31 March 2010

Some things you just shouldn't forget

Rico says he is glad that he got that straightened out: 2012 will not only be his 60th year, but it's the Year of the Dragon (again; happens in twelve-year cycles).
Turns out there are (how Chinese) subtleties about the dragon:
Zodiac Location 5th
Ruling hours 7am-9am
Direction East-southeast
Motto I Reign
Season and month Spring, April
Fixed element Wood
Stem Positive
Lunar Month Dates April 5-May 4
Birthstone Amethyst
Colors Yellow, Gold
Roughly equivalent Western sign Aries
Polarity Yang
Food Wheat, poultry
Rico says it's not a total coincidence that not only is he a Dragon, but Aries... (And if I Reign isn't his motto, it should be.)

Good ol' Ted

Courtesy of my friend Dave, this about Ted Nugent:
Ted Nugent, rock star and avid bow hunter from Michigan, was being interviewed by a liberal journalist, an animal rights activist. The discussion came around to deer hunting. The journalist asked: "What do you think is the last thought in the head of a deer before you shoot him? Is it, 'Are you my friend?' or is it 'Are you the one who killed my brother?'"
Nugent replied: "Deer aren't capable of that kind of thinking. All they care about is, what am I going to eat next, who am I going to screw next, and can I run fast enough to get away? They are very much like the Democrats in Congress."
The interview ended.

Who falls for this shit?

Rico says he gets spam emails all the time, but some are just classic:
Very Urgently,
We Conclude Our Meeting Today That $2.5m should be pay to you as your contract entitlement. The Payment Will Come To You Via ATM CARD.
Comfirm this informations:
(1) Your Full Name#
(2) Home Address#
(3) Direct Phone No#
(4)Occupation And Age#
(5)Copy of your passport# or driver’s license#

Dr. Okele Okele
Can't you just see Dr. Okele rubbing his hands, waiting for all your nice data? Of course, if you send it to him (at unofffice453@virgilio.it) and he does send you an ATM card with two and a half million bucks on it, Rico will be surprised...

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

Rico says he's not sure who this Tiger is who keeps leaving comments on his blog (thirteen so far today) but Rico wishes the guy would, like the old WW2 movies had it, "spreak Engrich!"
Since they look like this:
anyone who can read what appears to be Japanese is free to go read them, translate them (if they're worth translating), and repost the English versions.
If not, fuck it.

30 March 2010

Scientists or weathermen: who's smarter?

Rico says his father is an oceanographic scientist, and he's not siding with the weathermen. Leslie Kaufman has the story in The New York Times:
The debate over global warming has created predictable adversaries, pitting environmentalists against industry and coal-state Democrats against coastal liberals. But it has also created tensions between two groups that might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists, especially those who serve as television weather forecasters.
Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns.
Joe Bastardi, for example, a senior forecaster and meteorologist with AccuWeather, maintains that it is more likely that the planet is cooling, and he distrusts the data put forward by climate scientists as evidence for rising global temperatures. “There is a great deal of consternation among a lot of us over the readjustment of data that is going on and some of the portrayals that we are seeing,” Mr. Bastardi said in a video segment posted recently on AccuWeather’s Web site.
Such skepticism appears to be widespread among television forecasters, about half of whom have a degree in meteorology. A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.” More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found.
The split between climate scientists and meteorologists is gaining attention in political and academic circles because polls show that public skepticism about global warming is increasing, and weather forecasters— especially those on television— dominate communications channels to the public. A study released this year by researchers at Yale and George Mason found that 56 percent of Americans trusted weathercasters to tell them about global warming far more than they trusted other news media or public figures like former Vice President Al Gore or Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate.
The George Mason-Texas survey found that about half of the weathercasters said they had discussed global warming on their broadcasts during chats with anchors, and nearly 90 percent said they had talked about climate change at live appearances at Kiwanis Club-type events.
Several well-known forecasters— including John Coleman in San Diego and Anthony Watts, a retired Chico, California, weatherman who now has a popular blog— have been vociferous in their critiques of global warming.
The dissent has been heightened by recent challenges to climate science, including the discovery of errors in the 2007 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the unauthorized release of email messages from a British climate research center last fall that skeptics say show that climate scientists had tried to suppress data.
“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next fifty years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups. Mr. Henson added, “And the level of tension has really spiked in recent months.”
The reasons behind the divergence in views are complex. The American Meteorological Society, which confers its coveted seal of approval on qualified weather forecasters, has affirmed the conclusion of the United Nations’ climate panel that warming is occurring and that human activities are very likely the cause. In a statement sent to Congress in 2009, the meteorological society warned that the buildup of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to “major negative consequences”.
Yet, climate scientists use very different scientific methods from the meteorologists. Heidi Cullen, a climatologist who straddled the two worlds when she worked at the Weather Channel, noted that meteorologists used models that were intensely sensitive to small changes in the atmosphere but had little accuracy more than seven days out. Dr. Cullen said meteorologists are often dubious about the work of climate scientists, who use complex models to estimate the effects of climate trends decades in the future.
But the cynicism, said Dr. Cullen, who now works for Climate Central, a nonprofit group that works to bring the science of climate change to the public, is in her opinion unwarranted. “They are not trying to predict the weather for 2050, just generally say that it will be hotter,” Dr. Cullen said of climatologists. “And just like I can predict August will be warmer than January, I can predict that.”
Three years ago, Dr. Cullen found herself in a dispute with meteorologists after she posted a note on the Weather Channel’s website suggesting that meteorologists should perhaps not receive certification from the meteorological society if they “can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change”.
Resentment may also play a role in the divide. Climatologists are almost always affiliated with universities or research institutions where a doctoral degree is required. Most meteorologists, however, can get jobs as weather forecasters with a college degree. “There is a little bit of elitist-versus-populist tensions,” Mr. Henson said. “There are meteorologists who feel, ‘Just because I have a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on.’”
Whatever the reasons, meteorologists are far more likely to question the underlying science of climate change. A study published in the January 2009 newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, the professional association of earth scientists, found that while nearly 90 percent of some 3,000 climatologists who responded agreed that there was evidence of human-driven climate change, 80 percent of all earth scientists and 64 percent of meteorologists agreed with the statement. Only economic geologists who specialized in industrial uses of materials like oil and coal were more skeptical.
Seeing danger in the divide between climate scientists and meteorologists, a variety of groups concerned with educating the public on climate change— including the National Environmental Education Foundation, a federally financed nonprofit, and Yale— are working to close the gap with research and educational forums. In 2008, Yale began holding seminars with weathercasters who are unsure about the climate issue and scientists who are leading experts in the field. The Columbia Journalism Review explored the reasons for the split in an article this year.
Conversely, the Heartland Institute, a free-market research organization skeptical about the causes and severity of climate change, is also making efforts to reach out. At its annual conference to be held in May in Chicago, the institute tried without success to put on a special session for the weather predictors.
“What we’ve recognized is that the everyday person doesn’t come across climatologists, but they do come across meteorologists,” said Melanie Fitzpatrick, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Meteorologists do need to understand more about climate because the public confuses this so much. That is why you see efforts in this turning up.”

Cheap amateurs beat expensive pros every time

Rico says he's been friends with several professional photographers over the years, and he feels their pain. Stephanie Clifford has the story in The New York Times:
By the time Matt Eich entered photojournalism school in 2004, the magazine and newspaper business was already declining. But Mr. Eich had been shooting photographs since he was a child, and when he married and had a baby during college, he stuck with photography as a career. “I had to hit the ground running and try to make enough money to keep a roof over our heads,” he said. Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”
Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos, taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera, to Flickr. Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.
Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.
“There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” said Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of the magazine Photo District News.
That has left professional photographers with a bit of an identity crisis. Nine years ago, when Livia Corona was fresh out of art school, she got assignments from magazines like Travel and Leisure and Time. Then, she said, “three forces coincided.” They were the advertising downturn, the popularity and accessibility of digital photography, and changes in the stock-photo market.
Magazines’ editorial pages tend to rise or fall depending on how many ad pages they have. In 2000, the magazines measured by Publishers Information Bureau, a trade group, had 286,932 ad pages. In 2009, there were 169,218, a decline of 41 percent. That means less physical space in which to print photographs.
“Pages are at a premium, and there’s more competition to get anything into a magazine now, and the bar is just higher for excellent work,” said Bill Shapiro, the editor of Life.com, who ran the print revival of Life before Time Inc. shut it in 2007. And that is for the publications that survived; 428 magazines closed in 2009 alone, according to the publication database MediaFinder.com, including ones that regularly assigned original photography, like Gourmet, Portfolio, and National Geographic Adventure.
And, while magazines once sniffed at stock photographs, which are existing images, not original assignments, shrinking editorial budgets made them reconsider.
“When we began, stock photography or licensed images, preshot images being licensed, was perceived as the armpit of the photo industry,” said Jonathan Klein, the chief executive of Getty Images who helped found the agency in 1995. “No self-respecting art director or creative director would use a preshot image, because it wasn’t original, it hadn’t been commissioned by them, it wasn’t their creativity.”
At the same time, the internet has made it easier for editors to find and license stock photos; they can do it in seconds with a search term and a few clicks, rather than spending seven weeks mailing film transparencies back and forth.
Concurrently, digital photography took off. “It used to be you really needed to know how to use a camera,” said Keith Marlowe, a photographer who has worked for Spin and Rolling Stone. “If you messed up a roll, you couldn’t redo the concert.” Now, though, any photographer can instantly see if a shot is good, or whether the light balances or other technical aspects need to be adjusted.
That meant a flood of pretty decent photographs, and that changed the stock-photography industry. In the last few years, stock agencies have created or acquired so-called microstock divisions. They charge $1 to $100, in most cases, for publishers or others to rerun a photo, often supplied by an amateur. And Getty made a deal with Flickr in 2008, permitting Getty’s photo editors to comb through customers’ images and strike license agreements with the amateur photographers.
“The quality of licensed imagery is virtually indistinguishable now from the quality of images they might commission,” Mr. Klein said. Yet “the price point that the client, or customer, is charged is a fraction of the price point which they would pay for a professional image.”
In 2005, Getty Images licensed 1.4 million preshot commercial photos. Last year, it licensed 22 million, and “all of the growth was through our user-generated business,” Mr. Klein said.
That is because amateurs are largely happy to be paid anything for their photos. “People that don’t have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don’t feel the need to charge a reasonable rate,” Mr. Eich said.
With stock-photography payments declining and magazines pulling back on original assignments, some Web sites like Life.com and BurnMagazine.org have popped up as homes for original photography. Life commissions about two projects a month; it sent Mr. Marlowe to Haiti after the earthquake, for instance, and the entertainment photographer Jeff Vespa to cover the European news media tour by the Avatar cast.
There seems to be an audience for professional photography on these sites. The average number of photos each visitor viewed for Michael Jackson: The Memorial at Life.com was 41, for example, and for Oscars 2010: The Best Dresses, it was 38 images.
Still, the pay, compared with print, is “less, for sure,” Mr. Shapiro of Life.com said, since some professional photographers “are really more excited for the exposure than they are to drive a hard bargain.”
But it is hard to live on exposure alone. And some professionals worry that with ways to make a salary in photography disappearing, the impact will be severe. “The important thing that a photojournalist does is they know how to tell the story; they know they’re not there to skew, interpret, or bias,” said Katrin Eismann, chairwoman of the Masters in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “A photographer can go to a rally or demonstration, and they can make it look as though 10 people showed up, or 1,000 people showed up, and that’s a big difference. I’m not sure I’m going to trust an amateur to understand how important that visual communication is. Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?”
But amateurs like Ms. Pruitt do not particularly care. “I never followed any traditional photography rules only because I didn’t know of any; I never went to photography school, never took any classes,” she said. “People don’t know the rules, so they just shoot what they like, and other people like it, too.”

Because they can, dammit

Jeff Zeleny and Bernie Becker have an article in The New York Times about the GOP:
The Republican National Committee on Monday opened an investigation into why party money, which donors contributed to help win seats in the midterm elections, was used to pay a $2,000 tab at a risqué Hollywood club in late January.
The outing at Voyeur in West Hollywood, which features topless dancers and acts involving bondage, appeared on the Republicans’ monthly disclosure report to the Federal Election Commission, along with tens of thousands of dollars for private airplanes, limousines, and luxury hotels.
“It was obviously improper, for more than one reason,” said Doug Heye, a party spokesman, who confirmed that officials had opened an inquiry into the club expenditure. “It was not a sanctioned RNC activity. It was improper because of the venue.” A Republican National Committee staff member, who was not identified, was dismissed for his role in the incident, Mr. Heye said. He added that “accounting and reimbursement processes are being revised” to prevent similar episodes from occurring.
As Republicans try to win control of the House and Senate in this midterm election year, several party officials and contributors have privately raised concerns about the financial disparities with Democrats. The Republican Congressional re-election committees have fallen behind their Democratic rivals, a fund-raising gap that party leaders had hoped would be narrowed by the Republican National Committee.
Erik Brown of Orange, California, a Republican consultant and donor, submitted a reimbursement request for $1,946.25 from his club visit on 31 January. He listed the amount as a meal expense at the club, whose interior was inspired by an orgy scene in the movie Eyes Wide Shut:

When the expenditure came to light after it was reported by The Daily Caller, a conservative online publication, party officials said Mr. Brown would repay the money.
Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, has battled criticism for his spending habits. He has drawn consternation from party officials for delivering paid speeches across the country, and they expressed shock in January when Mr. Steele published a book, Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.
Mr. Heye said Mr. Steele was aboard a flight from the party’s winter meeting at the time of the nightclub outing and was not involved. An interview request with Mr. Steele on Monday was declined.
“We recognize the difficulty this incident has caused and assure our members and supporters that any necessary and proper remediation is being implemented immediately,” Mr. Heye said. “It is unfortunate that a loyal GOP donor who has recruited other donors became involved in this incident while merely trying to help what turned out to be the improper request of a staffer who is no longer with the committee.” Mr. Brown did not respond to interview requests.
The February filings to the Federal Election Commission show that the Republican committee spent $17,500 on travel by private jet, in addition to about $15,000 on limousines. The report also listed several hotel charges ranging in the thousands of dollars, including the W Hotel in Washington ($15,000), the Beverly Hills Hotel ($9,000), and the Four Seasons in Philadelphia ($7,000).
Mr. Heye said the expenses were simply the cost of doing business and raising money. He said that Mr. Steele’s travel was “overwhelmingly on commercial airlines; that is the standard mode.” But he added, “There are times when there is a route that doesn’t exist.”
When Mr. Steele took over the committee last year, it had $22 million in cash on hand. This month, records show, that amount is $9.46 million. In a radio interview earlier this year, Mr. Steele brushed aside criticism of the party’s spending, as well as assertions that some contributors had stopped donating or lowered their contributions. Mr. Steele told KTRS radio in St. Louis: “I am in this chair. If they want it, take it from me. Until then, shut up, step back, and get in the game and help us win.”
A New York Times review of the Democratic National Committee spending in the month of February found that the party spent about $11,000 on car services and limousines, with the largest expense being $9,800 for a private car service in Dallas. Other expenditures included a $32,000 bill at the Capital Skyline Hotel in Washington, for what party officials said was a weeklong staff retreat, and $256,000 on catering and equipment rental at the Washington Hilton for the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee.
The Democratic National Committee seized on the Republican financial report on Monday. A spokesman for the party, Brad Woodhouse, said: “If limos, chartered aircraft, and sex clubs are where they think their donors’ money should be spent, who are we to judge?”
Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and a longtime national party official, said he was confident with the “internal controls” on committee finances. “The budget committee reviews spending on a regular basis,” Mr. Anuzis said. “Everything is fine.”
Rico says what's the point of being the Grand Old Party if you can't have a grand party once in awhile?

Now there are a bunch of sweethearts

Rico says there are reasons he doesn't live in certain areas of the country, and these faces are why. The article by Nick Bunkley and Charlie Savage in The New York Times gives a more exact reason:
David B. Stone Sr. and his wife, Tina, made no secret about the fact that they were part of a militia, neighbors say. The couple frequently let visitors in military fatigues erect tents in front of their trailer home at the intersection of rural dirt roads, and the sound of gunfire was routine. “In Michigan, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to be in a militia,” said Tom McDormett, a neighbor. He added: “They would practice shooting, but that’s not a big deal. People do that all the time out here.”
But last Saturday night, Mr. McDormett watched through binoculars as the police raided the Stones’ home, tearing off plywood from the base of their two connected single-wide trailers to search under the floors. By Monday, the Stones were in green prison garb in a federal courthouse in Detroit, two of nine defendants facing sedition and weapons charges in connection with what Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called an “insidious plan.”
In an indictment against the nine unsealed on Monday, the Justice Department said they were part of a group of apocalyptic Christian militants who were plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising, the latest in a recent surge in right-wing militia activity.
The court filing said the group, which called itself the Hutaree, planned to kill an unidentified law enforcement officer and then bomb the funeral caravan using improvised explosive devices based on designs used against American troops by insurgents in Iraq.
“This is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society,” Andrew Arena, the FBI special agent in charge in Detroit, said in a statement. “The FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States.”
The Hutaree— a word Mr. Stone apparently made up to mean Christian warriors— saw the local police as “foot soldiers” for the federal government, which the group viewed as its enemy, along with other participants in what the group’s members deemed to be a “New World Order” working on behalf of the Antichrist, the indictment said.
Eight defendants were arrested over the weekend in raids in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, the Justice Department said. The authorities arrested the Stones’ eldest son, Joshua M. Stone, 21, shortly before 9 p.m. Monday in Pittsford, Michigan, about twenty miles west of his family’s home, an FBI spokeswoman, Sandra Berchtold, said. A grand jury had secretly returned the indictments against the nine last Tuesday.
A law enforcement official said the plot appeared to be unconnected to recent threats against Democratic lawmakers who voted for legislation overhauling the nation’s health care system. According to the indictment, the group— apparently centered in Lenawee County, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit— has been meeting regularly since at least August of 2008.
The Hutaree website suggested that it was motivated by apocalyptic religious scenarios more than any secular political fears. A rare mention of earthly politics on the site is a page devoted to discussion of efforts to unite Europe, with a suggestion that one high-ranking European official, Javier Solana, might be the Antichrist.
Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a liberal-leaning nonprofit group that tracks far-right networks, said the Hutaree’s philosophy was drawn from a populist strand that fuses fear of a conspiracy to create a one-world government with a belief that a war is imminent between Christians and the Antichrist, as described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
In April of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security produced a report warning of a rising threat of right-wing terrorism, citing factors like economic troubles, the election of a black president, and perceived threats to United States sovereignty.
Mark Potok, who leads a program that tracks right-wing groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it first took note of the Hutaree last year amid a surge in new “Patriot” movement groups, race-based hate groups, extremist anti-immigrant groups, Christian militants and other variations. “We’e’re seeing all kinds of radical right-wing groups grow very rapidly, especially in the militia world,” Mr. Potok said.
The indictment said the Hutaree, in anticipation of a war against its enemies, had been engaging in “military-style training”, from weapons proficiency drills to “close quarter battle drills” and the use of “ambush kill zones”. The small group had acquired guns, ammunition, medical supplies, uniforms, communications equipment, and “explosives and other components for destructive devices”, it said. After attacking the police, the members planned to retreat to several planned “rally points” and wait for the authorities to come after them. They were preparing fighting positions as well as “trip-wired and command-detonated” bombs, it said.
“It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more widespread uprising against the government,” the indictment said. In addition, Mr. Stone had announced “a covert reconnaissance exercise” in April, during which “anyone who happened upon the exercise who did not acquiesce to Hutaree demands could be killed,” the indictment said.
The United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Barbara McQuade, said the government raided the group this past weekend because that exercise would have “had the potential of placing an unsuspecting member of the public at risk.”
The Hutaree website features the motto “Preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive” and a video showing rifle-toting men in camouflage running through woods and firing weapons.
“Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment,” the website says, adding, “The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield if so God wills it.”
By Monday, the Stones’ house stood empty, its front door ajar and two dogs still tied up in the muddy yard, which was littered with dilapidated furniture, a washing machine, and tires. The Stones’ two sons were among those arrested. Joshua, the eldest, left the local school system after the fifth grade in 1999 to be home-schooled, and the younger son, David B. Stone Jr., 19, had never been enrolled, an official said. Also charged were Joshua J. Clough, 28, of Blissfield, Mich.; Michael D. Meeks, 40, of Manchester, Mich.; Thomas W. Piatek, 46, of Whiting, Ind.; Kristopher T. Sickles, 27, of Sandusky, Ohio; and Jacob Ward, 33, of Huron, Ohio. They could face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Rico says "I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to be in a militia" pretty much sums up the difference between them and most people he knows... (Also, if your neighbor's front lawn is covered in "dilapidated furniture, a washing machine, and tires", you got a problem.)
Rico says that he has a picture, just like the one on their website, of him and a bunch of his friends from Apple, but we were holding paint ball gubs, rather than real ones...

Stupid is as stupid does

Courtesy of my friend Bill, this:

Civil War for the day

Fort Clinch, near Jacksonville.

29 March 2010

Joker?

With apologies to the late Heath Ledger, this view of the President espoused by people like Glenn Beck and other slightly-right-of-center pundits...

Not even Rico

Courtesy of my perverse friend David, this shirt that even Rico doesn't have the courage to wear (and he'd call it a DickShirt, but he has too many relatives and friends named Dick who wouldn't appreciate that):

Smaller is better

Rico says he's not only old enough to remember that honking IBM system, he used one like it in college. He likes the new version better.

Scary, what people will do

Another, courtesy of A Welsh View:

An idiot savant, emphasis on the idiot

Also from A Welsh View, this:

Amazing stuff

From the blog A Welsh View, this:

Separated at birth?

Rico asks is it just him, or does the Pope evoke Christopher Lee? (Hey, Rico is not saying the Pope is a closet vampire but, then again, he's not saying the Pope isn't one, either...)

No shit

While, to protect the innocent, he can't reveal the players, Rico says that someone close to him has been affected (best we can tell) by the side effects of a popular drug:
Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix to help them quit smoking. Some people had these symptoms when they began taking Chantix, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment or after stopping Chantix. If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, stop taking Chantix and call your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems before taking Chantix, as these symptoms may worsen while taking Chantix.
Nasty...

Hitting closer to home for the Russians, again

Clifford Levy has the story in The New York Times:
Female suicide bombers set off huge explosions in two subway stations in central Moscow during the Monday morning rush hour, Russian officials said, killing more than three dozen people and raising fears that the Muslim insurgency in southern Russia was once again being brought to the country’s heart. The first attack occurred as commuters were exiting a packed train at a station near the headquarters of the FSB, the successor to the Soviet KGB. Officials said they suspected that the attack there was intended as a message to the security services, which helped lead the crackdown on Islamic extremism in Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus region in southern Russia.
The two explosions spread panic throughout the capital as people searched for missing relatives and friends, and the authorities tried to determine whether more attacks were planned. The subway system is one of the world’s most extensive and well-managed, and it serves as a vital artery for Moscow’s commuters, carrying as many as ten million people a day. “The terrorist acts were carried out by two female terrorist bombers,” said Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov. “They happened at a time when there would be the maximum number of victims.”
Mr. Luzhkov said 23 people were killed in the first explosion, at the Lubyanka station, and twelve people were killed forty minutes later at the Park Kultury station. At least two others died later. More than one hundred people were injured. There were no one immediate claims of responsibility.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, the country’s paramount leader, cut short a trip to Siberia, returning to Moscow to oversee the federal response. Mr. Putin built his reputation in part on his success at suppressing terrorism, so the attacks could be considered a challenge to his stature. Mr. Putin vowed that “the terrorists will be destroyed”.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev, Mr. Putin’s protégé, was in Moscow and was briefed on the blasts by top law enforcement and security advisers. Photographs showed bodies strewn across subway cars and station platforms.
Pavel Y. Novikov, 25, an electrician, said he was evacuated from the Park Kultury station about fifteen minutes after the explosion. “It smelled like burned rubber,” he said. “I saw blood, and I saw bloody clothes on the ground. It was so horrible.”
Kirill Gribov, 20, a university student, said he was on a train that arrived at the Park Kultury station just as the suicide bomber detonated her explosive belt on the train across the platform. “The explosion was so loud that we all were deafened,” Mr. Gribov said. “Then I remember a cloud of gas coming from the wrecked train in front of us, colored in pink, maybe because of blood. Some people were in panic, some stood still, but all of us somehow found our way outside the station. It was only at the street when I realized what had just happened. Cellphone service was blocked, I couldn’t even call my parents, and I had to walk several kilometers because of the traffic.”
In the early part of the last decade, the subway system suffered several attacks related to the separatist war in Chechnya. With the explosions on Monday, Muscovites expressed renewed concerns that they might again become targets. The earlier raft of attacks had repercussions far beyond the security situation in the Caucasus and rest of the country. In 2004, Mr. Putin, the president at the time, responded by greatly tightening control over the government, saying that the country had to be united against terrorism. He pushed through laws that eliminated the election of regional governors, turning them into appointees of the president, and that made it harder for independents to be elected to Parliament.
Officials said the first explosion on Monday occurred at 7:50 a.m. in the second car of a train at the Lubyanka station, killing people on the platform and inside the train. The authorities closed off the station and the surrounding Lubyanka Square, formerly the site of the notorious Lubyanka prison, which was connected to the headquarters of the KGB.
About forty minutes later, the second attack took place, in the third car of a train at the Park Kultury station, officials said. Yuri Syomin, the Moscow city prosecutor, said investigators believe that both explosions were set off by female suicide bombers wearing belts packed with explosives.
Crowds of people rushed to both stations in an effort to locate relatives, and cell phone networks became jammed. Streets in central Moscow were blocked with traffic as people avoided the subway system. At Lubyanka, a dark-haired woman stood helplessly at a subway station exit and dialed her sister over and over. She said she had been dialing for two hours. Her sister, like her, a recent immigrant from neighboring Kazakhstan, had left for her work at a laundry that morning and not been heard from since. A middle-aged man, still searching for his wife, barked into a cell phone that the injured had been taken to the emergency room at Sklifosovsky Hospital.
Lyudmila Samokatova was stationed at her newspaper stand a few feet from the subway station around 8 a.m., the height of rush hour, when shaken passengers suddenly began to stream out of the station. One man, she said, was weeping and crossing himself, repeating, “Thank God, I’m alive.” She said they were more shocked than panicked, walking rather than running. “I wanted to cry when I found out what happened,” Ms. Samokatova said. “Women with children were on that subway.”
The attacks marked the second major upsurge in terrorism on the Russian transportation system in the last year. In November of 2009, a bomb in a rural area derailed a luxury train traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing 26 people. The authorities have linked the attack to Muslim insurgents in the Ingushetia region, which is near Chechnya.
In February, a Chechen rebel leader, Doku Umarov, threatened in an interview on a website to organize terror acts in Russian population centers. “If Russians think that the war is happening only on television, far from the Caucasus, and it will not touch them, then we are going to show them that this war will return to their homes,” he said.
The Russian government has sought to suppress violent Muslim extremism in the south since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Two brutal wars in Chechnya and a guerrilla insurgency gave rise to numerous bombings and acts of terror in southern Russia throughout the 1990s. Starting in 2002, Chechen separatists then began to export their bombing campaign to Moscow.
That October, a group of Chechen terrorists stormed into a Moscow theater during a performance and took some 850 actors, musicians, and theatergoers hostage. After 57 hours of negotiations, Russian special forces launched an assault, killing all the militants and 117 of the hostages.
About twenty of the militants involved the theater siege were women, and several wore explosive vests. The following year, Chechen tacticians began using female suicide bombers in Moscow.
The first of those attacks came in July of 2003, when the Russian authorities said a Chechen woman exploded a suicide belt at a rock concert, killing more than a dozen people. In what was to have been a coordinated attack, the police said, another woman’s explosives failed to detonate nearby.
In December of 2003, a woman blew herself up in central Moscow, killing six people and injuring dozens. She was identified as the widow of a Chechen guerrilla commander, and the female bombers soon came to be known in Russia as the “black widows”.
In August of 2004, a suicide bomber killed at least nine other people and wounded more than fifty outside the Rizhskaya subway stop. In February of that same year, a woman carrying a bomb destroyed another subway car, killing at least 41 people as the train moved between the Paveletskaya and the Avtozavodskaya stations at one of the busiest times of the day.

Bad boys, bad boys, what'cha gonna do?


David Barboza has the story in The New York Times:
Four employees of the British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, including an Australian citizen, were convicted by a Chinese court Monday of accepting millions of dollars in bribes and stealing commercial secrets. They were sentenced to seven to fourteen years in prison, and the company said the four would be fired immediately. Rio Tinto, which until Monday had defended its employees, said the court’s evidence showing that they had accepted about $13.5 million in bribes in recent years was “beyond doubt”.
Stern Hu, the Australian citizen who served as general manager of Rio Tinto’s Shanghai office, was sentenced to seven years in prison for bribery and five years for stealing commercial secrets. Although the court reduced his total time to be served to ten years, it is still one of the stiffest sentences ever handed down against a high-ranking executive of a multinational company here. He was also fined 1 million yuan, or $146,500.
Although Rio Tinto was not charged in the case, the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court said the company had profited from stolen information that harmed Chinese economic interests, costing steel mills in China an extra $150 million last year.
Between 2003 and 2009, the court said, the four defendants had used “improper means” to gain information that allowed Rio Tinto to “jack up the price that China paid for its iron ore imports”. The court said that it would soon charge at least two Chinese steel industry officials with passing secrets to Rio Tinto.
The verdict is almost certain to increase diplomatic tensions between Australia and China and cast a pall over Rio Tinto’s operations here. Rio Tinto is one of China’s biggest suppliers of iron ore, and every year China imports tens of billions of dollars worth of the material to make steel for its fast-growing economy.
After the verdict, Australia’s foreign minister, Stephen Smith, called Mr. Hu’s seven-year sentence on bribery charges “very harsh”, according to The Associated Press. Rio Tinto released a separate statement that said it could not comment on the trade secrets charges because that part of the trial had been closed to the public. But Sam Walsh, chief executive of the company’s iron ore division, called the employees’ bribe-taking “deplorable behavior” clearly at odds with the company’s ethical guidelines.
And Tom Albanese, Rio Tinto’s chief executive, said he was “determined that the unacceptable conduct of these four employees will not prevent Rio Tinto from continuing to build its important relationship with China”.
At a three-day trial that took place in Shanghai early last week, the four employees all pleaded guilty to accepting some bribes, though several of the men denied having stolen commercial secrets, according to lawyers in the case. Proceedings of the trial were largely closed to the public and the international media. Lawyers for the four defendants said several of them were trying to decide whether to appeal the verdicts.
In addition to Mr. Hu, three Chinese employees of Rio Tinto were charged: Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui. Mr. Wang was sentenced to fourteen years in prison, Mr. Ge to eight years and Mr. Liu to seven years. They were also fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Rio Tinto case drew international attention because of concerns that the four employees had been arrested on trumped-up charges and worries about whether they could get a fair trial. The four were initially arrested last July on suspicion of espionage and stealing state secrets from Chinese state-owned steel companies.
But, after protests from Australian officials and foreign executives about the nature of the accusations, the men were formally accused of bribery and stealing commercial secrets, which are lesser charges.
Some Australian officials and foreign executives said the arrests looked like retaliation against Rio Tinto because of its tough negotiations over iron ore prices with Chinese state-run steel mills. Shortly before the arrests, the company had also scrapped plans to accept a $19.5 billion investment from one of China’s biggest mining companies.
China’s steel industry association had accused Rio Tinto and other foreign iron ore suppliers of driving up the price of ore and negotiating unfairly. Chinese officials, though, have insisted this was a legal case and should not be “politicized”.
While some legal experts have complained about the legal process and transparency in the case, others say the sentences were fair, considering how huge the bribes were and how much the trade secrets may have cost China. “The Rio Tinto case is sending a signal to the world that China’s model of managing its financial activities has changed,” said Liu Junhai, a law professor at Renmin University in Beijing. “In the past, we overemphasized the country’s development, but didn’t pay enough attention to regulation.”

Rico understands perfectly

Sarah Klein has the story at CNN.com:
Scientists have finally confirmed what the rest of us have suspected for years: bacon, cheesecake, and other delicious yet fattening foods may be addictive. A new study in rats suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.
Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Eventually the pleasure centers "crash," and achieving the same pleasure, or even just feeling normal, requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.
"People know intuitively that there's more to overeating than just willpower," he says. "There's a system in the brain that's been turned on or over-activated, and that's driving overeating at some subconscious level."
In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods, but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.
Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.
They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats' feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. "Their attention was solely focused on consuming food," says Kenny. In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.
The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn't entirely surprising, says Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York. "We make our food very similar to cocaine now," he says. Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive. According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. "We purify our food," he says. "Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we're eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup." The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to "eat unconsciously and unnecessarily," and will also prompt an animal to "eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs]," says Wang.
The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain's pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. "It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened," says Kenny. Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says.
However, that doesn't mean that everyone born with lower dopamine receptor levels is destined to become an addict or to overeat. As Wang points out, environmental factors, and not just genes, are involved in both behaviors. Wang also cautions that applying the results of animal studies to humans can be tricky. For instance, he says, in studies of weight-loss drugs, rats have lost as much as 30 percent of their weight, but humans on the same drug have lost less than 5 percent of their weight. "You can't mimic completely human behavior, but animal studies can give you a clue about what can happen in humans," Wang says. Although he acknowledges that his research may not directly translate to humans, Kenny says the findings shed light on the brain mechanisms that drive overeating and could even lead to new treatments for obesity. "If we could develop therapeutics for drug addiction, those same drugs may be good for obesity as well," he says.

Mazel tov

Jodi Kantor has the story in The New York Times:
One evening in April of 2008, three low-level staff members from the Obama presidential campaign— a baggage handler, a videographer, and an advance man— gathered in the windowless basement of a Pennsylvania hotel for an improvised Passover Seder. The day had been long, the hour was late, and the young men had not been home in months. So they had cadged some matzo and Manischewitz wine, hoping to create some semblance of the holiday. Suddenly they heard a familiar voice. “Hey, is this the Seder?” Barack Obama asked, entering the room.
So begins the story of the Obama Seder, now one of the newest, most intimate, and least likely of White House traditions. When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about twenty others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize. In the Old Family Dining Room, under sparkling chandeliers and portraits of former first ladies, the mostly Jewish and African-American guests will recite prayers and retell the biblical story of slavery and liberation, ending with the traditional declaration: Next year in Jerusalem. (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)
Top aides like David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett will attend, but so will assistants like 24-year-old Herbie Ziskend. White House chefs will prepare Jewish participants’ family recipes, even rendering chicken fat (better known as schmaltz) for just the right matzo ball flavor.
If last year is any guide, Malia and Sasha Obama will take on the duties of Jewish children, asking four questions about the night’s purpose, along with a few of their own, and scrambling to find matzo hidden in the gleaming antique furniture.
That event was the first presidential Seder, and also probably “the first time in history that gefilte fish had been placed on White House dishware,” said Eric Lesser, the former baggage handler, who organizes each year’s ritual.
As in many Jewish households, the Obama Seder seems to take on new meaning each year, depending on what is happening in the world and in participants’ lives (for this group, the former is often the same as the latter).
The first one took place at the bleakest point of the campaign, the long prelude to the Pennsylvania primary, which was dominated by a furor over Mr. Obama’s former pastor. “We were in the desert, so to speak,” remembered Arun Chaudhary, then and now Mr. Obama’s videographer, who grew up attending Seders with his half-Jewish, half-Indian family.
No one led the proceedings; everyone took turns reading aloud. Mr. Obama had brought Reggie Love, his personal aide, Ms. Jarrett, and Eric Whitaker, another close friend, all African-American. Jennifer Psaki, the traveling press secretary, and Samantha Tubman, a press assistant, filtered in. Neither had ever been to a Seder, but they knew the Exodus story, Ms. Psaki from Catholic school and Ms. Tubman from childhood Sundays at black churches. They peppered the outnumbered Jews at the table with questions, which the young men sometimes struggled to answer. “We’re not exactly crack Hebrew scholars,” said Mr. Lesser, now an assistant to Mr. Axelrod.
Participants remember the evening as a rare moment of calm, an escape from the din of airplanes and rallies. As the tale of the Israelites unfolded, the campaign team half-jokingly identified with their plight; one day, they too would be free. At the close of the Seder, Mr. Obama added his own ending: “Next year in the White House!” Indeed, the group, with a few additions, has now made the Seder an Executive Mansion tradition. (No one considered inviting prominent rabbis or other Jewish leaders; it is a private event.) But maintaining the original humble feel has been easier said than done.
Ms. Tubman and Desirée Rogers, then the White House social secretary, tried to plan an informal meal last year, with little or even no waitstaff required. White House ushers reacted with what seemed like polite horror. The president and the first lady simply do not serve themselves, they explained. The two sides negotiated a compromise: the gefilte fish would be pre-plated, the brisket passed family-style.
Then came what is now remembered as the Macaroon Security Standoff. At 6:30, with the Seder about to start, Neil Cohen, the husband of Michelle Obama’s friend and adviser Susan Sher, was stuck at the gate bearing flourless cookies he had brought from Chicago. They were kosher for Passover, but not kosher with the Secret Service, which does not allow food into the building.
Offering to help, the president walked to the North Portico and peered out the door, startling tourists. He volunteered to go all the way to the gates, but advisers stopped him, fearing that would cause a ruckus. Everyone seemed momentarily befuddled. Could the commander in chief not summon a plate of cookies to his table? Finally, Mr. Love ran outside to clear them.
Mr. Obama began the Seder by invoking the universality of the holiday’s themes of struggle and liberation. Malia and Sasha quickly found the hidden matzo and tucked it away again, so cleverly that Mr. Ziskend, the former advance man, needed 45 minutes to locate it. At the Seder’s close, the group opened a door and sang to the prophet Elijah.
In preparation for this year’s gathering, Mr. Lesser and others have again been collecting recipes from the guests, including matzo ball instructions from Patricia Winter, the mother of Melissa Winter, Mrs. Obama’s deputy chief of staff.
“We like soft (not hard) matzo balls,” Mrs. Winter warned in a note to the White House chefs, instructing them to buy mix but doctor it. Use three eggs, not two, she told them; substitute schmaltz for vegetable oil, and refrigerate them for a day before serving (but not in the soup).
The Seder originated with Jewish staff members on the campaign trail who could not go home, but now some celebrate at the White House by choice. Participants say their ties are practically familial now anyway. “Some of the most challenging experiences of our life we’ve shared together,” Ms. Jarrett said.
No one yet knows exactly what themes will emerge this year. Maybe “taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves and health care reform,” suggested Ms. Sher, now Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff.
The evening might also reflect a group that has settled into the White House and a staff more familiar with the new custom. Last week, Ms. Sher was leaving the East Wing when a guard stopped her. “Hey, are you bringing macaroons again this year?” he asked.

Shameful

Tom Kington has the story in The Guardian:
Pope Benedict XVI is facing growing pressure over his handling of paedophile priests as new cover-ups come to light in Italy, the country with the greatest concentration of Roman Catholic clerics. After the latest allegations, that Benedict took no action in the US when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church is now "terrified" as more victims stand up to be counted in Italy, according to Roberto Mirabile, head of La Caramella Buona, an Italian anti-abuse group. "With the scandals erupting abroad, we will see a huge growth in victims' groups in Italy in coming weeks," said Mirabile yesterday. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict handled abuse cases at the Vatican for 24 years before he became pope in 2005.
"We are likely to discover that the Vatican worked even harder in Italy with bishops than elsewhere to hide cases, simply because the contact was closer and the church is so powerful in Italy," Mirabile added.
Sergio Cavaliere, an Italian lawyer who has documented 130 cases of clerical paedophilia, also believes that the Vatican's back yard could follow Ireland, the United States, and Germany in producing a wave of abuse revelations. "The cases I have found are just the tip of the iceberg, given the reluctance of many victims to come forward until now," said Cavaliere. "And in no single case did the local bishop alert police to the suspected abuse."
Another startling development is how recent most of the allegations are, unlike the decades-old cases in Munich and Milwaukee that Benedict was last week accused of failing to act on.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who investigates abuse accusations passed on to the Vatican, denied this month that abuse had reached "dramatic proportions" in Italy, but he was concerned about "a certain culture of silence" among Italy's 50,000 priests.
In February, the Vatican opened an investigation into allegations by 67 former pupils at a school for the deaf in Verona that 24 priests, brothers, and lay religious men abused pupils from the 1950s to the 1980s. Three of the accusers repeated their claims on Italian prime-time television on Friday.
In a case recalling the accusations against Father Lawrence Murphy in Milwaukee, who was claimed to have abused up to 200 deaf children, one Italian former pupil claimed that priests had sodomised him so relentlessly that he came to feel "as if I were dead". A second pupil has accused Verona's late bishop, Monsignor Giuseppe Carraro, who is being considered for beatification, of molesting him.
In Ireland, the leader of the Catholic church has been named in more than 200 civil actions by victims of alleged clerical abuse, putting him under further pressure to resign. The victims claim that Cardinal Seán Brady failed in his duties by neglecting to protect them from paedophile priests and other sex abusers. There is no suggestion that he took part in any abuse.
Legal sources in the Republic confirmed that 230 separate victims of alleged clerical abuse are taking the church to court. They said these include five victims of Father Brendan Smyth, one of Ireland's most notorious paedophiles. Smyth's arrest and conviction opened the floodgates for dozens of cases concerning priests abusing children in dioceses all over Ireland, alongside widespread and systemic abuse in church-run orphanages and industrial schools.
Brady has confirmed that he was present at a closed canonical tribunal into the activities of Smyth, who died in jail thirteen years ago while serving twelve years for 74 sexual assaults on children.
"Smyth's victims will argue that the church knew as far back as 1975 that he was abusing children. But the hierarchy's secret deal with two of his young victims that year left Smyth free to abuse others many years afterwards," one senior legal source told the Observer. "The cardinal now faces being named in hundreds of cases, some of which will go through the courts."
Asked if the church was aware that Brady had been named in so many civil actions through the Irish courts, a spokesman for the Catholic Press Office in Ireland said: "The bishop [Brady] who occupies the position of primate of all Ireland is often named as co-defendant in judicial proceedings by people who mistakenly presume him to be the 'CEO' for the Catholic church in Ireland. In answer to your query, I do not know the exact number of cases taken by alleged victims of clerical sex abuse who have named Cardinal Seán Brady in their actions."
Voice of the Faithful, an international lay Catholic organisation campaigning for reforms in the church, said it was "deeply significant" that Brady has said he is spending the run-up to Easter reflecting on his position. Seán O'Connaill, the group's Irish co-ordinator, said: "The situation regarding the church in Ireland and Cardinal Brady's position is very confused and fluid. The problems facing the Catholic church, however, will not be resolved alone by heads rolling. Both the people and the leadership have to realise that there has to be a major reform programme within the church to turn this around."

Scary

David Sanger and William Broad have the story in The New York Times:
Six months after the revelation of a secret nuclear enrichment site in Iran, international inspectors and Western intelligence agencies say they suspect that Tehran is preparing to build more sites in defiance of United Nations demands.
The United Nations inspectors assigned to monitor Iran’s nuclear program are now searching for evidence of two such sites, prompted by recent comments by a top Iranian official that drew little attention in the West, and are looking into a mystery about the whereabouts of recently manufactured uranium enrichment equipment.
In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency, the official, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered work to begin soon on two new plants. The plants, he said, “will be built inside mountains”, presumably to protect them from attacks.
“God willing,” Mr. Salehi was quoted as saying, “we may start the construction of two new enrichment sites” in the Iranian new year, which began 21 March.
The revelation that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, now believe that there may be two new sites comes at a crucial moment in the White House’s attempts to impose tough new sanctions against Iran.
When President Obama publicly revealed the evidence of the hidden site at Qum last September, his aides had hoped the announcement would make it easier to win international support for a fourth round of economic sanctions, particularly from a reluctant China and Russia. Since then, however, the White House has been struggling to persuade those countries to go along with the toughest sanctions and the administration is now being forced to scale back its proposed list of sanctions.
The United Nations inspectors operate separately from the diplomats who are developing sanctions. Still, the disclosures may be intended, at least in part, to underscore the belief of Western officials that the Iranian efforts are speeding ahead, and the assertions could aid in efforts to press Iran to open up locations long closed to inspectors.
This article was based on interviews with officials of several governments and international agencies deeply involved in the hunt for additional nuclear sites in Iran, and familiar with the work of the IAEA, the only organization with regular access to Iran’s known nuclear facilities. All the officials insisted on anonymity because the search involves not only satellite surveillance, but also intelligence gleaned from highly classified operations.
American officials say they share the IAEA’s suspicions and are examining satellite evidence about a number of suspected sites. But they have found no solid clues yet that Iran intends to use them to produce nuclear fuel, and they are less certain about the number of sites Iran may be planning. In any case, no new processing site would pose an immediate threat or change the American estimates that it will still take Iran one to four years to obtain the capability to build a nuclear weapon. Given the complexity of building and opening new plants, it would probably take several years for the country to enrich uranium at any of the new sites.
One European official noted that “while we have some evidence”, Iran’s heavy restrictions on where inspectors can travel, and the existence of numerous tunneling projects, were making the detection of any new enrichment plants especially difficult.
Iran boasted several months ago, after the disclosure of the Qum site, that it would build 10 more enrichment plants in coming years. That number was dismissed by American officials and others as a fantasy, far beyond Iran’s abilities, or its budget. But IAEA inspectors in Vienna now believe that Mr. Salehi was probably accurate when he referred to two sites.
According to American officials, in recent weeks Israel, which uncovered some of the evidence about Qum, has pressed the case with their American counterparts that evidence points to what one senior administration official called “Qum look-alikes”.
The most compelling circumstantial evidence, people familiar with the inspectors’ view say, is that, while Iran appears to be making new equipment to enrich uranium, that equipment is not showing up in the main plant that inspectors visit regularly. Nor is it at the Natanz site in the desert, or the new facility at Qum, which inspectors now visit periodically.
That has heightened suspicions that the equipment, produced in small factories around Iran, is being held in a clandestine storage area for later shipment or installed elsewhere. The small manufacturing factories, spread around Iran to avoid detection and sabotage, are a particular target of American, Israeli and European intelligence agencies. Several of the plants appear to have been penetrated by intelligence agencies, which are receiving sporadic reports about what Iran is producing and the troubles it has encountered in manufacturing centrifuges, the machines that spin at very high speeds to enrich uranium.
Assessments of the potential for hidden enrichment sites beyond Qum, and the continued production of centrifuges, is one of the main subjects of an update to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. That update is being prepared for distribution to President Obama, his top national security team, and selected members of Congress.
Drafts of the highly classified document are now being circulated inside the intelligence community, officials say, but its broader publication has been delayed, in part because of concerns that the early drafts failed to deal with key decisions that Mr. Obama must soon address, especially if long-delayed sanctions fail to change Iran’s current course.
When the last intelligence estimate was published, in November of 2007, officials did not know about the Qum plant. Evidence of the plant was discovered later, and contributed to criticism of the report, which also concluded that Iran had halted work on designing nuclear weapons in 2003.
That conclusion, officials say, is also being rewritten, with the United States now joining European and Israeli assessments that research and development work, if halted seven years ago, has probably resumed. “The new report walks away, carefully, from many of the key conclusions of the previous version,” said one person familiar with its contents.
Besides Qum, it is unclear whether the new conclusion is based on new intelligence breakthroughs, or a revised interpretation of the existing evidence.
Iran revealed the existence of the Qum plant to the IAEA last September, apparently after learning that its existence was known to the West. Iran subsequently told inspectors that it began work on the plant in 2007 and planned to complete it by 2011, and that it would be filled with 3,000 centrifuges.
Though Tehran’s leaders insist the plant, like their entire program, is for peaceful purposes, that is considered too few centrifuges for a commercial site but ideal for a clandestine military plant meant to make bomb fuel.
But little progress has been made. In their most recent report, the inspectors said that some construction at the Qum site was continuing, adding, however, that “no centrifuges had been introduced” as of 16 February.
But officials note that, for all the digging, nuclear fuel production in Iran is behind schedule. While the Qum plant is only partly built, its main enrichment plant, at Natanz, operates at a tiny fraction of its intended capacity.
If Iran is indeed making plans to build new facilities, it would be in violation of its agreement with the IAEA. In reports and interviews, inspectors have said they received no notice of new Iranian preparatory activity.
In 2003, Iran signed an agreement with the agency to turn over design information on new facilities. Iran repudiated the agreement in March of 2007.
Rico says he desperately wants to pun off of "Qum look-alikes" but, reluctantly, he won't.

Pathetic

Levi Johnston is shopping his new television show in an RV, RadarOnline.com has learned exclusively. The man/child who nearly made it to the White House as the unwed Baby Daddy of the Vice President’s daughter is bringing his unique style to Hollywood, trying to sell his TV show by pulling up to meetings with cable networks in an RV/party bus.
Stunt or just keeping it real? You decide.
But, either way, Levi has meetings scheduled for Monday and is pitching an Alaska-based reality show. A source close to the situation tells RadarOnline.com the show is currently titled Levin Johnston’s Last Frontier and will show him riding on pimped out snow machines with jet fuel in them.”
Jet fuel? That sounds like something Sarah Palin might want to sneak into the gas tank, considering Levi’s confrontational approach to the former Alaska governor, plus the fact that he’s behind on child support to Sarah’s daughter Bristol.
But if Levi sells this show he could pay his child support bills and more. The show will also feature Levi hunting, hanging with his pals and is described by one source as “sort of an Entourage on ice”.
Sarah has sold her own reality show and Levi told RadarOnline.com this weekend that his show will be far better. His pitch to cable networks will include positioning Levi as “one of the world’s most famous teenagers” and will show parts of his life including “business opportunities, strange offers, appearances, and lots and lots of women.” Krasnow Productions is behind the new show.
Rico says Krasnow Productions should be (but isn't) ashamed of itself. And it's of minor interest that Levi Johnston is really named Levin Johnston...

Civil War for the day

The Sunday of the 140th of Antietam.

28 March 2010

Another 'wall of death'

Dan Williams has the story in The Washington Post:
Israel hopes an underground wall that Egypt is building along its border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to stop smuggling will be completed by the end of the year, a senior Israeli official said on Sunday. Cairo has played down the scope of the work along the 14-km frontier, but the Islamist group Hamas condemns it as a "wall of death" that could complete an Israeli-led blockade of Gaza by eliminating smugglers' tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai.
"The Egyptians are working on a project which I hope will be completed by the end of the year," said the senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This project, which involves laying a steel barrier twenty meters underground as well as a security system, should stop most of the smuggling along the Philadelphi corridor," the official said, referring to the border between Gaza and Egypt.
Israel has long lobbied Egypt to tackle the cross-border smuggling, which supplies Palestinians with both munitions and basic commercial goods lacking in Gaza because of the Israeli blockade on the rest of Gaza's land border. "I can't say we are completely satisfied, but we have noted that the Egyptians are taking action," the official said.
Senior Israeli and Egyptian officials meet regularly to discuss regional security issues.
Egyptian officials have said steel tubes are being placed at several points along the frontier to form a barrier, but have not elaborated on its purpose. Unlike Israel, Egypt maintains relations with Hamas and has an Islamist opposition movement. Citing an unnamed Egyptian intelligence source, Israeli media reports have said the wall will be rigged with sensors and pressurized hoses to flood tunnels with seawater.
Tunnel builders say some 3,000 underground passages were operational before Israel launched a three-week offensive against Gaza over a year ago, but only 150 are still operating after the conflict and subsequent Israeli air raids.
Israel says Hamas has used the tunnels to replenish its rocket and small-arms arsenal since the war. Israeli officials have said Hamas has also increased the range of its short-range rockets and acquired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
Since the Gaza conflict, Hamas has been trying to stop other militant groups from firing rockets into Israel to avoid retaliation. A previously unknown group, Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Israel on 18 March that killed a Thai hothouse worker, the first fatal rocket attack for more than a year.
Rico says maybe, when they're done, we can hire them to put in some barriers in the Philadelphia corridor...

Crying out for a remake

That would be The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Rico says that Mr. James better hope that Sandra Bullock doesn't know anyone by the name of Robert Ford...

Making the Secret Service nuts

Helene Cooper has an article in The New York Times about a surprise visit by the President to Kabul:
President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday, his first visit as commander in chief to the war he inherited and has stamped as his own. While there, Mr. Obama pressed President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to crack down on corruption while strengthening the judicial system and promoting good governance. After a brief meeting with Mr. Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Obama also praised steps in the military campaign against insurgents, but said Afghans needed to see conditions on the ground get better. “Progress will continue to be made, but we also want to make progress on the civilian front,” Mr. Obama was quoted as saying, referring to anti-corruption efforts, good governance, and adherence to the rule of law. “All of these things end up resulting in an Afghanistan that is more prosperous and more secure,” Mr. Obama said. He invited Karzai to visit Washington on 12 May, the White House said. For his part, Mr. Karzai promised that his country “would move forward into the future” to eventually take over its own security, and he thanked Mr. Obama for the American intervention in his country.
The president landed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, after a thirteen-hour nonstop flight, for a visit shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, and quickly boarded a helicopter for the presidential palace in Kabul. There, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai walked and chatted along a red carpet as they made their way to an Afghan color guard, where the national anthems of both countries were played, in a welcoming ceremony that lasted ten minutes.
Mr. Obama will also meet with some of the tens of thousands of American troops who have been sent to Afghanistan since he took office. His visit with the troops is particularly significant, because it comes at the same time that military officials report that the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year.
White House officials disclosed no information about the trip until Mr. Obama’s plane had landed in Afghanistan, and had even gone so far as to inform reporters that the president would be spending the weekend at Camp David with his family. In fact, Mr. Obama’s trip is occurring during the Afghan night, and he is expected to be on his way back to Washington before most Afghans wake up Monday morning.
The number of soldiers wounded in combat has also spiked dramatically. Military officials have warned that casualties are likely to continue to rise sharply as the Pentagon completes the deployment of 30,000 additional soldiers, per Afghanistan strategy announced by Mr. Obama in November. The reason for the spike, military officials said, is because American forces are aggressively seeking out Taliban insurgents in the country’s population centers, and are planning a major operation in the Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, in the coming months.
Mr. Obama’s trip caps a high-profile week for the president in which he coupled a singular domestic policy victory, the signing of a health reform bill, with the foreign policy achievement: reaching an arms control agreement with Russia in which the two agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century.
Coming on top of that, the Palm Sunday visit to American combat troops by their commander in chief could project the image of a president keeping on top of a number of issues at once. At the same time, though, Mr. Obama’s visit has been a long time coming. While he visited troops at Camp Victory, Iraq, three months after he was inaugurated, the White House has held off on a presidential visit to Afghanistan as Mr. Obama went through a rigorous months-long review of Afghanistan strategy, and as that country endured the twists and turns of a disputed election.
Even after Mr. Karzai was inaugurated and Mr. Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops, Mr. Obama put off a trip as he focused on domestic priorities, including a health care bill. In some ways, the Afghanistan visit serves as a stark reminder that, even with health care done, there remain major challenges ahead.

How do you say "to roll" in Chinese?

In a buying frenzy with all the money we keep sending them, the Chinese are now buying Volvo from Ford; the Swedes are probably not happy (but, being Swedes, how could you tell?). Keith Bradsher has an article in The New York Times:
Ford Motor reached an agreement on Sunday to sell its Volvo subsidiary to a Chinese conglomerate, in the clearest confirmation yet of China’s global ambitions in the auto industry. Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, based in Hangzhou, agreed to pay $1.8 billion for Volvo, with $1.6 billion in cash and the rest in a note payable to Ford.
The sale of one of Europe’s most storied brands shows how China has emerged not just as the world’s largest auto market in the past year, but also as a country determined to capture market share around the globe. Zhejiang Geely said it planned to retain production of Volvo cars in Sweden, but it is expected to build another assembly plant for them in China, most likely near Beijing or Shanghai. Ford already builds small numbers of Volvos for the Chinese market at an assembly plant in Chongqing. Most of the vehicles output at that factory are Fords and Mazdas for sale in China.
Zhejiang Geely’s majority-owned automotive subsidiary, Geely Automobile Holdings, is China’s twelfth-largest automaker, based on production so far this year. But it is China’s second-largest automaker, after BYD Group, that is not at least partly state-owned.
Michael Dunne, an independent auto analyst based in Bangkok, said that acquiring a well-known brand name was the fastest way for a company like Geely Auto to move up from making affordable cars for the masses to manufacturing respected cars for the affluent. “This is all about Geely’s efforts to bust out of the basement,” Mr. Dunne said. “Volvo happens to be available.”
Many automakers in China are loaded with ambition, but Geely Auto stands out even by Chinese standards. While making most of its money on inexpensive compacts and subcompacts, it has turned heads at auto shows with ambitious concept cars that look like Western sports cars and even Rolls Royces.
The parent company has said repeatedly that it planned to keep Volvo as a separate unit from Geely Auto. The company has promised to retain Volvo’s existing management, but said it has already hired several executives with international automotive experience to help it oversee the new subsidiary. Zhejiang Geely is dominated by its founder, Li Shufu, the son of farmers from Taizhou, in southeastern China, who turned a small business manufacturing motorcycle parts there into one of China’s fastest-growing companies. “I want to emphasize that Volvo is Volvo and Geely is Geely. Volvo will be run by Volvo management,” Mr. Li said at a news conference in Goteborg, Sweden, on Sunday. “We are determined to preserve the distinct identity of the Volvo brand.”
Having been scared last year by the near-collapse of Saab, the Swedish government has acquiesced to the sale of Volvo to an apparently well-heeled Chinese buyer. “The future road for Volvo Cars is now defined,” said Maud Olofsson, the Swedish deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise and energy. “Regardless of who owns Volvo Cars, its brand will still be Swedish.”
The deal is scheduled to close in the third quarter of this year, but raises issues of technology and brands that will last for years. In the eleven years that Ford has owned Volvo Cars, it has closely integrated the two companies’ designs, so that their cars now share many parts. Lewis W.K. Booth, Ford’s chief financial officer, said that Ford would continue to supply Geely with engines, stamped steel body parts, and other components for a period of time he did not specify.
Yale Zhang, the director of greater China vehicle forecasts for CSM Worldwide, an international consulting firm, said that the acquisition would benefit Geely Auto’s image at home, because many Chinese were likely to take pride in the acquisition of such a famous brand by a Chinese company. But Zhejiang Geely may also face a difficult time in becoming a multinational concern, since it has focused mostly on its domestic market up to now. “It will help Geely’s brand, that’s for sure,” Mr. Zhang said. “The challenges and the risks are equal to the opportunity.”
Rico says Volvo also means 'wolf' in Swedish, but the 'to roll' definition is probably the one they'll choose...

Civil War for the day

27 March 2010

There are always two sides to every argument

My other friend Bill begs to differ with the first one, and sends this Los Angeles Times article by Hector Tobar along as proof:
The email that popped into my inbox started with an insult and included an attachment full of "facts". After calling me a "crybaby" for writing a sympathetic story about Mexican immigrants, the sender insisted I read a series of statistics on the effects of illegal immigration on Los Angeles and California. Hospitals, law enforcement, and other public services, he said, are being overwhelmed. At first, because of the sender's tone, I ignored the attachment. Then it arrived again, this time forwarded by a friendly reader. He didn't believe the email, he said, but wanted me to know that three friends had sent it to him. And ten of its facts were said to have originated in this newspaper.
I started reading the chain letter, which carried the title "Just One State". It asked me to forward its message to at least two other people. "If this doesn't open your eyes," it declared, "nothing will."
I'm all in favor of having my eyes opened, and then making sure my eyes don't deceive me. So I took the ten "stats" and focused a little light on them. I waded deep into The Times' archive with the help of our librarian Scott Wilson, and made a few phone calls too. What did I find? A stew made up for the most part of meaty exaggerations and spicy conjecture, mixed in with some giblets of truth. Two of the "stats" are the musings of a conservative op-ed writer. Another takes its information from a government "report" that is, in fact, a work of fiction. The last two items on the list are the most accurate, but they reveal more about the prejudices and fears of the people passing the list along than they do about the supposed effect of "illegals".
Here they are, from 1 to 10:
1. "40% of all workers in L.A. County are working for cash and not paying taxes... This is because they are predominantly illegal immigrants working without a green card."
The source of this information seems to be a 2005 study by the Economic Roundtable on the informal economy in Los Angeles County. Its findings were reported in The Times and other papers. But the chain-mail's author more than doubled the figures in that study, which estimated that 15% of the county workforce was outside the regulated economy in 2004. Illegal immigrants getting paid in cash, it said, probably made up about 9% of the workforce. A later Economic Roundtable report, by the way, credited immigrants with keeping the local economy from shrinking in the 1990s.
2. "95% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens . . . "
We traced this "fact" to a 2004 op-ed in The Times by Heather Mac Donald of the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Mac Donald said "officers" told her about the warrants. She conceded that there were no such data in official reports but suggested the LAPD "top brass" was hiding the truth.2. "95% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens..."
I called the LAPD's press office, which contacted the department's Fugitive Warrant Section. Officers confirmed that the statistics in item No. 2, and No. 3, which follows, don't exist.
3. "75% of people on the most wanted list in Los Angeles are illegal aliens."
We traced this figure to something circulating on the Internet under the name "the 2006 (First Quarter) INS/FBI Statistical Report on Undocumented Immigrants." The "report" contains similar figures for Phoenix, Albuquerque and other cities. But it isn't an actual government document. The INS ceased to exist in 2003, after the Department of Homeland Security was created. There's something really disturbing about a work of fakery meant to tarnish an entire class of people. You wonder what kind of person would pen such a thing.
4. "Over 2/3 of all births in Los Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal, whose births were paid for by taxpayers."
Once again the "statistic" more than doubles the actual figures. According to a 2006 story in The Times, there were 41,240 Medi-Cal births to "undocumented women" in the county in 2004. They accounted for 27% of all births.
5. "Nearly 35% of all inmates in California detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally."
This time the author more than triples the actual figure. Authorities project some 19,000 of the 172,000 inmates in the California prison system in the 2009-10 fiscal year will be illegal immigrants. That's equivalent to 11%. A study published last year by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California actually found that U.S.-born men in California are ten times more likely to be incarcerated than foreign-born men. You can take that statistic with as many grains of salt as you wish.
6. Over 300,000 illegal aliens in Los Angeles County are living in garages.
This information apparently comes from a 1987 article in which The Times visited a sampling of properties across the county and looked for unauthorized garage conversions. The story concluded that 200,000 people lived in such dwellings. The story made no effort, however, to determine immigration status. I'd like to point out that just living in an "illegal garage" doesn't make you "an illegal". You might just be a starving artist, or a guy who recently lost his job.
7. "The FBI reports half of all gang members in Los Angeles are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border."
This is another "fact" spun from the 2004 op-ed by Heather Mac Donald, whose article refers to a single Los Angeles gang and the conjecture of an unnamed federal prosecutor.
8. "Nearly 60% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal."
Annie Kim, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles, called this statement "an urban legend." The source of the information may be an Associated Press report from earlier this year. It quoted a government study that found that 0.4% of residents of federally funded public housing are "ineligible noncitizens". Half of those, or about 0.2% of the total, are illegal immigrants.
9. 21 radio stations in L. A. are Spanish speaking.
10. In L. A. County 5.1 million people speak English, 3.9 million speak Spanish.
These facts are close to the actual numbers, though the language figures are deceptive.
An annual census survey asks people if they "speak a language other than English at home". According to the most recent report, 3.7 million county residents speak Spanish. But more than half of those Spanish speakers answered that they also speak English "very well". Only one in ten Spanish speakers said they don't speak any English at all. Obviously, the ability to speak a language other than English, or the desire to listen to Spanish music, doesn't make you an illegal immigrant or a threat to US democracy. It's a slur against Los Angeles, really, to find these items on a list of "problems" caused by illegal immigration.
The authors of the chain email and the phony government report fear what Los Angeles has become: a multilingual, multiethnic city with multicultural tastes.
They search for information to persuade others to be afraid, but the actual numbers don't quite add up to the big monster they think is out there. So they make the numbers bigger. Or they just make them up. And they spread them around until all that fear and anger turns into a big hate. That's what I saw when I let that email open my eyes.
 

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