31 May 2012

Good advice

Rico says that Rob, the guy who blogs at Clublife, always has cogent stuff to say:
Here’s something else I’ve learned this month:
When someone fucks with you– assuming, to steal some legal terminology, you’re the “reasonable man”– your initial reaction, provided you don’t strike back right away, will be to seek out advice from rational people. You’ll explain your situation to these rational people, and most times, they’ll advise you to “handle things professionally”. This typically entails keeping your mouth shut, ignoring the problem, and getting your work done. By staying above the fray, at least in theory, you’re demonstrating far more by your actions than your words.
This advice, I can tell you from experience, is absolute shit.
You’re being fucked with. Someone is doing something to you that negatively affects your job and your life. You listen to your rational friends and do nothing. You keep quiet, you say nothing, and you simply go about your day in a professional manner like nothing’s wrong. This goes on for a while until you eventually get engrossed in something else and forget you’re being fucked with. You get used to cruising above it.
You know what this approach does? It gives the guy who’s fucking with you a several week head start. It also gives them the impression that you’re not going to do anything back – which, in turn, gives them license to be even more audacious in how they fuck with you. Seriously, if you fuck with someone, and the guy doesn’t do anything back – and you’re still at a point where you haven’t gotten his attention or anyone else’s – it’s human nature to want to escalate things until someone takes notice and you start getting your way. Of course, that’s not how grown men operate, but that’s not the group I’m referring to here, obviously.
My advice, after having this happen to me, is to go the opposite way. You can’t keep your mouth shut. I knew this perfectly well going into my most recent situation because I’ve been fucked with before – by people who are professionals at fucking with other people. When you’re dealing with amateurs, however, it’s very easy to feel a false sense of security and assume nothing’s going to come of it. Don’t fall into this trap, though, because it’ll drag you straight into their fucking morass of bullshit – especially with amateurs, because they get sloppy and go for broke after a while. They’re too stupid and impatient not to.
The lesson here?
When someone fucks with you, particularly with regard to your money, you need to make it stop. Immediately, especially when you’re being fucked with by stupid, talentless people who don’t understand the consequences of what they’re doing.
And for people who fuck with other people? Fucking with your superiors then tattling on them when they complain about it only lets the world know for sure what it already suspected: that you really are a Grade A pussy.

History for the day

History.com deals with the ancient issue of Alger Hiss today:
Born 11 November 1904 in Baltimore, Maryland and died 15 November 1996 in New York City, Hiss (photo) was a former State Department official who was convicted in January of 1950 of perjury concerning his dealings with Whittaker Chambers, who accused him of membership in a Communist espionage ring. His case, which came at a time of growing apprehension about the domestic influence of Communism, seemed to lend substance to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's sensational charges of Communist infiltration into the State Department. It also brought to national attention Richard M. Nixon, then a representative from California, who was prominent in the investigation that led to the indictment of Hiss.
Hiss was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University (BA, 1926; Phi Beta Kappa) and of Harvard Law School (1926–29) and was law clerk from 1929 to 1930 to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1933 he entered government service in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration and served successively in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State. He attended the Yalta Conference in 1945 as an adviser to Roosevelt, and later served as temporary secretary-general of the United Nations during the San Francisco Conference. In 1946 he was elected president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a position he held until 1949.
In 1948, Chambers, a self-professed former courier for a Communist underground “apparatus” in Washington, D.C., accused Hiss of having been a member of the same “apparatus” before World War Two. Hiss denied the charge, which was originally made before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. When Chambers repeated the charge publicly, away from the House committee chamber where his words were protected by congressional immunity, Hiss sued him for slander. On 6 December 1948, the House committee released sworn testimony that Hiss had provided Chambers with certain classified State Department papers for transmission to a Soviet agent. Hiss promptly denied the accusation “without qualification”. In a federal grand-jury investigation of the case, both Chambers and Hiss testified; and Hiss was indicted on 15 December on two charges of perjury, specifically charging that Hiss lied both when he denied that he had given any documents to Chambers and when he testified that he did not talk to Chambers after 1 January 1937. Arraigned, Hiss pleaded not guilty. Hiss' first trial in 1949 ended in a hung jury. In the second trial, which ended early in 1950, he was found guilty. At both trials Chambers' sanity was a prominent issue. After serving more than three years of a five-year prison sentence, Hiss was released in 1954, still asserting his innocence. During the following decades the issue of Hiss' guilt was kept open by outspoken defenders, principally from the American political left, who consistently maintained that he had been unjustly convicted.
In 1992, Hiss asked Russian officials to check the newly opened archives of the former Soviet Union for information pertaining to the case. Later that year General Dmitri A. Volkogonov, a historian and chairman of the Russian government's military intelligence archives, announced that a comprehensive search had revealed no evidence that Hiss had been involved in a Soviet spy ring. Many scholars, however, doubted that any search could divulge all the secrets of the complex Soviet intelligence operation—Volkogonov's search did not include Soviet military intelligence files—and therefore felt that the question of Hiss' innocence remained unresolved. In 1996 the release of secret Soviet cables that had been intercepted by American intelligence during World War Two provided strong evidence for Hiss' guilt.

Rico is fed up

Rico says that all the news about men abusing other people (women, children, whatever) has gotta stop.
Bad enough that men abuse each other (wars, crime, etc.), but doing it to defenseless women and children is not only chickenshit, it's not manly, and it's just plain wrong.
Beatings, torture, public executions, whatever it takes. As an example, General Nguyen (photo; see explanation below) didn't fuck around with trials...
General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon is a photograph taken by Eddie Adams on 1 February 1968. It shows South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Việt Cộng officer in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The event was also captured by NBC News film cameras, but Adams' photograph remains the defining image. There is also some dispute as to the identity of the man who is being executed in the photograph. It has been claimed that he was either Nguyễn Văn Lém or Lê Công Nà, a similar looking man who was also a member of the Việt Cộng and died during the Tet Offensive. The families of both men claimed that the Viet Cong officer in the photo looks very similar to their relative. Neither family could say for sure. Lém was captured and brought to Loan, then Chief of National Police of the Republic of Viet Nam. Using his sidearm, a Smith & Wesson Model 38 "Bodyguard", Nguyễn Ngọc Loan summarily executed Lém in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement; Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph.
South Vietnamese sources attested that Lém commanded a Việt Cộng death squad which, on that day, had murdered South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families; these sources said that Lém was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of Loan's deputy, and six of whom were Nguyễn's godchildren. Lém's widow confirmed that her husband was a member of the Việt Cộng and that she did not see him after the Tet Offensive began. Shortly after the execution, a South Vietnamese official who had not been present said that Lém was only a political operative.
The photo won Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, though he was later said to have regretted its impact. The image became an anti-war icon. Concerning Loan and his famous photograph, Adams wrote in Time:
“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths... What the photograph didn't say was: 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two, or three American soldiers?”
Adams later apologized in person to General Nguyễn and his family for the damage it did to his reputation. When Loan died of cancer in Virginia, Adams praised him: "The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him."

Another one gone missing

Ronnie Polaneczky has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about a missing young woman:
Franchesca Alvarado, where, oh, where are you?
Back on 13 March, you went to Atlantic City for the evening with an older male friend named Tracy Williams, who drove you there. You were going to have some fun before registering for classes the following week at the Community College of Philadelphia. You were thrilled, at age 22, to be starting college life as a criminal-justice major.
You were last seen around Resorts and the Borgata, but you never came home that night, as you’d planned to.
Your brother and six sisters (photo of 'Mia') have not heard from you, which is alarming. You’re a tight family, having survived a tough childhood together, and you’re never out of touch with each other for more than a day or so. And you would never have left your three-year-old daughter, Janiah, the light of your life, whom you’d placed with a sitter for the night. Your credit cards, phone, and Facebook page have gone dormant, too.
Your siblings are sick with worry. They are running out of ways to explain your absence to Janiah, who is staying with your sister Frances, and your friend Yari. They tell her you are working, but she’s a bright kid and can sense that something is wrong. Another sister, Christine, says that Janiah has taken to praying at bedtime for your protection."She’s very spiritual; Cheka taught her to pray," says Christine, using your childhood nickname. "She prays all the time."
Neither Christine, Frances, nor Yari wanted their last names used because they are afraid.
According to Lieutenant Harold Lloyd, of Philadelphia’s East Detectives, Tracy Williams said that he and you split off from each other in Atlantic City, that you announced you’d find your own way back to Philly.
Frances, who says that no one in the family is acquainted with Williams, finds the notion ridiculous. You’re a homebody, would never leave the city by yourself and have been to the Jersey shore so infrequently you’d be scared of climbing aboard the wrong bus back.
Lloyd says that his detectives, who are working with Atlantic City police and the FBI, questioned Williams extensively and that, in the beginning, he was cooperative. Now, Williams has lawyered up and refuses to take a polygraph.
"This is very much an ongoing investigation, so I can’t say whether Williams is or is not a person of interest," Lloyd told me. "We are working on some new leads."
Franchesca, your family can’t say enough good things about the Philly police. The detectives have been serious and thorough about your disappearance since the beginning. State Representative Tony Payton has also been committed to helping your siblings find you.
"We are in his office every other day, using the color copier for fliers" seeking information as to your whereabouts, says Frances. "He’s always in touch. We have so many people who care about my sister."
Frances wouldn’t mind my saying that she cries for you every day. The day that I met with her at Piccoli Playground, in Juniata Park, where you and she would take your kids to play (her two little ones are like siblings to Janiah), she wept as she rifled through the stack of posters that she and your siblings carry around like Bibles.
They push them into the hands of anyone who will take them. They post them in the Hunting Park neighborhood where you were living, and around West Kensington, Williams’ neighborhood. Every other week, they trek to Atlantic City, where they plaster the Boardwalk with your photo.
Whoever is responsible for your absence, says Frances, must have known of your tough background and presumed, wrongly, that no one would miss you if you were gone. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"We are all very, very close," says Frances. "Our dad is in prison, and my mom was sick when we were growing up. She passed when Cheka was nine and I was thirteen. Before she died, she told me to always look after Cheka. We were the youngest and she wanted us to stick together."
During that dark time, a relative sexually abused you and Frances, and it took a long time to come to grips with what was done to you. Healing together formed a bond between you and Frances that will never be broken. Your other siblings’ support only strengthened your love as a family.
They miss you, Franchesca— your huge smile, big heart, the way you’d drop everything to help them. What hurts them is that this terrible thing has befallen you just as you were coming into your own, surviving a childhood that not many girls would survive with their spirits intact.
You did. That you might not be around to revel in your survival, to raise your daughter with the stability you never had, is unthinkable.
Please come home, Franchesca. Your family misses you terribly.
The family of Franchesca Alvarado is offering a reward for information on her whereabouts. If you can help, call East Detectives at 215-686-3243 or Christine, Franchesca’s sister, at 267-241-9592. For updates on Facebook, join "Find Franchesca Cheka Alvarado."
Rico says that someone should visit Mister Williams with a stun gun and start asking awkward questions...

History for the day

On 31 May 1889, more than two thousand people perished when a dam break sent water rushing through Johnstown, Pennsylvania (period photo).

Stupid is as stupid does

The Associated Press has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about a uniformed idiot:
Authorities say a Harrisburg police officer shot his wife in the buttocks as he was showing his department-issued gun to family and friends during a weekend cookout at his home.
Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said that the gun issued to Officer William Owens discharged and struck the officer's wife.
Marsico said he believes the shooting was an accident, but charges could be filed if an investigation determines Owens acted recklessly. Owens' wife was treated at a hospital after the incident.
A city spokesman said the officer has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of an investigation.
Rico asks 'recklessly'? What kind of moron (and supposedly a trained officer) shows his firearm to anyone without unloading it first?

Yeah, blame the computer

Rico says he wants to go to the new Barnes museum (photo), but Stephan Salisbury has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about opening-day problems:
Life was definitely quieter at the Barnes Foundation galleries on Wednesday. Gone were the dancers, the choirs, the jazz combos, the string players— the hundreds of performers who seemed to play nonstop throughout the grand-opening weekend that featured 56 consectutive hours of free, ticketed admission. And gone, mercifully, were the cascading ticket snafus that had caused long lines, anger, disappointment, and bad blood at various times throughout the weekend— regardless of music.
Beginning last Thursday and intensifying Friday and Saturday before tapering off Sunday and Memorial Day, visitors to the brand-new Barnes on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway were greeted with increasingly long waits to get into the galleries— despite having timed tickets that should have alleviated extended waiting.
Once inside, some visitors were rushed through galleries— teeming with works by Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, and other early modern masters— in an hour or less; some were told they could not visit the second floor; others were compelled to join a tour that zipped through room after room at Indy 500 speeds.
The root of the problem, say Barnes officials, appears to have been a new computer ticketing system that quietly began double-booking the galleries. The system should not have okayed more than a hundred and fifty or so tickets per hour, but it set its own priorities and began spewing out approvals at an alarming rate. The problem did not become evident until Thursday, when Barnes officials noticed a significant buildup in attendance.
Faced with a burgeoning crowd of expectant patrons and a commitment to limit the number of visitors to the small galleries, Barnes officials said they implemented stop-gap measures: hasty tours, time limits, and waiting. "We winged it," said a spokeswoman. "By Friday we began putting something in place, but we knew we’d have problems Friday and Saturday."
On those days, not wanting to turn anyone away, Barnes officials began postponing admissions to the galleries, which simply pushed the crowd down the road, creating even more problems for those who came later. Some visitors waited for as long as three hours to enter.
Barnes officials said the gremlin in the computer system has been located and removed, and visitors on Wednesday said they experienced no problems with tickets or timing.
Barnes officials said they have offered those visitors who were unable to wait free tickets for some future date. "All of these systems are new and we really didn’t have time to test everything before we went operational," a Barnes spokeswoman lamented. "We didn’t build in enough testing time."

30 May 2012

The Vietnam War is over

Rico says that if Florence Fabricant, a food critic for The New York Times, is touting the latest hot restaurant in Hanoi, the War is officially over:
Up a flight of rickety stairs in Hanoi is a hundred-year-old restaurant that is often a must-not-miss in guidebooks. It serves one iconic, delicious dish, called cha ca la Vong, which also happens to be the name of the restaurant. In the bright, noisy dining room, packed with communal tables set with little charcoal burners, a skillet of fish and other components arrives, and you submit to a brusque ceremony of tabletop cooking and do-it-yourself assembly.
The combination of ingredients— turmeric, dill, shrimp paste, and fish sauce— delivers an intriguing muskiness bolstered with chiles, silky noodles, and a thicket of other fresh herbs to season the chunks of moist fish. My memories are still vivid after ten years. (Judging from many blog posts, recent visitors have had a more negative experience: touristy and expensive.)
But the dish has made a strong impression on today’s cutting-edge chefs, who are intrigued by the surprising abundance of dill, an herb that is rarely associated with Southeast Asian cuisine. Those who have been to the restaurant (and some who have not) are now bringing it to American tables.
Michael Bao Huynh, who owns BaoBQ restaurants in downtown Manhattan and is from Saigon, noted that dill is uncommon in Vietnamese dishes and that, when it is used, it is more in the North, especially in the cha ca dish and in a fish soup. The version he serves, called bun cha ca, is made with grilled catfish satays with herbs over rice vermicelli.
Andy Ricker, the Portland, Oregon, chef who has won a national reputation for his take on Southeast Asian food, made a point of going to Hanoi in 2005 to taste cha ca la Vong. Though his restaurant, Pok Pok, features mostly Thai food, he has been serving the dish since the place opened in 2006, and has put it on the menu of his New York branch, Pok Pok NY, which opened in April on Columbia Street, near the waterfront in Brooklyn. His recipe, which he calls “a stab at the famous dish”, is made with a Vietnamese catfish called basa.
Angelo Sosa, who tucked his take on the dish into a baguette when he owned Xie Xie in Hell’s Kitchen, has started serving it again at Social Eatz, his year-old place in Midtown. He slathers seared turmeric-marinated tilapia with sriracha mayonnaise and sweet onion jam. He also offers a version with a whole broiled flounder and turmeric oil. He said his experience of the Hanoi restaurant and its signature dish “was one of the greatest food memories of my life, a reason to go to Vietnam.”
Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who has also been to Cha Ca La Vong, interprets the Vietnamese dish as a salad made with halibut at his Spice Market, which opened in 2003 in the meatpacking district. “We use dill and cucumbers,” he said. “It’s very fresh and still on the menu.”
At Talde, a new restaurant in Park Slope in Brooklyn, Dale Talde serves roasted branzino with cha ca seasonings, including turmeric and herbs, an idea he said he got from Sosa. And Lon Symensma, formerly the chef at Buddakan and now the chef and an owner of ChoLon in Denver, is serving cha ca la taco at lunch. “I was always intrigued with the amount of dill in the dish,” he said, “but it makes sense once you try it.”
Simpson Wong, whose new Asian fusion restaurant in Greenwich Village is called Wong, went to Cha Ca La Vong in 2009 with his mother. “She loved that dish, and that was a big influence for me,” he said. “I tried it at home, and it was a big hit with my friends, so I knew it had to go on the menu.” He could not resist the play on words, calling it cha ca la Wong.
Wong’s many-layered interpretation is something of a monster, calling for an encounter with a well-stocked Vietnamese or Thai store or website. His recipe omits the stinky shrimp paste, and he prefers fresh turmeric to the ground variety, because it is less bitter. He uses only a little of the ground spice as a binder. The turmeric on the fish seasons the oil, though his recipe is not as oily as the original. And he warns a cook to wear gloves because turmeric stains.
Once the various components are assembled, the cooking is fast, and the payoff is worth the effort. It is less demanding than a trip to Vietnam, though these days you don’t need a plane ticket to taste the dish in a restaurant.

Star Trek, the reality

Ben Johnson and the magazine's staff have a Slate article about a new hypodermic needle:
Does even the sight of someone getting the needle make you squirm? All those with the hypodermic heebee-jeebees will be happy to hear that scientists at MIT have developed a new drug injection system that uses a near-supersonic jet stream instead of a needle.
This new needleless needle uses a device known as a Lorentz Force Actuator, a strong magnet and wire coil that fires a tiny piston at high speed when current is applied to the coil. The delivery system has remarkable control over the fluid it is injecting, allowing variable-speed delivery, ultra-accurate dosages, and even the injection of solids into the body.
The biggest upside? It's painless, making a hole no larger than a mosquito does, that heals up in a day. Still in prototype, and quite costly, the new device still shows a promising future. And, yes, Trekkies, it does sound a whole lot like the hypospray.

The new iPhone

Rico says he will, of course, want one, but Jared Newman has a Time article about the next iPhone:
What do we have here? It’s the backside of Apple’s next iPhone, at least according to 9to5Mac’s supply chain sources.
The image shows a smaller bezel on the top and bottom of the phone, possibly to make room for that 4-inch screen we’ve been hearing about. As 9to5Mac previously reported– also based on unnamed sources— the next iPhone will have a 3.99-inch display with 1136-by-640 resolution, so the screen will be taller than that of previous iPhones, but no wider. The leaked image shows that Apple could get that extra space from the bezel, so the phone itself won’t be much taller.
A few other interesting tidbits from the image: the iPhone’s back panel is covered with metal instead of glass, the headphone jack has relocated to the bottom side of the device and the dock connector is much smaller (yet another thing we’ve heard about before).
9to5Mac also notes that the metal antenna around the sides of the device is molded into the backplates. That, along with the smaller dock connector, could leave more room inside for a bigger battery, which Apple would need if the next iPhone will support 4G LTE networks.
On the same day as this leak, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the All Things Digital conference, and hinted at a new iPhone design: “There’s not a policy or commandment that says ‘Thou shalt have One’,” Cook said. “If we find that we can do more, great.”
Then again, Cook also exalted Apple’s ability to avoid fragmentation: “We have one phone with one screen size, one resolution,” he said. “So it’s pretty simple if you’re a developer.” If Apple introduced a new screen resolution for the next iPhone, it would mean more work for app makers.
Cook also said Apple was going to crack down on leaks. ”We’re going to double down on secrecy,” Cook said. “I’m very serious about this. Double down.”
Seeing as even the juiciest rumors have lost their sense of excitement, Cook may be too late for this iPhone product cycle.

Another good one gone

William Grimes has an article in The New York Times about Doc Watson:
Doc Watson (photo), the guitarist and folk singer whose flat-picking style elevated the acoustic guitar to solo status in bluegrass and country music, and whose interpretations of traditional American music profoundly influenced generations of folk and rock guitarists, died on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was 89.
Watson, who had been blind since he was a baby, died in a hospital after recently undergoing abdominal surgery. His daughter, Nancy Ellen Watson, said he had been hospitalized after falling at his home in Deep Gap, North Carolina, adding that he did not break any bones, but was very ill.
Watson, who came to national attention during the folk music revival of the early 1960s, injected a note of authenticity into a movement awash in protest songs and bland renditions of traditional tunes. In a sweetly resonant, slightly husky baritone, he sang old hymns, ballads, and country blues he had learned growing up in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, which has produced fiddlers, banjo pickers and folk singers for generations.
His mountain music came as a revelation to the folk audience, as did his virtuoso guitar playing. Unlike most country and bluegrass musicians, who thought of the guitar as a secondary instrument for providing rhythmic backup, Watson executed the kind of flashy, rapid-fire melodies normally played by a fiddle or a banjo. His style influenced a generation of young musicians learning to play the guitar as folk music achieved national popularity.
“He is single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and fingerpicking guitar performance,” said Ralph Rinzler, the folklorist who discovered Watson in 1960. “His flat-picking style has no precedent in earlier country music history.”
Arthel Lane Watson was born in Stoney Fork, North Carolina, the sixth of nine children, on 3 March 1923. His father, General Dixon Watson, was a farmer and day laborer who led the singing at the local Baptist church. His mother, Annie, sang old-time ballads while doing household chores and at night sang the children to sleep.
When Watson was still an infant, an eye infection left him blind, and the few years of formal schooling he received were at the Raleigh School for the Blind. His musical training, typical for the region, began in early childhood. At the age of five or six, he received his first harmonica as a Christmas gift, and at eleven his father made him a fretless banjo with a head made from the skin of a family cat that had just died.
Arthel dropped out of school in the seventh grade and began working for his father, who helped him get past his disability. “I would not have been worth the salt that went in my bread if my dad hadn’t put me at the end of a crosscut saw to show me that there was not a reason in the world that I couldn’t pull my own weight and help to do my part in some of the hard work,” he told Frets magazine in 1979.
By then, Arthel had moved beyond the banjo. His father, hearing him plucking chords on a borrowed guitar, promised to buy him his own guitar if he could teach himself a song by the end of the day. The boy taught himself the Carter Family’s When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland, and a week later he was the proud owner of a twelve-dollar Stella guitar.
Watson initially employed a thumb-picking style, in which the thumb establishes a bass line on the lower strings while the rest of the fingers pick out a melody or chords. That soon changed. “I began listening to Jimmie Rodgers recordings seriously and I figured, ‘Hey, he must be doing that with one of them straight picks,’ ” he told Dirty Linen magazine in 1995. “So I got me one and began to work at it. Then I began to learn the Jimmie Rodgers licks on the guitar, then all at once I began to figure out, ‘Hey, I could play that Carter stuff a lot better with a flat pick.’”
To pay for a new Martin guitar bought on the installment plan, Watson played for tips at a cab stand in Lenoir, North Carolina. Before long, he was appearing at amateur contests and fiddlers’ conventions. One day, as he prepared to play for a radio show being broadcast from a furniture store, the announcer decided that the young guitarist needed a snappier name and appealed to the audience for suggestions. A woman yelled out, “Doc!,” and the name stuck. (Last year, a life-size statue of Watson was dedicated in Boone, North Carolina at another spot where he had once played for tips to support his family. At his request the inscription read: Just One of the People.)
In 1947 he married Rosa Lee Carlton, the daughter of a local fiddler. The couple’s first child, Merle, took up the guitar and began performing with his father in 1964. Their partnership, which produced twenty albums, ended with Merle Watson’s death at 36 in a tractor accident in Lenoir in 1985. Watson is survived by his wife; his daughter, Nancy Ellen; a brother, David; two grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.
In 1953, Watson began playing electric guitar with a country dance band, Jack Williams and the Country Gentlemen. The band usually played without a fiddle, so Watson learned how to play lead fiddle parts on the guitar, often complicated melodies executed at top speed. This technique, which he carried over to the acoustic guitar, became a hallmark, exemplified by his much-imitated version of Black Mountain Rag.
In 1960, Rinzler, the folklorist, was attending a fiddlers’ convention in Union Grove, North Carolina, when he encountered Clarence Ashley, an old-time folk musician better known as Tom Ashley, whom he persuaded to sit for a recording session. Ashley put together a group of top local musicians that included Watson on banjo and guitar. Impressed, Rinzler went to Watson’s home and recorded him with family members, including his father-in-law, Gaither Carlton.
A year later, Watson, Ashley, and several other musicians gave a concert at P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village, sponsored by the Friends of Old Time Music. The performance led to appearances at colleges and folk festivals and a solo career for Watson, who became a star attraction at clubs like Gerdes Folk City and an audience favorite for his folksy, humorous banter onstage. He was invited to appear at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and 1964. In 1963 he performed at Town Hall in Manhattan with the bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe.
In the meantime Folkways released Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s and The Watson Family, and Vanguard released Watson’s first solo album, Doc Watson. His recordings for Folkways and Vanguard in the 1960s are regarded as classics.
Despite his image, Watson was not a folk-music purist. Even as a child, he absorbed big-band jazz and the guitar playing of Django Reinhardt, whose records he heard at school. “I can’t be put in a box,” he told Fred Metting, the author of The Life, Work, and Music of the American Folk Artist Doc Watson, published in 2006. “I play traditional music and whatever else I’m drawn to.”
His catholic tastes expressed themselves on albums like Good Deal! (1968), recorded in Nashville with mainstream country musicians; Docabilly (1995), a return to the kind of rock ’n’ roll he had played in the 1950s; and the eclectic Memories (1975), which included “field hollers, black blues, sacred music, mountain music, gospel, rhythm and blues, even traces of jazz,” the critic Chet Flippo wrote in his liner notes.
Folk audiences, however, saw Watson as a direct conduit to the roots music of Appalachia, which he played with conviction. “To me the old-time fiddling, the old-time ballads— there never was anything prettier and there never will be,” he said.
Watson found touring hard to bear. “For a green country man not really used to the city, it was a scary thing to come to New York and wonder, ‘Will that guy meet me there at the bus station, and will the bus driver help me change buses?’ and all that stuff, people not knowing you’re blind and stepping on your feet,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s scary, the road is.”
In 1964 Merle Watson, then fifteen, joined him as a rhythm guitarist and eased most of the burdens of the road from his father’s shoulders. The two performed together for twenty years, receiving Grammy Awards for the albums Then and Now in 1974, Two Days in November in 1975 and Big Sandy/Leather Britches in 1980. A sampling of their work was collected on Watson Country: Doc and Merle Watson in 1996.
Waning interest in folk music slowed Watson’s career in the late 1960s, but in 1972 he was invited to contribute to Will the Circle Be Unbroken, an album that paired the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with country artists like Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis (Merle Watson’s namesake) and Earl Scruggs. The record’s success brought Watson a new audience, and he and Merle toured constantly until Merle’s death.
Watson returned to the road a week after the funeral. Merle, he said, had appeared to him in a dream and urged him to carry on. In his son’s honor, he helped found an annual music festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, now known as Merlefest.
In the post-Merle period, Watson won Grammys for the albums Riding the Midnight Train in 1987, On Praying Ground in 1991, and Legacy in 2003. His fingers were dexterous well into old age, as he showed on the track Whiskey Before Breakfast, recorded with the guitarist Bryan Sutton, which won a Grammy for best country instrumental performance in 2007. In concerts he was often joined on guitar by his grandson Richard, Merle’s son.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented Watson with the National Medal of Arts at the White House. “There may not be a serious, committed baby boomer alive who didn’t at some point in his or her youth try to spend a few minutes at least trying to learn to pick a guitar like Doc Watson,” Clinton said.
Quiet and unassuming offstage, Watson played down his virtuoso guitar playing as nothing more than “country pickin’”. He told interviewers that, had he not been blind, he would have become an auto mechanic and been just as happy.
“He wants to be remembered as a pretty good old boy,” said the guitarist Jack Lawrence, who had played with Watson since the early 1980s. “He doesn’t put the fact that he plays the guitar as more than a skill.”
Rico says that God (assuming there is one) must've quoted Alexander Graham Bell (not Sherlock Holmes) and said: "Watson, come here. I need you."

Taylor sentenced to fifty years

Abby Ohlheiser has a Slate article about a Liberian trial:
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor (photo) was sentenced to fifty years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Last month, the UN-backed court found Taylor guilty on eleven charges in connection with arming notoriously brutal rebels in nearby Sierra Leone in exchange for so-called blood diamonds. It's the first time a former head of state has been convicted in an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunals.
According to the Associated Press, Taylor, 64, will serve his time in Britain, but will likely remain near The Hague in the Netherlands while both the defense and prosecution consider appeals. The defense, likely to file an immediate appeal, had asked for a sentence that would have allowed Taylor some hope of release before he dies. The prosecution, meanwhile, had asked for an eighty-year sentence.
Prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the AP: "It is important, in our view, that those responsible for criminal misconduct on a massive scale are not given a volume discount", apparently referring to the fifty-year sentence. Prosecutors may also appeal to attempt to assign more responsibility for the crimes examined by the court, The New York Times notes. Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes against humanity, but not guilty of directly controlling the rebels in Sierra Leone.
At the sentencing, the presiding judge, Richard Lussick, said that the court agreed unanimously on the fifty-year sentence, noting that there was no precedent for a former head of state. An eighty-year sentence, he said, was "excessive," because Taylor was not convicted on charges of directly carrying out the war crimes.

Obama angers the Poles

Abby Ohlheiser has a Slate article about the Poles and the President:
President Obama awarded a posthumous Medal of Freedom to a Polish war hero, but nonetheless managed to upset much of Poland in the process. The incident in question occurred when the president was honoring Jan Karski, a resistance fighter in Poland against Nazi occupation during World War Two. "Before one trip across enemy lines," Obama recounted of Karski, who died in 2000, "resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself."
The problem? Poland doesn't take too kindly to anyone referring to World War Two concentration camps as "Poland death camps". (This has been an issue before.)
After Polish politicians quickly expressed their displeasure with the president's choice of words, the White House said that Obama meant no offense and merely misspoke.
Still, that wasn't enough to quell Polish anger. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusks responded to the White House correction on Wednesday, saying in a statement that Obama's remarks were "painful" and a "distortion of history", adding "I am convinced that today, our American friends are capable of a stronger reaction."
Rico says okay, okay, they were German death camps in Poland... Is that better?

No priests in parks, then, too

Ian Lovett has an article in The New York Times about limitations on sex offenders:
Convicted sex offenders are barred from surfing at the famous pier in the Orange County, California city of Huntington Beach. In nearby Dana Point, they are prohibited from casting a fishing line in the harbor. And if they wander into a public park (photo) in Mission Viejo, they could be shipped back to jail for six months, following the City Council’s vote this year to ban them from a host of places where children congregate. “We need to protect our kids,” the Orange County district attorney, Tony Rackauckas, had told the Mission Viejo City Council. “The danger is very real.”
Orange County finds itself at the enter of a new wave of laws restricting the movement of sex offenders. The county government and a dozen cities here have banned sex offenders from even setting foot in public parks, on beaches, and at harbors, rendering almost half the parks in Orange County closed to them. Ten more cities are considering similar legislation. And Orange County is far from alone. In recent years, communities around the country have gone beyond regulating where sex offenders can live and begun banning them outright from a growing list of public places.
From North Carolina to Washington State, communities have designated swimming pools, parks, and school bus stops as “child safety zones”, off-limits to some sex offenders. They are barred from libraries in half a dozen Massachusetts cities, and from all public facilities in tiny Huachuca City, Arizona.
“Child safety zones are being passed more and more at the city and county level,” said Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “It’s becoming more and more restrictive. They’re not only limiting where sex offenders can live, but they’re limiting their movement as well.”
The proliferation of such restrictions reflects the continued concerns of parents and lawmakers about potential recidivism among sex offenders. But it has also increasingly raised questions about their effectiveness, as well as their fairness.
Opponents have dismissed “child safety zones” as unenforceable, saying they are designed to make politicians look tough on crime and drive sex offenders from the area, not make children safer. “These are cheap laws that can be passed to make people feel good,” said Charles P. Ewing, author of Justice Perverted: Sex Offense Law, Psychology, and Public Policy.
Irene Pai, a lawyer with the Orange County public defender’s office, said “child safety zones” give parents a false sense of security, punishing many offenders who are not dangerous without actually stopping predators from entering parks. Pai said she had a stack of cases involving people who were arrested for urinating in public in the 1970s and pleaded guilty to indecent exposure without realizing they would have to register as sex offenders. “The very notion that a park ordinance could in any way protect children, more than an attentive caregiver’s presence or any other way we protect our children, is absurd,” she said.
Greg Bird was convicted of indecent exposure in 2001. Since then, Bird said, he has gotten married and turned his life around. But he now pauses at the idea of having children of his own, because he knows he could not even take them to the park to play catch. “Sometimes I wonder, is there any compassion?” Bird said. “I know I don’t deserve compassion. I broke the law. I get that. But these laws set people up to fail more.”
In some cities, law enforcement has done very little to enforce child safety zones. In Albuquerque, where some sex offenders have been banned from libraries since 2008, with some exceptions, the police have never even issued a trespass notice, a prerequisite to an arrest.
Thus far, the parks bans here have led to just three convictions across the entire county.
Still, Rackauckas said he was satisfied that the laws were serving as a deterrent. “We’re not going to know how many kids were not molested or groomed for later sexual contact as a result of this law,” he said.
At La Bonita Park in La Habra, California, parents largely supported the ban. “I feel better bringing my two-year-old grandson to the park now,” said Barbara Bellen, 51.
And, once one community has enacted “child safety zones,” they often spread quickly to nearby towns, as municipal governments fear becoming local havens for sex offenders.
In Lake County, Florida this year, county commissioners— surrounded by communities with tough laws on sex offenders— responded with some of the most restrictive measures anywhere, including a law prohibiting sex offenders from going within three hundred feet of a park, school, or playground. “We wanted to assure our residents that if they took their kids to the playground, they wouldn’t have to worry about someone in the parking lot across the street watching them,” said Leslie Campione, a county commissioner.
Even so, in Lake County a lower-level offender like Bird would be allowed to visit the park as often as he liked, because the ban applies only to those whose crimes were against minors.
Not so in Orange County, where the prohibitions are among the most severe yet, aimed at all sorts of offenders.
Sex offenders here can apply to the Orange County sheriff’s department to be allowed into a county park. So far, fifteen applications have been submitted; all but one have been denied.
One applicant requested access to Dana Point Harbor to continue working as a commercial fisherman. Another was a locksmith who did work at businesses at the harbor, and said he had a clean record during 28 years living in the area. A third wanted to attend a memorial service for his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who had recently died. All three requests were turned down.
Since Orange County set up its child safety zones, twelve cities in the county, two other counties in California, and two cities in Arizona have all done the same. With the exception of Irvine, California, all of them have applied the ban to all registered sex offenders.
Joe Carchio, a city councilman in Huntington Beach, where a park ban went into effect in December, said he felt bad for lower-level offenders whose convictions many years ago prevent them from taking their children to Little League games. Still, he wishes he could have made the restrictions even broader. “In a lot of ways, it is a feel-good law; it makes people feel safe,” Carchio said. “You make choices in this world, and I guess the choice that individual made is one that is going to follow him for the rest of his life.”
Rico says he's urinated in public, but discreetly, so he didn't get busted for it, fortunately...

Likely story

John P. Martin and Joseph A. Slobodzian have an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the Church trial:
The defense in the clergy sex-abuse trial rested after Msgr. William J. Lynn ended three days' contentious testimony the way he began: asserting he had done his best to protect children but had lacked the power to do more. "I did much more than had been done before I got there," Lynn said, later adding: "I have many victims that told me I helped them."
After the former Archdiocese of Philadelphia clergy secretary left the witness stand, the landmark trial moved briskly toward a conclusion.
Lawyers for Lynn and his codefendant, the Reverend James J. Brennan, called their final witnesses: friends, relatives, parishioners, priests, and nuns who praised the defendants as law-abiding citizens.
Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina told jurors to return Thursday for closing arguments. Deliberations could begin by the end of the week. Nearly sixty witnesses have testified during the eleven-week trial.
Voices the jury did not get to hear could be critical as well. Brennan chose not to testify, gambling that prosecutors failed to prove their contention that he had tried to rape a fourteen-year-old boy in 1996. And neither prosecution nor defense lawyers asked to show jurors the seven-hour videotaped deposition of the late Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua or call to the stand two of his former aides, Bishop Edward Cullen and Bishop Joseph Cistone. According to a memo shown in court, both men allegedly knew about Bevilacqua's order to shred a central piece of evidence: a 1994 list that identified Philadelphia-area priests suspected of abusing minors.
Lynn, who investigated clergy sex-abuse complaints and recommended actions against accused priests, compiled the list. He contends that he did it to get a handle on the problem of predator priests, but that his superiors, specifically Bevilacqua, ultimately shaped church policy and decided where problem priests would serve.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington continued to scoff, sometimes loudly, at that suggestion. He and Lynn barely acknowledged each other as they returned to their courtroom seats Tuesday morning, then picked up where they had left off in cross-examination five days earlier: battling and usually disagreeing over what Lynn meant or intended in dozens of confidential church memos he wrote about priests accused of sexual misconduct.
Blessington called Lynn "the eyes and the ears" of the cardinal, and a man in "a powerful position" to understand the scope of abuse but who failed to do anything about it. The prosecutor focused on the most substantive and potentially damning evidence in the child endangerment case: Lynn's recommendation that the Reverend Edward Avery be allowed to live and celebrate Mass at St. Jerome's Church in Northeast Philadelphia in the mid-1990s, a recommendation made after learning that Avery had molested a teen two decades earlier.
Avery pleaded guilty before trial to sexually assaulting an altar boy at St. Jerome's in 1999. Didn't members of that parish deserve to know his history before he arrived? the prosecutor asked.
"Yes, I think they would," Lynn replied.
"But you lied instead," Blessington charged.
"Yes, I lied," Lynn said. "Because at that point I was not permitted to say why someone was removed from their parish."
The prosecutor also suggested that Lynn had acted to remove the Reverend Michael McCarthy in 1993 only because the wife of a generous church donor had complained that McCarthy was running a travel agency from his Norristown rectory. Blessington noted that McCarthy was named a pastor in 1992 despite abuse accusations against him in 1986 and 1991. Lynn denied the donations played any role in his decisions, and said he was acting because another priest had complained about McCarthy. He also said that the complaints against McCarthy came in before he became secretary for clergy and that Bevilacqua and Cullen were the ones who let McCarthy stay a pastor. "I didn't have the power to do anything," Lynn testified.
In a flash of drama, Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan, erupted in anger and was cited for contempt by the judge after a prosecutor said for the first time in front of the jury that his client is no longer allowed to call himself a priest. The outburst led to a closed-door meeting with the judge and lawyers, but no explanation. The Reverend Brennan was the defendant in a 2008 internal church trial, but its outcome is unclear. The archdiocese website describes him only as a priest with restricted ministry. Church officials and the lawyers have repeatedly declined to comment because of a gag order.
Sarmina also denied a new bid by defense lawyers to dismiss as beyond the statute of limitations an endangerment charge against Lynn and Brennan. Prosecutors called it a "Hail Mary" attempt to revisit legal ground already decided by the judge.
Rico says that something quite medieval is called for as punishment for these assholes; the Church used to be good at that. While, alas, the line about "Lynn's recommendation that the Reverend Edward Avery be allowed to live" was about his location, not his lifespan... And while Rico is hardly in a position to talk about being old and fat and ugly, Lynn (photo) is all that. But Bishop should now be reserved for the name of a town in Southern California, and banned as a title... (And a 'Hail Mary' attempt? Now that's sacrilege...)

History for the day

On 30 May 1958, unidentified soldiers killed in World War Two and the Korean conflict were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Afro Russians?

Rico says his friend Esha sends this:
I have been fascinated with the history of blacks in Russia for a number of years (also blacks in Nazi Germany, but I digress) and recently had the opportunity of creating a few brief web presentations on some information I discovered. The main purpose of the project is to familiarize my neighborhood  (primarily African-American) with the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. There is a  park named after him in our neighborhood, and it has an ugly history. The Friends of TS Park are working towards a revitalization of the park, featuring community activities and festivals.  My hope is that current residents (young and old) will come to appreciate him and have some base of relativity about him and his friendship with Ira Aldridge. When people see something they can relate to, they may be more respectful and feel more included in what was once foreign and distant.
I am a block captain, 311 Neighborhood Liaison, along with serving as an AmeriCorps member. One thing I have seen time and time again is how knowledge destroys ignorance. And ignorance, when destroyed, creates opportunities for community connections. When community comes together, they can make great things happen. There is hope.

Esha

Ira Aldridge and Taras Shevchenko: Extraordinary Artists, Extraordinary Men,  Extraordinary  Friendship - A Slideshow
черные люди Or Black People: A brief presentation about blacks in Russia
Rico, of course, had to point out that a Black Russian is a drink...

Irritating Internet behavior

Rico says there's a couple (okay, more than a couple) of things that piss him off out there.
The New York Times, in its infinite wisdom, does stupid and/or weird things (like the previously mentioned shortening of ranks and the use of initials or a contraction rather than full state names) that it shouldn't do...
SiteMeter keeps saying no one is reading his Rant, even though he gets multiple emails a day indicating that people (or machines, anyway) are leaving comments...
There's doubtless more, but (at this ridiculous hour) Rico can't be bothered deciding on what's irritating enough to mention...

29 May 2012

Yet more history for the day

Rico says his friend Tex forwards this 'lost' footage:

Remember Benny Hill?

Rico says his friend Tex forwards this splendid police video:

Medical implants

Rico says his friend Tex (a former Marine himself) forwards this:
Microchip Implant Allows Islamic Terrorists to Speak to God 
The implant is specifically designed to be injected in the forehead.
When properly installed, it will allow the terrorist to speak to Allah.
It comes in various sizes, generally from .223 to .50 caliber (photo). The exact size of the implant will be selected by a well-trained and highly skilled technician, who will also make the injection. No anesthetic is required.
The implant may or may not be painless. Side effects, like headaches, nausea, and aches and pains are extremely temporary. Some bleeding or swelling may occur at the injection site. In most cases, you won't even notice it.
Please enjoy the security we provide for you.
Best regards,
The United States Marine Corps

Another scam for the day


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You sent a payment for $1356.66 USD to Lamont Shepard.
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- Paid instantly -- your purchase won't show up on bills at the end of the month.

Thanks for using your bank account!




Your monthly account statement is available anytime; just log in to your account at https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_history. To correct any errors, please contact us through our Help Center at https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_contact_us.

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Sent on:May 29, 2012
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Scam for the day


You sent a payment
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Dear PayPal User,
You sent a payment for $6816.76 USD to Jonathon Wang.
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View the details of this transaction online



This payment was sent using your bank account.

By using your bank account to send money, you just:

- Paid easily and securely

- Sent money faster than writing and mailing paper checks

- Paid instantly -- your purchase won't show up on bills at the end of the month.

Thanks for using your bank account!




Your monthly account statement is available anytime; just log in to your account at https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_history. To correct any errors, please contact us through our Help Center at https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_contact_us.

Amount:$6816.76 USD
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Sincerely,
PayPal
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PayPal Email ID PP118

Timing is everything in life

Rico says the Bayou Renaissance Man has a link to this guy's amazing photos...

Okay, okay, we won't use the N-word...

...but sometimes (hey, they use it) there's nothing more appropriate, as shown on Hard Core Pawn (located in lovely downtown Detroit), and displayed by the denizens of a street corner near where Rico and his father recently stayed in New Orleans. (No video, sorry; it'd been worth Rico's life to pull out his iPhone. Suffice it to say that they were the usual ethnic youth, pimpin' and posin' and acting all tough...)

Windows Live isn't

Rico says he may have had friends who worked for Microsoft (those who went there after the demise of Claris), but that doesn't mean he has to use the crap they produced, and Randall Stross of The New York Times tells why:
An array of products, with no natural connections to one another, have received the Windows Live moniker. Windows Live Essentials, for example, was the name for a suite of software products that could be installed on a PC, and included photo management, video editing, and instant messaging. Windows Live Mesh provided file synchronization among one’s personal computers, including Macs. And the list went on: Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Search, Windows Live Toolbar, Windows Live Family Safety, Windows Live Writer, and others.
It was folly.
Windows Live Essentials turned out to be less than essential after all. The company is effectively leaving behind the Windows Live brand name as it renames the products that currently feature that two-word phrase.
Back in 2009, in the Ten Worst Microsoft Product Names of All Time, Windows Live Essentials was on the list:
In September of 2008, Microsoft announced that it was stripping three of Windows Vista’s applets– Windows Mail, Windows Photo Gallery, and Windows Movie Maker– out of Windows 7. They would live on, but as free downloads, known collectively (along with other apps such as Windows Live Writer) as Windows Live Essentials. But doesn’t the fact that Microsoft unbundled these tools from Windows prove that they’re not essential? Bonus annoyance: Microsoft’s decision to identify these downloadable freebies’ under the Windows Live rubric (which usually applies to Web services) makes it even harder to define just what Windows Live means.
In retrospect, it feels like Microsoft started readying Windows Live for retirement shortly after it introduced the concept. It long ago did away with the most bizarre examples, such Windows Live Search (now Bing) and Windows Live Hotmail (now just Hotmail). The inessential Essentials were just stragglers.
I’m not sure if we’re entering a golden age of Microsoft branding— Windows RT still strikes me as a pretty oblique product name— but the company does seem to be trying to streamline things. Doing away with Windows Live is a necessary step.

History for the day

Rico says it's hard to believe, but it's been fifty years since the start of the war in Vietnam (and who, of those of us old enough to remember, can forget LBJ's pronunciation of 'Veetnam'?).
Peter Baker has an article in The New York Times about it all:
Barack Obama was still in his crib, just five months old, when American helicopters swooped out of Saigon into the jungle in January of 1962 carrying South Vietnamese troops on a raid. It was the first time American forces participated in major combat in Vietnam, opening a chapter in history that reverberates to this day.
Fifty years later, the babe in the crib is the president of the United States and the commander in chief during another long, vexing war without victory in sight. As he made a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to kick off a thirteen-year project marking the anniversary of Vietnam, he is trying to find a better outcome to the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
“You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor,” Obama told the veterans gathered in the broiling sun before the iconic black granite wall, many of them graying and wrinkled with the passage of time. “You were sometimes blamed for misdeeds of a few, when the honorable service of the many should have been praised. It was a national shame,” he added, “a disgrace that should have never happened. And that’s why here today we resolve that it will not happen again.” Offering a measure of closure a half-century later, the president asked the Vietnam veterans present to stand. “Welcome home,” he said. “Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home. Thank you. We appreciate you. Welcome home.”
The unusually ambitious project that started on Monday was authorized by Congress and will be carried out by the Defense Department through 2025, tracking the progress of a war that began with a relative handful of advisers before escalating to more than half a million American troops. By the time the last troops left in a negotiated withdrawal followed by the famous helicopter evacuation from the roof of the embassy in Saigon in 1975, more than 58,000 were dead.
The first phase of the commemoration, through 2014, will be devoted to recruiting partners and support. Organizers envision tens of thousands of commemoration events across the country from 2014 to 2017. Then until 2025, they plan to work to sustain the effort through oral histories, forums, seminars, and the like.
That Obama would be the president to kick it off says much about how the country has moved on since Vietnam. He is the first president from the post-Vietnam generation. After beating Senator John McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war, to win the presidency in 2008, he now heads into a campaign this fall that will be the first presidential election since 1944 without a veteran leading either major party ticket.
Obama arrived at the White House without the scar tissue of Vietnam. But he was not completely untouched by the ghosts of that era. His early community service mentor, Jerry Kellman, had been an antiwar activist. His later acquaintance with Williams Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground that waged a campaign of bombings to protest the war, would become deeply controversial on the campaign trail in 2008.
More significant are the lessons he has taken from Vietnam as he has presided over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his early months in office, he mused over a private dinner with historians about the cost of the war on Lyndon B. Johnson’s domestic agenda and the possible parallels for his own presidency. He read Gordon M. Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster about Vietnam as he contemplated his own troop buildup in Afghanistan.
During long deliberations about the Afghanistan surge in late 2009, his special representative to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, brought up Vietnam, sometimes to the annoyance of a president who did not want to be trapped in old fights. (Holbrooke has since died.) But even as the president agreed with NATO leaders last week to turn over next year the lead of the Afghan war that has claimed nearly two thousand American troops, Vietnam hung over the decision.
Major General Paul D. Eaton, a retired officer whose father’s name is on the Vietnam wall, said the lesson Obama should take was to “stay ahead of the generals” and not go in “if your gut tells you that there is no vital national interest”. He said he was “in some ways” disappointed that Obama escalated the effort in Afghanistan at first, but he praised him for pulling troops out of Iraq and setting a path to withdrawing from Afghanistan. “President Obama has successfully buried the notion that Democrats can’t be powerful actors in the arena of national security affairs,” he said.
Others worry that Obama took the wrong lessons from Vietnam. William C. Inboden, a professor at the University of Texas who served on George W. Bush’s national security staff, said Obama’s sometimes tense relationship with the military stemmed from a misreading of Vietnam and a perceived need to assert authority. Inboden said one lesson was that war should not be fought without adequate resources or a genuine commitment by the president. “The lesson for Afghanistan,” he said, “would be not to order the military to fight a war that the commander in chief does not seem to believe in and is not willing to generate public support for.”
Obama offered no thoughts on Afghanistan as he spoke at the Vietnam wall on Monday. During an earlier appearance at Arlington National Cemetery, he paid tribute to the veterans of Iraq in particular, on this first Memorial Day after the withdrawal of the last troops from there.
He singled out four Marines who died in a helicopter crash in the March 2003 invasion, becoming the first American casualties of the Iraq war: Major Jay Thomas Aubin, Captain Ryan Anthony Beaupre, Corporal Brian Matthew Kennedy, and Staff Sergeant Kendall Damon Waters-Bey. And he cited Specialist David E. Hickman of the Army, who died from a roadside bomb in Baghdad last year, becoming the last of the nearly 4,500 Americans killed in Iraq.
The one lesson of Vietnam that Obama has shared aloud lately is the conclusion that the politics of war should not detract from support for those who wage it. Last week, when he met a Vietnam veteran at a campaign stop in Iowa, he ad-libbed a line in his speech about making sure the country did not “make that mistake again”. He picked up the theme on Monday. “Let’s resolve that in our democracy we can debate and disagree, even in a time of war,” he said. “But let us never use patriotism as a political sword. Patriots can support a war. Patriots can oppose a war. And whatever our view, let us always stand united in support of our troops, who we placed in harm’s way. That is our solemn obligation.”
Rico says he was ten when the War started (as with those of earlier generations, there is only one War in Rico's life, no matter what has happened since then), and was over before he had to serve; having come from a long line of shirkers, he didn't miss it... (But why does The New York Times insist, in this electronic age, on dropping characters when listing military ranks? Saving a few keystrokes seems ridiculous, and forces poor Rico to put them back in...)

Fifteen Olympics later

While the scholars debate the Royals, Queen Elizabeth II still runs England. (Unlike wine, some things do not age well..)
 

History for the day

On 29 May 1953, Mount Everest was conquered as Edmund Hillary of New Zealand (photo, left, later knighted for his efforts) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal (photo, right) became the first climbers to reach the summit.
In May of 2012, hundreds of climbers were on the mountain, attempting to repeat their success. Some died, and yet there are still internet ads (by the appropriately named PeakFreaks, among others) for future climbs...

28 May 2012

Movie review for the day

Rico says he and the ladyfriend saw Men in Black 3 and loved it; as Joe Bob Briggs would say, check it out. (Will Smith (photo, in front) was excellent, of course, but what saved it was dubbing Tommy Lee Jones' voice on Josh Brolin (photo, in rear); it was confusing enough as it was...)

Lunch with the Robinsons

Rico says his father forwards some photos of John Robinson and the lovely al fresco lunch of barbeque'd shrimp that his wife, Tana, prepared for us in Belle Chasse, Louisiana:

Mississippi River cruise

Rico says his father sends some photos from the river cruise they took upstream from New Orleans:
 

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