31 March 2011

More on Libya

CJ Chivers and David Kirkpatrick have an article in The New York Times about the situation in Libya, including a timeline of the life of el-Qaddafi:
Libya’s foreign minister defected to Britain, dealing a blow to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government, even as his forces pushed rebels into a panicked retreat and seized valuable towns they ceded just days ago under Allied airstrikes. The government advance appeared to return control of eastern Libya’s most important oil regions to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, giving the isolated government, at least for the day, the east’s most valuable economic prize. The rout also put into sharp relief the rebels’ absence of discipline and tactical sense, confronting the United States with a conundrum: how to persuade Colonel Qaddafi to step down while supporting a rebel force that has been unable to hold on to military gains.
But the defection of Moussa Koussa, the foreign minister, showed that at least one longtime confidant seemed to be calculating that Colonel Qaddafi could not last. The news of Mr. Koussa’s defection sent shockwaves through Tripoli after it was announced by the British government. Mr. Koussa had been a pillar of his government since the early days of the revolution, and previously led the fearsome intelligence unit. Although American officials suspected him of responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Mr. Koussa also played a major role in turning over nuclear equipment and designs to the United States ,and in negotiating Libya back into the good graces of Western governments. Presumably, he is now in a position to talk about the structure of Mr. Qaddafi’s remaining forces and loyalists. What is unclear is whether his defection will lead to others. “We think he could be the beginning of a stream of Libyans who think sticking with Qaddafi is a losing game,” one senior American official said. “But we don’t know.”
Having abandoned Bin Jawwad and the oil port of Ras Lanuf, the rebels fled helter-skelter before government shelling from another oil town, Brega, and stopped for the night at the strategic city of Ajdabiya. As the rebels retreated in disarray, a senior rebel officer, Colonel Ahmaed Omar Bani, pleaded for more weaponsm  conceding that rebel fighters had “dissolved like snow in the sand” but framed the retreat as a “tactical withdrawal”. Vowing that “Ajdabiya will not fall,” he claimed that rebels were still fighting on the east and west sides of Brega, suggesting that pockets of resistance persisted even if the main force had fled. He acknowledged that the rebels had no answer to the artillery pushing them back unless foreign governments provided parity in arms. “The truth is the truth,” he said. “Even if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, released a statement responding to a report of a presidential finding authorizing covert support for the rebels. It said: “No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in.” Whether more weapons or longer-range weapons would make a difference is an open question, however. Leadership and an appreciation for tactics were noticeably missing in the rebels’ battle lines.
Faced with fire, the rebels seemed not to know how to use the relatively simple weapons they had in any coordinated fashion, and had almost no capacity to communicate with one another midfight. Throughout the spontaneous retreats, not a single two-way tactical radio was visible.
The rout put civilians to flight as well. By Wednesday evening, Ajdabiya’s hospital patients were evacuated and a long stream of vehicles packed with forlorn residents filled the road north to Benghazi, the rebel capital. Abdul Karim Baras, a young man with a crackling bullhorn, tried to buoy their spirits. “God will rescue Libya from this moment!” he shouted repeatedly as he stood on the highway median.
A few of the displaced, many of whom made the same trek a week ago, before the Allied airstrikes that reversed the loyalists’ first push, smiled, or gave desultory victory signs, as they passed through rebels’ disoriented ranks.
There were few signs of renewed airstrikes. But an American military spokesman said coalition warplanes resumed bombing pro-Qaddafi units, without specifying where. “The operation is continuing and will continue throughout the transition” to NATO command, Capt. Clint Gebke said.
There were 102 airstrikes over a 24-hour period ending at 12 a.m. Eastern time, according to the United States Africa Command. The airstrikes did little to reverse the momentum of the ground battle, which shifted decisively in the early afternoon. After a brief ground-to-ground rocket or artillery attack on the approaches to Brega, the rebels hastily abandoned their positions, fleeing pell-mell in perhaps two hundred cars and trucks, heading east with horns honking and lights flashing. They clogged both lanes of the narrow highway as they raced for Ajdabiya, recaptured from loyalist troops days ago. Some rebels said Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, pushing eastward from Ras Lanuf, were within ten miles of Brega. As artillery or rockets pursued the fleeing rebels several miles north of the city, the colonel’s forces seemed closer than that. The retreating column seemed rudderless, a sea of vehicles and fighters armed with infantry weapons and light rockets, but lacking the resolve, training, or leadership to stand up to even a modest display of force by Colonel Qaddafi’s conventional armed forces. They were an unmistakably intimidated lot.
After several minutes of wild driving, some of the rebels tried to regroup, pulling over on the shoulder of the highway between Brega and Ajdabiya beside an abandoned restaurant and a small mosque. A man standing on a pickup truck and brandishing an assault rifle led a crowd in chants of God is great! Morale appeared to stabilize. Then a single artillery shell or rocket exploded several hundred yards away, kicking up dust and black smoke. The crunch of the impact made the rebels flinch. The chanting ceased at once. The rebels scattered, dashing for their vehicles and speeding east anew, their panic both infectious and a display of an absence of command and control.
At one point in midafternoon, a government T-72 tank was seen afire half a mile or so off the road, beside another tank that appeared recently abandoned.
The rebels thought a coalition aircraft had stopped a flanking attack. But after the tank erupted in a tremendous flash, curious rebels approaching it determined it had succumbed not to violence but vandalism. Someone, a bearded rebel said, had simply set the tank on fire, causing its ammunition to explode. The nervous column pushed on, regrouping at last at the gate of Ajdabiya, where the rebels arrayed their mud-streaked trucks along the road. Some of them began to argue bitterly.
The reversal was almost complete. Last week, on the same highway, Allied airstrikes pounded loyalists, enabling the rebels to advance toward the Libyan leader’s hometown, Surt, a symbolic and strategically important objective on the way to Tripoli.
Military analysts said that even after days of airstrikes, loyalist forces had enough resources to defend Colonel Qaddafi’s urban strongholds, including Surt, where the dense civilian population could preclude air attacks.
As loyalists extend their lines east along the coast toward rebel redoubts, experts said, Colonel Qaddafi’s forces risk opening themselves to renewed allied strikes. But rebels also said that many loyalists now roamed the battlefield in pickups, making them indistinguishable from rebels when viewed by pilots overhead, a shift in tactics that could render air power less effective.
In Beijing, President Hu Jintao criticized France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, meeting there with finance officials, saying the Western air campaign he championed risked killing even more civilians than the attacks it was meant to stop.
Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had laid antipersonnel and antitank mines. It said about sixty mines had been found in Ajdabiya after government forces held it. “Libya should immediately stop using antipersonnel mines, which most of the world banned years ago,” said Peter Bouckaert, the group’s emergencies director. “Qaddafi’s forces should ensure that mines of every type that already have been laid are cleared as soon as possible to avoid civilian casualties.” The authorities in Tripoli had no immediate comment.
and Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt have an article in The New York Times about the CIA (finally) in Libya:
The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.
While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.
In addition to the CIA presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces, and missile installations, the officials said.
American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers, including the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns, might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.
In addition, the American spies are meeting with the rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi, said United States government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities. American officials cautioned, though, that the Western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
The United States and its allies have been scrambling to gather detailed information on the location and abilities of Libyan infantry and armored forces that normally takes months of painstaking analysis. “We didn’t have great data,” General Carter F. Ham, who handed over control of the Libya mission to NATO, said in an email last week. “Libya hasn’t been a country we focused on a lot over past few years.”
Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the CIA to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels, American officials said Wednesday. But weapons have not yet been shipped into Libya, as Obama administration officials debate the effects of giving them to the rebel groups. The presidential finding was first reported by Reuters. In a statement, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, declined to comment “on intelligence matters,” but he said that no decision had yet been made to provide arms to the rebels.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said that he opposed arming the rebels: “We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them,” Mr. Rogers said.
Because the publicly stated goal of the Libyan campaign is not explicitly to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi’s government, the clandestine war now going on is significantly different from the Afghan campaign to drive the Taliban from power in 2001. Back then, American CIA and Special Forces troops worked alongside Afghan militias, armed them and called in airstrikes that paved the rebel advances on strategically important cities like Kabul and Kandahar.
In recent weeks, the American military has been monitoring Libyan troops with U-2 spy planes and a high-altitude Global Hawk drone, as well as a special aircraft, JSTARS, that tracks the movements of large groups of troops. Military officials said that the Air Force also has Predator drones, similar to those now operating in Afghanistan, in reserve.
Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint eavesdropping planes intercept communications from Libyan commanders and troops and relay that information to the Global Hawk, which zooms in on the location of armored forces and determines rough coordinates. Then the Global Hawk sends the coordinates to analysts at a ground station, who pass the information to command centers for targeting. The command center beams the coordinates to an E-3 Sentry AWACS command-and-control plane, which in turn directs warplanes to their targets.
Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, who recently retired as the Air Force’s top intelligence official, said that Libya’s flat desert terrain and clear weather have allowed warplanes with advanced sensors to hunt Libyan armored columns with relative ease, day or night, without the need for extensive direction from American troops on the ground.
But if government troops advance into or near cities in along the country’s eastern coast, which so far have been off-limits to coalition aircraft for fear of causing civilian casualties, General Deptula said that ground operatives would be particularly helpful in providing target coordinates or pointing them out to pilots with hand-held laser designators.
The CIA and British intelligence services were intensely focused on Libya eight years ago, before and during the successful effort to get Colonel Qaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program. He agreed to do so in the fall of 2003, and allowed CIA and other American nuclear experts into the country to assess Libya’s equipment and bomb designs and to arrange for their transfer out of the country.
Once the weapons program was eliminated, a former American official said, intelligence agencies shifted their focus away from Libya. But, as Colonel Qaddafi began his recent crackdown on the rebel groups, American spy agencies have worked to rekindle ties to Libyan informants and to learn more about the country’s military leaders.
A former British government official who is briefed on current operations confirmed media reports that dozens of British special forces soldiers, from the elite Special Air Service and Special Boat Service units, are on the ground across Libya. The British soldiers have been particularly focused on finding the locations of Colonel Qaddafi’s Russian-made surface-to-air missiles.
A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defense declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss the operations of British special forces units.
Rico says he knows it's technically wrong to put 'the' in front of CIA, but it reads too weird without it, so there you jolly well are, aren't you? (And is it just Rico, or do these town names, such as Bin Jawwad, sound like they're from some Star Wars movie?) And didn't the German generals insist they were only doing a 'tactical withdrawal' from Moscow all the way back to Berlin?

Euro poor, the poor bastards

Landon Thomas has an article in The New York Times about the condition of the banks in Ireland:
Once again, Ireland’s banking mess seems to be sending a message that Europe does not want to hear: only by dealing with stricken banks can the Continent expect to end its debt crisis soon.
Just months after a banking collapse forced an 85 billion euro ($120 billion) rescue package for the country, the Irish central bank is expected to announce that the latest round of stress testing shows that the nation’s banks may need thirteen billion euros to cover bad real estate debt. On top of the ten billion euros already granted by Europe and the International Monetary Fund for the banks, that would bring the total bill for Ireland’s banking bust to about 70 billion euros, or more than $98 billion.
Some specialists say the final tally could be closer to $140 billion, an extraordinary amount for a country whose annual output is $241 billion. Trading in shares of Irish Life and Permanent, the only domestic bank to have avoided a state bailout, was suspended after reports that it might have to seek government aid as well.
Dermot O’Leary, chief economist for Goodbody Stockbrokers in Dublin, says that Ireland can no longer afford to shoulder the still-growing burden of its banks. The nation’s interest payments are set to rise to thirteen percent of government revenue by 2012, a figure that trails only Greece’s eighteen percent, Mr. O’Leary wrote in perhaps the most definitive report to date on Ireland’s financial ills. “The Irish stress tests will be an important call to arms that shows that it cannot keep putting up the cost for recapitalizing its banks,” he said. “You need burden-sharing with the bondholders. Without that, the debt becomes unsustainable.”
Many proposals have been put forward to deal with the issue, including requiring bondholders to share in losses, as Mr. O’Leary and the new Irish government suggest, and a United States-style stress test with teeth, which would name and shame front-line banks and require them to raise capital. But European governments have stuck to their position that such measures would further fuel investor fears, rather than calm them. The second stress test of European banks now under way is beginning to be regarded as too weak, much as the first one was. In the meantime, the condition of the banks is worsening.
In Spain, which is having a brutal housing bust like Ireland’s, fresh data shows that problem loans are growing at their fastest level in a year. Portuguese and Greek banks, with their Irish counterparts, have become dependent on short-term financing from the European Central Bank for their survival as their economies deteriorate and doubts increase about their ability to repay their debts.
“Europe hesitates to deal with the banking problem for two reasons,” said Daniel Gros, the director for the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "Our policy makers saw Lehman and want to avoid a repeat of the experience at any cost,” he said, referring to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September of 2008. “And the weak banks in Germany and elsewhere are too politically connected to fail.”
Irish taxpayers have been left responsible since the government guaranteed all the liabilities of its banks two years ago. The European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have refused to accept the notion that investors who bought the bonds of Irish banks, in effect financing their reckless lending, should share the pain with some loss on their holdings. But a newly elected government has become more vocal in arguing that $29 billion in unsecured senior debt, which is not tied to an asset and as a result is deemed riskier from the start, is ripe for restructuring because the banks that issued it, like Anglo Irish, have essentially failed and been taken over by the government. So the government should not be obligated to keep paying interest.
It is not clear who owns the senior Irish debt; analysts guess it is a mix of European banks and bargain-hunting hedge funds. What is clear is Europe’s opposition to imposing reductions in the value of these bonds, often called haircuts. That view was reaffirmed this week when a central bank board member, Jürgen Stark of Germany, described such a move as populist and one that could feed a wider investor panic. Should investors respond by driving down the value of government bonds from the weaker euro zone economies, the pain would most likely be felt by all. The Continent’s big banks in particular would suffer, because many have large piles of sovereign debt, which has yet to be marked down to its market value.
According to Goldman Sachs, European banks hold $270 billion in Greek, Irish, and Portuguese bonds. Greek banks are the most exposed, with $87 billion, mostly in Greek debt, but German banks hold $62 billion in total and French banks $26 billion. Hypo Real Estate, a commercial lender now wholly owned by the German government, is the largest holder of Irish sovereign debt, with $14.5 billion. With bank lending growth negligible and capital levels thin, especially in the weaker euro zone economies, a fresh round of write-offs is the last thing governments want. The problem is compounded because banks account for a much larger share of national economies in Europe than they do in the United States.
In Ireland, bank assets are 2.5 times the size of its economy. A recent review of the European banking sector by Morgan Stanley shows that the rest of Europe is also heavily reliant on the health of its banks. The five largest banks in Britain are 3.5 times the size of the country’s economy, 4.4 times in the Netherlands, 3.25 times in France and two times in Spain. In Germany, the figure is 1.5 times gross domestic product, but that excludes the biggest, Deutsche Bank, which is mainly an investment bank. (The comparable figure for the United States is sixty percent of economic output.)
Spain has managed to separate itself from the malaise surrounding Portugal and others this year by undertaking some aggressive deficit cuts. But, according to a report this week by Marcello Zanardo, an analyst in London for Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, Spain’s problem loans rose 3.3 percent in January from December, the biggest increase in a year. That brought its bad loans to a 17-year high of 6.06 percent of its portfolio. Nonperforming loans jumped 48 percent in 2009 and 15 percent last year, Mr. Zanardo’s data show, driven by the continuing weakness in Spanish home prices. While Spanish banks are not in as bad shape as their Irish peers, the government has not yet convinced investors that it has addressed the problem despite steps to force local savings banks to raise capital.
Veterans of the three-and-a-half-year bank crisis in Ireland say that the hardest part is accepting how bad things really are, then taking definitive action. “We need to accept once and for all that Ireland has one hundred billion euros in irrecoverable bank loans,” said Peter Matthews, a financial consultant and recently-elected member of Parliament, who has long argued that Ireland and Europe are underestimating the scope of the country’s debt problem. “People do not relish a write-down, but it is the right way to deal with this.”

Mormons on Broadway, go figure

Lauire Goodstein has an article in The New York Times about the latest hit on Broadway:
The house lights came up and it was intermission at The Book of Mormon, the new Broadway musical about a pair of innocent young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to spread the faith. John Dehlin, a graduate student who flew in from Utah to see the show with a group of Mormons from around the country, was still riveted to his theater seat, having flashbacks.
“It’s way, way too close to home,” he said, recalling his own missionary years in Guatemala: the shock at the poverty and violence, the pressure from the mission president to baptize more natives, the despair when his mission companion ran off with a local girl, and the Mormon mandate, above all, to repress doubt and remain relentlessly cheery.
A friend in the crowded theater aisle, Paul Jones, passed by and gave Mr. Dehlin a high-five and a hug. “It’s right on,” said Dr. Jones, a dentist from Gilbert, Ariz., “but I cringed a little bit, a couple of times.”
The arrival of a Broadway musical that ridicules their religion, produced by the creators of the scathingly satirical television show South Park, is proving to be a cringe-worthy moment for many Mormons. And yet, even though the very name of the show appropriates the title of the church’s sacred scripture, there have been no pickets or boycotts, no outraged news releases by Mormon defenders and no lawsuits. This is intentional. Mormons want people to know that they can take it.
They have held their heads high during Big Love and Sister Wives, television shows about polygamists in fundamentalist Mormon sects. They survived scrutiny during the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008, and they are bracing for more in 2012 when two Mormons may enter the race: Mr. Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, and Jon Huntsman Jr., former governor of Utah.
As for the musical, conservative Mormons have ignored or denounced it. The Mormon Church itself (formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has signaled to members to turn the other cheek, while quietly preparing to make the best of the publicity; for instance, posting material on the church’s website about the growth of the faith in Africa.
Meanwhile, some more liberal Mormons (and some ex-Mormons) are making pilgrimages to New York to see it. They are even celebrating the show as a sign that their faith has finally made the big time. “Mormonism is mainstream,” said Dustin C. Jones, a lawyer and a Mormon from Phoenix, who saw the show with Mr. Dehlin, “and when you want to be a mainstream religion you open yourself up to mainstream criticism. Catholics have been subject to criticism for decades. Now we’ve arrived, and we’re on Broadway.”
There is a reason that many of the Mormons who attended with him found the show to be so evocative. In an interview, Matt Stone, one of the South Park creators, said that he and his collaborators did their homework. Mr. Stone, Trey Parker (his South Park colleague) and Robert Lopez (the creator of the musical Avenue Q) traveled together to Palmyra in upstate New York to see the pageant the church stages annually, retelling the story of how the prophet Joseph Smith discovered the golden plates from which he translated the Mormon scriptures (the Broadway musical opens with a parody of the pageant). The musical’s creators ordered books and videos from the church. And Mr. Lopez had a long phone talk with a Mormon missionary who served in Uganda, whom he contacted using a feature on the church’s own public relations website, mormon.org. Despite the research, the show takes liberties with many of Mormonism’s sacred beliefs. One missionary, in an effort to win over the Ugandans, concocts scripture passages about Smith’s battles with warlords, diarrhea, and AIDS. He finally baptizes a nubile village girl, and their ecstatic duet suggests they shared more than a mere dunk.
Mr. Stone, who calls himself a “religion-liking atheist”, said he did not consider the show to be anti-Mormon. He said of his missionary characters: “These kids are sent to the other side of the world to spread stories and scripture that they love and, when they get there, none of what they’ve learned in Utah makes any sense in this new land. But the love and the spirit do.” The lesson, he said: “A book of scripture can change your life, even if the book consists of made-up stories.”
The church’s reaction has been to release a one-sentence statement carefully crafted to be nonchalant: “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.” The church issued the statement well before the show opened, trying to set an example for members not to get defensive or angry. Some are waiting to hear whether Mormon leaders address the issue at the church’s General Conference in Salt Lake City this weekend.
After the show last Friday, his flashbacks fading, Mr. Dehlin steered his group to Ellen’s Stardust Diner to talk it over. Many of them were meeting in person for the first time, brought together by Mr. Dehlin’s podcast and Web site, mormonstories.org, which often casts a critical eye on the church.
At one table sat three Mormons with three very different experiences of the church: a Mormon convert, a child of converts, and a descendant of an early Mormon leader. The convert, who did not want his name used because he said his conversion could jeopardize his job, said he was “aghast at how sacrilegious the show was.” The child of converts, Natasha Parker, said that her mother-in-law would have walked out, but that she found it insightful, especially the Turn It Off song. “Whatever is dangerous, you are told just to shut it off,” said Ms. Parker, a family therapist in Wichita, Kansas, a mother of four and a practicing Mormon. The third, Adam Ford, a lawyer in Alpine, Utah, said he thought the play was “inspired”. He said he is a great-great-grandson of Willard Richards, a private secretary to Joseph Smith. “The things they’re making fun of are the myths that don’t affect our everyday lives,” said Mr. Ford, a father of six who teaches gospel doctrine, the Mormon term for Sunday school. The myths may be outlandish, he said, “but people are blessed by it.”

Whiners

Steve Lohr has an article in The New York Times about another technological dinosaur, Microsoft, trying to fuck over Google:
The wheel of technology history turns remarkably fast. Microsoft, whose domination of the technology industry provoked a landmark federal antitrust case, is crying foul against Google and urging European Union antitrust officials to go after the search giant. Microsoft plans to file a formal antitrust complaint in Brussels against Google, its first against another company. Microsoft hopes that the action may prod officials in Europe to take action, and that the evidence gathered may also lead officials in the United States to do the same.
In Europe, Microsoft is joining a chorus of complaints, but until now they have come mainly from small internet companies saying that Google’s search engine unfairly promotes its own products, like Google Product Search, a price comparison site, over rival offerings.
The internet and smartphones are the markets where energy, investment, and soaring stock prices reside. Microsoft, immensely wealthy, is pouring billions into these fast-growing fields, especially internet search. Yet the champion of the PC era trails well behind Google.
“The company that was the 800-pound gorilla is now resorting to antitrust, where it is always the case that the also-rans sue the winners,” said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management who has studied Microsoft. The Microsoft complaint, Professor Cusumano notes, is also a reminder of the comparative speed with which fortunes can shift in fast-moving technology markets. “It doesn’t happen instantly, but it does happen faster than in most industries,” Professor Cusumano said. “It took Google about a decade to really turn the tables on Microsoft.”
For years, the swaggering giant of personal computer software battled competitors and antitrust regulators in America and abroad, parrying their claims that it had bullied rivals and abused its market muscle. In the United States, it suffered rulings against it and in 2001 reached a settlement that prohibited Microsoft from certain strong-arm tactics. In Europe, Microsoft absorbed setbacks and record fines from regulators and judges.
Still, irony has no place in antitrust doctrine. Microsoft’s complaint must be weighed on the merits, as part of a wide-ranging antitrust investigation of Google, begun last year and led by Europe’s competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia.
The litany of particulars in Microsoft’s complaint, the company’s lawyers say, includes claims of anticompetitive practices by Google in search, online advertising, and smartphone software. But a central theme, Microsoft says, is that Google unfairly hinders the ability of search competitors— and Microsoft’s Bing is almost the only one left— from examining and indexing information that Google controls, like its big video service YouTube. Such restraints, Microsoft contends, undermine competition— and thus pose a threat to consumer choice and better prices for online advertisers.
When told of the Microsoft claims, Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, denied that the company had done anything wrong and said its practices did not deny Microsoft access to Google technology and content.
Though it is making an antitrust claim, Microsoft is also claiming a bit of hypocrisy on Google’s part. In an interview, Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, cited Google’s stated mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That is a laudable goal,” Mr. Smith said. “But it appears Google’s practice is to prevent others from doing the same thing. That is unlawful and it raises serious antitrust issues.” Google’s strategy, he adds, seems to be to “wall off content so that it cannot be crawled and searched by competing companies.”
In smartphones— sources of increasing volumes of search traffic— Microsoft says Google is withholding technical information needed to let phones using Windows Phone 7 software have a rich, full-featured application for YouTube. That technical information, Microsoft says, is available not only in Google’s Android software but also Apple iPhones, as part of a deal dating back to when Google’s chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, was on the Apple board. (He resigned in 2009, after the Federal Trade Commission raised questions about the arrangement.)
Mr. Kovacevich said that, about two years ago, the company decided to make an improved version of YouTube available for all mobile devices, instead of tailoring it to each company on smartphone applications, as it did earlier with Apple.
Microsoft also contends that Google has set up what amount to technical roadblocks so that Microsoft’s Bing search service cannot examine and index up to half of the videos on YouTube. Another Microsoft claim focuses on Google’s ad contracts. Its contracts prohibit advertisers and online agencies from using third-party software that could instantly compare results and move advertisers’ data from one ad platform to another— from Google’s Adwords to Microsoft’s Adcenter, for example.
The Google spokesman said the company does allow advertisers freedom to move data freely, and the restraint on third-party software is to maintain the consistency of Google’s ad service.
Microsoft sees current cases involving Google in the United States through a similar prism. In rejecting Google’s settlement with groups representing authors and publishers last week, a judge in Federal District Court in New York said the plan to scan and digitize millions of books raised antitrust concerns. The settlement, wrote Judge Denny Chin, would “arguably give Google control over the search market.” Later in his ruling, the judge wrote, “Google’s ability to deny competitors the ability to search orphan books would further entrench Google’s market power in the online search market.”
The Justice Department is reviewing Google’s planned $700 million purchase of ITA, an airline flight information software company. Microsoft’s Bing, along with specialized travel websites like Hotwire, Kayak, and Orbitz, use ITA’s data. And Microsoft and others have urged the Justice Department to make approval of the deal dependent on Google’s allowing others continuing access to the data, on terms similar to those before the acquisition. Google has pledged to do that, Mr. Kovacevich said. The Justice Department has stepped in twice to challenge Google: on the proposed Yahoo deal in 2008 and in opposing Google’s book deal last year.
Microsoft has urged regulators and Congress to curb Google in the past, including Microsoft’s public opposition to Google’s bid for Yahoo and its successful acquisition of DoubleClick, an online advertising specialist, for $3.1 billion in 2008.
Microsoft, Mr. Smith said, is filing its complaint in Europe partly because it has an overall antitrust investigation of Google under way. In Washington, antitrust reviews of Google have focused on individual business deals rather than a pattern of conduct. (The Texas attorney general’s office is also conducting an antitrust investigation of Google. Other states have also shown interest.) But Mr. Smith noted that Google’s market share in search in Europe is higher than in the United States; more than ninety percent in most nations in the European Union, compared with sixty-five percent in the United States. “The search market in Europe is substantially less competitive than it is in the U.S.,” Mr. Smith said. Microsoft, he added, plans to make sizable investments and efforts in the European market. “But if we’re going to get a more competitive market there, European regulators are also going to have to take steps to establish a level playing field.”
Google’s large market share in search, legal experts say, does invite antitrust scrutiny. If Microsoft’s claims are accurate, they could raise issues for Google, especially in Europe, where antitrust regulators tend to move more quickly to restrain the behavior of dominant companies. Still, antitrust regulators look for evidence of not only an unfair advantage but also of less consumer choice and higher prices.
“You do need to show consumer harm,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert at the University of Iowa College of Law. “That becomes more difficult with search engines, where it is easy for consumers to switch to another search engine. That is different than in PC operating systems in the Microsoft case, where the technological lock-in was more obvious.”
Rico says the '800-pound gorilla' is only interested in protecting its POS search engine, Bing, which Rico wouldn't use if they paid him...

Gave 'em up a long time ago

Rico says that manual typewriters might be making a comeback with somebody (see the article below), but not him.
Jessica Bruder has an article on the phenomenon in The New York Times:
Even by Brooklyn standards, it was a curious spectacle: a dozen mechanical contraptions sat on a white tablecloth, emitting occasional clacks and dings. Shoppers peered at the display, excited but hesitant, as if they’d stumbled upon a trove of strange inventions from a Jules Verne fantasy. Some snapped pictures with their iPhones.
“Can I touch it?” a young woman asked. Permission granted, she poked two buttons at once. The machine jammed. She recoiled as if it had bitten her.
“I’m in love with all of them,” said Louis Smith, 28, a lanky drummer from Williamsburg. Five minutes later, he had bought a dark blue 1968 Smith Corona Galaxie II for $150. “It’s about permanence, not being able to hit delete,” he explained. “You have to have some conviction in your thoughts. And that’s my whole philosophy of typewriters.”
Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Smith had joined a growing movement. Manual typewriters aren’t going gently into the good night of the digital era. The machines have been attracting fresh converts, many too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers, and correction fluid. And, unlike the typists of yore, these folks aren’t clacking away in solitude.
They’re fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, recognizing them as well designed, functional, and beautiful machines, swapping them and showing them off to friends. At a series of events called “type-ins”, they’ve been gathering in bars and bookstores to flaunt a sort of post-digital style and gravitas, tapping out letters to send via snail mail and competing to see who can bang away the fastest.
The subculture of revivalists includes Donna Brady, 35, and Brandi Kowalski, 33, of Brady & Kowalski Writing Machines, who sold the aforementioned Smith Corona Galaxie II one recent Saturday afternoon at the Brooklyn Flea, a market for crafts and antiques. “You type so much quicker than you can think on a computer,” Ms. Kowalski said. “On a typewriter, you have to think.” She and Ms. Brady began their vintage typewriter business last April. So far, they have refurbished and sold more than seventy machines, many to first-time users. Their slogan: Unplug and reconnect.
And typists are reconnecting all over the place. On a December afternoon, about a dozen people hauled their typewriters to Bridgewater’s Pub in Philadelphia for the first in a series of type-ins. “Like a jam session for people who like typewriters,” said Michael McGettigan, 56, a local bike shop owner who came up with the idea. “You had unions do sit-ins and hippies do be-ins, so I thought, ‘We’ll do a type-in.’ ”
In the last three months, type-ins have clattered into cities from coast to coast and even overseas. On 12 February, more than sixty people turned up at a Snohomish, Washington bookstore over the course of three hours for a type-in called Snohomish Unplugged. Type-ins have popped up in Seattle, Phoenix, and Basel in Switzerland, where they called the event a schreibmaschinenfest. Ms. Brady and Ms. Kowalski are planning to hold a Brooklyn type-in at McCarren Park.
Why celebrate the humble typewriter? Devotees have many reasons. For one, old typewriters are built like battleships. They survive countless indignities and welcome repairs, unlike laptops and smartphones, which become obsolete almost the moment they hit the market. “It’s kind of like saying: In your face, Microsoft!’” said Richard Polt, 46, a typewriter collector in Cincinnati. Mr. Polt teaches philosophy at Xavier University, where he’s given away about a dozen typewriters to enthusiastic students and colleagues.
Another virtue is simplicity. Typewriters are good at only one thing: putting words on paper. “If I’m on a computer, there’s no way I can concentrate on just writing, said Jon Roth, 23, a journalist who is writing a book on typewriters. “I’ll be checking my email, my Twitter.” When he uses a typewriter, Mr. Roth said: “I can sit down and I know I’m writing. It sounds like I’m writing.”
And there’s something else about typewriters. In more than a dozen interviews, young typewriter aficionados raised a common theme. Though they grew up on computers, they enjoy prying at the seams of digital culture. Like urban beekeepers, hip knitters, and other icons of the DIY renaissance, they appreciate tangibility, the object-ness of things. They chafe against digital doctrines that identify human “progress” as a ceaseless march toward greater efficiency, the search for a frictionless machine.
That doesn’t make them Luddites. For many younger typewriter users, the old technology rests comfortably beside the new. Matt Cidoni, 16, of East Brunswick, New Jersey, keeps a picture of his favorite machine, a Royal No. 10, on his iPod Touch so he can show it off to friends. Online, he is a proud member of the “typosphere”, a global community of typewriter geeks. Like many of them, he enjoys “typecasting”, or tapping out typewritten messages, which he scans and posts to his website, Adventures in Typewriterdom. One of his favorite typecasting blogs, Strikethru, is run by a Microsoft employee. In Mr. Cidoni’s world view, there’s nothing technologically inconsistent about such things. “Don’t get me wrong,” Mr. Cidoni said. “I’ve got an iPod Touch. I’ve got a cellphone, obviously. I’ve got a computer.” He also owns about ten typewriters, which he uses for homework and letter writing at speeds of up to ninety words a minute. “I love the tactile feedback, the sound, the feel of the keys underneath your fingers,” Mr. Cidoni said.
Tom Furrier, who owns the Cambridge Typewriter Company in Massachusetts, has sold several typewriters to Mr. Cidoni, and said that high school and college students have become a staple of his business. “I kept asking, ‘What are you kids doing here?’ ” he said. “But it’s been this growing thing. Young people are coming in and getting in touch with manual typewriters.” In January, Mr. Furrier rented out a dozen typewriters to Jen Bervin, 39, an artist teaching a weeklong creative writing course at Harvard. When class ended on a Friday, several students begged Ms. Bervin to let them return over the weekend for one last crack at the machines. “Everyone was so excited about it,” she said. (When reached for an interview, Ms. Bervin was sitting in the cafe car of an Amtrak train, where she’d been clacking away on her own typewriter, a German Gossen Tippa from the 1940s, until her cellphone rang.)
What do literary stalwarts of the original typewriter era make of all this? “We old typists, it makes us feel young again to think there’s a new generation catching on,” said Gay Talese, 79. He still uses a typewriter, albeit electric, as does his friend, Robert A. Caro, 75, the Pulitzer-winning biographer of Robert Moses and President Lyndon B. Johnson. They discussed Mr. Caro’s Smith Corona while watching the Super Bowl. “I’m actually not surprised,” Mr. Caro said, when told of the typewriter renaissance. The tangible pleasures of typewriters are something he’s known about for decades. “One reason I type is it simply makes me feel closer to my words,” Mr. Caro said. “It’s like being a cabinetmaker. It’s like laying down the planks. This is the way it’s supposed to feel.”

History for the day

On 31 March 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson stunned the country by announcing he would not run for another term of office.

Bad day

Courtesy of Rico's father, this bad moment somewhere:

30 March 2011

More cool stuff from Amazon

Claire Cain Miller has a blog in The New York Times about new technology from Aaazon:
Amazon.com plans to introduce a service that will let people upload their digital music to the web and access it from browsers on any computer, and from Android phones.
The service, known as a music locker, was made available to Amazon account holders early Tuesday. Amazon will offer a web-based hard drive backup service called Cloud Drive, where people can store documents, photos, videos, and music.
It will also offer Cloud Player, which will let people listen to, download, and make playlists from the music they store on Cloud Drive from any web browser or from an app on Android devices. Cloud Player will automatically upload songs bought on Amazon and scan iTunes or Windows libraries to find other music to upload.
Amazon is racing Google and Apple, both of which are interested in offering similar services. One key difference is that Google and Apple reportedly want to automatically make all the music that a user owns available to stream on other devices, while Amazon will require that people upload music, except songs they buy on Amazon, to access it elsewhere.
The dream of these companies, along with many start-ups, is for people to be able to listen to their music from any computer or phone. But they have all run into the same problem: music labels and publishers would prefer that listeners buy a new copy of a song everywhere they want to listen to it.
Several experts in digital music say that the music locker business is still legally ambiguous. For example, though some companies let people upload their music and listen to it elsewhere without any outcry from the labels, others, like MP3tunes, have been sued by music labels. Another issue: it is impossible for web companies to tell whether a song was bought legally or downloaded illegally.
Amazon says it has sidestepped the problem, because its users would upload their songs, in MP3 or A.A.C. format, to the cloud-based service, just like backing them up on an external hard drive or a Web-based computer backup service. “We don’t need a license to store music,” said Craig Pape, director of music at Amazon. “The functionality is the same as an external hard drive.”
Companies including Google and Spotify have been forced to delay introducing certain services while they negotiate with the music labels and publishers. Several executives at major labels expressed concern about such a service from Amazon, and whether it would violate the terms of their current licensing agreements with the company. They agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because their agreements with Amazon are confidential.
Amazon is offering five gigabytes of free storage and twenty gigabytes free if a customer buys an album from Amazon.
Rico says he's already loaded some files, and will continue to do so. (And did he tell you he thinks the folks at Amazon are fucking brilliant? They are.) He'll buy the twenty gigs, too, if necessary. (A buck a gig per year is a good deal, and beats the crap out of six bucks a month with those fuckers at Mozy.)

Not better the second time

David Kirkpatrick (alone, this time) has an article in The New York Times about that poor Libyan woman who can't get a break:
In the latest turn in the case of Eman al-Obeidy, a Libyan woman apprehended by security forces for trying to tell journalists that she had been raped by members of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s militia, a government spokesman said that the unidentified militia members she accused had filed a civil case against her.
“Oh, yeah, they have filed a case,” the spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, said. “The boys who she accused of rape are bringing a case, because it is a very grave offense to accuse someone of a sexual crime.”
Journalists have been unable to learn Ms. al-Obeidy’s whereabouts since she was removed by force from the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli after scuffles between security personnel, hotel staff, and foreign journalists that she had been trying to approach on Saturday.
Mr. Ibrahim initially described her as drunk and potentially delusional. Then, later, he called her sober and sane, and then a prostitute and a thief. He said that her case against the men had been dropped because she refused to submit to a medical examination, and he reiterated a promise that she would be offered a chance to speak again to the press.
The story of her treatment, covered by satellite news channels and websites, has riveted Libyans of all stripes. To critics of the Qaddafi government, Ms. Obeidy has become the new face of its brutal tactics. Her family and tribe, based in the rebel-held east, is reportedly standing by her, bucking tradition to reject any assertion of a stain on her reputation from the alleged sexual crime. Rebels in Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital, have also held rallies to support her.
Rico says this is typical, but wishes her well. (She'll be lucky if she makes it out of this alive...)

Hip, once upon a time

Phil Patton has an article in The New York Times about old Nissans:
Bryan Thompson has a cute little orphan that needs a home. Mr. Thompson, a former Nissan designer who is now head of design at Next Autoworks, a start-up car company, is putting his light-blue 1990 Nissan Pao up for adoption.
Until recently, the Pao, a model never sold in the United States, resided in the Datsun Heritage Museum in Murrieta, California, southeast of Los Angeles. But the museum has closed and is seeking to relocate, so Mr. Thompson plans either to sell the distinctive little car, or lend it to an auto museum. “I just want the car safe and in good hands,” he said.
Before 1984, Nissans were called Datsuns in the United States. The museum, established in 2008 by a former company sales manager, housed about fifteen American Datsuns and some unusual Nissan models.
Mr. Thompson said his Pao was one of only 10,000 built, and one of very few in the United States. The car, which has right-hand drive and did not meet American standards, was never licensed for street use in this country. The offbeat Pao was one of four limited-edition cars that Nissan offered in Japan in the late 1980s and early ’90s. They were collectively known as the Pike cars because they were intended to represent the spearhead of a new approach: adapting design and marketing strategies from other industries like personal electronics. At the time, Japanese companies like Sony and Panasonic, along with automakers like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, were the envy of the world.
The other Pike cars were the minimal Be-1, the snail-shaped S-Cargo van and the sporty Figaro convertible (photo).
“They were designed to be polarizing and build a buzz,” Mr. Thompson said. “They are concept cars come to life.” The cars were as cute as Hello Kitty, radiating a cartoonish insouciance that spoke of Japanese confidence before a decade of stasis set in.
The cars were based on the Nissan Micra (also sold as the March) and used its 51-horsepower engine. They were classified as kei cars, tiny models that are exempt in Japan from some taxes and regulations. “They were heavily influenced by French design from the 1950’s, but the production techniques were supermodern,” Mr. Thompson said. “They used composite body panels.” But it is more than abstract appreciation that led Mr. Thompson to buy his Pao. “The Pike cars influenced me to become a car designer,” he said.
The Pao has its fans, but the most lovable of the Pike cars was probably the Figaro, whose expressive face is worthy of Pixar Studios. Better known was the S-Cargo, a van whose name was a pun on small cargo and escargot. Its rear cargo area, curved like a snail’s shell, was based on the French Citroën 2CV camionette, or small truck.
The plain Be-1 looks generic. The Pao, in contrast, seems like a ride for the weekend with its canvas roof and ribbed sides. “The Pao was designed for drives through the countryside, and picnics,” Mr. Thompson said. His Pao is Aqua Grey, one of four colors inspired by 1950s hues. Raised ribs on the hood and doors emphasize the body’s thinness. Mr. Thompson likes this feature, along with the two-part tailgate and the instrument panel that looks like Bakelite.
The Pike cars represented the height of post-modernism. Unabashedly retro, they were inspired by French and Italian designs of the ’50s, promiscuously combining elements of the Citroën 2CV, the Renault 4, the Mini, the Fiat 500, and even the East German Trabant into an archetypal car. A decade later, the designer Mark Newson created a concept car for Ford, the 012C, in the same vein.
Each type of Pike car was produced in limited numbers, essentially as fashion accessories for hip young Japanese. Today, the Pike cars are appreciated as forerunners of other high-style retro vehicles like the Volkswagen New Beetle, the Mini Cooper, and the latest Fiat 500.
Although Nissan did not heavily promote the cars— customers had to discover them, like an unmarked club— they exceeded expectations. The company held lotteries for the right to buy one.
The designs were credited to Naoki Sakai, although Shoji Takahashi is also often mentioned as the Figaro designer. Mr. Sakai also worked for Olympus around the same time and designed the retro O-Product camera that helped to popularize the brushed aluminum look. Mr. Sakai also helped to design a Toyota version of the Pike cars, called the Will cars.
Mr. Thompson noted that this is his second Pao. “The first one I had while living in Japan, but I couldn’t figure out how to bring it home,” he said. “So I left it parked on a small side street in Yokohama. It’s probably still there, collecting tickets.”

Assad, on his way out

Michael Slackman has an article in The New York Times about the end of an era in Syria:
The Syrian government resigned in what might have been a prelude to other concessions in a speech President Bashar al-Assad is expected to give to the nation soon, part of an expanding effort to address protests against his authoritarian rule.
The resignation was seen as a significant, if primarily symbolic, gesture, in a nation where the leadership rarely responds to public pressure and where decisions are made, not by the cabinet, but by the president and his inner circle, including multiple security services.
“It is not about the government, it is about the policies of the state,” said Abdel Majid Manjouni, the head of the Socialist Democratic Arab Union Party in Aleppo. “The ministers are not the ones who decide these things. That is the president. He makes the policies.”
Mr. Assad’s speech was scheduled to try to calm tensions after government forces repeatedly opened fire on demonstrators, killing dozens of people. According to officials, the speech, originally expected on Monday, will offer significant political concessions, including the lifting of laws that restrict civil and political freedoms. The promises, however, were greeted skeptically by a public accustomed to a leadership that has talked of reform for years without results.
“Now it’s all about evaluating Assad’s words and how to judge his actions,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert in Washington. “He doesn’t have a good track record on following through, and I can’t imagine he can now, given the regime’s structure.”
Mr. Assad initially boasted that his nation was immune to the popular unrest that has swept the region. But events in Syria have played out much as they have in other nations, moving from denial to a bloody crackdown, to efforts at appeasement. Now the Syrian president has little room to maneuver in terms of offering concessions without actually undermining his leadership and that of his allies.
If he lifts the emergency laws and allows free speech, the streets are likely to swell with demonstrators. If he dismantles the feared secret police services, he is liable to lose control amid widespread calls for freedom, the rule of law, and an end to systemic corruption. If he ends the Baath Party monopoly on power, it would likely lose at the polls.
“The emergency law is a cornerstone of Ba'athist rule, and once it goes everything else might go with it,” said Karim Émile Bitar, a researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “Things could collapse for them if they’re serious about lifting it: liberation of political prisoners, multiple parties, no more harassing activists. People are going to use this to air more and more grievances.”
The resignation of the cabinet came as the government worked hard to restore its credibility after thousands marched against it around the country and the military took up positions in cities in the north and south. Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied in Damascus, the capital, waving flags and pictures of Mr. Assad. The government apparently bused in many of the demonstrators and pressured others to attend the rally.
Government supporters poured into the Square of the Seven Seas in Damascus, with thousands standing under a 45-foot-long portrait of the president on the Syrian national bank building. They chanted: Only God, Syria and Bashar! and With our soul, with our blood, we will redeem you, Bashar.
As the crowds dispersed early in the afternoon, a sense of carnival prevailed, with smiling children and couples holding hands and eating ice cream. Cars around the city honked their horns in support of Mr. Assad and stern young men sat atop microbuses, clutching pictures of the president. Similar rallies were held in major cities, with the noticeable exception of Latakia, a northwestern coastal town where a sit-in by hundreds of protesters continued, and Dara’a in the south. The military’s presence has been heavily felt in both cities after recent violence.
“Today, it was staging maneuvers before tomorrow’s big announcement,” Mr. Bitar said. “The idea is to prepare tomorrow’s speech, and ahead of it you have these demos, which show that Assad still benefits from a certain amount of popular support.”
The protests began more than a week ago in Dara’a, after the police arrested a group of young people for scrawling antigovernment graffiti. The ripples were felt nationwide after government forces fired on demonstrators. Protesters set fire to party offices in several towns, toppled a statue of the former president, Hafez al-Assad, and tore down billboards of the current president, his son, actions that have been unheard of in the repressive police state.
In his speech, Mr. Assad is expected to lift the emergency law, which has been in place since 1963 and has been used to silence all opposition. Even if it were lifted, analysts said, restrictions on public life would remain, including laws that limit the right to assembly and speech; that allow secret police services to use any means to preserve the status quo; and that preserve the Baath Party’s legal monopoly on power.
“Lifting the emergency law will not change anything on the ground without lifting the supplements of the emergency law and having radical political reform, especially the Constitution,” according to Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian human rights advocate at George Washington University.

Soccer, if you care

Not gone, after all

Charles McGrath has an article in The New York Times about Gone With the WInd not being as much gone as everyone thought it was:
Long thought to have been burned the way the North set fire to the cotton at Tara, the final typescript of the last four chapters of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind has turned up in the Pequot Library in the Yankee seaport town of Southport, Connecticut. If not quite a spoil of war, the manuscript is a relic of some publishing skirmishes, and it will go on exhibit there before traveling to Mitchell’s hometown, Atlanta, in time for the 75th anniversary of the novel’s publication.
The chapters, which contain some of the novel’s most memorable lines like My dear, I don’t give a damn and After all, tomorrow is another day were given to the Pequot in the early 1950s by George Brett Jr., the president of Macmillan, Mitchell’s publisher, and a longtime benefactor of the library. Some pages from the manuscript were actually displayed at the Pequot twice before; in a 1979 exhibition of Macmillan first editions, also donated by Mr. Brett, and in 1991 for a show honoring Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley’s authorized, if not very good, sequel to Gone With the Wind.
But Dan Snydacker, executive director of the library, said nobody back then paid the manuscript much attention, or recognized its importance. The pages went back into storage, and resurfaced only in response to a query from Ellen F. Brown, who was working with her co-author, John Wiley Jr., on Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With the Wind’: A Bestseller’s Odyssey From Atlanta to Hollywood, published in February by Taylor Trade Publishing. Ms. Brown was interested in the Brett collection at the Pequot, and curious to know if any of the library’s many foreign editions of Gone With the Wind, yet another bequest, had inscriptions from the author to her publisher.
They do, but most, it turns out, are pretty tepid. For at least part of the time, the relationship between Mitchell and Brett was somewhat frosty, and why Brett had the manuscript in the first place remains a mystery. The manuscript itself is remarkably clean, typed on a Royal portable with just a few handwritten corrections fixing a typo, adding a word or changing a “that” to a “which”, often incorrectly. That it’s in this condition suggests something about Mitchell’s perfectionist nature and something about the unusual way Gone With the Wind was written and published.
Mitchell worked on the novel, which was originally to be called either Tomorrow Is Another Day or Tote the Weary Load, in fits and starts from 1925 to 1935. She wrote on blank newsprint and composed the book out of order, beginning with the last chapter, and picking up other sections as the mood suited her. The finished chapters she put in individual manila envelopes, sometimes with grocery lists scrawled on them, and stored in a closet. Very few people saw them or even knew what she was doing.
In April of 1935, however, while on a scouting trip to Atlanta, Harold Latham, the editor-in-chief of Macmillan, somehow pried the pile of envelopes loose from Mitchell and sent them to New York for evaluation. Ms. Brown said the draft at that point was a mess, with some chapters missing and duplicate versions of others, and yet Macmillan reacted enthusiastically and decided, with unusual haste, to bring the novel out the following spring.
From August of 1935 to January of 1936, Mitchell, with the help of John Marsh, her second husband (and best man at her marriage to the first), and some hired typists and stenographers, essentially rewrote and retyped the entire book, cutting, refining, straightening out inconsistencies and fixing historical inaccuracies. Until fairly late in the process, the heroine was called Pansy, and when Mitchell changed the name to Scarlett (thank goodness), she paid 50 cents an hour to have every page that mentioned Pansy retyped.
As each chapter was finished, it went off to New York, and that typescript, with very few alterations, became the final text of the novel. The manuscript you would really like to see is that jumble of newsprint pages stuffed into envelopes— what Macmillan called MS of the Old South— but most of that was destroyed by Mitchell’s husband, following her instructions, after her death in 1949. Mitchell always insisted that books should be judged by their final versions, not their drafts, and had grown weary of people and institutions pestering her for manuscript pages to be kept as souvenirs or put on display.
Marsh also burned, or so it was thought, most of the final typescript. He kept back two chapters, 44 and 47, which, along with some of the earlier material, are now stored in a vault in Atlanta, to be opened only if a question ever arises about the authorship of Gone With the Wind.
So what was George Brett doing with the last four chapters? At one point he didn’t even know he had them. That was in 1936, when he wrote to Mitchell asking if he could have a couple of manuscript pages to display at The New York Times Book Fair that year. Mitchell wrote back, irritated, to say that the manuscript had never been returned to her. Abashed, Macmillan found it in a vault and, insuring it for $1,000, sent it all back, or so everyone believed until just recently.
Mr. Snydacker said there were only a few explanations. Either Brett held onto part of the manuscript deliberately, or some of the chapters became separated (one of the pages, dusty and with a rusty paperclip mark, looks as if it had been stored on a windowsill somewhere), or Mitchell asked him to hold onto the chapters for safekeeping.
“It’s easy to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Joan Youngken, the guest curator of the Pequot exhibit, said. “If he kept it improperly, he wouldn’t be passing it along to a public library.”
Ms. Brown said: “I think those chapters must have been a gift. The story has always been that Mitchell and Brett didn’t get along because she felt he didn’t make a good enough deal for the movie rights. And it’s true that he didn’t. There are some angry letters, and there was a period when they weren’t speaking. But I’ve found plenty of evidence that, by the end, they had a very warm relationship.”
Carefully turning over the pages of the manuscript last week, Mr. Snydacker said: “I think it’s amazing that we have this. I love the book even though it’s inexcusably racist. It wasn’t written in the 1860s but the 1930s, for God’s sake. In some ways it’s pretty sympathetic to the KKK. But it’s a great work in spite of that. It’s a very powerful antiwar book, among other things. As a Vietnam vet, that part has always rung true to me, and I think that’s why it was so popular in Europe.” He added: “No question, Gone With the Wind is a part of the fabric of American life, and not just the movie, either. The book still sells something like 250,000 copies a year.”

Good food, good cause

Jeff Gordinier has an article in The New York Times about typical Japanese behavior in a non-typical situation:
Soon after the earthquake and the tsunami pulverized the northeastern coast of Japan earlier this month, the men and women who work at Japanese restaurants in the East Village began setting out little cardboard boxes so customers could leave a few dollars to help the ravaged country. Before long, though, almost a dozen of those restaurants heard from the Ninth Street office of a man named Bon Yagi.
Mr. Yagi didn’t think their donations should be randomly scattered. He suggested that they wait and join a concerted, citywide, thoroughly vetted effort, which eventually materialized as Dine Out for Japan Relief. That so many restaurants obeyed his command probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. He owns them all.
Although many of New York’s most dedicated gastronomes aren’t even aware of it, Mr. Yagi, who was born Shuji Bon Yagi in Japan in 1948, and started his career in the United States as a dishwasher in Philadelphia, is one of the most influential ambassadors for Japanese cuisine in New York.
If you have a fondness for Japanese food, especially the unpretentious street grub and lunchbox fare that are a common part of day-to-day life in Japan, it’s likely that you’ve patronized one of Mr. Yagi’s eleven restaurants.
Many are clustered around East Ninth and Tenth Streets. Soba-Ya, which specializes in noodles, is a few steps from Robataya, where meat and vegetables are theatrically grilled and presented to customers on long wooden oars.
Across the street you’ll find Cha-An, a hushed teahouse that serves jewel-like sweets, and Otafuku, where young cooks fry up cabbage pancakes and takoyaki— gooey, mayonnaise-splattered spheres of octopus and batter— in a sweltering space that often seems as loud as a disco and as cramped as a food truck. In a stroke of inspired urban planning, Otafuku waits there for the drinkers who wobble up the stairs from Decibel, a crepuscular, lantern-lighted sake bar where the wallpaper is a riot of hand-scrawled graffiti and old sake labels.
Shoot west, toward Third Avenue, and you’ll find sushi, sashimi and tempura-battered gingko nuts at Hasaki, which is named after the coastal town where Mr. Yagi grew up. Wander east, to 10th Street between First and Second Avenues, and there are hot bowls of ramen sloshing atop the counter at Rai Rai Ken, and Berkshire pork cutlets quilted in comforting spiced gravy at Curry-Ya, and crimson slivers of beef simmering away their fat in hot pots at Shabu-Tatsu.
All of them joined a growing list of restaurants, including JoJo, SD26, Telepan, and Mercer Kitchen, in the Dine Out for Japan Relief campaign, which planned to give to the Red Cross— five percent of their profits was suggested— from 23 March to 30 March.
New York has no Japantown, per se, but, in his quiet, deliberate way, Mr. Yagi has dedicated himself to building just such a culinary and cultural vortex, casting himself as its mustachioed Buddhist godfather, reverently known as Yagi-san.
“He’s kind of a pioneer,” said Chikako Ichihara, the president and chief executive of Azix, a marketing and consulting company that helps promote Japanese food and culture. “He brought real Japanese food to New Yorkers.”
After years of roaming the world, Mr. Yagi moved to New York in the 1970s, and broke into the food business with a wholesale vegetable store in the East Village. Glamour elbowed its way into his life in the early 1980s, when he opened an East Village diner called 103 Second, which became a commissary for artists and performers.
“You know who came?” Mr. Yagi said in his office above the teahouse. “Keith Haring. He was my first customer. He did graffiti in the bathroom. Andy Warhol came. Madonna came. John Belushi came at two o’clock in the morning.” Mr. Belushi, he said, had a tendency to soothe his demons with a sloppy Joe. “This was a hot diner. Nobody knew that a Japanese man owned it.”
The entrepreneur kept staying out of the spotlight as he opened Hasaki in 1984, then slowly Choshi and the rest; each new arrival meant to introduce New Yorkers to a relatively unsung element of Japanese gastronomy.
Tom Birchard, the owner of Veselka, the neighborhood’s beloved “Ukrainian soul food” spot, attributed Mr. Yagi’s success to a preference for hard work over hype. He recalled that, back in his vegetable-selling phase, Mr. Yagi used to kick off the day with a few minutes of calisthenics out on the sidewalk.
While Mr. Yagi has never attracted the media glare that surrounds restaurateurs like Masaharu Morimoto and Nobu Matsuhisa, “in terms of Japanese food, what he’s doing is totally cool,” said Henry Sidel, the president of Joto Sake, a distributor based in New York. “His main talent is for seeing an opportunity. There really weren’t any good ramen shops before Rai Rai Ken. Decibel feels like an underground Tokyo sake bar. What he does is very authentic, and fills a gap.”
The Bon Yagi mini-empire has been plugged into news of the catastrophe in Japan in an intense and immediate way. Over the last few days, as the restaurants geared up the fund-raising that Mr. Yagi favored, the deepening tragedy was a conversational theme in dining rooms and in kitchens.
At Robataya, Hisaya Kadoi, the restaurant’s 41-year-old manager, seemed shaken as he pulled up a chair to sip green tea and talk about the haunting news from his home country. Historically, the type of grilling that’s done at Robataya has its roots in Sendai, one of the cities now heavily damaged by the tsunami. In keeping with that tradition, Mr. Kadoi has in the past served a lot of fish— sea bream and horse mackerel— that he has gotten from the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. A disrupted supply chain, and anxiety about radioactive contamination, have changed that; customers have encouraged Mr. Kadoi to slip a note into the menu assuring them that the fish being served is safe.
“We don’t serve any fish from Japan right now,” he said. Watching the news from Japan has been difficult for Mr. Kadoi, who grew up south of Tokyo, in Shizuoka. “I see it every day, but I’m always crying,” he said.
Mr. Kadoi’s wife, Makiko, comes from the city of Kesennuma, in Miyagi prefecture. Soon after the earthquake hit, Mr. Kadoi came across images of Kesennuma engulfed in flames. “I was so shocked,” he recalled. “I was thinking, nobody’s alive. I came here to work, but I don’t remember what I did.” A week passed before Mr. Kadoi and his wife learned that her parents had survived the fires and the floods.
Business must go on, of course, and some customers seem to view the simple act of eating out as a gesture of financial and spiritual support for the people of Japan. “That’s why I wanted to order something,” said Xai McGerty, 40, who could be found at the counter at Cha-An with a large platter of porridge and side dishes in front of her. “I just ate, but I thought, I can eat something more,” she said. “I’m eating for charity.”
At Decibel, the menu is now flanked by a flier offering customers “authentic products” that are used in sake breweries in Japan. There’s a maekake, or brewer’s apron, for $25, and a hand-size wooden drinking box for $15. One evening, while Aerosmith blasted away on the sound system, Yuki Mori, Decibel’s manager, went off to grab a sample of unpasteurized sake. He came back with a bottle of Urakasumi Tokubetsu, from a brewery in hard-hit Miyagi prefecture, a place where there are fears of radiation in the water. “I think this is the best sake we have now,” he said wistfully.
Perhaps it’s a sign of Mr. Yagi’s unofficial “mayor of Japantown” status that, next to his desk, stands a red and gold-plated mikoshi, a portable Shinto shrine that is carried at Japanese festivals in the city. The next time the mikoshi is dusted off, Mr. Yagi said, prayers will be sent out, and more money will be raised for Japan.
It would not be out of character for him to make a personal sacrifice, too. A few months after 11 Septenber 2001, Mr. Yagi went on a Buddhist retreat in the Catskills. There, at the zendo, he found himself wondering what he could offer in tribute. The answer arrived while he was meditating: he decided to give up sake. “I love drinking sake,” Mr. Yagi said. But he has not had a glass of it since.
Rico says that was noble, but dumb; no one who died on 9/11 would begrudge him a glass of sake...

Rico doesn't much like snakes

An editorial in The New York Times concerns some missing snakes:
Today we learned the word elapidae; a family of snakes that includes the Egyptian cobra (species Naja haje) that has been missing at the Bronx Zoo since Friday. What makes an elapid elapidated? Fangs that are proteroglyphous, which means they appear at the front of the mouth. They are also hollow and short. A cobra can’t merely bite to deliver its venom, like a rattlesnake (which is solenoglyphous, with long, folding fangs). It must bite and hang on. It compensates for this inefficiency by having more powerful venom.
Does this give you the willies? It’s worth remembering that the missing cobra, a female, is a few months old and only twenty inches long, unlike an adult cobra, which can be five to eight feet long. An adult cobra would have no chance of vanishing in the Reptile House, which is closed until the absentee turns up.
But behind the cobra’s official habitat in the Reptile House is another habitat, the complex mechanical systems hidden behind the scenes of many zoos. This is a wilderness of pipes, conduits, and ducts, a serpentine, longitudinal paradise where a slim, youthful cobra might feel analogically at home.
The Bronx Zoo has prepared us for a long wait while the search continues, but we hope it ends soon, for the well-being of the cobra itself. And if, perhaps, the thought of a venomous snake gone missing doesn’t already give you the shivers or put you in mind of Sherlock Holmes’s speckled band, we suggest a visit to the Naja haje page at DigiMorph, where you can watch a 3-D CT scan of an Egyptian cobra revolving before your eyes.
That way you’ll know what to look for when you check under the bed tonight:

OCD, in a good cause

Rico says, courtesy of his father, these photos of one man's obsessive model-building project:

Historyn for the day

On 30 March1981, President Reagan was shot and seriously injured outside a Washington, D.C., hotel by John W. Hinckley Jr. Also wounded were White House news secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent, and a District of Columbia police officer.

29 March 2011

Bad situation, good result

Clifford Krauss has an article in The New York Times about a good reason to help the rebels:
After seizing control of critical oil fields and terminals in eastern Libya over the weekend, Libyan rebels are now trying to sell oil in international markets, potentially raising hundreds of millions of dollars to buy weapons and supplies. Oil industry officials, echoing claims made by a rebel leader, said that they believed that Qatar had agreed to buy oil offered by the rebels and planned to ship it in leased tankers. The Qatari government has not commented on the oil sales, but Qatar became the first Arab country to formally recognize the legitimacy of the rebels as representatives of Libya. In addition, the recent military advances by the rebels were made possible by allied air support as well as critical logistical commitments from Qatar.
“There clearly appears to be some coordination, and money can buy you a lot,” said Michael A. Levi, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. “My guess is this will be more consequential for the conflict than for the oil markets.”
Over the last few days, the rebels have seized several towns with important oil installations that they said would enable them to produce and export crude. Although there is concern that the rebel advance may prove to be fleeting, oil traders responded to their victories by pushing down the price of most world oil benchmarks, albeit modestly.
The price of the benchmark United States crude oil, West Texas Intermediate, fell by $1.48 a barrel, or 1.4 percent, to $103.92. The benchmark is 7.3 percent higher than it was a month ago, and thirty percent higher than a year ago.
Although the Libyan government faces global economic sanctions and asset freezes, an official at the Treasury Department said that the United States would not seek to block oil sales by the rebels if they could prove the money was not going to any Libyan government authority, the national oil company, or the Qaddafi family. “Everything owned by or controlled by the government of Libya is subject to sanctions,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no official determination had been made about the proposed oil sales. “Anything that is not is not governed by U.S. sanctions.”
According to news reports, the rebels claimed they would be able to produce up to 130,000 barrels of crude a day, less than a tenth of what Libya exported before turmoil erupted last month. But they also have access to millions of barrels stored in coastal oil terminals, which have been effectively closed to tanker traffic during the conflict. The rebels now control all five eastern oil export terminals, including Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, and Zueitina, roughly two-thirds of the country’s export capacity and a majority of its production and refining capacity, according to a research note by the Eurasia Group, a consultancy firm.
Francois Gauthier, the Algeria country manager for the Italian energy company Enel, estimated that there could be as many as two million barrels of oil stored in just one rebel-controlled oil port, Tobruk, that could be exported quickly. At an estimated sale price of $100 a barrel, selling the oil in Tobruk could raise as much as $200 million, although the rebels would probably have to share the funds with Western oil companies that co-own the leases on the fields. “It’s a lot of cash, but it won’t solve all of their problems over the long run,” Mr. Gauthier said.
Libyan oil is particularly valued on world markets because it is high quality, needs little refining and is particularly well suited for European diesel markets.
With allied planes and naval vessels patrolling the area, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi could be powerless to stop tankers from sailing into and out of Tobruk and other rebel-held ports. However, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi could still sabotage critical pumping equipment needed to transport oil from the fields to the ports.
The rebels already have their own oil company, Agoco, which is based in rebel-held Benghazi and broke away from the main national oil company early in the conflict. Agoco controls fields that represent forty percent of the country’s 1.6 million barrels a day of output and operates an oil terminal and refinery in Tobruk.
Aside from a few refinery storage tanks, little of Libya’s oil infrastructure has been damaged in the fighting so far. The pumps, hoses, metering, docks, and storage tanks at the ports are intact, and the oil fields are ready to be pumped by local oil workers, according to oil experts.
“It’s only a question of flipping switches,” said Michael C. Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, a consultancy firm.
Details of the dealings between the rebels and the Qataris remain unclear, but several oil industry experts said the Qataris or the United Nations could place money from any Libyan oil sales in an escrow fund that would later reimburse Italian, French, Spanish, and American oil companies that have investments in the Libyan oil fields. Those companies include Eni, Repsol, Total, and Occidental Petroleum. “The companies’ attitude may be ‘Don’t worry, we’ll settle up later,’ ” said Mr. Lynch, who has broad experience in international oil markets. “This is a good way for the companies to get on the rebels’ good side.”

Sure, it's legal. but it's still a scam

Jennifer Medina has the story in The New York Times:
The building inspectors and police officers walked into the small row of connected townhouses in San Gabriel, California knowing something was amiss. Neighbors had complained about noise and a lot of pregnant women coming and going. And when they went into a kitchen they saw a row of clear bassinets holding several infants, with a woman acting as a nurse hovering over them.
For months, officials say, the house was home to “maternity tourists”; in this case, women from China who had paid tens of thousands of dollars to deliver their babies in the United States, making the infants automatic American citizens. Officials shut down the home, sending the ten mothers who had been living there with their babies to nearby motels.
“These were not women living in squalor; it was a well-taken care of place, and clean, but there were a lot of women and babies,” said Clayton Anderson, a city inspector who shut down the house on 9 March. “I have never seen anything like this before. We really couldn’t determine the exact number of people living there.”
For the last year, the debate over birthright citizenship has raged across the country, with some political leaders calling for an end to the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives automatic citizenship to any baby born in the United States. Much of the debate has focused on immigrants entering illegally from poor countries in Latin America. But in this case the women were not only relatively wealthy, but also here legally on tourist visas. Most of them, officials say, have already returned to China with their American babies.
Immigration experts say it is impossible to know precisely how widespread “maternity tourism” is. Businesses in China, Mexico, and South Korea advertise packages that arrange for doctors, insurance, and postpartum care. And the Marmara, a Turkish-owned hotel on the Upper East Side in New York City, has advertised monthlong “baby stays” that come with a stroller.
For the most part, though, the practice has involved individuals. The discovery of the large-scale facility here in the San Gabriel foothills raises questions about whether it was a rare phenomenon or an indication that maternity tourism is entering a new, more institutionalized phase with more hospital-like facilities operating quietly around the country. The San Gabriel townhouses are nestled in a small street lined with modest houses, small apartment buildings, and palm trees. A construction crew was at work late last week, closing up walls that had been knocked down between units, in violation of the housing code.
Signs of a makeshift maternity house were evident everywhere. In one kitchen, stacks of pictures showing a mother holding her days-old baby sat next to several cans of formula. In another, boxes of prenatal vitamins were tucked into rice cookers. Several bedroom doors had numbers on them. Some rooms were rather luxurious; B9, for instance, had a large walk-in closet, a whirlpool, and a small personal refrigerator.
The Center for Health Care Statistics estimates that there were 7,462 births to foreign residents in the United States in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That is a small fraction of the roughly 4.3 million total births that year.
Immigration experts say they can only guess why well-to-do Chinese women are so eager to get United States passports for their babies, but they suspect it is largely as a kind of insurance policy should they need to move. The children, once they turn 21, would also be able to petition for their parents to get United States citizenship.
Angela Maria Kelley, the vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning research group, said the existence of businesses helping foreign women give birth in the United States had only just begun to enter the public consciousness. “If this is something that was really widespread and happening all over, you would have expected it to really have revealed itself,” Ms. Kelley said. “I think it deserves a lot more study and a lot more attention. But to say that you want to change the Constitution because of this feels like killing a fly with an Uzi.”
The State Department, which grants tourist visas, is not permitted to deny visa applications simply because a woman is pregnant. “These people aren’t doing anything in violation of our laws,” said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tougher immigration controls. “But if anything, it is worse than illegal immigrants delivering a baby here. Those kids are socialized as Americans. This phenomenon of coming to the U.S. and then leaving with people who have unlimited access to come back is just ridiculous.”
San Gabriel, about twenty miles east of Los Angeles, has grown rapidly in recent years and is now a hub of businesses catering to Asian immigrants; tea shops fill the strip malls and for-sale signs in Chinese and Vietnamese are planted in front of several homes.
Mr. Anderson said a kind of “semitransient” community had a strong presence in this suburb. It is not uncommon for a single residence to be home to as many as forty people. But, as in other cities, the boarders are usually men, often working to send money to their families back home.
City officials asked basic questions to the women they found in the maternity house: how did they get here and who paid for them to come? The answers: on a tourist visa, and our family paid. The house’s owner, Dwight Chang, was fined $800 for code violations. Mr. Chang did not return several phone calls, and one worker at the building said he was traveling and not available.
“We didn’t do an extensive interview of the women; that wasn’t their job, nor should it be,” said Jennifer Davis, the director of community development for the city. The city did alert public health officials, she said, who found nothing wrong with the babies. Ms. Davis said city officials had also alerted the immigration authorities. Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency had investigated a similar situation in another Southern California city last year, but it yielded no evidence of any federal violations. She declined to say whether federal officials were investigating the San Gabriel operation, citing agency policy.
Yolanda Alvarez, who walks her dog past the town houses twice each day, said neighbors had complained among themselves for nearly a year, noticing “many, many young women” going in and out of the house.
Several pictures of a nurse posing with new mothers were scattered on the counters Friday. A framed tile was collecting dust amid the construction. “Home,” it said, “is where your story begins.”
Rico says it'd be too hard to get the Constitutional Amendment through to fix this ("...to say that you want to change the Constitution because of this feels like killing a fly with an Uzi"), so we'll have to think of some other way, but surely allowing the State Department to deny a visa application simply because a woman is pregnant would be a good start...
 

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