31 March 2012

Civil War for the day

Rico says his friend Esha sends this:
On 29 October 1862, Rufus Vann and the other members of the First Kansas Colored Volunteers regiment made history at the action at Island Mound as the first African-Americans to fight as Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Vann, who became a corporal in the Union Army after enlisting at the age of 46, is the focal point of Resurrection 150, a short play presented recently at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park as part of the museum’s The Civil War in Missouri exhibition.
The play commemorates the 150th anniversary of a skirmish, between the First Kansas regiment and Confederate troops, that occurred on the Toothman Farm in western Missouri, near the Kansas border. It was written by Linda Kennedy, artistic associate of The Black Rep, and directed by Elizabeth A. Pickard, the museum’s assistant director of interpretive programs.

Oooh, pretty (expensive)

Patricia Cohen has an article about diamonds (the favorite stone of Rico's ladyfriend) in The New York Times:
In the mezzanine gallery of the Natural History Museum in London are some of its cherished treasures: the 1,384-carat Devonshire Emerald; a replica of Queen Victoria’s Koh-i-noor diamond; and the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, a rare collection of 295 naturally colored diamonds.
The emerald was once the property of a nineteenth-century Brazilian emperor, and the original Koh-i-noor, now under guard in the Tower of London, is one of the crown jewels. The Aurora collection has somewhat humbler roots.
It was put together in the 1980s and ’90s by two men, Harry Rodman, a veteran gold refiner from the Bronx, and Alan Bronstein, a diamond dealer from New Jersey. Together they assembled the world’s most comprehensive grouping of colored diamonds and exhibited them at prestigious museums like the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
But, these days, the fate of that collection and other gems is being decided on the fourth floor of Surrogate’s Court in the Bronx, a few blocks from Yankee Stadium.
Rodman died in 2008 at 99, and now his family is battling Bronstein over who is rightfully entitled to Rodman’s half-share of their collections, valued by one appraisal at more than fourteen million dollars. The question is complicated by the fact that Rodman made seven wills in the last decade of his life, and by the intermingling of family and business ties.
In addition to being Bronstein’s partner, Rodman, in 2001, at the age of 92, married Bronstein’s 81-year-old mother, Jeanette, his longtime friend and neighbor. “Harry became my best friend, my mentor, and my stepfather,” Bronstein said in an interview before a court hearing this week.
Rodman came from a family of jewelers. His father was a craftsman who supposedly made jewels for the Czar in his native Russia, his nephew Gerald Gould said. He immigrated to the United States in 1903, crowding into a Lower East Side tenement to escape the pogroms that were terrorizing Jews in his hometown near Kiev. Rodman followed his father into the business, but made his name and his money in gold, Gould said, becoming a well-known figure in the diamond district in Midtown Manhattan. “Walking down 47th Street with Harry Rodman was like walking down the street with the mayor,” Gould said. “Everybody knew him.”
In 1986, after fifty years in business, Rodman retired and sold his gold refining firm. By that point, he had already met Alan Bronstein, a young, ambitious dealer, whose mother, Jeanette, was a bookkeeper at the Diamond Dealers Club. Now considered one of the foremost experts on colored diamonds, Bronstein had what he once described in an article as a “burning passion” for the stones that was first piqued in 1979, when he saw “a canary yellow diamond that glowed with the hue of the sun.”
Colored diamonds were not particularly popular at the time, and little was known about them. Bronstein set about changing that. “Colored diamonds are as varied as the faces of people,” Bronstein said at the courthouse.
About one in ten thousand diamonds is colored. Other elements in addition to carbon, or a hiccup in the structure of the crystal, is what gives a stone its particular hue. Colored and colorless diamonds are often found in the same mine.
Bronstein’s enthusiasm soon rubbed off on Rodman, and “collecting became our obsession,” Bronstein recounted in an article printed in a trade publication. Rodman put up the money and Bronstein did the research. “Most of our time was spent running from place to place, trying to be the first to see a new stone that may have come off the cutting wheel, been imported from another country, or just been removed from an antique piece,” Bronstein wrote. They founded Aurora Gems, and split the business down the middle. The name came from Rodman, who frequently traveled with his first wife, Adele, and found that the varieties of color reminded him of the aurora borealis.
Once word of Rodman’s interest in colored diamonds spread, dealers would stop him on 47th Street to offer him a new find. Their most surprising acquisition was a two-and-a-half-carat, pear-shaped, dark olive-green diamond, Bronstein has said. After storing it in the vault, Bronstein said he was shocked when he later opened the door and pulled out an intense yellow diamond. As he wondered who could have switched the gems, the diamond changed back to olive green. It turned out they had bought a rare chameleon diamond that naturally changes color.
Over the years they put together two famous collections: the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, housed in London, and the Aurora Butterfly of Peace, an arrangement of 240 diamonds that includes the full spectrum of colors and gives off a fluorescent glow under ultraviolet light.
In their lawsuit, several of Rodman’s heirs— a grandniece and four grandnephews— argue that the Bronsteins took advantage of an elderly man and duped him into signing away his interest in Aurora Gems for $10,000. The Rodman family lawyer, Michael Dowd, said that Bronstein was also supposed to reimburse Rodman about $1.8 million, the original cost of the diamonds. (The $14 million appraisal for the two collections was commissioned by Rodman’s family.)
“We’re just outraged,” said David Gould, Rodman’s grandnephew. Dowd offered into evidence a transcript and audiotape of a phone conversation between a Rodman relative and Rodman’s longtime housekeeper and aide, Tigist Mamo. In the conversation, Mamo says that Jeanette Bronstein had confided to her that she married Rodman for his money, and that Bronstein had bullied Rodman into giving away his interest.
Bronstein issued a statement through his lawyer, Vincent Crowe, saying he “categorically denies” these accusations. “The transfer of Rodman’s interest in that business was consistent with his prior estate planning,” he said, adding, “The value of the diamonds is contested and is one of the issues to be resolved by the Court.”
A lawyer who drew up Rodman’s wills testified on Bronstein’s behalf. “Harry described him as a friend and the son he never had,” said the lawyer, Jeffrey Zankel.
During a break in the hearing, Bronstein said he shared a special bond with Rodman: “He believed in what I was trying to accomplish.”
Rico says that, if he won the big MegaMillions lottery yesterday, he'll buy the ladyfriend a handful...

History for the day

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

Nature's alarm clock

Rico says it's what got him up early this morning, before even the cats...

Too much data

Rico says what else can a good curmudgeon hope for than anti-social media, where he won't get daily emails noting someone is "going to the bar with Louie"...

30 March 2012

How the Germans (or maybe the Dutch) do it

Best Irish joke

Rico says his friend Tex sends this one:
Down at the pub one night, John O'Reilly hoisted his Guinness and said: "Here's to spending the rest of me life between the legs of me wife!" This won him the top prize at the pub, for the best toast of the night.
He went home and told his wife, Mary: "I won the prize for the best toast of the night."
She said: "Aye, did ye now. And what was your toast?"
John said: "Here's to spending the rest of me life, sitting in church beside me wife."
"Oh, that is very nice indeed, John!" said Mary.
The next day, Mary ran into one of John's drinking buddies on the street. The man chuckled leeringly and said: "John won the prize the other night to the pub with a toast about you, Mary."
She said: "Aye, he told me, and I was a bit surprised myself. You know, he's only been in there twice in the last four years. Once I had to pull him by the ears to make him come, and the other time he fell asleep."
Rico says this is why, if forced to tell what you've been up to, you never lie to the wife...

How the Russians do it

Rico says his friend Tex forwards this:
The video shows Russian navy commandos on a Somalian pirate ship, shortly after the pirates had captured a Russian oil tanker. The European Union ships patrolling these waters had not interfered, fearing there could be casualties.
All explanations are in Russian, with the single exception of when a wounded pirate says something in English and the Russian soldier says: "This is not a fishing boat". All conversations between the commandos are in Russian. If you don't understand Russian, the pictures speak for themselves.
The soldiers freed their compatriots and the tanker. The Russian navy commandos moved the pirates back to the pirate ship, searched the pirate ship for weapons and explosives, then left the ship and exploded it, with all remaining pirates handcuffed to it.
The commandos sank the pirate ship, along with the pirates, without any court proceedings, lawyers, etc. That is, they used the anti-piracy laws of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where the captain of the rescuing ship has the right to decide what to do with pirates. Usually, they were hanged. There has not been a single Russian ship attacked since...

An expensive act of showing off

Oooh, scary

Rico says his friend Kelley forwards this:
A ninjutsu practitioner participates in a sword drill (photo) as members of various ninjutsu schools showcase their skills to the media in Karaj, 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of Tehran on 13 February 2012. Currently, about 3000 to 3500 women train in ninjutsu in independently-run clubs throughout Iran, working under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports' Martial Arts Federation.
Rico says the Bujinkan Honbu Dojo Ninja is apparently a real Japanese martial arts organization, and they're everywhere (even in Teheran)...

Gold scam for the day

Rico says it's a classic, complete with many misspellings:
From: davising mensah
Sent: Friday, 30 March, 2012 13:36

Dear Value customer,

We wish to bring to your notice that we, the local miners of Ashante region, have in our position 543 kilos of gold and we are willing to sale it to any interesting individual or a company whom will be interested in gold.
The price is affordable and please kindly open the attachment and see some of our work and how we generate the gold, we own the golds as you can see through the attach photos, it's an opportunity for any gold mining dealers to come and buy at the lowest gold rate.
Upon your response, I shall issue you the price list and if you will like to come in person and expect and test the gold before purchase which is the normal procedure for a clear transaction, you will be
highly welcome for a good business relationship.

I await your urgent response.
Yours faithfully,

Rico says there was no attachment, though, if there were, it would be surely equally bogus...

Things worth seeing

Ken Johnson has the story in The New York Times:
Have you ever felt put off by the imperturbable serenity exuded by the Buddha in countless artistic images? Maybe it is my American DNA or my underdeveloped consciousness, but I sometimes feel almost as alienated by his Teflon-like immunity to excitation as by the idealized agony of the crucified Jesus. They both seem so unnaturally abstract. These thoughts were crystallized for me by one of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever seen: Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. (Colorful Realm runs through 29 April; (202) 737-4215, nga.gov.)
The show brings together, for the first time outside of Japan, two parts of a suite of paintings that Ito Jakuchu (pronounced ee-toe ja-ku-chu) made for the Shokokuji monastery in Kyoto. Created between 1757 and 1766, it consisted primarily of thirty bird-and-flower scroll paintings collectively called Colorful Realm of Living Beings. The series is widely and justly considered one of the supreme masterpieces of Japanese painting. To give the nature pictures a divine focus, Jakuchu also produced a triptych representing the Buddha and two bodhisattvas, all luxuriously enthroned.
In the interest of preservation, the monastery donated the Colorful Realm paintings to the Imperial Household in 1889, but kept the triptych. Since then, the complete set has been exhibited only once before, at the Jotenkaku Museum in the Shokokuji monastery in 2007.
Organized by Yukio Lippit, a Harvard professor of Japanese art, the exhibition presents Jakuchu’s paintings on silk of flowers, birds, fish, lizards, insects, and seashells. They hang unscrolled behind glass panels on the long walls of a broad rectangular room, with the triptych of deities presiding at one end. Bordered by patterned fabrics, all the paintings have the windowlike dimensions of about five and a half by three feet.
It is a metaphysically pointed arrangement. The Buddha and the bodhisattvas belong to an eternal, transcendental realm that rules over earthly time and space. Implicitly the lively beings of material creation are gathered here to bask in the beneficence of their cosmic overlord. No doubt that was the program intended by Jakuchu, who retired at forty from running a large grocery business he inherited from his father to devote himself to art and Zen.
But now the experience of the ensemble is something else. While the nature paintings teem with life— figuratively as well as formally— the paintings of the reigning deities are so conventional and dull it is hard to believe they were made by the same artist. In fact Jakuchu copied them from a triptych attributed to a thirteenth-century painter, Zhang Sigong, that he discovered at Tofukuji, another monastery in Kyoto. Regardless, it clearly was not traditional theology, but worldly reality, that turned Jakuchu on.
If “turned on” sounds like an anachronistic phrase to apply to an eighteeenth-century artist, consider the paintings. Their vividness conveys a state of attentiveness and responsiveness to which ordinary consciousness, in its distraction and world-weary fatigue, rarely rises. This partly has to do with Jakuchu’s extraordinary powers of observation and painterly description. The profusion of realistic detail and the way feathers, blossoms, tree leaves and myriad other elements are deftly individualized is hypnotically gripping.
Looking closely at Maple Tree and Small Birds you see that each of the hundreds of red leaves growing from arcing, gnarly branches is distinctly different. Some glow bright red, some are nearly drab green; some are opaque, some let light through. Shells has 146 varieties of seashells— mussel, oyster, conch, snail, starfish, and many more— scattered over a sandy expanse, each described with loving exactitude. Pond and Insects pictures 76 species of bugs along with lizards, frogs, and a coiled snake.
Among eighteen marine species, all swimming down toward the left in Fish, is a big gold sea bream whose every scale and spiny fin is neatly articulated. But that is not all: Jakuchu also captures the iridescent sheen of its fat orange-and-white body.
The accumulation of zoological and botanical information could be exhausting were it not for another of Jakuchu’s remarkable talents: his virtuosic way with composition. Some works, like Peonies and Small Birds, are crammed nearly to bursting with blossoms. Others have open spaces letting in air and light.
In Rooster and Hen, a flamboyantly multihued male and an all-black female perform a tense mating dance on an open field of unpainted fabric, which concentrates the erotic drama. In Wild Goose and Reeds, a single big bird plummets straight down from the sky toward a surface of cracked ice, and the background expanse of unpainted light-brown silk, framed by reeds bearing globs of melting snow, evokes airy space.
Many of the later compositions produce a delirious confusion of gravitational orientation. In Lotus Pond and Fish, flat, circular leaves and pink and white blossoms viewed from divergent perspectives surround a school of small, silvery fish. It makes sense at a glance; but the more you look, the harder it is to tell what is up and what is down, and the more confoundingly dreamy it becomes.
Chickens has twelve roosters and a hen crowded together into a dazzling tapestry of brown, black and white plumage punctuated by bright red cockscombs and wattles and staring eyes. It is an impossible situation; you could never assemble so many cocky males and one female into such close quarters without violence breaking out. The effect is of a sly, anthropomorphic comedy.
Jakuchu was not painting social satires or moral allegories. But, especially in the later examples, images of the ostensibly natural world and its denizens become metaphorical mirrors of an irrepressibly lively mind. Nothing is fixed; all is in flux in nature as in consciousness. Up and down, inside and out, male and female, plant and animal, water and rock, unpainted silk and open air: these are provincial, merely human categories. That is why the Buddha remains so implacably calm. Ensconced on his transcendental throne, he is unruffled by the delusory problems we bipeds create for ourselves.
There will always be artists who aspire to Buddha-like abstraction. The grid-and-stripe painter Agnes Martin did, for example. But I much prefer Jakuchu’s joyful immersion in the colorful realm of living beings.
Rico says he wishes it were easier for him to get to Washington; he'll probably miss this splendid show...

History for the day

On 30 March 1981, President Ronald 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.

Idiot for the day

The Associated Press has the story via the Philadelphia Inquirer out of Kennewick, Washington:
Texting and eating while driving? Not the best plan.
Do those things while driving a stolen truck, and the trouble mounts.
Kennewick police say a Chevy pickup truck previously stolen in nearby Richland ran into a ditch and drove through some logs and lawns before hitting a home.
Neighbors and the homeowner saw a man run from the scene. A Benton County sheriff's deputy in the area made an arrest a short time later. Spokesman Mike Blatman tells the Tri-City Herald the arrested man said he was eating a croissant and reading a text message when he lost control of the truck. Blatman says 32-year-old Jeromy Kirkendall of Kennewick was booked into the Benton County jail for investigation of possessing stolen property.
It wasn't immediately known if Kirkendall has an attorney, or how much damage was done to the home.

Scam for the day

From MICROSOFT LOTTERY® (UK. Regional Office)
Your Email Id has won 1,000,000.00 GBP in the British MICROSOFT COMPANY Promo 2012.
Send your
to our Claims Department: msn.donaldofice019@msn.com


Rico says he and his friend Mike are finally getting there; report to follow:

29 March 2012

One too many, maybe

Rico says he suspects the sauce on the ribs for his recent gastric disturbance, but he still agrees with Mister Carson:

New comment

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History for the day

On 29 March 1973, the last United States troops left South Vietnam, ending America's direct military involvement in the Vietnam War.

Another great one gone

Rico says he was tempted to title this post Flattened Scruggs, but that'd be disrespectful. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt has his obituary in The New York Times:
Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass banjo player whose hard-driving picking style influenced a generation of players and helped shape the sound of twentieth-century country music, died on Wednesday in Nashville. He was 88. His son Gary said his father died at a hospital of natural causes.
Scruggs was probably best known for performing alongside the guitar-playing Lester Flatt with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Among their signature songs were Foggy Mountain Breakdown, which was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, and The Ballad of Jed Clampett, the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.
Scruggs began developing his picking style at an early age. Born on a North Carolina farm to a large family of musicians, he took up the banjo at age four, about the time his father, who also played the banjo, died. He also learned to play guitar, modeling his style after Mother Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family.
With little else to do but chores on a Depression-era farm, he became obsessed with the banjo. He depended mainly on a two-fingered picking style until he was about ten. Then, one day, alone in his bedroom and brooding about an argument he had just had with an older brother, he found himself picking a song called Lonesome Reuben (or Reuben’s Train) using three fingers instead of two: his thumb, index, and middle finger. It was a style, indigenous to North Carolina, that he had been trying to learn.
By tuning his banjo in different keys, he found he could play any tune, but the notes sounded undifferentiated at first. “I can’t hear the melody,” his mother would tell him, he said. So he learned to emphasize melody by plucking it with his strong thumb in syncopation with harmonic notes picked with his first two fingers. The sound was like thumbtacks plinking rhythmically on a tin roof.
The technique lent a harder edge to the bluegrass sound— named after Bill Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, which Jon Pareles, writing in The New York Times, characterized as “a fusion of American music: gospel harmony and Celtic fiddling, blues and folk songs, Tin Pan Alley pop and jazz-tinged improvisations.”
Earl Eugene Scruggs was born on 6 January 1924, in Flint Hill, near Shelby, North Carolina, to George Elam Scruggs, a farmer and bookkeeper, and the former Georgia Lula Ruppe, who played the pump organ in church. He attended high school in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.
As Earl’s mastery of the banjo grew, the demands for his performance increased, and he soon found himself playing at dances and on radio shows in the Carolinas with various bands, among them Lost John Miller and His Allied Kentuckians.
In December of 1945, after Miller’s group disbanded, Scruggs quit school and took the first major step of his career by joining the Blue Grass Boys for $50 a week, plus $10 extra if he worked on Sundays. Besides Scruggs, the band came to include Monroe on the mandolin and singing; Flatt playing guitar and singing duets with Monroe; Howard Watts (aka Cedric Rainwater) on bass, and Chubby Wise on fiddle.
With them, Scruggs helped the group achieve the hard-driving “high, lonesome sound” that Monroe, called by many “the father of bluegrass”, was striving to achieve. When Scruggs stepped up to the microphone to play an instrumental break, “listeners would physically come out of their seats in excitement,” Richard Smith wrote in Can’t You Hear Me Calling: The Life of Bill Monroe.
Scruggs stayed with the Blue Grass Boys for two years as they starred on the Grand Ole Opry radio show and recorded classics like Blue Moon of Kentucky, Blue Grass Breakdown, and Molly and Tenbrooks (The Race Horse Song) for Columbia Records. He also sang baritone in the group’s gospel quartet.
Early in 1948, he and Flatt, weary of the low pay and exhausting travel, decided to strike out on their own, despite Monroe’s pleas to stay. In a famous feud, he did not speak to them for twenty years.
Although the two said they hadn’t planned to get together when they quit, they ended up forming a band called the Foggy Mountain Boys, after the Carter Family song Foggy Mountain Top, which they took as their theme song. With other musicians joining them, they moved bluegrass away from Monroe’s stronghold in Kentucky and central Tennessee to North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and Virginia.
Aided by the former Louise Certain, whom Earl had married in 1948 and who acted as the group’s manager and booking agent, and by the corporate sponsorship of Martha White Mills, they not only survived the onset of Elvis Presley and rock ’n’ roll, but also surpassed Monroe in popularity. In 1954, they traveled to New York City to appear in a Broadway show, Hayride, and Scruggs’ banjo-picking style began to spread among young folk musicians.
In 1955, they finally joined the Grand Ole Opry, thanks to pressure from Martha White Mills. In 1959 the group appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival, an offshoot of the Newport Jazz Festival. The Foggy Mountain Boys entered the folk-music revival, and the band began to play the college folk-festival circuit. As Scruggs broadened his musical interests, he began to work with his growing sons, Gary Eugene and Randy Lynn and, during school vacations, Steve Earl, and to record material by Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers.
Flatt, by contrast, disliked the new music and felt it was alienating the band’s grass-roots fans. In 1969 the two broke up. Scruggs formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a mostly acoustic group with drums and electric bass, which further broadened its repertory to include rock and touches of modern jazz, sometimes combining genres in a single number. The group stayed together for the remainder of Scruggs’ career, during which he performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Wembley Festival in London, as well as in films and on television specials.
Flatt died in 1979. Scruggs’ wife, Louise, died in 2006; his son, Steve, died in 1992. Besides his sons Gary and Randy, his survivors include five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

They're still at it...


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28 March 2012

Just one letter makes all the difference...

Rico says his mother forwards this from Bette Midler:
I haven't left my house in days. I watch television incessantly. All the news stories are about the election. All the commercials are for Viagra and Cialis.
Election, erection, election, erection; either way, we're going to get  screwed!

Oops is now a software development term

Software ain't as easy as people think:
One year ago, a pair of Boeing engineers decided to revive the spirit of a dead Microsoft project called Courier, but as an iPad app. They named this project Taposé, and began a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for development.
This week, Taposé launched in the App Store for $2.99.
Courier was supposed to be a dual-screen digital journal– the content creator’s rebuttal to Apple’s consumer-minded iPad. Users would combine notes, sketches, pictures, web links, and other content into elaborate documents to capture their ideas. Using two screens, people could load websites, maps, or other media on one virtual page, then drag the content into their notes on the other page. Microsoft never commented on the Courier, except in April of 2010, to announce that the project had been cancelled.
So can a couple of new developers do justice to the Courier concept by turning it into an iPad app? Maybe some day, but in playing around with the app, it’s clear that Taposé still needs a lot of work.
During my hour using the app on the new iPad, it crashed five times. Stability is crucial for apps that deal with content creation, because a crash can mean work lost. Fixing critical bugs needs to be a top priority for the Taposé team.
Taposé also suffers from some questionable user interface decisions. To name a few:
When viewing half your document alongside a webpage, map, or other content, it’s not clear how to flip forward and back through the pages. To do so, you must swipe left or right in a tiny area near the top corner of the page.
Much of the app’s functionality is centered around a vertical bar where you select tools for typing, drawing, painting, cutting, and pasting. But actions you’d expect to find on this bar, such as undo, search, and zoom are hidden elsewhere in the app.
Tapping a dot at the bottom of the vertical bar takes you back to your document list– a rarely important task that takes you out of whatever you’re currently doing. More useful options, such as opening a webpage, are hidden in a menu that you conjure by dragging a finger upwards along the vertical bar.
Taposé’s scissor tool is clever, letting you copy and paste a portion of any on-screen element, but it needs more accurate selection options, such as rectangular or circular selection tools. Also, when you copy an element, there’s no way to delete it from the action bar without dragging it onto your page first.
Taposé is still an interesting idea, just as Courier was. As a writer, I can imagine using an app like this to take notes or organize story ideas, especially once the team releases a web version for accessing notes on a PC. But until the bugs get squashed and the interface gets cleaned up, Taposé  is tough to recommend.
Rico says even Microsoft screws up occasionally (sarcasm implied):

RIP, Microsoft Courier, we hardly knew ye.
Gizmodo, the gadget blog that first uncovered the Courier last year, reports that Microsoft has all but scrapped the project. The two-screen tablet folder was intriguing, based on conceptual videos also obtained by Gizmodo, but we’ll never know for sure if any of what we saw would have made it into the final product.
When asked for comment, Microsoft Corporate VP of Communications Frank Shaw had this to say, which happens to be the first time Microsoft has publicly acknowledged the Courier’s existence:
At any given time, we’re looking at new ideas, investigating, testing, incubating them. It’s in our DNA to develop new form factors and natural user interfaces to foster productivity and creativity. The Courier project is an example of this type of effort. It will be evaluated for use in future offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.

Two years ago, Microsoft shocked the tech world with a visionary concept called the Courier, a dual-screen tablet intended for content creators. Details were scarce, revealed only in leaked documents. But, in April of 2010, Microsoft at once confirmed and killed the project.
CNet’s Jay Greene has the inside story of Microsoft’s Courier, based on the accounts of eighteen current and former Microsoft executives, plus contractors and partners. Among the juicy details in part one of the story (part two will be published later):
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer essentially had to choose between two competing tablet visions. One was the Courier, led by Xbox creator J. Allard, and the other was Windows 8, led by Steven Sinofsky, who headed the Windows division.
Ballmer called in Bill Gates, Microsoft’s current chairman and former CEO, to help make the decision. Gates was concerned about how Courier users would check their email, and Allard said he wasn’t trying to build another email experience, because people could already check their mail on a smartphone or PC. Gates was not pleased with this answer.
The Courier could have launched within a few months of Apple’s first iPad had Microsoft invested more resources, sources said. Instead, Microsoft cancelled the Courier project and is now focused on launching Windows 8 tablets in 2012.
You can count me among the people who were initially excited about the Courier. Gizmodo, the main source of Courier rumors (and the photo), described a complex interface for passing images and other page elements between the two screens, using either a stylus or multitouch gestures. At the time, in the vacuum of solid information about any upcoming tablet, it seemed like an interesting product.
But in hindsight, the Courier was a novelty. However great it would’ve been at creating digital content, it wouldn’t appeal to the masses, who now use their tablets to play games, watch movies and browse the Internet. A dual-screen, book-like tablet is ideal for none of those things. If CNet’s report is accurate, Gates was right. The lack of email is a dealbreaker. Just look at the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which has flopped in large part because it doesn’t have the basic ability to send an email.
I’m not saying the Courier concept is bad. I’m sure some graphic designers, artists, and writers would kill for a dual-screen digital sketchbook. It’s just not mainstream enough to take on Apple’s iPad. Windows 8 is.
Rico says he's predicting Windows 8 to be a total loser...

Scam for the day

Rico says he cannot imagine what drugs these people are on... (Or you, if you send him ninety-seven bucks.)
From: "prueba" <prueba@orion.cnc1.net>
Date: March 27, 2012 10:43:15 PM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Reply-To: usa.embassy1989@gmail.com
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington , DC 22012
Greeting from USA Embassy,

Email;  usa.embassy1989@gmail.com

This is to notify you that your consignment has been in our custody waiting for your comply before the delivery will be effected to your delivery address.
We have been waiting for you to contact us regarding your consignment box which  Courier Company suppose to deliver to you which  was on hold by US Department of State Bureau and requesting for clearance certificate which will be obtain from the origination of the consignment box before it will be released. As a result, if you do not comply in the duration given by Government of Benin, that is the reason the consignment box was diverted to Treasury.
All the walfare of United States Citizen is my consine. Am here to take the protocol of all our citizens to not be cheated by Africans. After the meeting held by our board of director which was concluded that the delivery of your consignment to your address must be complete within three working days upon your comply to our requirement which is by sending the sum of $97 to enable us obtain the needed certificate and effect with the delivery of your consignment immediately. Note that your consignment box has been arrived in US embassy and waiting to receive clearance certificate before the gate pass is given. Meanwhile you are advice to reconfirm the below information upon contacting us to avoid delivery to wrong person.

1, Your full name..
2, Your home address.
3, Your occupation

This is to inform you that you we are still waiting for you to send the money today to enable is delivery your package to you this week because this have take a long time and you are still promise us that you are going to send the $97 to us.
Therefore, we want you to try your possible best today to make sure that you send the money today and and please to fail to send the money today because i want you package to be among those that will be leave this country by tommorrow monerning.
Once you notify us with the above information we will release your consignment to you, Contact the Embassy Office Direct with the following information Below, Contact person, MR KELLIN ADINDU 
Note that you are expected to pay only $97 for clearance certificate and you are to pay it to Benin Republic as the origination of the consignment box in favour of MR KELLIN ADINDU our accountant officer in Benin Republic Send the $97 through western union or Money Gram once you receive this mail with the information below for immediate release of your consignment box, send the $97 with this information

Reciever Name: Osita Tonny
Location: Cotonou,
Country: Benin Republic
Code: Test Question: U
Answer : G

Amount: $97

Once you send the money, try to notify us with the MTCN for easy pick up and for immediate action on the release of your consignment Please treat this as matter of urgency .Note that any uncliam consignment will be return to the Courier Company after 3 days for final divertion.So you are urgently advise to comply with our demand so that we will release your consignment.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

The difference between a Sergeant and a Major

Rico says his friend Tex forwards this:
After reading the headlines about the US soldier who shot up Afghan civilians, I couldn't help noticing an irony: there is all this clamor to try this guy quickly and execute him, never mind his having suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Yet Major Hasan, who shot up Fort Hood while screaming Allah Akbar, still hasn't stood trial, and they are still debating whether he was insane, even with the clear evidence of his motive: slay as many infidels as possible.
So we have a guy in a war zone who cracks; he must be executed immediately.
But this Muslim psychiatrist, who was Stateside in a nice safe office all day, murders thirteen and wounds 29 of our own guys, and they try to argue the poor lad suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome, from listening to real soldiers who had actual battle experience. Two and a half years later, they still haven't tried the murderous bastard...

27 March 2012

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso

Rico says his friend Tex forwards this story:

Three armed felons crossed the Mexican border into Texas and attempted to rob an off-duty El Paso police officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes, while he stood in front of a bank. The plan was for two of them to grab his backpack and toss it to an accomplice on a stolen motorcycle. However, the well-prepared police officer shot all of them, killing two of them immediately. The third was shot in both arms, and bled to death before the ambulance arrived.
This is how much the taxpayers would have had to pay to prosecute these thugs:
Arrest and detention for one night = $6,000
Transportation for deportation back to Mexico the next day = $1000
Air time for Obama to apologize in thirty minute speech = $25,007,000
What it actually cost: four .40 rounds
Taxpayer savings = $25,006,999
Apparently they picked the wrong man to rob this time and, thanks to him, there won't be a next time.
The average response time for a 911 call is four minutes.
The average response time for a .40 S&W round is about 1200 fps.
I love to read stories with such happy endings...
Rico says he does, too...

A Fluke, surely

Rico says his father forwards this:
Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, spoke before a Congressional committee a few weeks ago. She was lamenting that no one would subsidize her birth
control expenses, which she claimed would amount to $3000 during her three years in law school. After watching Fluke describe her desperate situation, I started thinking of ways to help her out of her crisis. First, of course, I had to go through the grieving period I experienced after hearing of her inhumane treatment at the hands of the Georgetown administration and our government; what cruelty lurks in the heart of men, that they would leave this poor woman to fend for herself when all she wanted to do was get laid seven times a day (see my analysis below).
Once I recovered from my grief, I set to thinking about ways to help this poor girl. Being a physicist, I sat down with my calculator and worked through some numbers. Fluke's expense account for birth control (aka sexual entertainment) was claimed to be $3,000 for three years at law school. Let's presume that, as an educated woman, she wants to be doubly safe and uses both birth control pills to prevent pregnancy and condoms to prevent STDs.
Using the Wal-Mart cost for birth control pills of $9 per month, her birth control pills will cost her $324 for her entire law school career (if you can call it a career; I can think of other names). This leaves only $2,676 for her condoms.
I went to Amazon.com and found quality condoms available for 33 cents each, in packages of sixty condoms each; this cost includes tax and shipping. Since she has $2,676 left for her 33 cent condoms, she would be buying 8,109 condoms during her law school "career".
To use her 8,109 condoms (remember, $3,000 was Fluke's own number) she would have to have sex seven times a day; this number presumes that she has sex ten times a day on Sundays, when she has more free time.
So, having worked through these numbers, I have some suggestions for Fluke to help her work through her crisis:
1. Find dates who are gentlemanly enough to either provide their own condoms, or at least split the cost with her. Selection criteria is the key to this one.
2. Spend more time studying. Even seven "quickies" a day will seriously cut into quality study time. This would not only save money but would improve her education as well.
Just trying to help out a starving student.
FYI, the average starting salary of new Georgetown Law School graduates is $160,000 a year...

Booth R. Myers, PhD
Rico says you can't fault the guy's math... (His politics, maybe, but not his math.)

If Patton were still alive...

...Rico says he'd probably be saying something like what Rico's friend Tex sent along:
To  all those whining, panty-waisted, pathetic citizens, it's time for a little refresher course on exactly why Americans occasionally have to fight wars to keep this nation great.
See if you can tear yourself away from your "reality" television and Starbucks for a minute, pull your head out of your ass, and listen up!
Abu Ghraib is not "torture" or an "atrocity." Got that?
This was an atrocity:
So was this:
Which part don't you get?
Islamic extremists are peaceful people? My ass!
Millions of these warped mis-led sons-of-bitches are plotting, as we speak, to destroy our country and our way of life any way they can. Some of them are here among us now.
They don't want to convert you and they don't want to rule you. They believe you are a vile infestation of Allah's paradise. They don't give a shit how "progressive" you are, how peace-loving you are, or how much you sympathize with their cause. They want your ass dead, and they think it is God's will for them to make it so.
Some think that, if we give them a hug or listen to them, then they'll like us and, if you agree, then you are a pathetic dumbass!
If they manage to get their hands on a nuke, chemical agents, or even some anthrax, you will wish to God we had hunted them down and killed them while we had the chance.
How many more Americans must be beheaded?
You've fallen asleep again; get your head out of your ass! You may never get another chance!
Now get off your sorry ass and pass this on to any and every person you give a damn about, if you ever gave a damn about anything!
Rico says it may be fictional, but it's true...

History for the day

It's a nearly-forgotten tragedy, but Dan Daley, a freelance writer from Nashville, Tennessee, has an article at History.com about the Shirtwaist fire:

After what had been a brutal winter, 25 March 1911 was the kind of spring Saturday in Manhattan to which everyone looked forward. Lilies already were appearing in the windows of the tenements of the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village. On Greene Street, which runs between the two neighborhoods, sixteen-year-old Ida Brodsky walked to work that morning, heading toward the ten-story “skyscraper” that was part of New York’s rapidly changing skyline. She was likely joined along the way by Frances Carutto and Molly Gernstein, both seventeen; eighteen-year-old Ida Konowitz; Jacob Klein, 23; and three members of the Maltese family from Queens: 38-year-old Catherine and her daughters Lucia, twenty, and Rosarea, fourteen. They all took the freight elevator to the ninth floor, the middle of three occupied by the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, one of the largest manufacturers of the fashionable shirtwaist garment, whose collared, front-buttoned masculine look was high fashion for the twentieth-century Gibson Girl, as rendered by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson.
Like many new buildings in lower Manhattan, the Asch Building at the corner of Greene and Washington Place had a concrete and cast-iron façade, rendering it ostensibly fireproof. However, the inside of the structure was constructed of wood, as were the long tables at which the women worked, jammed shoulder to shoulder at sewing machines. If a machine's needles broke, company owners Isaac Harris and Max Blanck would charge the workers for replacements. Supervisors timed the girls on toilet breaks and, if they took too long, they could be sent home and docked part of the day’s pay, which made the average $7 a week that many of the garment workers earned from piecework that much dearer. Saturday was a day to pick up a few extra dollars. There was no extra pay for overtime, just how ever many pieces you could assemble from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.— four hours shorter than a typical weekday work schedule.
However, this Saturday would not end like any other day. Frances, Molly, Ida, Jacob, Catherine, Lucia, Rosarea, and 139 others would not live to see Sunday, and the American labor movement, still fighting for mainstream traction, would have a mournful rallying cry like none before.
At 4:45, as the women and girls were putting on their coats to leave, someone yelled: Fire! That's what New York City Fire Marshal William Beers testified during the trial of the Triangle Company’s owners. They had been charged with, among other things, the critical locking of an inward-opening exit door, and inadequate fire escapes too small for the estimated five-hundred-plus workers on Triangle’s three crowded floors. Reportedly, a match tossed carelessly by a cutter lighting a cigarette ignited waste trimmings that were collected in bins beneath the long sewing tables on the eighth floor.
The blaze spread quickly. About 180 people on the eighth floor were the first to be alerted, and all were able to escape down the building’s inside staircase and fire escape; the small number of employees and the owners on the tenth floor scrambled to the relative safety of the roof. However, as the flames licked rapidly upward, the bolts of cloth and trimmings acted as kindling for the building’s wood infrastructure, engulfing and trapping the 310 workers on the ninth floor. On the street, passersby began to notice the smoke billowing out of the upper-floor windows. One of them, noting the bundles of cloth hitting the sidewalk and street in front of the building, sarcastically remarked that the owners must be trying to save their best material. Moments later, they realized these were actually human beings, their hair and clothing on fire and, confronting locked exits, leaping to their deaths from ninety feet above. Remarked witness William G. Shepherd: “I learned a new sound, a more horrible sound than description can picture: It was the thud of a living, speeding body on a stone sidewalk. Thud, dead. Thud, dead. Thud, dead.” In all, sixty-two workers chose to jump rather than burn to death.
Engine Company 72, arriving from their firehouse on West 12th Street, seven blocks to the north, had to maneuver their horse-drawn engines around the bodies that continued to hit the street with sickening thumps. Using horse blankets as life nets, firemen and police officers yelled to the girls to aim for them, but as groups of women jumped together the blankets split under their weight and velocity. Worse, neither the fire engines’ water jets nor their aerial ladders could reach beyond the seventh floor of the building.
On the eighth floor, workers had grabbed for sand- and water-filled fire buckets, but the fire was too far out of control for them to be of any use. The crowd surged toward the two passenger elevators at the west end of the building. There, heroic elevator operators Joe Zito and Joe Gaspar herded in the women, taking a dozen at a time on fifteen or more trips each down to street level. Zito would later testify that he could hear the women hit the roof of his car as they leaped from the open elevator shaft doors they had pried open and jumped into. Police would later pull more than 25 charred bodies from atop the elevator.
The ninth floor was already a charnel house. A crush of terrified workers against doors designed to open inward had already closed off that means of exit. As Kate Alderman, a Triangle employee who survived the fire testified at the trial in December that year, she saw co-worker Margaret Schwartz die in the flames because no one could open the Washington Place stairway door: “I saw Bernstein, the manager’s brother, trying to open the door but he couldn’t… I pushed her aside. I tried to open the door, and I couldn’t… And then Margaret screamed at the top of her voice: ‘Open the door! Fire! I am lost, there is fire!’”
Alderman watched as the flames literally consumed Schwartz, then described how she escaped down a stairway: “And then I turned my coat on the wrong side and put it on my head with the fur to my face, the lining on the outside… I just got ready to go and somebody came and began… pulling my dress back, and I kicked her with my foot and she disappeared… I had a pocketbook with me, and that pocketbook began to burn. I pressed it to my heart to extinguish the fire, and I made my escape right through the flames: The whole door was aflame right to the roof.”
As the combustible materials burned themselves out, firemen were able to climb the steel stairways inside the building, extinguishing the fires on all three floors. What they found horrified even these veterans of grisly calamity: nineteen bodies melted against the locked exit door, two dozen more huddled in death in the company cloakroom, hands covering their faces. Fewer than twenty women had been able to use the fire escape before it collapsed into a grim, twisted ornament hanging limply from the building’s side, taking several other women to their deaths in a courtyard below as it fell. They began to cart bodies out of the upstairs ruins while their comrades and medical personnel from nearby St. Vincent’s and Bellevue hospitals collected the dead on the street. When Bellevue’s own morgue was filled to capacity, a makeshift mortuary was set up on the 26th Street pier; a call went out for more coffins, which were delivered from the indigent hospital and potter’s field on nearby Blackwell’s Island. Relatives of the factory workers began to descend on the morgues, seeking loved ones. The grim process of identifying the dead, many of whom were burned beyond recognition, went on through the night of 25 March. Wails and screams punctuated the chill night air as relatives had their worst fears realized. A week later, they were joined by more than 350,000 people, who participated in a funeral march in Manhattan for the Triangle dead.
The Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy did not occur in a vacuum. The industrial revolution had turned many of America’s inner-city factories into sweatshops, teeming with the cheap and willing labor of hordes of newly arrived immigrants, most of whom came through New York’s Ellis Island intake center. Two years earlier, in November of 1909, in what came to be known in labor history as the Uprising of the 20,000,  many garment workers and more—having initially failed in their bid for a twenty percent pay raise, a 52-hour work week, and extra pay for overtime— staged a multi-city strike. The strike shut down numerous factories in New York City alone; more than seventy of the smaller factories conceding to the union’s demands within the first two days, but the larger sweatshops, including Triangle, formed their own association and resisted, using tactics from political pressure to hired thugs beating up strikers. They were not without powerful allies— in addition to New York City police roughing up demonstrators, judges were inclined to convict and sentence female agitators on moral grounds. As one judge put it while sentencing a picketer for “incitement”: “You are striking against God and Nature, whose law is that man shall earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. You are on strike against God!”
The union women, however, had their own champions. Wealthy progressives like Frances Perkins, J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne, and Alva Belmont— already advocates of women’s suffrage— saw the labor uprising as an opportunity to move the women strikers’ concerns into a broader feminist struggle. They arranged huge rallies, fund-raising events, and paid the fines levied on arrested strikers.
Their tactics worked: once the large factories realized they had lost the war of public opinion, they agreed to shorter hours and higher pay. However— and this was crucial to setting the stage for the Triangle catastrophe— emboldened union supporters continued to press for a closed shop (where factories would hire only union members and compel owners to treat union and nonunion workers equally in hiring and pay decisions), something that even their progressive patrons deemed too radical at the time. In February of 1910, when the last strikers had settled, workers at Triangle and other large sweatshops returned to work fewer hours for a little more pay, but without the protection of the union on the shop floor. Management never addressed their safety demands, including unlocked doors in the factory and fire escapes that functioned. The stage had been set for tragedy.
The trial of Harris and Blanck in December heard 155 witnesses recount tales of horror before the jury. But presiding judge Thomas C.T. Crain kept the court’s focus extremely narrow— guilt or innocence of the charges of first-degree manslaughter turned on one key factor: that the exit door was not only locked but that it was locked during the very specific period of the fire, and that the defendants knew it was locked at that time.
It was likely that narrow focus that resulted in an acquittal of all charges when the jury returned its verdict on 27 December, barely three weeks since the trial began. Two years later, the owners settled a civil suit with 23 of the victims’ families, paying them each $75. As appalling as that seems (Blanck would be prosecuted once again in 1913 for locking an exit door during work hours at another factory, for which he received the minimum fine of $20), the perverse finding actually served as a catalyst for reform. The Division of Fire Prevention was created as part of the New York Fire Department, tasked with ridding factories of fire hazards. The New York State Legislature created the Factory Investigating Commission, whose leadership included Alfred E. Smith and Samuel Gompers, to investigate nearly two thousand factories in dozens of industries. They enacted new laws covering fire safety, factory inspections, sanitation, and employment of women and children. Among other restrictions, no doors were to be locked during working hours, and sprinkler systems were mandated. Ultimately, this initiative entirely rewrote New York State’s labor laws and created a State Department of Labor to enforce them. Citing the 35,000 annual deaths and two million injuries of workers at the turn of the twentieth century, compared to fewer than 4,400 workplace deaths nationally in 2009, workers’ compensation attorney and president of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial organization James McCarthy observes: “The historical connection of the Triangle to workplace safety is a watershed moment. Without the Triangle tragedy and the reforms which ensued, the present state of workplace safety could hardly be imagined.”
Rico says it's another piece of lost history...

Why it's not a Canadian province

Mike Coppock, a freelance writer from Enid, Oklahoma who teaches in Tuluksak, Alaska, has an article in History.com about Alaska:
The reason Alaska is not part of Canada has much to do with the Battle of Sitka (photo).
On the morning of 30 September 1804, an Eskimo chief, Katlian stood on a promontory that would become Sitka and stared out over a harbor choked with hundreds of Aleut baidarkas (Russian for kayak) and a small Russian warship, the Neva. Two years earlier, Katlian and his Tlingit warriors had massacred the 150 inhabitants of Redoubt St. Michael, founded by Russia-American Company governor Alexander Baranov, just six miles to the east. Baranov had purchased the land from the Sitka Tlingits in good faith. Now Baranov was back, having led this fleet of kayaks and the Russian warship across more than a thousand miles of open water to take back southeast Alaska.
The Tlingit warriors were armed with rifles and two cannons supplied by Hudson Bay Company traders who wanted the Russians removed. Katlian had already built a fall-back fortification a few miles to the south along Indian River. After Baranov charged the rock outcropping with a handful of Russian soldiers and allied Aleut warriors, the Tlingits retreated to their Indian River fortification. Baranov, wounded in the battle, had the fort bombarded by the Neva before ordering an assault by Russians and Aleuts. But Katlian had outflanked him by sending a force downriver, coming up behind the Russians and breaking up the attack.
For five days, Baranov kept the Tlingit fort under siege; meanwhile, British traders sent guns and ammunition to the besieged Tlingits. Unexpectedly, a British canoe carrying much-needed powder exploded. On the sixth day, the Russians discovered the Tlingits had left the fort, having covered the retreat of their families to the opposite side of the island and across a narrow straight to Chichagof Island.
The Battle of Sitka was over, and the Hudson Bay Company's attempt to rid Alaska of Russians was a failure. Baranov would strengthen Russia's claim to Alaska with additional settlements, even setting up a colony in Northern California and building forts in Hawaii. The Tlingits were banned from Baranof Island for as long as Baranov ruled Alaska.
Baranov moved Alaska’s capital from Kodiak to Sitka in 1808, in order to keep an eye on British activity in the Pacific Northwest, and the city would remain the capital until 1906. Baranov and subsequent Russian governors slowly transformed Sitka into the “Pearl of the Pacific”. Baranov built the first government offices on the top of the rock outcropping from which Tlingit chiefs had ruled. The building became known as Baranov's Castle and the rock as Castle Hill.
The small capital had icehouses, sawmills, brickyards, flour mills, and a shipyard. The first steamship on North America's west coast was built at Sitka. Baranov oversaw the construction of a lighthouse and a magnetic observatory. By the 1820s, Sitka was hosting gala balls, amateur theater, and serving wine to visiting ship captains. She boasted five schools—some being the first racially integrated schools in the New World—financed and set up out of Baranov's own pocket. Saint Michael’s Cathedral, the first Orthodox cathedral in the New World, which dominates Sitka’s heart, was dedicated in 1848.
Tlingits were allowed back on the island in 1821 after Baranov left, but the move proved to be problematic for the Russians in Sitka. The island soon found itself under an informal siege, as unhappy Tlingits gathered in ever-increasing numbers with their families just outside the capital's stockade. Tlingits attacked the Russian hospital at nearby Goddard Hot Springs in 1852 and, in 1855, Tlingit warriors rushed through the stockade that protected Sitka and would have taken the capital had it not been for point-blank Russian cannon fire. The attack lasted two hours, and the Russian governors soon found they did not have the manpower to drive the Tlingits off the island.
Americans inherited the explosive situation when they came to rule Alaska from Sitka in 1867. The United States never had enough troops in Alaska, with a total of just five hundred soldiers to patrol the entire massive land. When the US Army withdrew these troops in 1877 to be part of the fight against the Nez Perce, the situation seemed dire. In 1879, the British warship Osprey protected Sitka from renewed political advances by Tlingit warriors. Afterwards, the Navy stationed a warship at Sitka for the next twenty years.
In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison had the battle site around Indian River turned into the Sitka National Historical Park. Today sixteen replica Tlingit totems (the originals are housed in the park’s Totem Hall) are on display along its pathways. Visitors can watch Tlingit artists at work carving new totems for various villages and events.
The huge log buildings next to the park were once the campus of Sheldon Jackson College, dating back to 1878 when the Reverend John Brady transformed the former Army barracks into the Sitka Industrial and Training School to advance native education. The college closed in 2007 because of funding shortfalls.
Although Saint Michael's Cathedral burned down in 1966, it was rebuilt with many of the icons from the original edifice that were saved by Sitka residents braving the flames. Tours of the cathedral take place daily. Baranov's Castle burned down in 1894, and Castle Hill is now a park. But the Russian blockhouses and part of the stockade that held back Tlingit warriors remain in place, as does Bishop's House, built in 1842, from which Bishop Innocent Veniaminov guided Orthodox missionaries throughout Alaska.
The impressive white- and red-trimmed Alaska Pioneer Home, built in 1935, has a statue, The Prospector, in front. The model for the statue was William “Skagway Bill” Fonda, who had been part of the vigilante gang out to get famed Skagway outlaw Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith in 1898.
The O'Connell Bridge to Japonski Island, which was named in 1805 when Japanese fishermen shipwrecked on the island (Baranov had the fishermen returned to Japan in 1806), was built in 1971. It was the first vehicle cable bridge in the Western Hemisphere. The island also has many former military installations that were harbor defenses in case of a Japanese attack during World War Two. One military building became the Mount Edgecombe High School for rural Alaskans. Begun as a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in 1946, it became a state school in 1986. Though some aspects of Sitka’s history are faded from memory, the echoes of past encounters reverberate through many of these landmarks and throughout the island.
Rico says it's another place he's not likely to get to, even in the summertime, but it looks interesting...

Scam for the day

Rico says they're still at it:

Lucky sumbitch

William Broad has an article in The New York Times about James Cameron:
No sea monsters. No strange life. No fish. Just amphipods, tiny shrimplike creatures swimming across a featureless plane of ooze that stretched off into the primal darkness. “It was very lunar, a very desolate place,” James Cameron (photo), the movie director, said in a news conference after completing the first human dive in 52 years to the ocean’s deepest spot, nearly seven miles down in the western Pacific. “We’d all like to think there are giant squid and sea monsters down there,” he said, adding that such creatures still might be found. But on this dive he saw “nothing larger than about an inch across”, just the shrimplike creatures, which are ubiquitous scavengers of the deep.
His dive, which had been delayed by rough seas for about two weeks, did not go entirely as planned: his submersible’s robot arm failed to operate properly, and his time at the bottom was curtailed from a planned six hours to about three. It was not entirely clear why.
But he did emerge safely from the perilous trip, vowing to press on. The area he wants to explore, he said, was fifty times larger than the Grand Canyon. “I see this as the beginning,” Cameron said. “It’s not a one-time deal and then you move on. It’s the beginning of opening up this frontier.”
National Geographic, which helped sponsor the expedition to the area known as the Challenger Deep, said that Cameron, the maker of the movies Avatar and Titanic, began his dive on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, landed on the bottom at 5:52 p.m. and surfaced at 10 p.m. He conducted the news conference via satellite as he was being rushed to Guam in the hope of reaching London for the debut of Titanic 3-D.
Cameron plunged, solo, in a minisubmarine of his own design. The only other time humans have ventured that deep was in 1960, when the United States Navy sent two men down. Their craft’s landing stirred up so much ooze that the divers could see little. They stayed just twenty minutes.
The Challenger Deep lies off Guam and extends 6.8 miles below the surface. It is the lowest point of the Mariana Trench, the deepest of the many seabed recesses that crisscross the globe.
Cameron detailed his dive, via satellite, from the Octopus, a giant yacht owned by his friend Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Cameron described the Challenger Deep as possessing a bleak terrain that was all but barren of life. By contrast, he said, his dive five miles into the New Britain Trench off Papua, New Guinea, earlier this month revealed a relative riot of life, including jellyfish and a seabed marked by animal tracks. “I expected the same thing,” he told reporters. “I had this idea that life would adapt to the deepest places.”
The expedition had planned to bait the area with food that might have become a magnet for larger creatures lurking in the dark. But Cameron said his team had been unable to launch what it calls a lander, a robotic device resembling a skinny phone booth. “We didn’t have a chance to do that,” he said. “That’s going to be on the next dive, and we’ll see what’s attracted to the bait.”
Nor did Cameron get a chance to sample much of the sediment, grab rocks with the submersible’s robotic claw, or suck up small creatures with his “slurp gun”. “I lost my hydraulics” to the crushing pressure, he said. “This is to be expected. This is a prototype. It takes a while to iron out the bugs.” Previously, during his dive off Papua New Guinea, he had lost use of one of the submersible’s twelve thrusters.
Cameron said that the expedition had originally planned to conduct a dozen dives in all. But the rough seas and weather were reducing the window to perhaps three or four more. He called the ride down something of a shock, as the crew capsule quickly went from hot “like a sauna” to very cold. The steel walls caused his head and feet to cool, while his body stayed warm. “You’re in total darkness for most of the dive,” Cameron said. “It’s a completely alien world.”
Rico says he still hears Mrs. Tate's accent shredding Mariana Trench. But Cameron is seriously into this stuff, obviously...

History for the day

On 27 March 1958, Nikita Khrushchev became Soviet premier, in addition to first secretary of the Communist Party.

Sooner kiss his ass than his ring...

Rachel Donadio and Victoria Burnett have an article in The New York Times about Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba:
 Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba, declaring himself a “pilgrim of charity” and urging the island to move toward greater openness, freedom, and religious devotion. “I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons,” the pope said.
But although Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, greeted Benedict at the airport in Santiago de Cuba, where he said Cuba’s Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, that broadening may take some time.
Many worshipers at a festive Mass here had been pressured to attend by their employer or a local chapter of the Communist Party, and dissidents had been pressured not to attend, according to a Cuban priest who is among the clerics most critical of the government. A man who started shouting criticism of the government was quickly removed by security.
Benedict’s visit comes fourteen years after the historic first papal trip to Cuba by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, a visit that yielded an era of greater religious expression. In his speech at the airport, Benedict called John Paul’s visit “a gentle breath of fresh air which gave new strength to the church in Cuba.”
It is a delicate time for the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, where it has staked out a mediating role between the Cuban people and the Castro government. In a key moment in 2010, the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, helped negotiate the release of dozens of political prisoners. But others have criticized the church for being too close to the government.
At the airport, the pope told Cubans to “strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God.” He added, “It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it.”
Human rights groups have been pushing for the pope to meet with Cuban dissidents. The Vatican has said no such meetings are scheduled. But, at the airport, Benedict said that he carried in his heart “the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans”, singling out “prisoners and their families”.
In greeting Benedict, Castro saved his most pointed remarks for the United States. “The strongest power history has ever known has tried to strip us, fruitlessly, of the right to freedom, peace and justice,” he said, adding that the five-decade American embargo of Cuba was intended “to cause hunger and desperation and to overthrow the government”. The Vatican has long opposed the trade embargo, saying it harms the people more than the government.
Asked about Cuba on his plane on the way to Mexico, where he spent three days before traveling here, Benedict said: “Today it is evident that Marxist ideology, in the way it was conceived, no longer corresponds to reality.” Cuban officials brushed off the pope’s words, while Cubans on the streets knew nothing about them because they were not reported in the Cuban news media.
As an estimated two hundred thousand people gathered for Mass in Santiago de Cuba, including several groups of pilgrims from Miami, bands playing music and stands selling pizza and soft drinks evoked the atmosphere of a pop concert, one whose audience has been well orchestrated by the authorities. Placards indicated that groups had been shepherded by their place of work, their school, or their local chapter of the Communist Party, much in the same way the government mobilizes crowds for the huge May Day parade each year.
Before the Mass, the Reverend José Conrado of Santiago de Cuba, a critic of the government, said the opposition had reported government pressure on people to attend the Mass, and on opposition members to stay away. “The worst thing that the government could do was to oblige people who don’t want to come to Mass to do so and prevent people who do want to come from coming,” Father Conrado said.
Although more than half of Cubans identify themselves as Catholic, very few regularly attend Mass, while evangelical and Pentecostal churches have grown rapidly on the island, and Santeria, a belief system mixing African, Caribbean, and other religious elements, remains very popular.
While those who attended the Mass waved the traditional yellow-and-white flags of the Holy See, a voice came over a loudspeaker explaining what a priest does, who a priest is, and what communion is. Cardinal Ortega explained similar things in a rare address on television last week, apparently in an effort to educate Cubans before the visit.
Ángel García, a 25-year-old who had traveled eleven hours from Camagüey Province with a Catholic group, said attending the Mass was the most exciting moment he could remember. “It fills me with emotion,” he said. “It’s very exciting because maybe he can bring some kind of change. And we really need it.”
The pope is expected to visit the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, a tiny wooden icon revered by Cubans of all faiths as a source of good fortune, a gesture widely seen as intended to shore up popular devotion on the island. And the highlight of the trip is expected to be a large Mass for tens of thousands of people in Revolution Square in Havana.
Religious leaders hope Benedict will press the case for more liberty for the Cuban people, including allowing churches to run their own schools and broadcast services on radio and television. American officials anticipate that he will raise the case of a jailed American government contractor when he meets with President Castro. He is also expected to greet the president’s brother, and longtime Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a close friend of Fidel Castro, arrived in Cuba suddenly on Saturday night for medical treatment, but the Vatican spokesman has said that no meeting with the pope has been planned. Chávez has undergone cancer surgeries on the island in the last several months. A meeting with Chávez would “distract from the pope’s main reason for going to Cuba, which is to strengthen the role and influence of the Catholic Church on the island,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a research group in Washington. “It would be very strange and awkward for the pope to meet with Chávez, but not any Cuban dissidents,” he added.
Some at the Mass said they were not convinced the pope’s visit would lead to more freedom. “I came to experience two hours of liberty, as did many people here,” said a former railway worker who gave his name only as José Antonio. “Look around you, everyone is breathing. But he will leave,” he added about the Pope, “and darkness will fall again.”
Rico says one can only hope for a Cuban Spring, like the one the Arabs had, so that he and his father can go visit...

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