30 November 2012

Oops is now a military procurement term

Matthew Cox has an article at Military.com about bad body armor:

US Special Operations Command is recalling thousands of body armor plates after discovering a manufacturer’s defect that could put operators at risk. At the same time defense industry experts are questioning whether SOCOM may have added to the risk by searching for the lightest plates possible.
Throughout the war, elite troops have worn body armor known as the Special Operations Forces Equipment Advanced Requirements, or SPEAR, made by Ceradyne Defense. The lightweight, ceramic plates have proven to be effective at stopping enemy rifle bullets and weigh significantly less than the conventional Army’s Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI.
A little less than a year ago, government inspectors discovered a defect in Ceradyne’s new SPEAR Gen III plates. The special metal “crack arrestor” in the back of the plate began separating, or “delaminating”, from the plate’s ceramic material. The arrestor was designed to reduce the spreading of cracks in the ceramic when dropped, a common characteristic of all ceramic body armor plates.
SOCOM officials did not respond to questions from Military.com by press time, and Ceradyne officials said that a clause in the company’s contract with SOCOM prohibits them from talking about the issue.
Identifying these tiny separations is tricky. Right now, a “tap test” is being used to detect the problem, according to industry sources. Apparently, tapping the back of a defective plate sounds very different than a plate that doesn’t have the defect.
SOCOM conducted more tests of its inventory of new Gen IIIs and found several hundred with the same defect. Ceradyne received a “stop work” order in the early part of this year and was given time to solve the problem, industry sources said.
Before being approved, Ceradyne’s fix to the problem would have to pass “first-article testing”, a rigorous battery of tests conducted on all new plate designs.
Body armor technology has come a long way since the beginning of the war. Military developers and armor manufactures have learned a great deal in the last decade, but recalls of defective body armor are nothing new.
In June of 2010, the Army recalled thirteen thousand ESAPI plates made by ArmorWorks because they weren’t built to government specifications. But Pentagon officials still maintain that no service members have died as a result of their body armor being penetrated anything it was designed to stop.
In addition to SPEAR, Ceradyne makes most of the military’s ESAPI plates. Army officials have chosen the ESAPI design over SPEAR because it provides protection from armor-piercing rifle rounds found on the battlefield.
SPEAR plates are designed to stop the same threats as ESAPI, but additionally SOCOM placed a high priority on reducing the weight of armor plates to give operators increased mobility and stamina. Some industry sources maintain that SOCOM may have pushed too far this time.
SPEAR Gen III is the latest version of the design and is slightly lighter and thinner than the previous two versions.
SOCOM drives plates to the absolute edge of technology,” said one industry source with detailed knowledge of the SPEAR program who asked to remain anonymous. “Every time you decrease the weight, you take away a little performance.”

Rico says the manufacturers should be made to stand behind their products, while soldiers fire 7.62mm rounds at them...

Django Unchained

Rico says this is a definite Xmas movie:

Global warming? That's global warming


Rico says you don't get that much water in Kansas without melting some serious ice somewhere else:
During the late Cretaceous period, much of the North American interior, including Kansas, was covered by the Western Interior Sea, and no denizens of this sea were more feared than the mosasaurs, sleek, toothy, twenty- to thirty-foot-long marine reptiles. Among the most notable mosasaurs of prehistoric Kansas were Clidastes, Tylosaurus, and Platecarpus.
Before they were supplanted by the sleeker, deadlier mosasaurs, plesiosaurs were the most common marine reptiles of Cretaceous Kansas. Among the genera that roamed the Western Interior Sea about ninety million years ago were Elasmosaurus, Styxosaurus, and Trinacromerum, not to mention the poster genus of the breed, Plesiosaurus.
The rivers, lakes, and oceans of the Mesozoic Era were prowled by pterosaurs, which dove down from the sky and plucked out tasty fish and mollusks, much like modern seagulls. During the late Cretaceous period, Kansas was home to at least two major pterosaur genera, the long-crested Pteranodon and the big-sailed Nyctosaurus.
Many people are unaware that the earliest birds lived alongside the latest pterosaurs. Late Cretaceous Kansas was no exception; this state has yielded the remains of two important prehistoric birds, Hesperornis and Ichthyornis, that competed with their flying reptile cousins for fish, mollusks, and other sea-dwelling creatures.
Just as prehistoric birds competed with pterosaurs over the oceans of Kansas, so did prehistoric fish compete with marine reptiles. This state is famous for two plus-sized, late-Cretaceous fish: the twenty-foot-long Xiphactinus (one specimen of which contains the remains of a fish called Gillicus) and the comparably sized, plankton-feeding Bonnerichthys.
Kansas' portion of the Western Interior Sea was an extremely crowded ecosystem. You might not be surprised to learn that, in addition to plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and giant fish, this state has yielded the fossils of two important prehistoric sharks: Cretoxyrhina, also known as the Ginsu Shark, and the huge, plankton-gobbling Ptychodus.

29 November 2012

Six years ago

Rico says it's himself and Ken Cauthen (who later, alas, died), walking to the cafeteria in Bryn Mawr Rehab (apparently we often lost our way, and were told to proceed holding hands; unbeknownst to us, they were not only taking our photo, but laughing their asses off at our manly hand-holding):

Not Rico, alas

The AP has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the recent big Powerball win:
The richest Powerball jackpot ever, and the second-largest top prize in US lottery history, has been won. The question is: who are the lucky winners waking up to new lives as multimillionaires?
Powerball officials said early Thursday morning that two tickets sold in Arizona and Missouri matched all six numbers to win the record $587.5 million jackpot.
The numbers drawn Wednesday night are 5, 16, 22, 23, 29. The Powerball is 6.
It was not clear whether the winning tickets belonged to individuals or were purchased by groups. Arizona lottery officials said early Thursday they had no information on that state's winner or winners but would announce where it was sold Thursday morning. Lottery officials in Missouri did not immediately respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment.
Americans went on a ticket-buying spree in the run-up to Wednesday's drawing, the big money enticing many people who rarely, if ever, play the lottery to purchase a shot at the second-largest payout in US history.
Tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 a minute nationwide, about six times the volume from a week ago. That pushed the jackpot even higher, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.
Iowa Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neumauer said the jackpot was estimated at $587.5 million by early Thursday, adjusted slightly upward from the $579.9 million estimate at the time of the drawing. The cash payout was $384.7 million.
Among those who had been hoping to win was Lamar Fallie, a jobless Chicago man who said his six tickets conjured a pleasant daydream: If he wins, he plans to take care of his church, make big donations to schools and then "retire from being unemployed".
The jackpot had already rolled over 16 consecutive times without a winner, but Powerball officials said Wednesday they believed there was a 75 percent chance the winning combination would be drawn this time.
Some experts had predicted that if one ticket hit the right numbers, chances were good that multiple ones would. That happened in the Mega Millions drawing in March, when three ticket buyers shared a $656 million jackpot, which remained the largest lottery payout of all time. And it happened again for Wednesday's Powerball drawing.
Yvette Gavin, who sold the tickets to Fallie, is only an occasional lottery player herself, but she said the huge jackpot compelled her to play this time. As for the promises she often gets from ticket purchasers, Gavin isn't holding her breath. "A lot of customers say if they win they will take care of me, but I will have to wait and see," she said.
Rico says he didn't get a ticket in time; bummer...

History for the day

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews.

Rico says a great idea, and look how well that turned out...

28 November 2012

Demotion

 

 

-----Original Message-----
From: "Dave Kitterman" <davek@cbcarriagehouse.com>
Sent: Wednesday, 28 November, 2012 10:06
To:
Subject: Fw: Fwd: U.S.A.F. Sergeant Demoted! xxxx




Well..... here she is!



Air Force demotes Playboy poser Michelle Manhart.

U.S. Air Force Sergeant Michelle Manhart who posed nude for Playboy magazine has been removed from active duty and demoted. The move reverts her to air national guard status, a move which prompted her resignation.

"I'm disappointed in our system. They went too far with it," she told the Associated
Press News Agency.

Ms. Manhart appeared in the Playboy's February edition in a range of poses, some
in uniform and striking a military pose, others while naked. Ms. Manhart had been
a member of the Iowa Air National Guard before going on extended active duty with the Air Force.

In January, Ms. Manhart was suspended from duties while an investigation into
the incident was carried out. At the time the Air Force released a statement saying
that her actions did not "meet the high standards we expect of our airmen."

Michelle Manhart  














P.S.  Do you see anything that does not meet HIGH standards?





-The information contained in this transmission and attachments may contain privileged and confidential information, including proprietary information protected by federal and state laws. It is intended only for the use of the individual or entity named above. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any review, dissemination, distribution or duplication of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please contact the sender immediately and destroy all copies of the original message. Thank you. All information is subject to verification, errors and omissions.

China's State Paper Falls for Onion Joke About Kim Jong Un

This content was sent by Rico using Format Dynamics' eco-friendly CleanPrint/Save. Enjoy!
 
China's State Paper Falls for Onion Joke About Kim Jong Un
China's State Paper Falls for Onion Joke About Kim Jong Un

This file photo taken on April 15, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un saluting as he watches a military parade Photograph by Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages.

GOP and black voters

David Weigel has a Slate article about stupid and shameful behavior by the Republicans:
I'm a bit late to this Palm Beach Post investigation, but please, read the whole thing. Not huge news at this point: former RPOF Chairman Jim Greer and former Governor Charlie Crist say that the GOP wanted to cut back early voting to supress black voters. Still news: the other Republicans backing it up.
Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal: “In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And, in 2008, it didn’t have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn’t the impact that they had this election cycle,” Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.
Lots of on-record Republicans deny this. But who believes them anymore? In 2004, as we learned only after the election, the Bush campaign sent mail to Democratic-voting neighborhoods, seeing if it would bounce back, to knock voters off the rolls. (This is a classic tactic, one Buddy Cianci used to win in 1990). Before the 2000, the state's Republicans approved a heinously flawed purge of voter names; it repeated this in 2012, before the flaws overwhelmed the process.
Republicans held on to legislative control in two of the states where they pushed through voter ID laws or voting day rollbacks in Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio. But it's hard to think of another election year when these laws, which usually enjoy seventy percent-plus support, became so controversial. Minnesota voters got an up-or-down veto over their new law, and they struck it down. In Florida, you're looking at a possible 2014 race where the newly liberal Crist revs up South Florida black voters again by reminding them that the state took away early votes on the Sunday before election day. And you've still got a DOJ that's going to weigh in against the states that pass these laws.
Rico says it's okay; no self-respecting black person would vote for a Republican anyway...

Kelley defends herself

Tamara Lush and Terry Spencer have an Associated Press article at Philly.com about the other idiot in the Petraeus scandal:
Jill Kelley (photo) wants the world to know that she didn't do anything wrong when she befriended top military brass. The Tampa socialite at the center of a scandal involving General David Petraeus has hired a top Washington attorney and seems to be trying to change the narrative about her friendship with the general, her past, and her role as an "honorary consul" to South Korea.
Kelley's attorney Abbe Lowell released emails, telephone recordings, and other material that he and Kelley say proves she never tried to exploit her friendship with Petraeus.
Lowell wrote to the US Attorney's Office in Tampa, demanding to know why the name of his client and her husband were revealed during the FBI's investigation of Petraeus and his mistress, Paula Broadwell.
Officials said they were led to Kelley because Broadwell sent her threatening messages to stay away from Petraeus. Lowell addressed this in a letter to W. Stephen Muldrow, the assistant US attorney in Tampa: "You no doubt have seen the tremendous attention that the Kelleys have received in the media," Lowell wrote. "All they did to receive this attention was to let law enforcement know that they had been the subjects of inappropriate and potentially threatening behavior by someone else." Lowell added that federal privacy laws could be applicable to the couple's information. "These leaks most certainly had to come, at least in part, from government sources," Lowell said. "The earliest and best example of the leaks would be the release to the media of the names of my clients. As you know, there are several rules and laws that seek to protect United States citizens against such leaks."
The US Attorney's Office in Tampa did not return telephone calls for comment.
Kelley, a 37-year-old mother of three, became the focus of national media attention earlier this month. She and her husband, cancer surgeon Scott Kelley, befriended Petraeus and General John Allen when the generals served at Central Command, which is headquartered at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base. Kelley became an unofficial social ambassador for the base. She was well known around Tampa's social scene, and often hosted parties at her waterfront mansion.
When the FBI investigated Broadwell's emails to Kelley, they also discovered numerous emails between Kelley and the generals. The Pentagon is investigating the emails between her and Allen. Some have called a few of the emails between the two "flirtatious", but sources close to Kelley say they were not.
The scandal this week cost Kelley her appointment as an honorary consul for the South Korean government, which she had gotten because of her friendship with Petraeus. The Koreans said she had misused the title in her personal business dealings.
Lowell sent another letter to a businessman for whom Kelley tried to broker a deal with South Korea. The businessman, Adam Victor, said he met Kelley in late August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where they discussed having Kelley represent Victor's company on a coal-gasification deal it was negotiating with South Korean companies.
On 30 August, according to the documents provided by her attorney, Victor sent Kelley an email saying they were seeking bids from four major Korean firms, Samsung, Hyundai, GS, and GK, and that he expected the bidding to potentially reach three billion dollars. There were several back-and-forth emails through mid-September, as Victor and Kelley tried to negotiate a fee for her work, with her saying she was seeking two percent of the deal, and Victor trying to clarify what she meant. There were no other emails until Victor sent one on 9 November, when Kelley's name surfaced in the Petraeus scandal. He wrote two more times after that before she responded. When she finally did, he sent back another email in which he remarked: "When I heard about Petraeus, I thought of you." In a follow-up email, he asked if she was still in a position to help with Korea. She didn't respond.
In a 14 November interview with the AP, Victor said it had become clear that Kelley was not a skilled negotiator, and that he had wasted his time dealing with her.
In a letter released on 21 November, Lowell accused Victor of seeking his "fifteen minutes of fame" by talking to the news media about his client. Lowell said Victor had defamed Kelley with his clients and misstated her desire for two percent of the profits by saying she wanted two percent of the entire deal. Lowell also accused Victor of unspecified inappropriate behavior toward Kelley. "If you want to continue seeking publicity for yourself, that is one thing," Lowell wrote to Victor. "However, if you do that by maligning a person, that is something else." He then accused Victor of casting Kelley in a false light and suggested his attorney contact Lowell to discuss the matter.
Victor told the AP that he never accused Kelley of wrongdoing, but had just said she was naive and not an experienced negotiator. He also said his female assistant was present every time he met with Kelley. "It's not a crime to be a novice," Victor said. "I don't know why they are talking to me."
The third letter was sent from Kelley's attorney to the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, which handles complaints about lawyers on behalf of the Florida Bar. In that letter, Lowell accused Tampa attorney Barry Cohen of breaking attorney-client privilege by publicly speaking about conversations he had with Kelley in 2009 while representing her in a dispute she had with a tenant. In those conversations, Lowell said, they discussed her friendships with various military personnel.
Kelley's sister, Natalie Khawam, once worked as an attorney in Cohen's firm and later sued him for sexual harassment and breach of contract. In court responses, Cohen said Khawam "has a judicially documented recent history and continuing propensity for the commission of perjury". Cohen said that he had not seen Lowell's complaint letter, and that Kelley had "lost the battle in the court of public opinion. No matter how many high-priced lawyers and publicists she employs, she has been exposed for what she is," he said.
Prior to that, Kelley, her attorney and her publicist had only publicly addressed the situation once, in a statement to the news media when the scandal first broke.
Rico says he'd've said 'stupid cunt', but that would've been demeaning to a perfectly good female part...

27 November 2012

Oops is admitting it

Nicholas Kulish and Julia Werdigier have an article in The New York Times about stupid corporate behavior:
Ikea has long been famous for its inexpensive, some-assembly-required furniture. Recently, however, the company admitted that political prisoners in the former East Germany provided some of the labor that helped it keep its prices so low.
 A report by auditors at Ernst & Young concluded that Ikea, a Swedish company, knowingly benefited from forced labor in the former East Germany to manufacture some of its products in the 1980s. Ikea had commissioned the report in May as a result of accusations that both political and criminal prisoners were involved in making components of Ikea furniture and that some Ikea employees knew about it.
“Even though Ikea Group took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” the company said in a recent statement.
The use of political prisoners as forced labor, even decades ago, is a publicity disaster for a company that with its familiar blue and yellow logo seems at times like a cultural ambassador for Sweden. Inexpensive Ikea furnishings have filled countless student apartments and the homes of millions of young families around the world.
Accusations against Ikea started to appear about a year ago in news media reports in Germany and Sweden. Ikea’s admission has given new impetus to efforts by victims’ groups to receive compensation for work they were forced to perform under the Communist government in East Germany, an issue that has long been overshadowed here by the large and deadly slave-labor program under the Nazis.
“There’s little recognition,” said Hugo Diederich, the chairman of the Association of Victims of Stalinism, himself a former forced laborer, after a news conference in Berlin, a short walk from the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing, in a building that stands along the path of the Berlin Wall.
Ikea is not the only company that has been linked to forced labor in the former East Germany by purchasing goods from suppliers there, though the actual number may never be known. Diederich said that after an attempt to escape from East Germany, he was forced to make steel pipes for the firms Klöckner & Company and Mannesmann. At least two well-known mail-order companies in the former West Germany, Neckermann and Quelle, which have since run into financial trouble, have also been accused of using forced labor.
Christian Sachse, a Berlin historian, said forced labor permeated institutions across East Germany, and that it would take “years of research to properly understand the field.” Diederich said that more needs to be done for the victims, many of whom today live under worse circumstances than their former tormentors. “This will raise the pressure enormously on politicians to act,” he added.
Ikea’s announcement received a mixed response. There was praise that the company had made an effort to uncover unpleasant facts about its past, but also criticism that it had not been transparent enough with the results. Rather than releasing the entire report, the company made only a four-page summary available, citing privacy concerns.
But Steffen Alisch, a researcher on prisons in the former East Germany at the Free University in Berlin, said: “They have to make the entire report available, and they have to do it quickly.”
The fact that Ikea retained Ernst & Young for the inquiry, instead of using independent academic experts, also raised questions. “Ernst & Young has no experience with research into dictatorships and is clearly not objective,” said Ronald Lässig, chairman of the East German victims’ group DDR-Opfer-Hilfe. “What Ikea did today was little more than an event for show.”
Investigators examined twenty thousand pages of internal Ikea records, as well as eighty thousand pages of documents from federal and state archives. They interviewed about ninety people, including current and former Ikea workers and witnesses from East Germany.
A political prisoner in Naumburg, about an hour’s drive from Leipzig, told investigators that he was sent to VEB Metallwaren Naumburg, one of East Germany’s state-owned enterprises. He was put to work placing metal pegs in chair legs and furniture rollers, and remembered seeing boxes with the Ikea logo.
A purchaser for the company said that “the use of prison labor was not an official Ikea strategy, but that there was an awareness within the company about the issue.”
“The GDR did not differentiate between political and criminal prisoners,” Ernst & Young wrote, referring to East Germany, adding that “during this time period, many innocent individuals were sent to prison.” Ikea repeatedly raised concerns about the possible use of forced labor at the time, but no action was taken, the report said.
Jochen Staadt, a professor at the Free University of Berlin, said it was well known at the time that East Germany was using prisoners to work in factories, but that West Germany encouraged the production of goods in the East because it allowed the East to reduce its debt. At the same time, companies liked to move production to East Germany because costs were lower. Professor Staadt said companies like Ikea would still have paid for the work in East Germany but that the pay never reached the workers. “It was pocketed by the GDR,” he said.
Ikea employees did visit the production sites in East Germany, but rules governing such visits were strict, that way reducing the effectiveness of site inspections. Any visit had to be registered and approved in advance and could take place only in selected parts of the plants, and a representative of the East German government had to be there.
Ikea said it was sorry about the episodes, and pledged to donate money to research on forced labor in the former East Germany. “We deeply regret that this could happen,” Jeanette Skjelmose, sustainability manager at Ikea, said in a statement.
Rainer Wagner, chairman of the victims’ group UOKG, said at the news conference that “a broad public clarification” was necessary, not just from Ikea but from “all the firms” that used forced labor. But Wagner also thanked Ikea for its “pioneering role” in helping to bring greater public attention to the subject.

Rico says the Swedes are neutral, and don't really care; they did spend the profits, however...

Dismissed

Gail Collins has an opinion column in The New York Times about Willard:
It appears that Mitt Romney was a terrible presidential candidate.
Okay, some people have known that ever since the story broke about strapping his dog on the car roof. But now we seem to be reaching a consensus.
First, there was that matter of losing the election. Then, this week, Romney told some of his donors that while he was pursuing the “big issues”, President Obama had purchased the support of blacks, Hispanics, and young people with goodies like college loans and health care reform. College-age women, Romney claimed, traded their votes for “free contraceptives.” Show them a birth control pill and they’ll follow you anywhere...
Romney said all this in a private conference call, so he couldn’t have suspected that it would wind up in the media. There is no precedent whatsoever for reporters getting hold of remarks presidential candidates make to private groups about the inherent greediness of American voters.
Nevertheless, quite a few Republicans thought it was a bad idea to insult the integrity of American youth and minorities at a moment when everybody agreed that the electoral future belonged to American youth and minorities.
Romney, take responsibility for being flawed candidate, w/delusional campaign w/no vision,” tweeted Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist.
“I don’t want to rebut him point by point. I would just say to you, I don’t believe that we have millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work,” said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Florida is flooded with potential Republican presidential candidates, the top two being Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush. That’s reasonable, except have you noticed that things in Florida always have a tendency to get a little weird? Is it an accident that the woman at the center of the Petraeus scandal— the one with the financial troubles and the glamorous twin— is from Tampa? This week former Governor Charlie Crist officially repudiated reports in a London paper that he and the twin used to date.
For Republicans, the mood after the election was so bad that— I know you will be shocked to hear this— a Republican Party official in Texas advocated leaving the Union. “We must contest every single inch of ground and delay the baby-murdering, tax-raising socialists at every opportunity,” wrote Peter Morrison, treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party. “But, in due time, the maggots will have eaten every morsel of flesh off of the rotting corpse of the Republic, and therein lies our opportunity.” (To be fair, you can’t judge an entire state by one county political official. Although Bud Kennedy, a columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, pointed out that Morrison had once been chosen to help screen public school textbooks for the State Board of Education.)
Romney supporters couldn’t believe that they had lost fairly. The Maine Republican chairman was breathlessly reporting that “dozens, dozens of black people” had mysteriously shown up to vote in rural areas.
Now things are calmer— perhaps because, if they want to, Republicans can just blame everything on Romney’s poor campaign skills. Really terrible skills! Maybe the worst presidential candidate in American history! Well, possibly not worse than Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who got only eight percent of the electoral vote against Thomas Jefferson. But, then, Thomas Jefferson had the Louisiana Purchase. If Barack Obama had bought Manitoba, Republicans would have understood his winning.
And actually not quite as bad as John McCain, who got fewer electoral votes when he lost in 2008 than Romney just got. But at least McCain has gone on to provide service to the country in the Senate, such as his current attempts to warn the nation that we haven’t been told enough about what happened during the tragic attack on BenghaziMcCain was so desperate to sound the alarm that he missed a classified briefing on Benghazi to hold a press conference complaining that he had not been given enough information. Which clearly he hadn’t. He knew nothing! Nothing whatsoever! And what was the administration going to do about that? “It is essential for the Congress to conduct its own independent assessment,” said the senator, demanding that Congress form a special committee to look into Libya. This would be a double benefit, helping to inform all the members who missed their normal committee briefings while also addressing the continuing national crisis over the shortage of congressional committees.
Afterward, McCain was his normal even-tempered self. (“Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me if I can or not?”) But you did have to wonder. McCain. Then Romney. Now, all these guys from Florida and Paul Ryan, who when last heard from was blaming his ticket’s defeat on the “urban” vote.
Somewhere, there’s a right-wing Michael Dukakis waiting for the phone to ring.
Rico says the Republicans couldn't get elected as dog catcher at this point...

Innocence? Nah.

Serge Kovaleski and Brooks Barnes have an article in The New York Times about a bad movie made for bad reasons:
Fuming for two months in a jail cell in Los Angeles, California, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula has had plenty of time to reconsider the wisdom of making Innocence of Muslims, his crude YouTube movie trailer depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bloodthirsty, philandering thug.
Does Nakoula now regret the footage? After all, it fueled deadly protests across the Islamic world and led the unlikely filmmaker to his own arrest  for violating his supervised release on a fraud conviction.
Not at all. In his first public comments since his incarceration soon after the video gained international attention in September, Nakoula told The New York Times that he would go to great lengths to convey what he called “the actual truth” about Muhammad. “I thought, before I wrote this script,” he said, “that I should burn myself in a public square to let the American people and the people of the world know this message that I believe in.”
In explaining his reasons for the film, Nakoula, 55, a Coptic Christian born in Egypt, cited the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas as a prime example of the violence committed “under the sign of Allah”. His anger seemed so intense over the years that, even from a federal prison in 2010, he followed the protests against the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City as he continued to work on his movie script.
Until now, only the barest details were known about the making of the film that inspired international outrage. Initial reports made it seem as if the film had been thrown together in about a year. But a longer, more intricate and somewhat surreal story emerges from interviews with Nakoula, church and law enforcement officials, and more than a dozen people who worked on the movie— those who knew its real subject and those who were tricked into believing it was to be a sword-and-sandal epic called Desert Warriors. Together, they paint a picture of a financially desperate man with a penchant for fiction who was looking to give meaning and means to a life in shambles.
There is a dispute about how important the video was in provoking the terrorist assault on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed the United States ambassador and three other Americans. Militants interviewed at the scene said they were unaware of the video until a protest in Cairo called it to their attention. But the video without question led to protests across the globe, beginning in Cairo and spreading rapidly in September to Yemen, Morocco, Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
The making of the film is a bizarre tale of fake personas and wholesale deception. And as with almost everything touched over the years by Nakoula— a former gas station manager, bong salesman, methamphetamine ingredient supplier, and convicted con man— it is almost impossible to separate fact from fabrication.
A few years ago, Nakoula told some of the crew members he had gathered, supposedly to make Desert Warriors, that the project would have to be put off. He had cancer. Treatment was needed, far away, and they would not be able to reach him. His family shared a similar story with church officials.
Nakoula, it turns out, was not going away for cancer treatment, although the time did overlap with the prison sentence for bank fraud, which the crew knew nothing about. (Nakoula pleaded guilty this month to violating his supervised release in that case and received a one-year sentence.) He claims that he only wrote the film— five versions of the script— and served as a “cultural consultant”. One of Nakoula’s sons, Abanob Basseley Nakoula, 21, said in an interview that his father had written the script in Arabic and then translated it into English. The son said he helped him with grammar.
But Nakoula, who described himself to some cast members as the writer and producer, explained to a confidant that his plan was to fool actors into thinking they were making a movie built around an ancient tribal villain named George, dubbing in Muhammad later whenever anybody said George.
As early as 2008, he had cobbled together a twenty-page treatment for a film he wanted to call The First Terrorist.
In Nakoula’s responses to questions from The Times, conveyed through his lawyer, Steve Seiden, he had no second thoughts about the way he had handled the cast. “They had signed contracts before they went in front of any camera, and these contracts in no way prevented changes to the script or movie,” he said.
Abanob Nakoula said: “The actors were misled. My dad thought the film would create a stir, and as a precaution for their safety, there are no acting or production credits at the end of the trailer or the full-length movie.”
The amateurish project might have disappeared quietly, the way many forgettable messes do in Hollywood’s underbelly. Yet, three years after completing his script treatment, Nakoula was on a makeshift movie set inside the suburban Los Angeles headquarters of a nonprofit organization called Media for Christ, whose founder has been critical of Islam. There Nakoula was surrounded by actors wearing false beards, and there was a goat slipping on a tile floor. Alongside him was his director for hire: Alan Roberts, known for soft-core pornography movies like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.
Nakoula noted that the head of Media for Christ, Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, was “a friend for five years”. Abdelmasih attended the 2010 protests against the Islamic center near Ground Zero. Other contacts in the world of anti-Islam activism would also play pivotal roles. Helping to publicize the film were Morris Sadek and Elaia Basily— activist Copts living in Northern Virginia— and Terry Jones, the Florida preacher whose own Quran burnings had stirred violence abroad.
That Nakoula is a hard man to pin down is no accident. He told the cast and crew that his name was Sam Bassil, which he sometimes spelled differently. Federal prosecutors convicted him in 2010 under the name Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, but he recently admitted to the court that he had changed his name in 2002 to Mark Basseley Youssef.
What he did not mention at the time, however, was that in 2009, according to court records, he changed his name yet again, this time to Ebrahem Fawzy Youssef. (His lawyer said Nakoula was unaware until recently that the latest change had been finalized.)
Facts presented by Nakoula as rock solid tend to weaken upon inspection. For instance, he told federal probation officials that he first came to Los Angeles in 1984 for the Olympics as part of the Egyptian soccer team. But a website listing official players on that team does not include Nakoula. Nor was there evidence that he was on the squad’s staff.
He claimed during production that the budget for the film was five million dollars, raised mainly from Jewish donors. Actually, it cost no more than eighty thousand dollars, apparently raised through his second ex-wife’s Egyptian family and donations from other Copts, according to a person who discussed the financing with him.
Even though the shoot lasted only fifteen days, there was enough footage for a feature-length movie, which exists, running roughly one hour and forty minutes. Basily, the Virginia activist who has donated to Media for Christ, said he watched the entire film on DVD early this year and found it historically accurate.
All that has been seen on the Web is the fourteen-minute YouTube trailer, which, by the time it hit the Internet in July, was titled Innocence of Muslims.
Nakoula was able to finish the project even though people who ran into him over the years found him puzzling. When he rented offices in suburban Los Angeles, other tenants noticed that he came around only at night for the most part and stored stacks of Marlboro cartons there, among other things. When he took a stall at a flea market to sell drug paraphernalia and tobacco merchandise, other stall holders noted that his wares never seemed to move and that he spent most of his time on the phone, shouting in Arabic.
And Coptic Church officials said they considered Nakoula an unlikely candidate for the kind of religious zeal behind Innocence of Muslims because he had attended services so infrequently. But Nakoula said fervor and witnessing persecution are what drove him to create the film.
Nakoula agreed last month to be interviewed by The Times at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, where he has been held since his September arrest. But the warden refused to allow the interview.In his written responses to questions, Nakoula reeled off “atrocities” by Muslims that went back many years and formed his views, focusing on shootings, a bombing and the torture of his fellow Copts. After the Fort Hood massacre, in which an Army psychiatrist with ties to Muslim extremism has been charged, “I became even more upset and enraged,” he said.
Abanob Nakoula said: “My dad is not an evil man. He has had a hard life. He did something— the movie, something he felt strongly about— that was not frowned upon by the Constitution. He would always say: ‘Don’t fight Muslims; fight their ideology.’ ”
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula grew up in Egypt, but came to the United States and wed Ingrid N. Rodriguez in 1986 in Nevada, according to state marriage records. They divorced in 1990, the records show. Soon afterward, while living in California, he married an Egyptian woman, Olivia Ibrahim, with whom he has three children. Although the couple divorced, the family members all lived together on a cul-de-sac in Cerritos until going into hiding after the video spread.
Nakoula declared bankruptcy in 2000. By then he was a felon: a police sting caught him trading crates of a methamphetamine ingredient for $45,000 in cash. He was sentenced to one year in prison but did community service instead. A little over a decade later, Nakoula, while at work on his movie, was arrested for bank fraud. He was behind bars for almost 21 months before getting out in the summer of last year.
“He said it might have been a blessing to go to prison because he had time to work on the script,” his son said.
Nakoula’s supervised release barred him from using aliases. But he resumed work on his movie under the name Sam Baccil, said Jimmy Israel, who assisted with preproduction. Israel, who still thought Nakoula had been away battling cancer, placed casting notices on Backstage.com. One advertised eleven roles that included “George: male, 20-40, a strong leader, romantic, tyrant, a killer with no remorse, accent.” Israel said Nakoula told him that “Muhammad would be named George to mislead the actors.”
Nakoula found his director through a circuitous route. During the time of his bank fraud scheme, he rented five offices in a building owned by a man named Shlomo Bina, who, as it happened, had once aspired to a movie career, too, crossing paths with Roberts, the director. Chatting one day, Bina pointed him toward Roberts, whose real name is Robert Alan Brownell, records show. Attempts to reach Roberts through lawyers were unsuccessful.
A few Coptic immigrants in the United States have built media outlets with the help of programming that is anything but favorable toward Islam. One of them is Abdelmasih of Media for Christ. Not only did he provide Nakoula with ten days of free studio space, but he also helped get the promotion going for the YouTube trailer by contacting Sadek in Virginia.
Sadek wrote in an email that “my friend,” Abdelmasih, “told me that Nakoula had created a movie about the Copts’ persecution in Egypt.” Sadek then publicized the YouTube trailer on his website and to his contacts. Basily, the activist, also spread word about the trailer using social media. Sadek also put Nakoula in touch with another important promotional partner: Jones, the Florida pastor.
Abdelmasih said Nakoula called one day to ask to use his facility. “He said to me the movie was about persecution of Christians by the government, combined with radical Muslims,” Abdelmasih recalled in an interview.
Media for Christ provided no cameras or any other production help, Abdelmasih said. He also insisted that Media for Christ’s “work is not against Muslims,” and he said he was “shocked” by the final product. But his studio has been used to produce Wake Up America, a program hosted by Steve Klein, an insurance salesman in Hemet, California and a staunch anti-Islam activist. Klein served as a consultant for Nakoula after they first met at Media for Christ.
When Dan Sutter, cast as George’s grandfather, arrived at Media for Christ’s offices in early August of last year, Nakoula was there, greeting people as Sam. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ played on a television in a break room.
Eight months or so after shooting ended, Nakoula ontacted a few of the actors to return to Media for Christ for looping, a standard part of moviemaking in which inaudible dialogue is rerecorded. Lily Dionne, an extra with no lines who was called to dub for another actress, said that a fellow actor had also been asked back and that Nakoula told him to say Muhammad into a microphone. He did.
On 2 July, the trailer was posted on YouTube by someone using the name Sam BacileNakoula s son said he was the one who did it. “My dad is not tech-savvy at all, and does not know how to work social media,” Abanob Nakoula said. “So he asked me to take the initiative to spread the word, and I did my best.” He explained that, using the name Sam Bacile, he created a Facebook account before production started and then the YouTube account. Abanob Nakoula added, “My dad wanted to show the trailer on television as a commercial, and I told him that was not going to happen because it costs a lot of money and the networks would not show a fourteen-minute trailer, especially if they knew the content.”
Rico says he's still dubious that there's a full-length movie in the can, but who knows?

Better yet

Time has an AP article about the latest from Apple:
Apple says the smaller version its new, slimmed-down iMac desktop computers will go on sale soon. It will also start taking orders for the larger model, but the units won’t ship until a month later.
The model with the 21.5-inch screen will cost $1,299 and up, depending on the configuration. The model with a 27-inch screen will start at $1,799.
The iMac tacks the computer components to the back of a large LCD screen. The new models have no disk drive, helping make the edges one-fifth the thickness of the old model. They bulge considerably toward the middle of the back, however.
Apple revealed the new models a month ago.
Rico says he'd like one...

Another cool thing

Harry McCracken has a Time article about another cool Apple thing:
Back in April, I read a Time.com story by my colleague Jared Newman about a Kickstarter project called Brydge. It was an anodized aluminum-cased rechargaable Bluetooth keyboard with a clamshell hinger which could be clamped securely to an iPad, turning Apple‘s tablet into a stylish, MacBook Air-like mini-laptop. My iPad was already my main computer, so I got excited and pledged $170, joining 3265 other backers and entitling me to the base-model Brydge. (A $210 model has built-in wireless speakers.)
As is normal with Kickstarter-funded gadgets, Brydge showed up later than planned, in somewhat different form than shown in the initial pitch. Its designers decided to ditch their original plastic hinge in favor of dual finger-like clamps, with shims which allow the keyboard to be used with the second-, third- and fourth-generation iPads. They also used a different keyboard layout than shown in their original video. And they missed their target of shipping in October, but only by a few weeks; my Brydge arrived today. Before I had a chance to try it, though, I read a review over at Gdgt by my friend and fellow Brydge backer Peter Rojas and panicked a little bit. Peter gave it a score of two on a scale from one to ten and said his was unusable: when he pressed the keys, they squeaked, stuck, or simply got jammed inside the case. Had I invested my $170 in a lemon?
Apparently not. I’ve set up my Brydge— I’m typing this post on it— and haven’t encountered any of the gremlins which Peter did. I’m hopeful that his unit was simply defective, and that when a Brydge functions properly, it…functions properly.
So far, I’m pretty happy with mine. I’ve tried most of the major iPad keyboards and lately have been using Logitech’s Solar Keyboard Folio. But the Brydge is the most laptop-like one I’ve seen, since it turns the iPad into a clamshell device rather than having you prop the tablet up in one way or another. You can adjust the screen angle to your liking, and as far as I can tell, there’s no risk of the set-up falling apart, either when closed or open. (Other designs can get a tad wobbly at times, especially if you rest them on your lap while you type.)
The keyboard is wide enough to be comfy, with keys that actually travel; the only issue I have with it is that the right-hand Shift key is too dinky. Curiously, it was roomier in the prototype video: In the finished product, it got smaller to make room for the arrow keys.
Assuming that Peter Rojas’s Brydge is abnormal (I’m curious to see what other backers say) this keyboard’s biggest gotcha may be its pricetag. You have to be awfully serious about turning an iPad into a notebook to plunk down $170 to $210 for a Brydge. Or even to pay $150, which is what the Brydge folks are charging for a new polycarbonate model with speakers.
Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover and Zagg’s ZaggFolio are only a hundred bucks apiece. They’re plastic, not aluminum, but I’ve typed many thousands of words on them and recommend both. I want to use the Brydge a bit longer before I decide whether I recommend it, too.
Rico says it's yet another thing to spend money he doesn't have on...

The end, earlier

James Atlas has an article in The New York Times about the end of us:
We'd seen it before: the Piazza San Marco in Venice submerged by the acqua alta; New Orleans underwater in the aftermath of Katrina; the wreckage-strewn beaches of Indonesia left behind by the tsunami of 2004. We just hadn’t seen it here. (Last summer’s Hurricane Irene did a lot of damage on the East Coast, but New York City was spared the worst.) “Fear death by water,” T.S. Eliot intoned in The Waste Land. We do now.
There had been warnings. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change issued a prophetic report: “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said William Solecki, a geographer at Hunter College and a member of the panel. But what good are warnings? Intelligence agents received advance word that terrorists were hoping to hijack commercial jets. Who listened? (Not George W. Bush.) If we can’t imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of a city?
History is a series of random events organized in a seemingly sensible order. We experience it as chronology, with ourselves as the end point— not the end point, but as the culmination of events that leads to the very moment in which we happen to live. “Historical events might be unique, and given pattern by an end,” the critic Frank Kermode proposed in The Sense of an Ending, his classic work on literary narrative, “yet there are perpetuities which defy both the uniqueness and the end.” What he’s saying (I think) is that there is no pattern. Flux is all.
Last month’s “weather event” should have taught us that. Whether in fifty or a hundred or two hundred years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea. But if there are no patterns, it means that nothing is inevitable either. History offers less dire scenarios: the city could move to another island, the way Torcello was moved to Venice, stone by stone, after the lagoon turned into a swamp and its citizens succumbed to a plague of malaria. The city managed to survive, if not where it had begun. Perhaps the day will come when skyscrapers rise out of downtown Scarsdale.
Humans are ingenious. Our species tends to see nature as something of a nuisance, a phenomenon to be outwitted. Consider efforts to save Venice: planners have hatched one scheme after another to prevent the city from sinking. Industrial development has been curtailed. Buildings dating from the Renaissance have been “relocated.”
The most ambitious project, begun a decade ago, is the installation of mobile gates in the lagoons. Known by the acronym MOSE— the Italian name for Moses, who mythically parted the Red Sea— it’s an intricate engineering feat: whenever the tide rises, metal barriers that lie in concrete bunkers on the sea floor are lifted by compressed air pressure and pivoted into place on hinges.
Is the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico— the project’s official name— some engineer’s fantasy? It was scheduled for completion this year, but that has been put off until 2014. Even if, by some miracle, the gates materialize, they will be only a stay against the inevitable. Look at the unfortunate Easter Islanders, who left behind as evidence of their existence a mountainside of huge blank-faced busts, or the Polynesians of Pitcairn Island, who didn’t leave behind much more than a few burial sites and a bunch of stone tools. Every civilization must go.
Yet each goes in its own way. In Collapse, Jared Diamond showed how the disappearance of a civilization has multiple causes. A cascade of events with unforeseen consequences invariably brings it to a close. The Norse of Greenland cut down their trees (for firewood and other purposes) until there were no more trees, which made it a challenge to build houses or boats. There were other causes, too: violent clashes with the Inuit, bad weather, ice pileups in the fjords blocking trade routes. But deforestation was the prime factor. By the end, no tree fell in the forest, as there was none; and there would have been no one to hear it if it had.
Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice, declared Robert Frost. Another alternative would be lava. Pliny the Younger’s letters to Tacitus described the eruption of Mount Vesuvius: a plume of dirt and ash rose in the sky; rocks pelted Pompeii; and then darkness arrived. “It was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but like being in an enclosed place where the light has been doused.” Who did this? It must have been the gods. “Many were raising their hands to implore the gods, but more took the view that no gods now existed anywhere, and that this was an eternal and final darkness hanging over the world.” But of course it wasn’t the end of the world: it was just the end of them.
Contemplating our ephemerality can be a profound experience. To wander the once magnificent Roman cities strung along the Lycian coast of Turkey— now largely reduced to rubble, much still unexcavated— is to realize how extensive, how magisterial this civilization was. Whole cities are underwater; you can snorkel over them and read inscriptions carved into ancient monoliths. Ephesus, with population of three hundred thousand in the second century A.D., is now a vast necropolis. The amphitheater that accommodated nearly twenty-five thousand people sits empty. The Temple of Artemis, said to have been four times larger than the Parthenon, is a handful of slender columns.
Yet we return home from our travels intoxicated by beauty, not truth. It doesn’t occur to us that we, too, will one day be described in a guidebook (Fodor’s North America 2212?) as metropolitans who resided in sixty-story towers and traveled beneath the waves in metal-sheathed trains.
It’s this willed ignorance, I suspect, that explains why it’s difficult to process the implications of climate change for New York City, even in the face of explicit warnings from politicians, not the most future-oriented people. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has been courageous to make global warming a subject of public debate, but will taxpayers support his proposal to build a levee in New York Harbor? Wouldn’t it be easier to think of Sandy as a “once in a lifetime” storm? Even as Lower Manhattan continues to bail itself out— this time in the literal sense— One World Trade Center rises, floor by floor. The governor notes that “we have a hundred-year flood every two years now,” which doesn’t stop rents from going up in Battery Park City.
Walking on New York City’s Upper East Side, I was reminded by the gargantuan white box atop a busy construction site that the Second Avenue line, first proposed in 1929, remains very much in the works. And why not? Should images of water pouring into the subway tunnels that occupied our newspapers a few weeks back be sufficient to stay us from progress? “I must live till I die,” says the hero of a Joseph Conrad novel. The same could be said of cities.
When, on my way home at night, I climb the steps from the subway by the American Museum of Natural History— itself a monument to transience, with its dinosaurs and its mammoth and its skeleton of a dodo bird, that doomed species whose name has become an idiom for extinction— I feel more keenly than ever the miraculousness, the improbability of New York City.
Looking down Central Park West, I’m thrilled by the necklace of green-and-red traffic lights extending toward Columbus Circle and the glittering tower of One57, that vertical paradise for billionaires. And as I walk past the splashing fountain in front of the museum’s south entrance on West 77th Street, I recall a sentence from Edward Gibbon’s ode to evanescence, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in which “the learned Poggius” gazes down at the remains of the city from the Capitoline hill: “The public and private edifices, that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked, and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune.”
This is our fate. All the more reason to appreciate what we have while we have it.
Rico says that "appreciate what we have while we have it" is Rico's new slogan, since his time in the hospital... (But check out what could disappear here.)

Wow!

Rico says his friend Tex, a former Marine, forwards the lady's bio:
At Century High School in Bismarck, North Dakota, Paula Broadwell excelled in and out of the classroom, earning all-state basketball honors, orchestra concert mistress, student council president, homecoming queen, and valedictorian.
At West Point, she had a dual major in systems engineering and political geography, ran cross-country and track, and competed in the high jump. She earned twelve varsity letters. Graduating number one in physical fitness in West Point's Class of 1995, a class whose size numbered 1015 with 87% men, she selected the Military Intelligence Corps and an initial posting to serve as a platoon leader on the DMZ.
Assignments followed in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. They included the command of an International Defense Intelligence Agency Document Exploitation Unit in Bosnia and as a senior intelligence and security officer for the largest Military Police Battalion in the Army based in Mannheim, Germany, sparking an interest in covert military operations.
As a senior Army captain, Broadwell entered into the world of black operations, but traded her active duty commission for one in the Army reserves when she became engaged to Scott BroadwellRecalled to active duty shortly after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Broadwell was assigned as a special operations command intelligence planner in Europe. Her role included planning of strikes on counter-terrorist targets in Africa, the Caucasus region, and Afghanistan. She expanded her physical skill by engaging in several self-defense and combative courses, and earning Airborne qualifications from four countries.
She returned to graduate school, earning dual masters degrees in International Security and Conflict Resolution from the University of Denver and a masters degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. She also studied Arabic and Middle Eastern culture at the University of Jordan in Amman.
She was the Deputy Director of the Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at Tufts University in 2006. The Center's mission was to increase the understanding and competency of counter-terrorism professionals at various levels. When General David Petraeus assumed command of the Multinational Forces in Iraq, the Jebsen Center provided his command group with robust research and analysis of counter-terrorism alternatives.
Her research to support General Petraeus led her to develop expertise in counter-terror financing, political risk analysis, social network modeling and the strategic leadership of national security organizations. It also inspired her to pursue a doctoral degree in organizational management. But, as she got to know Petraeus, her interest in transformational leadership grew.
Successfully petitioning her doctoral advisors at Kings College War Studies Department at the University of London for a change, her dissertation became focused on adaptive leadership and the military leadership trajectory of General David Petraeus. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves in summer 2012.
And, most important of all, she has huge tits, which got the attention of General Petraeus and led to his downfall...

New iMacs

The Associated Press has an article in Time about the latest from Apple:
Apple says the smaller version of its new, slimmed-down iMac desktop computers will go on sale on 1 December. It will also start taking orders for the larger model, but the units won’t ship until next month.
The iMac with a 21.5-inch screen will cost $1,299 and up, depending on the configuration. The iMac with a 27-inch screen will start at $1,799.
The iMac tacks the computer components to the back of a large LCD screen. The new models have no disk drive, helping make the edges one-fifth the thickness of the old model. They bulge considerably toward the middle of the back, however.
Apple revealed the new models a month ago. Apple shares fell $2.04 to $587.49 in afternoon trading.
Rico says he hasn't seen them yet, but he wants one...

Attacked by soccer fans

Jeremy Roebuck has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about an Italian bar fight:
Facing a mob of Italian soccer fans armed with cobblestones, knives, and bats, Swarthmore College student Nick Constantino reached for the first thing he could find to defend himself: a bar stool. His only instinct, he said recently, was to escape with his life. "These guys came in wearing masks, carrying weapons, and were intent on hurting or potentially killing people," Constantino said from Rome. "We were just basically in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Six days after a raucous brawl at a bar in Rome left him and two other Swarthmore students hospitalized, the twenty-year-old junior from Marlton recalled the chaotic scene. By the end of the fight, one of his classmates would be stabbed in the back, another would be bludgeoned with a beer pitcher, and Constantino himself would have a mild concussion; all innocently caught up in what Italian authorities described as a bloody explosion of soccer hooliganism.
Authorities continue to investigate and have charged at least two fans of the Italian soccer team Lazio with assault. The men stand accused of descending on the Drunken Ship, a pub popular with foreign students (photo), on the Campo de' Fiori just before 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday in search of fans of the rival Tottenham Hotspur team from England. The attack, which may have been motivated partly by anti-Semitism, preceded a Europa League match that ended in a scoreless draw. Lazio fans reportedly chanted slurs at the Spurs, who have a large Jewish fan base, and held a Free Palestine banner.
The Swarthmore students were expected to fully recover and complete their semester abroad next week, said Eryn Jelesiewicz, a spokeswoman for Temple University, which runs the program that sent Constantino and his classmates to Italy.
Nicholas Burnett, a Swarthmore junior from Anaheim, California, remained hospitalized recovering from a stab wound. Zachary Schaffer, a junior from Moreland Hills, Ohio, sustained bruising, university officials said.
Constantino said that he and his friends were not initially aware of the soccer fans drinking near them that night. "We had literally ordered our first round of drinks and hadn't even sat down when we saw this group of fifty or sixty guys coming," he said. "Some were wearing masks, some with full motorcycle helmets, and some with bandannas. Every single one of them had some sort of weapon." Chaos erupted within minutes. The crowd began smashing windows, indiscriminately punching patrons and hurling cobblestones at those sitting outside, Constantino said. He bolted inside from an outside patio, toppling tables and chairs behind him in hope of slowing down the pursuing mob. Others nearby grabbed serving trays, beer mugs, and broken-off table legs to defend themselves. "At one point, I was cornered with a bunch of people behind me," Constantino said. "I was trying to bat people away with a stool."
Burnett, meanwhile, glimpsed an opportunity to flee, and ran toward a nearby alley, he told the Daily Telegraph in London. "I tried to escape, but a guy hit me in the back," he said. "At first I thought it was a baseball bat, but then I felt the wound and it felt like a knife injury. I ran across the piazza to take refuge and realized I was bleeding profusely." Doctors would determine that Burnett's stabbing nicked a lung. But he quickly recovered from the injuries, Constantino said. He is expected to be released from the hospital soon. "He's in great spirits," said Constantino. "He really is a trouper."
In the days since the attack, Swarthmore officials have kept in close contact with the students' parents and re-emphasized safety guidelines for all students studying abroad, school officials said.
But Constantino is determined not to let the incident ruin his time in Rome. "It was really just a freak random act of violence," he said. "It doesn't change my opinion of Italy at all." His parents have expressed reservations, he added. But after a fall semester filled with first trips to Rome's ruins and museums, Constantino said, he can now add a third less auspicious first to the list. "I've never actually seen a legitimate bar fight before," he said. "Let alone something like this."
Rico says that he's never been in a bar fight, fortunately, not even in college, but likes the bar stool or broken table leg notion. (But only because the Italians wouldn't like him packing a gub, which would be his first choice...)

Overweight passengers

Linda Loyd has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about airplane travel:
As Americans travel this holiday season, with planes crowded and space tight, they may encounter a growing problem: oversized passengers who can't fit comfortably in a seventeen-inch-wide economy-class airplane seat.
More than thirty percent of American adults are categorized as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. And airlines have a variety of policies to deal with "passengers of size".
Enforcement of the rules is left to ticket and gate agents and flight attendants, and policing can fall short, as it did recently for frequent flier Steve Lapin of Elkins Park. He was buckled into a window seat from Tampa to Philadelphia on 23 September, when a large man sat down in the middle seat next to him. Lapin could not lower the armrest between them, he said in an interview, and he spent the next two hours and fifteen minutes "scrunched all the way over by the window".
In the United States, there are no government regulations for accommodating overweight air travelers. It's left up to the airlines, which until recent years "didn't have clearly stated policies to deal with passengers of size. Now, they do," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. More airlines are enforcing "customer of size" rules, which range from requiring such passengers to purchase additional seats to, in some cases, refusing to board them. "Keep in mind that these rules are observed on a case-by-case basis," Hobica said. Enforcement is up to individual airline employees, "and many may feel uncomfortable acting as the 'fat police'." Coach seating— six seats across, in three-by-three arrangements— is skimpy for the average-sized, much less the large and tall. "Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his heyday, probably didn't fit in a standard 17-inch coach seat," Hobica said.
Meanwhile, airlines are packing more people onto planes, as jet fuel and other costs have risen, but seats in coach are not getting bigger. Although airline policies suggest that the person buying the ticket should know whether he or she can fit in the seat, some travelers have encountered humiliation at the gate or when boarding.
Kenlie Tiggeman gained national attention in April of 2011 after a Southwest Airlines gate agent told her she was "too fat to fly without an additional ticket. He asked me what my weight was, what size clothes I wore. I was on the fourth leg of a Southwest flight," said Tiggeman, a New Orleans resident who blogs about weight loss on her website, AllTheWeigh.com. She weighed 284 pounds at the time. "I could put the armrest down and wear the seat belt." After informing the agent she had a weight-loss blog and was going to record him with her iPhone, he allowed her to get on the flight. Southwest contacted her the next day, apologized, and offered her a free flight voucher. Tiggeman flew several more times on Southwest without incident, and then, last November, when she checked in for a flight, she again was told she had to buy a second ticket. "My problem with Southwest is that they need to be consistent. On one flight, I don't have any trouble. On another flight, I have an issue," she said in an interview. "They need to take the power out of the hands of the gate agents. Make it the same policy every day. If they want our height and weight, fine," Tiggeman said. "I'd much rather give it via the Internet when I buy my ticket than at the gate."
On the flip side are travelers who have had their personal space invaded by seatmates spilling over their seats onto the armrests. US Airways passenger Arthur Berkowitz said he had to stand for most of a seven-hour flight from Anchorage to Philadelphia in July of 2011 because a man weighing at least four hundred pounds was in the middle seat next to him. Berkowitz asked flight attendants about moving but was told there were no other seats. The airline later apologized and offered him a $200 voucher. At the time, Berkowitz said, his primary concern was safety; he could not use his seat belt during takeoff and landing because the man next to him was sitting on top of it. Berkowitz said in a recent email that he had corresponded with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation, and the airline. "I tried a year ago. With the FAA and DOT and US Air. I'm done."
Policies vary and change, according to Airfarewatchdog.comDelta Air Lines does not require larger customers to buy extra seats, but may ask them to move or wait for another flight with more seating. Delta suggests that travelers purchase second seats if they think they are needed and can't wait for flights with empty seats. United Airlines requires that passengers fit in the seat with both armrests down; if not, they have to buy second seats. "Those who decline to do so or upgrade to larger seats risk being refused at the gate."
US Airways says it "takes it case by case, offering extra space when available, and may require waiting for a later flight." Passengers who refuse to change flights may be required to purchase second seats at the gate, although the policy is rarely enforced.
Southwest requires customers to buy second seats if they cannot fit between the armrests. Southwest will refund the cost of the extra seats after the trip and if the flight was not oversold. Recently, Southwest revised its policy to say that passengers can get second seats free of charge at the gate. The airline recommends that passengers buy second seats in advance if they need extra room, but they can request refunds after the flight.
US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said: "Our first goal is to try to accommodate the customer on their originally scheduled flight, by moving seats, if necessary. If that doesn't work, we will offer a later flight. "It's rare," he said, "but if we need to compensate a volunteer to take another flight, in order to accommodate the person of size, then we will."
Rico says he fits in the seat fine, but recently had to endure the 'person of size' sitting next to him... (But sit on his seatbelt? You'll find an elbow in the ribs...)

26 November 2012

Sexism for the day

Rico says his arch-perv friend Dave sends another one, claiming to be A Real Man's Post-It Note:

Secede? Why not?

Adam Cohen has a Time article about secession:
It’s beginning to feel a lot like the 1860s,  and not just because Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln opened nationwide this past weekend. There is a secessionist movement afoot: hundreds of thousands of Americans from all fifty states have signed petitions to secede. Texas is in the lead— no great surprise, perhaps— with ABC reporting last week that the Lone Star State’s petition was the first to get more than 25,000 signatures. It now has more than a hundred thousand.
That 25,000 mark, which at least seven states have hit, is significant. The petitions were shrewdly placed on a White House website called We the People, which invites members of the public to appeal directly to the federal government. The site promises that petitions that garner more than 25,000 signatures within thirty days— subject to some exceptions— will get a response from the White House.
What exactly are the states’ grounds for seceding? The answers are a bit scattershot. The Texas petition complains that the US is suffering economically “from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending” and throws in alleged abuses imposed by the Transportation Security Administration, which could be summarized with the phrase “Don’t touch my junk”. Virginia’s petition cites, with somewhat arbitrary punctuation and capitalization, Corruption,Lies,and Cover-Ups.Including potential Voter Fraud.
Scoff if you will, but it is clear that the neo-secessionist movement is having a moment. The Drudge Report, that calibrator of the far-right zeitgeist, exulted in a headline on 14 November: Secession Movement Explodes. And articles have been appearing elsewhere online with headlines like Is Secession the Answer for Utah? (If it is, what exactly is the question?)
Of course, anti-secessionists are gleefully responding. Chuck Thompson, the author of Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, has written a piece titled Go Ahead and Secede, Texas. I Dare You. In it, he argues that the small-government utopia that Texas secessionists are dreaming of— a country with weak trade unions, negligible taxes, and no guaranteed health care— “already exists. It’s called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
As the petitioning and flame wars continue, though, it’s worth stepping back and asking a few basic questions: is any of this legal, and can a state actually secede from the union?
It’s a question that law professors sometimes like to ponder, but the answer certainly must be no. The Constitution, which provides processes for new states to enter the union and for current states to divide or reconfigure, does not have a provision for states to leave the union. A state would have to leave by force— something Abraham Lincoln knew a lot about— since there is no legal basis it could point to for breaking away.
It is often said the Civil War answered this question: that when the South surrendered at Appomattox, the idea of secession was also defeated. In fact, no lesser authority than Justice Antonin Scalia (who would probably rank Number One or Two in a parlor-game bet over which Justice is most likely to sign a secession petition) has said precisely this. In response to a letter from a citizen asking if there is a legal basis for secession— a letter that it is remarkable for being answered by a sitting JusticeScalia wrote in 2006: “The answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”
Of course, it is highly unlikely that any of these legal questions will have to be re-examined, because for all the secessionists’ petitions, they remain a perversely small minority. Even in the states that are racking up the most signatures, governors have been quick to distance themselves from secession talk. The conservative Republican governors of Alabama and Texas have come out publicly against secession, and the governor of Louisiana, whose state’s signature total was second only to Texas’ on 14 November, called the idea “silly.”
In fact, just like 150 years ago, pro-union forces are starting to respond with vigor. A petition recently went up on We the People titled Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America. It has gotten more than 24,000 signatures, and counting.
Rico says he'd sign that last one...

Oh, not Zero, dammit


Richard Corliss has a Time article about the hunt for bin Laden:
In a “black site” at an undisclosed location, a CIA officer is interrogating a man suspected of having information on the courier of Osama bin Laden. The suspect, Ammar (Reda Kateb), believes he can withstand the waterboarding, the dog collar, the sleep and food deprivation, the heavy metal music  that hammers his warehouse cell 24 hours a day; he boldly asserts that “jihad will go on for a hundred years.” But as his captor, Dan (Jason Clarke), patiently explains, “In the end, bro, everybody breaks. It’s biology.” Ammar turns to Dan’s silent partner, Maya (Jessica Chastain), and cries: “Your friend is an animal. Please help me.” The ordeal continues. That’s diplomacy, by any means necessary.
The 9/11 attacks instantly created a new world disorder, changing the face of the enemy from cranky tyrants to a stateless ascetic with the dream of crippling infidel America. Al-Qaeda’s coup also rendered the old book of counterintelligence ethics obsolete. Bribes and blackmail were still permitted, but no gentlemen or ladies needed enlist in the war on terror. The stakes were too high, as Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the director and writer of The Hurt Locker, document in their powerhouse thriller Zero Dark Thirty. “I want targets!” shouts George (Mark Strong), a high-level CIA official, to his agents in the field. “Do your fuckin’ job. Bring me people to kill.” At this time, Leon Panetta (James Gandolfini) is the CIA director, and Maya has been working for years to bring him the head of Osama bin Laden.
Surrounded by tattooed enforcers like Dan and upper-management toughies like George, Maya at first seems as pale and petite as a naked mole rat. When Dan is transferred back home and Maya assumes control of the interrogations, her boss warns her: “You don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes.” But Maya has developed copper callouses and steely reserve, especially after some of her closest colleagues were blown to bits in the 2009 suicide bombing at the Camp Chapman base in Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA agents. Maya believes she was spared so she could finish the job. “I’m gonna smoke everybody involved in this op,” she says of the Camp Chapman attack. “And then I’m gonna kill bin Laden.”
The making of Zero Dark Thirty, which opens on 19 December in a few theaters before expanding in January, was an operation nearly as complex and secretive as the one that took down bin Laden. Some industry analysts, inferring that the movie was all about the 1 May 2011 SEAL Team 6 raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader, wondered why a woman had the leading role. (The raid consumes just the final fifth of the movie.) The clandestine nature of the enterprise also stoked sepulchral suspicions, both on the right and the center-left, that ZDT would be a mash note to Barack Obama, who gave the go-ahead for the raid, while George W. Bush proclaimed in 2004 that “I really just don’t spend that much time on bin Laden” and Mitt Romney in 2007 said it was “not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
Before the movie had begun shooting, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asserted that “the White House has outsourced the job of manning up the President’s image to Hollywood.” Peter King, the House Republican who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, promised an investigation of any aid the Obama Administration might have afforded Boal; and the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, a political action group stocked with Tea Party Express members and ex-Bush officials involved in the Iraq war, produced a YouTube video charging the film with “dishonorable disclosures”— as if the Defense Department didn’t pour millions into supplying hardware and expertise to Hollywood movies (Transformers, Act of Valor, and dozens of others) and government insiders didn’t routinely spill secrets to journalists like Bob Woodward. And Dowd.
For the record, Bigelow received no help from the government— no lending of aircraft or weaponry— in the depiction of the Abbottabad, Pakistan, raid or of any other military activity. And we would hope that Boal, like any investigative reporter, received knowledgeable help in getting his facts straight. Further, this is in no way a political film; it carries neither a torch for Obama (who is seen only for seconds, promising in a 2008 news clip to end waterboarding) nor the agitated imprint of an Oliver Stone film. Essentially, it’s a police procedural on a grand scale.
First and last, Zero Dark Thirty is a movie, and a damned fine one. Like Argo— which, with all due respect to director Ben Affleck and the film’s many admirers, ZDT blows out of the water— it dramatizes a true-life international adventure with CIA agents as the heroes. (And it takes fewer fictional liberties with the source material than Affleck did.) In the tradition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Boal tracked down the particulars of a sensational exploit and, skipping the “nonfiction novel” stage, created an original screenplay that provides a streamlined timeline of the hunt for bin Laden. The word docudrama doesn’t hint at Boal’s achievement. This is movie journalism that snaps and stings, that purifies a decade’s clamor and clutter into narrative clarity, with a salutary kick.
It’s a subject perfect for Bigelow. She has wrangled complex stories about cops (Blue Steel), undercover FBI agents (Point Break) and nuclear-submarine commanders (K19: The Widowmaker) and, in the process, proved herself to be one of cinema’s most inventive visual strategists and field commanders— and, in a nice way, Hollywood’s ballsiest director. Perched between the serene classicism of old Hollywood and the jittery crazy-cam of the Bourne era, Bigelow’s style is terse and assured. There’s no question which side she’s on, but she allows virtually all the characters, American and Middle Eastern, their moments of reason or sympathy. In this case she is neither prosecutor nor judge— simply the sharpest, most attentive member of the jury.
In The Hurt Locker, which won Oscars for Best Director and Original Screenplay, Bigelow and Boal viewed the war on terror in a microcosm, through the eyes of a trio of bomb defusers in Iraq. ZDT is a macrocosm. Instead of a Baghdad street where an IED could explode underfoot, Maya and her colleagues tread a minefield that stretches from Kabul to Times Square. Though it focuses on the determination and resilience of Maya (who is based on a real CIA tracker), the film is a giant fresco, an imposing series of surgical strikes set in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Poland, and the US. For a throbbing two hours and forty minutes, ZDT moves through enemy territory with the speed, weight, brains and grace of a Pro Bowl NFL linebacker; it’s the Lawrence Taylor of war-ops movies.
With the dense dialogue spread across more than a hundred speaking roles, the supporting actors could be mere information carriers, but many make excellent use of their limited screen time: Clarke as the hard-case interrogator with a Ph.D., Kateb as his victim-informer, Kyle Chandler as Maya’s suave, cautious station boss, Jennifer Ehle as a warm, seen-it-all field agent, and Edgar Ramirez as an operative who tracks bin Laden on an edgy ride through Islamabad. Chastain takes a while to grow into Maya’s skin, but her tentativeness in the early scenes may be an accurate depiction of a young woman just out of college, enduring the growing pains of a difficult matriculation in a killer job.
As a bright young woman driven to bring down an al-Qaeda terrorist, Maya shares aspects of Claire DanesCarrie Mathison in the Showtime series Homeland, but she lacks Carrie’s defining neuroses— and much other personal biography. What are Maya’s political beliefs? Who are her family and friends back home? Does she have a sex life? Doesn’t matter: she is her job. In a way, Maya is the CIA equivalent of Bigelow, a strong woman who has mastered a man’s game.
At the end, the woman who finds bin Laden also finds an end to her sacred obsession. And, eight years to the day after Bush prematurely announced it, a US official has earned the right to proclaim: “Mission accomplished.” So, too, with this splendid sortie into cinematic reportage, can Kathryn Bigelow.
Rico says if this movie is even better than Argo, it's definitely on his must-see list... (But the military phrase is still oh-dark-thirty, dammit.)
 

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