31 August 2010

Invidious comparison

Rico says it's the latest (and even better) commercial for the iPad:

Rico says compare that with the latest commercial for the Amazon Kindle (that Rico used to think he wanted), which touts its ability to be read in direct sunlight (whoop-dee-doo):

Sad. Some people just don't know when they're beat...

Civil War for the day

Another Matthew Brady photograph from Footnote.com, of a battery at drill

30 August 2010

Pancho Villa as himself

Rico says he thought he'd seen it, but he hadn't. A good movie, both visually and historically, with a good cast, starting with Antonio Banderas.

The ugly reality

What kind of deal? A deal deal

Scott Shane has an article in The New York Times about a wheeler-dealer trying to stay out of the slammer:
Accused of a fifteen-year run as one of the world’s biggest arms traffickers, Viktor Bout is thought to be a consummate deal maker. Now his future may hang on whether he can strike one last bargain: trading what American officials believe is his vast insider’s knowledge of global criminal networks in exchange for not spending the rest of his life in a federal prison.
Justice Department officials were relieved on 20 August when a Thai appeals court approved the extradition of Mr. Bout (pronounced boot), a Russian, from Bangkok, where he has been incarcerated since 2008. But they are wary of declaring victory in a long diplomatic wrangle with Russia until Mr. Bout actually arrives to face charges in Manhattan, a development that could be days or weeks away.
Immersed since the early 1990s in the dark side of globalization, Mr. Bout has mastered the trade and the transport that fuel drug cartels, terrorism networks, and insurgent movements from Colombia to Afghanistan, according to former officials who tracked him. And he is believed to understand the murky intersection of Russian military, intelligence, and organized crime.
“I think Viktor Bout has a great deal of information that this country and other countries would like to have,” said Michael A. Braun, chief of operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration from 2005 to 2008, when the agency was engineering the sting operation that led to Mr. Bout’s arrest in Bangkok two years ago. “It’s a question of whether he sees his wife and kid again someday, after ten or fifteen or twenty years,” said Mr. Braun, now with Spectre Group International, a private security firm. “I think there’s potential for a deal.”
Mr. Bout, who has lost about seventy pounds while imprisoned in Thailand, has shown no inclination to cooperate with investigators. In interviews, he has portrayed himself as an honest businessman who would transport whatever he was paid to carry, whether disaster relief supplies or attack helicopters. On his website he calls himself “a born salesman with undying love for aviation and eternal drive to succeed.” He has labeled as “ridiculous” American charges that he agreed to sell shoulder-fired missiles to DEA agents posing as members of a Colombian leftist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. “I have never traded in weapons,” he said in a statement. His wife, Alla, who has visited him in Bangkok with their teenage daughter, Elizabeth, has told reporters he traveled to South America “for tango lessons”.
But if the bravado falters when Mr. Bout faces prosecutors in New York, he has plenty to tell, said Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book about him, Merchant of Death. “He knows a great deal about how weapons reach the Taliban, and how they get to militants in Somalia and Yemen,” Mr. Farah said. “He knows a lot about Russian intelligence as it’s been restructured under Putin,” he added, referring to Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister.
Rumors in Bangkok have suggested that the Russians and the Americans engaged in a bidding war over the American extradition request, with Russia offering Thailand cut-rate oil and Americans offering military hardware. Both sides have denied such bargaining. Thai officials say they must process a second United States request for extradition on a separate indictment for money laundering before Mr. Bout can be put aboard the American jet that arrived last week to pick him up.
The legend of Mr. Bout, 43, a former Soviet Air Force officer and gifted linguist who speaks English, French, Arabic, and Portuguese, may have outgrown even the facts of his career, the basis for the 2005 movie Lord of War. Operating a web of companies, at times calling himself Viktor Bulakin, Vadim Aminov, or other pseudonyms, he rose in the global arms underworld after the Soviet collapse freed aging aircraft and huge weapons supplies.
“What you have in Viktor Bout is a prime figure in the globalization of crime,” said Louise I. Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. “He epitomizes the new type of organized crime, in which the person is educated, has international ties, and operates with the support of the state.”
By the mid-1990s, Mr. Bout’s growing private air force had come to the attention of Western intelligence agencies. By 2000, when Lee S. Wolosky became director for transnational threats at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, Mr. Bout’s web of companies was turning up in country after country, Mr. Wolosky said. “My colleagues who worked on Africa noticed that he was popping up in each conflict they were trying to resolve: Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola,” said Mr. Wolosky, now a lawyer in New York. “He had a logistics capability that was matched by very few nations.”
Mr. Bout developed ties with such notorious figures Charles Taylor of Liberia, bedded down next to his plane in African war zones and sometimes took payment in diamonds, bringing his own gemologist to assess the stones. His arms escalated the toll of the fighting. “Wars went from machetes and antique rifles to A.K.’s with unlimited ammunition,” Mr. Farah said.
Former American officials say they worked on a plan to grab the arms dealer and deliver him to either Belgium or South Africa to face criminal charges, a procedure known as “rendition to justice.” Before they could act, the 11 September 2001 attacks made Mr. Bout a lower priority.
Mr. Wolosky said he and his colleagues were astonished to learn from later news reports that Mr. Bout’s companies were used as subcontractors by the American military to deliver supplies to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, earning about $60 million, by Mr. Farah’s estimate. “I read those reports with shock,” Mr. Wolosky said. “Personally, I attributed it to the disorder of the Iraq war effort.”
In Afghanistan before 9/11, Mr. Bout had long supplied Ahmed Shah Massoud, the ethnic Tajik warlord who spent years fighting the Taliban. Later, he supplied the Taliban, according to former American officials, who believe his only real allegiance was to money.
In 2007, Mr. Braun, then the DEA operations chief, said he was asked by Bush administration officials about prosecuting Mr. Bout. The agency lured him into a trap in which the agency said he agreed to sell surface-to-air missiles and other military gear to agency informants posing as FARC operatives.
At a meeting in a Bangkok hotel in March of 2008, according to court records, Mr. Bout scribbled price estimates and doodled an aircraft, telling his ostensible customers “that the United States was also his enemy. It’s not, uh, business,” Mr. Bout said on tape, the records say. “It’s my fight.”
Rico says it's the old line: "I'm shocked, shocked..." But Claude Rains delivered it better. Yet it sounds like we should have hired the guy, not thrown him in jail... (A deal deal is, of course, Don Rickles' great line from Kelly's Heroes.)

Absolute truth? A 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court, of course

Rico says that, if you really wanna have some fun, suggest a Constitutional Convention to fix the Second Amendment. That's be a useful thing, since they're trying to pack the court with some anti-gub jurists again. (And just when we thought things were getting better, what with Heller and McDonald...)

It seems so simple, don't it? Take the existing why-can't-they-understand-plain-English sentence and remove the why-does-it-confuse-them phrase:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

What, you don't recognize that, without the excess commas?
That's because it was the version that was distributed to the states and ratified by them, which seems more like what was intended than the be-comma'd version that ended up being transcribed in the final document. (Proofreading, people; ever heard of it?)

So, what to fix? Take out that damned (and apparently so confusing) phrase, and leave just the meat of the thing:

The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Simple, elegant, and cannot (even by the four Supreme dingbats) be misconstrued.

Oh, they'd try, but it'd surely be no more confusing than the First:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Imagine the Supremes trying to parse that one...

Of course, the real problem with holding a Constitutional Convention is that, once you take the lid off, the whole can of worms is now up for grabs: they'd want to put in stuff about religion, abortion, the works.
So, bad idea. Too damn bad, too; it'd beat the next hundred years of thrashing around in the Supreme Court, trying to figure out what "shall not be infringed" means... (Funny, We the People know, don't We?)

Horrors, a cricket scandal

John Burns has an article in The New York Times about the latest tragedy for the Pakis:
For many Pakistanis, weighed down by their country’s descent into biblical levels of violence and flooding, there was a sense of a final straw in the crude betting scandal that broke over the weekend around the Pakistani cricket team, whose players have long been idols with feet of clay, in a nation with few exemplars elsewhere to buoy vulnerable spirits.
Even as the Pakistani team faced humiliating defeat by England in a game played on the hallowed grasses of Lord’s ground in London, traditionally regarded as the home of cricket, Scotland Yard detectives interrogated three of the team’s key players, including the captain and an 18-year-old novice who has been the team’s star performer in its series with England, in their hotel on Saturday night.
The detectives told team managers that they had been tipped to a “spot fixing” scandal that was about to be splashed across the front page of Sunday’s News of the World, Britain’s most widely-circulated tabloid. Spot-fixing refers to a form of corruption that has plagued cricket, soccer, and other sports in Europe, particularly Britain, the former colonial power to what is now Pakistan. Instead of bribing players to fix matches outright, considered too risky for the Asian betting syndicates involved, the schemes often rely on fixing details of play that, while not necessarily affecting a game’s outcome, can attract millions of dollars of bets across Asia.
The News of the World, one of the tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation media conglomerate, ran its top Sunday story under a banner headline that read: Caught!
The paper said that an undercover reporter posing as a wealthy businessman planning to bet on the Lord’s game had paid the equivalent of more than $230,000 to a London-based “fixer” who claimed to have seven members of the eleven-man Pakistani team “in his pocket” and four who had specifically agreed to join in the scheme.
On its website, the newspaper accompanied its story with a video showing the man suspected of being the fixer, Mazhar Majid, 35, sitting in a London hotel room with stacked bundles of British pound sterling notes on a table. Scotland Yard said it had arrested Mr. Majid on suspicion of fraud before interviewing the cricketers.
The video appears to show Mr. Majid telling the undercover reporter details of exactly when during Thursday and Friday’s match at Lord’s, Pakistan’s bowlers, cricket’s equivalent of baseball pitchers, would deliver three “no balls”, cricket terminology that refers to balls ruled foul by umpires because the bowler’s front foot falls beyond a chalk line on the 22-yard pitch at the moment of delivery.
As the game developed, the no-balls were delivered by the Pakistani team’s star bowlers, Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif, at exactly the moments in the game specified by Mr. Majid in his video exchange with the News of the World reporter.
“I’m telling you, if you play this right, you’re going to make a lot of money, believe me,” Mr. Majid told the undercover team, according to the newspaper.
When the cricket match in London resumed on Sunday, twelve hours after the Scotland Yard detectives had interviewed the two bowlers and the team captain, Salman Butt, and impounded their cellphones, it was doubtful whether the Pakistani players would even play.
But play they did, and lose, by a heavy margin. Although the three Pakistani players were on the field, several of England’s former cricket captains, now working as television commentators, said they suspected it might be a long time, if ever, before they were selected to play for Pakistan again.
As the Pakistan players returned to their hotel after the game, a knot of Pakistani fans banged on the team’s bus, and cried out their dismay. “It’s absolutely disgraceful,” one man shouted. Another man, interviewed by the BBC, appeared to verge on tears. “The cricket was only good thing that was happening to us, what with the floods and everything else,” he said.
The captain, Mr. Butt, was evasive when asked at a postgame news conference if the paper’s allegations were true. “I am saying that every person on my team gave 100 percent,” he said.
But Pakistan’s embattled government lost no time in reacting, and not to offer any defense. President Asif Ali Zardari, who spent years in Pakistani prisons over the past decade over allegations that he embezzled millions while his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister in the 1990s, said through a spokesman that he had “directed that he be kept posted” on the police inquiry in London. He ordered the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, a government appointee, to submit a personal report.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was more direct. Visiting his hometown, Multan, he told reporters that the allegations against the cricketers had made Pakistan’s 170 million people “hang their heads in shame".
For Pakistanis, the allegations were a fresh body blow. Although their faith in the cricket team has been repeatedly undermined by years of scandal and factionalism within the team, cricket remains hugely popular, as it does in neighboring India, which has faced similar cricket scandals.
In both countries, cricket outstrips all other popular entertainment, except possibly Bollywood films. Former cricket stars like Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to victory over England in the final of the 1992 world cricket championship before entering politics, are enduring household names.
Even with vast areas of Pakistan under water, television sets in unaffected areas, in households, cafes, and community centers, have drawn eager followers throughout the summer to follow Pakistan’s progress in two separate series played in England, first against Australia, for many years the top team, and subsequently against England.
In both series, the Pakistani players performed erratically, mixing episodes of brilliance with almost crass ineptitude, causing many involved in cricket, as officials and commentators, to question whether more than just the no-balls had been fixed in the four-game series with England.
In the newspaper’s video, Mr. Majid boasted that he could fix other details of the game, including the number of runs scored in any period of play.
Andrew Strauss, England’s captain, was asked after the end of the match whether he worried that other aspects of the series, which England won 3-1, had been subverted. “Hopefully, those fears are unfounded,” he said.
Adding to the woes of Pakistan’s supporters at home, the team has been unable to play in Pakistan for the past eighteen months, since the Dubai-based International Cricket Board banned other national teams from playing in Pakistan after a terrorist attack on Sri Lanka’s team in March of 2009 in the city of Lahore.

Great video

Click here to see the video.

Nantucket's black history is better, so there

Jackie Calmes has an article in The New York Times about black history on Martha's Vineyard:
As a getaway for two Democratic presidents, including the current one, Martha’s Vineyard is often disparaged as an undemocratic haven for wealthy white elites.
Kathlyn Joy Gilliam and Lorraine Parson thought differently, based on what they had read in black history books, and longed to visit. “It’s always been said this is where the elite African-Americans came,” said Ms. Parson, 74. Mrs. Gilliam, her 79-year-old sister, added, “I didn’t realize how many African-Americans were here, though.”
By chance, the two women finally visited last week, while President Obama was here for his second August vacation since taking office. They did not see him, but they saw much of the island on a daylong tour of its African-American Heritage Trail: 22 sites that someday will probably add a stop for the secluded farm the first black president rented.
The island has often been called self-segregated, with most African-Americans here in Oak Bluffs. Its harbor drew freed slaves, laborers, and sailors in the 18th century, and white locals sold them land. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, middle-class blacks bought or rented summer homes; many descendants returned annually. Most affluent whites live in Edgartown to the southeast, or on farms and estates to the west, where Mr. Obama stays.
But many African-Americans here, year-rounders and summer visitors alike, insist it is not segregated. “This is one of the most integrated communities, racially and economically, that there is,” said Vernon Jordan, the lawyer and former civil rights leader, who has rented a summer place for years.
His wife, Ann, came here as a child from segregated Tuskegee, Alabama with her father, a surgeon. Her cousin is Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s longtime friend and adviser, who has vacationed here since she was a child. “We’d hitchhike all over the island,” Ms. Jarrett said. “I never experienced a hint of discrimination on the island in more than forty years.”
Influenced by Ms. Jarrett and other friends, Mr. Obama visited several times before he became president. In August of 2004, amid his campaign for the Senate, Mr. Obama was here for a forum on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling against segregated schools. Also participating were two summer residents and Harvard professors, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Charles J. Ogletree Jr.
In 2007, Mr. Obama came for a fund-raiser when he was running for president. He called the island “one of those magical places where people of all different walks of life come together, where they take each other at face value.”
According to the book African-Americans on Martha’s Vineyard, a 1947 article in Ebony magazine said the “most exclusive Negro summer colony in the country is at quaint historical Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.” It added, “Negro and white swim together on the public beaches and rub shoulders at public affairs.”
Forty-two years later, in 1989, Ebony again declared the island “a vacation mecca.”
The heritage trail includes stops at the houses of former Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the first black senator after Reconstruction and the first from the North; former Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; and Dorothy West, a Harlem Renaissance writer who, for two summers in the 1990s, was visited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, another Vineyard resident and a Doubleday editor who guided Ms. West to finish her novel The Wedding.
Also on the tour is the oceanfront mansion of Joseph Overton, the onetime Harlem labor leader, which was known as the Summer White House of the civil rights movement. It faces the Inkwell beach, named long ago by black youths or black writers; no one seems certain. The house’s visitors included the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who vacationed on the island with his family a number of times, as well as Joe Louis, Harry Belafonte, and Jesse Jackson.
The exclusive Chilmark area has Rebecca’s Field, land that the enslaved Rebecca Amos inherited and farmed until 1801. Edgartown has a plaque honoring the daughter who was taken from her to be enslaved elsewhere, Nancy Michael, called “Black Nance.” It calls her “a most singular character”, in the words of an 1857 obituary, for the spells she conjured for departing ship captains.
On Chappaquiddick is the dilapidated house of her grandson, William Martin, who became one of the few black whaling ship captains in New England.
The tour guide, Alex Palmer, said the heritage trail group had been trying to raise money to restore the 1830 house, or see it sold to someone who would do the restoration, but had been unsuccessful. Yet when he drove to the site, a new owner, Michael Partenio, was there with his two young sons. Mr. Partenio, a photographer and producer from Danbury, Connecticut, who is white, said he would rebuild the house much the way Captain Martin knew it and admit tour groups. He had already bought a guestbook; the visiting African-American women were the first to sign.
Mae Margaret Donaldson, 65, of Dallas, a cousin of Mrs. Gilliam and Ms. Parson, was so moved that she told everyone to hold hands in a circle. She prayed for a blessing on the house and its owners. Then she hugged Mr. Partenio. “We’re going to take good care of it,” he told her.
Rico says that blacks in Philadelphia are 'self-segregated', too; if you don't have the money, you don't get to live in the upscale neighborhoods... (Hell, if he didn't have such a wonderful ladyfriend, he'd be living in the ghetto, too.)

Oh, fleeting expletive the FCC and the horse they rode in on

Rico says that Noam Cohen's article in The New York Times has to skirt the issue, but he doesn't:
There is a world where when you see someone driving in a fancy car with the girl you love, you shout out: Forget you! It’s the same world where friends will talk smack about the crazy stuff their dads say. That world is called traditional entertainment.
And while traditional entertainment increasingly relies on the anything-goes-internet to cultivate and stoke interest in music, television shows, and movies, there are still some important boundaries. The return to civilization comes at a cost.
A case in point is a recent viral musical sensation, a bouncy song by the soul-pop singer Cee Lo Green with over three million views on YouTube in little more than a week. The singer is peeved at a girl who has left him and concludes that:
If I’d been richer, I’d still be with ya and though there’s pain in my chest, I still wish you the best... followed by a certain crude phrase, and an ooh, ooh, ooh.
This is hardly a fleeting expletive of the kind the Federal Communications Commission has tried to regulate. While songs with vulgarities in them are a dime a dozen (actually more like $12 on iTunes), Cee Lo’s single is unusual in that the crude phrase is the title, chorus, and punch line to the song, said Craig Marks, the editor of Billboard magazine. He could conjure up only a handful of hit songs in a similar bind; rarer still was the song that played a peppy tune against the crude lyrics. “Even if it is the most happy song, radio is not going to play it,” Mr. Marks said matter of factly, imagining crude lyrics praising sunshine and lollipops or even the joy of radio itself.
Hence the riddle for Elektra Records, Cee Lo’s label, part of the Warner Music Group, which will release his latest album, The Lady Killer, in December and hopes to sustain interest in the single offline.
Cee Lo already has cut a cleaned-up version of the single for the radio called Forget You!, which has been played in England and may be soon in the United States, too. But Forget You! can seem inauthentic— the peculiar phrase for such foul-mouthed-turned-mealy-mouthed expressions is “minced oaths”— and probably will not get the girl’s attention.
Rather than mince their oaths, however, radio stations have edited the song themselves, bleeping out the phrase but interrupting the musical flow. That will be true, one imagines, even with the smoother official edit that the record company is to release soon.
Indeed, much about the Forget You story is instructive about promotion of music online. And the main lesson: the Internet simply will not play by the rules, even for a business that tries to leave as little to chance as possible.
Cee Lo, who is from Atlanta, is probably most famous for being half of a duo called Gnarls Barkley, which had a hit, Crazy, that itself was a viral phenomenon in 2006. But Crazy was nothing compared to Cee Lo’s latest.
A first wrinkle: The video for something similar to Forget You that has racked up so many views on YouTube was meant to be a place holder before a “proper video” is released this week. The Cee Lo single, though, has been aided by a nifty design that used the lyrics to great effect. They bounce along with the song; appearing and disappearing, growing bigger and moving across the screen. The title words, unprintable in a family newspaper, are largest of all.
“I was only approached a couple of days before the song needed to be released on YouTube,” Terry Scruby, 33, who created the video, wrote in an email. “I designed and animated the entire song in only one night, and actually had to drop additional ideas I wanted to incorporate to take the video to the next level because I simply didn’t have time.” Mr. Scruby, whose company, based in London, is called TD4, said he had never been caught up in an Internet phenomenon before. “It has been the first piece of my work that has been forwarded back to me by my friends and colleagues in a ‘You must see this’ type way, which really highlights the viral nature of how this song has spread,” he wrote, adding, “Yep, that’s right; none of my friends who posted the link on Facebook knew that I had made it. I hadn’t told anyone about it because I had no idea it would be so popular.”
The second wrinkle is that viral sensations move much more rapidly than even the greatest optimist could imagine. The bright-flash success for Cee Lo caught many by surprise, including the record company. For the first week, while the song was being played to death on YouTube, the single was not actually for sale. By Thursday, it was. The iTunes store, where it is listed with an Explicit warning label, charges $1.29. It had risen to No. 28 by Sunday afternoon. Cee Lo’s website sells the single at the same price and also packages it with a T-shirt of some of the lyrics for $20.
A final lesson for people like me is that, no matter how pervasive the Internet has become, it still prospers in conjunction with the mainstream entertainment world, not separate from it. Few recording artists are too big or too Internet focused to ignore radio.
Likewise, the creator of a popular Twitter feed about the stuff his dad says, only put a bit more colloquially, ended up writing a book that added an asterisk where a vowel should have been in the uncensored title. When it appears as a TV show on CBS this fall, it will be $#*! My Dad Says, which uncannily resembles the word, but has plausible deniability.
The two worlds feed off of each other. Stuff My Dad Says might never have caught anyone’s attention, no matter how clever those comments may be. And had Cee Lo’s song started out with bleeps, or even worse, as “Forget You it might never have been forwarded online.
“I have heard the radio friendly ‘clean’ version,” Mr. Scruby wrote from London. “I feel it loses some impact. Part of the attraction to the song is how upbeat and joyful it is, whereas the insulting lyrics offer a counterpoint that strikes a perfect balance.” He added: “As far as I’m aware, there are no plans for me to make a ‘clean’ lyric video, and certainly no one has even mentioned doing it.”
Rico says joke 'em if they can't take a fuck...

'Feet wet' takes on new meaning

Rico says the editorial in The New York Times sums up the problem of how to define a country merely because it's underwater:
If a country sinks beneath the sea, is it still a country? That is a question about which the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian nation of 29 low-lying coral atolls, is now seeking expert legal advice. It is also a question the United States Senate might ask itself the next time it refuses to deal with climate change.
According to the world’s leading scientists, sea-level rise is one of the greatest dangers of global warming, threatening not only islands but coastal cities like New Orleans and even entire countries like Bangladesh.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conservatively predicted a twenty-inch sea-level rise by the end of this century, if current trends were not reversed. Because of various uncertainties, its calculations excluded the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets. Some academic studies have suggested that rises of four to seven feet are not out of the question.
Officials in the Marshall Islands, where a twenty-inch rise would drown at least one atoll, are not only thinking about the possibility of having to move entire populations but are entertaining even more existential questions: if its people have to abandon the islands, what citizenship can they claim? Will the country still have a seat at the United Nations? Who owns its fishing rights and offshore mineral resources?
Marshall Islands leaders have asked Michael Gerrard, an expert on climate change law at Columbia University, to help them find answers to what he regards as plausible questions. He further notes that an island can become uninhabitable before the sea level rises above it, because even moderate storms can swamp any agricultural land and render freshwater supplies undrinkable.
All of this reminds us of an astonishing remark last month by Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. When asked why she saw no immediate need to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill, she said: “You know, it took fifty years on health care.” If only the earth could wait that long.

Someone's doing it for us

Rico says it's an ugly thing, but the drug cartels are taking out the illegals before they get here; there's an editorial on the subject in The New York Times:
The full story of the massacre in Tamaulipas, in northeast Mexico, awaits telling by its one survivor. The early news accounts are horrifying: 72 people, said to be migrants from Central and South America on their way to the United States, are waylaid and imprisoned by drug smugglers on a ranch one hundred miles south of Texas. They refuse to pay extortion fees, and are executed. The survivor, shot in the neck, hears their screams for mercy as he flees. After a gun battle with the authorities, the killers escape in SUVs. The dead, 58 men and 14 women, are found piled in a room, merely discarded contraband.
The temptation may be to write this atrocity off as another ugly footnote in Mexico’s vicious drug war. But such things do not exist in isolation. Mexico’s drug cartels are nourished from outside, by American cash, heavy weapons, and addiction; the northward pull of immigrants is fueled by our demand for low-wage labor.
Drug cartels, always opportunistic capitalists, have leaped into the business of smuggling people. Illegal immigrants, known as pollos, or chickens, are in some ways better than cocaine bricks, because they can be forced to pay ransom and be drug mules.
The American response to Mexico’s agonies has mostly been a heightened fixation on militarizing the border; most recently, a $600 million bill offered by Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, and signed by President Obama. Enforcement without any overhaul of legal migration creates only the illusion of control. Without a system tied to labor demand, illegality, disorder, and death proliferate.
Current temporary-worker programs are so cumbersome and bureaucratic they are almost unusable by employers. Unable to enter legally, and locked out of Texas and California by stringent border security, immigrants skirt the fence ever farther into the remote Arizona desert. Illegal crossings are down in the bad economy, but deaths this brutal summer are up. The pull of opportunity still beckons.
We have delegated to the drug lords the job of managing our immigrant supply, just as they manage our supply of narcotics. The results are clear.
Rico says his 'no-law-in-the-first-mile' rule would solve this, but add to the body count. Better that we let the drug cartels do it...

Religion ain't helping there, either

Gadi Taub has an op-ed piece in The New York Times about Israel:
Will Israel remain a Zionist state? If so, what kind? These are the important questions in Israeli politics today, and will be looming over the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Washington.
The secular Zionist dream was fundamentally democratic. Its proponents, from Theodor Herzl to David Ben-Gurion, sought to apply the universal right of self-determination to the Jews, to set them free individually and collectively as a nation within a democratic state. (In fact, the Zionist movement had a functioning democratic parliament even before it had a state.)
This dream is now seriously threatened by the religious settlers’ movement, Orthodox Jews whose theological version of Zionism is radically different. Although these religious settlers are relatively few, around 130,000 of the total half-a-million settlers, their actions could spell the end of the Israel we have known.
The roots of the problem have been there from the birth of modern Zionism. The relations between Herzl’s movement and Jewish Orthodoxy were uneasy from the start. After all, the Zionist movement sought to achieve by human means what Jews for two millenniums considered to be God’s work alone: the gathering of the diaspora in the land of Israel. Most rabbis therefore shunned Herzl, but not all. Some joined the movement, even formed a party within it, based on a separation of religion and politics. For them, secular Zionism was primarily a solution to the earthly predicament of the Jews; it was not so theologically laden.
But, over the following decades, another form of religious Zionism came to precedence, inspired by the quasi-mystical writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, who was the chief rabbi of Palestine under the British Mandate in the 1920s and ’30s. Kook saw secular Zionists as the unwitting agents of God’s providence, advancing redemption by returning Jews to their homeland.
His son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, later focused his father’s theological ideas around a single commandment: to settle all the land promised to the ancient Hebrews in the Bible. His disciples, energized by a burning messianic fervor, took Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 as confirmation of this theology and set out to fulfill its commandment. Religious enthusiasm made the movement subversive in a deep sense; adherents believed they had a divine obligation to build settlements and considered the authority of Israel’s democratic government conditional on its acceptance of what they declared to be God’s politics.
Although religious settlers often describe themselves as heirs of the early Zionist pioneers, they are anything but. Herzl’s vision was about liberating people, while theirs is about achieving a mystical reunion between the people of Israel and the land of Israel. Herzl’s view stemmed from the ideals of the Enlightenment and the tradition of democratic national liberation movements, dating back to the American and French Revolutions; religious settlers are steeped in blood-and-soil nationalism. Herzl never doubted that Israeli Arabs should have full and equal rights. For religious settlers, Arabs are an alien element in the organic unity of Jews and their land.
The consequences of these differences are huge. If the settlers achieve their manifest goal, making Israel’s hold on the territories permanent, it will mean the de facto annexation of a huge Arab population and will force a decision about their status. In Israel proper, the Arab minority represents about a fifth of its 7.2 million citizens, and they have full legal equality. But between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are roughly equal numbers of Arabs and Jews today.
Even if Israel annexed only the West Bank, it would more than double its Arab population. With birthrates in the territories far exceeding those of Arabs and Jews within Israel, Jews would soon enough be a minority. This would void the very idea of a Jewish democratic state.
Israel would have to choose between remaining democratic but not Jewish, or remaining Jewish by becoming non-democratic. Israel’s enemies have long maintained that Zionism is racism and that Israel is an apartheid state. If the settlers succeed, they will turn this lie into truth.
In fact, the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, once the great patron of the settlers, was one of the first politicians on the right to accept that the settlers’ dream is hopeless. That is why he led Israel out of Gaza in 2005. But not all have followed him. The secular Israeli right has abandoned the idea of annexation but still favors settlement on short-term (and short-sighted) security grounds.
Preserving military rule over the territories, they believe, is necessary to keep terrorism in check, and the settlements demonstrate Israel’s resolve. Although the occupation and the suspension of Palestinian rights are officially temporary, the right wing aspires to keep Arabs indefinitely in quasi-colonial status. Given the Palestinians’ refusal to sign a peace deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessors, many Israelis who oppose the settlements and occupation in principle have thrown up their hands and accepted this situation, too.
But the status quo cannot last, and Israelis and their supporters need to confront this fact. The most pressing problem with the settlements is not that they are obstacles to a final peace accord, which is how settlement critics have often framed the issue. The danger is that they will doom Zionism itself.
If the road to partition is blocked, Israel will be forced to choose between two terrible options: Jewish-dominated apartheid or non-Jewish democracy. If Israel opts for apartheid, as the settlers wish, Israel will betray the beliefs it was founded on, become a pariah state and provoke the Arab population to an understandable rebellion. If a non-Jewish democracy is formally established, it is sure to be dysfunctional. Fatah and Hamas haven’t been able to reconcile their differences peacefully and rule the territories — throwing a large Jewish population into the mix is surely not going to produce a healthy liberal democracy. Think Lebanon, not Switzerland.
In truth, both options and, indeed, all “one-state solutions”, lead to the same end: civil war. That is why the settlement problem should be at the top of everyone’s agenda, beginning with Israel’s. The religious settlement movement is not just secular Zionism’s ideological adversary, it is a danger to its very existence. Terrorism is a hazard, but it cannot destroy Herzl’s Zionist vision. More settlements and continued occupation can.

Gadi Taub, an assistant professor of communications and public policy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is the author of The Settlers.
Rico says some people, like Kook, are aptly named...

Glad it's not Rico's problem

Rico says he doesn't like even the thought of such close quarters for such a long time, but he's glad someone worked on the problem; those poor bastards in Chile are gonna need it; Nick Kanas has the story in The New York Times:
FOR the past two decades, NASA has been studying what happens to people when they are enclosed in small spaces for long periods of time. The research has yielded insights that might be of use to the 33 Chilean miners, who are likely to be trapped underground for months.
Stay connected: Researchers studying confinement on long Antarctic missions came to believe in a “third quarter phenomenon”, the emergence of depression and anxiety after a mission’s halfway point. In two NASA studies involving thirteen American and seventeen Russian astronauts working on the Mir station and the International Space Station, my colleagues and I found that this response did not typically present itself with space travelers.
Why? Simple outside communication. When astronauts seemed to be feeling the blues, Russian space psychologists encouraged them to speak with family, friends, and famous people on Earth. They asked them to play music and brighten the lights on board, and they sent unexpected presents and favorite foods on resupply ships. American mission control psychologists have employed similar tactics. For this reason, anything that enhances the link between the miners and family and friends should be encouraged.
Outsiders: In our orbital studies, we found that crew members displaced intragroup tension and negative feelings to the “out-group”; in the astronauts’ case, Mission Control personnel. We all have experienced displacement. You are angry at a boss but can’t say anything for fear of reprisal. Instead, you go home and unload on your partner or scream at the parakeet.
The miners will probably form subgroups involving people with similar interests and values from whom they can receive solace when they feel angry at someone else. But what if everyone starts to feel frustrated? Will they displace their feelings to the surface, believing that those above aren’t trying hard enough to be of help?
It is important for topsiders to be aware of this possibility. The miners should be made to perceive themselves and people on the surface as a team working together. Also, taking a cue from mission control, where the person who communicates directly with the astronauts is usually also an astronaut, it would be useful to have a trusted miner on the surface speaking with the miners.
Support the leader: Luis Urzua, a 54-year-old shift foreman, has emerged as the de facto leader of the miners. Decades-long research in the Antarctic found that successful leaders in these situations perform twin (and sometimes conflicting) roles: they assign tasks and monitor the emotional states of individuals. Our space research supports these observations. Those above ground should therefore do everything in their power to reinforce Mr. Urzua in these two roles.
Family time: In our work, we found that astronauts sometimes worry more about their families on Earth than about themselves in space. While the Chilean government is focusing its attention on the miners, it is crucial that it care for their families, too; knowing that someone is attending to their loved ones will be a relief to the miners, helping them endure the stifling days of confinement ahead.

Nick Kanas, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, is an adviser to NASA and the co-author of Space Psychology and Psychiatry.

Not at your local bank, for sure

Rico says his friend Bill Calloway sends this along:
Chappell Hill is a small town in Texas between Houston and Brenham on Highway 290, where they have both enlightened banking and believers in the Second Amendment. 

Another Montalbano on top

Courtesy of Rico's friend Christopher Montalbano, this picture of his brother Peter (who's 67, and obviously doing well) atop Mount Whitney in California. You can read all about his trek here.
Rico says his friend Christopher stood in the same place some 43 years ago...

History for the day

On 30 August 1963, the hot-line communications link between Washington, D.C., and Moscow went into operation.

Civil War for the day

The Battle of Chickamauga in Tennessee on the 19th & 20th of September in 1863.

29 August 2010

Ah, those Germans

This commercial is courtesy of one of Rico's perverse friends; another one sent along an even more provocative German commercial for Sprite. It's not uploadable, alas, but you can see it here. (Warning: explicit, if implied, sex between two people not of the same race, if that matters to you.)

Zaitokukai? Sounds like 1939 all over again

Martin Fackler has an article in The New York Times about anti-foreigner sentiment in Japan:
The demonstrators appeared one day in December, just as children at an elementary school for ethnic Koreans were cleaning up for lunch. The group of about a dozen Japanese men gathered in front of the school gate, using bullhorns to call the students 'cockroaches' and 'Korean spies'. An armband worn by a member of the Japanese group Zaitokukai. The red characters say: The Volunteer Corps Against Lawless Koreans; the black characters say Expel barbarians.
Inside, the panicked students and teachers huddled in their classrooms, singing loudly to drown out the insults, as parents and eventually police officers blocked the protesters’ entry.
The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto Number One Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school’s reputation. More significantly, the protests also signaled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message, and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.
Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan’s half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers, and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revelers waving placards that said: This is not a white country
Local news media have dubbed these groups the 'Net Far Right', because they are loosely organized via the Internet, and gather together only for demonstrations. At other times, they are a virtual community that maintains its own web sites to announce the times and places of protests, swap information, and post video recordings of their demonstrations.
While these groups remain a small if noisy fringe element here, they have won growing attention as an alarming sideeffect of Japan’s long economic and political decline. Most of their members appear to be young men, many holding the low-paying part-time or contract jobs that have proliferated in Japan in recent years.
Though some here compare these groups to neo-Nazis, sociologists say that they are different because they lack an aggressive ideology of racial supremacy, and have so far been careful to draw the line at violence. There have been no reports of injuries, or violence beyond pushing and shouting. Rather, the NetRight’s main purpose seems to be venting frustration, both about Japan’s diminished stature and in their own personal economic difficulties.
“These are men who feel disenfranchised in their own society,” said Kensuke Suzuki, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. “They are looking for someone to blame, and foreigners are the most obvious target.”
They are also different from Japan’s existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music. This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in postwar Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes. Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the NetRight, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers. “These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers,” said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with a hundred members and a fleet of sound trucks. But, in a sign of changing times here, Mr. Suzuki also admitted that the NetRight has grown at a time when traditional ultranationalist groups like his own have been shrinking. Mr. Suzuki said the number of old-style rightists has fallen to about 12,000, one-tenth the size of their 1960s’ peak.
No such estimates exist for the size of the new NetRight. However, the largest group appears to be the cumbersomely named Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Privileges for Koreans in Japan, known here by its Japanese abbreviation, the Zaitokukai, which has some 9,000 members. The Zaitokukai gained notoriety last year when it staged noisy protests at the home and junior high school of a fourteen-year-old Philippine girl, demanding her deportation after her parents were sent home for overstaying their visas. More recently, the Zaitokukai picketed theaters showing The Cove, an American documentary about dolphin hunting here that rightists branded as anti-Japanese.
In interviews, members of the Zaitokukai and other groups blamed foreigners, particularly Koreans and Chinese, for Japan’s growing crime and unemployment, and also for what they called their nation’s lack of respect on the world stage. Many seemed to embrace conspiracy theories, taken from the internet, that China or the United States were plotting to undermine Japan.
Japan has a shrinking pie,” said Masaru Ota, 37, a medical equipment salesman who headed the local chapter of the Zaitokukai in Omiya, a Tokyo suburb. “Should we be sharing it with foreigners at a time when Japanese are suffering?
While the Zaitokukai has grown rapidly since it was started three and a half years ago with just 25 members, it is still largely run by its founder and president, a 38-year-old tax accountant who goes by the assumed name of Makoto Sakurai. Mr. Sakurai leads the group from his tiny office in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, where he taps out announcements and other postings on his personal computer. Mr. Sakurai says the group is not racist, and rejected the comparison with neo-Nazis. Instead, he said he had modeled his group after another overseas political movement, the Tea Party in the United States. He said he had studied videos of Tea Party protests, and shared with the Tea Party an angry sense that his nation had gone in the wrong direction because it had fallen into the hands of leftist politicians, liberal media as well as foreigners. “They have made Japan powerless to stand up to China and Korea,” said Mr. Sakurai, who refused to give his real name. Mr. Sakurai admitted that the group’s tactics had shocked many Japanese, but said they needed to win attention. He also defended the protests at the Korean school in Kyoto as justified to oppose the school’s use of a nearby public park, which he said belonged to Japanese children.
Teachers and parents at the school called that a flimsy excuse to vent what amounted to racist rage. They said the protests had left them and their children fearful. “If Japan doesn’t do something to stop this hate language,” said Park Chung-ha, 43, who heads the school’s mothers association, “where will it lead to next?”
Rico says it smacks of how that whole WW2 thing started, and look how that worked out for the Japs... But "Japan has a shrinking pie. Should we be sharing it with foreigners at a time when Japanese are suffering?" Substitute 'America' for 'Japan' and 'Americans' for 'Japanese', and you've got a good question...

Can't kill 'em all, but you can try

Anthony Shadid has an article in The New York Times about more al-Qaeda bombings:
Insurgents affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for a wave of car bombings, roadside mines, and hit-and-run attacks this week in at least thirteen Iraqi cities and towns, a deadly and relentless campaign whose breadth surprised American military officials and dealt a blow to Iraq’s fledgling security forces.
At least 56 people were killed in the attacks, in which insurgents deployed more than a dozen car bombs. Two of the assaults wrecked police stations in Baghdad and Kut, a city southeast of the capital, though American and Iraqi officials said measures taken by the security forces had prevented the attacks from inflicting an even higher toll.
The statement from the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group for the al-Qaeda militants, was posted on one of its websites; it called the assaults “the wings of victory sweeping again over a new day.” It said it had attacked “the headquarters, centers, and security barriers of the apostate army and police.”
For weeks, officials had warned that insurgents might try to escalate attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which began in August, capitalizing on months of stalemate over forming a new government here. Popular frustration has risen sharply this summer, as scorching temperatures accentuate shortages of electricity and drinking water, whose shoddy delivery remains one of Iraqis’ long-standing grievances.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered the security forces on high alert Friday, saying that insurgents were planning more attacks across the country “to kill more innocents and spread panic”. He urged a public that has yet to bestow much confidence in the security forces to cooperate with them in an effort to stanch coming attacks. “We call upon citizens to open their eyes, to observe the movements of those terrorists, to abort their evil planning and inform on any suspect movements as soon as possible,” said the statement, which was broadcast on television.
Next Wednesday, the United States will formally end what it describes as combat operations in the country, assuming a training and advisory role for the nearly 50,000 troops who will remain here through next summer. The administration has described the date as a turning point in the war, though it remains somewhat ceremonial. The levels the American military will maintain still represent a formidable force here and, while most combat has indeed ended, troops will still take part in what it calls counterinsurgency.
American military officials have said the most formidable Sunni insurgents may number just in the hundreds. While they said they knew that attacks like Wednesday’s were still possible, they were nevertheless struck by the breadth of the campaign, which hit towns and cities from southernmost Basra to restive Mosul in the north.
“The potential for violence, what I would characterize now as primarily terrorist acts here, is quite significant, and the ability of terrorist acts to have an impact on the political life of this country is still a significant risk,” James F. Jeffrey, the new American ambassador to Iraq, told reporters at the embassy this week. But, he added, “This does not change our assessment that the security situation, by every statistic that we have looked at, is far better than it was a year or two ago.”
At the scene of the worst bombing in Baghdad, where explosives piled in a blue pickup toppled a police station and sheared the top floors off a block of houses, residents on Saturday walked aimlessly through houses in which they could no longer sleep. They were angry that no one from the government had visited and that no one had offered help.
“Each day is worse than the day before, each year is worse than the year before,” said Sabah Abu Karrar, 45. He walked over bricks that were once his wall, and he quoted a saying cited often in calamity: “There is no power or strength except through God.”
Rico says yeah, well, then get God to rebuild their fucking houses...

Kinder, raus!

Marc Lacey has an article in The New York Times about the 'special status' of certain places:
From behind the wheel of his minivan, Bill Szentmiklosi scours the streets of Sun City in search of zoning violations like unkempt yards and illegal storage sheds. Mostly, though, he is on the lookout for that most egregious of all infractions: children.
With a clipboard of alleged violations to investigate, he peers over fences and ambles into backyards of one of America’s pioneer retirement communities, a haven set aside exclusively for adults, where children are allowed to visit but not live.
Mr. Szentmiklosi, 60, a retired police officer who settled here four years ago, has remade himself as the chief of Sun City’s age police, the unit charged with ensuring that this age-restricted community of sexagenarians, septuagenarians, and even older people does not become a refuge for the pacifier-sucking, ball-playing, or pimple-faced.
One recent morning, as he slowly wheeled between ranch homes and palm trees, Mr. Szentmiklosi kept a sharp eye on the driveways and yards, surveying for any obvious signs of youth. It could be a stray ball or a misplaced, pint-sized flip-flop. In sniffing out children, he said, he relies on his three decades as an officer.
But it is when he strides up to a home, dressed in shorts, sandals, and a polo shirt, and knocks on the door, that his detective work really begins. He tells the suspected violator that a neighbor has complained and he asks gentle questions to get to the bottom of things, all the while peering around for signs of youthful activity. His work is helped by a simple reality: children are hard to hide. They leave tracks and make unique sounds. Newborns bellow, toddlers shriek, and teenagers play music that is not typical around Sun City.
Mr. Szentmiklosi and his fellow child-hunters have their work cut out for them. The number of age violations in Sun City, a town of more than 40,000 residents outside Phoenix, has been rising markedly over the years, from 33 in 2007 to 121 in 2008 to 331 last year, a reflection of a trend at many of the hundreds of age-restricted communities nationwide.
This year’s figures are expected to be even higher, said Mr. Szentmiklosi, who knows that, despite his patrols, Sun City is probably harboring more children that have not yet been detected. The economic crisis is aggravating the problem, he said, forcing families to take desperate measures to cut costs, even if it means surreptitiously moving into Grandma and Grandpa’s retirement bungalow.
The vigorous search for violators of Sun City’s age rules is about more than keeping loud, boisterous, graffiti-scrawling rug rats from spoiling residents’ golden years, although that is part of it. If Sun City does not police its population, it could lose its special status and be forced to open the floodgates to those years away from their first gray hair. The end result would be the introduction of schools to Sun City, then higher taxes, and, finally, an end to the Sun City that has drawn retirees here for the last half-century.
At 50, Sun City is not old by the standards of Sun City, where the average resident is in his or her early 70s. To remain a restricted retirement community, at least 80 percent of Sun City’s housing units must have at least one occupant who is 55 or older, allowing for younger spouses or adult children. But the rules are clear on one thing: no one, absolutely no one, who is a teenager, an adolescent, a toddler, a newborn, or any form of child, may call Sun City home.
“Visits are okay, as long as they’re limited,” said Mr. Szentmiklosi, who describes himself as a doting grandfather and insists that he does not have an anti-child bone in his body. “You can have children visit for ninety days per year. That means if you have ten grandchildren, each one can visit, but they can only stay nine days each.”
Mr. Szentmiklosi, the compliance manager for the Sun City Homeowners Association, said that, although the city was scrupulous, it remained compassionate. For instance, it allowed a young woman with an infant who was renting a home without the association’s knowledge a year to move out.
But the association also plays hardball, issuing fines and threatening legal action to pressure youthful violators to leave. One reason Sun City is so vigorous is because of what happened on the other side of 111th Avenue, one of the main roads traversing the neighborhood.
Although Del Webb, who developed Sun City in 1960, gets credit for inventing the idea of a community of active retirees, the concept actually started years before on an adjacent tract in what was called Youngtown. But the developers there were not diligent in drawing up their legal paperwork. A challenge by the family of a teenage boy led the state to strip Youngtown of its age restrictions in 1998. So, on one side of the road, little people can be seen running around. On the other side, many people remember the Great Depression, and not from reading about it in a book.
“It was so much quieter before,” said Librado Martinez, 80, a retired machine operator who lives on the Youngtown side of the line, and has to put up with children playing ball in the park in front of his house. “You heard no screams before.” That peace is what Sun City residents want to keep. They rose up last month to block a charter school, which is not governed by the same rules as other public schools, from moving in.
“They were concerned about children roaming the streets and terrorizing things,” said Marsha Mandurraga, who works for the school’s founder.
To prevent future incursions, Sun City’s leaders are using their clout to urge state legislators to change the law to keep Sun City school-free. “I’ve raised kids,” said Chris Merlav, 61, breathing through an oxygen tank and resting on the side of a Sun City pool designed for walking, not swimming. “After a while you get to the point where you don’t want to be bothered any more.” Mr. Merlav, who moved here from Rochester, New York, had evidence at hand that he was not anti-child. His twenty-year-old stepdaughter, Danielle Anastasia, was lounging in the pool with him. She understood the desire of Sun City residents to be with people their own age. “It’s like me hanging with my college friends,” she said.
Some of Sun City’s more hard-line anti-child activists can sound as though they somehow bypassed youth completely. “There are people here who have never had children, don’t care for children, and don’t particularly want children around,” said Jan Ek, who runs Sun City’s seven recreation centers, eight golf courses, two bowling centers, and assorted other entertainment venues, some of which sometimes open up for child visitors.
At Sun City’s museum, the resident historian, Bill Pearson, 62, played a videotape used to lure retirees to the development in the 1960s. The narrator said then what many residents still say now: “Of course we love them and enjoy their visits, but you deserve a little rest after raising your own.”
Rico says he has family who used to live in Sun City, and those old folks are serious about no kids... (Even though a favorite nephew, Rico still got thrown out after a week.)

Rico will work way cheaper

Rico says Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply have an article in The New York Times about big money, and the lack thereof, in Hollywood:
Joel Silver stands on the Warner Brothers lot and points to the remnants of a house where he filmed parts of four Lethal Weapon movies. “We blasted a toilet out of that window,” he says, smiling proudly. “Over there, we drove a car straight into the living room.”
Ah, the glory days.
Behind Mr. Silver, the flamboyant producer of some of the biggest action hits of the last thirty years, is the modest set for one of his current films, an R-rated comedy with no stars, almost no budget and, for now, no title. Not that Mr. Silver was ready to call the production small. “It’s a little movie, but it’s a big little movie,” he says.
And therein lies Mr. Silver’s challenge: How does a larger-than-life, free-spending producer fit into a movie business that has been tightening up and cutting some of its more grandiose characters down to size?
In the new Hollywood, stars count for less, whether in front of the camera or behind it. Financial firepower and technological wizardry matter more. And a generation of producers, whose principal assets were their industry connections and a remarkable degree of personal force, are having to adapt.
Mr. Silver, 58, has been a dominant studio moviemaker for over three decades, delivering blockbuster franchises like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and The Matrix. The 59 movies he has produced have generated almost $10 billion in ticket sales, adjusting for inflation. The money he has made for Warner alone has won him lavish treatment from the studio, not just in compensation, but also in perks. To make him happy, Warner once went so far as to send movie props to his Brentwood mansion for his son’s birthday party.
Warner, at least in years past, has ignored Mr. Silver at its own peril. Six years ago, Jeff Robinov, then a top production executive at the studio, was hospitalized after a motorcycle accident. As he recovered, Mr. Robinov heard that Mr. Silver was exaggerating the severity of the accident, and telling people that Mr. Robinov was unable to function. When Mr. Robinov asked Mr. Silver why he was doing this, the producer said it was because the Warner executive hadn’t been returning his calls promptly.
Despite such antics, producers like Mr. Silver used to be able to count on one studio or another to support them in near perpetuity. So what if they fell on hard times — as Mr. Silver has, recently delivering a string of flops like Speed Racer (one of the biggest money-losers in Warner’s 87-year history), Ninja Assassin, Whiteout, and the aptly titled The Losers.
Studios no longer take such losses lightly. Bleeding from plummeting DVD sales and higher marketing costs, they’ve started reducing producer deals. Warner alone has cut the number of producers it carries by twenty percent over the last two years, and has said more reductions are on the way. The producers Warner now favors are mostly young and inexpensive or come with financial backing of their own from outsiders, like Legendary Pictures, which teamed up with Warner to make The Dark Knight.
Warner has also been building up the production companies of directors and actors like Zack Snyder, Ben Affleck and Todd Phillips, all of whom now challenge Mr. Silver in a pecking order that changed when old images of Hollywood producers— who survived by wit, will, and the occasional outrageous moment— began fading to black.
A particularly difficult point for both Warner and Mr. Silver is the cost of his production deals. In a frothier time, the lucrative arrangements struck by Mr. Silver allowed him to get a cut of the revenue from his films. That means he is entitled to about 8 cents of every dollar the studio takes in for his pictures, whether they are bombs or runaway hits.
Warner is also required to distribute films from Mr. Silver’s production company Dark Castle, which self-finances horror and other low-budget movies with $240 million in private funding. In theory, the deal gives Warner films from an experienced producer without risking its own production money. In practice, the arrangement has sometimes backfired, as it did earlier this year with Splice, a thriller about a pair of scientists who use genetic manipulation to create a monstrous child.
Mr. Silver acquired rights to Splice at little cost. But Warner spent about $26 million to market the film, only to see it come up short, with just $17 million at the domestic box office.
Against backdrops like this, Hollywood studios are nudging entrenched producers away from prized but risky projects, if only to avoid paying them millions of dollars in participation fees while the studio loses money. For instance, Mr. Silver was entrusted for years with developing Wonder Woman into a big-budget movie. Warner recently took the superheroine away from him, to exert more control and to allow other, less expensive producers to take a shot at it.
So even though Hollywood has always been the fabled land of comebacks and second acts— and Mr. Silver recently found success with Sherlock Holmes— the megaproducer also knows that his head may be perilously close to the chopping block. His deal with Warner, which provides for a staff of about twenty, expires in December 2011; negotiations for a new contract haven’t started. Mr. Robinov, now president of Warner’s motion picture division, declined to comment on whether the studio would renew Mr. Silver’s deal or simply pressure him into a more restrictive contract. “Joel is an incredible cinephile, who is incredibly intelligent and incredibly passionate about his job,” says Mr. Robinov. “That’s a lot to bring to the party.”
For his part, Mr. Silver is playing the role of the stoic. “Maybe I will continue with Warner and maybe I won’t,” he says over a dinner of goulash and brussels sprouts inside his trailer. “I hope I do.”
Still, some of his powerful friends seem worried. At the very least, they are rallying around him. “Warner’s is very fortunate to have Joel Silver,” said Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios. “Let’s hope he doesn’t take a bullet from anybody. He’s a good guy,” says Terry Semel, Warner’s former chairman. “Even home-run hitters have cold streaks. It’s the nature of sports and it’s the nature of movies.”
Bruce Berman, the chief executive of Village Roadshow Pictures, who has known Mr. Silver since 1979 when they worked together on Xanadu, says no producer working in Hollywood better understands the pull of mass entertainment. “That’s incredibly valuable,” he says. Even so, Mr. Berman allows that his pal “is a 20th-century man in a 21st-century world.”
Mr. Silver, burly and bearded, has been parodied in several movies, most recently by Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, but he is far from the only megawatt producer under pressure or needing to figure out a new way forward.
(There's a ton more here.)

Rico says if anyone is interested in a much-cheaper producer & screenwriter (who, while he's produced no blockbusters, has produced no money-losers, either), they may contact one here:
Mark Seymour
Producer, Proofmark Cinema
POB 79, Wynnewood, PA 19096-0079

History for the day

to come

Civil War for the day

to come

28 August 2010

A pity there aren't more of them

Andrew Lee Butters has an article at Time.com about a unique museum:
The rocky red hills and dense oak forests of southern Lebanon near the Israeli border make perfect terrain for guerrilla warfare, as the Israeli army has repeatedly discovered to its chagrin. Whether or not the once and future war zone is an ideal location for a multi-million dollar tourist attraction is another matter. But that hasn't stopped Hizballah, the anti-Israeli militant group and Shi'ite Muslim political party, from opening a war memorial this summer here in the southern hill town of Mleeta. With a reported cost of about $20 million and a cryptic slogan (Earth Speaks to Heaven), Mleeta is the first stage of what Hizballah hopes will be a kind of family theme park of the Islamic Resistance that will eventually include spa hotels, a paint-ball gun battlefield, and a cable-car ride with a scenic view of northern Israel, or, as the tour guides call it, "Occupied Palestine".
Mleeta is a full-frontal display of the Party of God's legendary attention to detail, its willingness to sacrifice, and its glorification of combat. Visitors walk down "The Path", a winding trail interspersed with mannequin-filled dioramas of combat scenes, including a field hospital and a camouflaged rocket launch site meant to convey the experience of being a mujaheddin. They duck their heads and enter "The Cave", a once-secret bunker used as barracks for as many as 7,000 militants that engineers carved out of the hillside over a period of several years, scattering its debris for miles to avoid drawing the attention of Israeli reconnaissance planes. And they can gawk at "The Abyss", a pit filled with captured Israeli machine guns, rockets, and tanks. "These arms were used to destroy your homes, look at them now under your feet," said a tour guide recently to a busload of men in Hizballah canary yellow baseball caps and women in black chadors visiting from the Martyr's Association, a charity for the families of militants killed in action. "Every helmet you are seeing is from a dead Israeli soldier," he said.
So far, Mleeta is a hit among the ranks of the Hizballah faithful. "When I see such achievements, I forget the blood of my son,'" says Ahmad Sleim, 70, a farmer visiting Mleeta and the father of 13 sons, all of whom were Hizballah militants, and one of whom died in 1992 fighting in the south. "This is holy ground," he says. There may even be a broader audience: some adventurous European tourists have asked about Mleeta, envisioning it as a radical-chic way to see the Arab-Israeli conflict close-up. But the very existence of Mleeta— which was two years and some fifty architects and engineers in the making— is also a sign of an organization in the midst of an identity crisis.
Since its creation in 1982 to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Hizballah's guerrilla organization has always been most comfortable living in the shadows, and shadowy guerrilla groups don't usually build permanent museums with their own websites: www.mleeta.com. But Hizballah's main source of legitimacy— the liberation of southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation back in 2000— is getting a little stale. Its recent military achievements— such as standing down the Israeli army during the summer of 2006— have been mixed blessings to those Lebanese who complain that Hizballah started the war in the first place by kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Since then Hizballah has been in the uncomfortable position of having to justify its continued existence as an armed military force separate from the Lebanese government. That debate took a violent turn when Hizballah used its weapons on its rivals in the streets of Beirut in 2008, and negotiated a deal whereby it would have a veto power over any attempt by the Lebanese government to disarm it.
So now Hizballah is in public relations overdrive to repair the damage to its reputation caused by that internal Lebanese political battle. On the one hand, the Mleeta museum reminds the Lebanese that they owe their freedom from Israeli occupation to Hizballah. On the other hand, now that the occupation is over, Hizballah is also trying to re-brand itself as a "deterrence" organization (as opposed to one of "resistance") so that it can keep its rockets to make sure Israel doesn't come back. Mleeta is part of that rebranding: a display in one of its galleries lists the sites in Israel— Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, the nuclear reactor at Dimona, hotels in Elat, etc.— that Hizballah would target in response to an Israeli attack.
But plenty of Lebanese are worried that Hizballah's arsenal— Israel claims that Hizballah has re-armed with more rockets and better military technology since the 2006 war— makes another war with Israel that much more likely. A war almost broke out this spring, when U.S. officials accused Syria of training Hizballah with the use of ballistic Scud missiles.
Indeed given that officials from both sides say they expect another war within a year or so, there is something either vain or stoic about building a war memorial that will almost certainly be destroyed by the Israeli air force. "We'll just re-build all over again," says one Hizballah official. But whether other Lebanese will be so gung-ho when the dust settles remains to be seen.

Hutu, Tutsi, goodbye; Hutu, Tutsi don't cry...

Howard French has a article in The New York Times about Rwanda and the Congolese genocide of 1994:
A forthcoming United Nations report on ten years of extraordinary violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo bluntly challenges the conventional history of events there after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, charging that invading troops from Rwanda and their rebel allies killed tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, including many civilians.
The 545-page report on 600 of the country’s most serious reported atrocities raises the question of whether Rwanda could be found guilty of genocide against Hutu during the war in neighboring Congo, but says international courts would need to rule on individual cases.
In 1994, more than 800,000 people, predominantly members of the ethnic Tutsi group in Rwanda, were slaughtered by the Hutu. When a Tutsi-led government seized power in Rwanda, Hutu militias fled along with Hutu civilians across the border to Congo, then known as Zaire. Rwanda invaded to pursue them, aided by a Congolese rebel force the report also implicates in the massacres.
While Rwanda and Congolese rebel forces have always claimed that they attacked Hutu militias who were sheltered among civilians, the United Nations report documents deliberate reprisal attacks on civilians. The report says that the apparently systematic nature of the massacres “suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.” It continues, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people, and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.”
The existence of the United Nations document, titled Democratic Republic of Congo, 1993-2003, was first reported by the French daily newspaper Le Monde. But participants in the drafting of the report have described its progress and difficulties over a period of seven months to The New York Times, which obtained the most recent version of the report.
The Rwandan government responded angrily to the report, calling it “outrageous”. The topic is extremely delicate for the government, which has built its legitimacy on its history of combating the genocide in Rwanda. Political figures there have been accused of perpetuating a “genocide ideology” for making claims that are similar to the report’s.
“It is immoral and unacceptable that the United Nations, an organization that failed outright to prevent genocide in Rwanda and the subsequent refugees crisis that is the direct cause for so much suffering in Congo and Rwanda, now accuses the army that stopped the genocide of committing atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Ben Rutsinga of the Office of the Government Spokesperson.
The release of the report appears to have been delayed in part over fears of the reaction of the Rwandan government, which has long enjoyed strong diplomatic support from the United States and Britain. There is concern in the United Nations that Rwanda might end its participation in peacekeeping operations in retaliation for the report.
“No one was naïve enough to think that inspecting mass graves in which Rwandan troops were involved would make Kigali happy, but we have shared the draft with them,” said a senior official at the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, which oversaw the investigation. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the findings had not been officially released.
He said: “Voices have said, ‘Can’t we just delete the genocide references? Isn’t this going to cause a lot more difficulties in the region?’ But these voices have not carried the day.”
The United Nations document breaks the history of ten years of violence in Congo into several periods. It begins with the final years of the three-decade rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko, marked by attacks on a Tutsi minority in the country’s far east, and violent raids on Rwandan territory from United Nations-administered refugee camps that housed roughly a million Hutu who had fled Rwanda after the genocide. These raids were conducted by elements of the defeated Hutu national army, and the Hutu Interahamwe militia, both principally involved in the genocide in Rwanda.
The report also covers two other time periods: the Second Congolese War, from 1998 to 2001, when the armies of eight African states vied for control of the country, and 2001 to 2003, when foreign armies partially withdrew, leaving a tentative peace. Congo continues to suffer major atrocities, including the rape of thousands of women by armed groups.
The report contains a chilling, detailed accounting of the breakup of Hutu refugee camps in eastern Zaire at the start of the war in October of 1996, followed by the pursuit of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees across the country’s vast hinterland by teams of Rwandan soldiers and their Zairean rebel surrogates, the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo. Those forces were led by Laurent Kabila, who took over as president the next year, and who was the father of Congo’s current president, Joseph Kabila.
The report presents repeated examples of times when teams of Rwandan soldiers and their Congolese rebel allies lured Hutu refugees with promises they would be repatriated to Rwanda, only to massacre them.
In one such episode, advancing Congolese rebel fighters and Rwandan troops summoned refugees to a village center, telling them they would be treated to meat from a slaughtered cow to strengthen them for their trek back to Rwanda. As the Hutu began to register their names by prefecture of origin, a whistle sounded and soldiers opened fire on them, killing between 500 and 800 refugees, the report said.
In other instances, as survivors scrambled desperately through thick rain forest in a country as large as Western Europe, extermination teams laid ambush along strategic roadways and forest paths, making no distinction between men, women, and children as they killed them.
Although the report does detail attacks when there were military targets, notably at Tingi Tingi, a Hutu camp in Maniema Province, such targets are extremely rare in the report.
An element of the report that could help determine any judgment of genocide concerns the treatment of native Congolese Hutu. The report suggests they were singled out for elimination along with Hutu refugees from Rwanda and Burundi. The report asserts that there was no effort to make a distinction between militia and civilians, noting a “tendency to put all Hutu people together and ‘tar them with the same brush.’ ”
Pascal Kambale, a prominent longtime Congolese human rights lawyer who was consulted by the United Nations investigators, said: “The ex-F.A.R. fighters were said to be hiding behind the refugee populations, but the truth is that the attackers were targeting both the Rwandan Hutus and the Congolese Hutus,” referring to the Hutu-led Rwandan militia, F.A.R. in its French initials. “Entire families were killed, whole villages were burned, and in my view this remains the most heinous crime that happened during these 10 years.”
Timothy Longman, the director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, said that people in eastern Congo had long charged they were victims, too. “The reason it didn’t get more attention is that it contradicted the narrative of the Rwandan Popular Front as the ‘good group’ that stopped the genocide in Rwanda,” he said.
As early as 1997, the United Nations began investigations into reports of possible crimes against humanity involving extermination of Hutu populations by the Congolese rebel forces and their Rwandan backers, but Laurent Kabila, as president, refused access to areas where atrocities were believed to have been committed, and the investigation was abandoned. A senior United Nations official said that the investigation was given new life when three mass graves were discovered in North Kivu Province by United Nations workers in 2005.
“Yes, this is stupendously overdue,” the official said. “But Laurent Kabila had been killed, there was a peace process and a new government in place in the Congo, and I guess you could say that’s when the U.N. woke and said, ‘Hmm, we can accomplish something here.’”

Kids' stuff

Seems that the Emmy committee liked the remake as much as the original; Brian Stelter has the story in The New York Times:
Hundreds of internet users remade Star Wars: A New Hope into a fan film last year, fifteen seconds at a time. This month they all played a part in The finished product, Star Wars Uncut, won an Emmy in a relatively new category, interactive media, heaping new attention onto a project that its producers call a “user-directed broadcast.”
The award is all the more remarkable because, in a world in which television heavyweights like HBO and NBC mount big-budget campaigns to win Emmys, Star Wars Uncut is just a hobby for its creator, Casey Pugh, a 26-year-old web developer who lives in Brooklyn. “I’m just so happy that the Internet is taking this step into the broadcast world,” he said in an interview, adding, “It’s partly because broadcast is letting it in.”
The makers of Star Wars Uncut were encouraged by a Television Academy member and past winner, Richard Cardran, to submit their project for an award. The annual awards recognize television production, but in the age of online video streaming they also acknowledge the ways that shows can connect with fans online.
“Fans want to be involved in shows,” said Geoff Katz, a co-governor of the Emmys’ Interactive Media Peer Group, which oversees the category, officially called “outstanding creative achievement in interactive media.”
In previous years winning websites have effectively been marketing vehicles for television shows like Lost and Heroes. But Star Wars Uncut is more; it is completely independent, a work of art by film aficionados around the world. Mr. Katz called it a “major milestone” for the Emmys.
That is something that Mr. Pugh and his fellow filmmakers also highlighted in a reel for the voters this summer. “At ‘Star Wars Uncut’ users aren’t just getting more information about their favorite characters, they are the characters,” the video’s narrator, Jamie Wilkinson, said.
The project was rooted in Mr. Pugh’s interest in crowd-sourcing, a term for divvying up tasks by way of the Web. Last fall he sliced A New Hope into fifteen-second scenes— 473 in all— and concocted a website where fans could sign up to recreate each scene. All told, there were multiple submissions for each fifteen-second scene, a wild assortment of live-action, animation, Lego set-ups, stop-motion sequences, and more.
“The reward for people is doing the work,” he said. “That’s their favorite part: actually re-enacting the scenes.” That was one of Mr. Pugh’s motivations, too: wanting to create a scene of his own. He drew attention to the project by writing about it on his blog.
This month Mr. Pugh put online the Uncut Movie, which appears to be a fully finished fan version of A New Hope but is actually just a seamless playing of the 473 scenes in a row.
A computer program written by Mr. Pugh automatically plays the highest-rated rendition of each scene, and it compiles those scenes on the fly, so the movie can change in real time depending on the ratings of users.
“I think the reason we won the Emmy is because this is an entirely new type of broadcast,” said Annelise Pruitt, the designer of the Uncut website. She calls it “crowd-sourced and code-directed art.”
For Ms. Pruitt, too, it has been a hobby.
The producers’ final work is a fully-edited fan film with the actual Star Wars soundtrack. They have told fans on their website that “we are working through the legal issues in order to bring that to everyone as soon as possible.”
Mr. Pugh said Lucasfilm, which is notoriously protective of the Star Wars brand, contacted him early in the creation of Uncut and told him that it wanted to support the project. Because Mr. Pugh has signed a non-disclosure agreement, there is little he can say about the discussions with the company, except that “Lucasfilm isn’t out to make money on this, and neither am I.”
Lucasfilm said in a statement that “we are really pleased that they won an Emmy for their efforts” and that its long-time partner for fan productions, Atom Films, is in talks with the producers. Atom holds an annual Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge, which culminates in screenings of winning films on the Spike channel, and “we hope that some day Star Wars Uncut can air on Spike,” Lucasfilm said.
Already, the fully-edited film has been screened once, at a festival in Copenhagen in April, but Lucasfilm put off planned screenings in New York, Mr. Pugh said. He said he had hoped to start recutting The Empire Strikes Back this summer, but that, too, has been delayed.
Ms. Pruitt, Mr. Pugh, his brother Chad, and Mr. Wilkinson, paid $400 to submit Star Wars Uncut for an Emmy. “The real stars are the fans and contributors,” they wrote in a blog post when they were nominated.
In the interactive media category, they were up against websites tied to Glee, the Fox musical, and Dexter, the Showtime drama, but they were feeling confident when they flew here for last Saturday’s Creative Arts awards ceremony, a precursor to the Emmys ceremony that is on NBC on Sunday night. At the judging session in early August, “people were whispering ‘You’re gonna win,’ ” Casey Pugh said.
Aas the win sank in and the celebrating wound down, Ms. Pruitt posted a photo of the producers onstage on her blog. Echoing the team’s acceptance speech, she captioned it, “I guess the force was with us.”

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