31 March 2013

Neither duckies nor bunnies

Rico says there's the Christian holiday...

...and then there's what Rico hopes for:

Airshow disaster

Rico says his mother forwards this one:
True story of an airshow disaster. This is tough to see, but it shows the dangers of attending these events. 
Flying at a low level, the pilot had no control over his aircraft. It narrowly misses a crowd gathered for the airshow, and slams into four buildings. One can only imagine the horror of the occupants inside those buildings.
While no one was killed, it probably scared the crap out of them:
When you stop laughing, send it to someone else who needs a good laugh...

Smart in Jersey

Jacqueline L. Urgo has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about a smart guy in Jersey:

When Hurricane Sandy roared ashore last fall, causing billions of dollars in damage and ruining tens of thousands of homes, Bernard Bertino felt like the luckiest guy on his block. His relatively new house was the only one spared.
Now the property, about 350 feet from the beach in the tiny Monmouth County resort of Sea Bright, has become a poster child for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as it highlights the best ways to rebuild.
"I think maybe a shingle came off. But all around me, devastation," said Bertino, who had lived in the Ocean Avenue townhouse about fourteen months before the 29 October 2012 storm. While he felt bad for his neighbors, he said, he learned a powerful lesson about sound design and efficient construction when four feet of water surged over the narrow barrier-island community.
Bertino's home, designed by Spring Lake architect Paul Damiano and constructed by builder Ray Guzman, who lives in the other half of the duplex, is among various Shore properties studied by FEMA and other government agencies for examples of what to do right. "I know my builder and architect looked at the FEMA website and wanted to go over and above the requirements," Bertino said. "It turned out to be a very smart thing for them to have done. We ended up being very lucky."
But Bertino and others say it was not merely luck that saved the house.
When the roiling waves hit his and Guzman's adjoining unit, the water flowed into flood vents that had been installed in the ground-level garage foundation. The vents allowed the floodwaters to flow easily through the structure, minimizing the pressure from the force of the waves. Two feet of additional elevation, called freeboard, added to the design of the house, also helped keep the house high and dry. The utilities— electricity, plumbing, heating and cooling— had been built into the second and third floors and were safe.
"Initially we had a crawl space in the design," Damiano said. "But since we weren't going to run any ductwork on the first floor, we decided to put a slab in the garage. It's a good thing, because the ductwork would have been underwater otherwise." The loss of a single roof shingle was caused by airborne debris from a neighbor's house, Damiano said.
FEMA has cited the lessons from Bertino's house and other examples of sound construction in a free handout for builders and do-it-yourselfers called The Homebuilders Guide to Coastal Construction: Technical Fact Sheet Series. Information in the guide, and in a companion coastal construction manual, was updated after Sandy. Both handouts can be downloaded from FEMA's website, according to spokeswoman Robin E. Smith, who said the agency hopes the information— including how to properly site a building, the kinds of windows to use, and requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program— will be widely adopted during reconstruction in the coming months. Some of the proposals may become flood-insurance requirements as new flood-zone maps and regulations are approved, officials said.
FEMA is in the middle of a contentious debate with state and local officials and property owners over revisions to flood-zone designations that could significantly affect the insurance premiums property owners will have to pay in the future. The agency is not expected to issue precise maps until summer. In the meantime, the guidelines in its handouts aim to improve the stability of buildings in all coastal environments, especially areas subject to excessive wind and repeated flooding, officials said.
Among the homes surrounding Bertino's are numerous examples of what not to do. Hundreds of Sea Bright's quaint cottages— many built at sea level as the town evolved from an 1840s fishing village into a popular family resort— were reduced to rubble by Sandy. Even some of the homes that had been built more recently— and on pilings— ended up with significant damage.
The loss of so many properties, and impending insurance regulations that could force many homes to be razed or rebuilt atop tall pilings, has some residents worried the unique character of Jersey's beach towns, which are strung like jewels along its 127-mile coastline, will be erased.
"The Shore is a place that has evolved over time, not something someone built in a few months," said Maureen Lake, 78, who lost her family's cedar-shingled Mantoloking cottage during the storm. "I'm concerned that these little places won't look like themselves when the government gets done carving up what Sandy didn't." The property, in an upscale enclave of similar cottages, had been in her family for five generations, since her grandparents acquired it in the 1890s. "Where do we even start?" she says.
That's the puzzlement property owners are facing up and down the Shore, said Ralph Busco, who operates Alison Paul Builders in Brigantine.
"The new codes do work. They do save homes when there are storms and flooding," Busco said. "But the challenge is going to be applying these codes while keeping the properties affordable for people and keeping the character of the place at the same time."
Architect Mark Asher, of Asher Associates in Jenkintown and Stone Harbor, has designed dozens of homes from Long Beach Island to Cape May. He says the challenge can be met with sound planning. "This is always a front-and-center issue for us when homeowners want to do a rebuild of a beloved Shore home," Asher said. "It has to be a careful process. But I really don't worry that we will lose the character of the Shore. I think we can build to new standards, but still retain the things that people have come to love: the covered porches, the awnings, the cedar shakes, the nice trim, all the things that seem to welcome generations of people all under one roof."

Rico says people don't like change, but if they want a house 'down the Shore', they're gonna have to...

History for the day

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

30 March 2013

Fooking basketball

Rico says he's never been a fan of basketball (and, in the interest of full disclosure, never played 'hoops' very well, even as a young man) and is even less so, now that CBS is running the aptly-named March Madness on top of their evening comedies (including The Big Bang Theory, which is also a favorite of Rico's ladyfriend), thus ruining both Monday night and Thursday night television. (Yes, yes, Rico knows there are millions out there who enjoy basketball...)

The day Vasili Arkhipov saved the world

Rico says his friend Kelley forwards this:
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, our Navy cornered a Russian sub and was dropping "practice" (i.e., non-nuclear) depth charges near-by in an attempt to force her to the surface. (which eventually worked). The captain, who could not contact Moscow, was sure World War Three had started and wanted to fire nuclear torpedos at us. In the case where Moscow could not be contacted, all three of the ship's top officers had to agree. Arkipov refused.
From Wikipedia:
On 27 October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the diesel-powered nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international waters the Americans started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days and, although the submarine's crew had earlier been picking up US civilian radio broadcasts, once B-59 began attempting to hide from its US Navy pursuers, it was too deep to monitor any radio traffic, so those on board did not know whether war had broken out. The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.
Three officers on board the submarine– Savitsky, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and second-in-command Arkhipov– were authorized to launch the torpedo if they agreed unanimously in favor of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch. Although Arkhipov was only second-in-command of submarine B-59, he was actually commander of the flotilla of submarines, including B-4, B-36, and B-130, and of equal rank to Captain Savitsky. According to author Edward Wilson, the reputation Arkhipov gained from his courageous conduct in the previous year's K19 incident also helped him prevail in the debate. Arkhipov eventually persuaded Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. This presumably averted the nuclear warfare which could possibly have ensued had the torpedo been fired. The submarine's batteries had run very low and the air-conditioning had failed, so it was forced to surface amidst its US. pursuers and head home. Washington's message that practice depth charges were being used to signal the submarines to surface never reached B-59, and Moscow claims it has no record of receiving it either.
Rico says he'd've been dead at ten years old if this had gone bad...

Germany’s solar boom

Andrew Curry has a Slate article about too much solar power:
It’s been a long, dark winter in Germany. In fact, there hasn’t been this little sun since people started tracking such things back in the early 1950s. Easter is around the corner, and the streets of Berlin are still covered in ice and snow. But spring will come, and when the snow finally melts, it will reveal the glossy black sheen of photovoltaic solar panels glinting from the North Sea to the Bavarian Alps.
Solar panels line Germany’s residential rooftops and top its low-slung barns. They sprout in orderly rows along train tracks and cover hills of coal mine tailings in what used to be East Germany. Old Soviet military bases, too polluted to use for anything else, have been turned into solar installations.
Twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is generated with renewables. Solar provides close to a quarter of that. The southern German state of Bavaria, population 12.5 million, has three photovoltaic panels per resident, which adds up to more installed solar capacity than in the entire United States.
With a long history of coal mining and heavy industry and the aforementioned winter gloom, Germany is not the country you’d naturally think of as a solar power. And yet a combination of canny regulation and widespread public support for renewables have made Germany an unlikely leader in the global green-power movement— and created a groundswell of small-scale power generation that could upend the dominance of traditional power companies.
Twenty years ago, it was clear solar power wasn’t going to get anywhere by itself. Photovoltaic panels were expensive and inefficient. Even solar systems designed to heat water, a far less technologically tricky task, were bad buys on the open market. Producing electricity from sunlight costs ten times more than generating power using coal or nuclear energy. “The early systems might as well have been made out of gold,” says David Wedepohl, a spokesman for Germany’s Solar Industry Association.
In 1991, German politicians from across the political spectrum quietly passed the Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (renewable energy law), or EEG. It was a little-heralded measure with long-lasting consequences.
The law guaranteed small hydroelectric power generators— mostly in Bavaria, a politically conservative area I like to think of as the Texas of Germany— a market for their electricity. The EEG required utility companies to plug all renewable power producers, down to the smallest rooftop solar panel, into the national grid and buy their power at a fixed, slightly above-market rate that guaranteed a modest return over the long term. The prices were supposed to balance out the hidden costs of conventional power, from pollution to decades of coal subsidies.
Investors began to approach solar and wind power as long-term investments, knowing there was a guaranteed future for renewable energy and a commitment to connecting it to the grid. Paperwork for renewables was streamlined— a big move in bureaucracy-loving Germany. The country invested billions in renewables research in the 1990s, and German reunification meant lots of money for energy development projects in the former East.
Now German companies lead the world in solar research and technology. The handful of companies that make inverters, the devices that reverse the flow of electricity and feed power from rooftop solar panels back into national grids, are almost all German. On a sunny day last May, Germany produced twenty-two gigawatts of energy from the sun— half of the world’s total and the equivalent of twenty nuclear power plants.
The “feed-in” laws and subsidies pushed innovation to the point where solar panels are cheap enough to compete on the open market in Germany and elsewhere. The price for solar panels has fallen 66 percent since 2006, and the cost of solar-generated power may be competitive with coal in a few years, according to a study by UBS. Already, solar projects are thriving in places like India and Italy, despite a lack of government subsidies or support, and a recent Deutsche Bank report predicted “grid parity” in Bavaria by next year.
You might think Germany would be smug about all its solar success. But, as usual, folks here are full of doubts. Part of the reason solar panels are getting cheaper is competition from China, which is threatening to push more expensive German producers out of business. Last year, German conservatives tried to end solar subsidies entirely, arguing that plummeting prices were encouraging too many people to install solar panels. They said that the subsidies come at the expense of city dwellers without solar-ready roofs, low-income electricity consumers, and investments in other forms of renewable energy. Even environmentalists have begun to grumble about the solar boom, which sucks up half of Germany’s funding for renewables but provides just twenty percent of green power.
The proliferation of privately owned solar has large power companies in Germany worried. For two decades, they’ve been forced to facilitate and finance their competition, helping turn customers into producers. Soon, rooftop solar and other small-scale, locally owned renewables could upset the market for coal and nuclear power.
Here’s why that’s a problem: renewable energy sources like wind and solar generate power intermittently, dependent on the sun or fickle breezes. Until researchers can find a way to store energy at a large scale, coal and nuclear plants— which can’t simply be switched on and off at will— must be kept running to guarantee a steady stream of electricity when the sun isn’t shining.
That means overproduction of power during daylight hours, as the country’s ample solar energy floods onto the grid along with electricity produced by power plants. Power companies traditionally charge more during the day, when offices are full and manufacturing plants are in full swing, so the glut of daytime solar power reduces their profit. The proliferation of solar panels on homes also takes high-margin residential customers off the grid at peak hours. And the energy surplus has driven prices for traditional coal and nuclear power down, even as renewables are still guaranteed more-than-competitive rates. As power companies try to pass the costs to consumers in the form of higher bills, that just encourages more people to put solar panels on their roofs.
Already, Germany’s power companies are closing power plants and scrapping plans for new ones. Germany had a national freak-out after the Fukushima disaster, and decided to abolish nuclear power by 2023. Meanwhile, energy prices continue to sink, and solar installation continues to grow. By decentralizing power generation, the renewables boom could do to the power industry what the Internet did to the media: Put power in the hands of the little guy, and force power companies to rethink how they do business. As soon as the sun comes out, that is.
Rico says they need to work on energy storage now: batteries and the like...

Jesus Is coming back soon

Heather Brady has a Slate article about religion:
As Christians worldwide prepare for Easter, a time of reflection on Jesus’ death and a celebration of his resurrection, many seem to be looking forward as well.
A Pew Research Center survey on the religious beliefs of Christians in the United States shows that about half believe Jesus will either definitely or probably return in the next forty years.
Theologians and scholars have debated the Second Coming for centuries, arguing over when it will happen, if it can be predicted, and signs showing its imminent arrival. The Bible states that no one but God knows when Jesus will return, and that the return will be swift and unexpected: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”
Still, predicting when and where Jesus will return is a popular business. Christians, Popes, Mormonism’s founder, modern-day biblical teachers like Harold Camping, and countless others have all tried and failed. People have coveted knowledge of the Second Coming for millennia, and, if history is any example, predictions will continue to roll out as time goes on— that is, if forty years pass by and Jesus is still nowhere to be seen.
Rico says the old line is: 'Jesus is coming back and, boy, is he pissed..."

Gullies on Mars

Phil Plait has a Slate article about Mars:
 My first two science loves are, in order, astronomy and geology. If you combine the two, your options are limited. You can observe the Earth from space, you can collect meteorites, or you can soak in the beauty of landscapes on other worlds provided by spacecraft.
I have a deep affection for all three, and which one I like best depends on when you catch me. For example, today, I’m fond of that last one, due to this gorgeous picture taken of ridges and gullies on Mars:
This shot shows some of the terrain (or aresain or whatever term you use for Mars) inside Gasa crater, a seven kilometer (four mile) wide crater in the southern mid-latitude of the red planet. Weirdly, Gasa sits inside a larger twenty-kilometer-wide crater; whatever impact formed it happened in the same place as a larger impact a long time before. Gasa is young, probably less than two million years old.
The edge of Gasa is heavily scalloped, clearly caused by the rim eroding away. There’s a lot of carbon dioxide ice in this location, much of it beneath the surface. Every summer the ground warms up, the ice sublimates (turns directly into a gas) and some of the crater rim collapses inward.
Over time this forms gullies, erosional channels. They’re not terribly hard to find in some craters, since they look like, well, gullies: nearly straight channels in the crater wall dug out by material flowing downhill. There are fan-shaped regions surrounding them, and in the top image, which has been color enhanced, the fans are bluish, showing fresh deposits of carbon dioxide.
How fresh? This picture was taken in the austral spring of Mars, and those deposits weren’t there the year before! So the CO2 ice was laid down last winter in the Martian southern hemisphere, just months ago.
Mars is not a dead planet, at least not geologically. It changes year by year, even month by month. You can see how sharp the ridges are. The Sun is shining down from the upper left, and the tops of the ridges look like a knife’s edge. You can also see boulders dotting the landscape as well, casting long shadows. That’s convenient, since the size of the boulders can be directly measured, and the angle of sunlight is known. That means the slope of the ridges can be determined, too. It’s amazing what you can squeeze out of an image like this.
It gets better, too. Here is a wider shot, showing more of the crater rim: 
See how the scalloped region with gullies is on the right? That’s the northern rim of the crater. Now think this through: in the southern hemisphere summer, when it’s warmer, the Sun will be shining more directly into the northern rim of the crater (just like having southern exposure in a house in the northern hemisphere on Earth gets you more sunlight). That’s why there’s more erosion there on the northern rim; the ground gets warmer and frees more carbon dioxide. As you look around the crater rim in both directions (east and west, heading south) the scalloping gets weaker, because the ground doesn’t get as much direct sunlight, and so is somewhat cooler. That’s evidence of seasonal variation in the erosion, just like you’d see on Earth!
Mars is such an odd place. Thick gray basaltic sand is everywhere, covered itself by fine dust (tinged red due to iron oxide: rust). Cratered, battered, barely holding an atmosphere, yet it still has ways of reminding us of home. Comparative planetology is a fascinating field. Huh. I may have to make that Number Three on my list.
Rico says ain't space wonderful?

iPhone 6 rumors

John Cox has an article at Network World about the new (maybe) iPhone:
New technologies and patents sprouted everywhere this week, causing it seemed a thousand new iPhone 6 rumors to bloom, each more daring, or at least weird, than the one before.
Some thrilled at the prospect of being able use a ballpoint pen to write on the screen. Others at some not-very-well-understood video 3D augmented interactive synchronized something that would do something magical. And let's not forget the mysterious Killer Feature that was foretold by a stock analyst. And, finally, the vision of the Next iPhone, as it slipped from your fingers and plunged toward the concrete floor, suddenly sprouting wings and gently, gently landing. Our Precious.
You read it here second.
"More importantly, it'll be the first time in history that a user will be able to write on an iPhone display using an ordinary pen or pencil for taking notes."
Jack Purcher at PatentlyApple.com, commenting on the world historical importance of the commercial availability of a Sharp Corp. technology that would, if Apple will only adopt it, let iPhone users write on their screen using, yes, a ballpoint pen.
iPhone 6 will let you use a regular ole penOne hundred twenty-five years after the first patent for a ballpoint pen was issued, Apple is about to give us a new use for all those vendor-labeled promotional pens you've thrown into your kitchen drawers and stuffed into old coffee mugs. You'll be able to actually write on, not just touch, the iPhone 6 screen! Without needing some fancy-smancy "smartpen", let alone a "stylus".
It's hard to imagine a more thrilling advance in smartphone user interface technology, eh?
"Today we've heard further iPhone 6 possibilities, as there are reports that the phone will have a new display from Sharp that will recognize handwriting, not from a stylus, but from a standard pen," writes Mark Chubb at his PhonesReview website.
What Chubb means by "today we've heard" is that he read a brief post at Patently Apple by Jack Purcher, who didn't mention iPhone 6 or even iPhone. Purcher, in a post, explained that this technology, from Japan's Sharp Corp., was unveiled in late 2012 and has now gone into production. Unfortunately, though Purcher posts a picture of a pen writing on a big display, he doesn't link to the actual "Asian report" he references in his original post. The new technology "brings up to eight times higher sensitivity to a capacitive touch panel," he writes. "A few of the advantages associated with the new display include being able to drastically reduce the display's thickness, allow users to operate their smart devices in the winter using gloves, and more importantly, it'll be the first time in history that a user will be able to write on a display using an ordinary pen or pencil for taking notes."
"Whether Apple will use this display technology for their next generation iPhone 6 is unknown at this time," Purcher concludes, injecting a completely unnecessary dash of reality.
But we can dream, and Mark Chubb at PhonesReview is definitely a dreamer: "This idea would mean that users could write on the screen of the iPhone 6 with an ordinary pen for notes, emails, and texts for example, with no need for a special stylus," he gushes. "Previously we had heard rumors of a stylus for the iPhone 5S or 6, but it seems this would be taking that a step further forward."
Exactly: it's more advanced because you get to use that plain ole unsophisticated non-advanced ballpoint pen!
"Although it's not confirmed that the iPhone 6 will definitely use this technology, it's certainly a possibility for the phone that has been rumored for a release sometime in Q1 of 2014," according to Chubb.
Well, we've waited this long to be able to scribble on the iPhone with a pen, what's another twelve months or so?
Finally, some considered the ballpoint pen UI a bit farfetched. "Isn't the mere idea of bringing a 99-cent Bic into contact with the surface of a priceless iPhone obscene enough to have Steve Jobs clawing his way out of his grave?" asked one industry source. 
iPhone 6 will have a FaceTime 3D interactive augmented reality video collaboration... or something International Business Times alerts us to the rumor that Apple "seemed to be working on further improving its FaceTime and takes it to another level of 3D video calls and video conferencing."
This sounds exciting, doesn't it? "The technology is also known as Synchronized, Interactive Augmented Reality (AR) Displays for iDevices," according to IBT's Kristin Dian Mariano. "It is basically a linking technology to rope together a number of devices for live video calls and information sharing." Mariano doesn't go into much detail. One suspects, basically, that it's because she doesn't really understand what this means. But whatever it is, she understands that it's important. "This technology will be most likely an important feature for future Apple devices," she predicts confidently. "This will attract more consumers from various fields because of the diversity of its function and usage."
How could it not, right? Mariano references a "report" from PatentlyApple. But this report simply announces that Apple has been granted a patent for "synchronized, interactive augmented reality." That patent application actually was filed in early 2010, and PatentlyApple posted an analysis of it in July of 2011, after it was published by the Patent Office. Which ought to give some indication of the real world of technology development for big companies like Apple, as opposed to the technofantasies of the iOSphere. For one thing, we can't even say that "Apple has been working on this for three years" because we don't know anything more than that Apple applied for a patent, which was eventually granted. For all anyone knows, the project has been moldering in a file cabinet or hard drive somewhere in Apple's headquarters ever since.
From PatentlyApple's original 2011 post about this, Apple seems to be combining video, and possibly 3D, with augmented reality "information layering"-- using sensor and location feedback to add information to the video clip. "Apple's invention could provide all levels of management, sales and/or service personnel with the ability to collaborate or share information about production, manufacturing processes, sales or marketing problems or promotions - live," according to PatentlyApple.
Well. Maybe. We're inclined to think that Apple's invention provides at best a technological foundation for that kind of collaboration and that a lot more would be needed to turn it into either a finished iOS app or service, or into a platform for third parties to do the same.
We're not holding our breath.
The next iPhone will have a Killer Feature. Guess what? Seriously, you do have to guess.
Because the stock analyst who assured everyone during a recent CNBC television interview that the next iPhone, which she thinks is the iPhone 5S, will have a "killer feature", apparently arrived at the conclusion by deductive reasoning. The analyst is Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty, who appeared on CNBC's Fast Money Halftime Report, with host Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.
Tiernan Ray, writing the Tech Trader Daily blog at Barrons.com, picked up on the segment. According to Ray, Huberty "predicted a big comeback for the company with software features for the iPhone, including a 'killer feature'.' His transcript of her comments:
"I do believe that AAPL is approaching a bottom. As you have heard, they are talking about returning more cash, and we think they will do that in the coming weeks. But people don't own AAPL for that, they own AAPL for innovation. You saw the Samsung Galaxy S4 come out last week, that shows you the innovation cards are up for grabs. What is lacking in that product [the S4] is a killer feature.
"We think that's where Apple will surprise this year. This iPhone 5S cycle this year will be about a killer feature that drives consumers increasingly to the platform, and that increases the value of those five hundred million accounts."
But apparently Huberty didn't say what the Killer Feature actually is. And Caruso-Cabrera apparently didn't think to ask her. Huberty's reasoning seems to be that the iPhone 5S or Apple "needs" a Killer Feature, so Apple will, you know, create one.
Evan Niu, writing at The Motley Fool, zeroed in on Huberty's reference to those five hundred million accounts. Rather generously, he interpreted her comment to mean that the Killer Feature "will involve tapping the 'value of those five hundred million accounts', referring to active iTunes payment accounts with credit cards on file". Niu thinks this, in turn, means doing something about the wonderful world of mobile payments, because "Apple has been surprisingly quiet as mobile players jump on payment solutions, opting instead to merely offer a Passbook app last year that has obvious digital wallet implications."
Huberty's comment provided hilarity for commenters to iClarified's bare-bones post about the interview: "The killer feature is apple bringing back 'google maps,'" posted Fukran John. Teros posted, cheekily: "Flash player? Lol"
Some were just confused by the whole concept, such as wtf: "wtf is this killer switch? Can anyone please explain?"
And Camfella was resolutely skeptical: "These 'analysts' remind me of those guys at the racetrack always touting a horse in every race. Once in a while they will get one right, and then that's all they will talk about. Meanwhile they've been wrong eighty percent of the time!"
iPhone 6 will have a crash sensors, and sprout wings to slow down if it falls. iDownloadBlog's Ed Sutherland waxed metaphorical to explain how new Apple inventions will protect your precious future iPhone in case you drop it. "Think of how a cat, when dropped, can twist its body to land on its paws," he writes. "Now think of your iPhone falling. Makes you cringe, just thinking of the finely-crafted case and display biting the sidewalk or floor. Enter Apple, taking a lesson from felines and wrapping it in some futuristic technology for a patent designed to protect your iDevice from falls."
Yes, that's right: another patent application which will for sure appear in an iPhone at some point, so why not the Next iPhone?
In this patent application, called Protective Mechanism for an Electronic Device, Apple describes several technologies. These include sensors to detect when a device is falling, how fast it's falling, and its orientation to the ground. One protective mechanism is a specially designed plug for, say, your headphones: You grab the cable and it won't jerk out. Other possibilities: your device could sprout wings, acting as air foils to slow or alter the fall, Sutherland writes, apparently without giggling. We have to admit that it's our favorite option. "Finally, your iPhone could be equipped with a canister of gas that acts as a 'thruster' (I'm not kidding, that's what Apple's filing mentions)," Sutherland writes.
We can't wait for the app for that:
[the USS iPhone 6 is falling into a black hole, seconds away from doom]
James T. Kirk: Full thruster, Mr. Scott!
Scotty: I'm giving her all she's got, Captain!
[the Gorilla Glass display begins to crack as the ship's drawn closer]
James T. Kirk: All she's got isn't good enough! What else ya got?
Scotty: Um... Okay, if we eject the core and detonate, the blast could be enough to push us away! I cannae promise anything, though!
[the aluminum unibody casing starts to rupture]
James T. Kirk: DO IT, DO IT, DO IT!
Rico says he will, of course, want one, but without wings, please...

Just as we suspected...

...the NRA confirms that it was 'only the beginning':

This week, Vice President Joe Biden and the House Minority Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi (a Democrat from California), showed us, once again, how thorough their contempt is for our Constitutionally-guaranteed Second Amendment rights.
According to a Washington Times article,  on a conference call organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Biden referred to current anti-gun legislation and told his anti-gun supporters: "Let me say this as clearly as I can: this is just the beginning."
Recent surveys do show increasing opposition to stricter gun control measures. But this fact matters not to Biden, nor to Pelosi, who also voiced a determination to continue pushing for gun bans, no matter what the American public says. "I've been to a number of states since this Congress has gone in and many parts of different states, and the public is so far ahead of the Congress on this subject. I believe whatever passes in the Congress now will not be the end of the day for this issue."
The anti-gunners see momentum from tragedy as an asset. They believe that momentum is now on their side. And they clearly intend to press that perceived advantage to promote their agenda. They don't care that polling data contradicts them, or that past experiments with the same type of legislation have failed.  For them, the real goal is restricting firearm ownership in America, as much as they can, however they can, and whenever they can.
"This is a very big deal for the public," Pelosi concluded. "But again, it's a legislative body, and we have to go forward as boldly as we possibly can, and I would not say, well, if the assault weapon ban isn't there that that means less is going to happen down the road. I think it means more should happen up the road as we go forward."
Please be sure to contact your elected officials today, and respectfully urge them to protect our Second Amendment rights.  Ask them to oppose anti-gun legislation, especially Senator Charles Schumer’s (a Democrat from New York) S. 374, the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013, which would criminalize virtually all private firearm sales, even temporary transfers, and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (a Democrat from California) S. 150, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.
To identify and contact your legislators in Washington, D.C., you can use the Write Your Reps feature at www.NRAILA.org, or you can reach your member of Congress by phone at 202.224.3121.

Rico says, as Joe Bob Briggs would say: 'do it today'...

War jitters

Sam Kim has an AP article about the latest out of North Korea:
North Korea issued its latest belligerent threat recently, saying it has entered "a state of war" with South Korea, a day after its young leader threatened the United States because two American B-2 bombers flew a training mission in South Korea.
Analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, and North Korea's threats are instead aimed at drawing Washington into talks that could result in aid and boosting leader Kim Jong Un's image at home. But the harsh rhetoric from North Korea and rising animosity from the rivals that have followed UN sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear test on 12 February have raised worries of a misjudgment leading to a clash.
In a joint statement by the government, political parties and organizations, North Korea said that it will deal with all matters involving South Korea according to "wartime regulations". It also warned it will retaliate against any provocations by the United States and South Korea without "any prior notice".
The divided Korean Peninsula is already in a technical state of war, because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. But Pyongyang said it was scrapping the war armistice earlier this month.
South Korea's Unification Ministry released a statement saying the latest threat wasn't new, and was just a follow-up to Kim's earlier order to put troops on a high alert in response to annual U.S-South Korean military drills. Pyongyang sees those drills as rehearsals for an invasion; the allies call them routine and defensive.
In an indication that North Korea is not immediately considering starting a war, officials in Seoul said South Korean workers continued to cross the border to their jobs at a joint factory park in North Korea that's funded by South Koreans
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned his forces were ready "to settle accounts with the US" after two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy munitions on a South Korean island range as part of joint drills and returned to their base in Missouri.
North Korean state media later released a photo of Kim and his senior generals huddled in front of a map showing routes for envisioned strikes against cities on both American coasts. The map bore the title US Mainland Strike Plan.
At the main square in Pyongyang, tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for a ninety-minute mass rally in support of Kim's call to arms. Small North Korean warships, including patrol boats, conducted maritime drills off both coasts of North Korea near the border with South Korea earlier this week, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing, but didn't provide details. The spokesman said South Korea's military was mindful of the possibility that North Korean drills could lead to an actual provocation. He said the South Korean and US militaries are watching closely for any signs of missile launch preparations in North Korea. He didn't elaborate.
Experts believe North Korea is years away from developing nuclear-tipped missiles that could strike the United States. Many say they've also seen no evidence that Pyongyang has long-range missiles that can hit the American mainland.
Still, there are fears of a localized conflict, such as a naval skirmish in disputed Yellow Sea waters. Such naval clashes have happened three times since 1999. There's also danger that such a clash could escalate. Seoul has vowed to hit back hard the next time it is attacked.
"The first strike of the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will blow up the US bases for aggression in its mainland and in the Pacific operational theatres including Hawai'i and Guam," the North said, in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. (DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.)
Pyongyang uses the US nuclear arsenal as a justification for its own push for nuclear weapons, saying that US nuclear firepower is a threat to its existence.
Rico says that of course it's a threat to their existence, the lack of which no one (except the North Koreans) will mind... (But that's a hell of a landing craft there.)

Gettysburg for the day

Rico says he only gave 'em a buck, but it's worthwhile:

The last mile...

Rico says he ordered a jacket from Lands' End, and their UPS tracking system delivers this message now; good for the USPS, bad for Rico (and note the time...):

3/29/2013 11:11 AM Package transferred to local post office.
Allow for one to two additional days for delivery. PHILADELPHIA, PA

History for the day

On 30 March 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously injured outside a Washington, D.C., hotel by John W. Hinckley Jr. Also wounded were White House news secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent, and a District of Columbia police officer.

29 March 2013

Fairy circle

Chris Wade and the Slate staff have a video about an African mystery, solved:
Rico says termites are still icky, but interesting, little creatures...

Space station visit

Slate has a video about going to the International Space Station:
Rico says that, in the old days, we'd've called that an E-ticket ride...

Republicans thought wrong, as usual

David Weigel has a Slate article about GOP stupidity:

It was only fair that the news broke on Twitter. At 2:07 p.m., Kentucky time, actress and activist Ashley Judd tweeted that she’d “decided” on her next move. Over seven more tweets, she explained that she was “currently unable to consider a campaign for the Senate”, ending months of speculation and false starts.
Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, saw the news via a retweet. He’d written sixty short messages about Judd, around ten times as many as he’d written about a competitive Senate race in Michigan. When Scotland decided on a date for an independence referendum, Dayspring reminded readers of how Judd “wintered” there. When Judd spoke at George Washington University, Dayspring shared the collective snark of unimpressed reporters, and warned that “Dems in Kentucky worry about her bizarre & controversial views.”
But the dream was over. Dayspring moved on. “We’re plumbers, not philosophers,” he says. “Our job is to point out the weaknesses of candidates. There was intense media focus on the possibility that Judd might run.”
And why was that? It wasn’t just that Judd was sort of famous, or could potentially raise twenty million dollars, or that readers of popular websites like to click on photos of attractive women. (In the modern media economy, no one can dismiss that factor.) Kentucky wasn’t on any Democrat’s Senate map for 2014, and no handicapper thought Senator Mitch McConnell could lose to Judd. In 2012, Barack Obama only won 38 percent of the vote in Kentucky; even Walter Mondale cracked forty percent. The polls that showed McConnell’s approval ratings diving through the Earth’s crust still gave him the edge over Judd.
That’s why Republicans liked her. A Judd candidacy promised a sort of year-long cosmic revenge on Democrats. The official GOP history of 2012 is that the party blew elections thanks to “bizarre comments” (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s term) about rape. Judd was famous, and Republicans wanted to make her more so. She’d called mountaintop mining the “state-sanctioned, Federal-government-supported coal industry-operated rape of Appalachia”. She’d called procreation “selfish”. Chris Cillizza, the Washington Post’s Moses of political wisdom, has pronounced Democrats “better off without Ashley Judd” for all these reasons.
The plan was to turn Judd into a Bizarro Todd Akin. Republican candidates kept getting asked about “rape gaffes” from other states? Fine: let Democrats in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Alaska deal with someone who says “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell.” Let 'em have their own gaffe-prone distraction.
According to Jess McIntosh, the communications director for the pro-choice/pro-female PAC Emily’s List, none of that was going to work. “It was so emblematic of the problem Republicans have in talking about this,” says McIntosh. “They thought mentioning rape was the issue. No. It was the insensitivity toward women and toward rape survivors, which repeated by drawing that ridiculous correlation. It showed that Republicans did not learn any lessons from 2012. They still don't know what they did wrong! They're holding rape sensitivity trainings and they don't know.”
McIntosh was a founding member of an informal pro-Judd brain trust. The Judd-for-Senate buzz began last summer, when the actress worked the Democratic National Convention. (She was a delegate from Tennessee.) She gave short speeches at state delegation breakfasts, and gave another at an Emily’s List event, where she first heard cheers of Run Ashley Run. (This happens sometimes when a celebrity gives a decent political talk.) Anita Dunn, a veteran of the White House communications team, became a Judd Whisperer. So did Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
But other Democrats fretted about Akin-nization, and they won out. Obama strategist David Plouffe was among those who feared how “Republicans would use her candidacy and Hollywood background to attack Democratic Senate candidates running in other red states.”
The Judd Whisperers disagreed. People were underrating the amazing power of umbrage. Judd’s critics couldn’t help themselves, making fun of the actress whenever she mentioned rape. Stephen Crowder, an emcee at the Conservative Political Action Conference, asked the crowd: “What is this obsession with Ashley Judd and rape?” and got (unfairly) pilloried online. It was clockwork: a conservative news site would report on Judd, and the “what’s with her and rape comments” jokes would flow.
“The reason why Akin was a problem for the entire GOP was that he was not an outlier,” says McIntosh. “He said what they had been trying to legislate all along. Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill, HR3, that did the Todd Akin gaffe. (It created a definition of “forcible” rape. Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment was meant to describe “forcible rape”.) It's not a replicable strategy unless there's something like that undergirding it.”
It was even simpler that that. In April of 2012, Judd wrote a piece shaming media outlets (liberal ones!) that published click-bait photos of her face looking puffy. “The assault on our body image,” wrote Judd, “the hypersexualization of girls and women, and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.” The article rocketed around social media, shared or liked on Facebook a half a million times. A year later, conservative blogs asked whether America was ready for the First Puffy-Face Senator.
A Judd campaign was bound to test the power of this compelling nonsense. McConnell was already on the beat. He’s gotten a month of good press by condemning ProgressKY, a 'super PAC' that couldn’t raise money or file FEC reports, because it attacked his Taiwan-born wife Elaine Chao in clumsy racial tones. The modern Senate race doesn’t need to be high-minded, careening from policy debate to policy debate. No: it careens from meme to meme, umbrage to umbrage. And the Juddless Democrats will have to prove that somewhere else.

Rico says he knows that 'GOP stupidity' is redundant, sorry... (But doesn't ProgressKY sound like the state lubricant?)

North Korea's latest absurd threats

Josh Voorhees has a Slate article about the latest absurdity out of North Korea:

You know the rule by now: If the headline asks the question, the story most likely provides the less exciting/sensational/terrifying (in this case, definitely the third) answer. From the very Telegraph article that Drudge links to:
Despite the increasingly belligerent rhetoric and new images emerging from the North Korean regime, analysts believe its missiles are not capable of striking targets as far away as the US mainland and are not, as yet, capable of delivering a nuclear payload.
North Korea's state-media announced earlier today that Kim Jong-un has ordered his missile units on standby to strike the United States and South Korea. The bluster was accompanied by a photo containing a not-so-secret (or believable) message: a chart over Kim Jong-un's shoulder (photo) showing a "US mainland strike plan." NK News took a closer look at the chart and discovered what appears to be the reclusive nation's public wish list: Hawai'i, Washington, D.C., Southern California (Los Angeles or possibly San Diego), and Austin, Texas. The first three make sense given geography and politics; no one seems to have any clue about how that last one made it on.
Given how unpredictable Kim Jong-un has already proved, the latest threat isn't entirely being brushed off by the international community. Still, the Pentagon doesn't appear to be very worried. "The United States is fully capable of defending itself and our allies,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Catherine Wilkinson told reporters in Washington. "North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric and threats follow a pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others."
Foreign Policy's John Hudson does a good job of documenting that pattern, with a a helpful list of all the threats North Korea has made since the internatonal community imposed its latest sanctions after Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February.

Rico says he strongly urges them not to bomb Austin; first off, he has friends there and, secondly, you don't want to piss off Texans... (And San Diego? Nah, Rico's father lives there, and you don't want to piss off Rico, either.)

Defense of marriage? Hardly

Josh Voorhees has a Slate article about DOMA:

Slate will have more coverage of today's Supreme Court hearing on DOMA, but here are early reactions from those who watched this morning's arguments in Washington:
The early analysis coming from the courtroom suggests that a majority of the justices were skeptical of the Defense of Marriage Act that bans the federal recognition of gay marriage, but— not unlike yesterday— they appeared somewhat reluctant to take up the matter.
Our daily SCOTUS disclaimer: early analysis is just that, all the more so because much of it is coming in over Twitter. Court watchers and the media often read too much into oral arguments (see: Obamacare), so we won't know anything for sure until the court issues its decision later this year.
•NPR's Nina Totenberg: If the courts get to the merits of the case, there are likely five votes to strike down DOMA.
•SCOTUSblog: The court is eighty percent likely to strike down DOMA. Justice Kennedy suggests it violates states’ rights; four other Justices see it as a gay rights issue.
•Justin Snow‏@journosnow: Justices seem concerned by what precedent it would set to hear case if Presidents can dictate which laws they believe are unconstitutional.
•E.J. Graff@ejgraff: DOMA is going down. Kennedy thinks it's Federal overreach. 5-4.
•NBC News: Supreme Court likely to strike down Defense of Marriage Act.

Rico says if we looked at the percentage of Senators and Representatives who are no longer on their first marriage (Barney Frank excepted), this would be more obvious...

Vegas, baby

Ann McGinley has a Slate article about Las Vegas and feminism:

Young, beautiful, sexy female bartenders dart around behind the mahogany bar serving drinks to anxious customers and pocketing generous tips. The bartenders are dressed in very low cut V-neck midriff tops displaying surgically enhanced breasts and low-slung, hip-hugging, skin-tight stretch pants that reveal muscled abdomens and tattoos right above the buttocks. Tao, Marquee, Pure, Lavo, Ghostbar— all nightclubs in Las Vegas casinos. The music blasts, and the crowded dance floor rocks. These clubs are huge— fifty to sixty thousand square feet on multiple levels. Not long ago, only men held bartender jobs in Las Vegas but, in little more than a decade, female bartenders have taken over the majority of the jobs in the casino nightclubs. There are still young male bartenders here— good-looking, muscular guys who sport black vests, black shirts, and ties, but they are in the minority now. And there are none who are over 35.
A decade ago about eighty percent of nightclub bartenders were men; today women represent about sixty percent of the club bartenders. Why have women moved in? The answer has to do with how Las Vegas has changed. After the city’s attempt to market itself as a family-friendly destination failed in the late 1990s, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority adopted a new advertising motto, “What happens here, stays here,” to attract a young, hip customer base. Besides the motto, the casinos have added “pleasure pits”, “ultralounges”, “European” (topless) pools, and nightclubs, all of which restrict access to adults only. The sexy marketing scheme, combined with the new venues in the casinos, has been wildly successful.
And its unintended effect has been to squash the once hallowed profession of the male bartender. Las Vegas has always sold sexy, of course. But there were clear hierarchies. The women were cocktail waitresses or dancers in the shows. But bartenders were men— often middle-aged union members who were proud of their bartending skills. There was an occasional female hired for her expertise in bartending, not her sexy appearance. But as the casinos were increasingly owned by major corporations that were more “brand” focused, they imposed additional “professional” hair and makeup requirements on the women. Darlene Jespersen served bar at Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nevada for almost twenty years when she was fired in 2000 for refusing to follow a new companywide policy that required her to wear makeup. She sued, alleging sex discrimination because her male cohorts did not have to wear makeup. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit saw it differently. It ruled against Jespersen. According to the court, the makeup requirement did not unreasonably sex-stereotype her, and it imposed no greater burden on her than the rules that men shave and keep their hair short.
At least for certain jobs, the casinos have gone well beyond makeup requirements for women. While cocktail servers on the casino floors have traditionally dressed in fairly revealing clothing, management in the upscale casinos on the Strip worry that aging servers do not project the right image, and they want more exposed flesh. So some have redefined the jobs of servers as “models” and “bevertainers”, and they hired young, sexy women and dressed them in even skimpier costumes. Besides serving drinks, bevertainers and models entertain by dancing and parading through the casino. Casinos believe that the new job descriptions will help them evade sex and age discrimination lawsuits, because looking young and sexy is a legitimate job qualification for a dancer.
Even card dealers have seen a change. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, casinos have hired female card dealers who compete head-to-head with men for their skills and wear the same androgynous clothing to work. But, alongside the traditional dealers, a few casinos have added “dealertainers” who are young, sexy women hired for their looks. They spend some of their time dealing cards, and then move to stages near the card tables to sing and dance. When I asked a middle-aged, former female craps dealer what she thinks of the new dealertainers, she said: “The blonde with the boobs and belly hanging out, G-string and heels is doing everything she isn’t supposed to do: compromising security of the game, making a mockery out of our profession. It disgusts me.”
But the nightclubs are the focus of the more sexualized environments. These days, college students and recent graduates from all over the US flock to the casino nightclubs to celebrate twenty-first birthdays or bachelor and bachelorette parties. The girls wear their “slut” dresses. The guys don new shiny shoes. Middle-aged Midwestern salesmen relax in the casinos, trying their hands at blackjack, and eventually making their way upstairs to the nightclubs. Wealthy, single thirtysomethings from across the border in California flock to Las Vegas on weekends to party at the nightclubs. And in the background are the women, pouring drinks and chatting with customers waiting in long lines at the bar. One male nightclub bartender told me that customers get less irritated by the wait if they are served by a pretty, friendly female bartender.
Men who would like to be bartenders complain that the jobs are going to unqualified women. They argue that male bartenders have to work their way up from porter to barback to bartender while women are hired without serving in these positions. Men who are rejected for bartender jobs argue that bartending requires skill. It takes more than large breasts to be a good bartender, they say. But, for the most part, it’s a lost cause. Over the past decade, major casinos have built mega-nightclubs in the casinos and leased their operations to management companies that have total control over the employment policies. Freed of union contracts, the management companies hire for looks and sex appeal, and often exclude men.
Men could apply for jobs as cocktail servers either on the casino floors or in the nightclubs, but cocktailing, unlike bartending, is traditionally a woman’s job, and continues to remain that way. The more expensive the casinos, the better looking the servers. Even in lean economic times, men generally don’t apply for cocktail positions. This is somewhat surprising, given that cocktail jobs are well-paid, especially at the high-end casinos. Although the hourly wage is not much to talk about, cocktail servers who work on the casino floor earn generous tips, which means that their annual incomes can exceed $100,000 a year. So why don’t men apply? One female human resources manager of a Nevada casino said that she has a skimpy bikini-like costume for a male applicant just in case a man applies, so that she can demonstrate that her casino does not discriminate. The manager suggested that, besides shielding the casino from liability for discrimination, the costume serves the purpose of discouraging men from applying for the jobs. And, she reported, men do not apply.
I asked a male bartender at one of the hottest nightclubs about the possibility of male cocktail servers at the nightclubs. “That will never happen,” he said. “I see girls dancing around in their tiny dresses. It would be hilarious to see guys doing that.” Those “tiny dresses” are actually corsets or bustiers— laced-up in the back or the front, and barely covering the buttocks with black garter belts, lace stockings, and high heels.
In one way, the shifting gender dynamics help women. Bartenders make less money in tips, but it’s a skilled job, and they get more respect. When you are a cocktail server, “people are grabbing and touching you. It's miserable”, a guy whose girlfriend is a nightclub cocktail server said. But the women keep doing it, because you can make five hundred dollars a night. When you’re a bartender you have more prestige and you are less exposed. The bar is a physical barrier between you and the customer— no one can surreptitiously grab or touch you.
Not that bartending leaves you free of a certain kind of harassment. People don’t grab as much, but there is real pressure to stay young, beautiful, and thin. When I asked a female bartender about how she likes the job, she said: “There’s a lot of pressure. Everyone is looking at you, and there are so many beautiful women here.” Bartenders in some of the clubs get weighed regularly, and if they gain weight, they can be fired. But heck, it’s Las Vegas. And what happens here, stays here.

Rico says it's simple: men go to Vegas, men drink in Vegas, men like being served by women in Vegas... (But shouldn't that be beavertainers?) Rico can safely say that he's never been to Vegas, and has no interest in going...

So much for technology

Rico says he, perforce, takes the bus a lot, and waits endlessly (in the cold, these days) for SEPTA to arrive. For far less than the bureaucrats can imagine, they could have GPS signals display the time-to-arrival for every route at every stop, and lower Rico's blood pressure...

Coincidence? Sure

Rico says he's convinced that it's just a coincidence that the grill on the new Mustang resembles the one on the new Aston-Martin... (And if you can't tell 'em apart, that was probably the idea.)

Lingerie for the day

Amanda Marcotte has a Slate article about young women these days:

Victoria's Secret recently launched a new advertising campaign with the slogan Bright Young Things for their popular Pink line, which is aimed at younger women. It probably would have gone unnoticed, except that Business Insider reported that the CFO of the company admitted that Victoria's Secret wants to sell to high school girls as well as college girls.
"When somebody’s fifteen or sixteen years old, what do they want to be?" Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer said at a conference. "They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink."
This simple and frankly obvious comment was all people needed to go off into a self-righteous huff about how The Sex would be the ruin of a generation of girls. Angry father Evan Dolive wrote a letter to Victoria's Secret that went viral:
I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like: should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or the University of Texas, or some Ivy League school? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves… not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a "call me" thong?
Apparently, you can fill out applications to major universities or have boys see you in your underpants, but you can't do both. Having a boyfriend touch you under your clothes is lady-kryptonite that renders you permanently unable to do or care about anything else.
Amy Graff, writing for SFGate, responded in a way that made me wonder if she really did manage to skip her own adolescence entirely:
Moms typically pick up their tweens and teens boxes of underwear at big-box stores like Costco, Target, and Walmart. Retailers like the Gap, Gymboree, and Hanna Anderson also carry these items for young girls. The bras and panties are usually fun, colorful and comfy, certainly not skimpy. You might find unicorns, Hello Kitty, or cotton-tailed bunnies on them.
Color me convinced that, absent the seductive power of a Victoria's Secret ad over the adolescent mind, high school girls would have reacted with delight when Mom insisted on buying them four-packs of Hello Kitty underwear at Costco. "I'm so glad that you still think of me as a ten-year-old in pigtails," the girls would've exclaimed. "I never want to grow up!" But they saw a picture of a model with "pink" written across her rear, and now they're spending all their time looking for underwear that Graff describes as "lingerie you might find at a fetish store in a seedy part of a big city."

Rico says he, too, doubts that any girl over the age of ten would wear anything from Costco...

Movie review for the day

Rico says that, while not quite on the same 'I'd happily watch him read the phone book' level of Tommy Lee Jones, Willem Dafoe is usually in good stuff, so Rico tried The Hunter.
The IMDB summary says it all:
Martin, a mercenary, is sent from Europe by a mysterious biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness on a hunt for the last Tasmanian tiger.
Dafoe did well in a movie that had both too much and too little going on, and does, in the end, see the tiger. (Spoiler alert: he shoots it, too.)
So, on a slow weekend, worth watching...


Rico says it's still the best start to a movie ever:

Behind Bloomberg’s ad blitz

Massimo Calabresi has a Time article about gubs in New York City:

Rich people do crazy things with their money, but no one’s ever accused billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg of being the kind to throw money away on a lost cause. So some observers are confused by his twelve million dollar ad buy during CongressEaster recess. Bloomberg’s ads push for the expansion of legally-required background checks to include private sales, a move that close to ninety percent of Americans support, including 74 percent of NRA members, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Bloomberg’s not the only one pushing the issue this week. Backed by the mothers of victims of gun violence, an impassioned President Obama held an event at the White House recently, touting his multifaceted gun control package and singling out the background check issue in particular. “Ninety percent of Americans– ninety percent– support background checks,” Obama said, “How often do ninety percent of Americans agree on anything?” Groups allied with Bloomberg, like Gabby GiffordsAmericans for Responsible Solutions, are also launching a background check blitz.
So why make a big push to influence public opinion when public opinion’s already on your side?
The answer lies in the stalled negotiations between Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Coburn over gun legislation in Congress. How that standoff is resolved will determine whether the latest gun control effort, launched in the wake of last December’s killing of twenty children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, goes anywhere.
Federal law already requires commercial gun sellers to run a background check on a gun buyer before the sale of a weapon, and to keep a paper record of the sale. But sellers at gun shows and in private sales don’t have to do either. While increased background checks are popular, Coburn and the NRA say there is less support for expanding paper records, which gun-rights advocates warn could be used to create a national database of gun ownership that might allow the government to confiscate firearms. Gun control groups, and Schumer, say any bill without the paper records would meaningless.
The paper record issue constitutes the last unresolved detail preventing broad Republican support for expanded background checks. Schumer had already agreed to a raft of other compromises, including:
-exempting holders of concealed carry permits from background checks
-exempting intra-family sales from the checks
-establishing an online portal for checks so that rural sellers didn’t need to travel to comply with the law
-allowing vets diagnosed with mental illness to seek a reassessment of their case
-flexibility in who would retain the paper records (the private seller, a local licensed seller, or even the gun manufacturer)
“We got nine-tenths of the way with Coburn,” says one senior Democratic Senate staffer. But the Oklahoma Republican argued that conservatives simply wouldn’t support a bill that expanded record keeping, even one that merely extended the existing system for commercial sales to private sales. Schumer said gun control groups felt strongly that expanded background checks without record keeping would be meaningless. The two sides amicably agreed to test the support for those positions on both sides.
Which gets us back to the ad blitz. The break in negotiations “gives an opportunity for some of the groups that have been trying to work this, including Bloomberg's mayors group  and Gabby Gifford’s group, to test their abilities to put pressure on lawmakers and to organize,” says the Democratic staffer. “This will be a little bit of a test of these group’s muscle,” says the staffer.
It also explains why President Obama spent so much time passionately urging everyday Americans to make their voices heard. “Speak up, we need your voices in this debate,” he said. If your representative is not one of the ninety percent who support background checks, Obama said, “then you should ask them, ‘Why not? Why are you part of the ten percent?’”
There are three possible outcomes to the test of wills. Bloomberg and his allies could successfully pressure Republicans to back down on paper records, likely giving the President a win on two of the four measures he sought in the wake of Newtown (a bill increasing the penalties for gun trafficking bill is likely to pass, while an assault weapons ban and an expensive bill boosting school safety programs are expected to fail). Alternatively, if the Bloomberg effort fails to pressure conservatives to accept paper records for private sales, gun control advocates will have to decide whether to accept expanded background checks without paper records, or scrap them entirely.
The last outcome would be a failure all around, given the broad support for universal background checks, and the evidence that they could do something to diminish gun deaths. Bloomberg’s group has compiled records claiming that last year 6.6 million guns were sold privately without a background check. And a Bloomberg News article cites “a 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of inmates convicted of gun crimes found that eighty percent acquired the weapons through a private transfer.”

Rico says he's in the ten percent, just to be troublesome, as usual...

Shakespeare was right...

..when he said "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers", and Forrest Wickman has a Slate article about why:

One of the world’s largest law firms, DLA Piper, is being sued for overbilling, in a case that The New York Times notes will not help the public’s low opinion of lawyers. Emails disclosed in conjunction with the suit show one lawyer describing another’s approach as “churn that bill, baby!” When did lawyers get such a bad reputation?
The Middle Ages. In the days of the Greek and Roman empires, lawyers generally came from noble, wealthy backgrounds, worked for the public good, and were respected for it. It was often considered dishonorable to collect legal fees, and a lawyer’s skill was in his rhetoric rather than in his specialized knowledge of elaborate legal codes. Even when Emperor Claudius eventually permitted legal fees in Rome, he allowed only fees that were less than ten thousand sesterces— several years’ pay for a legionary, or only about a week’s earnings for some senators. After the Dark Ages, lawyers were required once again by the ever-expanding labyrinthine laws of the Catholic Church, the most complex organization of the Medieval era. The Church’s seemingly endless codes required specialized interpreters, but the lawyers were criticized for selling their God-given talents to the highest bidder. For this greed and “venality”, they were attacked viciously in morality tales and satirical poems. One medieval poet wrote: “They are no psalmists, but the harpists of Satan.” Others compared them to Judas, explaining that “he who sells the truth for money sells Christ, who is Truth.” Their venality was associated particularly with their tongues and, in the moral spook stories called the exempla, their tongues were in turn blackened, torn from them, or, in one case, scorched by fiery horses and cattle stuffed into their mouths.
Though lawyers weren’t compared to Judas every time they took a fee, the perception that lawyers were greedy and opportunist continued through the Renaissance and into the early modern era. An early lawyer joke can be found in Shakespeare’s King Lear, when Lear tells the Fool that his speech is “nothing, fool”. “Then ’tis like the breath of the unfeed lawyer,” the Fool replies, delivering the equivalent of the aphorism “A lawyer’s opinion which costs nothing is worth nothing.” Many dramas even compared lawyers to the devil himself, or depicted the devil as a lawyer. By 1832, the lawyer-devil archetype was so tiresome that the editor of one book of jokes complained that it was a “hackneyed character”.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, new epithets arose with which to disparage the lawyerly profession. In the nineteenth century, it became common to disdain insidious “shysters”, leeches who would defend even the lowliest criminals (at least until they ran out of money). (The term is sometimes thought to be anti-Semitic in origin, but its origins are unclear.) In the 1930s, Disney would even introduce the scheming lawyer character Sylvester Shyster, while at the same time the Marx Brothers created the titular law firm of Flywheel, Shyster, & Flywheel (1932-33). Around the turn of the century, the shyster was joined by a new scourge. In 1897 the Congressional Record reported that “in New York City there is a style of lawyers known to the profession as ‘ambulance chasers’, because they are on hand wherever there is a railway wreck, or a street-car collision.” The New York Times explained that the rise of the ambulance chaser was connected with the rise of “the automobile that slayeth in darkness and the trolley car that murdereth at midday”.  Though some, like the self-avowed ambulance chaser Abraham Gatner, wore the label with pride, bills aimed at combating ambulance chasing were introduced as early as 1906.
According to Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture, the number of US lawyers tripled between 1965 and 2000, and the number of lawyer jokes surged along with it. This surge in lawyers was often viewed as a drain on the economy. For example, in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle claimed that America was uncompetitive because it had seventy percent of the world’s lawyers. This notion that there were too many lawyers was also reflected in lawyer jokes (e.g., variations on “What do you call five hundred lawyers on the bottom of the ocean? …A good start”), which were first collected in The Ultimate Lawyers Joke Book in 1987. According to a common quip: “There are only three lawyer jokes. The rest are all true stories.”
What stops lawyers from overbilling? Their honor, theoretically. It’s generally impossible for the average client to know whether his or her lawyer is billing for unnecessary or unworked hours, so clients are expected to trust in their lawyers. For legal scholars, too, overbilling is difficult to study— lawyers may be asked to self-report whether they’ve been overbilling— but lawyers say that abusing client trust is rare.
If caught, lawyers can face disbarment, suspension, or public censure from the bar, depending on the severity of the offense. They can also face lawsuits or serve jail time for fraud or theft. For example, in 2011, one Chicago lawyer who pleaded guilty to overbilling two million dollars was sentenced to six years in prison. If clients suspect they’re being overbilled, they can contact— who else?— a lawyer.

Rico says that Redleaf is being sued, and was overbilled by its own lawyer, so one has to rely on Shakespeare for the solution:

The line is from Henry The Sixth, Part 2, Act 4, scene 2, 71–78
Dick the butcher, a character no one remembers, utters one of the few memorable lines from the entire three-part Henry the Sixth cycle. Dick's Utopian idea to kill all England's lawyers is his addition to the promises of the traitorous Jack Cade, who envisions a quasi-communistic social revolution, with himself installed as autocrat. Cade alleges that all lawyers do is shuffle parchments back and forth in a systematic attempt to ruin the common people. His demagoguery is simply a calculated appeal to simple folks' longing to be left alone. Yet one may recognize Cade's moral failings and still sympathize with Dick.


Rico says he's tired of hearing about these young, white male idiots (and it's always young, white males: Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, etc.) who get ahold of a gub or two, go out and kill a bunch of innocent folks, then end up killing themselves as the cops close in.
If only they'd run the movie in reverse, and kill themselves first, it'd save so much time and trouble...

Gubs for the day

Jeremy Peters and Peter Baker have an article in The New York Times about gubs and the law:

With resistance to tougher gun laws stiffening in Congress, a visibly frustrated President Obama implored lawmakers and the nation not to lose sight of the horrors of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. “The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we’ve moved on to other things?” Obama said in remarks at the White House, surrounded by relatives and friends of victims of gun violence (photo), including some from Newtown. “That’s not who we are. That’s not who we are. And I want to make sure every American is listening today.”
The President has just a small window in which to persuade Congress to back a series of gun control measures that will come up for a vote in the Senate early next month. And his remarks, delivered in an impassioned and off-script manner, were aimed at reviving the impetus that gun-control advocates fear they are losing as more time passes since the shootings.
A filibuster threat is growing in the Senate. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, has said a ban on certain styles of semiautomatic weapons is virtually assured of defeat. And a senior Republican senator who opposes the President’s efforts, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, is now floating a competing gun bill.
These complications only add to the strain surrounding negotiations over a bipartisan bill that would strengthen the background check system for gun purchases, talks that have so far drawn the support of only one Republican, Mark Kirk of Illinois.
As senators at the heart of those negotiations returned to their home states this week, their staffs continued to try to reach consensus back in Washington. But they have yet to produce anything more than an outline of what legislation might look like.
President Obama’s appearance, from the East Room of the White House, suggested just how delicate the situation had become. Rather than read from teleprompters, he seemed to speak extemporaneously much of the time, and expressed irritation in a way that he generally does not. At some moments, he paused and took a breath as if collecting himself and circled back to some of his points for emphasis. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten,” he said.“I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
The renewed push by the President, who will travel to Colorado next week to rally support for new gun measures, is just one piece in a broader nationwide effort, timed to coincide with the two-week Congressional recess, by gun control groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s coalition.
At the same time, the National Rifle Association is activating its base, ensuring that Congressional offices and town hall meetings over the next week will be swamped with competing agendas on how to combat gun violence. “What we face right now is the most dire threat to the association and to our freedom,” said Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman.
Indeed, gun rights activists are being challenged by a highly coordinated and expensive effort to defeat them, not to mention a galvanized group of voters who were outraged by the Newtown shooting and have pledged to volunteer.
The Brady Campaign this week began a campaign to call and email thousands of supporters, urging them to attend more than a hundred and fifty Congressional town hall meetings, many in Republican-leaning states where Democrats are up for re-election.
“Basically we’re saying, ‘Drop everything. There’s a town hall tonight’,” said Brian Malte, the director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign.
People will be equipped with talking points like poll numbers that show nine out of ten Americans support universal background checks, including seven out of ten NRA members. And they will be encouraged to ask their senators and representatives direct questions like: “Do you support universal background checks?” Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said it was convening a hundred and twenty events across the nation in support of gun measures, including in Columbus, Ohio; Durham, North Carolina; and Golden, Colorado. The group began a twelve million dollar ad campaign aimed at fifteen senators this week. “Americans want this, and today Americans are making their voices heard,” said the group’s chairman, John Feinblatt.
In at least two crucial cases, senators appear to be listening. Two of the senators who were the subjects of efforts of the mayors’ group, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Joe Donnelly of Indiana are now signaling their support for expanded background checks.
Other senators are digging in. Five Republican senators have now signed on to a pledge to filibuster “any additional gun restrictions”. They include Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Marco Rubio of Florida and James Inhofe of Oklahoma have announced their intentions to join the filibuster as well.
As the gun control debate played out, Connecticut officials unsealed several search warrants itemizing the enormous cache of guns, ammunition, knives, and swords that were seized from the home and car of Adam Lanza, who shot and killed twenty first graders and six educators in Newtown last December.
David Wheeler, whose six-year-old son, Benjamin, was killed in the massacre, said in an interview that he and his wife, Francine, hoped the details of the warrant would affect change in gun-control laws and in the communication among law enforcement officials about people who might pose a threat. “We’re starting to get tired of the insanity in Washington and Hartford,” he said. “It’s absolutely despicable, really. I would hope that some of these details will spark enough soul-searching to get something done.”
Details about the items seized at the Lanza home underscored the difficulty gun-control advocates face in Congress. Much of the arsenal would remain legal under even the most far-reaching gun-control measures being considered. But two of the guns Lanza brought with him to the school, the Bushmaster XM15-E2S he used in the killings, and a Saiga-12 shotgun found in his car, would be outlawed under the assault weapons ban proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
Opponents of stronger gun-control laws have long said that new laws would arbitrarily single out certain weapons, while ignoring issues like deficiencies in the mental health system. “The President asserts his new gun proposals will reduce violent crime, yet provides no evidence that these or any other law would have prevented tragedies such as Newtown,” Senator Lee said. “While having Congress vote on new gun laws may make the President feel like he’s doing something constructive, the proposals’ primary effect would be to limit the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Mindful of the fact that passions are rising among gun rights activists as they seem to be ebbing in the other direction, Obama sought to draw on the emotion and revulsion around the Newtown shooting. “We need everybody to remember how we felt a hundred days ago and make sure that what we said at that time wasn’t just a bunch of platitudes, that we meant it,” he added. To lawmakers, he added sternly: “Don’t get squishy because time has passed and maybe it’s not on the news every single day.”

Rico says yeah, don't get squishy; that's reserved for the dead...

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