile, Tibetan advocates say the tightening border security has already sharply slowed movement. Until 2008, roughly 2,500 to 3,000 Tibetans annually slipped across the border, according to the office of the Dalai Lama. By last year, the number dropped to about 600, a change that Tibetan advocates attribute to closer ties between China and Nepal.
“As they get closer,” said Tenzin Taklha, secretary for the Dalai Lama, “it is becoming more difficult for Tibetans.”
In fact, many Nepalese believe that moving closer to China is in the best interests of the country. For more than a half century, India has been deeply influential in Nepalese affairs and remains Nepal’s biggest trading partner and economic benefactor, even as some Nepalese resent India’s role in their affairs. Nepal’s currency is pegged to the Indian rupee, and citizens of the two countries are allowed to pass freely across the border. More than one million Nepalese work in India, sending back remittances.
But trade with China has quadrupled since 2003, according to government statistics, and Nepalese business leaders want to increase economic ties. In recent years, Chinese airlines have opened routes into Nepal as the number of Chinese tourists has risen steadily, and Nepalese officials also want China to extend rail services to the border so that Nepal can be linked to the same high-altitude line that connects Beijing to Tibet.
Kush Kumar Joshi, president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said his group was trying to establish special economic zones to lure Chinese manufacturers to Nepal, and Indian companies, too. “We need to have both countries as our development partners,” he said.
Mr. Khatri, the analyst in Katmandu, said that India would remain Nepal’s dominant neighbor, but that China’s expanding global reach would inevitably make it more engaged than before. To assume that China would not exert itself more in South Asia and Nepal, he said, “would be to neglect the reality.”

New enemy, old war

Rico says he couldn't agree more with the editorial in The New York Times about carp:
The Asian carp, a large and ravenous invasive species, has been making a so-far-unstoppable migration up the Mississippi River. It now has come to within a few miles from the Great Lakes. Unless serious measures are taken soon, it looks as though the carp will likely break through, using canals that connect the river to Lake Michigan.
To stop the carp, the federal government has announced plans to spend $78.5 million for more waterway monitoring, flood prevention, electric barriers, and fish-killing chemicals. It also plans to limit the carp’s access to the Great Lakes by opening the canal locks less often to industrial barges.
The governor of Michigan and other officials in Great Lakes states say the plan does too much to protect Illinois’s barge industry and too little to protect the lakes. They say that the Great Lakes’ ecology— and the $7 billion fishing industry that depends on the lakes— already have been damaged severely by invasive species like mussels. They warn that it could be ravaged by an exploding carp population.
Will the carp make the leap and destroy the Great Lakes? It’s hard to know, but the risk isn’t worth taking. History shows that it never pays to underestimate the ability of aggressive, opportunistic creatures to outhustle competitors. That’s what Chicago did on its way to becoming a great city— by forcing the Chicago River to reverse its flow, carrying sewage and industrial waste away from its water supply, Lake Michigan, and into the Mississippi, never mind the outrage it caused downstream. And that’s the highway the Asian carps are using to flow the other way.
We hope the federal plan works but sympathize with Michigan’s attorney general, who called it a collection of “half-measures and gimmicks.” The problems and pain that canal closings will pose can be fixed or eased if necessary with Washington’s financial help. If the carp takes over the Great Lakes, that can’t be undone.
Rico says it's every fisherman's job to get out there and catch some carp; you don't have to eat it (though there are people who will), you just gotta kill it...

The big stick doesn't always work

Lara Dadkhah (another great name) has an article in The New York Times about how the little guy is beating the big guy at his own game (because the big guy is too nice for his own good):

The Taliban have found a way to beat American airpower. And they have managed this remarkable feat with American help.
The consequences of this development are front and center in the current offensive in Marja, Afghanistan, where air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties.
American and NATO military leaders— worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by “hearts and minds” enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill— have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance. Last July, the commander of Western forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued a directive that air strikes (and long-range artillery fire) be authorized only under “very limited and prescribed conditions.”
So in a modern refashioning of the obvious— that war is harmful to civilian populations— the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim.
In Marja, American and Afghan troops have shown great skill in routing the Taliban occupiers. But news reports indicate that our troops under heavy attack have had to wait an hour or more for air support, so that insurgents could be positively identified. “We didn’t come to Marja to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” a Marine officer told reporters after waiting ninety minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles. He’s right that the goal is not to kill bystanders or destroy towns, but an overemphasis on civilian protection is now putting American troops on the defensive in what is intended to be a major offensive. And Marja is not exceptional.
While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period. (While I am employed by a defense consulting company, my research and opinions on air support are my own.)
Anecdotal evidence and simple logic dictate that there are two reasons for this relative decrease of air support: Troops in contact with the enemy are calling for air support less often than before the tactical directive was issued, and when they do call for air strikes their requests are more frequently being denied.
Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent. According to the military’s own air-power summaries, often when the planes or helicopters arrive, they simply perform shows of force, or drop flares rather than munitions. It is only a matter of time before the Taliban see flares and flyovers for what they are: empty threats.
One of the most egregious episodes of failed support occurred last September in Kunar Province, when a detachment of Marines and Afghan troops tried to search the village of Ganjgal for a weapons cache. When they were fired on by insurgents in the nearby hills, they radioed for artillery support, a request that was rejected on the ground that civilians might be injured. They then pleaded for helicopters, which didn’t arrive for more than an hour after the shooting started. “We are pinned down,” a Marine major explained to his Afghan counterpart as they waited helplessly. “We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We’ve lost today.” In the end, four Marines, eight Afghan troops and an Afghan interpreter were dead, and 22 others wounded.
Some would argue that more combat troops will always mean more combat troop deaths. That holds true, however, only if you believe that our soldiers should fight fair. Logic dictates that no well-ordered army would give up its advantages and expect to win, and the United States military, which does not have the manpower in Afghanistan to fight the insurgents one-on-one, is no exception.
Perhaps the directive against civilian casualties could be justified if one could show that Afghan lives were truly being saved, but that’s not the case. According to the latest report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the number of civilian deaths caused by Western and Afghan government forces decreased to 596 in 2009, from 828 the year before. But the overall number of civilian deaths in the country increased by 14 percent, to 2,412, and the number killed by Taliban troops and other insurgents rose by 41 percent. For Afghan civilians who are dying in greater numbers every year, the fact that fewer deaths are caused by pro-government forces is cold comfort.
There is also little to indicate that the “hearts and minds” campaign has resulted in the population’s cooperation, especially in the all-important area of human intelligence. Afghans can be expected to cooperate with American forces only if they feel safe to do so, when we take permanent control of an area. Obviously, this involves defeating the enemy. With NATO intelligence services recently noting that the Taliban still have a “shadow government” in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, it’s hard to say we’re close to accomplishing that feat. Just last month, the Taliban set off a series of bombs in the heart of Kabul; the insurgents, it appears, no longer need to winter in Pakistan.
Of course, all this is not to say that the United States and NATO should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage “total” war in Afghanistan. Clearly, however, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost. General McChrystal’s directive was well intentioned, but the lofty ideal at its heart is a lie, and an immoral one at that, because it pretends that war can be fair or humane.
Wars are always ugly, always monstrous, and best avoided. Once begun, however, the goal of even a “long war” should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have.

Rico says nah, total war is the way to go. War to the knife and knife to the hilt.

History for the day

On 18 February 1861, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama.

Okay, guys think it's funny

Rico says this came, of course, from his friend Dave Kitterman:
To hoom it mae cunsern,
I waunt to apply for the job what I saw in the paper.
I kin Type realee qwik wit one finggar and do sum a counting.
I think I am good on the fone and I no I am a pepole person
I no my spelling is not too good
My salerery is open, I kin start emeditely.
Thank yoo in advanse fore yore anser.
PS : Becauze my resimay is a bit short, I send a pickture of me:

Two more down, many to go

The New York Times article by Dexter Filkins (another great name) about taking down the Taliban, one at a time:
Two senior Taliban leaders have been arrested in recent days inside Pakistan, officials said Thursday, as American and Pakistani intelligence agents continued to press their offensive against the group’s leadership after the capture of the insurgency’s military commander last month.
Afghan officials said the Taliban’s “shadow governors” for two provinces in northern Afghanistan had been detained in Pakistan by officials there. Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban’s leader in Kunduz, was detained in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan Province was also captured in an undisclosed Pakistani city, they said.
The arrests come on the heels of the capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s military commander and the deputy to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement’s founder. Mr. Baradar was arrested in a joint operation by the CIA and the ISI, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency. The arrests were made by Pakistani officials, the Afghans said, but it seemed probable that CIA officers accompanied them, as they did in the arrest of Mr. Baradar. Pakistani officials declined to comment.
Together, the three arrests mark the most significant blow to the Taliban’s leadership since the American-backed war began eight years ago. They also demonstrate the extent to which the Taliban’s senior leaders have been able to use Pakistan as a sanctuary to plan and mount attacks in Afghanistan. It was not immediately clear if the arrests of the Taliban shadow governors were made possible by intelligence taken from Mr. Baradar, but it seemed likely. In the days after Mr. Baradar’s arrest, American officials said they managed to keep his detention a secret from many Taliban leaders, and that they were determined to roll up as much of the Taliban’s leadership as they could. Mohammed Omar, the Governor of Kunduz Province, said in an interview that the two Taliban shadow governors had a close working relationship with Mr. Baradar.
In the days that followed Mr. Baradar’s arrest, American officials say that Mr. Baradar was providing a wealth of information on the Taliban’s operations. For the past several days, he has been interrogated by both Pakistani and American officials. “Mullah Salam and Mullah Mohammad were the most merciless individuals,” said General Razaq Yaqoobi, police chief of Kunduz Province. “Most of the terror, executions, and other crimes committed in northern Afghanistan were on their orders.”
The arrests— all three in Pakistan— demonstrate a greater level of cooperation by Pakistan in hunting leaders of the Taliban than in the entire eight years of war. American officials have complained bitterly since 2001 that the Pakistanis, while claiming to be American allies— and accepting American aid— were simultaneously providing sanctuary and assistance to Taliban fighters and leaders who were battling the Americans across the border.
In conversations with American officials, Pakistani officials would often claim not to know about the existence of the Quetta Shura, the name given to the council of senior Taliban leaders that used the Pakistani city as a sanctuary for years. It was the Quetta Shura— also known as the Supreme Council— that Mr. Baradar presided over. It is still far from clear, but senior commanders in Afghanistan say they believe that the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, led by Generals Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, may finally be coming around to the belief that the Taliban— in Pakistan and Afghanistan— constitute a threat to the existence of the Pakistani state.
“I believe that General Kayani and his leaders have come to the conclusion that they want us to succeed,” a senior NATO officer in Kabul said.
Word of the arrests of the shadow governors came as American, Afghan and British forces continue to press ahead with their largest military operation to date, in the Afghan agricultural town of Marja. Earlier this month, on the eve of the Marja invasion, Afghan officials also detained Marja’s shadow governor as he tried to flee the country.
The Taliban figures are commonly referred to as shadow governors because their identities are secret, and because they mirror the legitimate governors appointed by the Afghan government. The Taliban’s shadow governors oversee all military and political operations in a given area.
Even before the arrests in Pakistan, the American and Afghan military and intelligence services appear to have been enjoying a run of success against Taliban leaders inside Afghanistan.
A senior NATO officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American forces had detained or killed “three or four” Taliban provincial governors in the past several weeks, including the Taliban’s shadow governor for Lagman Province. Another NATO officer, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Mullah Zakhir, the Taliban’s military commander for southern Afghanistan, had been ordered back to Pakistan at the around the time of the Marja offensive. Indeed, the capture of two Taliban governors inside Pakistan may reflect the greater level of insecurity that all Taliban leaders are feeling inside Afghanistan at the moment. “The Taliban are feeling a new level of pain,” the senior NATO officer said.
Rico says 'a new level of pain' couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys...

Anticipatory journalism

Rico says the window for his mail delivery cuts off titles after a certain number of characters, so he sometimes tries to guess what's coming.
Today was one: "News Alert: Two More Senior..."
Rico says he assumed, of course, that it would be a story about two more senior Democrats either dying (hey, it happens), resigning, or just deserting the party, like rats off a sinking ship.
But, no. The real headline for the real story: "Breaking News Alert: The New York Times: Two More Senior Taliban Leaders Are Arrested"
Rico says that's better, just not as funny...

Civil War for the day

Fort Clinch, Fernandina Island, Florida

17 February 2010

Quote for the day

It could be paradise, Theodor Adorno complained, but it was only California.

Duct tape wonders

Courtesy of my friend Bill Calloway, this splendid piece of work:

Not that again

The BBC reports on a resurgence of an old crisis:
Argentina has announced new controls on shipping through its waters to the Falkland Islands in a growing dispute over British oil drilling plans. A permit will be needed by ships using Argentine waters en route to the Falklands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands, all UK-controlled. The UK Foreign Office said the Falkland Islands' waters were controlled by its authorities and would not be affected.
Argentina has protested to the UK about oil exploration due to begin this year. Buenos Aires claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, which it calls Islas Malvinas. It has previously threatened that any company exploring for oil and gas in the waters around the territory will not be allowed to operate in Argentina.
Last week, a ship carrying drilling equipment was detained by Argentine officials.
BBC world affairs correspondent Peter Biles says Argentine anger has been "brewing for a while. The sabre-rattling over oil in the South Atlantic is just the latest episode in a dispute that's remained unresolved since the Falklands War nearly 28 years ago," he said. After Argentina's invasion of the islands in 1982, a UK task force seized back control in a short war that claimed the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers.
On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez signed a decree requiring all vessels travelling between Argentina and the islands, or those that want to cross Argentine territorial waters en route to the Falklands, to seek prior permission.
Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez said the decree sought to achieve "not only a defence of Argentine sovereignty but also of all the resources" in the area.
He said the measure also applied to vessels going to the other nearby UK-controlled islands in the South Atlantic - South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
It is not clear whether Argentina intends waters surrounding the disputed islands, considered part of the British Overseas Territories, to be subject to the new controls.
"Regulations governing Argentine territorial waters are a matter for the Argentine authorities," the UK Foreign Office said in a statement.
"This does not affect Falkland Islands territorial waters which are controlled by the island authorities."
It added that the UK and Argentina were "important partners" with a "close and productive relationship".
"We want, and have offered, to co-operate on South Atlantic issues. We will work to develop this relationship further," the statement said.
A drilling rig from the Scottish highlands, the Ocean Guardian, is due to arrive this week and drilling could begin within months.
Geologists think the South Atlantic ocean bed surrounding the Falklands could contain rich energy reserves.
Rico says he can hear the Gurkhas sharpening their kukris now...

Well, hello, Dalai

The BBC has an article about the Chinese reaction to the planned meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama:
China has again urged the United States to cancel a planned meeting between President Barack Obama and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The two men will meet at the White House on 18 February, US spokesman Robert Gibbs has confirmed. He said the Sino-US relationship was mature enough to disagree while finding common ground on international issues. China had already said that such a meeting would seriously undermine relations with the United States. Mr Gibbs said the Dalai Lama was "an internationally respected religious leader. He's a spokesman for Tibetan rights. The president looks forward to an engaging and constructive meeting," he said. "We think we have a mature enough relationship with the Chinese that we can agree on mutual interests, but also have a mature enough relationship that we know the two countries are not always going to agree on everything."
China reacted quickly to the announcement through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu: "We firmly oppose the Dalai Lama visiting the United States and US leaders having contact with him," Mr Ma said. "We urge the US side to fully understand the high sensitivity of Tibet-related issues, and honour its commitment to recognise Tibet as part of China and to oppose 'Tibet independence'," he added. "China urges the US to immediately call off the wrong decision of arranging for President Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama to avoid any more damage to Sino-US relations."
China, which took over Tibet in 1950, considers the Dalai Lama a separatist and tries to isolate the spiritual leader by asking foreign leaders not to see him. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and has since been living in India.
The US has already moved carefully on the issue. Mr Obama avoided meeting the Dalai Lama in Washington last year ahead of his own first state visit to Beijing. But, on that trip, he told his Chinese hosts his meeting with the revered Tibetan Buddhist leader would go ahead.
The meeting this month will take place in the White House Map Room, not the symbolic surroundings of the Oval Office, where Mr Obama normally meets foreign leaders and VIP guests.
President George W Bush also met the Dalai Lama at the White House.
Rico says it would be terrible, of course, if the President of the most powerful nation on earth (let's not forget whose nuclear-armed carrier is in whose port right now) met with the head of the most powerful (in a gentle, Buddhist sort of way) religious movement on earth. Not... Lest there be any doubt, fuck the Chinese. They wanna get pissed about it? Fine. Let them eat their crappy plastic exports.

It's just one letter, dammit

The headline for the Slate version of the story was intriguing: Nimitz Dicks in Hong Kong Despite Tense U.S.-Sino Relations
As expected, the headline in the BBC version was less so: Nimitz docks in Hong Kong despite China tensions
Odd, that 'China tensions' became 'tense US-Sino relations', ain't it?
Oh, yeah, and that the aircraft carrier (though, doubtless, not its crew) did not dick Hong Kong...

History for the day

On 17 February 1972, President Nixon departed on his historic trip to China.

Quote for the day

"We are at a point right now where it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican if you’ve forgotten you’re an American."
Alan Simpson, former Republican Senator from Wyoming, lamenting Washington’s lack of political will to confront the soaring national debt.

Civil War for the day

The Spring Nationals in Winchester, Virginia in 2003.

16 February 2010

How about a $900,00 house?

Courtesy of my father, this:
Several men are in the locker room of a golf club. A mobile phone on a bench rings. While everyone else in the room stops to listen, a man engages the hands-free speaker function and begins to talk: "Hello."
"Honey, it's me. Are you at the club?"
"I'm at the shops now and found this beautiful leather coat. It's only two thousand. Is it okay if I buy it?"
"Sure, go ahead, if you like it that much."
"I also stopped by the Lexus dealership, saw the new models, and found one I really liked."
"How much?"
"Okay, but for that price I want it with all the options."
"Great! Oh, and one more thing... The house I wanted last year is back on the market. They're asking $980,000."
"Well, then go ahead and make them an offer of 900,000. They'll probably take it. If not, we can go the extra 80 thousand if it's really a good deal."
"Okay, I'll see you later! I love you so much!"
"Bye! I love you, too." The man hangs up. The other men in the locker room are staring at him in astonishment, mouths agape. He turns and asks: "Anyone know who this phone belongs to?"

A half-million bucks worth of house

Rico says the Mike Powell article in The New York Times, about what a half-million bucks will get you depending on where you're looking, is interesting, but Rico doesn't have half a million pennies to spend on a house, so it hardly matters right at the moment:
WHERE: Wallingford, Pennsylvania
WHAT: A four-bedroom, two full- and two half-bath contemporary, with an attached office
HOW MUCH: $499,900
SIZE: 2,300 square feet
SETTING: This house is on a tree-lined stretch of a two-lane road in Wallingford, an unincorporated community of 14,000 people about 25 minutes west of Philadelphia. Most of the surrounding roads are residential. Wallingford’s SEPTA station, the area’s public rail system, is about a five minute walk. For restaurants, shops and supermarkets, Media, a neighboring community, is about a mile and a half northwest.
The Wallingford-Swarthmore School District’s middle and high schools were named Blue Ribbon Schools, a program of the federal government, in the recent past. Swarthmore College, a liberal arts school with about 1,500 students, is about a mile and a half east.
INSIDE: The house was built in 1961 by Irwin Stein, an architect responsible for several modern houses in the eastern Pennsylvania area. The lower-level living room has 22-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Between the living and dining room (on a slightly lower level) is a double-sided fireplace. The family room has several closets set into a paneled wall.
The lower level has recessed fluorescent lighting set along the perimeter of the area, a technique that creates a diffuse, glow-like light. The bedrooms are upstairs. Two of them, the master and one currently used as an office, have Plexiglas shutters that open over the living room.
Running throughout the house are cinder-block columns with steel beams inside that support the roof, allowing the space to be open.
The attached office, formerly used by one of the owners, a dentist, consists of a waiting room and reception desk, a work room, an office, a powder room and storage space.
OUTDOOR SPACE: A stone patio, garden beds and a yard.
TAXES: $13,000 a year
CONTACT: Judy Carey, Keller Williams Real Estate Brandywine Valley Office (610) 996-8993 or
(610) 399-5100; www.judycarey4realestate.com

WHERE: Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHAT: A three-bedroom two-bath adobe
HOW MUCH: $499,000
SIZE: 3,152 square feet
SETTING: This house is in Sandia Heights, a neighborhood of roads winding through the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, at the northeast edge of Albuquerque. About two blocks from this house is the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands, 1.9 million acres that span across northeastern New Mexico, parts of Oklahoma and northwest Texas, with a peak elevation of 11,301 feet (at the tip of Mount Taylor).
Tramway Boulevard, the commercial corridor in Sandia Heights, is about a mile west. Sandia Heights’ public schools — which include La Cueva High School — cite many academic and athletic achievements, including over 49 state championships in sports, a string of junior-engineer society championships, and several first-place rankings in the Model United Nations conference.
INSIDE: According to the listing agent, this house was built in 1975 by Ralph Roybal, who designed several homes in Sandia Heights when the neighborhood was first subdivided. Some of the rooms are curved or semicircular.
The floors are brick throughout, and the ceilings are tongue-in-groove wood. The kitchen, one of the curved rooms, has a trim of hand-painted Talavera tile. The living area has a kiva fireplace in the center. An indoor pool has skylights and a wood stove. The master bedroom has a fireplace, a dressing room, a walk-in closet and a separate study, with west-facing mountain views. The house’s other two bedrooms have built-in cabinets and desks.
OUTDOOR SPACE: A deck with city views, and a back patio with mountain views.
TAXES: $3,535 a year
CONTACT: Max Sanchez, Coldwell Banker Legacy (505) 228-8287; maxsanchez.com
While Wallingford is just down the road from his current location, Rico says he would take Albuquerque any day.


Kevin O'Brien has an article in The New York Times about the absence of Apple (and the presence of its competitors with their 'let's rip off Apple and not mention it' phones) at a big mobile phone industry tradeshow in Barcelona:
The biggest gathering of the global mobile phone industry begins on Monday in Barcelona, and much of the talk will be about the company that is not there: Apple.
Its iPhone has been imitated by larger competitors like Samsung Electronics, Nokia, LG, and Research In Motion. All of them will be showing touch-screen devices and application stores, two innovations popularized by the iPhone.
In App Planet, a special section of the sprawling Fira de Barcelona convention grounds in the city’s center, more than fifty small software developers, many of whom make applications for the iPhone, will display the device’s capabilities. Elsewhere, manufacturers of netbooks and other mobile, connected devices will show their answers to the iPad, the tablet computer Apple introduced last month in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Apple’s longtime rival, Microsoft, will be seeking some attention for the first glimpse of its Windows Mobile 7 operating system software for cellphones. The company does not plan to offer it on devices yet, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. Microsoft’s impact on the industry has been diminishing in the face of increased competition from other operating systems.
Apple, one of those new competitors, has never exhibited at big industry trade shows, including the Mobile World Congress. Secretive and focused, Apple rarely ventures beyond its own well-staged promotions. The company has sent executives to the Barcelona show, but has never taken center stage. “They typically do not exhibit at non-Apple events, but we would very much like to have them join us,” said Claire Cranton, a spokeswoman for the GSM Association, the organizer of the annual Barcelona convention. “Apple products will be highly visible at the show.”
Apple has leapfrogged its Asian rivals to become the world’s third-largest maker of smartphones, the fastest-growing part of the mobile phone market. As of December, Apple had a 16.4 percent share of the market, behind Nokia and Research In Motion, which makes the BlackBerry, according to Strategy Analytics. And Apple is growing faster than either one.
Apple’s ’s growing influence on the global mobile industry stems from the way the iPhone convinced consumers to use wireless data. Wireless carriers worldwide have been seeking to increase their revenue from data use, like texting or browsing the Web, as the revenue from voice calls decline. The iPhone’s 133,000 apps increase data use.
“With the iPhone, Apple has changed the paradigm of the mobile phone industry, just as Apple changed the MP3 industry with the iPod,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner, a research firm. “They have shifted the focus from the technology to the services.”
The new iPhone 3GS will be part of the official display of T-Mobile, the wireless unit of Deutsche Telekom, which sells the device in 12 countries and is the exclusive seller in Germany.
Michael Hagspihl, a T-Mobile vice president in Bonn in charge of relations with cellphone makers, said the iPhone had brought T-Mobile 1.2 million new customers in Germany. “It’s been a real success for us,” Mr. Hagspihl said. “The iPhone has brought lots of new customers to our network, and our data consumption has gone through the roof.” Should Apple ever decide to sell the iPhone through multiple operators in the United States, T-Mobile USA would definitely be interested, Mr. Hagspihl said.
So far, AT&T has the exclusive American rights to the iPhone. But, in France and Britain, Apple ended exclusive relationships and is selling the iPhone through several operators besides its original partners, France Télécom’s Orange and Telefónica’s O2.
Even after losing the exclusive selling rights in France, Orange has had no decline in iPhone sales, said Cynthia Gordon, an Orange vice president who oversees the relationship with Apple. “Apple has had a major impact on the overall market and a very positive impact on Orange’s business,” Ms. Gordon said. Orange is one of Apple’s biggest operator partners, Ms. Gordon said. The French operator sells the iPhone in 29 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Through October, Orange had sold 1.7 million iPhones, which she said was more than any other operator in Europe and Africa. iPhone sales are helping Orange offset declines in voice revenue, Ms. Gordon said. “It has been a platform for us to build on our own sales,” she said. Besides attracting new customers and retaining old ones, the iPhone allowed Orange to develop the Orange TV Player, a programming application for viewing sixty television channels on the iPhone in France. Apple and Orange developed the application together, she said.

History for the day

On 16 February 1923, the burial chamber of King Tutankhamun's recently unearthed tomb was unsealed in Egypt.

Civil War for the day

The Delaware Blues (with Rico at left of the framed flag) at Gettysburg for the 140th of Remembrance Day.

15 February 2010

It's not the fault of the euro

According to Paul Krugman in The New York Times, the Europeans can't figure out how to use the euro:
I’ve been troubled by reporting that focuses almost exclusively on European debts and deficits, conveying the impression that it’s all about government profligacy, and feeding into the narrative of our own deficit hawks, who want to slash spending even in the face of mass unemployment, and hold Greece up as an object lesson of what will happen if we don’t. For the truth is that lack of fiscal discipline isn’t the whole, or even the main, source of Europe’s troubles; not even in Greece, whose government was indeed irresponsible (and hid its irresponsibility with creative accounting).
No, the real story behind the euromess lies not in the profligacy of politicians but in the arrogance of elites; specifically, the policy elites who pushed Europe into adopting a single currency well before the continent was ready for such an experiment.
Consider the case of Spain, which on the eve of the crisis appeared to be a model fiscal citizen. Its debts were low: 43 percent of GDP in 2007, compared with 66 percent in Germany. It was running budget surpluses. And it had exemplary bank regulation. But, with its warm weather and beaches, Spain was also the Florida of Europe and, like Florida, experienced a huge housing boom. The financing for this boom came largely from outside the country: there were giant inflows of capital from the rest of Europe, Germany in particular.
The result was rapid growth combined with significant inflation: between 2000 and 2008, the prices of goods and services produced in Spain rose by 35 percent, compared with a rise of only ten percent in Germany. Thanks to rising costs, Spanish exports became increasingly uncompetitive, but job growth stayed strong thanks to the housing boom.
Then the bubble burst. Spanish unemployment soared, and the budget went into deep deficit. But the flood of red ink— which was caused partly by the way the slump depressed revenues and partly by emergency spending to limit the slump’s human costs— was a result, not a cause, of Spain’s problems.
And there’s not much that Spain’s government can do to make things better. The nation’s core economic problem is that costs and prices have gotten out of line with those in the rest of Europe. If Spain still had its old currency, the peseta, it could remedy that problem quickly through devaluation— by, say, reducing the value of a peseta by twenty percent against other European currencies. But Spain no longer has its own money, which means that it can regain competitiveness only through a slow, grinding process of deflation.
Now, if Spain were an American state rather than a European country, things wouldn’t be so bad. For one thing, costs and prices wouldn’t have gotten so far out of line: Florida, which, among other things was freely able to attract workers from other states and keep labor costs down, never experienced anything like Spain’s relative inflation. For another, Spain would be receiving a lot of automatic support in the crisis: Florida’s housing boom has gone bust, but Washington keeps sending the Social Security and Medicare checks.
But Spain isn’t an American state, and as a result it’s in deep trouble. Greece, of course, is in even deeper trouble, because the Greeks, unlike the Spaniards, actually were fiscally irresponsible. Greece, however, has a small economy, whose troubles matter mainly because they’re spilling over to much bigger economies, like Spain’s. So the inflexibility of the euro, not deficit spending, lies at the heart of the crisis.
None of this should come as a big surprise. Long before the euro came into being, economists warned that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency. But these warnings were ignored, and the crisis came. Now what? A breakup of the euro is very nearly unthinkable, as a sheer matter of practicality. As Berkeley’s Barry Eichengreen puts it, an attempt to reintroduce a national currency would trigger “the mother of all financial crises”. So, the only way out is forward: to make the euro work, Europe needs to move much further toward political union, so that European nations start to function more like American states.
But that’s not going to happen anytime soon. What we’ll probably see over the next few years is a painful process of muddling through: bailouts accompanied by demands for savage austerity, all against a background of very high unemployment, perpetuated by the grinding deflation I already mentioned.
It’s an ugly picture. But it’s important to understand the nature of Europe’s fatal flaw. Yes, some governments were irresponsible; but the fundamental problem was hubris, the arrogant belief that Europe could make a single currency work despite strong reasons to believe that it wasn’t ready.
According to Wikipedia:
The eurozone is an economic and monetary union of sixteen European Union member states which have adopted the euro as their sole legal tender. It currently consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. Eight other states (not including Sweden, which has a de facto opt out) are obliged to join the zone once they fulfil the strict entry criteria. Monetary policy of the zone is the responsibility of the European Central Bank, though there is no common representation, governance or fiscal policy for the currency union.
Eleven countries (Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania) are in the European Union but do not use the euro.
The term eurozone or euro area can also be taken to include third countries that have adopted the euro. Three European microstates– Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City– have concluded agreements with the European Union permitting them to use the euro as their official currency and mint coins, but they are neither formally part of the eurozone nor represented on the board of the European Central Bank.
Several other countries have officially adopted the euro as their sole currency, such as Andorra, Kosovo, and Montenegro, without an agreement. These states are also not considered part of the official eurozone by the ECB. However, in some usage, the term eurozone is applied to all such states and territories that have adopted the euro as their sole currency. Further unilateral adoption of the euro (euroisation), by both non-euro EU countries and non-EU members, is opposed by the ECB and EU.
Rico says the population of the Eurozone is 317 million. The population of the United States, which has used a single currency since 1776 or so (as even the Confederacy used dollars), is 300 million. It may take those backward Europeans awhile to figure it out, but they'll get there eventually...

It's all George Washington's fault

John Miller has an article in The New York Times about civilian control of the military:
Civilian control of the military is a cherished principle in American government. President Obama decided to increase our involvement in Afghanistan, and Congress will decide whether to appropriate the money to carry out his decision. It is the president and Congress, not the military, that will decide whether our laws should be changed to allow gays and lesbians to serve in our armed forces. The military advises, but the civilian leadership decides. Yet, if not for the actions of George Washington, whose birthday we celebrate (sort of) this month, America might have moved in a very different direction. In early 1783, with victory in the Revolutionary War in sight but peace uncertain, Washington and the Continental Army bivouacked at Newburgh, New York. The troops were enraged by Congress’s failure to provide promised back pay and pensions. Rumors of mutiny abounded.
On 10 March, an anonymous letter appeared, calling for a meeting of all officers the next day to discuss the grievances. Within hours came a second anonymous letter, in which the writer, later revealed as Major John Armstrong Jr., an aide to General Horatio Gates, urged the troops, while still in arms, to either disengage from British troops, move out West and “mock” the Congress, or march on Philadelphia and seize the government.
When Washington learned of the letters, he quickly called for the meeting to be held instead on 15 March— to give time, he said, for “mature deliberation” of the issues. He ordered General Gates to preside, and asked for a report, giving the impression that a friend of the instigators would run the show and that Washington himself wouldn’t even attend. He spent the next few days planning his strategy and lining up allies.
But, just as the meeting of approximately 500 officers came to order, Washington strode into the hall and asked permission to speak. He said he understood their grievances and would continue to press them. He said that many congressmen supported their claims, but that Congress moved slowly. And he warned that to follow the letter writer would only serve the British cause. The officers had heard all this before; the letter writer had even warned against heeding Washington’s counsel of “more moderation and longer forbearance”. The crowd rustled and murmured with discontent. Washington then opened a letter from a sympathetic congressman, but soon appeared to grow distracted. As his men wondered what was wrong, Washington pulled out a pair of glasses, which even his officers had never seen before. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray, but blind, in the service of my country.”
The officers were stunned. Many openly wept. Their mutinous mood gave way immediately to affection for their commander. After finishing the letter, Washington appealed to the officers’ “patient virtue” and praised the “glorious example you have exhibited to mankind”. He then strode from the hall. His appearance probably lasted less than fifteen minutes.
An officer quickly made a motion to thank the commander for his words and appoint a committee— all trusted Washington aides— to prepare a resolution carrying out the general’s wishes. The motion passed, and the committee soon returned with a resolution damning the anonymous letter and pledging faith in Congress. The resolution was adopted by roaring acclamation and the meeting adjourned.
This wasn’t the end of the Army’s intransigence: several weeks later, Pennsylvania militiamen marched on Philadelphia and forced Congress to flee to Princeton, New Jersey. But, with the story from Newburgh fresh in their minds, the mutineers quickly developed second thoughts and went home. True to his word, Washington pursued the Army’s grievances, though with mixed results: Congress voted a lump-sum pension payment and disbanded the force.
Given Washington’s near universal popularity, word of his speech spread rapidly, and civilian control of the military soon became a central priority in the formation of the young Republic. Six years later the new country adopted a Constitution that implicitly recognized civilian control.
But powerful armies often make their own rules, and many nations have succumbed to military control despite strong constitutions. In the United States, it was the story of Newburgh and Washington’s iconic status in our early years that so firmly established a tradition of civilian control in the minds of both our military and civilians. That tradition continues, a testament to our first, finest, and most political general.

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