31 July 2012

Protect Obama? From what?

Elizabeth Hewitt has a Slate article about Willard's attempts to justify his ability to mis-speak:
Mitt Romney says the media is blowing up his overseas missteps to protect ObamaRomney told Fox News that he was not taking a swipe at Palestinian culture when he suggested that Israel’s economic success was due to its "culture" at a fundraiser in Israel. "I’m not speaking about, did not speak about, the Palestinian culture," Romney told Fox’s Carl Cameron.
The presumptive GOP nominee came under fire from Palestinian leaders when he compared the GDP per capita in Israel to that in areas controlled by the Palestinian authority, saying at one point: "Culture makes all the difference." Although he never specifically implicated Palestinian culture, he seemed to imply judgment, CBS News noted.
Palestinian leaders were quick to respond to Romney’s comments. "The statement reflects a clear racist spirit," Palestine's labor minister told the Associated Press.
Romney, however, did his best to shrug off the criticism of his recent missteps during his week-long overseas tour, and instead blamed the press, CNN reported. "They’ll instead try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country," the Republican said.
Rico says the next four won't be any better if we elect Willard...

What? Gubs are bad?

Cindy Ok has a Slate article about the views of Americans on firearm ownership:
The Aurora movie theater shooting that killed twelve and injured scores more has stirred plenty of debate about gun control— but all that talk has done little to change anyone's minds, or build a consensus, according to a new poll.
The Pew survey, conducted from July 26 to 29, found that, in the wake of the movie massacre, 47 percent of Americans said they placed more of a priority on controlling gun ownership than on protecting the rights of Americans to own guns. Forty-six percent of respondents, meanwhile, said the latter was more important than the former. Those numbers are largely unchanged from April, when the Pew split was 49-45 in favor gun rights. Pew pollsters pointed out that other recent episodes of gun violence— such as the one that took place at Virginia Tech in 2007 or in Tucson, Arizona in 2011— likewise had little effect on voters’ opinions on the topic. "Public opinion about gun control and gun rights has been divided since early 2009. Prior to that, going back to the first Pew Research Center polling on this issue in 1993, majorities consistently rated controlling gun ownership as a higher priority than protecting the rights of Americans to own guns." Roughly two-thirds of Americans said that shootings like the one in Colorado this month are isolated acts of troubled individuals, and less than a quarter of the population said such shootings reflected broader societal problems in America.
Rico says his views haven't changed, either; gun control is using both hands...

Coming in September

Elizabeth Hewitt has a Slate article about the iPhone 5:
Mark your calendars or update your iCal. Apple plans to unveil a new iPhone model on 12 September.
That's the latest semi-confirmed rumor floating around the internet. An anonymous source confirmed the date to The New York Times, after rumors of the iPhone 5 event hit the Internet. iMore first carried the report, which quickly fanned out across several other technology sites, claiming that the new model will hit stores nine days after the announcement, on 21 September.
The date is nearly a year after the October introduction of Apple’s most recent smartphone model, the iPhone 4S (photo).
According to iMore, Apple will also use the September date to announce their latest tablet technology, iPad Mini, a scaled down version of the iPad, which doesn’t yet have a release date. None of the new products have been confirmed by Apple yet.
Rico says that Rico will be buying one. (And, doubtless, an iPad Mini.)

Now that's Presidential

Abby Ohlheiser has a Slate article about Willard:

Romney's overseas trip was marked by another questionable quote from one of the candidate's aides when spokesperson Rick Gorka rebuffed journalists' questions for the candidate by telling them: "Kiss my ass." Romney was in Poland, walking back to his vehicle from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square. Gorka continued: "This is a holy site for the Polish people, show some respect". He then told another reporter to "shove it". Gorka later called the reporters to apologize, the Washington Post reports.
CNN has a transcript and footage of the tiff, which unfolded as follows:
CNN: "Governor Romney, are you concerned about some of the mishaps of your trip?"
The New York Times: "Governor Romney, do you have a statement for the Palestinians?"
The Washington Post: "What about your gaffes?"
The New York Times: "Governor Romney, do you feel that your gaffes have overshadowed your foreign trip?"
CNN: "Governor Romney just a few questions, sir, you haven't taken but three questions on this trip from the press!"
Gorka: "Show some respect."
The New York Times: "We haven't had another chance to ask a question ..."
Gorka: "Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect."
It's the latest distraction for the campaign in what was decidedly a bumpy overseas trip. Romney followed up his trip to London (which didn't go well) with a stop in Israel, where the presidential hopeful pushed the conventional campaign boundaries of not criticizing a sitting president abroad.

Rico says if Gorka was a Gurkha, he'd be shot for this... (But Poland makes it three for three for Willard.)

Card trick

Rico says his friend Tex, himself a veteran, forwards this:

More Willard abuse (but it's so easy)

Rico says there hasn't been a report on what Willard said in Poland yet (though doubtless he put his foot in it somehow), but what he said while in Israel (photo) pissed off the Palestinians almost enough to offset his stupidities in the UK...


Anonymous has left a new comment:
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Rico says he prides himself on his spelling, but will make damn sure there aren't any 'troublesome' errors...

Ugly, but no major injuries

The garbage truck clipped a SEPTA bus, then turned sharply left and front-ended the car before ending up in a tree on the sidewalk...

Willard's place on the Main Line

Rico says it doesn't look much like the headquarters of a winner, now does it?

Tabula rasa

Joel Rosenblatt of Bloomberg News has an article about the Apple v Samsung battle:
Apple Inc.'s $2.5 billion patent-infringement lawsuit against Samsung Electronics began in federal court in California with the selection of the first U.S. jury to consider the global smartphone dispute.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, who practiced as an intellectual-property litigator in Silicon Valley for eight years, is presiding over the trial. Jurors will decide each company's contentions that its rival infringed patents covering designs and technology for mobile devices, with potential damage awards reaching billions of dollars.
The case is the first U.S. jury trial of a battle being fought on four continents for dominance of a mobile-device market that Bloomberg Industries said was $312 billion last year. Apple, the iPhone-maker based in Cupertino, California, just eleven miles from the courthouse, won't benefit from any bias from a jury drawn from Silicon Valley, said Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley"Just as many people in the valley work for Android companies like Google as work for Apple," Lemley said in an email, referring to Google Inc.'s Android operating system that some Samsung products use. "I expect that a Silicon Valley jury will be more technologically sophisticated than most, and that may work in Samsung's favor."
Samsung, based in Suwon, South Korea, has countersued, and will present allegations that Apple is infringing two patents covering mobile-technology standards and three utility patents. Samsung is demanding royalties of as much as 2.4 percent for each device sold, according to a court filing.
Samsung said in a court filing that it planned to show jurors evidence that in 2006, before Apple's January 2007 introduction of the iPhone, Samsung was developing the next generation of mobile phones, envisioning "a simple, rounded, rectangular body dominated by a display screen with a single physical button on the face."
Apple's $2.5 billion in damages is based on the contention that Samsung copied the iPhone and iPad. Apple also wants to make permanent a preliminary ban it won on U.S. sales of a Samsung tablet computer and to extend the ban to Samsung smartphones.
Apple is trying to deflect Samsung's infringement contentions in part by arguing that Samsung deceived the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, according to a court filing. Samsung was pushing the organization to adopt certain standards without disclosing that it had applied for patents covering the same technology, Apple contends.
In the second quarter of this year, consumers worldwide bought four hundred million mobile phones compared with nearly four hundred and two million in the same period last year, according to IDC, a Framingham, Massachusetts information service covering consumer technology markets. Samsung and Apple shipped almost half of those phones, IDC said.
Samsung extended its lead over Apple during the second quarter, shipping 50.2 million mobile phones, representing 32.6 percent of the market, compared with 26 million units, or 16.9 percent of the market, for Apple, according to IDC.
Samsung chief executive Choi Gee Sung and Apple CEO Tim Cook tried and failed to settle the San Jose case at a court-ordered meeting in San Francisco. Previously, officials met in September, December, and May to discuss a related dispute before the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Rico says they're refighting the Korean War, and we know how that turned out...

Future history for the day

Kenneth Chang has an article in The New York Times about the next big leap into space:
Right now, a spacecraft containing Curiosity (illustration, center and bottom)— a car-size, nuclear-powered planet rover— is coasting at eight thousand miles per hour toward Mars, nearing the end of a journey that began in November. With tightening budgets, it is the last big hurrah for NASA’s planetary program for quite a few years. Packed with ingenious new instruments, the rover promises to provide the best-ever examination of the Red Planet, digging up clues to a profound question: could there ever have been life there?Over the coming week, the pull of gravity will accelerate the spacecraft to thirteen thousand miles per hour, and it is scheduled to execute a series of astoundingly complicated maneuvers and place the rover on the surface. Its new home will be the Gale Crater, just south of the equator, a 96-mile-wide bowl (illustration, top) punched out by a meteor more than 3.5 billion years ago. It is one of the lowest places on Mars, which should help advance Curiosity’s $2.5 billion mission: studying the environment of early Mars.
“Water flows downhill, and that’s where we’re going,” John P. Grotzinger, a professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology, who serves as the mission’s project scientist, said during a news conference this month.
Bits of the Martian past may lie in the rocks at the bottom of the crater. Over the past decade, NASA’s robotic spacecraft have turned up convincing evidence that, eons ago, the planet held one of the prerequisites for life. Water flowed on Mars, at least on occasion.
Life’s other prerequisites are carbon-based molecules and energy. Sunshine or volcanic heat could have provided the necessary energy. With Curiosity, the search is on for the carbon-based molecules.
“I think this is the Hubble Space Telescope of Mars exploration,” said John M. Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator in charge of the science mission directorate. (He is best known as the Hubble repairman, flying on three space shuttle missions to refurbish and upgrade the telescope.) “This is the first time that we have a real analytical laboratory heading to the surface.”
But before Curiosity can make any discoveries, it has to land.
In the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, it will still be Sunday evening when the nervous wait begins. First will come word that the spacecraft containing Curiosity has entered the Martian atmosphere. Just seven minutes later, the spacecraft must flawlessly execute a series of complex maneuvers to land the rover on the surface.
If all goes as planned, the friction of Mars’ thin air rushing past the heat shield will have slowed the spacecraft to a thousand miles per hour. A fifty-foot-wide parachute will pop out, generating up to 65,000 pounds of drag force. Then the heat shield will pop off so that the radar can find the landing site in Gale Crater.
Even with the parachute drag, the spacecraft will be barreling toward the surface at two hundred miles per hour. Next it will cut away the parachute and ignite its descent engines to slow down further.
The last three NASA rovers— Sojourner in 1997 and Spirit and Opportunity in 2004— had similar landing systems, except for the final step. For those three, a cocoon of air bags inflated around the rover, which was then dropped the last fifty feet or so, bouncing and rolling until it came to a stop.
But Curiosity, about the size of a Mini Cooper, is five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity, making air bags impractical. It would be equivalent of trying to cushion a car hitting a brick wall at highway speed without any damage to the car.
Instead, Curiosity will be lowered by cable all the way to the ground from the hovering rocket stage in what NASA calls a sky crane maneuver. Once Curiosity bumps into Mars at a gentle 1.7 miles per hour, the cable will be cut, and the rocket stage will fly off to crash about a third of a mile away.
“Is it crazy?” Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program, asked rhetorically during the news conference. “Well, not so much. Once you get comfortable, once you understand it, it’s not a crazy concept.”
The NASA engineers who devised the sky crane maneuver say that, after thorough testing of the different parts of the system and numerous computer simulations, they are confident that they have built something that will work. “In the simulated world, we’ve landed on Mars millions of times,” one of the engineers, Steven Lee, said in an interview. “I’m actually very comfortable. I’m more comfortable with the impending landing than I was with the launch.”
Still, success is not guaranteed. The Curiosity landing is the “hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted,” Dr. Grunsfeld said.
If it survives, Curiosity will come to rest about 1:17 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter will be passing overhead, in position to relay radio transmissions from Curiosity to Earth. About fourteen minutes later, the fate of Curiosity may be known at mission control. (NASA warns that, what with the vagaries of space communications, a day or two could pass before confirmation of a successful landing reaches Earth.)
Engineers and scientists will spend several weeks checking out the condition of the rover. A few photographs will be beamed back the first few days, first in black and white, then in color. One of the first chores will be a software upgrade for Curiosity’s computers. The first drive is most likely more than a week after landing. The first flexing of the rover’s robotic arm would occur after that. “In a couple of months, we’ll be on the road to Mount Sharp,” said Dr. Grotzinger, the project scientist.
For reasons no one can quite explain, a three-mile-high mountain, Aeolis Mons, stands at the center of Gale Crater. Informally known as Mount Sharp, in honor of Robert P. Sharp, a pioneering planetary scientist at Caltech, it is taller than any mountain in the continental United States. Orbiting spacecraft have already observed that Mount Sharp consists of layered rocks presumably formed out of sediment that settled at the bottom of Gale over millions of years. Later the sediment was somehow scoured out, leaving Mount Sharp at the center.
The layers, scientists believe, will provide a history book about early Mars. Orbiters have spotted, at the base of the mountain, signs of clays— minerals that form in the presence of water and that point to an environment that was less acidic than present-day Mars. As Curiosity crawls up the mountain, it will roll across younger and younger rocks, and the changes could tell how the environment of Mars changed.
For that task, Curiosity is carrying some of the most sophisticated science tools ever devised. A rock-vaporizing laser called ChemCam can turn a smidgen of rock into a puff of glowing, superhot gas from a distance of up to 25 feet. From the colors of light emitted by the gas, ChemCam can identify elements in the rock. A rock full of carbon, for example, would merit a closer look.
“It is really designed to be a sentry or advance guard for the rover and identify the most interesting samples,” said Roger C. Wiens, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who is the instrument’s principal investigator. ChemCam can also vaporize dust on a rock to get a better look at its surface.
Other instruments include a weather station; a device that shoots particles into the rock and measures X-rays coming out; and several cameras, including one that mimics the hand lens of a geologist for close-up looks at rocks. The size of a microwave oven, the biggest and probably most ambitious of the instruments is called Sample Analysis at MarsSam for short.
Sam contains 74 cups for studying ground-up rock. Most samples will be heated to eighteen hundred degrees, and three different instruments will be used to identify what gases are released, including the possibility of carbon-based molecules known as organics.
Confusingly, organic molecules can arise from nonliving chemical reactions, so the presence of organics would not prove the existence of life. Rather, the discovery of such molecules would add to the possibility of life on Mars long ago— or perhaps even today.
This will be the first search for organics since NASA’s two Viking landers in 1976. The two Vikings saw no signs of organics, which led to the dispiriting conclusion that there was no possibility of life ever on Mars. (A separate experiment did have results consistent with the existence of microbes in the soil, but most scientists concluded that it was the result of some odd, nonliving chemical reactions.)
New research a couple of years ago, however, suggested that the presence in the soil of chemicals known as perchlorates could have destroyed all of the organic molecules as the samples were being heated, thus giving misleading results. The Phoenix Mars lander discovered perchlorates in the Martian soil near the north pole in 2008.
Sam’s ovens are hotter than the ones on the Vikings and should destroy the perchlorates before they destroy the organics, said Paul R. Mahaffy, the principal investigator of the Sam instrument. In addition, nine of the cups include a chemical solvent that would allow analysis at lower temperatures.
Sam will also analyze the atmosphere, possibly confirming controversial claims that it contains methane. Methane, broken apart by sunlight and chemical reactions, lasts only a few centuries. If there is methane in Mars’s atmosphere, something must be making it, perhaps microbes.
The main mission is scheduled to last two years. Then again, the last two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were designed for only three months of exploration. Spirit lasted six years, and Opportunity is still rolling.
Unlike the earlier rovers, Curiosity is powered by plutonium, generating electricity from the heat of radioactive decay. It is the same type of power supply that the two Voyager spacecraft traveling at the distant reaches of the solar system have been running on for nearly 35 years. If Curiosity lands successfully, it, too, could operate for decades.
“I’m on the edge of my seat,” Dr. Grunsfeld said. “I’m not going to sit back until it’s safely on Mars.”
Rico says that, forty-eight years later, we've gone a lot farther and landed, a lot softer, a much more technologically-advanced object... (But let's hope that Curiosity doesn't kill the Martian cat, if any.)

History for the day

On 31 July 1964, the American space probe Ranger 7 transmitted pictures of the moon's surface:
As Ranger 7 impacts the lunar surface, it becomes the first spacecraft to send back images during this maneuver. More than 4,300 pictures are taken on the way down to its target, soon named Mare Cognitum (photo), south of the crater Copernicus. The mission is the first big success of the Ranger Project.

New comment

Apple and Samsung gave us great products that we could always use. It's a shame that they have to fight against each other.

30 July 2012

Legal bullshit

Steve Lohr has an article in The New York Times about Apple v Samsung:
Patent trials are part bombast, part boredom. Lurid accusations of corporate skulduggery and deceit quickly give way to a mind-numbing slog through the technical details and vague language of patent claims. A jury will be asked to sort through all that to settle a dispute between Apple and Samsung Electronics in a federal court in San Jose, California.
The jury trial is the latest phase in a global campaign of smartphone patent litigation that began more than two years ago. The legal clashes mainly pit Apple against rival smartphone makers whose handsets are powered by Google’s Android software, notably Samsung, HTC, and Motorola Mobility, which Google bought last year. Dozens of lawsuits and countersuits have been filed in courtrooms around the world.
Yet the escalating patent battle is more than just legal maneuvering. Patents can be powerful tools for determining the rules of engagement for major companies in a fast-growing industry like smartphones. Patents are declarations of invention that are often easily obtained from government patent examiners, but their real value— their validity and strength— is determined in court.
A few significant rulings in favor of one side or the other, industry and patent experts say, could shape the competitive landscape in smartphones and a sister industry, tablet computers. Court decisions, they say, can provide the basis for negotiating the terms and cost of licensing and cross-licensing of patents— or for keeping certain patented features exclusive to one company.
“Once you determine who is the genuine innovator, and in what technologies on the product, you reset the playing field,” said Kevin G. Rivette, a Silicon Valley patent consultant and former vice president for intellectual property strategy for IBM.
But to bring a real shift in the marketplace, Rivette added, one side must have “strong patents, not incremental ones.”
That issue is much debated, and litigated, in the smartphone arena.
Apple scored some points in June. Judge Lucy H. Koh, who will also preside over the jury trial that begins this week, issued a preliminary injunction against Samsung, ordering it to stop selling its Galaxy Nexus smartphone in the United States.
Judge Koh found that Samsung had infringed on an Apple patent for a “universal interface,” which broadly describes crucial ingredients found in SiriApple’s question-answering application (though the patent itself was filed by Apple before it acquired Siri in 2010).
But the power of smartphone patents in general suffered a blow in another federal court in June. Richard A. Posner, a prominent federal appeals court judge in Chicago, dismissed a case involving Apple and Google’s Motorola Mobility subsidiary. In his “pox on both of your houses” ruling, Judge Posner ridiculed Apple’s broad claims for its user-experience patents and Motorola’s claim that Apple should pay it a rich royalty on its basic communications patents. Both companies are appealing that ruling.
Fierce patent battles in new industries have been the rule for more than a century, from the steam engine to semiconductors. The lessons of history are decidedly mixed.
Sometimes, patent warriors can hold off rivals for years, as the Wright brothers did in the airplane business, though the cost in time, money and innovative energy diverted was daunting even then. In 1912, Wilbur Wright wrote: “When we think what we might have accomplished if we had been able to devote this time to experiments, we are very sad.”
In smartphones, some analysts say, the sheer number of patents and the speed of innovation in product development undermine the power of patents. Because a smartphone combines many communications and computing technologies, as many as 250,000 patents may touch the device, according to estimates by RPX, a patent licensing company.
“You necessarily litigate individual patents, but there are thousands of patents behind the ones in court,” said Mark A. Lemley, a patent expert at Stanford Law School. “That complexity and the speed of innovation may well make it easier to invent around the patent system in smartphones.”
Indeed, for its new Galaxy models (photo, right), Samsung developed an alternative to one of the Apple-patented features cited in this week’s trial.
One of Apple’s many patents on user-experience programming covers its “rubberbanding” or “bounce” feature— when a user pulls a finger from the top of the touch screen to the bottom, the digital page bounces. On the new Samsung phone, the same finger stroke brings a blue glow at the bottom of the screen, not a bounce.
“There is no single killer patent in this lawsuit,” said Florian Mueller, a patent analyst and blogger. “Apple cannot deal a knockout blow to Samsung.”
Trial briefs filed last week lay out the narrative and some of the details that Apple and Samsung plan to present in court.
Apple asserts that Samsung made “a deliberate decision to copy” the iPhone (photo, left) and iPad, in both product design and software that creates the user experience. The unredacted version of Apple’s filing quotes internal Samsung documents saying that its smartphone design “looked like it copied the iPhone too much” and that “innovation is needed.” Another analysis done for Samsung concluded that the icons on its phone were “too iPhone-like” and were “strongly associated with the iPhone UI,” or user interface.
In its brief, Samsung contends Apple is using patents to try to “stifle legitimate competition and limit consumer choice to maintain its historically exorbitant profits.”
Samsung cites internal Apple documents and deposition testimony to conclude that Apple borrowed its ideas from others, especially Sony. Apple, according to Samsung, was clearly innovative in refining the ideas of others, but it was not the original inventor.
Samsung, quoting its own documents, said it had touch-screen phones in development before the iPhone was introduced in January of 2007, pointing to the Samsung F700 model. (The F700 had a touch screen, but also a pullout keyboard underneath.)
According to Samsung, the corporate documents Apple quotes in its brief come from “benchmarking” sessions conducted by Samsung, a standard industry practice.
Apple,” the Samsung brief observed, citing deposition testimony, “also assembled an ‘Android war room,’ where its employees can study Android products.”
Rico says never bet against Apple...

Little Muddy

Jennifer Medina has an article in The New York Times about drought in the West:

Signs of once grandiose dreams dot the shoreline (photo) of the Salton Sea, dried up like the dead fish that bob ashore from time to time. This lake, the largest in California, was once supposed to be the Riviera of the West, a playground for stars like Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, and Desi Arnaz.
But the Salton Sea, created by accident by a flood in 1905, is forty miles south of Palm Springs, has been shrinking for decades now, while the saline content continues to rise— it is roughly fifty percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean. Waterfront homes built more than a generation ago sit abandoned and boarded up, on a labyrinth of streets where only a couple of houses on each block are occupied. But California does not give up easily on its dreams, so yet another ambitious development is poised to rise beside this vanishing sea.
Government officials have approved plans for a town that would eventually grow to nearly forty thousand people, with enough businesses and jobs to support the residents. Supporters of the project say it is the most sustainable development being planned in the state, but the town, known as Travertine Point, would be more than twenty miles from any existing town.
In many ways, the project is a sign of the state’s insatiable appetite for new development, even in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, which has struggled through the building bust and foreclosure crisis. This might be among the most unlikely places in the county to contemplate a superdevelopment, but officials are unabashed in their enthusiasm and say the optimism is firmly grounded in reality.
“Recreational bodies of water don’t stay unoccupied forever,” said John Benoit, the Riverside County supervisor who represents the area and pushed for the project’s approval. “You can either take development piecemeal as it comes, or invest in something that is really taking the long-term view of creating comprehensive, unprecedented development.”
But environmental advocates have cried foul, filing a lawsuit in state court claiming that the project will irreparably harm the natural resources in the area. More than that, they say, the idea is just plain absurd.
“It’s one of the greatest examples of dumb growth you could possibly conjure up,” said Adam Keats, a staff lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, which, with the Sierra Club, is suing to stop the project. “It’s located very far away from the rest of civilization in a place that is very difficult to live. The notion that this could be a Shangri-La is something we should have given up a long time ago.”
The developers, Federated Insurance, based in Milwaukee, dismiss such criticism as misplaced and unimaginative. The plans call for sixteen thousand homes and five million square feet of commercial space, along with parks lining streets with low speed limits. The approved plans say a minimum number of jobs must be created for each phase.
Paul Quill, who is managing the project, argues that this is the most sustainable project that has ever been built in the area. “We’re not talking about just putting up a bunch of houses and walking away,” he said.
The streets are designed to be walkable. Even in triple-digit temperatures here, Quill said, people are willing to step outside in the morning and evening. There are plans for affordable housing as well as high-priced sprawling homes that will be marketed to executives who work in the geothermal industry just to the south.
Developers acknowledge that it will be decades before the plans are completed and say they do not intend to break ground for at least three years, when they hope the housing market and the local economy are showing signs of improvement. But they say they need approvals as soon as they can get them so the land’s value will increase.
“Everyone looks at this sea as a problem, not a resource,” Quill said. “But it could provide an opportunity economically and environmentally because it’s not the dead sea everyone talks about.”
Although Quill has lived in the area for more than twenty years, his first time in the lake was last year, when a friend took him kayaking. “We have mountain views, we have sea views, all kinds of access to walking and hiking and biking and off-roading,” he said. “There’s so many things that are going to attract people here.”
But whether the sea will even exist in a decade remains in question. Under a water transfer agreement approved by the state, water from nearby agricultural developments will stop flowing in by 2018, which means the shores, which now shrink about seven inches a year, will recede more quickly and dust levels in the area will rapidly increase.
“It’s like shutting off the only faucet they have,” said Michael Cohen, a researcher with the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco. “There has long been a slow decline, but this will have a far more dramatic change because species cannot adapt that quickly.” The Imperial Irrigation District is asking the state for permission to allow it to stop sending water to the sea even sooner.
Quill says the project could go ahead even if the Salton Sea was never restored. Still, the plans include drawings for a marina b,esides the handful of imagined docks are images of boats, wind surfers and a lighthouse. Quill is starting a business group to raise money for the restoration of the area, which would ideally include a recreation area at the northern end.
Right now, the only kind of fish surviving in the water are tilapia, which normally live in fresh water but can be found in abundance here. On some days when the heat reaches beyond 110 degrees, it is possible to smell them from outside the water.
None of this is enough to bother the hearty souls who choose to live here or visit regularly. “Those are good eating fish,” said Liz Ricci, who has been coming to the area with her family since the 1960s. “The saddest thing is that the sea hasn’t changed. It’s gotten saltier, but you only know if you have your chemistry set. It’s as good as it ever was, but the people just stopped coming.”
The decline in popularity, as Ricci and other boosters of the lake will relate, happened slowly over the years as the salt content and algae increased and fish began dying off.
As Benoit put it, “Eventually it got to the point where it was unpleasant and not marketable.”
Ricci, in some ways, considers herself lucky. For years, the state park here had as many visitors as Yosemite. Now, on many weekends, her family members have the lake to themselves, where they can “ski forever without getting chills”.

Rico says that anyone younger than him reads the line about "stars like Frank SinatraJerry Lewis, and Desi Arnaz" and says 'Who?' But 'dumb growth'? That should be the state motto...

Big Muddy

Josh Sanburn has an article in Time about the state of the river:
For those who make their living along the Mississippi River, helping ship many of the country’s most vital commodities, this year’s drought has inevitably raised the specter of 1988. That’s when the river got so low that barge traffic came to a standstill and the industry lost a billion dollars. Unfortunately, 2012 could be worse.
Along the 2,500 miles of the Mississippi, America’s most important waterway, signs of the country’s worst drought in fifty years can be found at almost any point. Near Memphis, the river is about thirteen feet below its normal depth, according to the National Weather Service. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, it’s more than twenty feet below. Overall, the river is about thirteen feet below normal for this time of year; that’s fifty-five feet below last year’s flood levels.
Those levels have forced barge, tugboat, and towboat operators to drastically change how they move goods up and down the river. And as the river dries up, it gets narrower and shallower. The narrowness forces barges to sail more closely past each other, often slowing their speeds. Some sections have become so narrow that only one-way traffic has been able to move through.
At the same time, the shallowness of the Mississippi has forced shippers to load less cargo onto barges because of fears they’ll run aground. The Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with making sure that the channel is at least nine feet deep so ships can safely pass.
Lynn Muench, senior vice president of American Waterways Operators (AWO), a national trade association for the industry, says that in a normal year, many tows south of St. Louis would be loaded to twelve feet or more of draft (essentially the distance from the ship’s waterline to the bottom of the vessel) and made up of some 45 barges linked together. “Now they’re down to nine feet of draft,” she says. “One inch of draft in a single barge is about seventeen tons of cargo, and that’s almost enough to fill a semitruck.” Combine that with carrying about thirty barges instead of the more typical 45 and the drought is decreasing the cargo carried per tow by more than five hundred semitrucks’ worth of goods.
The benchmark year that everyone in the industry is talking about is 1988, when a drought brought hundreds of barges to a standstill and caused about a billion dollars in losses. “I remember there were times when it was a dead stop,” says Merritt Lane, CEO and president of Canal Barge Company. “Some areas became so shallow that they weren’t economically passable. You could move so little cargo, you just can’t go.”
Muench also cites 1988 as the only time in recent memory that could compare with this summer. “For the last two or three weeks, the phrase I keep hearing is: ‘Close to 1988. Worse than 1988. Same as 1988,’” she says. “The estimate was that the industry lost over a billion dollars. And that doesn’t include any of the ripple effects. There’s a real possibility that it’ll be worse this year.”
Some estimate that closing the river to traffic could lead to losses of about three hundred million dollars a day, which would then grow exponentially after a few days. The cost of running an idle tugboat is about ten thousand dollars daily, largely due to fuel costs, says Muench. One tow company says it’s been losing about half a million dollars a month since May.
The $180 billion barge, tugboat, and towboat industry transports just about anything you can think of that comes in bulk: petroleum, grain, fertilizer, sand, gravel, mulch, and steel. “The building blocks of the nation are on our barges,” says Muench. About sixty percent of the country’s grain exports and one-fifth of its coal is transported along the nation’s inland waterway system, according to the AWO.
The economic costs that come from shipping delays and lighter loads could eventually trickle down to consumers. The AWO estimates that transporting goods via waterways costs eleven dollars a ton less than by rail or truck. If those products are moved to other modes of transportation, the costs for consumers will likely rise.
Canal Barge Company carries commodities such as petrochemicals and oil. Lane says that while his company hasn’t calculated how much money has been lost this summer, it has lost revenue opportunities. “That’s money we’ll never see again that didn’t come in the door,” he says.
So far, the Mississippi remains navigable. The Army Corps of Engineers says that, as of 27 July, the only part of the route closed to barge traffic is the port at Lake Providence in northern Louisiana. The corps is busy dredging stretches of the river to ensure that the Mississippi stays at least nine feet deep throughout. Ironically, the money for the dredging operations is coming from a relief act worth twenty million dollars that was passed to help repair damage from last year’s flooding.
Even though the Mississippi is near record lows in some places, Major Rob Wolfenden of the Vicksburg district says the Corps doesn’t expect the river to become unnavigable this summer. But without significant rainfall, which isn’t in any long-range forecasts, things are likely to get worse. As summer turns to fall, the weather tends to get drier. Lower temperatures generally mean fewer thunderstorms and less rainfall.
“Take away the thunderstorm mechanism and you run into more serious problems,” says Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist for AccuWeather.com. And, while droughts tend to be a temporary setback, longer-range forecasts are troublesome. Sosnowski says he is anticipating an El NiƱo weather pattern next year, which would mean below-normal snowfall and above-average temperatures.
The mighty Mississippi— long the country’s most powerful economic waterway— may take a while to regain its strength.
Rico says that Black Water by the Doobie Brothers keeps playing in his head, but you can take your choice: Mississippi by TrainMississippi by Sheryl CrowMississippi by Bob Dylan, Mississippi Girl by Faith HillDown in Mississippi by SugarlandMississippi by John HurtGoing Down To Mississippi by Phil OchsGhost Along The Mississippi by DownMississippi by The Dixie ChicksMississippi Goddamn! by Nina SimoneBorn In Mississippi by Chris LedouxDani California by the Red Hot Chili PeppersStarkville, Mississippi by Johnny CashJackson, Mississippi by Kid Rock, and Muddy Mississippi by the Charlie Daniels Band.

Oops is yet again a campaign term

Jodi Rudoren and Ashley Parker have an article in The New York Times about Willard:
Mitt Romney said that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capability should be America’s “highest national security priority,” stressing that “no option should be excluded” in the effort. “We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, told an audience of about three hundred, including a large contingent of American donors who flew here to accompany him. “We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option.”
The speech, delivered at dusk overlooking the Old City, was short on policy prescriptions, as Romney tried to adhere to an unwritten code suggesting that candidates not criticize each other on foreign soil. But there were subtle differences between what he said and how he said it and the positions of his opponent.
While the Obama administration typically talks about stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Romney adopted the language of Israel’s leaders, who say Tehran must be prevented from even having the capability to develop one.
And while President Obama and his aides always acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself, they put an emphasis on sanctions and diplomacy; Dan SenorRomney’s senior foreign policy aide, went further on Sunday, suggesting that Romney was ready to support a unilateral military strike by Israel. “If Israel has to take action on its own,” Senor said in a briefing before the speech, “the governor would respect that decision.”
The visit to Jerusalem, in the middle of a seven-day overseas tour that began in London and continues in Poland, was largely a series of photo opportunities intended to shore up support among evangelical Christians who have been wary of Romney’s candidacy, and to peel off some votes from American Jews dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of Israel. It went smoother than the London stop, in which Romney appeared to be insulting his hosts by questioning their preparations and enthusiasm for the Olympic Games, but the campaign struggled somewhat with the delicate diplomacy of being a candidate abroad.
After reports of Senor’s comments were published, he issued a new statement that did not mention unilateral action, and later he said he was not necessarily referring to a military strike. In an interview with CBS NewsRomney stuck with the softer stance, saying only, “we respect the right of a nation to defend itself,” and also hinted at the strained choreography of the day. “Because I’m on foreign soil,” he said, “I don’t want to be creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to distance myself from the foreign policy of our nation.”
A few hours later, his fifteen-minute speech did include one vague shot at Democrats.
“We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms,” he said. “And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.”
He also referred pointedly to Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel,” something Obama administration officials are loath to do, because Palestinians also imagine the city as the future capital of their hoped-for state. The line drew a standing ovation from some in the crowd and, later, an echo from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who underscored that “Jerusalem will always be the capital of Israel.”
Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama has been rocky, was generous in his praise of Romney. “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think it’s important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing the capability” to develop a nuclear weapon, the prime minister said earlier in the day. “We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.”
The visit, Romney’s fourth to Israel, coincided with the solemn fast day of Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples of Jerusalem. Between meetings with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian AuthorityRomney and his wife, along with several of the donors, made a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism and a central symbol of the holiday.
Standing with the chief rabbi of the Wall, Romney, in a black velvety skullcap, was handed Psalm 121— He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep— and later inserted a note into a crack between the stones, as is traditional (campaign aides declined to reveal its contents).
The scene was more like a campaign rally than a solemn place of prayer. Women stood on chairs to peer over the fence that divides them from the men, many of whom clapped and waved as the candidate and his entourage snaked through; people actually praying were pushed to the back as security officers cordoned off a space for the candidate.
Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” one man called out. “Beat Obama, Governor!” said another.
Shepherding Romney at the Wall was J. Philip Rosen, a Manhattan lawyer who owns a home in Jerusalem and helped organize a $50,000-per-couple fund-raiser. Rosen said he expected up to eighty people for the breakfast, up from his earlier estimate of twenty to thirty, because of the influx of Americans.
Among those who flew here for the event were the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has vowed to spend a hundred million this political season to defeat Obama and wore a pin that said Romney in Hebrew letters; Cheryl Halpern, a New Jersey Republican and advocate for Israel; Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets; John Miller, chief executive of the National Beef Packing Company; John Rakolta, a Detroit real estate developer who led the finance committee for Romney’s 2008 presidential bid; L. E. Simmons, the owner of a private-equity firm in Texas with ties to the oil industry; Paul Singer, founder of a twenty-billion-dollar hedge fund; and Eric Tanenblatt, a Romney fund-raiser in Atlanta who had never visited Israel. Scott Romney, the governor’s brother, and Spencer Zwick, his national finance chairman, also were on hand.
They were greeted at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Saturday night with gift baskets that included white skullcaps, which many wore to the Western Wall, and Israeli chocolate bars made with Pop Rocks. Some spent Sunday touring Jerusalem, while others observed the fast; after the speech, Sander Gerber, a hedge fund financier, and Rosen were among those who made a makeshift minyan for the evening service, standing between lines of alternating American and Israeli flags and overlooking the Old City.
As they have for months, Romney and his aides played up the relationship between the candidate and Netanyahu, who worked together in the 1970s at the Boston Consulting Group. During the morning meeting, according to someone who was there, Netanyahu at one point showed Romney a PowerPoint slide show with detailed information about Iran, and joked about how it was reminiscent of their consulting days. Later, the two men and their families shared a post-fast dinner at Netanyahu’s home, which Romney pointed out he had visited before.
Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview that any closeness between Netanyahu and Romney— or any distance between the prime minister and the American president— was irrelevant. “Netanyahu and Romney may be of the same cut ideologically, but this is beside the point when it comes to leading countries,” said Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. “For us it shouldn’t and does not matter at all who will be the next president. We should not get involved, and I am happy to see that we are not involved, even though there are those who are trying to look microscopically to see if there is any favoritism. It is folklore more than anything else.”
Rico says it ain't folklore that

Scam for the day

From: COCA-COLA COMPANY PROMOTION/PRIZE AWARD cocacoladepartmentuk@hotmail.co.uk>
Date: July 30, 2012 4:24:38 PM EDT
To: undisclosed recipients: ;
Reply-To: richardblairdept@hotmail.co.uk

Movie review for the day

Rico says it's sort of a cheap remake of Casablanca, but Passage to Marseilles does have Claude Rains (photo) doing a good imitation of Rico...

Just what they didn't need

Rania Abouzeid has an article in Time about the latest in Syria:

The checkpoint wasn’t a permanent or even makeshift structure, just a couple of armed men, some in civilian clothing, others wearing items of military apparel, standing in the middle of a main road just outside the town of Abu Ad-Duhur, some fifty kilometers south of Idlib city. Their faces were uncovered. It was 10am and there was traffic on the road when Abu Ibrahim, a well-to-do, dignified, sixty-year-old engineer, duly stopped his Kia hatchback at the human barricade. “All I saw were guns pointing into the car, they told me to get out,” Abu Ibrahim says. “One of the men said: ‘take his car, but don’t insult him.”
It wasn’t the first time Abu Ibrahim had been carjacked by people he says were posing as fighters in the Free Syrian Army, the motley rebel force taking on Syrian President Bashar Assad. Two weeks earlier, his family’s sedan was also stolen under similar circumstances. It would be returned to him, he was told, if he forked over four hundred thousand Syrian pounds (about six thousand dollars). He refused, and accepted the loss of his vehicle.
This time, however, he was not going to accept the same outcome. He told a local FSA leader in charge of some thirty men to try and get it back. “We suffer here from the fact that the thuwar [revolutionaries] have fallen between two fires: the regime and criminals who say they are thuwar,” Abu Ibrahim said.
Although there are still loyalist checkpoints along some of the main highways (which are easily avoided using backroads), the rebel flag flies in many of the towns and villages in this flat, fertile agricultural region, creating pockets that function as informal safe zones free of government troops. Still, although vast swathes of northern Syria may have fallen out of government control, they are not necessarily firmly in the FSA’s.
Criminal elements also function within these pockets; groups that kidnap people for ransom (releasing them, dead or alive, after payment of a ransom or purchase of weapons), and that carjack civilian vehicles. Sometimes, those criminal elements operate under the FSA’s banner, prompting other FSA units to try and neutralize them via one of two ways: firepower, or by leaning on local leaders with influence over certain families, tribes, and areas. The FSA are trying to police their own ranks, while fighting the regime and competing for suppliers, supporters and resources with each other and with other armed groups like the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham brigades.
As Time has previously reported, support to the FSA is, and always has been, parceled out to select units. The sources are many and varied; from recent state-sponsored Qatari and Saudi efforts, to hefty donations by members of the Syrian diaspora as well as sheikhs in the Gulf with massive fund-raising abilities. FSA units, even those fighting in the same area, often have very different sources of funding and weapons. Some of this support comes with strings attached: pledges of allegiance to the hand that doles it out.
Some senior members of the FSA are also playing favorites: dishing out money and weapons to certain FSA units, while ignoring others. The group has long been a loose franchise organization, nominally headed by Colonel Riad al-As’aad and other senior defectors sequestered in a refugee camp in the the southern Turkish town of Apaydin in Hatay Province. (There are ten FSA military bureaus— regional umbrella groups— inside the country.)
As’aad and General Mustafa al-Sheikh, one of the earliest generals to defect, have long been rivals, although they supposedly buried their differences by forming a joint military council in late March. Months of reporting and meeting with numerous FSA groups, mainly operating in northern Syria, has made it clear that the men are backing different groups inside Syria, and in so doing, are undermining ongoing efforts to unite the rebel army.
It’s just another of the many layers of friction between various elements of the FSA. There are real and serious rivalries between exiles and those inside Syria, sub-splits between those groups, deep schisms between the armed and political opposition, and among some armed groups in different areas. At the moment most of their guns are pointed in the same direction, but it’s easy to predict what may happen when their common enemy falls.
“Victory is made here, not in Turkey, thank you martyrs,” is sprayed on a wall in Saraqeb, although it could be almost anywhere in Syria. Abu Trad, 27, heads the Martyr Asaad Hilal Brigade in the town, one of four FSA units operating there. The former agricultural trader recoils at the thought of answering to the opposition in exile. “Where are they? In five-star hotels, drinking tea?” he says.
He claims his “differences” with both General Sheikh and Colonel As’aad mean he doesn’t get help from any faction within the FSA. “They are buying loyalties, and mine isn’t for sale” he said, seated behind a scuffed wooden desk in the office of a sweltering school that now serves as his unit’s headquarters. He keeps photos of the seven men his unit has lost under the glass top of the office desk. “We will not join the Muslim Brothers or the Salafis or anyone,” he said.
He and his ninety or so men rely on private donations from abroad (he wouldn’t say from where) to buy weapons, and have been “cooking up a few explosives,” he says. There’s an RPG missile in the glass cabinet, alongside double binder folders. An empty box of hand grenades is perched on the open window sill. “Some of us sold our wives’ jewelry to fund the fight,” Abu Trad says, as a single ceiling fan whirs overhead, while for some other FSA units, he says, getting weapons and money is “as easy as drinking a sip of water”. Several of his men, seated on chairs arranged in a semicircle around the walls of the room, nod in agreement. “We want arms. we don’t need bread, we will eat dirt, we just want to fight.”
“The Salafis have their own support, and it’s strong,” says Abu Trad, referring to the Ahrar al-Sham brigades, comprised of adherents to a more orthodox form of Sunni Islam. “I don’t blame them, but we started before them, we spilled our blood, I think it’s a grave injustice to us that they have stronger support.”
“This is Gulf politics,” replied one of his men, referring to religious donors in the region’s oil-rich countries funding more conservative Sunni fighters in Syria.
Abu Zayd, the nom de guerre of a 25 year old Shari'a graduate who heads one of the founding brigades of Ahrar al-Sham, can sympathize with local FSA leaders like Abu Trad, but says it’s not his problem. “The FSA gets more support than we do, but our support is delivered to us, theirs doesn’t make it to them. That’s the truth,” he says.  “Their support stays in Turkey, it doesn’t make it to the revolutionaries here. If our supporters send us a hundred lira, we get a hundred lira. This is the reality.” He wouldn’t say who his supporters were, if they were state sponsors or individuals. “Whether it is official or unofficial doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “We have enough.”
It’s a statement many of the FSA units operating around these parts can only aspire to utter. Most blame the so-called commanders in exile for their situation, for not providing them with the weapons, ammunition and funds they need, leaving them to scrounge for supplies, and some units to resort to criminal means to secure them.
Recently, one unit operating in northern Syria kidnapped three Shi’ite Syrians from the pro-regime Shi’ite village of Fouaa, saying it would release them in exchange for two 14.5mm anti-aircraft guns. The Shi’ite villagers, however, had other ideas and promptly kidnapped thirty Sunnis from a handful of villages surrounding them, including from Taftanaz, Binnish, and Saraqeb, threatening to kill the men if the Shi’ites weren’t released. It took two weeks of tense negotiations between several FSA units to defuse the situation, and safely release all of the hostages.
Some FSA units are snatching loyalist soldiers from military buses and demanding a ransom from their families for their return. The amount varies, and can be anywhere between 100,000 Syrian pounds ($1,550) to 200,000 pounds ($3,100) for a regular soldier, although the family of a lieutenant colonel reportedly recently paid one million pounds for his release.
On a recent afternoon in northern Syria, a group of FSA fighters and civilians debated the ethics of the kidnappings. “Some people have reasons for not defecting, they should not be punished for protecting their families,” one man said, referring to the fact that retribution by loyalist troops is sometimes exacted on a defector’s family or property. “If they are going to their hometown on leave, they can defect,” countered an FSA member, “and we need the money.”  The consensus was that if a loyalist was picked up on leave, on his way home, it was wrong, because he may be using his leave to defect. If he was heading back to his barracks, however, it was a different story, the men said. “It means he’s coming back to kill us,” said Abu Amjad, whose son Amjad heads a rebel FSA unit, “so he has to be stopped.”
The carjackings of civilian vehicles are another story. The perpetrators are often masked, unlike most FSA fighters who move around freely with their weapons in the towns and villages of northern Syria, even during the day. Yet the carjackers also often fly the rebel Syrian flag. On a recent afternoon, one small group of armed men, with scarves covering their faces, stood in the middle of a major road just outside the town of Taftanaz. One sat on a motorbike that had a small revolutionary flag fluttering from its rear bar.  “Circle back around,” Mohammad, a rebel fighter in the vehicle I was riding in said after we’d cleared the checkpoint. “We don’t have enough weapons to take them on,” said Basil, another rebel fighter in the car.  “Then call the guys to round those thieves up,” Mohammad said. “We know who is here, who is operating here,” he later explained. “Those men are not real thuwar.”
A similar situation played out earlier this month, albeit on a much larger scale after the Bab al-Hawa border outpost between Turkey and Syria was overrun, and part of it snatched from Syrian government troops by rebel forces. Some of the lorries stationed at the crossing were looted and burned while others were stolen. The actions prompted some furious FSA members to hunt down the rebels responsible and demand they return the stolen vehicles or compensate their owners. Just days later, Celalettin Lekesiz, governor of the southern Turkish province of Hatay, told reporters that nineteen of the thirty Turkish trucks stolen from Bab al-Hawa had been returned to their owners.
Abu Ibrahim’s stolen Kia hatchback was also retrieved, ten days after it was stolen by thugs he says were posing as rebel fighters. It was back in his garage “by force of guns, not kind words,” he said. “There are some people, they are criminals, unemployed, they were before the revolution and they are taking opportunity of the situation,” Abu Ibrahim said. “There are clashes between them and the thuwar, the thuwar are returning cars to the people, helping us, but this is a revolution. They need to be focused on other things.”

Rico says lessee, thugs selling drugs and stealing cars... Yup, sounds like Philly.

Romney travels to Israel after gaffe filled London trip

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Romney travels to Israel after gaffe filled London trip

Buy a boat

Rico says he won't be alive when the ocean drowns Philly (and, alas, Key West), but Bryan Walsh, a senior editor at Time, has an interesting article about Antarctica in The New York Times:
A team of British researchers have discovered a rift in the rock of West Antarctica that runs as deep as the Grand CanyonThe rift is found in West Antarctica, where ice has been melting unusually fast. Antarctica, you’re probably not going to be surprised to learn, has a lot of ice. So much ice, in fact, that if all of it were to melt, sea levels would rise by two hundred feet, more than enough to swamp every coastal city in the world. Even in the most extreme global warming scenarios, though, that likely wouldn’t happen for centuries, but the ice sheet in West Antarctica is melting right now, faster than any other part of the frozen continent. It’s melting fast enough to contribute nearly ten percent of global sea level rise, but researchers have never really understand why West Antarctica has become such a melting hot spot.Well, here’s a possibility: the Ferringo rift as its called is bringing more warm sea water into the interior of the Antarctic ice sheet, which can hasten melt. “The areas that are most vulnerable [to ice melt] coincide with the areas of ancient rifting,” Robert Bingham, the discoverer of the Ferringo rift and a glaciologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, told NBC News. The rifting “preconfigures the topography to a shape that encourages ice loss.” In other words, the Grand Canyon of the Antarctic is setting the stage for even faster ice loss than would happen otherwise.
If it seems surprising that a canyon six miles across, at least sixty miles long, and nearly a mile deep would somehow escape detection all these years, well, Antarctica is a really big place that humans have only begun to understand. (Don’t forget that it was less than a hundred years ago that explorers first made it to the South Pole, and remember that the canyon is filled with ice.) The area where the Ferringo rift was found had only been visited once before, some fifty years ago. Bingham and his field assistant Chris Griffiths were the second, when they traveled to the area during a grueling 1,500 mile field trip in 2009 and 2010.The research expedition was meant to measure the topography of the rock beneath the ice— important scientific work, but hardly groundbreaking. But, just a few days into the trip, radar equipment found that the bed of ice was becoming increasingly thick, indicating a canyon below. And it was a massive one— though unlike the Grand Canyon, shaped by erosion, the Ferringo rift is created by the forces of continental rifting, fissures deep in the Earth.
Bingham and his colleagues reported on the Ferringo rift in a paper published in Nature on 25 July. But, while the research is clearly a victory for topographical knowledge— seriously, there was a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the Earth no one knew about— it matters more for sea level rise. As Bingham and his co-authors wrote in Nature, the rift’s “existence profoundly affects ice flows”. The rift allows more warm sea water to get between the Antarctic bedrock and the ice that lies on top of it. The sea water acts as a lubricant, allowing the ice to flow faster into the sea. Glaciers spitting out ice into the sea is a natural process— that’s how we get icebergs— but the rate impacts melting, as David Vaughn of the British Antarctic Survey told the BBC:We know that the ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is governed by delivery of warm water, and that the warm water is coming along channels that were previously scoured by glaciers.
So the geology and the present rate of ice loss are intricately linked, and they feed back– if you have fast-flowing ice, that delivers ice to the edge where it can be impacted by warm water, and warm water makes the ice flow faster.
Scientists still need, in the words of Bingham, “more data” to understand how the rift affects the mechanisms that control melting in West Antarctica, and how climate change is affecting all of this. But coming just a few days after scientists also reported that Greenland was experiencing a record ice-loss event, what we know so far isn’t comforting.

History for the day

On 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis (photo), which had just delivered key components of the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima to the Pacific island of Tinian, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Only 316 out of 1,196 men survived the sinking in shark-infested waters.

Small, for a million

Monica Yant Kinney has a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

What's a tiny volunteer fire company in Bensalem doing with a one million dollar taxpayer-funded fireboat tricked out to troll the Delaware River for blazes, bodies, terrorists, and IEDs?
Nothing, besides preening for festival crowds and crashing into objects seen and unseen.
The tale of how the dysfunctional Union Fire Company won a wad of Homeland Security money to buy a state-of-the-art terror-taming boat screams post-9/11 planning at its nuttiest.
The volunteers' bold play to dabble in regional law enforcement has soured relations with Bensalem's paid police department. Two Union chiefs have resigned as a result of boat acrimony and embarrassing accidents, and just maintaining the vessel is draining the fire company's meager resources.
Bensalem locals talk endlessly about the imposing forty-foot, 25,000-pound Bear on the Delaware that has been prowling all year but has yet to fight a fire or sniff out a bomb. But no one who had a hand in the grant seems upset that volunteers own a dream machine that may be the death of the company.
Union members insist they "aren't yahoos" but, rather, everyday heroes risking their lives for free. Yet even the chief admits they look like showboaters on the big-boy toy.
With fewer than thirty active members, only a handful of whom even live in Bensalem, Union already "scratches", or fails to respond to, nearly a third of its emergency calls. When they make rare marine runs, it's usually to recover bodies. Until this year, the firefighters took off in a modest motorboat to guffaws at a nearby yacht club.
"They're horrible. It's like a comedy of errors when they launch," says Bill Burke, the club's former commodore. "I've seen them put a boat in without the plug in."
Although history suggests otherwise, the firefighters swear there's a genuine need on the upper Delaware for a superboat that can break through ice and pump 4,500 gallons a minute. "The Bensalem police have an armored car," argues Dave Jerri Sr., a Union member and boat defender. "When's the last time they used it?"
The cops, who have no armored car, just a secondhand SWAT vehicle, scoff at the comparison. As Bensalem's public safety director, Fred Harran, puts it: "I didn't think the federal government would be stupid enough to give them a boat."
Smelling foul play, the police sic'd the FBI on the firefighters. But the case died because the government does not regret throwing antiterrorism money at volunteers. "No one from FEMA would say it was fraud," explains Deputy Public Safety Director Pat Ponticelli. "No one would say: 'We gave away a million we probably should have used somewhere else.' "
 So about that boat, Firestorm 36? Since money was no object, Union chose a deluxe model. Wouldn't you? Her belly isn't just blue, it's periwinkle. She's forty feet long, including her dive platform. With a maximum speed of forty knots, she's the fastest vessel of her size on the water. The San Diego Port Police ordered five just like her. Officials in San Juan, Puerto Rico, want one, too.
The beast has four remote-controlled "guns" able to fill a swimming pool in four minutes. She also shoots foam. A double-thick aluminum layer helps Firestorm motor through five inches of ice. The boat came outfitted with an area to detain prisoners, a stable shooting platform, and an infrared camera for night ops, even though Union members cannot fire weapons or make arrests. And then there's side-scan sonar, a high-tech $37,000 accessory enabling the crew to scour the river floor for improvised explosive devices.
"IEDs?" cackles Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum. "Are you serious?"
Bensalem's six volunteer fire companies split roughly $1.6 million a year in public funding and twenty square miles of turf. Union, founded in 1927, occupies the Lower End, including five miles along the Delaware.
The sixty-thousand-resident suburb has no industry or housing hugging the river's shallow, unnavigable edge, so it's hard to fathom what motivated Union to seek a million-dollar jet boat. But that's what the company's former chief, Vince Troisi, asked for when a pal in port security told him the feds had money to burn in the name of protecting America's waterways from terrorists. "Put in for it," Troisi's buddy told him as the chief fantasized aloud about his dreamboat. "What's the worst that can happen?"
There's the Delaware River you know— oil refineries, cargo terminals, Penn's Landing— and then the largely recreational, but still vulnerable, region above the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. This northern stretch is home to a helicopter facility, a fuel-tank farm, and the ports in Falls Township, where ships carry steel, concrete, and waste.
Working ports are potential terrorism targets. Just because evildoers haven't struck, doesn't mean they won't, Union Chief Troisi learned from his inside connection, Kurt Ferry, a fellow volunteer from the Eddington Fire Company in Bensalem.
Ferry chairs the Area Maritime Security Committee, a group of port professionals the Coast Guard entrusts to shape security strategy along the Delaware from Wilmington to Trenton. He also runs the subcommittee that awards up to twenty million a year in federal grants.
Administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Department of Homeland Security, the Port Security Grant Program owes its existence to 9/11 and the ensuing national panic. Since 2002, the program has doled out more than $2.5 billion.
Among the country's 361 ports, priority goes to the most vulnerable. We're one of them. Previous recipients include the Marcus Hook police, the port in Paulsboro, and the Delaware River Port Authority.
Union's 2009 grant application— called an "investment justification"— sought $787,950 in federal funds for the Firestorm. Per the rules, the volunteers would pay the remaining $262,150.
Union survives on $250,000 a year in state and township taxes. So, after depleting its savings to buy the boat, the company needed a $94,000 loan to stay afloat.
In the application, Union said it assisted other Bucks County and New Jersey fire departments working "emergencies on the Delaware River". With a monster fireboat, Union would offer "secondary response to the City of Philadelphia and Camden County port facilities."
Then, and now, Union had just two agreements with fellow volunteers in Bristol and Croydon. Joe Sullivan, the Philadelphia Police Department's counterterrorism chief, says partnering with Union "is just not realistic. I would not call an individual fire department and say: 'I know you've got a boat. Send it to me.'"
In another bit of wishful thinking, Union spoke of "an increase in civilian and commercial traffic" on the water around Bensalem from a "proposed ferry service".
A what? "The last ferry around here," sniffs Bensalem's deputy public safety director, Ponticelli, "was Dunk's Ferry in the 1700s."
To meet a grant requirement, Union said the pricey watercraft would be locked in a boathouse at the Pennsylvania Yacht Club, even though no such deal was ever struck.
Veteran boaters like Bill Burke also puzzled over Union's promise to patrol year-round, since all but barges generally wait out the winter in dry docks. "Some years," he notes, "the ice is so thick, even the Coast Guard has trouble getting through."
The inability of volunteer companies to roust members for weekday calls led Bensalem to start a modest paid fire department a few years ago. The public safety director oversees that operation and the volunteers. Tension was inevitable and exploded at a meeting in 2009 after Union's chief allegedly boasted: "We're getting our boat, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."
Says police veteran Ponticelli: "They have no jurisdiction in the water outside of Bensalem. That's the Coast Guard. Or the New Jersey State Police."
Adds Public Safety Director Harran: "They're nuts. I'm not saying this boat isn't needed somewhere, but someone in Washington has to realize this was a mistake."
Suspecting Union had defrauded the government by promising more than it could deliver, Ponticelli contacted port officials, FEMA, and the Department of Homeland Security, only to be stonewalled and told to mind his own business. Disgusted as both a concerned taxpayer and a cop, he made a final call: to the FBI.
When she arrived in January, the Firestorm was christened Marine 37 for Union's station house. Her nickname: The Bear on the Delaware.
The boat has located no weapons of mass or minor destruction. But there has been drama, caused by the firefighters themselves. Just before midnight on 14 January, a guard patrolling the desolate Neshaminy State Marina called 911. The only boat docked there, Marine 37, was sinking. Earlier that day, firefighters struck something while training with an employee of the Canadian manufacturer, MetalCraft Marine. "A series of failures," explains then-chief Jerri, "led to us not noticing there was a hole in the boat."
The Bear took on two thousand gallons and had to be lifted out of the water, drained, and repaired. Union paid the marina $500 for the use of a crane, but MetalCraft took the blame and ate the cost of the weeks-long repair.
On their own a month later, Union members destroyed a dock box and paid $600 for a replacement. Pulling in and out of the marina, they repeatedly damaged rub rails.
On April Fools' Day, the Bear struck and sank a $25,000 hydraulic lift. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission investigated, but filed no charges. Union covered the $500 repair. Later that day, Marine 37 was evicted.
"They had a million-dollar boat but didn't have anywhere to put it," notes Sean Schafer, a staffer to State Senator Tommy Tomlinson, who had previously helped the firefighters. "They wanted us to get involved again, but we didn't. It's a big boat. They were having trouble operating it. The whole thing was controversial."
Unable to find lodging in Bensalem, Union docked the Bear at D&S Marina, ten miles away in Tullytown. So much for a secure berth: I walked through an unlocked gate and found the boat bobbing. I could have boarded.
Jackie Ewer, of Warrington, docks her 34-foot sportfishing boat in the same cove. She has met several firefighters, friendly fellows spending their weekends learning to park and steer their Bear. "When they came in yesterday, my husband covered his eyes and said, 'I'm not looking!' " she gestures. "They've got to get better at it."
Both the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General and Congress' Government Accountability Office have criticized the grant program. Foes point to both extreme spending and years when millions go unclaimed because of onerous restrictions.
A common gripe: "Funding unworthy projects."
Even worse, read a 2011 GAO report: "FEMA has not evaluated the effectiveness of this program in strengthening critical maritime infrastructure against risks associated with potential terrorist attacks because it has not implemented measures to track progress toward achieving program goals."
Translation: There's plenty of cash to be had and few strings attached.
Though it seems Union exaggerated its reach and range, no one who awarded the grant will discuss the decision citing port, and thus national, security.
I asked one of the port insiders if anyone in this tight circle checks back to see whether recipients did what they said they would do with the government's money. Her response: "Not formally."
As the Union member living closest to the marina, Jerri planned to be the boat's primary pilot. He drives a truck for a living. In 2008, he hit a SEPTA bus, causing injuries that led to civil settlements. Assures Jerri: "It wasn't a big deal." Jerri was on board when the firefighters took their Bear to two Fourth of July fireworks displays. One weekend this summer, they cruised a waterfront Celtic festival in Bristol. Another time, they dropped by a fireman's benefit at a riverside cafe called Maggie's. "Everybody likes to see a fireboat pumping," he says, beaming. "We put on a show."
Jerri resembles Jesse Ventura and has a Latin tattoo that translates to Over My Dead Body, but he seems like a reasonable guy when we met to talk at a Port Richmond Dunkin' Donuts. So I tell him that, even though I know Union was asked to monitor the pyrotechnics, the other "training" sessions look like joyriding. He agreed that perception is everything, but insists Union's "enemies" in the Bensalem Police Department know the truth. "They've been against everything we want to do to improve our service and save the taxpayers' money," Jerri says. "This boat is not a toy."
What the Bear is is expensive. Union has already spent $25,000 on insurance and docking. One month of diesel fuel ran $3,500. More marine training - sorely needed - will cost a thousand dollars a day.
The 2011 FBI investigation rattled many cages, but resulted in no criminal charges. The U.S. Attorney's Office can't say anything about cases that never materialized. "There was no victim," notes the police director, Harran. "The federal government would have been the victim." FEMA's response? "This matter was thoroughly investigated, and FEMA found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Union Fire Company."
Jerri remains so steamed, he's mulling a complaint against the Bensalem police department. "I contacted the FBI and the Department of Justice," he says. "Fred Harran is a bully. He's abusing his authority. Where do we live, Russia?"
The bad blood boiled over at a meeting this month at the Pen Ryn Mansion after Bensalem's mayor and top cop put Union on suspension; the second time in thirteen months the volunteers had been barred from fighting fires.
Harran, the public safety director, accused Union's leaders of insubordination in their dealings with him. He also cited inanity surrounding the boat. As exasperated Mayor Joe DiGirolamo put it: "We have five other fire companies that give us none of these problems."
Harran told residents that the firefighters lost their focus and overextended themselves financially to buy and care for their Bear.
"Who," he asked snidely, "is fighting fires in Bensalem while they are on a million-dollar boat watching the fireworks in Philadelphia?"
When he could take the beating no more, Steve Carmichael stepped up to defend the gift that keeps on taking. "Will that boat ever fight a fire on the Delaware?" asked Union's president. "I don't know. But if it saves one life, was it money well-spent? Is one life worth a million dolars?"
Officials insist Union can reopen the moment it meets three conditions: Replace the chief and president. Craft a long-term "remediation plan." And decommission Marine 37.
The fire company's leaders resigned. Last week, their replacements pledged reforms as instructed. As for the order to kill the Bear? That will be tricky. Union's boat brouhaha seems to be the first of its kind in the Port Security Grant Program's ten-year history.
Because Marine 37 was built with federal funds, Union can't give the million-dollar fireboat away. And it can't sell her on Craigslist.
"The boat is on FEMA's radar," confirms Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Kevin McCormack, chief of contingency planning and force readiness on the Delaware. The likeliest scenario: FEMA seizes the boat, then searches for a federal, state, or local fire agency with the need and means to use her for the public good. "But that's not something that would happen quickly," he cautions, and the firefighters could lose the $262,150 they invested in the vessel.
Union's new chief, Jim Barford, hopes the officials relent but acknowledges: "We're in unchartered waters." His predecessor, Vince Troisi, still can't fathom how well-meaning volunteers are villains for accepting what was offered to them. To Marine 37, he says goodbye and good riddance. "From the day we got that boat," he gripes, "it's been nothing but a headache."

Rico asks what's a million bucks these days. (Besides, cool toy.) But this all sounds to Rico like a teapot in a tempest...

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