A surprising find under what used to be America's most notorious prison: Texas A&M researchers using ground-penetrating radar have discovered the remains of an old military fortress long believed to have been completely destroyed, reported the BBC.Rico says there's more, but they want money for the rest of the article, and the BBC site doesn't reveal their article...
The San Francisco Bay island was once the home of Fort Alcatraz, built upon the discovery of gold in the area and transformed into a line of defense during the Civil War. The fort never fired a shot during the war, though it did house Confederate sympathizers jailed for denouncing the Federal government.
28 February 2014
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If you ask the professionals, the best restaurants in America are fancy-pants establishments like Alinea in Chicago, the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and Le Bernardin in New York City, where a meal will set you back hundreds of dollars per person. But if you ask the foodies on the customer-reviews site Yelp.com, you’ll get a very different answer and, in many ways, a better one.Rico says that, for the uninitiated, that's pronounced po-ke... (And, while Rico hasn't been to any of them, they're a good addition to his bucket list.)
For the first time, Yelp has released its own list of the hundred best places to eat in America, based on reviews from millions of diners who use the site. To arrive at the rankings, Yelp’s data mining engineers looked at both the average star rating for each restaurant and the total number of reviews it received. The resulting list is a delightfully unsnooty antidote to the Michelin Guide.
Yelpers are suitably impressed by haute cuisine, and the site’s top hundred does in fact include Alinea (number seven), the French Laundry (number thirty-four), and Le Bernardin (number forty-five). But they care just as much about traits like charm, authenticity, and value for the money— traits that tend to fall by the wayside when the pros draw up their best-of lists. And so those white-tablecloth critical darlings must elbow for room at the table alongside Yelpers’ favorite barbecue joints, taco stands, and pho spots, many of which are beloved as much for their cheap prices and homey service as their delicious fare.
On Yelp’s list, New York City’s top restaurant is not Jean Georges or Per Se, but a vegan food truck called the Cinnamon Snail that earns top marks for its vanilla crème brulee donut and maple mustard tempeh sandwich. Southern California’s best include Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista, Oscar’s Mexican Seafood in San Diego, and Joe’s Falafel in Studio City, whose prices all rate just one dollar sign on Yelp’s four-dollar-sign scale. Denver's highest ranking goes not to Frasca, with its James Beard Award-winning wine list, but to Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, where you can nosh on reindeer, elk, or even rattlesnake meat.
But the top restaurant of all on Yelp’s list is one that probably flies even further below the average food critic’s radar. It’s a tiny seafood haunt wedged into a condominium complex in Kona, on Hawai'i’s Big Island. It’s called Da Poke Shack, and in Yelpers’ eyes it’s pretty much perfect: an average of five stars on 612 customer reviews.
Aficionados swoon for its poke bowls— salads that combine Japanese-inflected spices and greens like seaweed or kimchi with generous chunks of still-floppingly fresh, raw ahi tuna. They run about eight dollars a bowl, depending on market prices, and you can round out your meal with some garlic edamame and a can of Hawaii'an beer and be out the door for about fifteen dollars. A few caveats: Da Poke Shack is “wildly popular”, reviewers note, so if you come at peak lunch hour you should expect to wait in line for a bit. And there’s hardly any seating, so you might be best off grabbing your food to go— one Yelper suggests taking it out to the sea wall and watching the waves crash as you dine. Oh, and don’t go expecting dinner, because it closes at 6 pm.
It’s safe to say that even Da Poke Shack is surprised to find itself atop a national best-restaurants list. When I called the restaurant to ask if they’d heard that they had garnered Yelp.com’s top overall rating, the on-duty manager replied, “Oh, cool. You mean best on our island, right?” No, I said. Best in the country. The line went silent for a few moments. “Oh,” he said again. “Wow.”
Are Yelp’s rankings definitive? Of course not. They’re shaped by the demographics of the site’s users, who skew young, middle-class, and tech-savvy. And while the sample size is large, there’s some selection bias at work. Da Poke Shack, for instance, seems more likely to be visited and reviewed by someone who already knows she loves poke than, say, a steak-lover with an aversion to raw seafood. Yelpers, by and large, tend to evaluate establishments on their own terms, which means that their top picks won’t necessarily appeal to the least common denominator.
That said, every restaurant-rating system worth its salt is highly subjective. And I’d argue that, in comparison to its buttoned-down brethren, Yelp’s list makes for a far better reflection of the glorious smorgasbord of cuisines and dining styles that you can find in America today. We live in a golden age of food, from $200 prix fixe feasts to divine $1.75 adobada tacos, and this list proves it:1. Da Poke Shack, Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i
2. Paseo, Seattle, Washington
3. Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue, Kansas City, Kansas
4. The Cinnamon Snail, New York, New York
5. Porto's Bakery, Burbank, California
6. Dametra Cafe, Carmel by the Sea, California
7. Alinea, Chicago, Illinois
8. Franklin Barbecue, Austin, Texas
9. Gary Danko, San Francisco, California
10. Joe’s Falafel, Los Angeles, California
11. Sushi Izakaya Gaku, Honolulu, Hawai'i
12. Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, Denver, CO
13. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood, San Diego, California
14. Coop’s West Texas Barbeque, Lemon Grove, California
15. Tacos El Gordo, Chula Vista, California
16. Cheese Board Pizza, Berkeley, California
17. Ricky’s Fish Tacos, Los Angeles, California
18. Ono Seafood, Honolulu, Hawai'i
19. Bogart’s Smoke House, Saint Louis, Missouri
20. Bakery Nouveau, Seattle, Washington
Posted by Rico at 16:20
Rico's friend Esha forwards this AlterNet article by Lynn Stuart Parramore, an AlterNet senior editor, cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture; she received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU, and is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project, about business in Dixie:
Think of Dixie, and your mind probably conjures something like Duck Dynasty— bearded men bouncing along dirt roads in pickup trucks, raucously waving rebel flags. You probably wouldn’t think of black-tied bankers cavorting in the plush ballroom of Manhattan's St. Regis Hotel. But were you to peek inside the recent gathering of a secret Wall Street society, you’d have witnessed investment banking tycoon Warren Stephens taking the stage in a Confederate flag hat, performing an ode to finance to the tune of Dixie. "In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand”, you would have heard him croon, as two hundred of his well-heeled brethren nibbled foie gras.Rico says the South shall rise again, and did...
Is this linkage of Wall Street and the slaveholding South merely a coincidence? Actually, there's a very old affinity. Throughout its history, Dixie has often worn a suit.
We tend to think of America as separate regions: the South where slavery happened, and the North that opposed it. But this regional distinction is an illusion in many ways, and one the money men gladly encourage. The truth is that, without Wall Street's vigorous support and financing, the system of slavery could not have thrived. Much of the North's economic prosperity rested on the blood-soaked foundation of Southern cotton production. The curators of a fascinating and extensive exhibition series at the New York Historical Society, Slavery in New York, put it this way: "New York City was the capital of American slavery for more than two centuries." In her book Disowning Slavery, Joanne Melish notes that one of the North’s greatest cultural achievements in the Civil War was to effectively erase its ties to slavery in the public imagination.
New York City’s slavery connection goes way back to its colonial past. Wall Street was the location of New York City’s first slave market, established in 1711. New York City never developed a big cash crop like cotton, so it didn’t have plantations on the scale of states further south. But you didn’t have to be a planter to benefit from the business of slavery. Many of New York City’s prominent eighteenth-century families were deeply involved in the slave trade. Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence whose wealth flowed to Yale University, was a major slave trader.
New York passed a gradual emancipation act in 1799, and slavery was officially abolished in the state in 1827— but only officially. As historian Eric Foner has noted, the port of New York City continued as the financial center of the illegal transatlantic slave trade up until the 1860s.
New York City controlled the South’s cotton trade, which is why most of the city’s merchants and bankers supported slavery during the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. Over and over, they used their influence to get concessions for the South in order to maintain their access to cotton: white gold. The South’s cotton production was a key source of profit and employment for the shipping, banking, insurance and textile industries.
As political scientist Thomas Ferguson has explained in his book Golden Rule, the Democratic Party of the 1830s was one in which elite merchants, New York City bankers, and planters like Treasury Secretary Robert Walker could find common ground on many items, including their support of free trade and slavery. (Originally from Pennsylvania, Walker moved to Mississippi to become a cotton, slave, and land speculator and a politician who staunchly defended slavery on both economic and moral grounds.)
Money flowed into the New York City financial world not just from cotton, but from another form of white gold: sugar. Businessman William Havemeyer, elected mayor of New York City in 1845 and 1848 and again in 1872, was from a sugar-refining family that relied on raw materials derived from the plantations of the Deep South and the Caribbean.
Perhaps the biggest sugar daddy of all was New York City financier Moses Taylor, a sugar merchant who became a member of the Chamber of Commerce and key player in firms that evolved into familiar names, like Citibank. (Think of that next time you see a jaunty blue public bicycle cruising by in New York City bearing the Citibank logo.)
Financiers like Taylor got a piece of the Southern action in numerous ways: they earned commissions from brokering sales, supervised the investments of planters in banks, and financed the purchases of land and slaves. They got very cozy with their planter friends down South, even shepherding their children when they came to New York City to study or serve as apprentices.
Today, if you were to take a stroll through Charleston, South Carolina and then hop a plane to Newport, Rhode Island (a satellite of the New York City financial community up through the Gilded Age), you would notice a striking similarity in the style of houses, and you might even observe some of the same names. These two affluent port cities shared extensive connections both through slave trading and also through their elite social world. Southern planters and northern financiers and merchants worked together to protect their mutual interests in commerce and slavery. Starting around the mid-nineteenth century, wealthy Southern planters took to building houses in Newport to escape the summer heat. Upper-class Northerners and Southerners became bound together in marriages and business dealings in resorts like Newport and universities like Yale, and later Princeton (nicknamed the Southern Ivy), which became the favorites of Southern planters.
Shipping merchant Fernando Wood, New York City’s mayor in the 1840s, was a staunch supporter of the city’s ties to the slave South. On 8 January 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, The New York Times published the transcript of a report in which Mayor Wood called on the city to declare independence so it could continue trading with the slave South. Many in the New York City media and business community agreed with Wood, lamenting what a war was going to cost in lost cotton profits. The New York Democratic Party machine objected to the idea of secession, but only because members tended to prefer keep close ties to the South without violating the Constitution.
Toward the end of the war, Wood went to Congress, where he fought the Thirteenth Amendment (the anti-slavery amendment), on the grounds that it violated private property rights.
The War may have put a temporary strain on relations between northern financiers and their planter friends, but the romance was quickly reignited. As Thomas Ferguson explains, the Democratic Party rose anew after the Civil War “with a coalition of bankers, merchants, and some (not all) important railroad men.” President Andrew Johnson "treated the South rather like another group of similarly connected business leaders treated Germany eighty years later, and began reinstalling the old leadership of the defeated country into power.” New York City bank attorney Samuel Tilden, who ran for president in 1876, reasserted the Democratic Party’s ties to finance and Dixie, helping to organize efforts that led to the end of the South’s occupation.
During the Gilded Age, Northern and Southern elites enjoyed cozy relations, continuing on through the Roaring Twenties, as immortalized in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in which Southern belle Daisy Buchanan frolics in Long Island with her wealthy husband Tom and New York City’s financial elite.
As Jack Temple Kirby points out in his book Media-Made Dixie: The South in the American Imagination, something called Dixie emerged in US popular culture the 1930s. Leading up to that period, the South was more often than not depicted as brutal and backward, but by 1939, the year of the release of Gone With the Wind (courtesy of a Jewish filmmaker from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) the nostalgic version of a glorious, fallen South became popular in everything from whiskey advertisements to the music of Tin Pan Alley. For the most part, it was not the creation of Southerners, but rather the purveyors of popular culture in the emergent media and advertising industries located in other parts of the country.
The South became idealized in travel literature as the languid escape from hectic urban life in the North. The Carolina Low Country, in particular, was sold as a place where aristocratic men endowed with paternalistic wisdom presided over genteel settings where people knew their socioeconomic place.
Dixie was a big seller. It still is. Flip through a recent issue of Forbes Life, the style handbook of the New York City financier, you’ll notice advertisements for all the accoutrements of power expected of the banker-elite: exquisite watches, golf equipment, high-end matchmaking services, and Dixie. An ad for Brays Island Plantation, located in Sheldon, South Carolina, features golden-hued hunting scenes, horseback riders in Spanish moss-draped settings, a porticoed great house. “One perfect plantation,” beckons the copy. The website invites you to come on down and enjoy “the sporting lifestyle of a traditional Low Country plantation.”
Cherokee Plantation, located between Charleston and Savannah in Georgia, is an even more rarefied vision of the Old South sold to elites from elsewhere. Forbes 400 member Dirk E. Ziff, a New York City media magnate, is part owner of Cherokee, which is often touted as the most expensive private club in America. A friend’s father who worked in real estate once invited me to see it. When a mule-drawn cart driven by a black employee appeared to transport our group to breakfast, I marveled at the completeness (and insensitivity) of the fantasy. But this place was not really created for the scions of Southern planters, but rather those who wish to play-act.
It is the Northern financier for whom a nostalgic marketing of plantation life often holds the most allure. Price of membership at Cherokee? A million bucks, which doesn't cover the yearly fees of $85,000. (That’s not the kind of cash most descendents of southern planters have lying around these days.) Here’s what you get, according to Forbes magazine:“…Members who hunt quail can use a $100,000 Purdey house gun and enjoy an outdoor banquet, complete with tablecloths and candelabra. In the evening, members and guests are invited to pluck a stogie from the walk-in humidor in the grand plantation house. When guests climb into bed, they find a flannel-covered hot water bottle tucked between the sheets, even in summer.”General Sherman burned down the original plantation house at Cherokee, but it and the entire estate were rebuilt as a sort of Southern Never-Neverland in 1930 by the same firm responsible for designing Central Park. The membership roster of Cherokee Plantation is a closely-guarded secret, but it has been speculated to read like something “cribbed from the latest Fortune 500 list.” Here’s betting that the roster of Kappa Beta Phi, the Wall Street secret society that hosted the infamous shindig at the St. Regis Hotel, boasts a few members. Maybe more than a few.
When Wall Street bankers express their fondness for the Old South, they’re not just 'whistling Dixie'.
Posted by Rico at 16:03
27 February 2014
The Clarion Project has a report by Ryan Mauro on an Islamic group in Texas:
A Clarion Project investigation has discovered a jihadist enclave in Texas where a deadly shooting took place in 2002. Declassified FBI documents obtained by Clarion confirm the find and show the US government’s concern about its links to terrorism. The investigation was completed with help from ACT! For America Houston.Rico says that, knowing Texas as he does, he suspects the Islamists are in greater danger from other Texans than the other way around... (And, if they're not careful, they may discover that MOA also stands for 'minute-of-angle' to a sniper.)
The enclave belongs to the network of Muslims of the Americas (MOA), a radical group linked to a Pakistani militant group called Jamaat ul-Fuqra. Its members are devoted followers of Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, an extremist cleric in Pakistan.
The organization says it has a network of 22 “villages” around the US, with Islamberg as its main headquarters in New York. The Clarion Project obtained secret MOA footage showing female members receiving paramilitary training at Islamberg. It was featured on the Kelly File on the Fox News Channel in October of 2013. A second MOA tape released by Clarion shows its spokesman declaring the US to be a Muslim-majority country.
A 2007 FBI record states that MOA members have been involved in at least ten murders, one disappearance, three firebombings, one attempted firebombing, two explosive bombings and one attempted bombing. It states:
“The documented propensity for violence by this organization supports the belief the leadership of the MOA extols membership to pursue a policy of jihad or holy war against individuals or groups it considers enemies of Islam, which includes the US government. Members of the MOA are encouraged to travel to Pakistan to receive religious and military/terrorist training from Sheikh Gilani.”The document also says that "The MOA is now an autonomous organization which possesses an infrastructure capable of planning and mounting terrorist campaigns overseas and within the US."
Other FBI reports describe the MOA in similar ways, with a 2003 file stating, “Investigation of the Muslims of the Americas is based on specific and articulate facts giving justification to believe they are engaged in international terrorism…”
MOA members believe the holiest Islamic site in the country is located at their Islamville commune in South Carolina. Other MOA entities include the International Quranic Open University, United Muslim Christian Forum, Islamic Post, Muslim Veterans of America, and American Muslim Medical Relief Team (map, above).
The MOA compound in Texas, described by the FBI as an “enclave” and “communal living site”, is in Brazoria county along County Road 3 near Sweeny. It was discovered by the FBI from a tip from an informant in New York City.
The MOA referred to its Texas commune as Mahmoudberg in online instructions for a parade in New York City in 2010. A posting on an Islamic message board in 2005 advertised a speaking engagement in Houston, Texas by someone from Mahmoudberg.
According to the reports, the commune is seven to ten acres, is in an “extremely wooded area”, and two or three trailer homes were moved there in December of 2001. However, ACT members visited the area as part of Clarion’s investigation and interviewed one nearby local who confidently said it is closer to 25 acres in size and spoke of a presence dating back to the late 1980s.
“The area is so rural it is quite common for residents to shoot firearms for target practice or hunting on private property without interference from law enforcement,” one FBI report states. Locals told the ACT members that they have heard gunfire coming from the commune.
The FBI reported in 2007 that one commune resident used to be a leader at the MOA commune in Badger, California. The site was called Baladullah. In March of 2001, one of the Baladullah members was arrested for transporting guns between New York and South Carolina. Another was charged with murdering a police deputy that caught him breaking and entering a home.
Interviewed residents all agreed that the MOA members are private yet, when the ACT members were spotted in the area, they were immediately and repeatedly approached. At one point, a commune resident gave them a final warning to leave, despite the fact that they were not trespassing or harassing MOA members. “It was definitely very threatening and menacing,” an ACT member told me.
Multiple sources confirmed that one resident of the commune is a police officer. According to a nearby neighbor, one of the MOA members used to drive trucks for the US Army in Kuwait. The commune is also linked to a non-profit called the Muslim Model Community of Texas. Members travel to Houston to worship at the MOA Dawah Center that is linked to another organization called First Muslims of Texas.
One of the MOA members was shot and killed by another member on 7 February 2002. according to FBI documents and a police report. The victim was Salminma Dawood, also known as Terrance C. Davis III. His death was reportedly an accident, having been shot by another MOA member who “returned gunfire to unknown individuals who were harassing the MOA commune”.
Law enforcement reported encountering about a dozen African-American males at the scene, approximately five of whom lived at the commune. The investigators saw an estimated seven women and children who also resided there. The police were denied access to the trailer homes and were not allowed to directly interview the women, who covered their faces in their presence. Communication with the women had to be done by passing notes through a male intermediary.
Locals told the ACT members that government investigators had visited the area a few times and the commune residents refused to talk to them. According to one local, two ambulances were denied entry earlier this year until the police intervened. A search of the Brazoria county criminal records shows that two residents of Mahmoudberg were arrested in April of 2013 and charged with “interference with public duties”. Their trial is pending.
The MOA presence in Texas is not limited to the Mahmoudberg commune near Sweeny. As mentioned, the MOA has a dawah (outreach) center in Houston for activities. Declassified FBI documents show that the extremist group has been in Texas since the 1980s.
On 11 October 1991, a federal search warrant for three suspects was issued after a MOA/Jamaat-ul-Fuqra bomb plot in Toronto, Canada was foiled. A nearly 45-acre “compound” about seventy miles south of Dallas, Texas was raided. The location may have been near Corsicana, Texas, as another FBI document mentions that about seven MOA members purchased property in that area.
The suspects managed to flee in October before the raid took place. Their children also suddenly disappeared from school. The feds found four mobile homes, three military, general-purpose tents, and six vehicles. Loose ammunition, books on counter-terrorism techniques, weaponry, and various items with Jamaat Fuqra Land written on them were discovered. They also found surveillance photos of a post office building and the Greenhead Station in Los Angeles, California leading authorities to suspect that attacks on these sites were planned.
MOA activities in Texas continued after the October 1991 raid. Two FBI documents from 1992 mention that MOA members in the state were using false aliases, social security numbers, and birth certificates.
The FBI documents obtained by the Clarion Project clearly identify MOA as a terrorist organization. The Department of Homeland Security privately agreed in 2005, listing Jamaat ul-Fuqra (and specifically MOA) as a possible sponsor of a terrorist attack on the US. So why is MOA/JUF allowed to operate in this country?
The answer is that the State Department has not designated MOA/Jamaat ul-Fuqra as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The group is thus permitted to organize in the US until that happens. Yet, the State Department has also recognized the group’s terroristic agenda.
In 1998, the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism report described Jamaat ul-Fuqra as an “Islamic sect that seeks to purify Islam through violence.” It said that Fuqra members engaged in assassinations and bombings in the US in the 1980s and still live in “isolated rural compounds” in the country.
A State Department spokesperson was asked in January of 2002 about why MOA stopped appearing in the Department’s annual terrorism reports. The answer was: “Jamaat ul-Fuqra has never been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It was included in several recent annual terrorism reports under ‘other terrorist groups’, i.e., groups that had carried out acts of terrorism but that were not formally designated by the Secretary of State. However, because of the group's inactivity during 2000, it was not included in the most recent terrorism report covering that calendar year.” It has not appeared since. Yet, we have FBI documents from as late as 2007 discussing the terrorist threat posed by MOA.
It’s long past due that the State Department be forced to address this obvious threat. The State Department must designate Jamaat ul-Fuqra as a Foreign Terrorist Organization before it’s too late.
Posted by Rico at 15:12
Lucian Kim has a BuzzFeed article about the situation in the Crimea:
Fights broke out in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, recently between demonstrators for and against the Ukraine’s new provisional government in Kiev. The Kremlin ordered unannounced war games in western Russia. By the looks of it, a Russian military intervention on behalf of ethnic Russians living in the Ukraine seemed more likely than ever.Rico says that, in any language, it's a fucking mess over there...
On the ground in Simferopol, however, the situation is rather different. The explosive atmosphere of the past days has been defused, not exacerbated. And the chance that the Crimea, a former Russian possession, will split off and appeal for President Vladimir Putin’s protection is smaller today than it has been in days past.
The phantom of Crimean separatism has spooked the Ukraine since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Crimean and Russian politicians alike have found populist gain in the notion of the Black Sea peninsula finally coming home to Mother Russia. But it seems nobody is ready to push as far as secession, since the status quo is much more beneficial to both the local pro-Russia lobby and Kremlin geostrategists.
From afar, the scuffles outside the Crimean parliament looked like a brewing storm between Russian nationalists on the one side and Ukrainian loyalists— including Crimea’s ethnic Tatar minority— on the other. In fact, the leaders of the two sides are in constant contact with each other and have a common enemy: the outsiders whom ousted President Viktor Yanukovych installed from his eastern Ukrainian stronghold in the city of Donetsk.
“Separatism is just a show,” said Lenur Yunusov, editor of the Simferopol news site 15minut.org. “The fight for political posts and getting rid of the guys from Donetsk are much more important.”
Refat Chubarov, the head of the Crimean Tatar community, and Sergei Aksyonov, leader of the Russian Unity Party, appeared together outside the regional parliament and called for calm. Both were marginalized by the old regime. Both support the Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Crimean independence is the last thing pro-Russia politicians want, Yunusov said: “For them it’s better to be in the Ukraine and get money from Moscow. They don’t want to split off.”
By bringing out thousands of men, many with the physiques of wrestlers, the well-organized Tatar community convinced the parliament to cancel a special session that could have discussed a referendum on Crimean independence. Now representatives of the Crimea’s three biggest ethnic groups— Russians, Ukrainians, and Tatars— will sit down and negotiate the formation of a new regional government, said Liliya Muslimova, Chubarov’s spokeswoman.
Fisticuffs and bloody noses appeared unavoidable as pro-Kiev protestors pushed through a spindly police line to a considerably smaller pro-Moscow rally. Protesters chanting “Russia! Russia!” were surprisingly incoherent about what they really wanted. The most frequent answer to the question of whether the Crimea should break off and become a part of Russia was that the Ukraine should join the Moscow-led Customs Union and not the European Union. The Customs Union, consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, is the Kremlin’s latest plan to stand up to the West and create a regional powerhouse of its own.
There was little nationalistic fervor among the pro-Russia protestors. The Tatars, who are Muslim, were not targeted because of their ethnicity or religion, but because of their unequivocal support for the new authorities in Kiev, whom the Kremlin has branded fascists.
By conducting military exercises close to the Ukraine’s border, Putin is giving the finger to the interim government and its western allies, without facing any consequences. The Kremlin understands perfectly well that keeping a naval base in the Crimea is much more useful than annexing the entire peninsula, since it is the Ukraine’s most vulnerable part.
The Crimea, which dangles into the Black Sea, is often called “the balls of the Ukraine”, because whenever Russia needs to, it can give a tight squeeze. In the long run, squeezing is more effective than castration.
Officially, the Kremlin considers the provisional government in Kiev as illegitimate. Yet Yanukovych’s whereabouts remain unknown, though rumors persist he may be in the Crimea. It’s plausible that he is hiding at the Russian Navy base in Sevastopol— a sort of diplomatic no-man’s-land like the Moscow airport transit lounge that was National Security Agency defector Edward Snowden’s temporary refuge last summer. As long as Yanukovych isn’t found, the Kremlin can continue to pretend he’s still the Ukraine’s president.
Russia’s cautiousness in making any rash moves over the Crimea was evident when Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky visited Simferopol. A member of nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party, Slutsky pussyfooted around the question of what Russia would actually do for the Crimea’s ethnic Russians. “In the case of any provocations against the inhabitants in the east and southeast of the Ukraine, and the Republic of the Crimea, we also have corresponding, appropriate measures,” he declared stiffly, while members of the local Russian community begged him for financial aid and complained that Moscow television channels were ignoring them.
As demonstrators from both sides gradually dispersed from the Crimean parliament this afternoon, an older Russian woman started wailing that a man had been killed. Like everything else here, there was a kernel of truth. A man had, in fact, died: of a heart attack.
Posted by Rico at 12:43
Hidden in Los Angeles, California's Rustic Canyon, which overlooks the ritzy homes of Pacific Palisades, are the trashed remains of a would-be Nazi stronghold.Rico says delusional structures die hard, and the neo-Nazis are still at it...
In 1933, an affluent couple named Winona and Norman Stephens acquired 55 acres of secluded land and began building a compound. They had been moved to do so by a charismatic German fellow known only as Herr Schmidt.
Schmidt was a prominent member of the Silver Legion of America, a fascist, anti-Semitic, white supremacist group. He convinced the Stephenses that the USA would soon be invaded by Germany as part of the Nazis' New Order. What Los Angeles needed, he contended, was a hideout where Third Reich sympathizers could sequester themselves until German rule had been established.
Duly persuaded, Winona and Norman oversaw the construction of a power station, fuel and water storage tanks, and irrigated hillside garden beds for growing food. Murphy Ranch was intended to be a self-sufficient community, but that didn't mean sacrificing comforts and luxuries. By 1941 there were plans to build a four-story, 22-bedroom mansion with multiple dining rooms and libraries. Ironically, the man who drew up the blueprints for this secret Nazi haven was Paul Williams, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects.
The fancy mansion never materialized. In December of 1941, right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI raided Murphy Ranch and took Herr Schmidt into custody. Norman and Winona sold the compound in 1948. During the 1960s and 1970s it operated as an artists' community, hence a bombed out VW van.
Though a major fire ripped through the compound in 1978, a few of its structures remain: a graffiti-covered power station (photo), a buckled cylindrical fuel tank, the garden bed foundations, and a collapsed fuel shed.
Posted by Rico at 12:00
Paul Elias has a Time article about YouTube being ordered to take down an anti-Muslim film:
A Federal appeals court ordered YouTube to take down an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in many parts of the Middle East. The decision, by a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California reinstated a lawsuit filed against YouTube by an actress who appeared in the video. The Ninth Circuit said the YouTube posting infringed actress Cindy Lee Garcia’s copyright to her role, and she, not just the filmmaker, could demand its removal.Rico says that Mohammad was a religious fraud, a pedophile, and a womanizer...
The court’s ruling addressed control of the clip, not its contents, which YouTube determined didn’t violate its standards.
“Garcia’s performance was used in a way that she found abhorrent, and her appearance in the film subjected her to threats of physical harm and even death,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority court. “Despite these harms, and despite Garcia’s viable copyright claim, Google refused to remove the film from YouTube.”
Garcia said she was duped into appearing in the film by the man behind it, Mark Basseley Youssef. She said the script she saw referenced neither Muslims nor Mohammad, and her voice was dubbed over after filming.
The fourteen-minute film, Innocence of Muslims (above), depicts Mohammad as a religious fraud, a pedophile, and womanizer.
It sparked violence in late 2012, but YouTube rebuffed requests from President Barack Obama to take it down, arguing that only the filmmaker and not the actress owned the copyright.
The court said the actress owned the copyright to her performance because she thought it was for another film unrelated to what ultimately aired.
Posted by Rico at 11:19
A California couple was out walking the dog around their property last year when they stumbled across eight buried cans with an estimated ten million dollats worth of gold coins inside. A year later, the rare coin dealer approached by the anonymous couple went public with the find. The long delay from find to fame was partly because of questions about how strong the couples claim to ownership was for the roughly 1,400 gold coins, dated from 1847 to 1894. And it turns out that, in many cases, finders really are keepers.Rico says he doubts anyone else is stupid enough to put in a claim...
Governments have been issuing rules about lost and found property— who owns it and how it shall be divided— for millennia. If a Roman walking around the Coliseum grounds in the days of Emperor Hadrian’s rule stumbled upon a half-buried pot full of bronze bars, half went to the lucky Roman, half to Hadrian. Today, if an Londoner unearths rare golden coins in his backyard, those belong to the royal family— who would likely pay the digger a handsome fee.
In modern day America, the presumption is “finders-keepers”, though there is a web of statutes and case law that can complicate such a simple maxim. Generally, “the finder of lost property can keep it against all the world… qualified by the question of where it was found,” says property law expert John Orth, a professor at the University of North Carolina. In the case of John and Mary (as they’re being called) and their California coins, the strongest factor in their favor is that they found the coins on their own property. Even if someone could prove that their great-great-grandfather buried those cans, there’s likely little the descendant could do if their grandfather sold that land to John and Mary’s family. “When you buy something, normally you get anything that’s been hidden in it,” says Orth, offering the example of a man who bought a used car for six hundred dollars and gets to keep the ten thousand dollars he finds in the trunk.
If John and Mary had found the coins while taking a walk on someone else’s property, the booty would likely go to that landowner. But what if someone stumbles across something valuable on public property? Say a San Franciscan strolling across the Golden Gate Bridge finds a bag containing a million in cash. In California, there is a law mandating that any found property valued over a hundred dollars be turned over to police. Authorities must then wait ninety days, advertise the lost property for a week, and finally release it to the person who found it if no one could prove ownership. Orth says it’s rare for cities or states to make any claim to found property, like the goods that metal-detector-wielding treasure hunters find on public beaches, unless it has some historical or archeological significance.
A legal distinction that often comes to bear is whether property is abandoned, lost, or mislaid. Abandoned property is something forsaken by a previous owner, who has no intention of returning for it. Lost property, like an engagement ring accidentally dropped in the street, is something that is inadvertently, unknowingly left behind. And mislaid property is intentionally put somewhere— like money on a bank counter that a customer intends to deposit— but then forgotten. Mislaid property, Orth says, is supposed to be safeguarded by whoever owns the property where it was mislaid until someone with a better claim, like the bank customer, comes back. Abandoned property and lost property are more likely to be dealt with by the easy “finder-keepers” edict.
An Arizona case, in which a man died after having hidden a half-million dollars in ammunition cans in his walls, helps illustrate the distinction. The man’s daughters, knowing he had a penchant for stashing things away, searched the house after he died before selling it to new owners. Years later, the new owners hired a contractor to renovate the house and he discovered the cans, hidden behind a wall-mounted toaster oven. The new owners said the money should come with the house, that it had essentially been abandoned. But as soon as the heirs found out about the stash they staked their own claim. An appellate court determined in 2012 that the funds were mislaid— having been intentionally put there, not unintentionally lost or thrown away— and awarded the money to the daughters.
A different court could have come to a different conclusion, of course. And cases can get much more complicated, especially when more than two parties are staking a claim. If a diver off the Florida coast happens upon a sunken ship with a trunk full of gold, for instance, that might yield a legal battle among the finder and the state, descendants of the ship’s owners, and any insurance company that paid a claim when the ship went down. “These cases are a mess,” Orth says.
A key piece of common law when it comes to sunken ships might be the same that appears to matter in John and Mary’s case, what is known as “treasure trove.” This is a fourth category— beyond lost, abandoned, or mislaid— that refers to any property that is verifiably antiquated and has been concealed for so long that the owner is probably dead or unknown and certainly unlikely to pop out of a grave and demand that his goods be returned. “The obvious fact that these coins had to have gone into the ground in the 1800s certainly helps their case,” says David McCarthy, a coin expert at the dealer that is working with John and Mary.
When someone stumbles upon treasure, the most important question is likely whether someone else has a better claim. In the case of John and Mary and their ten million dollar pot of gold, anyone else making a claim that trumps their property rights has “a high hurdle” to meet, says Armen Vartian, an attorney specializing in arts and collectible law in Manhattan Beach, California. “When people are arguing over who has a superior claim, the guy who hasn’t pursued his claim is at a disadvantage,” he says, giving the example of someone who said his family had been meaning to come retrieve those eight cans for the last century, but just didn’t get around to it. “You might have had a right at some point, but you lose it.”
Posted by Rico at 10:48
Western nations have called on Russia to ease tensions in the Ukraine's Crimea region after armed men seized the local parliament and raised the Russian flag. Russia also scrambled fighter jets along its borders as part of military exercises it announced a day earlier. Moscow said it was willing to work with the West on averting a crisis, but warned foreign powers against taking decisions on behalf of Ukrainians.Rico says this is classic fuque de clusteur, and they'll all be lucky to avoid a shooting war...
Meanwhile, the ousted Ukrainian president is reported to be in Russia. Viktor Yanukovych plans to hold a news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don soon, Russia's Ria news agency reports. Earlier, in his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, Yanukovych said he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists" and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of the Ukraine.
It feels as though President Putin has thrown down a gauntlet to the new government in Kiev. Perhaps scrambling Russian fighter jets, granting asylum to Viktor Yanukovych, or tacitly backing the takeover by local Russians of Crimean government buildings do not appear to be connected. But, taken together, these events seem to add up to a message that Russia has the power to make life difficult for the victors in Kiev and is not prepared to be taken for granted.
What Russia says it wants, however, seems quite unrealistic. Its foreign ministry argued that the best way out of the Ukraine's crisis and the Crimean stand-off would be to go back to the compromise agreement signed last week. But that would seem to mean President Yanukovych returning to power.
Russia also wants reforms to suit all regions of the country, including, presumably, that referendum on Crimean autonomy. Russia says it wants to keep Ukraine united, is prepared to collaborate and won't intervene militarily. But how far is it prepared to ratchet up the confrontation if the new government in Kiev, or the West, object to its proposals?
Unidentified armed men entered the Crimean parliament in the regional capital Simferopol by force recently, and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof. They were cheered by a handful of pro-Russian demonstrators who gathered round the building, despite a police cordon.
"We've been waiting for this moment for twenty years," the protest leader said. "We want a united Russia." The men are believed to be still in the building, although it is not clear if they have made any demands or statements.
They did put up a sign reading Crimea is Russia and threw a flash grenade in response to questions from a journalist, The Associated Press news agency reported.
Western leaders were quick to urge Moscow and Crimean activists not to escalate tensions further. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "concerned about developments in the Crimea", and urged Russia "not to take any action that can escalate tension".
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told Russia "not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted, or lead to miscalculation, during a very delicate time".
Later, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had reaffirmed it would respect the Ukraine's territorial integrity, but that the US would look for action to back up the statements.
Both British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced their concerns at a joint news conference in London.
Earlier, Ukrainian interim President Olexander Turchynov warned Russia that any movement of its Black Sea Fleet beyond its base in the Crimea would be seen as "military aggression".
The Crimea, the Ukraine's most ethnically divided region, says it will hold a referendum in May of 2014 for broader autonomous powers
"The dirty fingerprints of Russian President Vladimir Putin appear to be all over the tension and violence gripping the Crimean peninsula," says an editorial in the Ukraine's leading English-language Kyiv Post newspaper.
"We need solutions which would satisfy everyone, lower the tensions, and resolve the confrontation," writes Ivan Kapsamun in the centrist Day broadsheet.
"The main thing now for Kiev is not to be drawn into a violent conflict, exactly what the FSB (Russia's security service) wants to later justify the 'defence of the Russians'," Olexiy Haran argues in his blog on the pro-Maidan Ukrainska Pravda internet newspaper
"Such issues as the status of a republic, its independence, cannot and should not be decided by a majority principle. This should be resolved by consensus," thinks Yevhen Leshan in the Obozrevatel web resource.
"Constant air patrols are being carried out by fighter jets in the border regions," Russia's defence ministry told the Interfax news agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap drill to test the combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia, near the border with Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stressed the need to implement an EU-brokered peace deal agreed between Yanukovych and opposition parties before his departure from office last week.
But John Kerry said later Yanukovych had left the post of president; the US vice-president had tried for about ten or twelve hours to get in touch with him after he fled Kiev, with no success.
The uncertainty in the Ukraine has sent its currency, the hryvnia, tumbling to a record low.
New Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Yanukovych and his government of stripping the state coffers bare, telling parliament that billions of dollars had been transferred to offshore accounts in the past three years.
The International Monetary Fund said it had received a request for assistance from the new government, and would be sending a team to Kiev in the coming days. The city saw clashes erupt between Ukrainians who support the change of government and pro-Russians.
The Crimea, where ethnic Russians are in a majority, was transferred from Russia to the Ukraine in 1954.
Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars, whose animus towards Russia stretches back to Stalin's deportations during World War Two, have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.
Russia, along with the US, UK, and France, pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of the Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994.
Posted by Rico at 10:30
Inside the Galway Bay Brewery in Galway, Ireland, a tiny batch of imperial stout lies in Irish whiskey barrels. When brewmaster Chris Treanor’s newest creation is released in late February of 2014, it will join a small but growing number of imperial stouts— stronger, more intense stouts— brewed in the country.Rico says he's had both Guinness and Murphy's in Dublin, but prefers the whisky...
On one hand, it’s surprising the trend took so long to start. Few drinks seem more Irish than one that marries the two drinks the country proudly claims to have invented centuries ago: whiskey and stout. On the other hand, considering Guinness’ domination of Irish brewing, and Treanor’s personal story, it’s amazing the Two Hundred Fathoms imperial stout is being made at all.
Like many brewmasters, Treanor’s roots were in home brewing, but his trajectory from a college kid making beer at home to save money to Ireland’s (and possibly Europe’s) youngest brewmaster is uncommon. His is a story that could happen few places besides Ireland, where the burgeoning craft beer scene is promising, but still just young enough for a now-23-year-old to make his mark.
After a series of fortunate events just after college that he compares to winning the lottery, Treanor found himself in charge of the only brewpub in Galway, creating his own recipes to release on tap. Less than a year later, in 2013, Galway Bay expanded to a new facility with a hundred-thousand-liter capacity, more than twelve times the size of the brewery’s original facility next door, allowing him to experiment even further. Beers like Two Hundred Fathoms illustrate how far Irish stout has come in the last few years.
Since Arthur Guinness first started brewing stout in the late eighteenth century, very few other breweries have successfully produced the beer in its ancestral home. In the nineteenth century, Ireland had more than two hundred breweries, but in modern times the Irish have had virtually no choice of stout except Guinness, and its much smaller competitors Murphy’s and Beamish. Then, in the mid 1990s, a few independent companies entered the brewing scene and changed everything.
Barry Cassidy, owner of JW Sweetman, the only pub in Dublin that brews beer onsite, said much of the reason it took so long for smaller producers to begin competing with Ireland’s big breweries is because of brand loyalty. Most Irish, Cassidy added, also still lack a sophisticated palate for different types of beer. “Give us a potato and we can tell you if it’s a regular potato, a roast potato, we can even tell you what county it’s from,” Cassidy said. “But we’re terrible with flavor profile… we’re just now starting to get better.”
Cassidy had a point. Even Guinness, the stout by which all others are measured, is not particularly flavouful compared to many of its US counterparts. Don’t get me wrong: I love Guinness. But it’s the subtlety and the creamy, silky texture that make it so enjoyable. In fact, the Guinness Draught we know today is likely a smoother, less robust version of the original. Now at a moderate 4.2% alcohol, a pint of plain, as it’s famously called, has basically become session beer.
Never the less, droves of tourists still head to Ireland on a pilgrimage for a pint of Guinness in the beer’s homeland, and swear it tastes better than in any other place on Earth; there have even been studies that have proved that claim to be true.
Some say Guinness tastes better in Ireland because beer doesn’t travel well; it’s intended to be drunk fresh. But Guinness is brewed in almost fifty countries worldwide, so most pints don’t have to travel that far (Guinness states all of its draught beer in the UK, Ireland, and North America is brewed in Dublin). Then there’s the urban legend that the pub taps throughout Dublin flow directly from the Guinness brewery at St James Gate. But the real reason likely has just as much to do with sentimentality; Guinness tastes better in Ireland, just like a glass of Chianti tastes better while overlooking the hills of Tuscany. Going further with the idea that the Guinness’ taste is largely psychological, Cassidy went so far as to say the famously laborious Guinness pour is more about “theatre” than it is about taste.
With its harp and shamrock logos, and its monopolization of St Patrick’s Day, nothing screams Ireland like Guinness, giving it more brand recognition than nearly any major beer on Earth. But this brand loyalty, combined with restrictive tax laws and Guinness’ stranglehold on beer distributors, has made it difficult for craft brewers to compete until recently.
Today, none of Ireland’s three big stouts– Guinness, Beamish, and Murphy’s– are Irish-owned, which has been a boon for the country’s young craft brewing industry as Irish consumers start to look for flavorful local beer.
When Ireland’s first craft brewpub, The Porterhouse, opened in Dublin’s iconic Temple Bar neighborhood in 1996, it seemed doomed to fail. But, surprisingly to most, it became so successful it soon opened two other locations in Ireland, as well as one in London and most recently one in New York City. Part of Porterhouse’s success probably had to do with its design; it has an energetic atmosphere, located in Dublin’s most touristy area, with tables made from copper brewing equipment and a live-music stage that rises through the centre of its three stories. It also makes some very good beer, including the oyster stout: a sweet, creamy, slightly smoky brew with a bit of a salty kick, due to the fact that it’s brewed with fresh-shucked oysters.
The same year Porterhouse started serving pints to its patrons, Carlow Brewing Company in County Carlow began bottling O’Hara’s beer, today Ireland’s most ubiquitous craft beer.
But even with those standout successes, another decade passed before craft brewing really took off. In part thanks to the trailblazers of O’Haras and Porterhouse, and in part thanks to government tax breaks implemented in 2005, the number of Irish microbreweries began to grow. Soon after, breweries like Gallway Hooker, outside of Galway, and Franciscan Well in Cork (which was purchased by Molson Coors in 2013) started producing high quality beer. Word about the new wave of Irish beer began to spread. Demand for something different grew so big, microbrewing spread to even the tiniest villages.
In 2011, almost 250 years after opening, the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, a village of less than a thousand, started brewing in-house under the name Burren Brewery, called such because of the town’s proximity to the limestone landscapes of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. Today, the Burren Red is so popular they have trouble keeping it in stock. While the Burren Black is slightly more bitter, and not quite as silky as Guinness, it still went down easy.
Back in Galway, after I had a small sampler of Treanor’s beer, he recommended I sample a pint of limited edition Kindred Spirit from County Cork’s Eight Degrees Brewing at Oslo Bar and Microbrewery, the brewpub that houses Galway Bay. Aged in 25-year Irish whiskey barrels from Teeling Whiskey Company, Kindred Spirit was a smokey black beer with a subtle hint of oak and whiskey. That’s the beauty of a country with such a small craft brewing industry; the city’s only microbrewery still supports other local brewers rather than competing with them.
A smartphone designed for handling top secret communications has been developed by Boeing. If the phone is tampered with, it automatically deletes any data and renders itself inoperable. Better known for its airplanes, the firm said it needed to help organizations get "trusted access to data to accomplish their missions".Rico says if you need it (like the President), who cares what it costs?
The device, named Black, joins a growing range of high-security smartphones entering the market. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, a similarly-titled Blackphone was announced, aimed more at businesses and consumers worried about private data.
Boeing already provides secure communications for US government officials, including the President. Boeing's Black is not intended for mainstream use, and does not yet have a price or release date. The device took three years to produce, the company said, and has drawn on expertise from recent acquisitions of companies specializing in mobile technologies.
Product specifications posted on Boeing's website state that the device contains two SIMM cards to allow switching between government and commercial networks. The smartphone runs a heavily-customized version of Google's Android operating system, and Boeing has added its own branded security apps. But where Black goes beyond typical mobile security is in physical enhancements to the hardware itself: "There are no serviceable parts on Boeing's Black phone and any attempted servicing or replacing of parts would destroy the product," the company explained in documents sent to the Federal Communications Commission. "The Boeing Black phone is manufactured as a sealed device with epoxy around the casing and screws, the heads of which are covered with a tamper-proof covering to identify attempted disassembly. Any attempt to break open the casing of the device would trigger functions that would delete the data and software contained within the device and make the device inoperable."
Furthermore, the phone's hardware can be expanded to include biometric sensors, satellite receivers, or solar panels.
The BBC has an article about long-dead Japanese pilots:
Japan hopes to immortalize its kamikaze pilots (photo, top), a squad of young men who crashed their aircraft into Allied ships (photo, bottom) in World War Two by seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for a collection of their letters. Rupert Wingfield-Hayes meets a former pilot who built the collection, in honor of his fallen comrades:Rico says he ran into the same historical memory loss when he went to Japan for Claris, years back; all the young people had no clue about the War...Kamikaze is a word that has become synonymous with all that is crazy, fanatical and self-destructive. I remember as a young schoolboy in Britain learning about the kamikaze pilots. To me, what they had done was inexplicable. For long afterwards, it colored my view of Japan, and it left me with a nagging question: how did it happen? What caused thousands of ordinary young Japanese men to volunteer to kill themselves?
I had long dreamed of asking a kamikaze pilot that question. And so it was that I found myself ringing the bell of a comfortable-looking house outside the city of Nagoya in central Japan. Moments later, striding out to meet me, came a small, energetic and very neatly dressed old man, a wide smile on his face.
Tadamasa Itatsu is a spritely 89-year-old with twinkling eyes and a firm handshake. He cancelled his tennis game because I was coming, he tells me.
It's hard to believe that cheerful old man was once a kamikaze pilot.
In March of 1945, Itatsu was a nineteen-year-old pilot. Hundreds of American and British battleships and aircraft carriers were sailing towards Okinawa. He was asked by his commander to volunteer for one of Japan's infamous "special attack" squadrons.
"If Okinawa was invaded, then the American planes would be able to use it as a base to attack the main islands of Japan." He tells me: "So we young people had to prevent that. In March of 1945, it was a normal thing to be a kamikaze pilot. All of us who were asked to volunteer did so."
The inside of Itatsu's home is a shrine to his fallen comrades, the walls covered in grainy photos of young men in flying suits. Over and over, as we talk, he comes back to the same point: these young men were not fanatics, they believed their actions could save their country from disaster.
"Common sense says you only have one life," he says, "so why would you want to give it away? Why would you be happy to do that? But, at that time, everyone I knew, they all wanted to volunteer. We needed to be warriors to stop the invasion from coming. Our minds were set. We had no doubt about it."
Itatsu did not die. As he flew south towards his target, his engine failed and he was forced to ditch in the sea. He returned to his unit, but the war ended before he could try again. For many years afterwards he kept his story a secret, ashamed he had survived. He often thought of committing suicide, he says, but didn't have the courage.
Then, in the 1970s, he began to seek out the families of his dead comrades, asking them for letters and photographs from the dead pilots. His collection became the core of what is now known as the Kamikaze Letters.
From a series of long cardboard tubes Itatsu pulls thin pieces of paper covered in black calligraphy. He carefully unfurls one on the table and begins to read:
"Dear mother, my one regret is I could not do more for you before I die. But to die as a fighter for the emperor is an honor. Please do not feel sad."
A lot of the letters are in this vein. They appear to confirm the view that a whole generation of Japanese men had been brainwashed in to self-abnegation and blind obedience to the Emperor.
But there are others, which show a minority of kamikaze pilots had not swallowed the propaganda, and even some that appear to reject Japan's cause.
One of the most extraordinary is by a young lieutenant, Ryoji Uehara.
"Tomorrow, one who believes in democracy will leave this world," he wrote. "He may look lonely but his heart is filled with satisfaction. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany have been defeated. Authoritarianism is like building a house with broken stones."
So what should the world make of the Kamikaze Letters, and should they be given World Heritage status?
Itatsu clearly thinks they should. He describes them as a "treasure to be passed down to future generations". But even today with the benefit of seventy years' hindsight, Itatsu remains astonishingly unreflective about what happened to him and his comrades. "I never look back with regret," he says, "The people who died did so willingly. I thought at the time it was really bad luck to survive. I really wanted to die with them. Instead, I have to concentrate my efforts to maintain their memory."
Japan has immense problems with its memory of the war. Prominent politicians and media figures still frequently espouse absurd revisionist versions of history; that Japan never started the war, that the Nanjing Massacre never happened, that tens of thousands of comfort women "volunteered" to become sex slaves for the Japanese military.
The massive bombing of Japanese cities at the end of the war, and in particular the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has allowed the construction of a narrative of victimhood. Japan is the only country to have suffered an atomic attack. The firebombing of Tokyo, in one night, killed at least a hundred thousand civilians. But when talking about these horrors, what is often forgotten or omitted is how it all began.
Likewise, the desire to remember the terrible sacrifice made by the young kamikaze pilots is understandable. What often appears to be missing is that question: "How did we get here?"
Mariko Oi has a Slate article about what Japan does not remember:
Japanese people often fail to understand why neighboring countries harbor a grudge over events that happened in the 1930s and 1940s. The reason, in many cases, is that they barely learned any Twentieth Century history. I myself only got a full picture when I left Japan and went to school in Australia.Rico says that this is dangerous; it's like the Germans forgetting about Hitler...
From Homo erectus to the present day, more than a million years of history in just one year of lessons. That is how, at the age of fourteen, I first learned of Japan's relations with the outside world.
For three hours a week, 105 hours over the year, we edged towards the Twentieth Century. It's hardly surprising that some classes, in some schools, never get there, and are told by teachers to finish the book in their spare time.
When I returned recently to my old school, Sacred Heart in Tokyo, teachers told me they often have to start hurrying, near the end of the year, to make sure they have time for World War Two. "When I joined Sacred Heart as a teacher, I was asked by the principal to make sure that I teach all the way up to modern history," says my history teacher from Year Eight. "We have strong ties with our sister schools in the Asian region, so we want our students to understand Japan's historical relationship with our neighboring countries."
I still remember her telling the class, seventeen years ago, about the importance of Japan's war history and making the point that many of today's geopolitical tensions stem from what happened then. I also remember wondering why we couldn't go straight to that period if it was so important, instead of wasting time on the Pleistocene.
When we did finally get there, it turned out only nineteen of the book's 357 pages dealt with events between 1931 and 1945.
There was one page on what is known as the Mukden incident, when Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in Manchuria in China in 1931. There was one page on other events leading up to the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, including one line, in a footnote, about the massacre that took place when Japanese forces invaded Nanjing, China: the Nanjing Massacre, or the Rape of Nanjing.
There was another sentence on the Koreans and the Chinese who were brought to Japan as miners during the war, and one line, again in a footnote, on "comfort women": a prostitution corps created by the Imperial Army of Japan.
There was also just one sentence on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I wanted to know more, but was not quite eager enough to delve into the subject in my spare time. As a teenager, I was more interested in fashion and boys.
My friends had a chance to choose world history as a subject in Year Eleven. But by that stage I had left the Japanese schooling system, and was living in Australia.
I remember the excitement when I noticed that instead of ploughing chronologically through a given period, classes would focus on a handful of crucial events in world history. So, brushing aside my teacher's objection that I would struggle with the high volume of reading and writing in English, a language I could barely converse in, I picked history as one of my subjects for the international baccalaureate.
My first ever essay in English was on the Rape of Nanjing. There is controversy over what happened. The Chinese say three hundred thousand were killed, and many women were gang-raped by the Japanese soldiers, but as I spent six months researching all sides of the argument, I learned that some in Japan deny the incident altogether. Nobukatsu Fujioka is one of them and the author of one of the books that I read as part of my research. "It was a battlefield, so people were killed, but there was no systematic massacre or rape," he says, when I meet him in Tokyo. "The Chinese government hired actors and actresses, pretending to be the victims, when they invited some Japanese journalists to write about them. All of the photographs that China uses as evidence of the massacre are fabricated, because the same picture of decapitated heads, for example, has emerged as a photograph from the civil war between the Kuomintang and Communist parties."
As a seventeen-year-old student, I was not trying to make a definitive judgement on what exactly happened, but reading a dozen books on the incident at least allowed me to understand why many people in China still feel bitter about Japan's military past.
While school pupils in Japan may read just one line on the massacre, children in China are taught in detail not just about the Rape of Nanjing, but numerous other Japanese war crimes, though these accounts of the war are sometimes criticized for being overly anti-Japanese.
The same can be said about South Korea, where the education system places great emphasis on our modern history. This has resulted in very different perceptions of the same events in countries an hour's flying time apart.
One of the most contentious topics there is the comfort women. Fujioka believes they were paid prostitutes. But Japan's neighbors, such as South Korea and Taiwan, say they were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese army.
Without knowing these debates, it is extremely difficult to grasp why recent territorial disputes with China or South Korea cause such an emotional reaction among our neighbors. The sheer hostility shown towards Japan by ordinary people in street demonstrations seems bewildering and even barbaric to many Japanese television viewers.
Equally, Japanese people often find it hard to grasp why politicians' visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals among other Japanese soldiers, cause quite so much anger.
I asked the children of some friends and colleagues how much history they had picked up during their school years. Twenty-year-old university student Nami Yoshida and her older sister Mai, both undergraduates studying science, say they hadn't heard about comfort women. "I've heard of the Nanjing massacre, but I don't know what it's about," they both say. "At school, we learn more about what happened a long time ago, like the samurai era," Nami adds.
Seventeen-year-old Yuki Tsukamoto says the Mukden incident and Japan's invasion of the Korean peninsula in the late Sixteenth Century help to explain Japan's unpopularity in the region. "I think it is understandable that some people are upset, because no-one wants their own country to be invaded," he says. But he, too, is unaware of the plight of the comfort women.
Former history teacher and scholar Tamaki Matsuoka holds Japan's education system responsible for a number of the country's foreign relations difficulties.
"Our system has been creating young people who get annoyed by all the complaints that China and South Korea make about war atrocities because they are not taught what they are complaining about," she said. "It is very dangerous, because some of them may resort to the internet to get more information, and then they start believing the nationalists' views that Japan did nothing wrong."
I first saw her work, based on interviews with Japanese soldiers who invaded Nanjing, when I visited the museum in the city a few years ago. "There were many testimonies by the victims, but I thought we needed to hear from the soldiers," she says. "It took me many years but I interviewed 250 of them. Many initially refused to talk, but eventually, they admitted to killing, stealing and raping." Matsuoka accuses the government of a deliberate silence about atrocities
When I saw her video interviews of the soldiers, it was not just their admission of war crimes which shocked me, it was their age. Already elderly by the time she interviewed them, many had been barely twenty at the time, and in a strange way, it humanized them.
I was choked with an extremely complex emotion. Sad to see Japan repeatedly described as evil and dubbed "the devil", and nervous because I wondered how people around me would react if they knew I was Japanese. But there was also the big question why: what drove these young soldiers to kill and rape?
When Matsuoka published her book, she received many threats from nationalist groups.
She and Fujioka represent two opposing camps in a debate about what should be taught in Japanese schools. Fujioka and his Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform say most textbooks are "masochistic" and only teach about Japan in negative light. Students first learn about Japanese history in Year Six, over 105 hours of lessons. In Year Eight of junior high school, they study the history of Japan's relations with the rest of the world; this course now lasts for 130 hours. Seven history textbooks are approved by the Education Ministry, and schools can choose which they use. Students can also choose to study World History in Year Eleven. "The Japanese textbook authorisation system has the so-called "neighbouring country clause" which means that textbooks have to show understanding in their treatment of historical events involving neighbouring Asian countries. It is just ridiculous," he says. He is widely known for pressuring politicians to remove the term "comfort women" from all the junior high school textbooks. His first textbook, which won government approval in 2001, made a brief reference to the death of Chinese soldiers and civilians in Nanjing, but he plans to tone it down further in his next book.
But is ignorance the solution?
The Ministry of Education's guidelines for junior high schools state that all children must be taught about Japan's "historical relations with its Asian neighbours and the catastrophic damage caused by the World War Two to humanity at large".
"That means schools have to teach about the Japanese military's increased influence and extension of its power in the 1930s and the prolonged war in China," says ministry spokesman Akihiko Horiuchi.
In 2005, protests were sparked in China and South Korea by a textbook prepared by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which had been approved by the government in 2001. Foreign critics said it whitewashed Japan's war record during the 1930s and early 1940s. It referred to the Nanjing massacre as an "incident", and glossed over the issue of comfort women. The book was not used in many schools, but was a big commercial success. "Students learn about the extent of the damage caused by Japan in many countries during the war, as well as sufferings that the Japanese people had to experience, especially in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa, in order to understand the importance of international co-operation and peace.
"Based on our guideline, each school decides which specific events they focus on depending on the areas and the situation of the school and the students' maturity."
Matsuoka, however, thinks the government deliberately tries not to teach young people the details of Japan's atrocities.
Having experienced history education in two countries, the way history is taught in Japan has at least one advantage: students come away with a comprehensive understanding of when events happened, in what order. In many ways, my schoolfriends and I were lucky. Because junior high students were all but guaranteed a place in the senior high school, not many had to go through what's often described as the "examination war". For students who are competing to get into a good senior high school or university, the race is extremely tough, and requires memorization of hundreds of historical dates, on top of all the other subjects that have to be studied. They have no time to dwell on a few pages of war atrocities, even if they read them in their textbooks. All this has resulted in Japan's Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea, accusing the country of glossing over its war atrocities.
Meanwhile, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticizes China's school curriculum for being too "anti-Japanese". He, like Fujioka, wants to change how history is taught in Japan so that children can be proud of our past, and is considering revising Japan's 1993 apology over the comfort women issue.
If and when that happens, it will undoubtedly cause a huge stir with our Asian neighbours. And yet, many Japanese will have no clue why it is such a big deal.
Posted by Rico at 10:28