Once in a great while, a blog comes along that inspires awe, surpasses all expectations, and truly changes people’s lives.Rico says he uses fucking 'sentence enhancers' all the time, and his family rarely reads him anyway...
This is not that blog.
However, if you’re interested in reading the rantings of a sarcastic police detective/ice hockey player, this may be the site for you. Since 6 June 2005, I have published my idiotic take on every topic, from alcohol to weight loss (although I don’t recommend one to result in the other). In between, I have offered a smattering of opinions on every issue under the sun, delicately blended with the occasional war story from my chosen profession. Please do not think me a racist simply because I am a police detective. That would be ignorant.
I mean, I don’t like people from Canada, but that doesn’t mean I’m a racist.
You’ll find a little bit of everything here. Most of my commentary is peppered with snark and sarcasm– a coupling that my good friend RT labeled “snarkasm”– and no topic is off limits. I rarely use “sentence enhancers” here– you folks refer to them as swear words– and I’d rather my commenters check their language as well. My aunt reads this thing, ya know. I do not suffer fools, and I will delete any personal attacks from the comments section. That being said, I usually let my readers voice their opinions. I’m a cop, not a Nazi. To my wife’s chagrin and my male readers’ joy, I post photos of hot babes on a regular basis. If hot broads are offensive to you, this blog may not be your cup of tea.
When it comes to blogging, I have been more lucky than good. A lot of big-time sites and blogs have linked here, causing quite a few hit-alanches. Some people think I have talent, but in reality, I think I have a lot of folks snowed. Life has been good to me, and I try to remember that when people tell me how much I suck.
Anyway, welcome aboard, and feel free to browse around and look for some bargains. I think we have a few pair of parachute pants in the back.
31 January 2011
Wyatt Earp (not really, of course), who blogs at Support Your Local Gunfighter, has an 'About' statement that sound like Rico should have written it (except for the police detective part, of course):
Posted by Rico at 19:26
Support Your Local Gunfighter has a post about an actress who supposedly is single-handedly (or double-breastedly) causing women to get breast implants (as if):
Plastic surgeons say the upward trend in breast enhancement surgery is due in part to the popularity of the television series Mad Men, and of Christina Hendricks, its voluptuous star.Rico says he agrees with Wyatt Earp, the blogger, who noted: "A man’s perspective is much simpler: boobs are good."
Statistics released by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) show that the number of women having breast augmentations jumped by more than ten per cent last year, after stalling in 2009. A BAAPS source suggested that Hendricks was influential in the increase, which means that for the first time more than 9,000 women a year in Britain are having surgery to boost their cleavage.
Posted by Rico at 19:20
The New York Times has made available articles from the War years, and Adam Goodheart has a commentary on one little-known event from Montgomery, Alabama on 29 January 1861:
The Alabama telegraph operator must have been horrified as he sat at his post late that night, translating the dots and dashes into letters. The message that they formed— an official, secret missive from Washington, destined for New Orleans– was too awful to be relayed any further. Its final sentence read: If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.Rico says his friend John Robinson from New Orleans sends along a link to more on the story, this about William Bruce Mumford, who was hanged for tearing down a United States flag during the Civil War.
So the operator intercepted the telegram, sending it not to the federal government agent in New Orleans, but to Louisiana’s secessionist authorities, who promptly leaked it to the press. Within a few days, it was being read by thousands of people and, soon, millions throughout both North and South. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the message was where it had originated: in the heart of President James Buchanan’s vacillating, temporizing, divided cabinet.
Early on the evening of 29 January, John Adams Dix, the administration’s newly appointed Treasury secretary, had learned that an armed vessel belonging to the Revenue Cutter Service (a predecessor of the Coast Guard) was in danger of being seized by the secessionists in New Orleans. The captain of the cutter McClelland, known to be a rebel sympathizer, was refusing to bring his ship north, as Dix had ordered. And so the secretary dashed off his order, intended for delivery to the cutter’s still-loyal lieutenant.
Dix’s fierce command was an instant media sensation. The New York Herald, a proponent of compromise with the South, was appalled at the rash act of provocation. Shoot him on the spot it headlined its editorial, slightly mangling the quotation. “It is the first command to shed blood that has been issued in the present crisis. It is but a preparation for a coercion policy on the part of the incoming administration, as might have been expected from an abolitionist ringleader.”
Other Northerners cheered. At last, someone in Washington was prepared to crush secession and to treat the traitors as traitors! The news, in the words of Harper’s Weekly, “flew over the land like the Highland cross of fire, setting the hearts of the people everywhere ablaze.”
Dix’s telegram “has the ring of true metal”, said the Boston Daily Advertiser, adding: “If Mr. Buchanan had called such men about him at the beginning of his administration, it is safe to say that we should have escaped the crisis which is now threatening the country.” (Buchanan’s original Treasury secretary, Howell Cobb of Georgia, had cast his lot with secession the previous month.) A New York state legislator agreed: “If you want to crush rebellion, you must put it down in its incipient steps; shoot down the first man, and it will not be necessary to shoot down the second.” And the New York Tribune warned that, unless Dix’s decree became official federal policy, “we may expect some fine morning to see the Pelican flag of Louisiana, or the Palmetto flag of South Carolina, waving its rebel folds from the flag-staff at the Wallabout”; that is, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
President Buchanan’s own heart was decidedly not set ablaze by his Treasury secretary’s order, except perhaps in the sense that it gave him a severe case of agita. Dix later recalled informing him of the message; when he heard the crucial line, the president jumped as if just stung by a wasp in some particularly delicate portion of his anatomy. “Did you really write that?” he gasped.
“No, sir,” Dix replied, “I did not write it, but I telegraphed it.” This did not noticeably ease Buchanan’s distress.
The Treasury secretary, known as General Dix from his position in the New York State militia, had not previously been known as a dynamic wordsmith. According to one newspaper report, his telegraphic bon mot provoked “astonishment among the acquaintances of General Dix, who thought he had been sleeping for the last ten or fifteen years, and that he must have roused very suddenly from his long lethargic condition thus to produce a single sentence which should preserve him in lasting remembrance.” Nor did it prove immediately effective, at least not in the way its author had hoped: notwithstanding his threat, the revenue cutter McClelland’s American flag did come down, and the vessel soon fell into in Confederate hands.
Yet Dix’s famous command– eventually reprinted in newspapers as far afield as Honolulu, became one of the great Union rallying cries throughout the Civil War. Banners were emblazoned with his words; poems written about them; coins inscribed with them; badges printed with them. One man even wrote a Shoot Him on the Spot song, in which he attributed the words to the wrong politician, Edwin M. Stanton, an error for which he quickly apologized.
The 62-year-old Dix, previously known as a Democrat of the mildest stripe, found himself a lion of the radical Republicans. When war came in the spring of 1861, Abraham Lincoln appointed him one of the Union’s top generals, assigning him to Maryland, where he was charged with implementing the new administration’s most heavy-handed policies in suppressing the rebellion. The following year, Union forces occupying New Orleans recaptured the McClelland and sent both her flags, Union and Confederate, to Dix as trophies.
In 1872, when New York’s Republican Party chose the now-elderly General Dix to head its statewide ticket, newspaper headlines announced: Old 'Shoot Him On The Spot' Norminated for Governor. He won that election handily.
Posted by Rico at 19:02
Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition banded together around a prominent government critic to negotiate for forces seeking the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, as the army struggled to hold a capital seized by fears of chaos and buoyed by euphoria that three decades of Mr. Mubarak’s rule may be coming to an end.
The announcement that the critic, Mohamed el-Baradei, would represent a loosely unified opposition reconfigured the struggle between Mr. Mubarak’s government and a six-day-old uprising bent on driving him and his party from power.
Though lacking deep support on his own, Dr. el-Baradei, a Nobel laureate and diplomat, could serve as a consensus figure for a movement that has struggled to articulate a program for a potential transition. It suggested, too, that the opposition was aware of the uprising’s image abroad, putting forth a candidate who might be more acceptable to the West than beloved in Egypt.
In scenes as tumultuous as any since the uprising began, Dr. el-Baradei defied a government curfew and joined thousands of protesters in Liberation Square, a downtown landmark that has become the epicenter of the uprising and a platform for the frustrations, ambitions, and resurgent pride of a generation claiming the country’s mantle.
“Today we are proud of Egyptians,” Dr. el-Baradei told throngs who surged toward him in a square festooned with banners calling for Mr. Mubarak’s fall. “We have restored our rights, restored our freedom, and what we have begun cannot be reversed.” Dr. el-Baradei declared it a “new era,” and as night fell there were few in Egypt who seemed to disagree. Dr. el-Baradei also criticized the Obama administration, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the message via Sunday news programs in Washington that Mr. Mubarak should create an “orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt, while she refrained from calling on him to resign. That approach, Dr. el-Baradei said, was “a failed policy” eroding American credibility. “It’s better for President Obama not to appear that he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, it’s time for you to go,” Dr. el-Baradei said.
The tumult seemed perched between two deepening narratives: a vision of anarchy offered by the government, and echoed by Egyptians fearing chaos, against the perspective of protesters and many others that the uprising had become what they called “a popular revolution.”
The military, Egypt’s most powerful institution and one embedded deeply in all aspects of life here, reinforced parts of the capital Sunday. It gathered as many as one hundred tanks and armored carriers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the site of President Anwar el-Sadat’s assassination in 1981, which brought Mr. Mubarak to power. The Interior Ministry announced it would again deploy once-ubiquitous police forces— despised by many as the symbol of the daily humiliations of Mr. Mubarak’s government— across the country, except in Liberation Square.
In a collapse of authority, the police withdrew from major cities on Saturday, giving free rein to gangs that stole and burned cars, looted shops, and ransacked a fashionable mall, where dismembered mannequins wearing conservative Islamic dress were strewn over broken glass and puddles of water. Thousands of inmates poured out of four prisons, including the country’s most notorious, Abu Zaabal and Wadi Natroun. Checkpoints run by the military and neighborhood groups, sometimes spaced just a block apart, proliferated across Cairo and other cities.
Many have darkly suggested that the government was behind the collapse of authority as a way to justify a crackdown, or discredit protesters’ calls for change.
“Egypt challenges anarchy,” a government-owned newspaper declared. “A Conspiracy by Security to Support the Scenario of Chaos,” replied an independent newspaper in a headline that shared space at a downtown kiosk.
The United States said it was organizing flights to evacuate its citizens, and the American Embassy urged all Americans to “consider leaving as soon as they can safely do so,” in a statement that underlined a deep sense of pessimism among Egypt’s allies over Mr. Mubarak’s fate.
Turkey, a major power in the region, said it was sending three flights to evacuate 750 of its citizens from Cairo and Alexandria.
“We’re worried about the chaos, sure,” said Selma al-Tarzi, 33, a film director who had joined friends in Liberation Square. “But everyone is aware the chaos is generated by the government. The revolution is not generating the chaos.”
Still, driven by instances of looting— and rumors fed by Egyptian television’s unrelenting coverage of lawlessness— it was clear that many feared the menace could worsen, and possibly undermine the protesters’ demands.
“At first the words were right,” said Abu Sayyid al-Sayyid, a driver. “The protests were peaceful— freedom, jobs, and all that. But then the looting came, and the thugs and thieves with it. Someone has to step in before there’s nothing left to step into.”
For a government that long celebrated the mantra of Arab strongmen— security and stability— Mr. Mubarak and his officials seemed to stumble in formulating a response to the most serious challenge to his rule. Mr. Mubarak appeared on state television on Sunday in a meeting with military chiefs in what was portrayed as business as usual. Through the day, the station broadcast pledges of fealty from caller after caller. “Behind you are 80 million people, saying yes to Mubarak!” one declared. That was the rarest of comments across Cairo, though, as anger grew at what residents described as treason and betrayal on the part of a reeling state.
For two days, clashes raged at Abu Zaabal, the prison north of Cairo, and officials said the police had killed at least twelve inmates there before abandoning it. On Sunday, scores of people passed in and out of the colonnaded entrance, hauling boxes and furniture through a black iron gate. Two army tanks parked nearby declined to intervene.
The Muslim Brotherhood said 34 of its members walked out of Wadi Natroun, on the road to Alexandria, after guards abandoned their posts. All had been arrested before dawn on Friday, the biggest day of the protests. “The prisoners themselves freed us from the gang who kidnapped us, this government that has become a gang,” said Essam al-Arian, one of the Brotherhood’s leaders, who had been among those held. Since the uprising began last week, the Brotherhood has taken part in the protests but shied away from a leadership role, though that appeared to change on Sunday. Mohammed el-Beltagui, a key Brotherhood leader and former Parliament member, said an alliance of the protest’s more youthful leaders and older opposition figures had met again in an attempt to assemble a more unified front with a joint committee.
It included Dr. el-Baradei, along with other prominent figures like Ayman Nour and Osama al-Ghazali Harb, who have struggled to build a popular following. By far, the Brotherhood represents the most powerful force, but Mr. Beltagui and another Brotherhood official, Mohamed el-Katatni, said the group understood the implications of seeking leadership in a country still deeply divided over its religious program. “We’re supporting ElBaradei to lead the path to change,” Mr. Beltagui said as he joined him in Liberation Square. “The Brotherhood realizes the sensitivities, especially in the West, towards the Islamists, and we’re not keen to be at the forefront. We’re trying to build a democratic arena before we start playing in it,” he said.
Whether Dr. el-Baradei can emerge as that consensus figure remained unclear. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work leading the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even in Liberation Square, the crowd’s reaction to Dr. el-Baradei was mixed; some were sympathetic but many more were reserved in their support for a man who has spent much time abroad.
One Brotherhood supporter, Mohammed Fayed, an engineer, said that even if Dr. el-Baradei could replace Mr. Mubarak, he should stay no longer than a year because “el-Baradei doesn’t live here and doesn’t know us. We need a leader who can understand Egyptians.” Whatever his success, the army, long an institution shielded from criticism in the state media, was still the fulcrum of events, with a growing recognition that it would probably play the pivotal role in shaping the outcome.
In a show of authority, Mr. Mubarak was shown meeting with Defense Minister Mohammed Tantawi and Omar Suleiman, his right-hand man and the country’s intelligence chief, whom he appointed as vice president on Saturday. In slogans and actions, protesters cultivated the military, too, in a bid to turn it to their side.
Military helicopters circled Liberation Square through the day, and jets roared across a late afternoon sky. But the army took no steps against the protesters, who cheered as the helicopters passed overhead. In an unprecedented scene, some of them lofted a captain in uniform on their shoulders, marching him through a square suffused with demonstrators that cut across Egypt’s entrenched lines of class and religious devotion.
In contrast to the apprehension elsewhere in Cairo, a carnival atmosphere descended on the square, where vendors offered Egyptian dishes at discount prices and protesters posed for pictures beside tanks scrawled with slogans like: 30 years of humiliation and poverty.
“The people and the army are one hand!” they shouted.
Across the capital, youths and some older men guarded their own neighborhoods, sometimes posting themselves at each block and alley. Several said they were in contact with the military, as well as with each other, and many residents expressed pride in the success that they had in securing their property from the threat of looters and thieves. The sentiments captured what has become a powerful theme these days in Cairo: that Egyptians again were taking control of their destiny, against the odds. “We know each other, we stand by each other, and people respect what we’re doing,” said Ramadan Farghal, who headed one self-defense group in the poorer neighborhood of Bassateen. “This is the Egyptian people. We used to be one hand.”
Posted by Rico at 17:29
Fraud and mismanagement at Afghanistan’s largest bank have resulted in potential losses of as much as $900 million— three times previous estimates— heightening concerns that the bank could collapse and trigger a broad financial panic in Afghanistan, according to American, European, and Afghan officials.Rico says what the fuck, it's just our money... (Maybe we should invite the Russians to come back...)
The extent of these losses make it clear that keeping the bank afloat, something the government has said it is determined to do, would require large infusions of cash from an already strained budget.
Banking specialists, businessmen, and government officials now fear that word of Kabul Bank’s troubles could prompt a run on solvent banks, destroying the country’s nascent banking system and shaking the confidence of Western donors already questioning the level of their commitment to Afghanistan.
The scandal has severe political and security implications. Investigators and Afghan businessmen believe that much of the money has gone into the pockets of a small group of privileged and politically connected Afghans, preventing earlier scrutiny of the bank’s dealings.
The spotlight on how political and economic interests in Afghanistan are intertwined threatens to further undermine President Hamid Karzai’s government. The bank is also the prime conduit for paying Afghan security forces, leaving the American military, which pays the majority of the salaries, looking for new banks to process the $1.5 billion payroll.
As Afghan regulators struggle to find out where the money went, many officials and international monitors concede that the missing millions may never be recovered, raising questions of how the losses could be replaced to keep the bank from failing.
Afghan officials and businessmen have said the money was invested in a real estate bubble that has since burst in Dubai, as well as in dubious projects and donations to politicians in Afghanistan. Millions of dollars have yet to be traced, and some of the money seems to have gone to front companies or individuals and then disappeared.
The Afghan Central Bank and American officials are conducting their own parallel investigations, but the problems are so serious that the International Monetary Fund has not yet renewed an assistance program to Afghanistan that expired in September, threatening an essential pillar of support to a government reliant on international largess as it battles a nine-year insurgency.
Many donor countries may have to delay aid to Afghanistan because of their own requirements that money go only to countries with IMF programs in good standing, Western diplomats said.
Several officials described the bank as “too big to fail”, referring to its role in paying the salaries of hundreds of thousands of government employees. While Afghan and American officials depict a crisis far worse than has been made public, State Department cables released by WikiLeaks show that Afghan and Western regulators were aware of many of the problems, but were most focused on the problem of terrorist financing, rather than the fraud scheme that was the main problem at Kabul Bank.
A stream of complaints about the bank’s practices, many of them the problems that now threaten the bank’s survival, are dutifully recorded in the cables, but diplomats, at least in 2009 and early 2010, seemed not to have realized the profound effect they could have on the financial system as a whole.
Although other banks here have had questionable loan practices, so far it is only Kabul Bank— where what amounts to an enormous fraud scheme was conducted over a period of years— whose troubles are sending tremors through the Afghan business community and worrying Western donors.
Deloitte, a top United States accounting firm that had staffers in the Central Bank under a United States government contract over the last several years, either did not know or did not mention to American authorities that it had any inkling of serious irregularities at Kabul Bank. Deloitte was not responsible for auditing the bank’s books; a spokesman for Deloitte did not respond to requests for comment.
In an interview this weekend, Mahmoud Karzai, President Karzai’s brother and a prominent investor in the Kabul Bank, said that the new president of Kabul Bank, Masood Musa Ghazi, told him in the last several days that there were approximately $800 million in loans still outstanding. These are potentially unrecoverable. Mr. Karzai said Mr. Ghazi told him that of that $800 million, the bank’s new management has negotiated agreements for the repayment of about $300 million, but little has been repaid.
Mr. Ghazi, who was appointed after the Central Bank forced a change in the bank’s management last fall, did not respond to phone calls or e-mails seeking comment, nor did anyone at Afghanistan’s Central Bank.
Kabul Bank has extensive links to senior people in the Afghan government. In addition to Mahmoud Karzai, other shareholders included Haseen Fahim, the brother of the first vice president, and several associates of the family from the north of Afghanistan. Afghan officials said the bank poured millions into President Karzai’s election campaign.
It is the loans and personal grants made by the bank to powerful people, including government ministers, that could prove the most explosive, Western and Afghan officials said. “If people who are thought to be clean and who were held up as ‘good’ by Western countries suddenly are caught with their fingers in the till, it will cause questions from donors,” said a Western official in Kabul. “They will say, ‘Why are we here?’”
Mahmoud Karzai said that he believed the bank’s former chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, was responsible for the problems at the bank, saying that he often moved large amounts of money out of the bank on his own, with no oversight. Mr. Farnood could not be reached for comment on Sunday, and has declined to comment in the past. Mr. Karzai and Mr. Farnood were previously business partners, but had a falling-out over the operation of Kabul Bank. While he was in charge, Mr. Farnood had total control over what loans were made and what money was moved out of Kabul Bank, Mr. Karzai said. He said he was told by the bank’s managers that Mr. Farnood took about $98 million out of Kabul Bank to finance the purchase and subsequent operations of Pamir Airways, a small passenger airline in Afghanistan.
In a cable from 26 September 2009, posted by WikiLeaks, American diplomats said that competitor airlines complained that “Kabul Bank is using its deposit base to subsidize Pamir Air without its depositors’ knowledge in an attempt to drive competitors out of business.”
Mr. Karzai said that Mr. Farnood had been given space at Kabul Bank, where he was supposed to be helping the new management find the bank’s missing money. “I think the bank is working with him to figure out what happened to the money, because he knows whom he lent it to and he knows where it is,” Mr. Karzai said. A spokeswoman for the United States Treasury Department in Washington declined to comment on the American inquiry.
“The situation of Kabul Bank is extremely serious,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul. “What you can observe is that the loans were either to fictive operators who did not exist or they were for investments outside the country. Some were loans or personal grants to people linked to one shareholder or another shareholder,” the diplomat said.
According to businessmen in Kabul, loans were made to people who were fronts for the real beneficiaries. “Sometimes they would bring a loan document to someone who was a gardener or a cleaner and just ask them to sign it, and they would pay him 500 Afghanis and the person could not read or write more than his name,” said a prominent businessman here with ties to the banking community. “Then, when the new bank managers go to look for the money, they go to the gardener’s house and they look around and they see there is nothing worth $100, and they have no idea where the money went.”
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Kabul, said that officials were working closely with the Afghan government, the IMF, and the World Bank. “Corrective action in response to any instance of abuse, poor banking practices, or fraud is essential for public and international confidence in Afghan financial institutions and the development of Afghanistan’s financial sector,” she said.
In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province , a Kabul bank branch has been shut down for a week because employees transferred $1.3 million to Mr. Farnood, who was removed last fall for mismanagement.
In Kabul, the Ministry of Finance is putting out bids for a new bank to pay the salaries of the security forces, which previously had been paid exclusively through Kabul Bank, according to Col. John Ferrari, the head of training programs for NATO’s training mission here. Military officials say that none of the $1.5 billion in payroll for the Afghan Army and the police has been reported missing. But concerns over the possibility that the bank could fail was one factor prompting the ministry to seek other banks to process payroll, Western officials said.
A WikiLeaks cable from last February suggested that payments were often delayed so the bank could make money on the overnight interest rates. In a 13 February 2010, cable, Kabul Bank is described as “the least liquid bank operating in Afghanistan” and its difficulty in raising cash was so great that it took “more than two days to process withdrawals and has delayed paying government employee salaries by two weeks in order to place those funds in overnight accounts to collect interest.”
Posted by Rico at 17:16
As the government of Egypt shakes from a broad-based uprising, long-simmering resentments have burst into open class warfare. Over the past several days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians— from indigent fruit peddlers and doormen to students and engineers and even wealthy landlords— poured into the streets together to denounce President Hosni Mubarak and battle his omnipresent security police. Then, on Friday night, the police pulled out of Egypt’s major cities abruptly, and tensions between rich and poor exploded.
Looters from Cairo’s vast shantytowns attacked gleaming suburban shopping malls, wild rumors swirled of gunfights at the bridges and gates to the most expensive neighborhoods, and some of their residents turned wistful about Mr. Mubarak and his authoritarian rule. “It is as if a domestic war is declared,” said Sarah Elayashi, 33, from an apartment in the affluent neighborhood of Heliopolis, not far from Mr. Mubarak’s palace. “And we have nothing to defend ourselves but kitchen knives and mop sticks. The protesters are against us,” she added. “We hope President Mubarak stays because at least we have national security. I wish we could be like the United States with a democracy, but we cannot. We have to have a ruler with an iron hand.”
Now some accuse the Mubarak government of deliberately fanning class tensions in order to create demands for the restoration of its brutal security state. But such resentments have built up here for nearly a decade outside of public view.
“These big guys are stealing all the money,” said Mohamed Ibraham, a 24-year-old textile worker standing at his second job as a fruit peddler in a hard-pressed neighborhood called Dar-al-Salam. “If they were giving us our rights, why would we protest? People are desperate.” He had little sympathy for those frightened by the specter of looting. He complained that he could barely afford his rent and said the police routinely humiliated him by shaking him down for money, overturning his cart or stealing his fruit. “And then we hear about how these big guys all have these new boats and their 100,000 pound villas. They are building housing, but not for us; for those people up high.”
The widening chasm between rich and poor in Cairo has been one of the conspicuous aspects of city life over the last decade, and especially the last five years. Though there were always extremes of wealth and poverty here, until recently the rich lived more or less among the poor, in grander apartments or more spacious apartments, but mixed together in the same city.
But, as the Mubarak administration has taken steps toward privatizing more government businesses, kicking off an economic boom for some, rich Egyptians have fled the city. They have flocked to gated communities full of big American-style homes around country clubs, and the remoteness of their lives from those of average Egyptians has become starkly visible. The newly rich communities and older affluent enclaves closer to the city were seized with fear over the weekend after a rash of looting on Friday night. At the ravaged City Centre mall, looters had pulled bank ATMs from the walls, smashed in skylights and carted away televisions. On Sunday a small crowd was inspecting the damage and debating the causes. A group of men standing guard said they had watched the police abandon the mall, as if on command, on Friday at 11 p.m., and the first looters arrived in cars shortly after. They argued that the government had tried to create the impression of chaos. Others blamed hordes who poured in from impoverished neighborhoods, or Bedouins who they said came in from the desert.
Ayman Adbel Al, 43, a civil engineer inspecting the damage with his two teenage sons, blamed Mr. Mubarak, arguing that he had allowed the growing class divisions in Egyptian society to build up for years, until they exploded last week. “I can say that I am well off, but I hate it, too. It is not humanitarian,” he said, showing a picture of himself with his family at the protests Saturday. The only people who wanted Mr. Mubarak to stay in power, he argued, were rich people “afraid for their money.”
Posted by Rico at 11:09
Weeks after a shooting left six dead and thirteen injured in Tucson, New York City sent undercover investigators to an Arizona gun show and found instances in which private sellers sold semiautomatic pistols, even after buyers said they probably could not pass background checks, city officials said.
The investigation, part of an effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration to crack down on illegal gun sales nationwide, took place on 23 January at the Crossroads of the West gun show in Phoenix, officials said.
“The background check system failed in Arizona, it failed in Virginia, and it fails in states around the country,” said John Feinblatt, an adviser to Mr. Bloomberg. “If we don’t fix it now, the question is not whether another massacre will occur, but when.”
Private, unlicensed sellers are not required to run federal background checks, but it is a violation of federal law to sell guns to people if sellers suspect they are felons or mentally ill or are otherwise prohibited from buying. In the case of Jared L. Loughner, who is accused of opening fire on the crowd in Tucson on 8 January, the gun used in the shootings was bought at a licensed gun dealer, and he passed a background check, the authorities said.
In two instances, the New York undercover officers specifically said before buying a gun, “I probably couldn’t pass a background check” but were still sold guns, city officials said.
In a third case, an investigator bought a Glock pistol and two high-capacity magazines, like the ones used in the Tucson shooting. Such purchases were made without any background check, but were perfectly legal.
Mr. Bloomberg’s office, which will release details of the undercover investigation on Monday, has for years pushed for tighter firearms laws. Since the Tucson shooting, Mr. Bloomberg has enlisted in his effort Daniel Hernandez, an intern in the office of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. The congresswoman was the most seriously wounded, and Mr. Hernandez held her until emergency personnel arrived.
Crossroads of the West holds dozens of gun shows annually, in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. “When we find someone who isn’t complying with the law, we ask them to leave or don’t allow them back,” said Bob Templeton, president of the gun show. After similar transgressions were uncovered at gun shows in other states, some operators entered into agreements with New York City requiring that private sellers arrange background checks of all gun buyers.
According to a transcript from one investigator’s purchase of a Sig Sauer pistol at the Phoenix show, the exchange went like this:
Investigator: “So, you’re not one of those, you know, dealer guys, right?”
Seller: “No. No tax, no form, you don’t have to do transfers or nothing.”
Investigator: “Yeah, yeah.”
Seller: “Just an Arizona ID and that’s it with me.”
Investigator: “So, no background check?”
Investigator: “That’s good, because I probably couldn’t pass one, you know what I mean?” The seller sold the gun for $500.
Posted by Rico at 11:01
Rico says just ask them, they'll tell you. But Noam Cohen has the story in The New York Times:
In ten short years, Wikipedia has accomplished some remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English? Done. More than 250 languages? Sure. But another number has proved to be an intractable obstacle for the online encyclopedia: surveys suggest that less than fifteen percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.
About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely thirteen percent women; the average age of a contributor was in their mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.
Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world, and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.
Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview. “The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know. Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” she said. “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.”
With so many subjects represented— most everything has an article on Wikipedia— the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.
Even the most famous fashion designers like Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo get but a handful of paragraphs. Consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on Sex and the City includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on The Sopranos includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.
Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in The Simpsons?
The notion that a collaborative, written project open to all is so skewed to men may be surprising. After all, there is no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women, as there can be in the corporate world; Wikipedia is not a software project, but more a writing experiment, an “exquisite corpus”, or game where each player adds to a larger work.
But, because of its early contributors, Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women. “It is ironic,” he said, “because I like these things— freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas— but I think to some extent they are compounding and hiding problems you might find in the real world.” Adopting openness means being “open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists,” he said, “so you have to have a huge argument about whether there is the problem.” Mr. Reagle is also the author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.
Ms. Gardner, citing an example that resonates with her personally, pointed to the Wikipedia entry for one of her favorite authors, Pat Barker, which was a mere three paragraphs when she came across it. Ms. Barker is an acclaimed writer of psychologically nuanced novels, many set during World War One. She is 67 and lives in England.
By contrast, Niko Bellic had an article about five times as long as Ms. Barker’s at the time. It’s a question of demographics: Mr. Bellic is a character in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV; he is 30 and a former soldier.
The public is increasingly going to Wikipedia as a research source: according to a recent Pew survey, the percentage of all American adults who use the site to look for information increased to 42 percent in May of 2010, up from 25 percent in February of 2007. This translates to 53 percent of adults who regularly use the Internet.
Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science, Unlocking the Clubhouse, argues that Wikipedia is experiencing the same problems of the offline world, where women are less willing to assert their opinions in public. “In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?” said Ms. Margolis, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.
According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums”, a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common, whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.
It would seem to be an irony that Wikipedia, where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same problem as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said, and that her group had persuaded women to express themselves by urging them to shift the focus “away from oneself— ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’— and turn the focus outward, thinking about the value of your knowledge.”
Ms. Margolis said she was an advocate of recruiting women as a group to fields or forums where they are under-represented. That way, a solitary woman does not face the burden alone.
Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas. “Gender is a huge hot-button issue for lots of people who feel strongly about it,” she said. “I am not interested in triggering those strong feelings.”
Kat Walsh, a policy analyst and longtime Wikipedia contributor who was elected to the Wikimedia board, agreed that indirect initiatives would cause less unease in the Wikipedia community than more overt efforts.
But she acknowledged the hurdles: “The big problem is that the current Wikipedia community is what came about by letting things develop naturally — trying to influence it in another direction is no longer the easiest path, and requires conscious effort to change.” Sometimes, conscious effort works. After seeing the short entry on Ms. Barker, Ms. Gardner added a substantial amount of background. During the same time, Niko Bellic’s page has grown by only a few sentences.
Posted by Rico at 10:55
A year after NBC upended its late-night world, order has quietly been restored: Jay Leno is back on The Tonight Show and topping the ratings virtually every week.
Conan O’Brien, who was displaced as host of the show, has moved to cable television and the other late-night hosts are maintaining their positions.
Some NBC executives have pointed to Mr. Leno’s slow but steady resumption of late-night leadership as vindication of the decision in January of 2010 to end his brief run in prime time on The Jay Leno Show and reinstate him as host of The Tonight Show. Mr. Leno, these executives say, is proving that the classic late-night show can be broadly appealing and still bring in more young viewers than any other entertainment show in the same time slot.
Mr. Leno did not come through his brief stint at 10 p.m. unscathed. Two years ago, his Tonight show averaged about five million viewers. This season it is down to about 3.9 million viewers. The decline has been similar among 18- to 49-year-olds, a crucial measure for advertisers in late night, so the average age of his audience is up, way up from what it was under Mr. O’Brien. But Mr. Leno still draws more viewers in that younger-adult group than any other late-night host. With the ratings of most late-night shows declining (along with most of broadcast television), Mr. Leno’s diminished performance is still good enough to keep him ahead of David Letterman on CBS, who had moved into first place when Mr. O’Brien was host of The Tonight Show.
Aaron Cohen, executive vice president for advertising purchases for Horizon Media, said Mr. Leno had lost ground as a result of his experiment in prime time. He noted, however, that ratings were down for most late-night hosts as more and more people play recorded programs in those hours.
Mr. O’Brien, meanwhile, is demonstrating that his audience remains passionate and young, while relatively small. After a spectacular first week in November, Mr. O’Brien’s ratings drifted down each week, but may now be leveling off. Last week his numbers ticked up for the first time in more than a month. If they do stabilize around this level, Mr. O’Brien will remain the leader among viewers in the youngest end of the late-night audience, and a force in the cable universe. Mr. O’Brien took over the top late-night spot in cable among younger viewers in his first two months, averaging about 900,000. He even led Mr. Leno for a time, and through the year’s end he stayed ahead of the reigning cable player, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s Daily Show.
During January, Mr. Stewart regained the top position in cable late-night shows among 18- to 49-year-olds, with about 895,000 viewers to Mr. O’Brien’s 811,000, while beating Mr. O’Brien in total viewers with about 1.6 million to about 1.1 million. To be fair to Mr. O’Brien, however, his hourlong show is at a disadvantage against Mr. Stewart’s half-hour show because late-night viewers head to bed, and viewership drops, with each passing minute.
But Mr. O’Brien outdrew Stephen Colbert’s show at 11:30 p.m. to win the hour in January among 18- to 49-year-olds. His 811,000 viewers topped the 784,000 for the Stewart-Colbert combination.
Mr. O’Brien has also posted the strongest numbers in late night when recorded playbacks are included. The median age for his show is, by a large measure, the youngest in late night: 31.1 years old. Mr. Colbert’s is 37.7; Mr. Stewart’s is 41; Jimmy Fallon’s is 49.2 on NBC; Jimmy Kimmel’s is 51.7 on ABC; Craig Ferguson’s is 52.9 on CBS; Mr. Leno’s is 55.6; and Mr. Letterman’s is 55.8. The other late-night host on TBS, George Lopez, has the second-youngest audience, at 33.7.
Michele Ganeless, president of Comedy Central, said, “It has never been about Jon versus Conan.” She said the two shows could easily co-exist.
Brad Adgate, director of research for Horizon Media, said “the way Conan’s ratings have been dropping might be causing alarm at TBS”, especially because TBS initially promised that the show would draw network-size young audiences. “It does look like Conan has a niche audience,” Mr. Adgate said.
That is a nonissue for TBS, according to the head of programming, Michael Wright. “That niche is to us a viable audience,” he said. “For a branded network like ours, that is really what you want: you want a talent that delivers a really specific audience.”
Mr. Cohen said Horizon Media’s ad clients had indeed been “promised network-sized delivery and that Conan would be first in the cable universe” but he added that, so far, “it ain’t broadcast-network-sized”. He acknowledged, however, that Mr. O’Brien’s appeal among young viewers, if he can keep it up, should result in financial success. “We have to see how this plays out, as Conan settles down,” Mr. Cohen said. “I don’t think the word for TBS should be alarmed. We may see Conan pick up. In the summer, remember, as a lot of kids come home from college and become more available. That’s Conan’s audience.”
Posted by Rico at 10:45
On Friday, the “day of rage”, I was in the streets with the protesters. Friends and I participated in a peaceful demonstration that started at the Amr Ibn al-As mosque in Old Cairo, near the Church of St. George. We set off chanting “The people want the regime to fall!” and we were greeted with a torrent of tear gas fired by the police. We began to shout “Peaceful, Peaceful”, trying to show the police that we were not hostile, we were demanding nothing but our liberty. That only increased their brutality. Fighting began to spread to the side streets in the ancient, largely Coptic neighborhood.
A friend and I took shelter in a small alleyway, where we were warmly welcomed. The locals warned us not to try to escape to the metro station, and pointed us toward a different escape route; many of them even joined the protests. Eventually, a man drove us in his own car to safety.
Clearly, the scent of Tunisia’s “jasmine revolution” has quickly reached Egypt. Following the successful expulsion in Tunis of the dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the call arose on Facebook for an Egyptian revolution, to begin on 25 January. Yet the public here mocked those young people who had taken to Twitter and Facebook to post calls for protest: since when was the spark of revolution ignited on a pre-planned date? Had revolution become like a romantic rendezvous?
Such questions abounded on social networking sites; but even cynics— myself included— became hopeful as the calls continued to circulate. In the blink of an eye, the Twitter and Facebook generation had successfully rallied hundreds of thousands to its cause across the nation. Most of them were young people who had not been politically active, and did not belong to the traditional circles of the political opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is not behind this popular revolution, as the regime claims. Those who began it and organized it are seething in anger at police cruelty and the repression and torture meted out by the Hosni Mubarak regime.
From the outset, the government decided to deal with the people with the utmost violence and brutality, in the hope that the Tunisian experience would not be repeated. For days now, tear gas has been the oxygen Egyptians have inhaled. So much was in the air that there are reports of small children and the elderly having suffocated on the fumes in their homes. The security forces in Cairo started by shooting rubber bullets at the protesters before progressing onto live ammunition, ending dozens of lives.
In Suez, where the demonstrations have been tremendously violent, live ammunition was used against civilians from the first day. A friend of mine who lives there sent me a message saying that, on Thursday morning, the city looked as if it had emerged from a particularly brutal war: its streets were burned and destroyed, dead bodies were strewn everywhere. We would never know how many victims had fallen to the police bullets in Suez, my friend solemnly concluded.
After having escaped from Old Cairo on Friday, my friends and I headed for Tahrir Square, the focal point of the modern city and site of the largest protests. We joined another demonstration making its way through downtown, consisting mostly of young people. From a distance, we could hear the rumble of the protest in Tahrir Square, punctuated by the sounds of bullets and screams. Minute by painstaking minute, we protesters were gaining ground, and our numbers were growing. People shared Coca-Cola bottles, moistening their faces with soda to avoid the effects of tear gas. Some people wore masks, while others had sprinkled vinegar into their kaffiyehs.
Shopkeepers handed out bottles of mineral water to the protesters, and civilians periodically distributed food. Women and children leaned from windows and balconies, chanting with the dissidents. I will never forget the sight of an aristocratic woman driving through the narrow side streets in her luxurious car, urging the protesters to keep up their spirits, telling them that they would soon be joined by tens of thousands of other citizens arriving from different parts of the city.
After several failed attempts to break through the security checkpoints and get to Tahrir Square, we sat in a cafe to rest. Three officers from the regime’s Central Security Forces, all in civilian clothing, sat down next to us. They appeared to be completely relaxed, as though they were impervious to the sounds of bullets and shouting, or to the numbers of wounded and dead Egyptians being reported on al-Jazeera, which was being broadcast on the coffee shop’s television. They and their colleagues were all over the city, spying on their countrymen.
Hour by hour on Friday evening, the chaos increased. Police stations and offices of the ruling National Democratic Party were on fire across the country. I wept when news came that 3,000 volunteers had formed a human chain around the national museum to protect it from looting and vandalism. Those who do such things are certainly highly educated, cultivated people, neither vandals nor looters, as they are accused of being by those who have vandalized and looted Egypt for generations.
The curfew meant that I couldn’t return home, so I spent the night at a friend’s house near the Parliament building and Interior Ministry, one of the most turbulent parts of the city. That night, the sound of bullets was unceasing. We watched from the window as police shot with impunity at the protesters and at a nearby gas station, hoping, perhaps, for an explosion. Despite all of this, and despite the curfew, the demonstrations did not stop, fueled by popular fury at President Mubarak’s slowness to address the people and, a few hours later, indignation at the deplorable speech he finally gave.
On Saturday morning I left my friend’s house and headed home. I walked across broken glass strewn in the streets, and I could smell the aftermath of the fires that had raged the night before. The army, called in by the regime to put down the protests, was everywhere. I tried first to cross over to Tahrir Square, in order to see for myself whether the museum was safe. A passer-by told me that the army was forbidding people from entering the square, and that shots were being fired. I asked him, anxiously: “Is the army shooting at the demonstrators?” He answered, confidently: “Of course not. The Egyptian army has never fired a shot against an Egyptian citizen, and will not do so now.” We both openly expressed our wish for that to be true, for the army to side with the people.
Now that army troops were monitoring the demonstrations, the police force had completely disappeared from the streets, as if to taunt people with the choice between their presence and chaos. Armed gangs have mushroomed across the city, seeking to loot shops and terrorize civilians in their homes. (On Saturday night, a gang tried to rob the building where I have been staying, but was unable to break in.) Local volunteers have formed committees to stand up to the criminals, amidst an overwhelming feeling that the ruling regime is deliberately stoking chaos.
Late Saturday, as I headed toward Corniche Street on the Nile River, I walked through a side street in the affluent Garden City neighborhood, where I found a woman crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her son, a worker at a luxury hotel, had been shot in the throat by a police bullet, despite not being a part of the demonstrations. He was now lying paralyzed in a hospital bed, and she was on her way to the hotel to request medical leave for him. I embraced her, trying to console her, and she said through her tears, “We cannot be silent about what has happened. Silence is a crime. The blood of those who fell cannot be wasted.”
I agree. Silence is a crime. Even if the regime continues to bombard us with bullets and tear gas, continues to block Internet access and cut off our mobile phones, we will find ways to get our voices across to the world, to demand freedom and justice.
Mansoura Ez-Eldin is the author of the novels Maryam’s Maze and Beyond Paradise. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.
Posted by Rico at 10:36
30 January 2011
Rico says he couldn't agree more:
According to many reports, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is beginning to lag in sales already, and it's doubtful the company will sustain the thing if it continues to fall behind the leaders.
I haven't even seen one of these phones, but people who have seen one tell me that it's actually a very nice device. The problem it seems to have is that it's the odd man out in a two man race. It's number three, or maybe four, or maybe five.
To fix this, Microsoft should bite the bullet and embrace Linux and should even take the Android OS, which is Open Source, and simply use it with various modifications.
Microsoft, like many other big commercial software companies, is scared to death of Open Source just because of the possibility that one of the many Open Source licenses will thrust everything the company does into the open source stewpot. They think that suddenly, because of some error in distribution or usage, Word, for example, could become Open Source. Microsoft is scared to death this will happen.
At least, that's what I assume because there is no other rationale for its refusal to use Open Source to benefit the company. After all, Microsoft is notorious for lifting ideas and designs from other vendors and putting them in its products. The company loses lawsuits over this practice. But here we have a huge cache of wide open products and source code and Microsoft stays away, like a bear confronted by a skunk.
You'd think Microsoft would have completely raided and exploited the Open Source scene by now, but no.
I'm actually shocked that more MSFT shareholders haven't made a fuss about this. Why spend all that R&D and marketing money to develop and sell Phone 7 when people are buying Androids phones at an alarming rate?
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer made this observation: "A month ago, Microsoft said 1.5 million Windows Phones had shipped in the first six weeks—from the 21 October Europe-Asia launch until around 2 December. That means from then until the end of December, just about 500,000 more Windows Phones were shipped."
As Preston Gralla from Computerworld points out, this is shipped to stores, not people. Compare this to the 300,000 Android phones activated daily!
The fact is Microsoft is zigging when it should be zagging. It needs to open a new division that has nothing to do with the rest of the company, so Open Source code can't come into contact with its commercial code. Here it can evolve an Open Source and Linux policy with products for sale and support services. The company needs to get back to an even footing with Google in the phone and, soon, the pad business. It may not catch up with Apple insofar as innovation is concerned, but it can't afford to languish and constantly be humiliated by seemingly pointless and dead-end rollouts.
It will be a huge embarrassment for the company to pull the plug on Windows Phone 7, but that's the direction this is headed. I'm sure there have been a lot of meetings about this, with a lot of shouting and bogus excuses for yet another failure. Plus, all of this is right on the heels of a ridiculous flop called the Microsoft Kin phone.
Microsoft should swallow its pride and look at Linux and Android. That decision can't be any more humiliating that what it has already been doing. In fact, it may be seen as a stroke of genius.
Posted by Rico at 19:03
John Dvorak, who usually knows, has a column at PCMag.com about scary things to come:
There has been a lot of talk about the addition of an NFC (near field communication) chip to the next-gen iPhone. This will allow the phone to be used as a swipe-it-yourself credit card.
I consider this technology to be the most onerous ever.
I first discussed the idea of your mobile phone becoming your credit card in the mid-1990s, and was just biding my time before it came to pass. Bluetooth was invented in 1994 and gave rise to a lot of speculation regarding its usefulness. For a few years, all sorts of futuristic uses were imagined and a serious discussion of the so-called PAN (personal area network) began, but never went anywhere.
The PAN, spurred on by Bluetooth, would allow you to walk down the street and be told about sales, bargains, events, and other nonsense from nearby stores and museums. You'd walk into Walmart and your name would be displayed a computerized sign to greet you as an old man pointed at the sign and then pointed at you in some creepy manner. When you checked out, the Bluetooth device would take care of the payment accounting, and you'd never use cash again. This process could easily be mobile phone-centric.
Over the years, through what I consider incompetent marketing, Bluetooth was relegated for use as a wireless earpiece technology and not much else. The PAN was dead as a doornail and my take on the phone as a credit card fell by the wayside. For the moment.
But good ideas can't be killed. But this "good idea" isn't about the convenience of paying with a phone swipe, but the idea of running your tab through the phone company. If you think your banker is a gouger with dubious fees and no-leeway, what do you think the phone company will be like? Yes, let AT&T handle all your money for you, and see how that works out in the end.
I'm immediately reminded of the online scams that took place during the modem era of communications. You'd be given a number to call, and it would actually be some sort of scam. The local number would connect to a BBS of some sort which would send a code back to the modem to turn off the speaker, so you couldn't hear the modem disconnect and then redial a number in Bulgaria or some obscure island. You'd then be connected to a phone service that charged $100/minute for the connection. After racking up thousands and thousand of dollars in phone costs, you'd get the bill from your phone company for $30,000.
You'd bitterly complain about the bill— these stories were all over the news during this era— but the phone companies said they couldn't do anything about the charges. The rates were protected by some U.S. treaty scammed together by the phone companies and signed into law. There was nothing they could do! So, you had to pay or lose your phone service and be sued in court.
This was unbelievable.
I've always been convinced this was test marketing to show the banks and everyone that the phone companies were the best collection agencies and should be in charge of your credit card and other transactions. After all, you can stall the bank, and what can they really do, anyway? You stall the phone company and you are disconnected from the world.
Do not let AT&T or Verizon or any phone company anywhere near your day-to-day financial transaction business!
You've been warned.
Posted by Rico at 18:59
Ewa Roman has the story at CBS21 News:
A 29-year-old Northumberland County woman reported being raped early this morning. The woman parked her car at the Paxton Square Shopping Center at about 11:30 on Saturday night, and was grabbed from behind while walking towards the CVS pharmacy. The man forced her into a vehicle and sexually assaulted her.
Police are looking for a short, heavy-set white male in his 40's. He was last seen wearing a navy blue sweatshirt with a grey stripe, dark sweat pants and white Velcro closure shoes. The suspect's vehicle is a white compact car.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Lower Paxton Township Police Department at (717) 657-5656.
"The only thing that'll stop an attacker is pain," said Eric Sollenberger, a self defense instructor from Harrisburg. "Screaming, crying, or saying that things hurt isn't going to stop the general attacker. You're going to need to hit or strike vital targets," said Sollenberger.Rico says the real unexpected thing is pulling out a concealable pistol (a small Glock, in .40 or .45, is a nice choice) and putting a couple of rounds into the guy's chest...
The instructor says one way to defend yourself, if someone grabs you from behind, is to use your body weight, elbow them in the chest, strike your fist down to hit their groin, and then elbow up to hit their face.
"Attackers look for easy targets. They don't want to work for it. They don't want to fight. They just want to get what they want and, when a person attacks back, it really sets them back. They're not expecting that," said Sollenberger. The unexpected could help you get away.
Posted by Rico at 18:53
Statistically speaking, General Motors will sell exactly none of these cars, the Detroit equivalent of Zoroastrianism.But you can check out the whole story in The Wall Street Journal here, if you care.
Posted by Rico at 16:55
Charles O'Hegerty returned to London many years ago after a motorcycle gang took over the men's roominghouse where he was living. It was quite brutal, all the old guys living there were chased out and the authorities were no help....
As Charlie's niece, I can confirm that he died on 29 January 2010 and was cremated on 11 February 2010.
Posted by Rico at 16:42
Rico says there's usually a right way to do things, but the wrong way gets you off the plane, as this MSNBC.com story shows:
A California mother who bought a separate airline seat for her baby says she was just trying to do the right thing. But twice in the last month, Melissa Bradley, 39, says she has encountered airline seats that are too narrow for her Federal Aviation Administration-approved infant carrier. Bradley said she was forced off United Airlines Flight 75 at San Francisco International Airport in a dispute over an economy-class row too narrow to accommodate an infant carrier for her 1-year-old daughter.Rico says going ballistic on an airplane ain't gonna work...
United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said Bradley was removed because she was disruptive. "The customer refused the flight attendant’s numerous attempts to accommodate her and the infant seat that unfortunately would not fit her assigned seat," according to an airline statement supplied by Johnson. "The captain elected to have the customer and her party removed after she became disruptive, interfering with the crew's ability to prepare the cabin for a safe departure, and taking pictures of other customers on board, even after they asked her to stop."
Bradley also encountered problems with her infant carrier two days before Christmas on a Skywest flight from Aspen, Colorado to San Francisco, although she wasn't asked to leave the plane in that instance.
Bradley said she took a picture of the narrow row on the United plane because an FAA inspector with whom she spoke after the Skywest incident had asked her if she had a picture. She denied that she was disruptive.
"The airline had the responsibility to move them and provide the same class of service, and that's where United failed," said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org.
Johnson said other passengers who paid for extra legroom in Economy Plus offered to trade seats, but Bradley declined the offer.
"That is absolutely not true," Bradley said. "I would have been so happy to have a seat." Furthermore, Bradley said she would have accepted a seat away from her family and flying companions. "I told them: 'All I'm asking is for my baby and me to be moved/' I said that so many times." Bradley, who owns a real estate firm in Marin County, said she called a United customer service executive two weeks before the Honolulu flight to ask what she needed to do to make sure she'd be able to use the infant carrier. She said she was told to simply let United employees know when she checked in, which she did. But when she boarded the Boeing 777, she discovered the rows in economy seating were too close together to accommodate the Graco Snug Ride infant carrier, which is approved for airline use. Bradley, who has four older children, said she has been using infant and child seats on planes for years without a hitch, until the recent incidents. She said she buys separate seats for her children because she worries that she won't be able to hold them in her lap if the plane encounters turbulence.
United rebooked her, her family, and their traveling companions on a later flight to Honolulu, Bradley said. The rows were far enough apart on that plane to accommodate the carrier, she said. "Honestly, this was the last thing I wanted to have happen on that plane," Bradley said. "I begged them to accommodate me."
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman has been campaigning for regulations that would require all infants and young children be secured in child seats on planes, rather than allowed to fly in a parent's lap. She has said that children deserve the same safety protections as seat-belted adults.
A Transportation Department aviation advisory panel recommended last month that the Federal Aviation Administration conduct a new study of the issue. Glen Tilton, chairman of United's parent company, UAL Corp., was a member of the panel.
Posted by Rico at 16:17
The Volt has been selling disproportionately to men, which is why, to better serve you, the discerning consumer, I am stopping an attractive woman on a Bethesda sidewalk and asking her if she would sleep with me.Rico says he's a year younger and better-looking than a yam souffle (or so he's been told), but he knows better than to ask things like that...
K.C. Hernandez is 32, a marketing associate visiting from Chicago. I assure her that I am a working journalist and that my question is purely hypothetical: judging by appearances alone, I ask, what would be my theoretical chance of having sex with her, expressed as a percentage?
K.C.'s friend is frantically bugging out her eyes and shaking her head no, no, but K.C. is laughing; she'll play. She surveys my body, which has the muscle tone of a yam souffle. I am 59. I did not arrive there the way some men (say, Harrison Ford) wouid.
"Three," she says finally.
Three percent? I'm pretty sure it's a mercy vote, but I'll take it.
Posted by Rico at 16:04
This AP article describes a bad thing, but it's the kind of thing that's gonna happen, sooner or later:
A 63-year-old California man who had explosives with him was arrested outside one of the nation's largest mosques in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. Dearborn police said Roger Stockham was arraigned Wednesday on one count of making a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of possessing explosives with an unlawful intent. A statement from police says Stockham possessed a type of fireworks.Rico says he doesn't think it's the solution...
The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter says Stockham was arrested Monday in the parking lot of the Islamic Center of America.
Stockham remained jailed on a $500,000 bond, but poice didn't know whether Stockham had an attorney.
Dearborn, located about ten miles west of Detroit, is the center of the Detroit area's Arab-American community, one of the largest in the U.S.
Posted by Rico at 15:44
Caterine Hamm has an article in the Los Angeles Times about the dreaded TSA pat-down:
Questions: I have metal in my hip from hip-replacement surgery and six screws in my back from spine surgery. Before a recent flight, I had hoped to go through the new full-body scanner, but it was broken, so I had to go through the metal detector (which I set off) and then have a pat-down. I was molested as a child, so being touched was upsetting. Why couldn't one of the agents take me to another checkpoint where the full-body scanner was working and escort me back? How could a new machine be broken? Why wasn't there a backup scanner for an area that has so much flight activity? Would it have helped if I had brought my X-rays?Rico says he's not happy with a pat-down, either, but at least he doesn't have childhood issues about that...
Julie (last name withheld), Los Angeles
Answers: Since the scanners were introduced to a broader array of airports last year, the outcry over both the scanners and the pat-downs has grown louder.
Is this a necessary evil that must be endured? Was the bombing of the Moscow airport yet another reminder of the vulnerability of airports and airplanes?
We cannot answer those questions in a 600-word column. But we can answer some of Julie's questions, starting with the easier ones first:
X-rays would not have helped, because they could have been anyone's X-rays. That's not a comment about Julie's trustworthiness; it's more an acknowledgment of the skepticism with which every Transportation Security Administration agent must view every passenger.
Why no backup scanner and no escort? The answer in both cases starts with money. Each machine costs about $170,000, said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman. In that regard, a scanner is a bit like a workplace meeting space: when you need it, you need it, but the rest of the time it's just a big, expensive nothing. An escort is a matter of bodies, Melendez said. "We don't have the staffing to be able to mobilize someone" to take a passenger to another location. "There are 22 scanners in place at LAX and almost 70 security checkpoints," he said. The TSA is hoping to add more scanners when the 2011 budget is finalized, he added. As to why a new scanner broke, Melendez noted that "they get used thousands of times every day", so wear and tear take a toll even on new equipment. Melendez said the TSA tries to be "minimally invasive" but acknowledges that procedures may "impact the passenger emotionally more than we would like."
Sherry Hamby, a research associate professor of psychology at Sewanee: the University of the South in Tennessee, noted that anyone can be put off by pat-downs "as most people expect a little more personal space". She added in her e-mail to me: "It is not surprising that these pat-downs are even more upsetting for people who have had their boundaries violated in an abusive episode."
What can travelers do? "People can try to mentally prepare in advance for the possibility that they might be selected for a pat-down," Hamby said. "They can remind themselves that this is not the same as the abusive situation — this is a security measure. ... If they have a supportive traveling companion, it can be helpful to talk with them about it and get them involved in the anticipation and self-talk. Rehearsing the event in advance, either through imagery or with a safe person, might also be helpful for some. "Another coping mechanism is protest. If they feel these pat-downs are unwarranted security measures, they can also join in the public discussion about them, write their congressional representative or take other action." Melendez encourages anyone who has complaints to speak with a supervisor at the airport or to file a complaint with the TSA. For information, go to http://www.tsa.gov.
Posted by Rico at 15:40
Maher Chmaytelli has the story at Bloomberg.com of yet another exile coming home:
The leader of Tunisian Islamist movement Ennahda, banned under the rule of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, returned to his homeland today after a 22-year exile in London.Rico says "Islam is too noble to be dragged into politics"? Would that more people believed that (about religion in general, not just Islam).
The arrival of Rachid Ghannouchi has fanned a debate between his supporters and other groups that helped overthrow Ben Ali, who are concerned that Ennahda will seek to weaken the secular system enforced since the North African nation’s independence from France in 1956. The system is the most favorable to women in the Arab world.
“We are not terrorists, and we are against terror like everybody else,” Ghannouchi told supporters at the Tunis airport. “We oppose bin Laden. We are for freedom,” he said. “The 14 January revolution is for all the Tunisians, without exception,” read one of the banners held by Ennahda supporters who had gathered at the airport to greet Ghannouchi, demanding full participation by the party in the country’s political life.
Facing the dozens of supporters awaiting Ghannouchi, stood a group of young people opposed to what they described as the politicization of Islam. “No to Shari’ah,” they chanted, holding a banner: “Islam is too noble to be dragged into politics.”
Ghannouchi, 69, gave assurances of Ennahada’s respect for democracy and women’s rights in an interview with the Financial Times on 18 January, four days after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, bowing to street protests that ended his 23-year rule. “The government used to always say, to frighten people away, that the Islamists will take away the rights of women,” he told the Financial Times. “We all recognize, we accept the personal status code, and will not cancel it or refuse it.”
At the airport today, Ghannouchi said: “We all have our opinions. We are here to build Tunisia. We are hopeful that God will help us, and that Egypt will follow Tunisia.”
Acting Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who is not related to Rachid Ghannouchi, is leading the interim administration tasked with preparing the nation for its first ever free and fair elections. He has said that voting may occur within six months.
Posted by Rico at 15:29
Cheers and spontaneous dancing broke out in Juba, South Sudan, as the first official announcement of results from South Sudan’s independence vote was made in the oil-rich region’s capital by members of a commission that organized the referendum held earlier this month. "The vote for separation was 99.57 percent," said Justice Chan Reec Madut, head of the southern bureau of the Referendum Commission, after reading the vote tallies for “unity” and “secession” for each of the south’s ten states. Mr. Madut was referring to the results for the south, while Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, the head of the Commission, announced the results from polling in northern Sudan and in eight countries that held voting for South Sudan’s far-flung diaspora population.Rico says we lost South Vietnam to the North, the North Koreans will soon dissolve into the South, and East and West Germany merged; now we get a new split on the map...
Six of the ten southern states registered a 99.9 percent vote for separation, with the lowest vote in favor of secession came in at 95.5 percent, in Western Bahr al-Ghazal state, which borders Darfur. The long-awaited referendum produced an overwhelming turnout of 99 percent among voters in the south, one of the poorest and least developed regions on earth.
In northern Sudan, voter turnout was only 60 percent, and a modest 58 percent of voters– those southerners who live in the north– were in favor of the oil-rich south breaking away. Many southerners opted to leave their lives and work in the north to move home ahead of the referendum, and the United Nations says it expects another 100,000 southerners to make the north-south journey within the next month. More than 190,000 southerners have flooded back into the south since early October, though the most recent arrivals were not able to participate in the referendum, since they had not registered to vote in either the north or the south.
In the eight countries, including the United States and Egypt, where southerners cast votes, 99 percent chose independence for their homeland. In the US, 99 percent of the 5,800 voters voted for secession, at polling stations set up in Boston, Seattle, Omaha, and Washington, among other locations.
Before announcing the numbers for the ten southern states, Madut said that his fellow southerners “consider self-determination the centerpiece” of the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south war.
Mr. Khalil, a 90-year old northern Sudanese lawyer, had a noticeably somber tone has he announced the results, particularly in comparison to Madut, a southerner who is the deputy chief justice of the south’s Supreme Court. In his remarks, Khalil focused on the future relations between north and south. “These results lead to a change of situation, that’s the emergence of two states instead of one state,” this prospect provoking applause from the crowd of southerners. “That change relates only to the constitutional form of relationship between north and south. North and south are drawn together in indissoluble geographic and historic bonds.”
At a press conference, held in the southern capital of Juba during the referendum, Khalil told reporters that the likely split of his country did not please him. On Sunday, however, he struck a more optimistic tone, saying that “if the example of the referendum is any use, we should entertain hope that we will be able to settle the unsettled issues in the six months remaining ahead before the emergence of the nation state of Southern Sudan.”
Speaking after the announcement, southern leader Salva Kiir thanked Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his leadership and for “making peace possible”. He said that the southern government would stand with Bashir as the split of north and south looms ever closer. Mr. Kiir made clear that the south will declare independence on 9 July, but not before. “We are not going to pull down the flag of Sudan until 9 July,” he said. Kiir noted the importance of reaching an agreement with the Khartoum government on outstanding north-south issues, including the future status of the contested border region of Abyei. The southern president was set to travel later Sunday to Addis Ababa for the African Union summit, which President Bashir is also attending.
In the run-up to Sunday’s announcement, Kiir issued several public calls to his people to act carefully in any celebrations they might hold after results were made official, urging restraint and forbidding “celebratory gunfire". After Kiir’s remarks the crowd, that had swelled to a few thousand, broke into an impromptu dance party at the outdoor area where they had learned that their vote would yield independence in less than six months. The area is also the burial grounds for the late southern war hero, Dr. John Garang. Swaying to the upbeat music crackling from speakers and the drumming of musicians in traditional garb, smiling southerners celebrated peacefully and joyfully.
In Khartoum, the scene was reportedly different, with police beating and arresting student protestors who are demanding the resignation of their government, apparently channeling the ongoing uprising in neighboring Egypt.
As Sudan moves ever closer to splitting in two, it remains unclear whether Khalil’s vision of north and south remaining connected, with intertwined fates, will be preserved.
Posted by Rico at 15:22
Rico says his friend Kelley sends along today's column in The New York Times by Thomas Ricks:
I am in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighborhood of Singapore, and the principal, A.W. Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class. All the eleven-year-old boys and girls are wearing junior white lab coats with their names on them. Outside in the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a “crime scene” and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered. The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the students into little CSI detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.
I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade. When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said no. She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the same direction early. A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent, but impressed.
This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between “what world am I living in,” “where is my country trying to go in that world” and, therefore, “what should I teach in fifth-grade science.”
I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in U.S. politics today. Republicans favor deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defense budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation’s priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.
President Obama just laid out a smart and compelling vision of where our priorities should be. But he did not spell out how and where we will have to both cut and invest — really intelligently and at a large scale — to deliver on his vision.
Singapore is tiny and by no means a U.S.-style democracy. Yet, like America, it has a multi-ethnic population— Chinese, Indian, and Malay— with a big working class. It has no natural resources and even has to import sand for building. But today its per capita income is just below U.S. levels, built with high-end manufacturing, services, and exports. The country’s economy grew last year at 14.7 percent, led by biomedical exports. How?
If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive. “We’re like someone living in a hut without any insulation,” explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. “We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don’t have to be so responsive.” And we have not been.
Singapore probably has the freest market in the world; it doesn’t believe in import tariffs, minimum wages or unemployment insurance. But it believes regulators need to make sure markets work properly — because they can’t on their own — and it subsidizes homeownership and education to give everyone a foundation to become self-reliant. Singapore copied the German model that strives to put everyone who graduates from high school on a track for higher education, but only about 40 percent go to universities. Others are tracked to polytechnics or vocational institutes, so the vast majority graduate with the skills to get a job, whether it be as a plumber or a scientist.
Explained Ravi Menon, the Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry: “The two ‘isms’ that perhaps best describe Singapore’s approach are: pragmatism — an emphasis on what works in practice rather than abstract theory; and eclecticism — a willingness to adapt to the local context best practices from around the world.”
It is a sophisticated mix of radical free-market and nanny state that requires sophisticated policy makers to implement, which is why politics here is not treated as sports or entertainment. Top bureaucrats and cabinet ministers have their pay linked to top private sector wages, so most make well over $1 million a year, and their bonuses are tied to the country’s annual G.D.P. growth rate. It means the government can attract high-quality professionals and corruption is low.
America never would or should copy Singapore’s less-than-free politics. But Singapore has something to teach us about “attitude” — about taking governing seriously and thinking strategically. We used to do that and must again because our little brick house with central heating is not going to be resistant to the storms much longer.
“There is real puzzlement here about America today,” said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, “because we learned all about what it takes to build a well-functioning society from you. Many of our top officials are graduates of the Kennedy School at Harvard. They just came back home and applied its lessons vigorously.”
Posted by Rico at 12:10
Rico says his friend Kelley sends along this one by Jon Evans at TechCrunch:
Way back in the 1970s, hardware-hacker hobbyists built kit computers like the Altair 8800 and, in doing so, paved the way for the computer revolution that would reshape every facet of modern life. Today the same breed of people are building and selling kit flight controllers for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Drones are far from new: the US military has been using them heavily for over a decade. (What else did the US military pioneer, back in the 1970s? Oh, right. The Internet.) UAV tech has long since metastasized around the world. India’s private sector builds UAVs for both military and scientific purposes; Lebanon’s de facto government Hezbollah has used Iranian-built drones for years; earlier this month, QinetiQ’s solar-powered Zephyr set a world record by flying for two weeks nonstop; and, of course, the French-built, iPhone-controlled AR-Parrot has brought UAVs to the masses. All awesome, and all innovating fast. At this rate this may well become the Decade of Drones.
Which makes me more than a little uneasy.
Because when I put on my criminal hat— which I’ve been known to do for a living— I immediately start thinking of kit-built UAVs packed with Semtex and targeted via GPS. Voila, poor man’s cruise missiles, available to any hardware hacker with a grudge; all he needs is their target’s address. Fortunately, the powers that be have not fostered entire generations of experienced explosives experts with angry political grievances, right? Oh. Oops. Well, at least it’s not like engineers seem disproportionately likely to become terrorists... Oh, wait...
Then there’s the smuggling problem. Colombian and Mexican drug cartels already use homemade submarines and build air-conditioned railway tunnels. You can bet they’ll be jumping on the drone train sooner rather than later. UAVs and USVs (unmanned submersible vehicles) are the ultimate mules; they’ll go anywhere, they’re reusable, and if and when they’re caught, you know they won’t cut a deal. How can you track a drone built from off-the-shelf parts, flown in from parts unknown, back to its sender? Easy: you can’t.
What makes drones dangerous is that, unlike most technologies, they can and will decouple criminals from their crimes. That makes them big trouble waiting to happen. The first extra-military drone assassination— and I’ll go on record now and predict one within the next five years— will doubtless trigger a cacophonous symphony of handwringing, tooth-gnashing, and the passing of lots of stupid and restrictive laws, but it will already be much too late. The twin genies of aeronautical engineering and microcontroller design are long out of their respective bottles.
Tomorrow’s UAVs will make today’s look like the Wright Brothers’ biplanes, and the only way to track and fight them will be with yet more drones. Hello, panopticon. Goodbye, privacy. Granted, I’m verging on science fiction here, but it’s science fiction that doesn’t seem all that evitable. The drone economy will soon be even bigger business than it already is, but I can’t shake the sense that it will ultimately be bad news for us all. Ponder that the next time you take your Parrot for a spin.
Posted by Rico at 10:21