28 February 2013

No Nookie

Leslie Kaufman has an article in The New York Times about problems at Barnes & Noble:

Even for a company with a lot of bad news lately, the bulletin from Barnes & Noble this month had an ominous feel. The nation’s largest book chain warned that, when it reports its fiscal 2013 third-quarter results, losses in its Nook Media division— which includes sales of e-books and devices— will be greater than the year before, and that the unit’s revenue for all of fiscal 2013 would be far below projections it gave of three billion dollars.
The problem was not so much the extent of the losses, but what the losses might signal: that the digital approach that Barnes & Nobles has been heavily investing in as its future for the last several years has essentially run its course.
A person familiar with Barnes & Nobles’ strategy acknowledged that this quarter, which includes holiday sales, has caused executives to realize the company must move away from its program to engineer and build its own devices and focus more on licensing its content to other device makers. “They are not completely getting out of the hardware business, but they are going to lean a lot more on the comprehensive digital catalog of content,” said this person, who asked not to be identified discussing corporate strategy. The person said the company will emphasize its commitment to intensify partnerships with other tablet producers like Microsoft and Samsung to make deals for content that it controls.
If Barnes & Noble does indeed pull back from building tablets, it would be a 180-degree shift for a company that as late as last year was promoting the Nook as its future. “Had we not launched devices and spent the money we invested in the Nook, investors and analysts would have said, ’Barnes & Noble is crazy, and they’re going to go away’,” William Lynch, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview last January.
Since 2009, when Barnes & Noble first decided to invest in building the device, its financial commitment to the division has been substantial. (The company does not disclose exact figures.) At the beginning of 2012, that bet seemed to be paying off and the digital future seemed hopeful.
In May, Microsoft decided to give a cash infusion to the product by pledging more than $600 million to Nook Media. In December, the British textbook publisher Pearson bought a five percent stake in the unit for nearly $90 million.
Going into the 2012 Christmas season, the Nook HD, Barnes & Noble’s entrant into the seven-inch and nine-inch tablet market, was winning rave reviews from technology critics who praised its high-quality screen. Editors at CNET called it “a fantastic tablet value”, and David Pogue in The New York Times told readers choosing between the Nook HD and Kindle Fire that the Nook “is the one to get”.
But, while tablet sales exploded over the Christmas season, Barnes & Noble was not a beneficiary. Buyers preferred Apple devices by a long mile, but then went on to buy Samsung, Amazon, and Google products before those of Barnes & Noble, according to market analysis by Forrester Research. “In many ways, it is a great product,” Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst at Forrester, said of the Nook tablet. “It was a failure of brand, not product. The Barnes & Noble brand is just very small,” she added. “It has done a great job at engaging its existing customers, but failed to expand their footprint beyond that.”
Others pointed out that, even if the Nook itself was a nice device, its offerings were not as rich as that of its rivals. Shaw Wu, a senior analyst at Sterne Agee, a midsize investment bank in San Francisco, said: “It is a very tough space. It is highly competitive, and extras like the depth of apps are very important. But it requires funding and a lot of attention, and Barnes & Noble is competing against companies like Apple and Google, who literally have unlimited resources.”
Horace Dediu, an independent analyst based in Finland who focuses on the mobile industry, said that the difference in quality among the products was so small as to be increasingly irrelevant. “We’ve moved beyond a game of specs,” he said. “Now it is about your business model, about distribution, and economics of scale.” He said that, while the cellphone business used to have numerous competitors, it now has only two companies that are really profitable: Apple and Samsung. He said he expected a similar consolidation in the tablet market, with companies like Barnes & Noble “maybe falling off the map”.
There is no immediate danger to the book retailer, which has some 677 stores nationwide. The company has said it plans to close about fifteen unprofitable stores a year and replace them at a much slower rate. It also still holds roughly one quarter of the digital sales of books and more of magazines.
Still, the threat is large enough that Barnes & Noble executives are working hard to determine a strategy that focuses on core strengths like content distribution. Its content is its “crown jewel”, said the person familiar with the company’s strategy, “and where the profitable income stream lies.”

Rico says he warned them not to try and compete with Apple...

Politics for the day

Rico says that desperate times demand desperate measures, so he's started a new blog, Throw da bums out, to provide a place for everyone to vent their frustration about the current Congress... Feel free to comment; unlike his Rant, Rico won't moderate them.

Screw the Girl Scouts

Rico says he means that to be metaphorically speaking, of course.
But the little bitches in green only sell theirs once a year, for a limited period, so it was only a matter of time until someone else duplicated them...

Scam for the day

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Quote for the day

Sometimes I think there is only fiction. At best, non-fiction is a reasonable interpretation of events.
F. Ellsworth Lockwood

27 February 2013

Fancy name for a POS

Rico says that the much-vaunted Chromebook by Google (photo) is still just a made-by-Samsung/Lenovo/Acer POS laptop, running Google's Chrome as an OS, and Rico wouldn't take one as a gift...

Not Rico's collecting thing

As explained on the back of this pre-Nazi-era good-luck postcard from around 1907, the swastika "forms a combination of four ‘L’s’ standing for Luck, Light, Love, and Life.”

On the left, a pre-1920s good-luck watch fob touting the virtues of Kansas City's livestock market. On the right, a pre-Nazi-era membership emblem distributed by the Boy Scouts.

The front, back, and bottom of a porcelain mug typical of ones used by SS officers in their mess halls at concentration camps, field camps, city offices, and training camps.

Ben Marks has an article at Collector's Weekly about Nazi collectors:

When we started inviting people to post items from their collections on Show & Tell, we knew that sooner or later we’d be faced with a Nazi swastika. At first, we simply followed the lead of eBay and deleted anything with a Nazi swastika on it that was not a coin or a stamp. But then we noticed that the handful of people who were uploading these World War Two medals, helmets, and badges appeared to be sincere militaria collectors, not neo-Nazis trying to sneak an offensive image onto our site.
The problem, of course, with anything bearing a Nazi swastika, regardless of its historical value, is that most people find the symbol offensive. It was the banner of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, which was responsible for the slaughter of some six million Jews, millions of ethnic Serbs and Poles, and hundreds of thousands of gypsies, people with disabilities, and homosexuals. Of the countries the Nazis attacked, the Soviet Union lost almost twenty percent of its population, or 23 million souls, roughly three million of whom perished in prisoner-of-war camps.
But for collectors like Kevin Mackey, Nazi memorabilia, particularly those bearing the swastika, are unambiguous reminders of this suffering. Though upsetting to many, Mackey believes these pieces have a place in any discussion of World War Two. “To obliterate the symbols of Nazi Germany,” he says, “would be to obliterate that period from our knowledge, and to forget what took place. We need to be aware of what caused Nazi Germany, what happened, and how much horror came to this world because of it.”
Mackey served in the United States Navy from 1979 to 1983 and left active service, honorably, as a second-class petty officer. Today, he continues to serve his country as a commander at his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. For the past 25 years or so, he’s also been a collector, gravitating toward belt buckles, pocket watches, advertising pieces, and practically anything else that tells a story or can be pegged to a particular moment in US history.
Not surprisingly, then, Mackey also collects militaria, including medals and insignia worn by US and Allied forces during World War Two. Less intuitively, considering his passion for US history and his past and present service to his country, he’s also collected a few Nazi-era items.
But you don’t have to look very far, Mackey says, to see what happens when history, however upsetting, is expunged from a culture or society. “We have a leader of Iran today who says the Holocaust did not take place. But even my youngest daughter knows better, and she’s in junior high school. So we should not remove these pieces from the public knowledge, from public view. I don’t see it as a glorification of Nazi military items. I’m a historian— these are pieces of history.”
According to Mackey, the collecting of Nazi military items is not especially common among American vets. “The World War Two vets really didn’t get into collecting Nazi stuff,” he says. “But while they were over there, they picked up some souvenirs and brought them home. As those World War Two vets have been dying off, these things are coming out of their hidden war chests and hitting the market. A lot of vets never talked about their experiences when they were alive because they didn’t think anyone would understand.” To obliterate the symbols of Nazi Germany would be to forget how much horror came to this world because of it.” One of the purposes, Mackey says, of organizations like the VFW is to give members a chance to share their experiences with people who really do understand what they’re talking about. “My suggestion to families is to get their family member who’s a veteran together with another veteran, then sit back and let them have a conversation,” says Mackey. “Maybe record it— they will glean a lot of information about their family member and the history of those items that way.”
Mike, who prefers not to give his last name, and posts on Show & Tell as stepback_antiques, is another collector whose wide interests include Nazi militaria. Unlike Mackey, who has military family roots, Mike did not serve in the military or have relatives who did. “Growing up in the 1960s, I was influenced by television shows like Combat and Rat Patrol.” he says. “When you’re a kid, you play soldiers all the time. One day a couple of neighbors came by and gave me a two badges from World War Two that they had obtained while they were in Europe. One was German, and one was American. I just threw them in a box. When I was a bit older, probably in the mid-1970s, I was in an antiques store and saw a Japanese helmet. I thought it would be cool to have so I bought it. From that point on, I went to flea markets and antiques stores, and my collection just built from there.”
For Mike, Nazi and Japanese World War Two militaria was intriguing for numerous reasons. “The American pieces were pretty easy to obtain,” he says. “Part of the attraction of collecting the German and Japanese pieces was the hunt— a lot of the Japanese equipment at the end of the war was melted down and destroyed. American vets came back with pocketfuls of German badges, a helmet, a rifle, or a flag, but they were harder to find.”
Aesthetics were also a consideration. “The German pieces had more visual appeal to them. An American helmet would just be green, whereas the different branches of the German Armed Forces had different colored helmets with different decals on them. Each branch of the service also had its own badges.”
While Mike has specialized somewhat on pieces associated with the Kriegsmarine, or German Navy, all of his Nazi pieces have one thing in common. “I only collect military items that were carried by the soldiers,” he says. “I don’t care anything at all about Hitler or flags. It doesn’t interest me. I’m just a guy who collects things that your average soldier carried every day through the war.” For Mike, this is an important distinction between what he’s doing and the motivations of others who are interested in Nazi materials more broadly. “You have other people,” he says, “who are really focused on Hitler and all that stuff. I don’t have a picture of him anywhere in my house. I despise the man. I’m interested in what it must have been like for a common German man to have to go off and fight for his country. There was a fear that if you didn’t do what you were told to do, your family would suffer the repercussions. What would I have done if I had been in that position?”
For some, any sympathy at all for anything related to the Nazis is unacceptable, as Mike quickly found out. “I got a couple of comments on Show & Tell from two different people who said, ‘Why don’t you get a job, you Nazi?’ That’s hard. I am not a militarist. I don’t like war. But at the same time, I look at things from a war historian’s point of view.”
While the controversy over Nazi material is a relatively recent phenomenon, the history of the swastika itself goes back almost five thousand years. Beginning in the Bronze Age, Hindus and Buddhists living in the Indus River Valley considered the swastika an auspicious emblem. Ancient Greek artifacts are frequently decorated with swastikas, some of which are interlinked, and the use of swastikas among Native Americans dates to pre-Columbian times. In fact, the symbol was so common to the early-twentieth-century Navajo that official Arizona highway signs from the 1920s through the 1940s featured swastika-stamped arrowheads and pottery shapes on them.
In the 1920s, though, the Nazi Party in Germany embraced the swastika and, by the 1930s, the emblem’s previous positive associations had been all but forgotten. By the end of World War Two, this almost timeless symbol of good had become the banner of the Holocaust, genocide, and evil.
Given the swastika’s mid-twentieth-century past, many people believe it will never be possible to have a dispassionate conversation about the swastika without inadvertently invoking the specter of the white-supremacist ideology promoted by the Third Reich.
“There’s unfortunately no way to address the topic without potentially offending the sensibilities of people who have been traumatized by the Nazi regime,” says Stanislav Vysotsky, who teaches sociology at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and has written extensively about contemporary hate groups. Vysotsky describes himself as “fairly sympathetic” to what’s known as a no-platform position. “You should never create a platform for hate,” he says. Still, when it comes to the swastika, he believes there is a place for open discussion, “especially when that public discourse is about educating and enlightening people to the history of the items, and to their continued cultural significance and meaning as symbols of racism and genocide. The swastika certainly has its place in historical archives, but if a person is just focused on Nazi material, then I think it’s perverse.”
For Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, intent determines whether the public airing of the swastika is considered acceptable or offensive. “Yes, it is okay to display a swastika, but it depends on the context. It could be very important to someone who fought in or survived World War Two. It’s a part of their history.”
Stanislav Vysotsky agrees. “If you have people who are history aficionados,” he says, “then you’re talking about people who are collecting these items for historical purposes, as symbols of a reprehensible regime that was defeated and discredited. In the case of war veterans, they’re justifiably proud of their participation, or possibly a family member’s, in World War Two. That’s very different from the way in which somebody who is a member of a contemporary neo-Nazi or supremacist group might be using these images.”
For neo-Nazis, owning a historic item with a swastika on it is a way to signal status within the group. “They’re being used,” says Vysotsky, “as something that can be displayed to other members to say: ‘Look at this cool thing I got that ties me back to the original Nazi movement, that ties me back to this hate.’ So in that sense, it’s a symbol of hate used to say: ‘This is how hardcore I am.’”
Foxman goes further. “There are a lot of people who collect Nazi stuff for the wrong reasons,” he says. “The swastika certainly has its place in historical archives. But if the person is just focused on Nazi material, then what does that say about them? There is a lot of stuff associated with World War Two. Are they also collecting Soviet material? In other words, are they really a World War Two collector? If all they collect is Nazi stuff, then I think it’s perverse.”
Other people specialize within the universe of Nazi materials for reasons that would be understandable to any collector. David Witte, who has written a yet-unpublished book on Camp Hale, Colorado, where the famous 10th Mountain Division was based and trained, has been collecting World War Two-era German porcelain for about twelve years. “I have no interest in the neo-Nazi aspects of today, and only collect these items for museum purposes and to preserve the truths about the past,” he says. Witte was drawn to porcelain because many other Nazi items— from medals to uniforms to daggers— are reproductions created for the contemporary hate-group market. “Porcelain is harder to fake,” he says. “And when I got started, not as many people were collecting it.” That changed in 1999, when the Academy Award-winning film American Beauty was released. In that film’s famous revelation scene, a son sneaks into his father’s study to steal a glance of his father’s prized Nazi plate. In American Beauty, Dad was definitely not a history buff.
Like Mackey, Witte sees the pieces he’s collected as a bridge to history. “The Luftwaffe, DAF, RAD, Wehrmacht, SS, Police, and Kriegsmarine, all had their own markings that German manufacturers put under and over the glaze of their porcelain when they were contracted to supply dishes to the German military and other organizations during the Third Reich,” says Witte. “The contracts were probably too good to pass up, and these porcelain companies were as caught up in the nationalist hysteria of Nazi Germany as everybody else.”
Because the swastika was once the banner for genocide on the march, both Vysotsky and Mackey doubt that the swastika will ever be associated with anything other than Nazis for a long time to come. “I’ve got a watch fob that has a swastika in the middle of it,” says Mackey. “It dates from around 1900, definitely pre-Nazi. So I think the swastika can mean other things to people who know its pre-Nazi history. But, for most folks, it will always be associated with Nazi Germany.”
Vysotsky concurs: “I highly doubt it will ever mean anything else because the symbol carries such political and emotional weight. Plus, people who still adhere to Adolf Hitler’s ideology continue to venerate it. I think it’s become such a collectively understood symbol that it’s highly unlikely its representation will change.”
“Every time somebody sees a swastika, they’re going to link it to Nazis and World War Two because it impacted so many people,” says Mike. For that reason, he’s careful not to foist his collection on people who visit his home. “When people come to my house, they see my baseball collection, my furniture. But I don’t show people everything I collect, because I don’t want to offend anybody.”
As for the use of the swastika by contemporary white-supremacist groups, for Mackey, that’s just plain illogical. “If they want to glorify and aggrandize the Nazi movement,” says Mackey, “they need to look to the end of the book and see what happened— Germany lost. Hitler described America as a mongrel people, but the mongrels proved to be stronger than his Aryans.”

Rico says that, growing up in the 1960s, he, too, was influenced by television shows like Combat and Rat Patrol. When he was a kid, he played soldiers all the time. But mongrels? Don't they know that mongrels are inherently a stronger breed?

Tesla for the day

Matt Peckham has a Time article about Tesla's 'dustup' with the NYT:
The Tesla Motors v. New York Times story reminds us of two things: one, if you tell someone you just took a road trip through the Green Mountains of Vermont and your GPS data indicates you were in fact cruising along Georgia’s Gold Coast, well, you’re probably going to lose the confidence vote. And two, that sometimes what a bunch of incriminating data seems to be indicating may not be what it’s indicating at all. Mark Twain popularized the phrase: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” in his Chapters from My Autobiography— we might well add vehicle logs and satellite data to that statement.
Let’s review: on 8 February, the Times published critic John Broder’s unflattering reaction to Tesla’s Model S sedan, based on an overnight test-drive up Interstate 95 along the Eastern Seaboard. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was nonplussed, provocatively tweeting a few days later that the article was “fake” and alleging that the vehicle logs told the “true story”, namely that Broder “didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour”. Broder batted back those allegations in another Times piece, after which the world waited for Musk to make good on his vehicle logs claim.
And so he did, producing a combative, retaliatory piece on 13 February, comparing the Model SGPS and performance logs with Broder’s claims in the review, and outlining what Musk viewed as several glaring contradictions; contradictions that he read as attempts by Broder, whom he alleges has an axe to grind with electric vehicles, to subvert the car. (“When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts,” wrote Musk, who sought to drive his point home by self-servingly adding “the Model S was declared to be the best new car in the world by the most discerning authorities in the automotive industry”). At this point, do-or-die electric car buffs had their long knives and sharpening stones out.
By cherry-picking data to make his point, Musk wasn’t being entirely fair to Broder, who, after all, had written a newspaper-style review and not a rigorous work of scholarship. In my experience, while a review isn’t necessarily the gospel truth, most reviewers aren’t trying to mislead or fabricate information. (I can think of a few well-known exceptions, but on balance, I’ve found this to be true.) Most of us read blogs, newspapers, and magazines for their accessibility, not their exhaustive qualifying statements and voluminous footnotes.
So when Musk introduced reams of vehicle data to the fray, he forced a different sort of conversation to occur, a conversation that at first appeared to favor the guy trotting out the detailed charts and illustrations with captions and little accusatory arrows. Hard data versus some writer’s allegedly prejudiced claims? Data wins! Even I was initially concerned about the apparent disparities, writing in my summary of the back-and-forth that “the most alarming point in Musk’s rundown is probably his last, where he surmises Broder intentionally attempted to sabotage the vehicle’s range by driving in circles.” And yet it’s with this very point that it turns out Musk undermines his own underlying data-will-win-out argument.
Tesla’s GPS logs of the trip showed the Model S at one point being driven in circles off a nearly-dead battery in the parking lot of a Supercharger station in Milford, Connecticut. According to Musk: “Instead of plugging in the car, Broder drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, hundred-space parking lot.” Clear evidence of attempted sabotage, right? Musk thought as much and cited the logs as proof.
Not so fast: Broder responded to Tesla’s data release in a third piece on 14 February, titled That Tesla Data: What It Says and What It Doesn’t. Here’s his explanation for that half-a-mile jaunt:
I drove around the Milford service plaza in the dark looking for the Supercharger, which is not prominently marked. I was not trying to drain the battery. (It was already on reserve power.) As soon as I found the Supercharger, I plugged the car in.
So much for open and shut cases. In his post, Musk didn’t explain the event happened at night, nor do most readers have the faintest idea what it’s like to go hunting for one of Tesla’s new Supercharger hookups in the dark. And Broder’s explanation resonates with me: As a recent first-time diesel owner, I’ve probably driven at least as far around various truck stops looking for proper-sized diesel pumps (the nozzles, that is) when I travel between Michigan and Iowa or Minnesota.
Broder’s claim about driving around in the dark is of course still just that— a claim— but that’s also the point. Tesla’s data on the matter isn’t irrefutable evidence of foul play. Musk isn’t a mind-reader, and on balance, he comes off looking a little foolish, extrapolating “proof” that doesn’t really exist. What’s more, if he’d really been interested in getting to the bottom of these “disparities,” he could have picked up the phone and asked Broder for clarification, instead of dragging the data into the court of public opinion. In short, Musk should have been much more conservative in his analysis of the vehicle logs— he certainly should have curtailed his insinuations about Broder’s integrity.
We’re increasingly surveilled by the technology we use, be it our cars, smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, watches, pens, refrigerators, video game consoles— any so-called “smart” appliance with which we interact and for which there’s detailed evidence of that interaction. Privacy issues notwithstanding, the upside is a kind of elevated accountability– a silent reminder, if you will, that there’s now an electronic trail framing our actions. Sloppy accounting could (and increasingly will) come back to bite us.
But data explained by someone with a megaphone and an agenda — Tesla Motors exists to sell cars and promote itself, after all — is liable to be manipulated to serve that agenda. The cautionary reminder is that data still requires interpretation; it doesn’t speak for itself.

Rico says WHAT

Apple for the day

The Associated Press has an article about Apple and the law:
Apple has agreed to give more than a hundred million dollars in iTunes store credits to settle a lawsuit alleging that the iPhone and iPad maker improperly charged kids for playing games on their mobile devices. The two-year-old case centers on allegations that Apple did not create adequate parental controls to prevent children from buying extra features while playing free games on iPhones and iPads in 2010 and 2011. Parents who filed the lawsuit in 2011 said they didn’t realize their children were racking up the charges until they received bills or other notifications after the purchases were made. The games that had been downloaded were designed for kids as young as four years old, according to the lawsuit.
Apple introduced more stringent controls governing in-game purchases as part of a March of 2011 update to the software that runs its mobile devices.
Under an agreement filed in federal court last week, Apple has agreed to award an iTunes credit of $5 to each of the estimated 23 million account holders who may have been affected. Parents could receive more if they can show their bills exceeded $5. If the charges exceeded $30, cash refunds will be offered.
The lawyers who sued Apple said it’s still too early to determine how many people ultimately will qualify for the iTunes credits and cash refunds. As part of the settlement, the attorneys are seeking $1.3 million in fees, which would be paid by Apple.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, declined to comment.
A hearing on the proposed settlement will be held in San Jose, California.

Rico says he'd take it, but he's not in the group...

Funk in the ocean

You just never know what you're swimming in, but Michelle Nijhuis has a Slate article about it;
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a narrow band of coral stretching from the Yucatan to northern Honduras, hugs the coastline of Belize like a giant parenthesis. In a few places, the main spine of the reef rises above the surface, forming low islands exposed to the wind and waves of the open sea. One of these islands, thirteen miles offshore, houses the Smithsonian Institution’s Carrie Bow Cay Marine Field Station. When I stepped ashore one sweaty evening, the station had an air of cheerful dereliction. Researchers in bikinis and half-zipped wetsuits circled in and out of the bare-bones laboratories. A hand-lettered wooden sign near the station house entry read: Free Beer Tomorrow.
The evening’s task would be delicate, however, and tension was building. It was three days after the full moon, and some of the corals near Carrie Bow were expected to begin their annual spawn once night fell. A team of aquarists and marine scientists had gathered on the island in hopes of collecting sperm and eggs released into the water by endangered coral species. If all went well, the scientists would each return home with a supply of coral larvae ready to be raised in captivity— and, perhaps, serve as an insurance policy for the Caribbean’s fast-declining reefs. If not, well, they were trying not to think about that possibility. When it comes to coral, they know they can’t count on much.
On the sandy back steps of the research station, Mary Hagedorn of the Smithsonian sat in front of a picnic table piled with equipment. “Okay, everyone, let’s rehearse,” she said. She turned to Abby Wood, a professional actor who volunteers in the invertebrate department at the National Zoo. “So, I’m a coral,” Hagedorn said, sticking her hands over her head and laughing. “You’re going to slip the bag over me …”
Wood, a dark-haired thirty-year-old with a big, deep voice— she played Tybalt in an all-female production of Romeo and Juliet— pantomimed what Hagedorn and the aquarists hoped would soon happen in the water. Divers would hitch the silk bags over a few branches of spawning coral, catching the sperm and egg bundles as they floated upward, and collecting them in plastic vials attached to the tops of the bags.
When the spawn petered out— spawns last only a few minutes— the divers would carefully cap the vials and hand them to a snorkeler, who would ferry them back to the research boat. Wood mugged her way through the demonstration. It was part practice, part ritual.
Coral sex is more complicated than one might imagine. Corals can reproduce asexually— that is, coral fragments can grow into clones of their parent. But corals can also reproduce through the fertilization of eggs by sperm. Sexual reproduction preserves genetic diversity, and with it a species’ ability to withstand and adapt to change.
But coral sex probably doesn’t happen as much as it used to. In the Caribbean, warming water, disease, overfishing, and other problems have killed eighty percent of the region’s coral, turning many reefs into rocks and seaweed. Similar foes are killing coral in the Pacific, where the extent of living coral is thought to have shrunk by half in recent decades. These smaller, weaker, and more diffuse populations seem to be less likely to spawn— and, when they do, their sperm and eggs are less likely to meet in the water.
In 2006, a group of European and US aquarists, experts in aquatic plant and animal husbandry, were concerned about the ongoing declines in coral worldwide and decided to try raising sexually reproduced coral in captivity. They knew it would be a challenge: They would have to collect coral sperm and eggs in the wild during infrequent, never-quite-predictable coral spawns, fertilize the eggs in the laboratory, and, once they had young, living corals, figure out how to keep them alive through adolescence. They hoped that sexually reproduced captive coral could be used to revitalize or restore wild coral populations damaged by overfishing, climate change, or other forces.
The aquarists managed to bring some endangered staghorn coral larvae back to their aquaria, where they varied water temperatures, water chemistry, flow rates, and feeding regimes, trying to find the optimal conditions for each species. “We were basically trying to re-create the ocean in a box," says Michael Henley, an invertebrate curator at the National Zoo.
Each year, as the techniques improved, a few more coral larvae survived and grew. The largest captive-grown staghorn coral colony, which lives at a research station in southern Florida, is now as broad as a dinner plate. In the summer of 2010, the aquarists began releasing young captive-grown corals on a reef near Curaçao, and many are still alive— an encouraging sign for larger-scale restoration efforts.
Now, on the coast of Belize, the aquarists wanted to try their techniques with elkhorn coral, another gravely endangered coral species in the Caribbean.
Just after sunset, the crew loaded a boat with gear and set off for a half-submerged atoll near Carrie Bow with some large, healthy-looking specimens of coral. Lightning flashed in the distance, over the open sea, and the moon began to rise, huge and orange.
One after another, the crew members sat on the gunnels, held their masks, and fell backward into the dark water. I splashed in with considerably less grace and followed Brian Nelson of the National Aquarium. Underwater, our lights illuminated schools of tiny, silvery fish and clouds of floating plankton. The water was rough, and I dropped close to a patch of stinging fire coral. I scuttled awkwardly into deeper water.
Nelson shone his light on a broad yellow coral arm, like a doctor examining an especially interesting rash. He looked into the tiny mouths of the coral polyps, trying to spot the pearly-pink egg-sperm bundles as they “set”, or prepared to emerge. He moved on to another coral and then another, finding nothing. The spawn would not happen tonight, at least not on this reef.
Rising to the surface, Nelson spat and shook his head. “There’s a lot of life down there, and there’s just a vibe, like something’s going to happen,” he said. “But the more you know about coral, the less …”
Hagedorn shouted from the boat. “See anything?”
“You’re kidding.” Her voice was flat.
Nelson sank underwater again, continuing his search. After another half-hour, we returned to the boat. No one had seen any signs of spawning.
Before climbing the ladder back into the boat, I dropped under the surface for a final look. Two reef squid, each as long as a forearm and nearly transparent, lingered under the hull. They startled and paused, and then one bluff-charged into the beam of my flashlight, its glassy fins flared. I felt taunted.
The next day, everyone was tense, aware that if the spawn didn’t happen that night, it was unlikely to happen at all. They kept up a studied cheerfulness, organizing and re-organizing equipment. The day was hot, humid, and still.
Just after sunset, a light rain began, and wind shook the palm fronds. That was a bad sign, everyone agreed. Or maybe it was a good sign. The aquarists traded stories of successful and unsuccessful spawns, like anxious relatives awaiting a birth.
The group gathered on the research-station porch, drumming fingers and jiggling knees. Nelson had turned his baseball cap inside out, rally-cap style. Andrew McLeod, who had a worsening ear infection and a fierce set of mosquito bites, scratched. One of the station researchers had plugged an iPod into a small set of speakers. As the group sat in silence, Johnny Cash began to sing Flushed Down the Bathroom of Your Love.
Departure time arrived, and I followed McLeod into the shallow water just off the southern end of the island, swimming out to a reef thick with elkhorn and staghorn coral. I held a set of nets; if the coral looked set to spawn, I would hand the nets to McLeod to attach. McLeod slipped under the surface and finned toward his territory. He stopped at the first elkhorn coral, sinking to the bottom for a good look. After a long minute, he gestured for a net. He moved on to the next coral, and gestured again.
A half-hour later, McLeod and the other researchers had tied down almost two-dozen nets, each topped by a clear plastic collecting vial. In the beams of our flashlights, the nets glowed and swayed like ghosts. Fish darted busily among them. McLeod kept swimming, checking exposed branches of coral.
Then he pointed at the end of one vial, where a few tiny red globes hung in the water. I looked at a nearby branch of coral and realized that what I had thought was an especially thick cloud of plankton was, in fact, a cloud of sperm and eggs, each bundle floating out of a coral polyp mouth and rising to the surface.
Abruptly, it seemed, we were surrounded by a storm of spawn: below us, beside us, even collecting in swirls on the dark surface above us.
Another diver passed, giving a thumbs-up. I surfaced, leaned back to look at the Milky Way, and realized that the air stank— a dense, salty, unmistakable funk. The aquarists had told me that they could smell coral spawning, but I’d thought they were joking.
Within minutes, each vial was filled with thousands of bundles, each containing both sperm and eggs. McLeod capped one and handed it to me, moving slowly so as not to break up the bundles and start fertilization before the samples reached the laboratory.
As I swam back toward the boat to deliver the vial, my light, which had begun to dim during the excitement of the spawn, failed. I swam the final stretch in the dark, holding the vial in front of me, skirting silhouettes of coral. I was suddenly aware of the silent, hidden nature of the spawn; only artificial light had turned it into a show.
We returned to land and the aquarists set to work, stirring the sperm and eggs in bowls of seawater to encourage fertilization. It was close to midnight, but the aquarists joked with one another as they bounced up and down the stairs. “Look at all those happy scientists!” bellowed Scott Jones, the science coordinator of the station, as he passed the laboratory door on the way to bed.
Hagedorn laughed. “Really, it takes so little to make us happy,” she said. She has recently developed techniques to freeze and store coral sperm and embryonic cells, a bank that could preserve endangered corals’ genetic material long-term. She held up a plastic vial, which contained about a teaspoon of sperm and eggs. “But just think,” she said to no one in particular. “This is enough for an entire reef.”
When the group went to bed, well after midnight, they were still happy. The elkhorn coral eggs had been fertilized, and soon the aquarists would move tens of thousands of coral larvae into incubation tanks of warm, circulating seawater.
In the morning, the news was not so good. A tropical depression was headed straight for Belize. By noon, the depression had become a tropical storm, and the sky was chalk-white and heavy. It was clear that everyone on Carrie Bow would have to evacuate to the mainland.
The larvae couldn’t be moved at this early stage of their development, so the aquarists attached battery-powered pumps to the tanks and left the larvae to ride out the storm alone.
The group spent a night in the mountains near the Guatemalan border, waiting glumly for Harvey to blow over. The younger researchers passed the evening over poker and coconut rum. They finally returned to Carrie Bow the next afternoon, fully expecting the larvae to have suffocated. When they peeked into the tanks, however, they saw that about half the poppy-seed-sized larvae remained pink and healthy.
On the heels of that storm, however, came another, and with it travel delays and confusion. When the aquarists finally arrived home and opened their sealed boxes of coral larvae, they found that the stress of the overnight evacuation or of extended travel had somehow interfered with development. Not one coral larva was still alive.
Heroic measures to save endangered species, it turns out, are just like any other kind of heroism— difficult, often expensive, likely to fail. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to protect animals and plants before they’re in mortal danger, but for many species— including the staghorn and elkhorn corals— that chance is gone. Marine protected areas and other traditional conservation measures may still do some good, but in the long term, their survival may depend on the sperm and eggs in Mary Hagedorn’s freezers, the handful of healthy captive-grown coral colonies in aquaria around the world, and the small crew of people willing to tangle with hurricanes, fate, and epic frustration on the Caribbean reefs.
This summer, the aquarists will try again. If the weather is good and the coral cooperative, they’ll return with hundreds of thousands of coral larvae. And, if not, well, they’re trying not to think about that possibility. When it comes to corals, they know they can’t count on much.
Rico says this is a perfect retirement project for his father...

A word not to use, if you want to live

Forrest Wickman has a Slate article about the C-word:
The satirical newspaper the Onion offered a rare apology yesterday after it joked that nine-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis was “kind of a cunt, right?”
Has that word always been so patently offensive?
No. In Middle English the word could be used as a standard term for the female genitalia, in a manner that was quite matter-of-fact. The earliest instance of the word recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is actually from the name of a thirteenth-century London street, Gropecuntelane. The name appears to have been quite literal, and there was at least one other red-light district of the same name, in Oxford. One of the next recorded uses of the word comes from a circa-1400 surgery manual and uses the word much like vagina might be used today: “In women the neck of the bladder is short, and is made fast to the cunt.” Others have noted that some people in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries also had the word in their names, in a way that seems unlikely today: some men and women at that time included Bele Wydecunthe, Robert Clevecunt, and Gunoka Cuntles. Indeed, as Geoffrey Hughes wrote in his book Swearing, there were many such colorful names, but “the days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow, and the windhover could be called the windfucker, have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece.”
The word became more offensive over the next few centuries. While Chaucer used the variant quaint in both the Miller’s Tale (“he caught her by the quaint”) and the Wife of Bath’s Tale (“you hall have quaint right enough at eve”), Shakespeare dared only to slyly allude to the word. In Hamlet, for example, when Ophelia tells Hamlet that, yes, he can lie on her lap, Hamlet puns in his response: “Do you think I meant country matters?” In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare finds a coded way to spell out the word, when Malvolio recognizes his lady’s “C’s, her U’s, ‘n’ her Ts.” (“Thus makes her great P’s,” he continues, in what amounts to an elaborate potty joke.)
If, in Shakespeare’s time, the word was becoming too obscene to utter in public, by the end of the eighteenth century it was truly taboo. When Robert Burns’ printed the old Scottish folk song Yon, Yon, Yon, Lassie, in 1796, the word appeared only as “c—t.” In his 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Francis Grose defined “c**t” as “a nasty name for a nasty thing”, while elsewhere he bleeped it out entirely (“****”), or referred to it only as “the monosyllable.” (Lest you think him just a prude, Grose noted that others went even further, rendering the word constable as thingstable; Grose called this “a ludicrous affectation of delicacy”.) By the early twentieth century, cunt had begun to be used as an insult, and it was also around this time that language taboos shifted from religious profanity to vulgar sexual and scatological language. This perception that it's one of the most taboo words continues today: In a 2000 BBC study of the most offensive words, it ranked Number One, ahead of motherfucker, fuck, and even nigger.
Why has cunt become so much more taboo than, say, snatch or pussy? The main reason may simply be that it’s blunt. Linguists note that, unlike those other words for the female genitalia— whose origins are all Latinate, euphemistic, or diminutive— cunt is plain and Anglo-Saxon. There is also the sound of the word. Many of the most taboo words, in addition to generally being Anglo-Saxon in origin, are monosyllables with short vowels, such as shit, piss, fuck, and cock. These are considered more offensive than words of the same meaning, like poopy, pee, screw, and willy. In fact, one of the only other words to share many of these characteristics is twat, which is also often considered highly offensive, though its origins are more uncertain.
Rico says it's a perfectly good word to describe some people, but he suggests you wear something bullet-proof around his ladyfriend... (And it is not a nasty thing, either.)


Brad Tuttle has Time article about Martha Stewart:
You’d think that a contract dispute over department store merchandise exclusivity would be a “strictly business” type of affair. But the Macy’s-JCPenney-Martha Stewart squabble has quickly gotten personal, even reminiscent of high school—with accusations of backstabbing, betrayal, and months of deception among executives who once considered themselves “friends.”
At the heart of the dispute is Martha Stewart, the “devious diva”, in New York Post parlance, whose company, Martha Stewart Living, has had a merchandising contract with Macy’s since 2006. In early December of 2011, however, Stewart told Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren over the phone that hundreds of Martha Stewart boutique stores would soon be opening inside JCPenney locations around the country. “I was completely shocked and blown away,” upon hearing the news, Lundgren testified this week in court, in a trial in which Macy’s is suing both JCPenney and Stewart’s company. “I was literally sick to my stomach.”
Then Stewart reportedly dropped a line that could have come from one of the Mean Girls, had one of the characters gone on to work in the corporate world. “She said this was going to be good for Macy’s,” Lundgren said. “I think that’s when I hung up.” For Lundgren, this was a first. “I don’t remember hanging up on anyone in my life,” he said. “The thought this was going to be good for Macy’s was so far from anything I could comprehend.”
Lundgren hasn’t talked to Stewart since. “I don’t have a personal relationship with Martha Stewart,” he said in court. At least not anymore he doesn’t. In the months leading up to the stomach-churning, friendship-ending phone call, Lundgren was in regular contact with Stewart and considered her a friend. Stewart regularly asked about Lundgren’s wife in emails, according to Bloomberg News. The Post reported that mere weeks before Stewart dropped the news on Lundgren that she was going into business with one of his direct rivals, Stewart hit up the Macy’s CEO for free tickets to $10,000 VIP dinners and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Stewart-Lundgren tiff isn’t the only backstabbing aspect of the suit, though. The CEOs of Macy’s and JCPenney, once buddies or at least on collegial terms, also seem to be engaged in something of a catfight. In January of 2012, soon after JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson announced the department store’s plans for a dramatic makeover involving “fair and square” pricing, Lundgren reached out to Johnson and wished him the best. According to the Post:
“Thank you, Terry. Your note means a ton to me,” Johnson replied in an email dated 27 January 2012, which was submitted as evidence by Macy’s.
“I consider you a friend.”
At the same time, however, Johnson was trading snarky emails with colleagues about Macy’s, including one in which the former Apple exec said Macy’s management “look asleep at the wheel”. (Cue the cat-whipping-out-claws sound.)
Johnson, whose company has struggled mightily and recently given up on several aspects of his much-hyped makeover, is expected to testify in court later this week. Stewart is also expected to take the stand, but it is unclear when. In all likelihood, the two will try to steer the conversation back to business and away from the drama of backstabbing and former friends doling out the silent treatment.
Martha Stewart Living issued a cold statement about the matter, published by Bloomberg:
“This is a contractual dispute… However, rather than focus on the specific terms in the contract that are in dispute, Macy’s continues to distract with emotional stories that are not relevant. The contract is written to allow MSLO to sell a broad range of branded and non-branded products in JCP, including any MSLO-branded products within MSLO stores in JCP. We look forward to presenting our case.”
Rico says this falls right into his 'who the fuck cares' category...

Rico wonders...

...why are (with rare exceptions; if it's clear, you see them and, if it's cloudy, you don't) sunrises all the same, but sunsets vary so widely?
Just wondering...

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At least she creates something

Rico says everybody's gotta find their niche (snark warning: she's doubtless found hers):
Shiralyn J. Lee, author of lesbian erotica

A slap in the face

Ronnie Polaneczky has a column in the Philadelphia Daily News about the latest PPD story:

We're not stupid. We know what we saw. And what we saw was a big, muscular cop cold-cock a small, unarmed woman who was moving away from him. Lieutenant Jonathan Josey slugged Aida Guzman in the face with her back turned to him. As she fell to the ground, he hit her in the back, too. The video, shot by a bystander after last September's Puerto Rican Day Parade, caught it all, including Guzman's bloodied mouth as she was cuffed and led away.
We also saw the context of Josey's actions: he and other officers were trying to disperse a crowd that had surrounded a car whose driver was being arrested. Guzman is behind Josey when someone from behind her tosses beer into the air that falls on Guzman, Josey, and several other officers. They all spin in the direction from where the liquid was tossed. Josey presumes it's Guzman who has sent the beer flying. So he goes after her.
The other officers, it's important to note, do not. We saw that, too. Because we're not stupid.
After viewing the video, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey did the right thing and fired JoseyDistrict Attorney Seth Wiliams did the responsible thing and brought assault charges against him. Mayor Nutter did the gracious thing and apologized to Guzman, on behalf of the city, for Josey's behavior, which left him feeling "appalled, sickened, and ashamed."
But Municipal Judge Patrick Dugan made a mockery of justice by declaring Josey not guilty of simple assault.
Unbelievable. If a video caught you or me acting in the way Josey did, we'd be convicted.
This is Philly, after all, where the police beg for citizen videos to help investigators find and convict suspected criminals. When the same camera-wielding citizenry documents questionable behavior by police, though, the footage is dismissed as "not the whole story."
Dugan called the video "disturbing". Then he blamed the media for sensationalizing it by playing it "a thousand times".
Josey also took a swipe at the Fourth Estate: "The media put it out there one way and kind of distorted it," he said after the verdict. The way both men were talking, you'd think that "the media" had shot the video against a green screen and hired actors to fictionalize a blow to Guzman's mouth.
We post a lot of videos, by the way. But we can't make them go viral. That happens only when people just can't get over what they're seeing, so they link, post and tweet it to prominence. Thank God we live in a world where people are still shocked at seeing a cop slug a woman. If that comes as a surprise to Josey, well, that sure tells us something, doesn't it?
This is not to dismiss Guzman's behavior that day. What the hell was a 39-year-old mother of four doing, prancing around the cops, arms waving, as they attempted to arrest a reckless driver who'd been cutting cookies in an intersection? Let the men in blue do their damn jobs, lady!
On the other hand, points out civil-rights attorney Alan Yatvin, the police are trained to deal with goofy bystanders like Guzman. And nowhere in the training are they directed to flip out the way Josey did; an act, by the way, that could have escalated the tensions that Josey's defense said had been the reason for his hasty action in the first place.
Nice try, but you can't have it both ways. Well, except in Dugan's courtroom, apparently.
"Being a cop is tough," says Yatvin. "It can be a hard, thankless job. But it's a career that was selected; it's not forced on anyone. If you're going to go into law enforcement, you have to uphold the law for yourself as well as others. A police officer who's been on the streets as long as Josey should have the training, experience, and self-discipline not to snap."
Still, even good cops can have a bad day. What's insulting is that we're supposed to believe that Josey wasn't having one the day he went off on Guzman. We're supposed to believe that he accidentally hurt Guzman, that her bloodied mouth was the result of his attempt to slap something out of her hand.
If that were the case, says Guzman's attorney, Enrique Latoison, Josey would've acted differently. "He wouldn't have cuffed her," says Latoison. "He would've apologized. He would've helped her up. He would've offered her medical help."
And there would've been no courtroom drama, because the Guzman incident never would've made it that far. "I would've told her: 'There's no case, because everyone makes mistakes and the cop apologized.' But this wasn't an accident."
Latoison knows it, Guzman knows it, and anyone with a brain who watches the video knows it, too. Because we're not stupid.

Rico says they say justice is blind, but they didn't say it was stupid, too... (Well, justice isn't, but some judges are.)

Search ends in California

Martha Mendoza has an AP article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about a possible hoax:

Rescuers have stopped searching the cold Pacific Ocean for a couple, two young children, and a sinking sailboat, as questions of a hoax arise amid no reports of the missing family or any registration of the vessel in question.
The Coast Guard called off the search for a boat that reportedly sank in rough seas far off the Central California coast, saying nothing more could be done and that the family's distress calls might have been a hoax. "We've exhausted the possibilities," Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz said. The Coast Guard is treating the incident as a rescue, with the possibility the calls came from a trickster. Coast Guard Executive Officer Noah Hudson in Monterey said it was tough to call off a search, but that, if it was a hoax, "it's unfortunate that we were forced to use so many resources for so much time."
Making a false Federal distress call is a Federal felony, and perpetrators face up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The forty-hour search involved hundreds of rescuers from the Coast Guard and the California Air National Guard. A Hercules C-130 four-engine turboprop aircraft buzzed above the seas, while helicopters, cutters, and lifeboats plied the waters, as costs soared into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Coast Guard handles several hundred hoax calls a year, some involving major rescue efforts. A massive search was launched last year in the Atlantic Ocean east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey after a caller falsely radioed for help, claiming: "We have twenty-one souls on board, twenty in the water."
Kurtis Thorsted, 55, of Salinas, California, was released from Federal prison last summer after being convicted, for the second time, of making false calls to the Coast Guard. Court records show he made fifty distress calls over a five-month period, claiming in one case to be in trouble in a kayak off the coast of Santa Cruz.
Crews off Monterey started looking for the family by sea and air after receiving the first distress call Sunday afternoon. In one call, a man's calm voice is heard saying: "Coast Guard, Coast Guard, we are abandoning ship. This is the Charmblow. We are abandoning ship." The caller said they had to abandon the boat and were trying to tie together a makeshift life raft out of a cooler and life-preserver ring, a method taught in survival classes. The Coast Guard then lost radio contact with the boat.
Monterey Bay at this time of year is about fifty degrees; a person could survive between thirty minutes and an hour without a survival suit or wetsuit.
Investigators said they believed, from the distress calls, that the family included a husband and wife, their four-year-old son and his cousin, Coast Guard Lieutenant Heather Lampert said.
Sailors along this renowned stretch of coastline are a close-knit group who were gripped by the news of the missing family, but also baffled by important omitted details.
Harbor masters at the string of ports that dot the coastline from Monterey to Half Moon Bay told The Associated Press the same thing: no boats launched from their docks were missing, and no family had disappeared from their community. "It's all kind of strange," said Brad Miller, who operates a fishing charter out of Santa Cruz. "But why would somebody want to make something like that up? What's the point of that?"

Rico says this sort of thing really pisses off the Coast Guard...

A rancid whine

Karen Heller has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the infamous Pennsylvania State Stores:

The Pennsylvania House and Senate Appropriations Committees met this week to address modernizing everyone's favorite monopoly, the state Liquor Control Board. Right there, you've got your first problem. Pennsylvania, the land time forgot, doesn't do change.
The board was founded at the end of Prohibition to, as then-Governor Gifford Pinchot declared: "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible", a promise we can agree it has made good on to this day.
We have the "temporary" eighteen percent Johnstown Flood Tax that dates to 1936. That tax is in addition to a bottle handling fee, six percent sales tax, and thirty percent markup on every bottle. You need a drink to feel even semi-miserable for shopping here instead of New Jersey and Delaware, where parking lots are filled with cars sporting Pennsylvania plates. Not that we speak from personal experience.
Our State Stores don't date to the Depression, but many do depressing exceptionally well, replicating the decor and lighting of the Graterford Prison waiting area, and with a staff that has equal expertise in wine. Okay, some are nice, but not, alas, in our neighborhood.
The current debate is between modernization and privatization, the latter backed by Governor Corbett. More than sixty percent of Pennsylvanians also support that move. But good luck with that. As you may recall, Governor Dick Thornburgh tried selling the hooch emporiums in the 1980s, and Governor Tom Ridge failed a decade later, which brings us back to Pennsylvania's problem with change.
The LCB, the nation's largest liquor control system, employs almost 4,500 workers and produces a hundred million dollars in net profit. Many legislators view this as a good deal. The governor believes licenses and inventory can be sold for a billion dollars, generating revenue to fund public schools and early childhood and school safety programs in what has been dubbed Booze for Books, or Shots for Tots. But that's all beside the point, since the governor's bill is pretty much dead in the Senate.
The LCB is "a stunning, puzzling paradox," as Representative Madeleine Dean (a Democrat from Montgomery) noted, working to "control" liquor sales while strenuously trying to boost revenue for the commonwealth. It's like binge eating while wearing Spanx.
If the LCB were a private business, well, it wouldn't be the LCB. Many city locations don't have convenient parking, inhibiting large purchases, and few are located near grocery stores. It can take three stops to make a vodka tonic. Hours are limited on Sunday, the second busiest day for sales.
Instead of three members, the board currently has two, including Chairman Joseph "Skip" Brion, who admitted: "I do not believe we should be in the wholesale or retail liquor business." In a move worthy of Philadelphia's failed DROP program, Joe Conti, "a bartender by birth", retired from his nearly $157,000-a-year job as the board's CEO early this month, only to be hired back as a consultant at $80.16 an hour.
Several initiatives have failed. A highly promoted wine kiosk business went flat. A courtesy-training program was awarded to a manager's spouse. Hardly mattered. At most stores, the courtesy didn't take.
The LCB also launched its private label, Tableleaf. Why? Said board member Robert Marcus: "There was a glut of really good juice out in California." At this point, Representative Jim Christiana (a Republican from Beaver) asked why Tableleaf didn't sell Pennsylvania wine. I wrote in my notes: "Doesn't the LCB have enough issues?"
Apparently not. "These problems magnify why the PLCB should not be in the business," former Board Chair Jonathan Newman, a national wine broker, told me. "It's insulting to Pennsylvanians to operate a maternalistic system that treats adults like children with fairly cookie-cutter stores, and uniform availability of products and service."
Instead, the system turns "law-abiding customers into scofflaws", Newman said.
I had no idea what he was talking about. He estimated that our region loses from 25 percent to 30 percent of sales to "border bleed".
To recap, it appears we are no closer to privatization or modernizing into, say, the 1980s. But on the plus side, we can all raise a glass to celebrate the LCB's eightieth birthday.

Rico says let's hope the stupid thing doesn't get to be eighty-one...

So, go already

Nicole Winfield has a Time article about the end of an era:
Pope Benedict XVI basked in an emotional sendoff from a massive crowd at his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square, recalling moments of “joy and light” during his papacy but also times of difficulty when “it seemed like the Lord was sleeping”.
An estimated hundred and fifty thousand people, many toting banners saying Grazie!, jammed the piazza to bid Benedict farewell and hear his final speech as pontiff. In this appointment— which he has kept each week for eight years to teach the world about the Catholic faith— Benedict gave deep thanks to his flock for respecting his decision to retire.
Benedict clearly enjoyed the crowds, taking a long victory lap around the square in an open-sided car and stopping to kiss and bless half a dozen children handed to him by his secretary. A total of seventy cardinals, some tearful, sat in solemn attendance.
But Benedict made a quick exit, foregoing the typical meet-and-greet session that follows the audience; the Vatican has said there were simply too many people who would have wanted to say goodbye.
Given the historic moment, Benedict also changed course and didn’t produce his typical professorial catechism lesson. Rather, he made his final public appearance in St. Peter’s a personal one, explaining once again why he was becoming the first pope in six hundred years to resign and urging the faithful to pray for his successor. “To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself,” Benedict said to thundering applause. He noted that a Pope has no privacy: “He belongs always and forever to everyone, to the whole church.” But the Pope promised that in retirement he would not be returning to private life; instead, taking on a new experience of service to the church through prayer.
He recalled that, when he was elected pope on 19 April 2005, he questioned if God truly wanted it. “It’s a great burden that you’ve placed on my shoulders,” he recalled telling God. During his eight years as pope, Benedict said: “I have had moments of joy and light, but also moments that haven’t been easy, moments of turbulent seas and rough winds, as has occurred in the history of the church when it seemed like the Lord was sleeping.”
But he said he never felt alone, that God always guided him, and he thanked his Cardinals and colleagues for their support and for “understanding and respecting this important decision.”
Under a bright sun and blue skies, the square was overflowing with pilgrims and curiosity-seekers. Those who couldn’t get in picked spots along the main boulevard leading to the square to watch the event on giant television screens. Some fifty thousand tickets were requested for Benedict’s final master class. In the end, the Vatican estimated that one hundred and fifty thousand people flocked to the farewell.
“It’s difficult; the emotion is so big,” said Jan Marie, a 53-year-old Roman in his first years as a seminarian. “We came to support the Pope’s decision.”
With chants of Benedetto! erupting often, the mood was far more buoyant than during the pope’s final Sunday blessing. It recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
Benedict has said he decided to retire after realizing that, at 85, he simply didn’t have the “strength of mind or body” to carry on. “I have taken this step with the full understanding of the seriousness and also novelty of the decision, but with a profound serenity in my soul,” Benedict told the crowd.
Benedict will meet with the Cardinals for a final time, then fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m., the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards (photo) in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over for now.
Many of the Cardinals who will choose Benedict’s successor were in St. Peter’s Square for his final audience. Those included retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, the object of a grass-roots campaign in the US to persuade him to recuse himself for having covered up for sexually abusive priests. Mahony has said he will be among the 115 Cardinals voting on who the next pope should be.
Also in attendance were Cardinals over eighty, who can’t participate in the conclave, but will participate in meetings next week to discuss the problems facing the church and the qualities needed in a new Pope.
“I am joining the entire church in praying that the cardinal electors will have the help of the Holy Spirit,” said Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, 82. Herranz has been authorized by the Pope to brief voting-age Cardinals on his investigation into the leaks of papal documents that exposed corruption in the Vatican administration. Vatican officials say the Cardinals will begin meeting Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave.
But the rank-and-file faithful in the crowd weren’t so concerned with the future; they wanted to savor the final moments with the pope they have known for years.
“I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church,” said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52-year-old homemaker who traveled by train from Lugo in central Italy with some sixty members of her parish. “There’s nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won’t leave us without a guide.”
Rico says it must be nice, having such a strong delusional structure for your life...

The songs in Rico's head

Rico says he doesn't know why he woke up with Campbell's Lady Gorgon Strips (sung to the tune of Camptown Races) playing in his head, but there you jolly well are, aren't you? (And, yes, Rico knows that 'Lady Gorgon' is redundant, but dreams are funny that way...)

26 February 2013

Idiot for the day

From: "Dave Kitterman" <davek@cbcarriagehouse.com>

If Oscar Pistorius is telling the truth about Reeva Steenkamp, he’s a dangerous killer. - Slate Magazine


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour

Pope Benedict XVI decides he'll be called "pope emeritus upon retirement.


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour

Gub poster

Rico says his friend Kelley forwards a poster about gubs from his sister:

Another good one gone

Andy Wallace has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about a local guy:

C. Everett Koop, 96, a courageous and brilliant pediatric surgeon who pioneered techniques for operating on newborn babies and became an outspoken surgeon general on issues from smoking to AIDS, died recently in New Hampshire.
Dr. Koop was one of the first surgeons to devote a career to treating children. In 35 years at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, he established the first neonatal intensive-care unit in the nation and won global renown for performing operations - such as the separation of conjoined twins - that had rarely, if ever, been done.
With his historic operations on birth defects in the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Koop made Children's a latter-day Lourdes, where anguished parents came seeking medical miracles.
As Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989, he spoke out against smoking, teen suicide, and domestic abuse, as well as drunk driving and the lack of health insurance. And he put aside his fundamentalist Christian beliefs and conservative political views to treat such subjects as abortion and AIDS as public health issues, not moral or political ones. He saw no contradiction between his Christian beliefs and his public activities. "All I have done is face the issues that were there and deal with them with as much integrity and honesty as I could, and I'm somewhat surprised that everybody thinks I am so unusual," Dr. Koop said.
At six foot one and two hundred pounds, with a square Lincolnesque beard, a ringing voice, piercing eyes, and a shoulders-back, chin-up military bearing, Dr. Koop reminded people of a biblical prophet or a stern Puritan figure. When he was Surgeon General, he liked to heighten the effect of his bearing by wearing the white uniform of his office.
Charles Everett Koop was born in 1916, the only child of a banker and a homemaker. He received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, where he also got the nickname Chick, short for Chicken Koop, which stuck for life. He got his medical degree from Cornell Medical College. While at Dartmouth, he met Elizabeth Flanagan, a Vassar student, and they married in 1938.
After interning at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Koop joined Children's in 1948, the staff's first pediatric surgeon. For a time, he was the hospital's entire surgery department. When he retired at 66, he presided over 26 full-time surgeons in eight specialties.
Dr. Koop was a pioneer in surgery on newborns, developing techniques for birth defects that, before him, had meant certain death. The parents of ailing children saw him as heroic. He achieved national prominence in 1974, when he headed a team of twenty surgeons that separated conjoined twin girls who had been born in the Dominican RepublicDr. Koop did not think of his patients as numbers and did not forget them. He flew to the Dominican Republic to attend the funeral of one twin, and later defended the mother from criticism that she had failed to properly supervise the tot.
To save a life, he did not always follow the rules. In a 1968 interview in Philadelphia Magazine, he told how, on an icy night in 1953, he had received a call from Pennsylvania Hospital about a newborn who had been delivered with abdominal organs in the chest.
Within minutes, Dr. Koop drove to the hospital, parked his car on the sidewalk, and raced to the delivery room. He wrapped the baby in a blanket, placed it on the floor of the car near the heater, and drove back to Children's. He took no X-rays. He carried the baby to the operating room, opened the chest, put the organs in their proper place, repaired a hole in the diaphragm, and closed it back up. He had broken all the rules, he said, and would not have followed that procedure at the time of the interview. "On the other hand," he said, "we had a living baby."
He rejected abortion and abhorred amniocentesis, a test to see if a fetus has genetic defects. He labeled it "a search-and-destroy mission". Most women who have amniocentesis did not keep their babies if a defect was found, he noted. "Many of the congenital defects are things that I have spent my entire life correcting," he said.
Dr. Koop's beliefs were supported by his religious faith. He said he became a practicing Christian when he heard the preaching of the late Reverend Donald Barnhouse, then pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, about 1948.
He said he and his family intensified their religious studies in 1968, when his twenty-year-old son, David, died in a mountain-climbing accident. Another of his sons, Norman, became a Presbyterian minister, and Dr. Koop used to listen to his sermons on his tape deck as he drove to work.
After reaching the mandatory retirement age in the early 1980s, he left Children's and began a career as a crusader against abortion and the medical practice of letting defective newborn children die. To make the point, Dr. Koop toured America with a multimedia program called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? It was meant to expose what he considered the diminished value placed on human life.
This was the man President Ronald Reagan nominated to be Surgeon General. The choice elated conservatives and those who wanted abortion and homosexuality condemned.
The nomination was equally repugnant to many others, who saw Dr. Koop as inflexible, and feared that the office would become more political than scientific. After keeping him on hold for more than ten months, the Senate yielded. He was confirmed. And he surprised everybody.
His office compiled a report on AIDS that recommended the use of condoms to reduce the risk of transmitting the AIDS virus, and endorsed giving schoolchildren clear guidance on how the disease is spread.
His work secured his reputation as an independent voice. He was then accused by conservatives of abandoning his beliefs. "What beliefs?" Dr. Koop said later. "I'm a physician who sees people in distress. I deal with those people."
He also disappointed the Reagan White House, which had commissioned a study on the physical and psychological effects of abortion on women. The administration expected Dr. Koop to produce an antiabortion document. Instead, he wrote that abortion was medically safe and that studies on its long-term psychological effects were inconclusive.
Dr. Koop used his office to speak out on other difficult issues, too. He criticized the nation's health-care system, under which insurers cover those who need it least, and leave millions of Americans with no insurance at all. "Insurance for public health in this country often operates like a shell game, and it is a national disgrace," he said. Medicaid, he said, was a "fraud" that excludes too many poor people with unrealistic poverty caps.
When he resigned in 1989, Dr. Koop said he felt that his campaign against cigarette smoking was his biggest success in office.
Though he thought he had done a good job as Surgeon General, he was disappointed when he left office. President George H.W. Bush did not appoint him secretary of health and human services, a job he coveted.

Rico says he was a curmudgeon's curmudgeon, but that beard was weird...

Google hits ‘glass’ pedal

Sam Gustin has a Time article about Silicon Valley:
The US technology industry is one of the most dynamic in the world, particularly with respect to mobile and Internet-based computing, two areas that are evolving at breakneck speed. Things can happen very quickly in the tech space: one day you’re up, the next day you’re down. Take Apple and Google, two tech titans currently battling for dominance in the mobile Internet wars. Over the last several months, Google shares have increased by nearly twenty percent— last week topping $800— while Apple shares have fallen by more than thirty percent.
Much of the movement happened in the last few months of 2012, as large investors, including hedge funds, pulled money out of Apple and, in some cases, poured it into Google, in order to maintain exposure to the “large-capitalization” technology sector, according to Colin Gillis, senior technology analyst and director of research at BGC Financial. “As Apple started selling off, Google started taking off,” Gillis said in a phone interview. “If you’re an investor and you want exposure to large cap tech stocks, there aren’t that many places you can go.”
The Apple sell-off is being driven, in part, by growing concerns about whether products like the iPhone and the iPad— devices that Apple is only incrementally improving— can continue to power revenue and profit growth, or whether Apple needs new, breakthrough products. After all, during his legendary career, Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs radically disrupted several markets with iconic products like the iPod and iTunes, and the iPhone and iPad, which set the standard for tech innovation. Current Apple CEO Tim Cook has yet to introduce a truly breakthrough new product of his own.
Tim Cook keeps alluding to the company’s great product pipeline, but there’s been an innovation vacuum for a couple of quarters,” says Gillis. “I’m not going to say the story is over— let’s give it one more year— but we’re certainly in a period of incrementalism with Apple.”
Scott Kessler, head of technology research at S&P Capital IQ, also raised the issue of incrementalism in Apple’s product cycle. “There are some well-founded concerns about the company’s ability to innovate, especially in light of Steve Jobs’ passing,” Kessler said in a phone interview. “It’s not just about the next big thing, but the next big category. People have been looking for new products and new categories for some time, but they haven’t seen them.”
It doesn’t help that Apple has experienced several quarters of slowing growth, which has further spooked investors. Last quarter, Apple generated profit of $13.1 billion, but that was flat compared to the year ago period— the company’s lowest rate of profit growth in a decade. Google, by contrast, continues to report solid growth, thanks to its dominant search engine and online advertising business. Last quarter, net income increased 13% on revenue of $14.42 billion, a 36% increase over one year ago. Google has now jumped ahead of Apple as the most widely-held long technology hedge fund position, according to Goldman Sachs’ new Hedge Fund Trend Monitor report, which analyzed 725 hedge funds with $1.3 trillion in gross assets.
In short, Apple expectations are returning to Earth. “Apple has had a tremendous run from 2001 until the end of last year,” says Kessler. “People want the company to invent a new category. In the past, they’ve done that so frequently and successfully that when they don’t seem to do it as much or as profoundly, questions arise.”
Meanwhile, Google is hot. For example, Google’s new Chromebook Pixel laptop is garnering positive reviews. (“Thank you, Google, for obsoleting my MacBook,” as one CNET writer put it.) And the company’s Google Glass wearable computing project (photo)— high-tech Internet-connected specs— is generating the sort of buzz usually reserved for Apple products. The futuristic eyewear will be available to consumers by the end of 2013, just in time for the holiday shopping season, according to several reports. Here’s the latest official Google Glass video:

The Google buzz has been further amplified by chatter about the tech giant’s massive, forty-acre expansion to its Googleplex headquarters at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. That’s a convenient location, because it’s right next door to NASA’s Moffett airfield, where Google executives keep no fewer than six private planes, including a 757, a 767, and several Gulfstream jets, according to a report last year from NBC Bay Area. (Cash-flush Apple also has an ambitious new headquarters due in 2016 under development.)
Google is getting a lot of attention and a lot of kudos for taking risks and trying something new,” says Kessler. “While Apple is reducing screen size, Google is introducing a whole new product with wearable technology, which reinforces the perception that it’s being innovative.”
As for Apple, it’s telling that Cook has been on something of a PR tour in recent months, appearing on the cover of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and showing up for a rare on-camera interview with Brian Williams of NBC News. In an apparent attempt to burnish the company’s image, Cook recently announced plans to spend at least a hundred million dollars to “do one of our existing Mac lines in the Unites States.” (To put that in perspective, Apple made over fifty billion dollars in profit over the last twelve months.) And earlier this month, Cook sat with First Lady Michelle Obama during President Obama’s State of the Union address. But Cook is going to need more than high-profile appearances if he wants to restore Apple’s mojo. Incremental updates to existing product lines are well and good, but investors— and consumers— are looking for the company to unveil truly disruptive new products, as it did with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. There has been chatter that Apple might introduce a new television product, or perhaps a “smart-watch”, but, thus far, those are merely rumors. It’s time for Apple’s next revolutionary product to become a reality.
Rico says there aren't too many more tech areas that Apple can move into...

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