29 April 2011


Rico says these photos of the Royal Wedding are via Time.com, so are undoubtedly real:

Not true, alas

Rico says his delightfully perverted friend Dave sends along this obviously faked (her nose is too big, for starters; see the real photos above for proof) photo of Kate Middleton on her wedding day:

Didn't like fishing anyway

Rico says, courtesy of his friend Dave Kitterman, this admonitory story:
You might be thinking a man should look proud after catching a large barracuda as he poses with the fish and his daughter at the marina. Then you might wonder why his daughter looks somewhat less than thrilled.
Fourteen-year-old Coral Wira was sitting in a boat while her father fished, when she saw a silver flash in the air: a barracuda had thrown the hook and grabbed her arm.
The father did manage to kill the fish with a knife in the head, but Coral needed more than fifty stitches.
Dear old dad did feel the need to pose for photos before taking her to the hospital. I'm thinking his wife is going to rip him a new one when he gets home...

Rednecks are rednecks, no matter where you are

28 April 2011

Coulda just used the original

Rico says there's to be a new version of Conan the Barbarian (not starring the Governator, either), and the poster is a ripoff of Frank Frazetta's old cover illustration:
Rico says they just could've paid the money and used the original, the weasels... (What, did they think we wouldn't remember?)

With a headline like Gosh, Sweetie, That’s a Big Gun, how could Rico not read it?

There's an article in The New York Times about some current movies:
The summer season brings the usual cavalcade of testosterone-fueled action heroes, including Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, and Conan the Barbarian. But action-movie derring-do is not always an exclusively male preserve, and in the last year some women and girls— Evelyn Salt, Lisbeth Salander, and the lingerie-clad avengers of Sucker Punch, among others— have been shooting and not just clawing their way into macho territory. Is this empowerment or exploitation? Feminism or fetishism? The chief film critics of The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, discuss the new pow, crash, and splat:
Dargis: It’s no longer enough to be a mean girl, to destroy the enemy with sneers and gossip: you now have to be a murderous one. That, at any rate, seems to be what movies like HannaSucker Punch, Super, Let Me In, Kick-Ass and those flicks with that inked Swedish psycho-chick seem to be saying. I like a few of these in energetic bits and pieces, but I’m leery of how they fetishize hyper-violent women. Part of me thinks the uptick in bloody-mama and kinder-killer movies is about as progressive as that old advertising pitch for Virginia Slims cigarettes, meaning not very. You’ve come a long way, baby, only now you’re packing a gun and there’s blood on your hands (or teeth).
It’s obvious why some of these violent femme films exist: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is an international sensation, so it’s inevitable that the books would have been blown up to fit the screen, with David Fincher’s adaptation of the first book coming soon. The question is why are so many violent girls and women running through movies now, especially given that the American big screen hasn’t been very interested in women’s stories, violent or not, in recent decades, an occasional Thelma, Louise, and Jodie Foster character notwithstanding. There are other exceptions, of course, usually romantic comedies that are so insipid and insulting I want to kill everyone on screen. Wait a minute: is it female rage fueling this trend? (Ha. Ha.)

Scott: Female rage is definitely on display in a lot of these movies, some of which depict women taking revenge against abusive men. The Salander trilogy sketches a grim tableau of a society defined by brutal masculine authority, the pathology of which infects the family, the economy, and the state. And the brutal, efficient, and ingenious manner in which Lisbeth brings various baddies to justice is calibrated for almost universal appeal, since we all like to see a scrappy underdog bringing pain to the bullies.
But it seems to me that what fuels these fantasies is also a deep anxiety— an unstable compound of confusion, fascination, panic, and denial— about female sexuality, especially the sexual power and vulnerability of girls and young women. In Hanna the teenage heroine, raised in arctic isolation by her father, experiences her first kiss, and then executes a swift, complex series of martial arts moves on her unsuspecting beau, who winds up flat on his back, gasping for breath. Hanna’s finely tuned, self-protective reflexes, drilled into her over the years by her CIA-renegade daddy, have overridden her amorous impulses. Is that a byproduct of the training, or part of a patriarchal program to keep her chaste as well as safe?
It is interesting how frequently the violence of these girls is overseen or inculcated by a father figure who is not always a literal dad: Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass, training his killer pixie to use sharp blades, big-caliber guns and foul language; Scott Glenn in Sucker Punch, urging his girl warriors into battle; and Eric Bana in Hanna, sending his darling out to fight the wicked witch, played by Cate Blanchett. Are these paternal figures reassuring or creepy? How do you think the always-fraught relationship between sex and violence plays out in these movies?

Dargis: Male anxiety about female sexual power can be depended on to make trouble, and not just in real life, as evident from The Birth of a Nation on, probably before. One difference is the tender age of these recent combatants. The bad seed isn’t new, but what seems different is that young women and girls can kill today without being necessarily and fatally pathologized. One of the first of these tiny terrors was played by the twelve-year-old Natalie Portman in Luc Besson’s neo-exploitation flick The Professional (1994). Her character, a cigarette-smoking, wife-beater-wearing Lolita, schooled by a hit man, was a pint-size version of the waif turned assassin in Mr. Besson’s La Femme Nikita (1990), which spawned various imitators.Mr. Besson likes little ladies with big weapons. As does Quentin Tarantino and more than a few Japanese directors, including Kinji Fukasaku, whose 2000 freakout, Battle Royale, provided the giggling schoolgirl who fights Uma Thurman’s warrior in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Mr. Tarantino and his celebrated love of the ladies of exploitation has something to do with what’s happening on screens. Yet something else is going on. The bottom line is, it used to be easier to make movies with women. You could put them on a pedestal and either keep them there (as revered wives or virginal girls) or knock them down, as with femmes fatales. If that’s trickier to pull off today, it’s partly because of, to quote the great Kim Gordon, a “fear of a female planet.”
I don’t see a shoot ’em up like Hanna challenging those fears, but at least it has female characters who do more than smile at the superhero or the guys having a swell bromance. It’s better than nothing. The truth is that many American filmmakers, including favorites of mine like David Fincher, Michael Mann, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Wes Anderson largely or completely avoid stories about women. Mr. Fincher made Panic Room, and now he’s doing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a different kind of female empowerment trip. His “Tattoo” movie will be better than the Swedish version because he’s the superior director, but I also hope he will more forcefully engage the theme that was blatant in Larsson’s book, as evident in its blunt original title: Men Who Hate Women.

Scott: Mr. Fincher has made one women-fight-back movie: Panic Room, starring Ms. Foster— who has had an interesting and somewhat-unsung action-heroine career— and the future Mrs. Edward Cullen, Kristen Stewart, who has made a career of passivity. But most of Mr. Fincher’s films are about male bonding and male rivalry and explore some interesting homoerotic undercurrents related to that theme. A lot was made of Mark Zuckerberg’s trouble relating to women in The Social Network, but perhaps not enough was made of the network of love, jealousy, sadism, and competition that linked him to Sean Parker, Eduardo Saverin, and the super-hunky Winklevoss twins.
But back to the women. I think the first Salander movie ran into a serious problem when it tried to translate Larsson’s anger about pervasive sexual violence into cinematic terms. It is in the nature of the moving image to give pleasure, and in the nature of film audiences— consciously or not, admittedly or not— to find pleasure in what they see. So in depicting Salander’s rape by her guardian in the graphic way he did, the director, Niels Arden Oplev, ran the risk of aestheticizing, glamorizing and eroticizing it, just as Gaspar NoĆ© did with Monica Bellucci’s assault in Irreversible.
The risk is not dissolved, but rather compounded, when the answering, avenging violence is staged and shot in almost exactly the same kind of gruesome detail, since the audience knows it is supposed to enjoy that. In other words, even though the earlier violation can be said to justify the later revenge, that logic turns out to be reversible. You could call this the I Spit on Your Grave paradigm. It is definitely at work in Sucker Punch, which gains in sleaziness by coyly keeping its rape fantasies within PG-13 limits and fairly quivering with ecstasy as it contemplates scenes of female victimization.
But I don’t want to sound like I’m wagging my finger at all of these movies. As the father of a confident, athletic twelve-year-old girl, I certainly want to see more than princesses (most of whom are also action heroines these days, like Rapunzel in Tangled) and sideline sweethearts. I like tough women, and I don’t think I’m the only guy who does. I have certainly enjoyed meeting the ones in Winter’s Bone, True Grit, and, most recently, Meek’s Cutoff. Not an action movie, I know (very little happens at all) but somehow, when Michelle Williams draws a bead on a bad guy, she writes a whole new chapter in the history of the western.

Dargis: I don’t know about an entire chapter, maybe a paragraph. I just don’t believe that scene where her character pulls out a rifle to protect the wagon train’s Indian prisoner or, should I say, when she takes possession of the symbolic phallus. I think the movie would be more honest (and more interesting) if this woman, who appears to take pity on the Indian really because she’s the designated moral center— a quality that blurs uncomfortably with the fact that she’s a woman— were as despicable as the men. This frontier proto-feminism is unpersuasive and certainly not as convincing as the film’s vision of Manifest Destiny as collective insanity. By saving the Indian, she ends up mounting the same pedestal on which women have been historically placed, to our detriment.
It’s tricky whenever a woman holds a gun on screen, even if the movie is independently produced and the director is female. I’m glad that Meek’s Cutoff exists, and that Kelly Reichardt is making a new film every few years; long may she direct. I complain about the representations of women, but I’m more offended when, in movie after movie, there are no real representations to eviscerate, when all or most of the big roles are taken by men, and the only women around are those whose sole function is, essentially, to reassure the audience that the hero isn’t gay. The gun-toting women and girls in this new rash of movies may be performing much the same function for the presumptive male audience: It’s totally “gay” for a guy to watch a chick flick, but if a babe is packing heat, no worries, man!

Scott: Well, Ms. Williams’s character does pull the gun on a particular man, one she has hated from the start, so protection of the Indian may be as much a pretext as a principle. Her action is also governed by the practical consideration that she trusts him more than she does the other guy, which may turn out to be a big mistake. But anyway, on the topic of, ahem, possession of the symbolic phallus, Adrian Curry, inspired by the Meek’s Cutoff poster that shows Ms. Williams taking aim at the Male Gaze, recently posted a slew of similar images on the Mubi.com site, from much older Westerns. One of them, for a movie called Five Bold Women, which I am extremely sorry never to have seen, has a tag line perfectly suited to our topic: They Used a Weapon No Bad Man Could... Sex!
Jean-Luc Godard posited that all he needed to make a movie was a girl and a gun. (Some of his later work makes me wish he'd stuck to that formula.) To put the gun in the hands of the girl may be a way to cut out the middleman, as it were, and also to maximize commercial potential by providing something for everyone. I think that calculation works best when the filmmakers show some interest in exploring the complex intertwinings of sex and violence, rather than simply mashing them up or using one as a substitute for the other. On the other hand, it’s sometimes just fun to watch Saoirse Ronan or Ellen Page— or all the other sisters of Angelina Jolie, our era’s pioneering and still supreme female action star— beat up some deserving bad man.

Wrong, but not really wrong

Miguel Helft has an article in The New York Times about the whole iPhone issue:
Hoping to put to rest a growing controversy over privacy, Apple’s chief executive Steve Jobs took the unusual step of personally explaining that, while Apple had made mistakes in how it handled location data on its mobile devices, it had not used the iPhone and iPad to keep tabs on the whereabouts of its customers. "We haven’t been tracking anybody,” Mr. Jobs said in an interview. “Never have. Never will.” Mr. Jobs said that Apple would fix the mistakes in a free software update that it would release in the next few weeks.
Mr. Jobs, who is currently on medical leave, addressed the issue along with two Apple executives: Philip W. Schiller, the senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, and Scott Forstall, the senior vice president of iPhone software. A week ago, two researchers reported that they had discovered a file in Apple’s devices containing what appeared to be data of the locations visited by users over the previous tweive months. The discovery raised fears that Apple was tracking its users and prompted investigations by various European governments and demands for explanations from United States lawmakers.
Earlier, Apple posted a statement on its website explaining how its system used the file to pinpoint a phone’s location.
Mr. Jobs defended the timing of Apple’s response to the controversy, saying that “rather than run to the PR department,” it set out to determine exactly what happened. “The first thing we always do when a problem is brought to us is we try to isolate it and find out if it is real,” he said. “It took us about a week to do an investigation and write a response, which is fairly quick for something this technically complicated.” He added, “Scott and Phil and myself were all involved in writing the response because we think it is that important.”
Some privacy advocates who were harshly critical of Apple last week praised the company’s response, saying it was a step in the right direction. “Apple acknowledged a mistake and they fixed it,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said in an interview. “That’s a good thing.”
Confirming speculation from some security researchers, Apple said in the statement posted on its website that the file in people’s iPhones was not a log of their locations but rather “the locations of wi-fi hot spots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone’s location, which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone.” Apple said it used the data, called a cache, to calculate a device’s location more quickly than through GPS satellites.
But Apple acknowledged that it had made mistakes, which it attributed to programming errors, in storing the data for a long time, keeping the file unencrypted, and storing the data even when users had chosen to turn off location services.
“The system is incredibly complex,” Mr. Forstall said. “We test this carefully but, in such a complex system, there are sometimes places where we could do better.”
Apple said it would reduce the location cache on the iPhone to no more than seven days. The company also said it would stop backing up the cache onto people’s computers and would delete the cache entirely when users turned off location services.
Apple also said that it updated its database of wi-fi hot spots and cell towers by using its customers’ phones as sensors. But it said that it could not locate users based on the file on the phone, and that it collected the information in an anonymous and encrypted form. The company cannot identify the phone user from the data, it said.
While some security experts have known about the existence of the file for some time, the issue made headlines last week after the researchers reported their findings at a technology conference in San Francisco. Apple came under heavy criticism for its silence after the discovery.
The location report attracted attention from some government officials, including Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who sent a stern letter to Apple asking why it was “secretly compiling” the data and what it would be used for. Congressman Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, also sent letters to Apple asking for an explanation of the issue.
Google acknowledged last week that it, too, collected data about the location of wi-fi hot spots and cell towers from its users.
Apple’s statement contained a tidbit about possible future product plans. The company said it also was collecting traffic data from its phones and tablets to build a crowd-sourced traffic database. That would enable Apple to provide real-time traffic information along with navigation advice. Google already uses Android phones to collect real-time traffic information.
Mr. Jobs declined to answer questions about his health or about any plans to return to Apple. Last week, during the company’s quarterly financial report, Timothy D. Cook, the chief operating officer, said, “He continues to be involved in major strategic decisions, and I know he wants to be back full time.”
Rico says it's only technological morons (of which there are many) who would think Apple would want to know where you are, much less spend zillions of megabytes storing the data... (But doesn't "Senator Al Franken" sound like a Saturday Night Live bit?)

History for the day

On 28 April 1947, a six-man expedition, aboard a balsawood raft, the Kon-Tikisailed from Peru on a hundred-day journey across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia.

Okay, is that good enough?

President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate:
Rico says his mother was born in Kansas, which automatically makes him a citizen, anyway... (And will Donald Trump finally shut the fuck up? Probably not...)

27 April 2011

Oops is now a whaling term

The BBC has a video here of a whale taking out a big sailboat off South Africa...

Close, but not close enough

Rico says the BBC has a video here about the bombing of Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli; so far, it seems, he hasn't been home when the bombs landed, alas...

Does Apple have a cloud strategy?

Charles Jade has an article at gigaom about Apple:
Apple’s massive data center in North Carolina has been in the news of late, prompting more wide-eyed speculation among some analysts as to its ultimate purpose. Possibilities include a music subscription service like Rhapsody, a video subscription service like Netflix, or free MobileMe. However, the most likely service, at least initially, is a digital locker for iTunes. Music storage for a fee would be the latest online service for Apple, the first of which was launched more than a decade ago:
2000: iTools offered e-mail, web pages, and online storage.
2002: .Mac adds more features, including online backup for $99 a year.
2006: Apple launches blogging app iWeb, closely tied to .Mac service.
2008: MobileMe introduces “Exchange for the rest of us” push services for mail, contacts, appointments.
2009: iWork.com beta ties online servies to Apple’s office suite.
2010: Ping social networking and music recommendation service added to iTunes.
2011: iTunes storage locker expected for a yearly fee.
While that history looks impressive, the reality for Apple’s online efforts has been markedly different. Apple’s problems started in 2002, when the company began charging $99 a year for online services, going from more than two million iTool users to 100,000 .Mac subscribers in about two months. That was the last we heard about paid subscriber numbers from Apple. In sharp contrast, Google’s Gmail, which launched in 2004 with email and storage for free, now has about 200 million users.
Even more successful than Gmail is Facebook, which now has more than 600 million users for its social networking service. Apple launched Ping, the music-focused social networking service in iTunes, last year. Although there are more than 200 million iTunes Store accounts, Ping’s user experience leaves much to be desired, and has done little for Apple or Ping’s users. Hardly worth mentioning is iWeb, Apple’s apparently short-lived blogging application which was not updated in iLife ’11 and one can presume is on its way to becoming obsolete.
As for MobileMe itself, it remains a highly limited service centered around e-mail and personal information management. It works well enough, at least in 2011. When MobileMe launched in 2008, push services failed so badly Steve Jobs apologized and MobileMe users were given a sixty-day extension on their subscriptions. Sadly, iDisk, Apple’s online storage never received similar corrective attention and remains a tortuously slow service to use, unlike the marvelous non-Apple Dropbox. MobileMe also offers photo sharing via Gallery, and it works well enough, but it’s nothing special. Whatever happend to the iWork.com “beta” launched in 2009? Still in beta. Apple’s online services are, at best, uneven; at worst, missing.
What would a comprehensive strategy to turn Apple’s online services around include? The first step is to fix what doesn’t work well, the second might be to generate interest and usage by offering limited free services. Besides current offerings, MobileMe badly needs document and data syncing. How frustrating is it to sync iWork documents on a Mac and iPad? Somehow iBooks manages to synchronize across devices wirelessly. Wouldn’t it be great if Game Center synced your progress across games played on iOS devices, too? These are the kind of free services that cost little and generate interest, and interest is platform lock-in.
The next step is to add expanded services, such as an iTunes storage locker, though arguably that may not be that desirable. Video streaming certainly is more so, as Netflix has demonstrated. How about shared photo libraries in the form of an iPhoto Cloud? Cloud-based Time Machine certainly would seem to be another obvious choice. There are many possibilities, but they need to be offered as part of a package built upon a free set of limited but relevant services. To summarize, a cloud strategy for Apple in 2011 will hopefully look something like this:
Fix what doesn’t work, like iDisk.
Include free services, including data and document synchronization, as well as basic e-mail.
Offer expanded services like music storage, individually and as a part of a package.
If, instead, Apple launches yet another isolated online service for profit, this time music storage, well, it will no doubt make another great bullet point in Apple’s list of less-than-scintillating online services.

Tired of iPhone 5 rumors? Try iPhone 6 rumors

Rico says there's a bunch of it out there (and he doesn't even own an iPhone 4):
Most of the Apple iPhone speculation these days is centered around a white model, due this week, and an anticipated iPhone 5 believed to be in the works for September, but that hasn't stopped some industry watchers from looking ahead to the iPhone 6.
Apple Insider picked up on a report in a Japanese newspaper, Nikkan, that says Sharp will start making low-temperature poly-silicon LCDs for Apple in the spring, enabling new iPhones that are lighter, thinner, more durable, and less power-hungry than current versions. What's more, such displays are said to provide more vibrant images. Reportedly, a Sharp plant that makes LCDs for televisions has begun prepping to make smartphone LCDs.
Rounding up the rumors
"This technology has allowed companies to create "system on glass" devices, in which the optical sensors, signal processing circuits and other components are located directly on the glass substrate. This negates the need for additional components in a device like an iPhone, saving space within the device and even improving battery life with increased efficiency", according to Apple Insider.
The Edible Apple website lauds Apple's focus on constant improvement:
While many companies continue to blindly focus on features, often at the expense of battery life, Apple has demonstrated a strong commitment to not only preserving battery life while adding new functionality, but often times improving it.

The iPhone 5 edition
SlashGear makes the interesting observation that word of the Sharp deal has emerged shortly after Apple and Samsung, a key iPhone LCD supplier, have begun duking it out on the legal front over alleged patent infringement. SlashGear writes:
This report is interesting because it suggests that Apple is not considering the organic LED displays such as the ones used by Samsung with their Super AMOLED technology... Perhaps Apple is trying to shift away from Samsung as a main components suppler?

But now they can find your white one, too

If you're surprised, you're clueless

Scary thing, nature

Bad news: "your personal data has been stolen"

Ars Technica has an article about the Sony PlayStation disaster:
Sony has finally come clean about the "external intrusion" that caused the company to take down the PlayStation Network service, and the news is almost as bad as it can possibly get. The hackers have all your personal information, although Sony is still unsure about whether your credit card data is safe. Everything else on file when it comes to your account is in the hands of the hackers.
In other words, Sony's security has failed in a spectacular fashion, and they're just now telling people about it. In both practical and PR terms, this is a worst-case scenario.
Here is the data that Sony is sure has been compromised if you have a PlayStation Network Account:
Your name
Your address (city, state, and zip)
E-mail address
PSN password and login name
"It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained. If you have authorized a sub-account for your dependent, the same data with respect to your dependent may have been obtained," Sony announced. While the company claims that there is "no evidence" that credit card information has been compromised, it won't rule out the possibility.
Their advice is to be safe, rather than sorry. "If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained."
You are warned to keep watch over your accounts, and to be aware of your heightened risk of fraud due to the security breach. "For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information," the company said. "Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number, or other personally identifiable information."
Sony has also provided a wealth of sources for data and protection against identity theft.
You may wish to visit the web site of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or reach the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580 for further information about how to protect yourself from identity theft. Your state Attorney General may also have advice on preventing identity theft, and you should report instances of known or suspected identity theft to law enforcement, your State Attorney General, and the FTC. For North Carolina residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-9001; telephone (877) 566-7226; or www.ncdoj.gov. For Maryland residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 200 St. Paul Place, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202; telephone: (888) 743-0023; or www.oag.state.md.us.
To be fair, Sony does apologize for the inconvenience. There is still no update on when service will be restored, but that is the least of your concerns if you have a PlayStation Network account. It's time to change your passwords, at the very least, and if you're like to be completely safe it's not a bad idea to cancel your credit or debit cards and request replacements.
Rico says he'd be spitting mad if this had happened to him but, fortunately, he doesn't own a fucking PlayStation, and wouldn't if you gave him one... (But why a company the size of Sony didn't have all this data heavily encrypted and behind some serious hacker-proof firewalls, Rico does not know. Such questions will, undoubtedly, be asked.)

Yet more nasty little wars

More nasty little wars

Mental illness? A good place for it

Rico says it's another sad story in a sad little war...

Another lust object

Rico says he should know better by now, but invariably he gets sucked into wanting things that end up being way out of his price range (shy of winning that lottery, of course). A good example would be the Temple laptop briefcase, available here for a mere $478...

They don't call it felony stupid for nothing

Rico says some guys just can't catch a break (but some are just morons):
When Los Angeles County Sheriff's homicide investigator Kevin Lloyd was routinely looking through snapshots of tattooed gang members, he saw something that caught his eye; a crime scene he was familiar with.
Anthony Garcia, a member of the Rivera13 gang, had a tattoo that resembled the scene of the liquor store killing of 23-year-old John Juarez in Pico Rivera on 23 January 2004, reports the Los Angeles Times. (Pico Rivera is about ten miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.)
There were numerous details the murder inked on the gang member. The paper reports that the tattoo included the Christmas lights that lined the roof of the liquor store where Juarez was shot and killed, the direction his body fell, the bowed street lamp across the way, and the street sign. Above everything read the title, Rivera Kills, a reference to the gang. A helicopter was also placed above the scene raining down bullets, a nod to Garcia's alias, Chopper.
When police discovered the evidence on Garcia's chest in 2008, they launched an investigation, which was followed by the arrest of Garcia.
This week, an undercover policeman placed in Garcia's cell got a confession from the suspect. That yielded a first-degree murder conviction in a killing investigators had initially given up hope on, the paper reports. "Think about it. He tattooed his confession on his chest. You have a degree of fate with this," Capt. Mike Parker told the Times.
Garcia faces 65 years to life when he is sentenced on 19 May in a Norwalk, California court.

Another good one gone

Rico says the Los Angeles Times has an obit of singer Phoebe Snow by Keith Thursby:
Phoebe Snow, a singer and songwriter who gained fame with her 1974 self-titled album that featured the hit single Poetry Man, has died. She was 60. Snow died Tuesday in Edison, New Jersey, according to Rick Miramontez, her longtime friend and public relations representative. She had suffered a brain hemorrhage in January of 2010.
The album, Phoebe Snow, turned the singer, blessed with a multi-octave range, into a star. She made the cover of Rolling Stone, appeared on Saturday Night Live, and was nominated for a Grammy as best new artist.
"Phoebe Snow has made it," Stephen Holden wrote in a 1975 review for Rolling Stone. "On a musical level, she shows the potential of becoming a great jazz singer. Among confessional pop songwriters she immediately ranks with the finest."
Rolling Stone described her original compositions on Phoebe Snow as "light jazz torch songs" but freer in form and attitude. (Two other songs on the album were her versions of others' material.)
Snow was hard to categorize musically; a Times reviewer, early in her career, called her style "a helter-skelter amalgam of pop, jazz, blues, gospel, and folk." She explained to The New York Times in 2003: "No creative person should ever produce the same thing over and over."
Dennis Hunt, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1976, said her voice had "a marvelous 'cracked' quality" and she "glides through and glances off notes in an appealing offbeat manner."
But Snow was never able to duplicate her early commercial success. Her career took a backseat to caring for her daughter, Valerie Rose Laub, born in 1975 with severe brain damage. "It was very, very tight," Snow told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. "Occasionally I put an album out, but I didn't like to tour, and they didn't get a lot of label support. But you know what? It didn't really matter, because I got to stay home more with Valerie, and that time was precious."
She sang commercial jingles for such companies as Stouffer's and General Foods, which she said paid well.
Her daughter died in 2007. A few months later, Snow started performing again, trying to deal with her loss. "Right now it's beyond a hole. It's a black hole," she told the Record of Bergen County, New Jersey, in 2008. "I don't even know how to describe that vacancy because it was such an intense relationship. We lived together for 31 years. She was a perennial child. I was her primary caregiver... We were best friends. It was beyond a loss. I don't even know what word to use."
Snow was born Phoebe Laub on 17 July 1950, in New York City and grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. As a youngster she studied piano, then switched to the guitar. "I always wanted to be the greatest woman guitarist alive," she told The Times in 1976. "I had fantasies about being a female Jimi Hendrix. I would go to his concerts and watch all the things he did. But I guess I just wasn't meant to be a superstar guitarist."
Taking guitar lessons affected her singing style. "I finally said, 'I can't play these guitar lines, but maybe I can sing them.' I tried to sing the way a guitar sounds and the way a saxophone sounds too." Her poetry became the basis of her lyrics, and she started playing at New York clubs. She signed with Shelter Records in 1974. She moved to Columbia Records in 1976 after sometimes nasty legal wrangling with Shelter. Second Childhood earned her a second gold record, but subsequent Columbia releases did not sell as well. She left the label at the end of the 1970s. After being quiet most of the 1980s, Snow recorded a comeback album in 1989's Something Real for Elektra. She released a live album in 2008. "I faded away for a while out of necessity," she told The Times in 1998. "In hindsight, I missed out on some good or productive years. On the other hand, I really made the only choice I could under the circumstances."
Snow's marriage to Phil Kearns ended in divorce. She is survived by a sister, Julie Laub.
Rico says it's scary when they start going and aren't (in this case) much older than you...

Maybe now they'll shut the fuck up

Tough way to eat, by a dam site

Courtesy of Rico's friend Kelley, these amazing sheep. grazing and eating salt off a dam wall in Italy:

Back again

Rico says he made it home safe, if later than expected (high winds in Philly delayed departure). Nantucket was saddening; it's been forty years since he lived there, and a decade since his last big visit, and things have changed, not all for the better...

26 April 2011

Gotta stay flexible

Rico says the long-planned journey to Pittsburgh with his friend Alan to see the gub show at the NRA convention is now off. However, in it's place, they will now attend the Bay Bridge Boat Show instead.
This is a good tradeoff: less driving, better food, Rico gets to sleep in his own bed with the ladyfriend, and Rico's seen enough gubs that he can't afford anyway...

History for the day

On 26 April 1986, the Number Four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor (in what was then the Soviet Union, now the Ukraine) exploded. 31 workers died immediately, and a radioactive cloud drifted downwind.
See the article in the April issue of Wired on the unexpected aftermath for the local animals, including this wolf:

25 April 2011

Quote for the day

Rico says this is good advice:
Never provoke people with a predilection for inflicting massive damage.
From The Big Payback by Marc Bernardino in the May 2011 issue of Wired.

Consider yourself warned; Rico has a real predilection for inflicting damage on anyone who would harm someone he loves...

Civil War for the day

For ten days, Washington City twisted in nerve-wracking isolation, deprived of mail, telegraph, and railroad service, bereft of any news except ever-escalating rumors of the thousands, nay, tens of thousands of rebel men from Maryland and Virginia who were about to converge on Mr. Lincoln’s bedroom. Had they come, they would have faced perhaps two thousand men combined from detachments of soldiers, marines, the Washington home guard, some veterans of the Bloody Kansas fighting under command of Senator James Lane, better known as “The Grim Chieftain”, and a contingent of Kentucky volunteers headed by Cassius M. Clay, the Bowie-knife-wielding abolitionist who paused in Washington en route to St. Petersburg to become minister to Russia.
A gallant group, though perhaps not enough to avoid a modern Thermopylae if they were assailed by the secessionist horde that was said to be massing from all over the South. As it happened, whatever forces had accumulated missed their moment for, on the 25th, the first troops of the Eighth Massachusetts arrived. Though tired and bedraggled after a long and roundabout journey, their spirits were high, and at long last the city — or at least that portion of the city that was loyal to the Federal government — could emit a sigh of relief.
Still, safeguarding the capital and preventing the government’s immediate decapitation was but a minimal achievement, and one that followed a series of setbacks: the loss of Fort Sumter, the loss of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, and the terrible loss of the Gosport Naval Yard at Norfolk, Virginia. Were the government still in the hands of the ineffectual President Buchanan, or were the War Department still led by a contemptible traitor like John Floyd, the people might not be surprised at the woeful record. But people had hoped for more from President Lincoln.
In fairness, not all of these circumstances were under his control. A fully-garrisoned and provisioned Fort Sumter, armed with all its guns, might have survived the Confederate bombardment while inflicting a fair punishment on the city of Charleston in the process, but such an outcome was never within the power of the seventy-odd men of Major Anderson’s command.
The same is true of the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry; forty Federal soldiers were stationed there, but not even Achilles and his Myrmidons could have held that position against a numerically superior force. The Adams administration put an armory there, in 1799, because of the town’s fortuitous location at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers (an attribute subsequently strengthened with connections to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal), but the buildings sat on a flood plain at the bottom of a great gorge; it is not defensible, and as a result, it had never acquired defenses. You could take it with a key.
So, when word reached the armory that Henry Wise, the fire-eating ex-governor of Virginia, was sending a band of militia to seize the installation, the officers in command acted decisively to deprive the rebels of the weapons and machinery on hand. Using kegs of gunpowder providentially left behind by John Brown, the soldiers set fire to the arsenal and headed for the army post to the north in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
The blaze destroyed 15,000 rifles that would have surely ended up in rebel hands, and perhaps to immediate effect: Captain Kingsbury of the army, who stayed behind after the troops evacuated and who was briefly detained by the militia, says that he saw among the raiders a group of Marylanders with B&O railroad cars that were to have been used to carry the rifles to Baltimore. There, they would have been passed out to volunteers, quite possibly in time to have been turned on the men of the Sixth Massachusetts in the melee in Baltimore on the 19th; or perhaps they would have been distributed to Southern sympathizers, who would have combined with the Virginia militia to use the railroad to launch a strike into the heart of the nearly undefended Washington. But, although these possibilities were prevented, secessionists might yet take some solace from the work of salvage crews, hard at work attempting to recover the gunsmithing machinery and surplus parts, and shipping that hardware to the Tredegar foundry in Richmond.
Call the abandonment of Harpers Ferry at best a draw for the Union, at worst a small setback. The loss of the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, however, was a catastrophe, requiring a combination of ineffectual policy, inept leadership, insufficient resources, and shockingly poor decisions.
Located on the Elizabeth River, which empties into the lower Chesapeake Bay, Gosport was one of the premier shipyards in the country. It featured a granite masonry drydock (the only other one in North America was at Boston’s Charlestown facility), foundries, machine and boiler shops, the navy’s largest arsenal, a powder magazine, gun carriage works, other invaluable facilities vital to building and refurbishing ships — in short, everything necessary to constructing and maintaining a modern navy, including 2,000 pieces of ordnance, among which were 300 of the most up-to-date weapons, the smoothbore Dahlgren guns. In routine times, Gosport would likely be hosting a flotilla of ships anchored there for refitting and refurbishment, and this month brought an unusually impressive collection: among the vessels on hand were the Cumberland, flagship of the Home Squadron, which was getting replenished; the smaller steamers Germantown and Plymouth, which had been refit but were still without crews; and the impressive forty-gun steam frigate Merrimack, a modern vessel only four years old, which was having her engines disassembled and rebuilt.
But populating all that mechanical perfection were several hundred men, a great many of whom were dangerously unreliable. The yard was a cesspool of corruption, where bribes and kickbacks were routine. The civilian workforce was full of secessionists, but no more so than were the many Southern-born officers and enlisted men of the Navy, whose compliance with orders ran the gamut from grudging to mutinous. Commanding this wormy den was Commodore Charles McCauley, a 68-year-old drunkard no longer fit for command.
In the days prior to the bombardment of Fort Sumter, it was widely recognized by the Navy Department that Gosport was a vital facility that should not be allowed to fall into rebel hands, and that ought to be defended, or destroyed. But during the first weeks of the Lincoln administration, the policy of the government was to avoid taking any action that would panic the people of Virginia into secession. As a result, no efforts were made to protect the seaport or the ships therein.
Once Virginia seceded, however, the administration was ready to move, only to discover that it had few resources at its command. With so many ships and seamen involved in the missions to Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens, the Navy no longer had enough seamen on the eastern seaboard to form even skeleton crews who could sail the ships to safe harbors. Meanwhile, some six hundred members of Virginia militia units arrived in Norfolk. They were poorly armed, but they began building breastworks, and it quickly became clear that they intended to take hold of Craney Island, a choke point on the Elizabeth about four miles down river. Fearing that McCauley might be losing his grip, Navy Secretary Welles sent Commodore James Alden to Gosport to take command of the Merrimack. He was ordered to get it up and running, and to get it to safety.
Over the next days, Alden pushed hard to get the engines reassembled and to scrape together a crew of thirty men (it usually takes six hundred) that could get the ship out of Gosport. After frantic negotiating and cajoling— Alden dramatically offered $1,000 cash to any civilian pilot who would take the ship down the Elizabeth and across Hampton Roads to Fort Monroe— the Merrimack was set to go. Instead, McCauley canceled the departure. When Alden went to McCauley’s quarters to demand an explanation, he found the commodore in a state of “complete prostration", incapable of articulating a reason. Alden says he contemplated taking the Merrimack out on his own authority but, after 32 years in the service, he did not find within him the initiative to countermand an order.
Friday the 19th was a momentous day for the Department of the Navy. President Lincoln ordered the Navy to institute a blockade of the entire coastline of the Confederacy, all 3,500 miles along the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, and the closing of a dozen ports, including New Orleans, Mobile, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and Wilmington, all in an effort to prevent the importation of war material, and to disrupt the export of cotton, the pillar of the South’s economy. Needless to say, the government anticipated needing the vessels docked at Gosport, but even more, it is going to need Gosport itself. Of course, any government interested in breaking the blockade would no doubt feel the same.
The 19th was also the day that Welles finally decided to relieve McCauley of command. He was replaced by Captain Hiram Paulding, himself a man with nearly 50 years of service, who was ordered to repel with force any attempts to seize the navy yard, to prevent anything from into rebel hands, and as a last resort, to destroy the navy yard and everything in it. Paulding departed immediately on the steamer Pawnee, accompanied by a group of senior officers who were carrying orders to take command of the various ships in Gosport.
Burning of vessels at the Gosport Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia on the night of 20 April 1861.
When they arrived on the 20th, however, they were shocked to discover that not three hours earlier, McCauley, panicked by the rebel presence outside the ship yard, and convinced that he could no longer depend on the loyalty of anyone in his command or employ, ordered that every ship, except the Cumberland, be scuttled. Seeking an explanation, Paulding summoned McCauley, who arrived “armed like a Brigand, with swords and pistols in his belt, and revolvers in his hand," and drunk to the point where he could no longer walk.
After ascertaining that the ships were beyond rescue, Paulding concluded that he could not hold the navy yard until reinforcements arrived. McCauley could at least argue that he was drunk when he arrived at that conclusion; Paulding was sober when he ignored the fact that at his disposal were 1,000 men and all the heavy guns aboard the Cumberland and the Pawnee, and gave the order that Gosport be destroyed. In short order, the scuttled ships, the shops and the guns were burned, and the dry dock packed with gunpowder and exploded. Fueling the fire with turpentine, Paulding’s men put everything to the torch, and before long, sheets of flame ignited the night sky. Commodore McCauley refused to desert his post, and Paulding had to send a party of men to drag the stupefied officer out of his and onto the Pawnee. Under the cover of smoke and fire, the Union vessels slipped down the Elizabeth, with the men on deck awaiting what promised to be a breathtaking explosion, the detonation of the gunpowder in the dry dock.
It never came. Someone or something interrupted the burning of the fuse, and in the morning, the rebel militia took possession of the charred facility. The damage seemed to be catastrophic, but it was soon realized that appearances were deceiving. The invaluable dry dock was intact. Nearly 1,200 guns were found to be intact. Shops were burned, but the machinery inside still functioned. And salvage crews were soon at work on the hulks of the scuttled vessels, optimistic that they could be recovered. Throw in recovered powder, shot, gun carriages — without suffering a casualty, without firing a shot or receiving one, without doing much besides digging some trenches, virtually unarmed Virginia militia men routed the United States Navy, sank its vessels, captured its guns and took possession of one of it's prized facilities.

24 April 2011

History for the day

 On 24 April, 1898, Spain rejected the US ultimatum to withdraw from Cuba, leading to the Spanish-American War, including the blowing up of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, and Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders.

23 April 2011

Which do you drink, the water or the wave?

Rico says his father sends along this one:

Misheard quote for the day

Rico says it should be in a story about witches, but this is as close as it'll get:
Nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the coven...

21 April 2011

Hard times

Rico says the book The State of Jones has much on the valor of those, like Newton knight, who opposed the Confederacy, but it is saddening to read of what those who wore the gray suffered: "A third of Mississippi's Confederates, some 28,000 men, had died during the War. Entire companies had been slaughtered: of the 123 men who had marched off with the Vicksburg Cadets, just six returned... More than half of Mississippi's veterans had lost an arm or a leg... The male populace was so mutilated that, in 1866, one-fifth of the state budget would be needed to purchase artificial limbs...

Seventy-four grand

Rico says the round number slipped by in the night, as usual, and he can't capture the image while on the road, but his readership just went over that number. He thanks all of them for dropping by...

A tenth of one percent

That's all Rico would want of the budget for Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, and Alan Rickman, to make (in fine style) his docudrama, Zone of Fire.
It is amazing that, with all the money (forty eight million) and all the star power, you could still make such a POS.
Rico says he'd be ashamed of having directed this turkey.
But he looks forward to seeing the Russell Crowe version to get the taste of that one out of his mouth...

17 April 2011

Ancient history for the day

Rico says he's happy to share Near-death in the Afternoon or The Temperature Also Rises, a true story:
It’s funny, but somehow death never looks like you expected it to when you stare it in the face. I never thought it would look like a twelve-year-old black kid. I never thought it would show itself to me on a hot and muggy July afternoon, a block and a half from Hemingway’s house in Key West. But death was all those things, this time, and real as shit.
My father, a dark-horse candidate for the Look Alike Contest, and I were doing the rounds of the island on our second day in the Keys. I’d come to Key West for the first time only two months before, the mid-point of a 12,000 mile excursion around the country, and I was taking him down hard-won byways I’d discovered on that earlier trip. We were strolling, as it was too hot and humid for anything rapid, down Whitehead Street, heading for the Truman Annex and the entrance to the road to the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor, when we passed two young men, hell, two children. We were on the sidewalk, and they were in the street, struggling with a bicycle. The machine was tipped on its side, the chain fouled with the restraining line of a long spearfishing gun.
Both of us, I’m sure, were having the same reaction to their plight: ‘Poor kids, wonder if they’d mind if I offered to help’. It’s how our minds work, you see. So I’m sure it was with the same shock that we heard the older kid’s response to our mute observation: “What are you lookin’ at?”
Here’s where environment distorts character. My father, a product of the Thirties, lives in La Jolla, while I, a product of the Sixties, lived, until recently, in Oakland; two more different places in California would be hard to find. He heard only a blustering child, while I heard the warning sounds of a young man with an attitude problem. I kept moving. He responded, flippantly, that he’d only been looking at the young man’s string caught in his chain. His comment, while literally true, and thus innocent in his eyes, was translated by the kid into a challenge. A street beef like that, in the innocent Thirties in which my father grew up, would be won by either superior wit, or superior lung power.
In the Nineties, however, a challenge to your manhood, even the short skinny manhood of a twelve-year-old, is settled by death. Which is how I came to be staring death in the face, that hot afternoon. Because the kid picked up his other fishing spear, the one with the nasty three-tined tip on it, and shoved it in the general direction of my gut. Hell, truth be told, in the general direction of my balls.
It’s odd, trying to focus on a wavering spear tip and on his hate-distorted face at the same time. I know, I know, all my teachers told me to watch the face, not the weapon, but there’s something so compelling about those shiny steel tips, the little barbs catching the light just so ahead of the bright yellow shaft…
The next problem is, I’m trapped between my father, who’s half not going to let some punk kid push us around and half disbelieving the kid’s serious anyway, and this angry young man, who’s totally not going to let some honkie tourists make him back down in front of what turned out to be his house and his family. So I’ve got one hand out to the side, trying to get my father to, in the vernacular, back da fuck up, and the other hand extended to both attempt to placate the kid and be in position to ward off those fucking tines, when and if they come within reach.
But the real problem, after turning forty and living in Oakland for a decade, is that I don’t dance anymore. In the game of life and death, I’ve learned that cowardice is not an issue for me. You want to put up a billboard claiming I’m chicken, hell, I’ll sign the damn thing. Survival, on the other hand, definitely is. So I know, in my gut, that when the kid decides that he really doesn’t like the look of these two looming white guys who are, in his mind, ‘dissing’ him, he’s going to try and stick me with that spear. And, way down in my gut, I know that when he does I’m going to defend myself, and my sweet idiot of a father, and if the stupid little kid in front of me dies in the process, that’s just how it’s going to be.
But then one of his relatives came out of the house, saying ‘Don’t pay him no mind’, to which I could only respond ‘You don’t pay him no mind, he’s not pointing that thing at you’. In the end, I guess, the kid just tired of the game, and wasn’t willing to pursue us down the street. So he turned away to fix his bicycle, setting the speargun down, and we continued our retreat. Though we were blocks away, looking for a policeman, before I stopped imagining the sound of a bicycle coming up behind us, a speargun laid over the handlebars.
But we never did find a policeman, not that whole afternoon, until it was well past being worth it to turn the little fuck in. My father, bless him, seemed to be worried that my urge to do my civic duty shit was going to land me in the middle of some race war in Key West. I, on the other hand, spent several hours in the dark that night, wrestling with each step of the disaster, and each of the ever-more-deadly legs the story could have taken. If we’d been more belligerent. If the kid had been stupider. Or faster. If the cops had come by at the right time. If things had gone bad… There were many other endings to the story. I didn’t like most of them at all.
We spent the next day wandering town, seeing the sights, finding new places. On one of my swings down Duval Street, I passed one of the many construction sites where they were repairing the ancient sewerage system under the streets. There I chanced upon Officer Madeiro of the KWPD, a slightly-graying middle-aged cop who’d seen it all. Just the kind of guy who might want to hear my story. Which he did, being the kind of cop I’d thought he would be. And he’d heard it all, as well; he knew exactly who the kid was, ‘always on that bicycle’, and how many times the kid had been in trouble before. We agreed that, if I’d made a timely report the day before and the district attorney was willing to take on a charge with an out-of-state witness and it went to Juvenile Court and the judge was willing to sentence the kid to twenty one days in the juvenile correctional facility in Miami, the kid would probably come back meaner and tougher than before. But he did say that he’d enjoy going around to the house later and ‘pinning his ears back’, so some justice might prevail out of the situation.
The next day my father had to go to Tampa on business. But I never stopped listening for those bike tires, not until the plane took off for Miami, not for a minute.

Stay awake, dammit!

Elizabeth Harris has an article in The New York Times about fixing the air traffic controller problem:
The Federal Aviation Administration said that it would change scheduling practices for air traffic controllers in an effort to combat excessive fatigue. The decision was announced after a controller was discovered napping while on duty— at least the sixth controller to be caught doing so in recent months. “We are taking important steps today that will make a real difference in fighting air traffic controller fatigue,” the FAA administrator, J. Randolph Babbitt, said in a statement. “But we know we will need to do more. This is just the beginning.” The details of those changes were not announced, but Mr. Babbitt’s statement said that they would eliminate practices “most likely to result in air traffic controller fatigue.” The new rules would be effective in the next three days, he said.
Just a few hours earlier, on the Friday-to-Saturday overnight shift, an air traffic controller fell asleep at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center, the FAA said. The controller, whose name was not released, was reported to a manager by another controller, and the center did not miss any calls. The controller has been suspended.
Mr. Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were briefed on the incident early Saturday. “There is no excuse for air traffic controllers to be sleeping on the job,” Mr. LaHood said. “We will do everything we can to put an end to this.”
These changes were only the latest in a series of shake-ups at the aviation administration.
The FAA recently announced the end of single-person staffing on the midnight shift at 27 control towers around the country. That move came on the heels of more bad news: a lone air traffic controller at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada had dozed off on the job, and was out of communication for about sixteen minutes while a medical flight was trying to land. Another control facility helped the plane, which was carrying an ill passenger, land safely. The controller has been suspended.
Henry P. Krakowski, the chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, resigned under pressure.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents 15,000 controllers, praised the FAA’s latest moves. “Natca stands in full support of the FAA’s immediate steps both today and last week to address the recent incidents,” the association’s president, Paul Rinaldi, said in a statement. “NATCA and the FAA. are in agreement that fatigue and scheduling must be addressed.”
Current scheduling practices allow some controllers to work a full week and still have nearly three full days off by piling up shifts at different times of day, with shorter rest periods in between.

Keep your thumbs still when I’m talking to you

David Carr has an article in The New York Times about texting:
You are at a party, say, and the person in front of you is not really listening to you. Yes, she is murmuring occasional assent to your remarks, or nodding at appropriate junctures, but for the most part she is looking beyond you, scanning in search of something or someone more compelling.
Here’s the funny part: if she is looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.
Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: it has made it fashionable to be rude.
I thought about that a lot at South by Southwest Interactive, the annual campfire of the digitally interested held in Austin, Texas in the second week of March; inside, conference rooms brimmed with wireless connections, and the people on the dais competed with a screen in almost every seat: laptops, or even more commonly, tablets. In that context, the live presentation that the people in the audience had ostensibly come many miles to see was merely companion media.
But, even more remarkably, once the badge-decorated horde spilled into the halls or went to the hundreds of parties that mark the ritual, almost everyone walked or talked with one eye, or both, on a little screen. We were adjacent but essentially alone, texting and talking our way through what should have been a great chance to engage flesh-and-blood human beings. The wait in line for panels, badges or food became one more chance to check in digitally instead of an opportunity to meet someone you didn’t know.
I moderated a panel there called I’m So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done, which was ostensibly about how answering email and looking after various avatars on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr left little time to do what we actually care about or get paid for. The biggest reaction in the session by far came when Anthony De Rosa, a product manager and programmer at Reuters, and a big presence on Twitter and Tumblr, said that mobile connectedness has eroded fundamental human courtesies. “When people are out and they’re among other people, they need to just put everything down,” he said. “It’s fine when you’re at home or at work when you’re distracted by things, but we need to give that respect to each other back.”
His words brought sudden and tumultuous applause. It was sort of a moment, given that we were sitting amid some of the most digitally devoted people in the hemisphere. Perhaps somewhere on the way to the merger of the online and offline world, we had all stepped across a line without knowing it.
In a later email, Mr. De Rosa wrote: “I’m fine with people stepping aside to check something, but when I’m standing in front of someone and, in the middle of my conversation, they whip out their phone, I’ll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they’re going to be rude, I’ll be rude right back.”
After the panel, one of the younger people in the audience came up to me to talk earnestly about the importance of actual connection, which was nice, except he was casting sidelong glances at his iPhone while we talked. I’m not even sure he knew he was doing it. It’s not just conferences full of inforati where this happens. In places all over America (theaters, sports arenas, apartments), people gather in groups only to disperse into lone pursuits between themselves and their phones.
Every meal out with friends or colleagues represents a negotiation between connectedness to the grid and interaction with those on hand. “Last year, for my friend’s birthday, my gift to her was to stay off my phone at her birthday dinner,” said Molly McAleer, who blogs and sends Twitter messages under the name Molls. “How embarrassing.”
If South by Southwest is, as its attendees claim, an indicator of what is to come, we won’t be seeing a lot of one another even if we happen to be in the same room. Anthony Breznican, a reporter for Entertainment Weekly, said all it takes is for one person at a dinner to excuse himself into his phone, and the race is on among everyone else. “Instead of continuing with the conversation, we all take out our phones and check them in earnest,” he said. “For a few minutes everybody is typing away. A silence falls over the group and we all engage in a mass thumb-wrestling competition between man and little machine. Then the moment passes, the BlackBerrys and iPhones are reholstered, and we return to being humans again, after a brief trance.”
In the instance of screen etiquette, sharing is not always caring, and sometimes, the bigger the screen, the larger the faux pas: On an elevator in the Austin Convention Center, some crazed social media promoter jammed his iPad under my nose and started demo-ing his hideously complicated social networking app that was going to change the world. I leaped to safety as soon as the door opened.
Still, many are finished apologizing for what has become a very natural mix of online and offline pursuits. In an essay on TechCrunch entitled I Will Check My Phone at Dinner and You Will Deal With It, MG Siegler wrote: “Forgive me, but it’s Dinner 2.0.” He added: “This is the way the world works now. We’re always connected and always on call. And some of us prefer it that way.”
It scans as progress, but doesn’t always feel that way. There are a number of reasons why people at conferences and out in the world treat their phones like a Tamagotchi, the digital pet invented in Japan that died if it wasn’t constantly looked after and fed.
To begin with, phones glow. It is a very normal impulse to stare at something in your hand that is emitting light. Beyond the gadget itself, the screen offers a data stream of many people, as opposed to the individual you happen to be near. Your email, Twitter, Facebook, and other online social groups all offer a data stream of many individuals, and you can choose the most interesting one, unlike the human rain delay you may be stuck with at a party.
Then there is also a specific kind of narcissism that the social Web engenders. By grooming and updating your various avatars, you are making sure you remain at the popular-kid’s table. One of the more seductive data points in real-time media is what people think of you. The metrics of followers and retweets beget a kind of always-on day trading in the unstable currency of the self.
“My personal pet peeve is people who live-tweet every interaction,” said Roxanna Asgarian, a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, who attended South by Southwest this year. “I prefer to experience the thing itself over the experience of telling people I’m doing the thing.”
Still, for those of us who are afraid of missing something, having the grid at our fingertips offers reassurance that we are in the right spot or gives indicators of heat elsewhere. But all is not vanity. For anybody with children, a job, or a significant other, the expectation these days is that certain special people, usually beginning with our bosses, can reach us at any minute of any day. Every once in a while, something truly important tumbles into our in-box that requires immediate attention.
Mobile devices do indeed make us more mobile, but that tether is also a leash, letting everyone know that they can get you at any second, most often to tell you they are late, but on their way. (Another bit of bad manners that the always-on world helps facilitate, by the way.)
At the conference, I saw people who waited ninety minutes to get into a party with a very tough door, peering into their phones the whole while, only to breach the door finally and resume staring into the same screen and only occasionally glancing up.
In that sense, the scenery never really changes when you are riding with your digital wingman. I saw people who were sitting on panels surfing or emailing during lulls, and then were taken by surprise when it was their turn to talk. (And it’s not just those children. I was hosting a discussion at another conference with Martha Stewart, no slouch when it comes to manners, and she kept us all waiting while she checked “one more thing” on Twitter.)
I should sheepishly mention that I was on highest alert for electronic offense because I switched out my smartphone before South by Southwest and was on a new Droid that I’m pretty sure could guide the next mission to Mars, but it was clunky when it came to sending texts and Twitter messages. Digital natives (read “young people”) will tell you that they can easily toggle between online and offline. My colleague Brian Stelter can almost pull it off, in part because he always seems to be creating media and consuming it.
And in Austin I saw Andy Carvin, NPR’s one-man signal tower of North African revolution on Twitter, sitting in front of a screen while the British band Yuck played a killer outdoor set at Stubb’s. He sent Twitter messages about the show, and about Bahrain as well.
William Powers, the author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry, a book about getting control of your digital life, appeared on a panel at South by Southwest and wrote that he came away thinking he had witnessed “a gigantic competition to see who can be more absent from the people and conversations happening right around them. Everyone in Austin was gazing into their little devices; a bit desperately, too, as if their lives depended on not missing the next tweet.”
In a phone conversation a few weeks afterward, Mr. Powers said that he is far from being a Luddite, but that he doesn’t “buy into the idea that digital natives can do both screen and eye contact. They are not fully present because we are not built that way,” he said. Where other people saw freedom— from the desktop, from social convention, from the boring guy in front of them— Mr. Powers saw “a kind of imprisonment. There is a great deal of conformity under way, actually,” he added.
And therein lies the real problem. When someone you are trying to talk to ends up getting busy on a phone, the most natural response is not to scold, but to emulate. It’s mutually assured distraction.
Rico says the ladyfriend does it while he's watching television, which seems only fair...

Nice place for a wedding, if you can afford it

Charles Phillips and Barry Falls have an article in The New York Times about the impending nuptials:
When Prince William and Kate Middleton marry on 29 April, they will join a select group, even among royals. While the site of their wedding, Westminster Abbey, has been the place of every coronation since the Norman conquest, only fifteen royal couples have been married there since it was founded in 960.
The first wedding to take place at the abbey was that of King Henry I of England and Princess Matilda of Scotland in 1100. The bride wore a crimson robe, a fashion choice Miss Middleton will likely not follow. While the great and good looked on, and those less connected cheered outside, the archbishop of Canterbury married the bride and groom, as his successor will do in less than two weeks.
Many traditions, for the groom to don a military uniform, for the bride’s flowers to include a sprig of myrtle, signifying love, and for the couple to sign the wedding register in the privacy of Edward the Confessor’s Chapel, have been added in the years since.
After King Richard II’s marriage to Anne of Bohemia in 1382, the abbey fell out of favor as the site of royal weddings for more than five hundred years. That serial husband King Henry VIII had no fewer than six weddings, but none at the abbey, preferring ceremonies at Greenwich and Whitehall. The Stuarts favored quiet affairs in private, while in the nineteenth century, the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace, and Windsor Castle and its St. George’s Chapel, were popular venues.
King George V encouraged a return to the national church. The king, who changed the royal family’s name from the Germanic Saxe-Coburg to Windsor in 1917, thought using Westminster Abbey would enhance the royals’ “Britishness” in the eyes of the people.
In choosing the abbey rather than, say, St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer opted to marry in 1981 to better accommodate their 3,500 guests, Prince William and Kate Middleton are following the example of his great-grandparents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, who married the Duke of Edinburgh at the church, in the aftermath of World War Two, on 20 November 1947.

Walt Whitman's other job

The New York Times has an editorial about Walt Whitman:
Kenneth Price is one of many Walt Whitman scholars dedicated to tracking every jot and tittle left by the definitive poet of America. Three years ago, Mr. Price came upon a startling discovery, buried in the National Archives: Whitman’s handwriting and his signature initials on documents he copied during his Washington day job as a government clerk.
“A prodigious amount of material,” said Mr. Price, who is at about 3,000 documents and searching for more. They give the lie to tales of Whitman’s being a slacker of a bureaucrat when he hand-duplicated the letters and memos of government officials.
For some, the material may be frustrating for offering no new tropes and stanzas from Whitman the poet. Still, his clean penmanship, so easily read in the here and now, is something fresh to wonder about; Whitman working to keep food on the table while he wrote his great Civil War poems. In his free time, he wrote letters home for wounded and illiterate Civil War soldiers. Twelve in one day “inhabiting the voice of another”, notes Mr. Price, a literature professor at the University of Nebraska and co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive.
Whitman clearly was no passive observer who could compartmentalize his life, which makes it interesting to see what biographers will make of this emerging clerk’s tale. The papers he copied dealt with the bureaucratic mundane but also issues like the Ku Klux Klan; the trial of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president; and westward railroad expansion. He worked at the Army paymaster’s office, the attorney general’s office, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where the poet was famously fired after his boss pronounced Leaves of Grass was 'immoral' writing.

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