31 May 2010

30 May 2010

29 May 2010

28 May 2010

Not quite...

...the conflagration we were banking on. (That's a line from Beyond the Fringe.)
Rico says he took his lottery tickets to the grocery store and ran them through the little scanner they have.
Bing!
You have a winner!
Three bucks...

Overkill

From the DEBKAfile:
A Palestinian sniper in the Gaza Strip injured an Israeli soldier on Friday, 21 May, shortly after a firefight with Palestinian gunmen, who had managed to cross into Israel from the southern Gaza border and advance some one hundred meters into Israel, while exchanging fire with troops of the Givati Brigade. The incident ended with the two terrorists killed by tank fire, and no Israeli casualties.
Hamas spokesman said the gunmen were sent on "an operation to attack Israel." Jihad Islami also claimed responsibility.
DEBKAfile's military sources report a rising number of Palestinian infiltrations from the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, although they never got as far as they did Friday. The Palestinian Hamas, Hezbollah, Jihad Islami and al-Qaeda-linked groups are believed to be bringing pressure on Israel's borders ahead of the countrywide homeland security exercise Turning-Point Four, beginning on 23 May.
Hezbollah's South Lebanon commander Nabil Qauq announced his organization was on war preparedness, and thousands of fighters were on their way to the border region.
Rico says lessee, two Palestinians cross the border (a trick in and of itself) and get a hundred meters (which, even walking slowly, is only a few minutes) into Israel before an Israeli tank blows them away. These guys are definitely operating on the backside of the power curve...

USNA

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Exploring the new Explorer

Rico says he bought his back in 1994, drove it many miles around the country, and it's still running. But Nick Bunkley has an article in The New York Times about the latest version:
When sport utility vehicles ruled America’s roads in the 1990s, the Ford Explorer was king, rolling off dealer lots by the hundreds of thousands every year. But, in an era of higher gas prices and eco-consciousness, the Explorer has flopped. During last year’s cash-for-clunkers program, more Explorers were tossed in the scrap heap than any other model, by far.
With sales a small fraction of those in the glory days, executives at the Ford Motor Company seriously considered burying the Explorer alongside the likes of the Escort and Thunderbird, once-great nameplates that outlived their usefulness.
Instead, the Explorer is getting a second life in 2011 as a more fuel-efficient crossover. Ford, emerging from the recession with considerable momentum, is betting that shoppers will be more willing to check out its new and revamped models than a few years ago, even an Explorer that Ford intends to market as a sport utility vehicle.
It is a move with some risk, auto analysts say, on at least three fronts:
First, reviving nameplates that have greatly faded is a difficult task in the auto industry, where bad memories are often long-lasting.
Second, pouring resources into the Explorer breaks with Ford’s much-heralded strategy of focusing on vehicles with global scale and appeal, and finally, the jury is out on whether even North Americans are ready to re-embrace the sport utility vehicle in significant numbers.
“The vast majority of people don’t need a four-wheel-drive, off-road-capable truck,” said Aaron Bragman, a product analyst with the research firm IHS Global Insight. “Americans still like that go-anywhere idea, but traditional SUVs have that negative image.”
Ford intends to market the Explorer heavily around its fuel-economy ratings, something it never did before, both because the numbers were so low and because few buyers cared. In the past, Explorers had an average rating of about fifteen miles per gallon. Though Ford is being tight-lipped about the specifics of the 2011 model, the most efficient version is expected to get about 28 miles per gallon in highway driving, the best in its segment.
“The fuel economy itself will be a message,” Ford’s head of marketing, James D. Farley, said in an interview.
Ford says its research shows that the Explorer still has a place in an increasingly crowded and competitive market, though the company has no aspirations of recapturing the model’s past market share. Nothing on the market today is as popular as the Explorer was in the heart of its 10-year run as the nation’s best-selling S.U.V.; sales peaked at nearly 450,000 in 1998. Only 52,190 were sold last year.
Still, Ford says four million people still own an Explorer— more than six million have been sold since its introduction two decades ago— and the new version could post big numbers and profits for Ford if even a fraction of those past customers decided to upgrade.
In addition to the new Explorer’s considerably higher fuel economy, Ford is hoping to entice those customers by transforming the boxy and rather simplistic-looking vehicle into a sleeker, car-based crossover with high-tech features.
“Everyone who owns one of those four million Explorers right now, as they’re driving them around, most of them love the vehicle but they also feel like they’re sacrificing, whether it’s image or fuel economy,” Mr. Farley said. “We can offer them something where they don’t have to feel that way anymore.”
It is a tricky marketing challenge, analysts said: Ford must overcome the model’s deep-seated reputation as a gas guzzler while not alienating consumers who still want the capabilities of a full-blown SUV.
To that end, Ford plans to characterize the new Explorer as an SUV, even though it technically will not be an SUV, because it no longer uses the traditional body-on-frame architecture of that segment. (It will be built on the same underpinnings as the Taurus, a full-size sedan.)
At the same time, if Ford delivers on the promise of improved fuel economy, the new model’s rating would be 25 miles per gallon in highway driving, with an optional EcoBoost engine increasing mileage even more. “If it’s up in that range, it will probably allow the vehicle to clear a hurdle and put it back on the consideration list for some people,” said James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. Yet, for past customers, Mr. Bell said, “I can’t imagine that their original Explorer experience was so phenomenal that they’re just dying to get back in one.”
The new, seven-passenger Explorer is roughly the same size as the outgoing model, though slightly shorter and wider. Among its new features is a series of touch screens, which Ford is introducing throughout much of its lineup starting this year, inflatable rear seat belts, and a “terrain management” system to enhance its off-road driving abilities.
The Explorer, scheduled to go into production near the end of this year, will be one of several models assembled at Ford’s plant in Chicago, where Ford is adding 1,200 jobs and investing $400 million. Just a few years ago, with Ford running low on cash and SUV sales plummeting as gasoline surged to more than $4 a gallon, Mr. Farley and his colleagues were not sure they wanted to save the Explorer. The company was plotting its future around an array of small, fuel-efficient cars that could be sold around the world, and the Explorer did not fit any of those criteria. But internal research convinced Ford that its lineup at North American dealerships would have a sizable void without the Explorer, even though the vehicle has virtually no audience in Europe and Asia.
And the company has had some success in reinventing brands: Ford brought the Taurus name back from the dead, and the Explorer itself has battled adversity before, after a string of fatal rollover crashes caused the recall of millions of Firestone tires a decade ago.
“It’s not going to light the world on fire; it’s not going to be even a faint shadow of what it once was,” Mr. Bell said. “But if they can build it in a profitable way at vastly smaller volumes, then I think it can contribute.”
Rico says he'd get one, if he could drive...

You'd think they'd learn


Macnhla Dargis (now there's a great name) has the story in The New York Times:
First the United States invaded the Middle East, and now Hollywood has swooped in to finish the job: one day after the Sex and the City ladies landed in the Abu Dhabi doo-doo, setting off a dust storm of critical hate, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time seems primed to raise huffy hackles with a swords-and-sandals-style spectacular in ancient Iran. Based on a Gulf-War-era video game, Prince of Persia stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular warrior who, scrambling up walls and vaulting across roofs amid camels, pomegranates, and whirling dervishes, helps lead the search in wartime for, Praise Bruckheimer, weapons of not-quite-mass destruction.
As an example of the new pop-cultural crusades, Prince of Persia is at once generically insulting and relatively innocuous. Set in the sixth century, the story involves Dastan (Mr. Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), who plucked the wee boy out of the streets to raise the child alongside his royal spawn, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). The film, directed by Mike Newell and written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard, pays dutiful if cursory attention to the family angle. The father imparts wise words, and the brothers clasp hands and lock gazes, but the fraternal bonds are shredded after they invade a holy city and Dastan is ensnared in a palace intrigue.
Cut and chiseled, his pumped-up pectorals flashing, Mr. Gyllenhaal offers an updated spin on the mysterious Oriental lover of cinematic yesteryear. More butch than the silent-screen god Valentino (best known for playing the Sheik, an Arab rather than a Persian heartbreaker), Mr. Gyllenhaal instead follows (and runs and leaps) in the robustly muscular and acrobatic tradition of Douglas Fairbanks, the silent-film star whose Middle Eastern exploits were aggressively masculine. Granted, the resurrection of a sexpot Middle Eastern hero (even one played by a non-Persian actor) might not seem like progress. But, given the strained relations between the United States and Iran, it’s a representation worth noting, particularly since Dastan’s worth is finally measured by his more peaceable actions.
This topical hook doesn’t sink very deep, admittedly; like a lot of action flicks, Prince of Persia exploits the headlines for familiar genre highjinks. Dastan hooks up with a pouty princess (an unfortunate Gemma Arterton) and engages in some funny business with a shady wise-cracking sheik (Alfred Molina, fortunately). Ben Kingsley shows up as Basil Rathbone, or rather Nizam, the king’s silky, suspicious brother. Shot in Morocco and at Pinewood Studios in Britain, the film is crammed with swirling sand, milling crowds, computer-generated cities, and assorted narrative bits and pieces, some borrowed from the studio playbook (everyone speaks in a British accent, even, alas, Mr. Gyllenhaal), others recycled from the video game series by Jordan Mechner, who has a story credit.
The movie’s video game roots are most evident in the mechanized feel of many of the whiplash camera movements, which sharply zig and zag as if created by algorithms. Considering that he made the move from the art house to the blockbuster a few years ago with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mr. Newell surely knew what he was getting himself into when he signed on with the producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Save for Michael Bay, who parted company with Mr. Bruckheimer a while ago, no director ever gets to put his own fingerprints on a Bruckheimer production. As usual, the talent in Prince of Persia is generally top notch, from the cinematographer John Seale to the parkour expert David Belle, but the ingredients have been masticated so heavily the results are mush.
For the most part this is perfectly painless mush. The movie is irrepressibly silly (what were you expecting?) but a few hours of Mr. Gyllenhaal jumping around in leather and fluttering his long lashes has its dumb-fun appeal, as does the sight of Mr. Molina planting a kiss on an ostrich in a big-screen spectacle that’s as much indebted to newfangled technologies as to old-fashioned Hollywood narrative strategies. If nothing else, it’s entertaining to think about how this mash-up of ancient Persian heroics and headline news might sit with the Iranian powers that be. In March of 2009, a spokesman for the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, demanded an apology from Hollywood for “insults and accusations against the Iranian nation” over the last thirty years. Clearly, they had no idea they were about to be Bruckheimer-ed.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is rated PG-13 for squeaky-clean carnage. It opens on Friday nationwide. Directed by Mike Newell; written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard, based on a screen story and the video game series created by Jordan Mechner; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Michael Kahn, Mick Audsley and Martin Walsh; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; costumes by Penny Rose; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan, Gemma Arterton as Tamina, Ben Kingsley as Nizam, Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar, Steve Toussaint as Seso, Toby Kebbell as Garsiv, Richard Coyle as Tus, Ronald Pickup as King Sharaman, and Reece Ritchie as Bis.
Rico says that "generically insulting and relatively innocuous" pretty much sums up his take on this POS movie...

New Yawk


Rico says he likes the Massimo Vignelli map (left) of the New York City subway system the best, but he likes the new map (bottom) better than the current one (right). Michael Grynbaum has the story in The New York Times:
In a city of world-class art museums and an instantly recognizable skyline, no image is more closely examined than the New York City subway map, the ubiquitous blue-and-taupe rectangle scrutinized by millions. Now the subterranean icon is poised to get a spruce-up.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will unveil a resized, recolored and simplified edition of the well-known map, its first overhaul in more than a decade.
Manhattan will become taller, bulkier, and thirty percent wider, to better display its spaghetti of subway lines. Staten Island, meanwhile, will shrink by half. The spreadsheet-like “service guide”, along the map’s bottom border, will be eliminated, and the other three boroughs will grow to fill the space.
A separate, stripped-down map will also be produced, to be displayed only inside subway cars. Neighborhood names, parks, ferries and bus connections will not appear on this version, making for a less cluttered composition that may be easier to read over a fellow rider’s shoulders.
The authority says its goal is improved clarity, but the redesigned map also marks the latest salvo in a long debate over how to best represent a complex system that can bedevil tourists and natives alike.
The subway map has become ubiquitous, adorning products like shower curtains, Converse high-top sneakers, and Ray-Ban sunglasses, not to mention every platform and train in the city.
But some amateur cartographers have maintained that the official map conveys too much information, or not enough. Many are now proffering their own designs on the Internet or as smartphone applications.
“The M.T.A. map is an artifact of its time, and its time was 1979,” said Eddie Jabbour, designer of the Kick Map, a competing schematic that he said had been downloaded by 250,000 users.
Indeed, the current map, and its imminent successor, are direct descendants of a 1979 version, introduced when the authority did away with Massimo Vignelli’s abstract design because its right-angled routes and nondescript background left riders puzzled. Central Park, for instance, now a green rectangle, appeared as a grayish square.
At the time, the authority wanted geographical accuracy, so that passengers would not be confused upon ascending back to the street. Hence, subway lines that wiggle and curve, reflecting the exact route of the train, and a simple street grid that highlights popular attractions and neighborhoods.
Over time, however, the map acquired new elements, like ferry routes and obtrusive balloons showing bus connections. The authority now concedes that the map became overcrowded.
“In its desire to be complete and provide a great deal of information, it took away from some of the clarity you would have with a simpler map,” said Jay H. Walder, the authority’s chairman, who encouraged his marketing staff to make changes.
For the latest iteration, Mr. Walder decided that the service guide, which purports to show a weekend schedule, was theoretical at best. The guide was removed, along with a growing list of handicapped-accessible stations that had begun to dominate the bottom right corner. Small wheelchair symbols will continue to denote those stops.
To improve contrast, the taupe background took a lighter tone, and subway lines gained a gray border. The bus balloons stayed, but they have been made smaller, making room for geographical features like Rikers Island, which will now appear in its entirety. The maps that will be inside subway cars eliminate the balloons.
A few of the map’s more quizzical features will remain intact: Charlton Street, for instance, a sleepy industrial lane in Hudson Square, is one of the few Manhattan streets that merit a mention. NoHo is still clearly labeled, putting it on the level of more common neighborhood names like TriBeCa, while Hell’s Kitchen and Yorkville are nowhere to be found. Fort Greene Park, however, has been restored.
The map also encourages riders to click around the authority’s website for updated service changes, particularly on the weekends.
Smaller tweaks will reflect the reductions in subway service that take effect at the end of June. The M train, brown for three decades, will become orange, reflecting its rerouting along Avenue of the Americas. The V and W trains will disappear.
The authority has ordered 1.5 million copies for distribution in June, with 6 million copies a year expected to be printed.
Mr. Jabbour, the Kick Map designer, said that while the official map had “humanity,” it was too complex. “You have to read the map rather than scan the map,” he said.
But Michael Hertz, whose eponymous firm has designed the map since 1979, said he remained satisfied with his work. “It continues to be the right balance between information and graphic clarity,” he said. “We have given the public a good tool to get around the city.”

What a surprise (not)

Rico says the only surprise is them admitting it, in this BBC story by Damian Grammaticus (and there's a name, probably false):
A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men. The study found that more than half of the men measured had penises that were shorter than international standards for condoms. It has led to a call for condoms of mixed sizes to be made more widely available in India.
The two-year study was carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Over 1,200 volunteers from the length and breadth of the country had their penises measured precisely, down to the last millimeter.
The scientists even checked their sample was representative of India as a whole in terms of class, religion, and urban and rural dwellers. The conclusion of all this scientific endeavour is that about 60% of Indian men have penises which are between three and five centimeters shorter than international standards used in condom manufacture.
Doctor Chander Puri, a specialist in reproductive health at the Indian Council of Medical Research, told the BBC there was an obvious need in India for custom-made condoms, as most of those currently on sale are too large. The issue is serious, because about one in every five times a condom is used in India it either falls off or tears, an extremely high failure rate. And the country already has the highest number of HIV infections of any nation.
Mr. Puri said that since Indians would be embarrassed about going to a chemist to ask for smaller condoms there should be vending machines dispensing different sizes all around the country. "Smaller condoms are on sale in India. But there is a lack of awareness that different sizes are available. There is anxiety talking about the issue. And normally one feels shy to go to a chemist's shop and ask for a smaller size condom."
But Indian men need not be concerned about measuring up internationally, according to Sunil Mehra, the former editor of the Indian version of the men's magazine Maxim. "It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters," he said. "From our population, the evidence is Indians are doing pretty well. With apologies to the poet Alexander Pope, you could say, for inches and centimetres, let fools contend."
Rico says that 'length and breadth of the country' seems to be the problem. (But 3 to five centimeters is, even in penis inches, a lot.) But if it's length, the idiots only need to unroll them less. If it's breadth, then they need to get the 'kiddie' sizes...

How do you say "liar" in Japanese?

The BBC has the story:
Australia has said it will begin legal action against Japan over its whaling in the Antarctic. Australia will argue that the annual whaling hunt in the Southern Ocean is in violation of an international ban on commercial whaling. Japan, which kills hundreds of whales every year, says the hunt is carried out for scientific research purposes. Critics say this is a cover for commercial whaling, and that whale meat not used in research is sold for food.
The Australian government says it will lodge formal proceedings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague next week. The move comes ahead of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Morocco next month, where agreement is being sought on a new approach to whaling, which would allow commercial hunting but with strict quotas.
Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Attorney General Robert McClelland said in a joint statement that the move underlines their "commitment to bring to an end Japan's program of so-called scientific whaling". There has been a ban on commercial whaling for 25 years, but a Japanese whaling fleet heads to the Southern Ocean each southern summer to harpoon hundreds of whales as part of what it calls 'lethal research', which is allowed.
Australia had tried to negotiate an end to these forays, and had given Japan until November to stop this form of whaling. It then brought forward its plans to take the matter to court.
Conservationists have broadly welcomed the legal action, praising the government of Prime Minster Kevin Rudd for standing up to Japan. But the BBC's Sydney correspondent Nick Bryant says that the Australian Greens have said that it is essentially a political move from a prime minister who is slipping in the polls to make good on a election promise made three years ago.
Japan is Australia's second biggest trading partner, and Canberra says it hopes the move will not damage their friendly relations. The Japanese fisheries ministry has described the legal action as "very disappointing. We will continue to explain that the scientific whaling that we are conducting is lawful in accordance with Article Eight of the international convention for the regulation of whaling," said the ministry's deputy press secretary Hidenobu Sobashima.
Mr. Sobashima said the issue "shouldn't jeopardise the overall good relations between Japan and Australia".
The Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the two countries have agreed to treat the matter as "an independent legal arbitration of a disagreement between friends".
Rico says 'friends'? Doesn't anyone remember that little tiff 'between friends' back in the '40s? And 'lethal research'? There's a cheap phrase if he's ever heard one... (Let's conduct some 'lethal research' on some randomly-selected Japanese and see how they like it. Can't you just see the trucks whizzing down the streets of Japantown in San Francisco, harpoons at the ready?)

Dumb? No, put she plays one on television

Gawker.com has the story:
Fox News' Greta Van Susteren received an email from a viewer named Brian, saying that her "brain is empty". Naturally, she started a poll on her blog: "Who is dumber? Greta, or Brian."
Guess who's winning?
Van Susteren, the network's resident weird Scientologist, is an experienced blogger who knows that the best way to deal with personal slights is to blog about them extensively. So when she received an insulting email from viewer "Brian" of "Tahlequah, Oklahoma," she posted it without hesitation:

Greta,
You got that right, you have a mind like a seive. Your brain is empty.
Matter of fact, it is so empty, if you put a pea in your skull it would rattle around like a BB in a boxcar. You said it, gal, not me, but I sure do agree with you. A true blonde.
Brian
Tahlequah, OK
PS How do you get that cush job, anyway?

What Greta seems to have forgotten is that while the internet is a great place to air grievances, it is not a great place to find personal validation. In fact, it is the actual worst place to find personal validation. Especially in poll form.
(The poll asked who was dumber, Greta or Brian.)
Can you guess how this is going for Greta? If you have been on the internet before, even for five minutes, you may have a clue.
(Poll results: 58% for Greta, 42% for Brian.)
Obviously, as a professional blogger, I took the poll very seriously and weighed the evidence carefully: on the one hand, "Brian" doesn't know how to spell the word "sieve." On the other hand, Greta actually made a poll asking if she was dumber than a guy who wrote her an email.
I voted for Greta, in the hopes that they will replace her. I look forward to On the Record with Brian from Tahlequah.
Rico says she may not be dumb (though certainly irritating), but this was a dumb move...

Civil War for the day

to come

27 May 2010

Now you're talking

Rico says that, after turning off Lord Jim, he found True Lies playing, which he watched the end of over lunch. Arnold being Arnold, of course, but Jamie Lee Curtis showing a lot of Jamie Lee Curtis, which (in Rico's less-than-humble opinion) is a good thing.

Good, if dated

Rico says it'd been a very long time since he'd seen Lord Jim, so he punched it up. Too tedious, even for Rico, but still a good movie, and a great cast:
Peter O'Toole (incredible, if better in Lawrence of Arabia)
James Mason
Curt Jurgens
Eli Wallach
Jack Hawkins
Akim Tamiroff
and a host of others

The numbers tell the story

The New York Times has the story:
Apple, the maker of iPods, iPhones, and iPads, shot past Microsoft on 26 May 2010, supplanting the computer software giant as the world’s most valuable technology company. This changing of the guard caps one of the most stunning turnarounds in business history for Apple, which had been given up for dead only a decade earlier. The rapidly rising value attached to Apple by investors also heralds an important cultural shift: consumer tastes have overtaken the needs of business as the leading force shaping technology.
Rico says he's still laughing, but Wired has more on the subject:
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Apple’s market capitalization officially passed Microsoft’s Wednesday afternoon, making the Cupertino, California, company— for the first time— the largest technology company in the world.
With a market cap of $241.5 billion versus Microsoft’s $239.5 billion, Apple also became the second-largest company on the S&P 500, according to Standard & Poor’s analyst Howard Silverblatt. At the moment, only Exxon Mobil is bigger.
Market cap is a measure of the total value of all the outstanding shares of a company, and it’s a proxy for what investors think the company is worth, taking into account future earnings and future growth. As such, it’s a measure of expectations, not reality: Apple’s annual revenue was $42.9 billion in the most recent fiscal year, versus Microsoft’s $58.4 billion. Both look puny next to Exxon Mobil’s $301.5 billion in annual revenue. Market cap is also a fickle mistress, and fluctuates wildly depending on stock price, so Apple’s position as the king of the hill may be short-lived. But it’s a significant milestone for a company that looked like a has-been just one decade ago.
Ten years ago, Apple was all but written off by most expert commentators. An also-ran computer company that once dominated geeks’ hearts and minds with the Apple II and the Macintosh, Apple made serious missteps in the 1990s that relegated it to a tiny niche of the overall computer market, with market share in the low single digits. It was all but certain that its share would continue dwindling until the company faded away entirely, like Commodore, Atari, Tandy, and dozens of other computer makers before it.
What the commentators didn’t count on was the string of hits Apple would deliver over the next ten years. Founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 and removed then-CEO Gil Amelio in 1997, making himself interim CEO (and then eventually dropping the interim title).
Jobs then instituted what can now clearly been seen as a far-reaching strategy to consolidate and simplify Apple’s product line, while gradually leveraging the company’s strengths (ease of use, consumer-friendly branding, attractive design, and high margins) to expand into new areas of consumer technology. Jobs also carefully created a new company culture, one that’s centered on innovation, control, and secrecy. That approach has alienated many people, and runs counter to Silicon Valley received wisdom about the value of openness and sharing, but the proof is in the pudding. With a CEO of Jobs’ caliber, at least, that kind of top-down control works.
This list of product rollouts tells the story:
iMac (Bondi Blue)– 1998
iBook (clamshell)– 1999
iPod with scroll wheel– 2001
Mac OS X– 2001
iTunes Store– 2003
MacBook (switch to Intel)– 2006
iPhone– 2007
App Store & iPhone SDK– 2008
iPad– 2010
By 2010, Apple had firmly established its dominance (in mindshare and innovation, if not in absolute numbers) in three areas: computers, MP3 players and smartphones; the company also controls an increasingly large marketplace for music, video and applications with iTunes, which counts its users in the hundreds of millions and has served more than 10 billion songs, 200 million TV shows, 2 million films and 3 billion apps. Apple’s now the largest distributor of music in the United States with 26.7 percent market share, according to a Billboard analysis.
The recent introduction of the iPad— Apple claims over a million have been sold so far— may not move the needle much in terms of revenue, but it’s probably what pushed the company’s stock over the top. Early numbers of 200,000 sales per week suggest that Apple’s iPad is on track to outsell the Mac.
The iPad’s launch epitomized the Apple way: it’s a beautifully designed, precisely engineered piece of hardware, based on a software and apps platform largely controlled by Apple, and introduced through a carefully orchestrated marketing program that encompassed every detail of public relations, advertising and even retail presentation.
As a result, the iPad captured the imagination of the press and of investors worldwide, and has surely helped propel the company’s stock price to its current heights. The stuff of business school case studies, to be sure. But it’s a feat that few companies have been able to pull off.
Rico says 'only Exxon Mobil is bigger'; who'd have thunk it?

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Nicholas Kristof has an opinion column in The New York Times about yet another fuque de clusteur in the Catholic Church:
We finally have a case where the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is responding forcefully and speedily to allegations of wrongdoing. But the target isn’t a pedophile priest. Rather, it’s a nun who helped save a woman’s life. Doctors describe her as saintly.
The excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride in Phoenix underscores all that, to me, feels morally obtuse about the church hierarchy. I hope a public outcry can rectify this travesty. Sister Margaret was a senior administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. A 27-year-old mother of four arrived late last year, in her third month of pregnancy. According to local news reports and accounts from the hospital and some of its staff members, the mother suffered from a serious complication called pulmonary hypertension. That created a high probability that the strain of continuing pregnancy would kill her.
“In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an eleven-week pregnancy,” the hospital said in a statement. “This decision was made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee.”
Sister Margaret was a member of that committee. She declined to discuss the episode with me, but the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmstead, ruled that Sister Margaret was “automatically excommunicated” because she assented to an abortion. “The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s,” the bishop’s communication office elaborated in a statement. Let us just note that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has suspended priests who abused children and, in some cases, defrocked them, but did not normally excommunicate them, so they remained able to take the sacrament.
Since the excommunication, Sister Margaret has left her post as vice president and is no longer listed as one of the hospital executives on its website. The hospital told me that she had resigned, “at the bishop’s request”, but is still working elsewhere at the hospital.
I heard about Sister Margaret from an acquaintance who is a doctor at the hospital. After what happened to Sister Margaret, he doesn’t dare be named, but he sent an email to his friends lamenting the excommunication of a 'saintly' nun: “She is a kind, soft-spoken, humble, caring, spiritual woman whose spot in Heaven was reserved years ago,” he said in the email message. “The idea that she could be excommunicated after decades of service to the Church and humanity literally makes me nauseated. True Christians, like Sister Margaret, understand that real life is full of difficult moral decisions and pray that they make the right decision in the context of Christ’s teachings. Only a group of detached, pampered men in gilded robes on a balcony high above the rest of us could deny these dilemmas.”
A statement from the bishop’s office did not dispute that the mother’s life was in danger, although it did note that no doctor’s prediction is one hundred percent certain. The implication is that the church would have preferred for the hospital to let nature take its course.
The Roman Catholic hierarchy is entitled to its views. But the episode reinforces perceptions of church leaders as rigid, dogmatic, out of touch, and very suspicious of independent-minded American nuns.
Sister Margaret made a difficult judgment in an emergency, saved a life, and then was punished and humiliated by a lightning bolt from a bishop who spent sixteen years living in Rome, and who has devoted far less time to serving the downtrodden than Sister Margaret. Compare their two biographies, and Sister Margaret’s looks much more like Jesus’s than the bishop’s does.
“Everyone I know considers Sister Margaret to be the moral conscience of the hospital,” Dr. John Garvie, chief of gastroenterology at St. Joseph’s Hospital, wrote in a letter to the editor to The Arizona Republic. “She works tirelessly and selflessly as the living example and champion of compassionate, appropriate care for the sick and dying.” Dr. Garvie later told me in an email message that “saintly” was the right word for Sister Margaret and added: “Sister was the ‘living embodiment of God’ in our building. She always made sure we understood that we’re here to help the less fortunate. We really have no one to take her place.”
I’ve written several times about the gulf between Roman Catholic leaders at the top and the nuns, priests, and laity who often live the Sermon on the Mount at the grass roots. They represent the great soul of the church, which isn’t about vestments but selflessness.
When a hierarchy of mostly aging men pounce on and excommunicate a revered nun who was merely trying to save a mother’s life, the Church seems to me almost as out of touch as it was in the cruel and debauched days of the Borgias during the Renaissance.
Rico says it's just this sort of bullshit that's going to eventually (though long overdue) bring down the Catholic Church...

History for the day

On 27 May 1964, independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, died.

Civil War for the day

Stuart Lutz of Stuart Lutz Historic Documents reminds us that Memorial Day (celebrated this weekend) was originally Decoration Day, when people went out and put flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers. (Do you know if you have any in your family, and could you find their graves even if you wanted to? Thought not. But Rico says he does, and he could, though he'd have to go to Tennessee...)

26 May 2010

Oops is now an oil industry term

Henry Fountain and Tom Zeller, Jr. have an article in The New York Times about the Gulf oil disaster:
In the hours before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, there were strong warning signs that something was terribly wrong with the well, according to a Congressional committee that was briefed on the accident by executives from BP. Among the red flags, the panel said, were several equipment readings suggesting that gas was bubbling into the well, a potential sign of an impending blowout. Investigators also noted “other events in the 24 hours before the explosion that require further inquiry”, including a critical decision to replace heavy mud in the pipe rising from the seabed with seawater, possibly increasing the risk of an explosion.
The new information, released in a memorandum addressed to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, confirmed many of the committee’s own findings from a review of documents and from statements and testimony given at Congressional hearings over the last two weeks. The memorandum provides the most detailed accounting of the events and decisions made aboard the Deepwater Horizon before the accident on 20 April that took eleven lives and caused a so-far unchecked torrent of oil to pour into the gulf, and comes as BP prepared an ambitious “top kill” procedure in a new effort to stop the leak.
The findings are preliminary, and most come from BP, which owns the lease on the well and has at hearings pointed fingers at other companies for the problems on the rig, including Transocean, the rig’s owner. In a statement late Monday, Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, said, “A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early— and not up to us— to say who is at fault." Although one-sided, the account of procedural and equipment failures offers one road map for federal investigators as they try to determine who is ultimately responsible for the accident. As part of the investigation, they are also looking at the role of regulatory agencies.
Some of those who survived the explosion, including managers from BP and Transocean, are expected to testify at hearings in Louisiana to be held by the Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service. The testimony may help clear up some of the uncertainties about the day of the accident, including who was making the decisions. But the new information from BP— combined with past testimony by executives, analysis of documents by The New York Times, and interviews with independent drilling experts— is beginning to paint a picture of a complex operation that went awry just as it was drawing to a close.
Drilling logs from the Deepwater Horizon suggest that, shortly after midnight on the morning of the explosion, attention had turned to temporarily plugging and capping the well so the rig could disconnect and move to another job. Halliburton, the contractor hired by BP to provide cementing services, had spent the past several weeks cementing each new segment of the well into place. Halliburton was also responsible for plugging it.
BP and Congressional investigators have raised questions about the cementing, suggesting that the seal might have been faulty and failed to keep gas from rising up in the well. According to BP, the cement work took longer than normal, and there were concerns that the quality of the cement might have been compromised by contamination with mud. However, in testimony before Congressional hearings, Halliburton executives have said that the company adhered strictly to the specifications provided by BP for the cementing of the well.
BP’s investigation, the memorandum said, also indicated that there might have been problems with the blowout preventer— the stack of valves and rams on the seafloor designed to seal off the well in the event of an emergency— at least five hours before the explosion. A sharp fall in fluid levels in the riser pipe that connects the well to the rig suggested that one of the seals in the preventer was leaking.
The memo from the House committee, which is led by Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, also shed more light on a series of important tests conducted that day to determine whether the cement was holding. Two hours before the explosion, an early pressure test was performed incorrectly and produced unacceptable results. The test was repeated and there was an “indicator of a very large abnormality,” BP’s investigator told the committee, adding that workers might have made a “fundamental mistake” in ignoring it. Shortly before 8 p.m., two hours before the explosion, workers were “satisfied” that the test was successful, according to BP’s investigation.
The decision was then made to begin withdrawing the drilling mud, a cocktail of clay, water, and minerals used to keep downward pressure on the powerful fountain of oil and gas trying to push its way up out of the tapped reservoir.
Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama and a specialist in petroleum engineering, said in an email message that, with normal pressure test readings indicating a good seal on the casing and the temporary cement plug, it is not unusual to displace the mud with seawater before the cement job is finished to get a cleaner surface for the cement to adhere to. “But without a good pressure test, it would be reckless to displace,” he said.
Congressional investigators and news accounts have suggested that the decision to begin removing drilling mud was a subject of intense discussion— and perhaps even disagreement— among engineers working on the rig that day. Executives from both Transocean and BP have said in testimony before Congress that they were unfamiliar with the details of that debate. But the hearings this week in Louisiana— which will include testimony from the top managers on the rig from BP and Transocean— may provide a clearer picture of the day’s deliberations.
In the final hour before the explosion, after the crew had begun withdrawing the mud, there were more signs that the well was going out of control, the memo said. They included a sharp increase in fluid coming from the well, even when the pumps were shut down; an indication, drilling experts say, of a “kick,” a surge in pressure from oil and gas deep down in the well. If not controlled, such a kick can lead to a full-scale blowout, and that is exactly what happened at roughly 9:49 p.m.

More troops, fewer Mexicans

Randal Archibold has an article in The New York Times about new plans for the border:
President Obama will send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border and seek increased spending on law enforcement there to combat drug smuggling after demands from Republican and Democratic lawmakers that border security be tightened.
The decision was disclosed by a Democratic lawmaker and confirmed by administration officials after Mr. Obama met on Tuesday with Republican senators, several of whom have demanded that troops be placed at the border. The lawmakers learned of the plan after the meeting.
But the move also reflected political pressure in the president’s own party with midterm election campaigns under way and with what is expected to be a tumultuous debate on overhauling immigration law coming up on Capitol Hill. The issue has pushed Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, into something of a corner. As governor of Arizona, she demanded that Guard troops be put on the border. But since joining the Obama administration, she has remained noncommittal about the idea, saying as recently as a month ago that other efforts by Mr. Obama had made the border “as secure now as it has ever been.” The troops will be stationed in the four border states for a year, White House officials said. It is not certain when they will arrive, the officials said.
The troops will join a few hundred members of the Guard already assigned there to help the police hunt for drug smugglers. The additional troops will provide support to law enforcement officers by helping observe and monitor traffic between official border crossings. They will also help analyze trafficking patterns in the hope of intercepting illegal drug shipments.
Initial word of the deployment came not in a formal announcement from the White House— indeed, it was left to administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to fill in some details— but from a Democratic member of the House from southern Arizona who is running in what is expected to be a competitive race for re-election. “The White House is doing the right thing,” Representative Gabrielle Giffords said in a statement announcing the decision. “Arizonans know that more boots on the ground means a safer and more secure border. Washington heard our message.”
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican whose opponent in a coming primary has relentlessly criticized him on immigration, said Tuesday that he welcomed Mr. Obama’s move but that it was “simply not enough”. Mr. McCain called for the introduction of 6,000 National Guard troops to police the Southwestern border, with 3,000 for Arizona alone. In a letter to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, two Obama administration officials said that the proposal infringed on his role as commander in chief and overlooked gains in border security.
Calls for sending the Guard to the border grew after the shooting death of an Arizona rancher in March that the police suspect was carried out by someone involved in smuggling. Advocates of the controversial Arizona state law giving the police a greater role in immigration enforcement played up what they described as a failure to secure the border as a reason to pass the law.
Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican who is running for a full term, has requested Guard troops at the border but decided not to use her authority to do it herself, citing the state’s tattered finances. The governors of New Mexico and Texas also pleaded for troops.
From 2006 to 2008, President George W. Bush made a larger deployment of Guard troops under a program called Operation Jump Start. At its peak, 6,000 Guard troops at the border helped build roads and fences in addition to backing up law enforcement officers.
Those Guard troops contributed to the arrest of more than 162,000 illegal immigrants, the rescue of one hundred people stranded in the desert, and the seizure of $69,000 in cash and 305,000 pounds of illicit drugs. The soldiers will not directly make arrests of border crossers and smugglers, something they are not trained to do.
Rick Nelson, a senior fellow who studies domestic security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that the additional spending could improve security over the long term but that the National Guard deployment was not sufficient for “an overwhelming change that will change the dynamics on the border. This is a symbolic gesture,” he said. “At the end of the day, the face of border security is still going to be Customs and Border Protection, the law enforcement community. It’s not going to be the National Guard.”
Democrats and Republicans who agreed with the move rushed to take credit for it, including Ms. Brewer, who said her signing of the new Arizona law had pushed the administration. “I am pleased that President Obama has now, apparently, agreed that our nation must secure the border to address rampant border violence and illegal immigration without other preconditions, such as passage of ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’ ” she said.
Terry Goddard, the Arizona attorney general and a Democrat running for governor, released a statement with the headline Goddard Secures Administration Commitment for $500 million for National Guard, Border Security. In an interview, Mr. Goddard said, “I think it is a good indication that the administration is taking us seriously.”
But some Democrats were skeptical. Representative Harry E. Mitchell of Arizona, a Democrat facing re-election in a Republican-leaning district, said it was “going to take much more to secure the border.” He proposed a minimum of 3,000 troops.
Some Republicans said the deployment of the troops should not overshadow the need for a comprehensive approach to the illegal immigration problem. “Arizona and other border states are grateful for the additional resources at the border,” said Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona. “But I hope that this is merely the first step in a process that culminates in Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform.”
Obama administration officials had resisted sending Guard troops to the border but had never ruled it out. They pointed to a variety of improvements at the border, including a record seizure of drug-related cash and guns, falling or flat rates of violent crime in border towns, and record lows in the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. Analysts give the dismal economy much of the credit for that.
In his meeting with lawmakers, Mr. Obama said improving border security alone would not reduce illegal immigration and reiterated that a reworking of the immigration system could not be achieved without more Republican support.

Truly the prince

Miguel Helft and Ashlee Vance have an article in The New York Times about Apple's long-awaited surpassing of that other computer company:
Apple, the maker of iPods, iPhones, and iPads, overtook Microsoft, the computer software giant, on Wednesday to become the world’s most valuable technology company. In intraday trading shortly after 2:30 p.m., Apple shares rose 1.8 percent, which gave the company a value of $227.1 billion. Shares of Microsoft declined about one percent, giving the company a market capitalization of $226.3 billion. The only American company valued higher is Exxon Mobil, with a market capitalization of $282 billion.
This changing of the guard caps one of the most stunning turnarounds in business history, as Apple had been given up for dead only a decade earlier. But the rapidly rising value attached to Apple by investors also heralds a cultural shift: consumer tastes have overtaken the needs of business as the leading force shaping technology.
Microsoft, with its Windows and Office software franchises, has dominated the relationship most people had with their computers for almost two decades and that was reflected in its stock market capitalization. But the click-clack of the keyboard has ceded ground to the swoosh of a finger across a smartphone’s touch-screen. “It is the single most important turnaround that I have seen in Silicon Valley,” said Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist who has invested in some of the most successful technology companies.
Rico says that, oh, yeah, Apple makes some computers, too... (And a big tee-hee from Rico to all those who counted Apple out and told everyone to buy Gates machines, those POS computers.)

In the crosshairs again

Rico says that would be Apple, facing a Justice Department inquiry, according to an article in The New York Times by Brad Stone:
The Justice Department is examining Apple’s tactics in the market for digital music, and its staff members have talked to major music labels and Internet music companies, according to several people briefed on the conversations. The antitrust inquiry is in the early stages, these people say, and the conversations have revolved broadly around the dynamics of selling music online. But people briefed on the inquiries also said investigators had asked in particular about recent allegations that Apple used its dominant market position to persuade music labels to refuse to give the online retailer Amazon.com exclusive access to music about to be released.
All these people spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of the matter. Representatives from Apple and Amazon declined to comment. Gina Talamona, a deputy director at the Justice Department, also declined to comment.
In March, Billboard magazine reported that Amazon was asking music labels to give it the exclusive right to sell certain forthcoming songs for one day before they went on sale more widely. In exchange, Amazon promised to include those songs in a promotion called the MP3 Daily Deal on its Web site.
The magazine reported that representatives of Apple’s iTunes music service were asking the labels not to participate in Amazon’s promotion, adding that Apple punished those that did so by withdrawing marketing support for those songs on iTunes.
Apple is by far the largest seller of online music in the United States, with 69 percent of the market, according to data from the NPD Group, a marketing consultancy. Amazon’s MP3 store was in second place, with an eight percent share. Apple is also the largest seller of music, with 26.7 percent of the overall market, up from twelve percent in 2007.
Though the Justice Department’s inquiry is preliminary, it represents additional evidence that Apple, once the perennial underdog in high tech, is now viewed by government regulators as a dominant company with considerable market power. Through its iTunes store, Apple sells television shows, films, and applications for its iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad hand-held computing devices. Apple has also begun to sell electronic books.
“Certainly if the Justice Department is getting involved, it raises the possibility of potential serious problems down the road for Apple,” said Daniel L. Brown, an antitrust lawyer at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton. “Without knowing what acts or practices they are targeting, it’s difficult to say exactly how big a problem this is,” Mr. Brown added. “But it’s probably something Apple is already concerned about.”
The inquiry is one of several by the federal government involving Apple. The Federal Trade Commission is moving ahead with a separate investigation of Apple’s rules for developers who create applications for the iPhone operating system, according to a person familiar with that discussion. That inquiry, initiated by complaint from Adobe Systems, the maker of the Flash format for Internet video, is said to be in its early stages as well.
The Justice Department has also reportedly been investigating the hiring practices at Apple and other top technology companies, including Intel, IBM, and Google, asking whether the companies have improperly agreed to avoid hiring each other’s employees.
The music investigation signals the elevated scrutiny of technology companies under the antitrust agencies of the Obama administration. The Federal Trade Commission recently spent six months reviewing Google’s proposed acquisition of Admob, a mobile advertising start-up. Although the commission said the combination created “serious antitrust concerns,” it approved the deal, noting Apple’s own entry into the market for mobile advertising.
Apple first released its iTunes software in early 2001, giving people an easy way to organize their music collections on a Mac computer, and later, a PC. It opened the iTunes store in 2003, and has since sold more than ten billion songs, providing a significant source of revenue for the music industry.
While iTunes persuaded many people to pay for music, rather than download pirated copies of songs free, the music industry has chafed because Apple sets prices and controls the relationship to the music buyers. More recently, Apple has encouraged new kinds of competition in the online music marketplace by allowing streaming music applications from companies like Pandora and Rhapsody onto Apple devices.
Rico says it is good to be the prince, but it makes you a target...

Now it's their boxcar

Rico says that, many years ago, he tried to get Apple interested in what he called the Boxcar Project (after the one used to ship Lenin into Russia). Now, of course, the money's running the other way, as Andrew Kramer's article in The New York Times explains:
A group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists who bet on companies like Skype and Facebook are taking a look at another long-shot proposition: that Russia can diversify its economy away from oil. The Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, has elevated diversification to a centerpiece of his economic policy and is building a sprawling technology park outside Moscow referred to as Russia’s Silicon Valley.
The American venture capitalists’ visit to Russia on Tuesday offered a first look at how heavyweights in technology investing viewed this ambitious project. At a meeting with the investors, Mr. Medvedev spoke of his commitment to commercializing Russia’s scientific heritage, but acknowledged it would not be easy.
Russia’s boom-and-bust economy now swings wildly with the price of commodities like oil and metals, which make up eighty percent of the country’s exports. Government advisers have said that a lesson of the most recent crash was the urgency of diversification, despite rebounding commodity prices, as an inoculation against the next downturn.
Drew J. Guff, managing director of Siguler & Guff, an $8 billion venture capital fund, said he had committed a $250 million investment to a data center in Russia, encouraged by Kremlin support for information technology as symbolized by the new science park, also sometimes called Inograd, Russian for Innovation City. “We’re committed to Inograd and a new, technological Russia,” Mr. Guff told Mr. Medvedev at the meeting. “We believe our investors are satisfied investors.”
A Russian state-backed fund for investment in nanotechnology, Rusnano, organized the trip with AmBar, a trade group for Russian-speaking professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rusnano is looking for co-investors in a start-up created to commercialize Russian technological advances that are languishing at scientific institutes or university laboratories because the country has never had venture capital investors to bring them to market.
Russia is the world’s largest energy-exporting country and so does not lack capital for investment in business. The sovereign wealth funds are bulging. Instead, the strategy has been to attract expertise in incubating high-technology ventures, rather than simply money.
Rusnano’s director, Anatoly Chubais, one of the architects of Russia’s immediate post-Soviet privatization, who has now joined the effort to diversify, said in a statement that the goal of the visit was to “bring together the country’s most promising innovative projects with the world’s smartest money.”
The venture fund investors met earlier Tuesday with Viktor Vekselberg, the commercial director of the project to build the new scientific city. He had asked their views on the ambitious undertaking.
The technology city should become a stimulus for countrywide reforms to ease the emergence of small and medium businesses, including technology companies, Mr. Guff said he told the Russians, and not a goal in itself. Still, it could become a signal of Russian commitment to high technology development, he said, and might draw back to Russia some of the scientists and programmers who abandoned the country in the post-Soviet brain drain. “Inograd is not a physical location but something virtual,” he said.
David Kronfeld, the chairman of JK&B Capital, praised the government’s focus on nanotechnology, intended to leapfrog the semiconductor technology that Russia was far behind in anyway. But he added that Russia’s grim reputation among American investors would keep many away for now.
Mr. Medvedev said he was aware of investors’ negative mood toward Russia. The government was trying to improve policy, he said. But if those gathered at the table conveyed Russia’s commitment to tech development, he said, the image might change. “Businessmen trust their colleagues,” he said.

Yeah, just what the military wanted...

...faggots. (Sorry; homosexuals.)

The New York Times (no surprise there) has an editorial in favor of ending "don't ask, don't tell":
After months of unnecessary hand-wringing and delay, the White House and Congressional leaders appear to have reached an agreement on ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forced thousands of gay and lesbian service members to stay in the closet in order to serve their country. Although the agreement would postpone full repeal for a few months to await a Pentagon study on implementing the change, finally it creates a path to the full integration of the military. That is not just a matter of justice. It would make the military stronger.
Under the deal, reached Monday night by Democratic leaders and approved by the White House, Congress would vote on repeal in the next few weeks through an amendment to the Pentagon budget bill. The amendment says that the repeal would take place only after the president, the defense secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that it is consistent with military standards. At a minimum, that would extend the current law until 1 December, when the Pentagon study is due.
Considering the years of debate and study that have already passed, it is tempting to say that Congress should simply change the system now. It is unlikely, however, that there are enough votes for an immediate repeal, given the number of conservative Democrats who support Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his call to complete the study first.
Mr. Gates made it clear on Tuesday that he supports the agreement only because it allows more time for the study, and he carries significant weight on Capitol Hill. Despite his assent, however, it is not clear that both chambers have the votes to pass the amendment. President Obama needs to step in now to persuade wavering lawmakers to support the deal.
There are also several issues that need to be resolved during the study period regarding the implementation of the new policy, mostly involving benefits for same-sex partners of gay and lesbian service members. Because the Defense of Marriage Act does not allow federal spousal benefits for married same-sex couples, the military will have to work out ways to provide equivalent benefits to domestic partners.
These include issues of housing and foreign relocation, the ability to shop on a base, and insurance benefits. At the moment, same-sex partners are often not even notified if a soldier dies or is wounded, and they need to be assured the military will honor their right to receive the memorial flag if their partner or spouse is killed in the service of this country. The study should deal with how to make the repeal happen, not whether to do so. While it is being prepared, the military must live up to its word that it has stopped drumming out openly gay and lesbian soldiers.
Repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law does not automatically ensure that gay men and lesbians can serve openly. It simply takes the situation back to when the military set the policy on its gay members, before Congress gave it the force of law in 1993. Once it has the power to do so, the Obama administration says it will end the previous policy that homosexuality was not compatible with military service.
Until a law is passed guaranteeing that there will be no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, full integration will require the continuing good faith of President Obama and his successors. One day soon, Congress must be brave enough to pass a bill like the Military Readiness Enhancement Act now pending in both houses, ensuring that all qualified Americans have the right to serve their country.
Rico says that, given the military people he knows, gays and lesbians will not be truly welcomed in the military in his lifetime (or longer, he suspects)...

History for the day

On 26 May 1868, the Senate impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson ended with his acquittal, as the Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction.

Quote for the day

"When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America."
Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Pakistan, where conspiracy theories abound.

The Blues at the 2010 Spring National

Confederates at the 2010 Spring National

New home at the Fall National

Marv Bendy, Junior having relocated to other quarters, Rico says that he (and hopefully the ladyfriend) will be staying indoors in his own place, come the Fall Nationals.

One hell of a locksmith, those Israelis

Courtesy of Rico's friend Kelley, watch the ultimate door-buster demo here.

Civil War for the day

Mortar at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.

25 May 2010

History for the day

On 25 May 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.

Fridays at the Pentagon

Courtesy of Rico's friend Bill Calloway, this splendid column by Joseph Galloway of the McClatchy newspapers:
Over the last twelve months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors, and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded, and facing months or years in military hospitals. This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate, Army Lieutenant Colohel Robert Bateman, who recently completed a year long tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon. Here's Lieutenant Colohel Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause, and tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on 17 May on the blog of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters for America website:
It is 110 yards from the E-Ring to the A-Ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant, the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants, and some civilians, all crammed tightly, three and four deep, against the walls. There are thousands here.
This hallway, more than any other, is the `Army' hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, and G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way, and renew.
Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.
10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway. A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating. By his age, I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first class.
Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for not having shared in the burden... yet.
Now almost everyone lining the hallway is, like the man in the wheelchair, also a combat veteran. This steadies the applause, but I think deepens the sentiment. We have all been there now. The soldier's chair is pushed by, I believe, a full colonel.
Behind him, stretching from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each private, corporal, or sergeant assisted, as need be, by a field grade officer.
11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself at how stupid that sounds in my own head. My hands hurt. Please! Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier after soldier has come down this hallway: 20, 25, 30... Fifty-three legs come with them, and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts.
They pass down this corridor of officers and applause, and then meet for a private lunch, at which they are the guests of honor, hosted by the generals. Some are wheeled along. Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique audience. Some are catching handshakes and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade. More than a couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.
There are families with them as well: the 18-year-old war-bride pushing her 19-year-old husband's wheelchair and not quite understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the boy she grew up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying; the older immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their wounded mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their son's behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the silent tears on more than a few cheeks. An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the past.
These are our men, broken in body though they may be, but they are our brothers, and we welcome them home. This parade has gone on, every single Friday, all year long, for more than four years. Did you know that?
Rico says this puts him in mind of a story, pre-WW2, when a shout would ring out on some Marine base: "Stand, gentlemen! He served at Samar!" That was in the Phillipines, during the Insurrection, in case you didn't recognize the reference...

Of course it is

Rico says he just happened to look at the time: 1.11

Civil War for the day

The flag of the Pee Dee (North Carolina) Rifle Guards, CSA.

24 May 2010

One hundred years, like he said

Guy Adams has an article on The Independent out of the UK about Samuel Clemens:
Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain's dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken, and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.
The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, along with some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language, left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.
That milestone has now been reached and, in November, the University of California at Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.
Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends. One thing's for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he'll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had "hypnotised" him into giving her power of attorney over his estate. Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist's final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.
"Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It's completely at odds with the impression most people have of him," says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain's Other Woman. "There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn't such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he'd never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile."
Twain, who was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, had made several attempts to start work on autobiography, beginning in 1870, but only really hit his stride with the work in 1906, when he appointed a stenographer to transcribe his dictated reminiscences. Another potential motivation for leaving the book to be posthumously published concerns Twain's legacy as a Great American. Michael Shelden, who this year published Man in White, an account of Twain's final years, says that some of his privately held views could have hurt his public image. "He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. He's also critical of Theodore Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there."
In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances, and one of his landladies. Parts of the book have already seen the light of day in other publications. Small excerpts were run by US magazines before Twain's death, as he needed the money. His estate has allowed parts of it to be adapted for publication in three previous books described as "autobiographies".
However, Robert Hirst, who is leading the team at Berkeley editing the complete text, says that more than half of it has still never appeared in print. Only academics, biographers, and members of the public prepared to travel to the university's Bancroft research library have previously been able to read it in full. "When people ask me 'did Mark Twain really mean it to take 100 years for this to come out', I say 'he was certainly a man who knew how to make people want to buy a book'," Dr Hirst said.
November's publication is authorised by his estate, which in the absence of surviving descendants (a daughter, Clara, died in 1962, and a granddaughter Nina committed suicide in 1966) funds museums and libraries that preserve his legacy.
"There are so many biographies of Twain, and many of them have used bits and pieces of the autobiography," Dr. Hirst said. "But biographers pick and choose what bits to quote. By publishing Twain's book in full, we hope that people will be able to come to their own complete conclusions about what sort of a man he was."
Rico says sometimes you get lucky in when you're born; he's happy to have lived until this important work gets published.

Dead man walking

Maamoun Youssef has an AP article:
A U.S.-born cleric who has encouraged Muslims to kill American soldiers called for the killing of U.S. civilians in his first video released by a Yemeni offshoot of al-Qaeda, providing the most overt link yet between the radical preacher and the terror group. Dressed in a white Yemeni robe, a turban, and with a traditional jambiyah dagger tucked into his waistband, Anwar Al-Awlaki used the 45-minute video posted Sunday to justify civilian deaths, and encourage them, by accusing the United States of intentionally killing a million Muslim civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. American civilians are to blame, he said, because "the American people, in general, are taking part in this and they elected this administration and they are financing the war. Those who might be killed in a plane are merely a drop of water in a sea," he said in the video in response to a question about Muslim groups that disapproved of the airliner plot because it targeted civilians.
Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is believed to be hiding in his parents' native Yemen, has used his personal website to encourage Muslims around the world to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. He has emerged as a prominent al-Qaeda recruiter and has been tied by U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 hijackers, the suspects in the November shooting at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, and the December attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner bound for Detroit.
For U.S. officials, al-Awlaki is of particular concern because he is one of the few English-speaking radical clerics able to explain to young Muslims in America and other Western countries the philosophy of violent jihad.
Al-Awlaki's direct role in al-Qaeda, if any, remains unclear. The U.S. says he is an active participant in the group, though members of his tribe have denied that. However, Sunday's video provides the clearest link yet between the cleric and the terror group. It was produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's media arm, which touted the recording as its first interview with al-Awlaki. It may also indicate al-Qaeda is trying to seize upon al-Awlaki's recruiting prowess by featuring him in its videos. In the months before the Fort Hood shooting, which killed thirteen people, al-Awlaki exchanged e-mails with the alleged attacker, Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan initiated the contacts, drawn by al-Awlaki's Internet sermons, and approached him for religious advice.
Yemen's government says al-Awlaki is also suspected of contacts with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who traveled to Yemen late last year, and U.S. investigators say Abdulmutallab told them he received training and his bomb from Yemen's al-Qaeda offshoot.
In Sunday's video, al-Awlaki praised both men and referred to them as his "students." Speaking of Hasan, the cleric said, "What he did was heroic and great... I ask every Muslim serving in the U.S. Army to follow suit." Because of what U.S. officials view as al-Awlaki's growing role with al-Qaeda, the Obama administration placed him on the CIA's list of targets for assassination, despite his American citizenship. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Sunday that the U.S. is "actively trying to find" al-Awlaki. "The president will continue to take action directly at terrorists like Awlaki and keep our country safe from their murderous thugs," Gibbs said on CBS's Face the Nation.
Ali Mohammed al-Ansi, Yemen's national security chief and head of the president's office, said in remarks published Sunday in Yemen's ruling-party newspaper that the country's security forces will continue to pursue al-Awlaki until he turns himself in or he is arrested. Yemen has indicated that if its security forces capture al-Awlaki, it wants to try the cleric on Yemeni soil.
Al-Awlaki was born in 1971 in New Mexico. His father, Nasser al-Awlaki, was in the United States studying agriculture at the time and later returned with his family to Yemen to serve as agriculture minister. The father remains a prominent figure in Yemen, teaching at San'a University in the capital.
The younger al-Awlaki returned to the United States in 1991 to study civil engineering at Colorado State University, then education at San Diego State University, followed by doctoral work at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was also a preacher at mosques in California and Virginia before returning to Yemen in 2004. "We have had more freedom in America than in any Muslim country," he said in Sunday's video. "But when America started to feel the danger of Islam's message, it tightened limits on freedom, and after 9/11 it was impossible to live in America as a Muslim." Al-Awlaki is believed to be hiding in Yemen's Shabwa province, the rugged region of towering mountains that is home to his large tribe. He said he was moving from place to place under the protection of his tribe. "As for the Americans, I will never surrender to them," al-Awlaki said. "If the Americans want me, let them come look for me. God is the protector."
Rico says isn't solicitation of murder a crime? Surely someone can whack this guy...

Round number in the night, as usual

Civil War for the day

Rico says he was at the (reproduction) Wawah all week:

23 May 2010

Civil War for the day

Rico says he was at the (reproduction) Wawah all week:

22 May 2010

Civil War for the day

Rico says he was at the (reproduction) Wawah all week:

21 May 2010

Civil War for the day

Rico says he was at the (reproduction) Wawah all week:

20 May 2010

Civil War for the day

Rico says he was at the (reproduction) Wawah all week:

19 May 2010

Civil War for the day

Rico says he was at the (reproduction) Wawah all week:

18 May 2010

Why they all still like dollars

David Marsh has a column in The New York Times about the euro:
The dream of monetary union across Europe has turned into a nightmare. Led by France and Germany, European countries have decided to spend colossal sums of taxpayers’ money they cannot afford, to heal mounting internal disparities they cannot conceal, to shore up an edifice many believe cannot stand. On Monday, that skepticism briefly pulled the value of the euro down to a four-year low against the dollar.
A little over a week ago, European Union leaders approved a rescue package worth 750 billion euros (nearly $1 trillion) for weaker members like Greece, Portugal, and Spain, backed by the International Monetary Fund and the American government. The present crisis extends well beyond its immediate causes: bad decisions in Athens, lack of European leadership, and a poor economy. These are but the latest twists in a drama that began more than two decades ago.
The underlying story of how sixteen diverse European currencies were fused into the euro combines the contorted fortunes of two powerful German politicians who sought to tame Europe’s past and shape its future, along with a French president who wished to fasten economic shackles around the might of a reunified Germany. Ultimately, too, it is the story of how the Old Continent struggled to break free from the uncertain political and economic embrace of the United States.
The pivotal moment in the formation of Europe’s monetary union came in December of 1991 at a meeting in Maastricht in the southern Netherlands. Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, European leaders set a political path toward a Europe-wide currency, a holy grail that had been pursued since the Roman Empire. The new money would complete the European program of liberalized cross-border trade, promote the old dream of political unity, rival the dollar as an international reserve currency and, the most complicated objective, prevent an enlarged Germany’s domination of Europe by bringing its currency under European control. The mighty Deutschmark needed to be cast into the furnace of European unity and forged into the euro.
In the vanguard of the effort was none other than Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the man who had driven German reunification with miraculous speed. He knew he had to enshrine the larger Germany in a new European order to ease its neighbors’ fears. The euro would be the monetary equivalent of the ugly-yet-necessary military compact between NATO and the Warsaw Pact that supervised East and West Germany after World War Two.
To his credit, just before the Maastricht meeting, Chancellor Kohl noted that a monetary union without a corresponding political union would be “a castle in the air”. His remark echoed the concerns of the Bundesbank, his country’s statutorily independent central bank, that unless it involved greater political and economic anti-inflationary discipline and solidarity among weaker and stronger states, a monetary union would be doomed.
Of course, the Bundesbank was also reluctant to cede its mastery of European monetary affairs to a new European Central Bank. And ordinary Germans were not eager to give up the mark, the guarantor of their prosperity.
Yet Mr. Kohl fought for the monetary union, and the euro started on schedule, three months after he was voted out of office. (Eleven countries adopted the currency on 1 January 1999; five more, including Greece, joined later.)
Mr. Kohl’s partner in redrawing the contours of Europe was President François Mitterrand of France, who provided Mr. Kohl with the political incentive to create the monetary union, arguing that unified Germany had to participate in deeper European integration. Mr. Kohl agreed but, egged on by the Bundesbank, applied conditions that to this day remain deeply irksome to France; principally that the new currency had to be run by a European Central Bank that would be at least as independent as the Bundesbank.
The deeply held French view was that the state, not unelected central bankers, should have ultimate power over a nation’s money. Shortly before he died in 1996, Mitterrand told a confidant that his agreeing to the independence of the European Central Bank had been a terrible error.
The third principal character in the story of the euro is Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s 67-year-old finance minister— a courageous, quick-thinking man suspended between the past and the present, between hope and tragedy. A paraplegic since being shot by a deranged assailant at an election rally in 1990, Mr. Schäuble served as Mr. Kohl’s Chancellery minister, applying connivance and calculation in dealings with East Germany and, later, as interior minister, deftly negotiating the 1990 reunification treaty. It was Mr. Schäuble who, with forbearance and persistence, played a central part in carrying out Mr. Kohl’s wish that the new Germany be integrated into a new Europe by the binding power of a common money.
Mr. Schäuble is now the key member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, and the euro imbroglio presents him with his most exacting test. Yet during recent months of mounting tension caused by the debts of the southern members of the euro zone, he has been confined to a hospital bed for weeks on end. (He made it to Brussels earlier this month for a vital finance ministers’ meeting, but was rushed to the hospital there after suffering an allergic reaction to medication.) The ministers’ decision to offer nearly $1 trillion in aid and guarantees, with taxpayers from Germany bearing the largest share, was made without him.
The huge amount of money aside, the significance of the rescue package was that, for the first time, power over the European Central Bank started to move to the politicians. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, a longtime critic of the bank’s sway, joined forces with another Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, to impose political supremacy over the euro zone.
Decisive backing came from President Obama who, on the eve of the Brussels meeting, telephoned Mrs. Merkel to warn her that Europe’s failure to act could set off another worldwide credit crunch. His intervention was incongruous in the extreme: an American president urging the German chancellor to shore up a currency union that was meant to bolster Europe’s financial independence from the United States.
But this is not the only way in which the euro has defied expectations. Germany has long warned that southern euro states, no longer able to improve their competitiveness by devaluing their own currencies, could run into severe financial trouble. The red ink from their increasing trade deficits has been flowing for more than a decade. These countries have borrowed far too much for too long at too cheap interest rates. The current account deficits for Greece and Portugal average an unsustainable ten percent of gross domestic product.
Yet, even as it predicted the trouble, Germany failed to anticipate that the countries running a trade surplus would inevitably need to finance the southern states’ shortfalls. The five most heavily indebted euro members owe German banks an estimated 700 billion euros (nearly $900 billion), and these German surpluses, once regarded abroad as a symbol of great strength, have emerged as a dangerous source of vulnerability. Most sickeningly for the Germans, the indebted nations are likely to say that their debts need to be reduced or restructured in the name of European solidarity.
A German revolt against the attenuated independence of the European Central Bank appears likely, and could jeopardize parliamentary approval for the rescue package. The Germans feel mistreated by a monetary system that makes them pay for others’ largely self-inflicted misfortunes.
The trouble is far from over. The austerity programs for errant southern states ordained by European governments and the International Monetary Fund are likely to lead to severe unemployment and civil unrest. Some southern euro members may choose to return to their former currencies, or they may be asked to do so by other states.
An overarching structure for political control over the euro is now being erected. But it is likely to be resisted by Germany, the main paymaster, which rejects any idea that German strength is a root cause of recent disequilibrium.
Not for the first time in European history, differing perceptions of German power contain the seeds of much potential unrest. Monetary union was once the bright hope for laying to rest Germany’s demonic ability to unhinge Europe. Now it appears to be doing just the opposite.
 

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