30 June 2014

Remember to lock up your gubs

Rico says his arch-perv friend Dave forwards this admonitory video:

Plus les choses changent, plus les choses restent les mêmes

Rico says there's a line in Whup Jamboree by The Starboard List about "the pretty young girls come out in flocks in their short-legged drawers and long-tail frocks", and we see it today:

History for the day

On 30 June 1997 in Hong Kong, the Union Jack was lowered (photo) for the last time over Government House, as Britain prepared to hand the colony back to China after ruling it for 156 years.

The real "Lost Episode" of Johnny Carson

Rico says that if you do a YouTube search, you'll turn up an old Carson show called The Lost Episode, but the one that refuses to be found is the one that Rico saw live (before the days of tape delay), circa 1969, when Lee Marvin appeared (for the last time) on the show, drunk out of his mind, and refused to rise to any of the conversational baits that Carson threw out until, sighing, Marvin shrugged and (as only Marvin could) said:
Johnny, who the fuck cares?

Needless to say, they went to a commercial and, when they came back there was a new guest...

Moving the Mona Lisa

DelanceyPlace.com has a selection from Saving Mona Lisa by Gerri Chanel:
After World War One, the staff of the Louvre in Paris, France became keenly aware of the vulnerability of its treasures. During the ten years before World War Two, they developed a detailed plan on how to evacuate and store the art of the Louvre should the need arise. On 25 August 1939, after Great Britain and Poland concluded a pact of mutual assistance, war became imminent. That evening, the packing began:
From all corners of the museum, workers removed the top priority movable paintings, antiquities, and objets d'art, from religious relics to furniture to the crown jewels, from walls, pedestals, and cases. As paintings were removed, first from the walls and then from their frames, workers marked the empty spaces with chalk to note their location to facilitate rehanging upon their return.Workers took items along the carefully planned routes to designated triage areas where others wrapped and crated them, then nailed the crates shut, sealed them and applied more colored priority stickers. The tasks were all the more difficult after dark, since workers had only the dim light of small portable lamps, a precaution in case of a bombing raid.By 1 am, all fifty or so of the most prestigious paintings considered readily movable had been moved to the triage areas. Workers then rushed back to the galleries to begin the next round. The atmosphere was frenzied, but the packing went smoothly; every part of the endeavor had been analyzed again and again over multiple years and then rehearsed.With the military draft underway, it had been a mad scramble to assemble the small army of people needed for the massive operation. Among those helping out were dozens of men on loan from several of the big Parisian department stores, including the Samaritaine, whose owner, Gabriel Cognacq, was vice president of the National Museum Council. At one point, young staff member Magdeleine Hours walked into a gallery to find men from one of the department stores packing up fourteenth and fifteenth-century paintings. Like the other workers, they were dressed in long work smocks, but they also wore mauve tights and striped caps. Hours was stupefied; they looked to her just like characters in the medieval works they were packing. In the triage areas, antiquities were packed in protective material. Smaller paintings were wrapped first in fire-resistant paper, then in leatherette to resist humidity: fiber spacers separated multiple paintings packed in a single crate. Dust swirled in the air and hammers clattered as typists furiously tapped out quintuplicate lists of the contents of each crate. To disguise the contents of crates, they bore only three markings: the initials 'MN,' the department initials, and a crate number; the anonymity was intended to discourage theft and to frustrate searches by Germans. Moreover, to keep unauthorized individuals from knowing where the items were going, all shipping labels said Chambord, even though many items had already been assigned to other final destinations in the Loire Valley.After two days of around-the-clock packing, empty trucks began rolling into the courtyard. At 6 am on 28 August 1939, the first convoy of eight trucks, loaded with the Mona Lisa, the Seated Scribe, the crown jewels, and 225 other crates of some of the world's most precious art and antiquities, rolled slowly away from Paris towards the French countryside.

29 June 2014


The New York Times has an article by John Burns, entitled Revelry in Sarajevo, Where Shots Started a World War:
There was much about Sarajevo that spoke for a less-reflective mood on the hundredth anniversary of the deaths of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.
Rico says he can't imagine people forgetting the First World War that occurred as a result... (As it would be hard to imagine Dallas having a big ol' Texas whoop-up on 23 November 2063...)

History for the day

On 29 June 1995, the shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir docked, forming the largest man-made satellite ever to orbit the Earth.

There's a cheaper solution

The New York Times has an article by Julia Preston entitled Obama to Seek Funds to Stem Border Crossings and Speed Deportations:
President Obama will seek two billion dollars for border enforcement to cope with the influx of illegal Central American migrants, including unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied minors.
Rico says that he's already offered the cheap way out: bounties.

27 June 2014

Hurting Tesla in Japan

Rob Wile has a Slate article about Japan and Tesla:
The Japanese government has announced measures that could indirectly pressure Tesla sales in Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently said his administration would begin providing additional support to the country's fuel-cell vehicle industry, as part of his overall growth plan. It's something of an unusual move, given that Japan is the world's second-largest market for plug-in vehicles.
We recently wrote about the burgeoning civil war in the renewable fuels world between charge-batteries and fuel cells. Tesla CEO Elon Musk called them "fool cells" at the company's annual meeting earlier this month. This announcement is the latest chapter in that struggle, and it coincides with news out of Toyota that it would be releasing a Camry-sized hydrogen fuel cell in Japan for next year.
The new sedan will be priced at seven million yen, exactly a thousand dollars lower than the price of a Tesla Model S. That is unlikely to have been a coincidence, according to Lisa Jerram, senior research analyst at Navigant Research. "It does seem as though they're attempting to compete in that category," she told Business Insider, noting that the $69,000 price tag is actually lower than the $100,000 initially floated.
Japan's per-capita penetration of electric vehicles matches that of the US, according to HybridCar's Jeff Cobb, and last year, Tesla was the only US automaker to show at the Tokyo Motor Show.
Despite this seeming opportunity for the California firm, plug-ins may soon face pricing pressure in Japan. Jarrem said the country has been ramping up fuel-cell production for its electric generation sector in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The size of Abe's subsidies for fuel-cell vehicles weren't announced, but the goal is to have the sector generating a trillion yen in revenue by 2030. To do so, he's set a target of bringing fuel-cell car prices down to $20,000 by 2025.
Meanwhile, in a note this week, Morgan Stanley's Adam Jonas confirmed that half the auto industry seems to be abandoning electric vehicles in favor of fuel-cell vehicles, the result of chicken-and-egg-esque forces of flagging demand and a half-hearted commitment to building out the necessary plug-in infrastructure. The broader goal, he says, is to get governments to respond accordingly. "We see the fuel-cell vehicle push as a diversionary tactic to slow down, if not completely reset, a regulatory framework scripted to support mass adoption of EVs that don’t appear ready for prime time," he wrote.
It seems to be working in Japan.
Rico says Musk will undoubtedly win in the end, but it'll take time...

Worth every farthing

Rico says the Starboard List song playing in his head, Fighting For Strangers, contains a line about how one joined the British Army at the time of the First Afghan War, circa 1839:

Oh, the shilling he took, and he kissed the Book...

Rico knows how the poor guy feels


Rico says he doesn't know why guys named John gets all the abuse:

History for the day

On 27 June 1950, President Harry S. Truman ordered the Air Force and Navy into the Korean War, following a call from the United Nations Security Council for member nations to help South Korea repel an invasion from the North.

26 June 2014

MH370 was on autopilot

The Associated Press has an article about Flight 370:
Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane are confident the jet was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said as they announced the latest shift in the search for the doomed airliner.
After analyzing data between the plane and a satellite, officials believe Flight 370 was on autopilot the entire time it was flying across a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean, based on the straight path it took, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said. “Certainly, for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel,” Dolan told reporters in Canberra, the nation’s capital.
Asked whether the autopilot would have to be manually switched on, or whether it could have been activated automatically under a default setting, Dolan replied: “The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it’s because it’s been switched on.”
But exactly why the autopilot would have been set on a flight path so far off-course from the jet’s destination of Beijing, and exactly when it was switched on remains unknown.
“We couldn’t accurately, nor have we attempted to, fix the moment when it was put on autopilot,” Transport Minister Warren Truss said. “It will be a matter for the Malaysian-based investigation to look at precisely when it may have been put on autopilot.”
The latest nugget of information from the investigation into Flight 370 came as officials announced yet another change in the search area for the wreckage of the plane that vanished on 8 March 2014 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew on board.
The new search area is located several hundred kilometers southwest of the most recent suspected crash site, about eleven hundred miles off Australia’s west coast, Dolan said. Powerful sonar equipment will scour the seabed for wreckage in the new search zone, which officials calculated by reanalyzing the existing satellite data.
The shift was expected, with Dolan saying last week the new zone would be south of an area where a remote-controlled underwater drone spent weeks fruitlessly combing the seabed. That search area was determined by a series of underwater sounds initially thought to have come from the plane’s black boxes. But those signals are now widely believed to have come from some other source.
The new search area falls within a vast expanse of ocean that air crews have already scoured for floating debris, to no avail. Officials have since called off the air search, since any debris would likely have sunk long ago. The hunt is now focused underwater. Beginning in August of 2014, private contractors will use powerful side-scan sonar equipment capable of probing ocean depths of over four miles to comb the ocean floor in the new search zone. The job is expected to take a year to complete.
Meanwhile, two survey ships are mapping uncharted expanses of seabed in the search zone before the sonar scanning starts. Dolan said it was possible the mapping equipment could detect wreckage that may be lying on the seafloor, but that it was highly unlikely.
The search area has changed multiple times in the months since Flight 370 vanished, as officials struggled to make sense of the limited data the flight left in its wake after it dropped off radar. The new search zone was largely identified by an analysis of hourly transmissions, or “handshakes”, between the plane and a satellite.
Truss said he was optimistic that the latest search zone is, indeed, the most likely crash site. But he warned that finding the plane remains a huge task. “The search will still be painstaking,” he said. “Of course, we could be fortunate and find it in the first hour or the first day, but it could take another twelve months.”
Rico says let's hope they get lucky on the first day...

History for the day

On 26 June 1963, President John F.Kennedy visited West Berlin, where he made his famous declaration: "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner).

New Flight 370 search area

The BBC has an article about yet-another shift in where they're looking:
A new search area for the missing Malaysian plane has been announced by the Australian government after further analysis of satellite data. The search will now shift south to focus on an area eleven hundred miles) off the west coast of Australia, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss confirmed.
Flight MH370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March with 239 passengers on board. Officials said they believed the plane had been on autopilot when it crashed. A report released by the Australian government concluded that the underwater search for the plane should resume in the new sixty thousand square kilometer area.
An extensive search of the ocean floor was conducted in April of 2014 after several acoustic pings, initially thought to be from the plane's flight data recorders, were heard. However, officials now believe the pings were not caused by the plane. "It is highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot, otherwise it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings," Truss said.
Jonathan Amos, science correspondent for BBC News, provides analysis:
The new search area focuses on the "7th arc", a line through which the analysis suggests the jet had to have crossed as it made a final, brief, connection with ground systems. The interpretation of the data is that this "electronic handshake" was prompted by a power interruption onboard MH370 as its fuel ran down to exhaustion. As auxiliary power came on, the jet tried to log back into the satellite network.
In normal circumstances following such a logon request, there would usually have been additional "chatter" between the network and MH370. That these connections are not seen in the data log are a very strong indication that the jet was in its crash descent.
Several teams within the investigation have been running the numbers; this is not the sole work of the satellite system's operator, Inmarsat.
The collective opinion of several independent teams has therefore arrived at a zone of highest priority. Once the ocean floor there is mapped, the investigation team can then summon the best, but also the most appropriate, submersibles in the world to go hunt for sunken wreckage.
The new search is due to commence in August and is expected to be completed within a year, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief Martin Dolan confirmed. Submarines will scour the ocean floor to look for signs of the missing Boeing 777. The area has already been searched by air, and officials say any floating wreckage will have sunk to the ocean floor.
The search for the missing airliner is already among most expensive in aviation history.
Relatives of the Chinese passengers met in Beijing, China earlier this month to pray for the plane's discovery. After more than a hundred days since the disappearance of the airliner, many of the relatives of the missing passengers have continued to express frustration at the lack of progress in the search.
Rico says frustration is probably an understatement, as is the cost of all this...

The song in Rico's head

It's Steeleye Span again, Cam Ye O'er Frae France?:

25 June 2014

Don't fuck with the Marines

Bill Spencer, an investigative reporter for click2houston.com, has an article about dumb Texans:
A local Marine tracked down his stolen truck using the internet but, sadly, he wasn't able to reach it soon enough.
The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fi, which means always faithful. Former Marine Corps Corporal Mitchel Akin served his country faithfully in Afghanistan. Now the brave veteran could use your help after car thieves stole his powerful pickup truck and then trashed it.
Akin, 24, tried to start the engine on his pride and joy, his 1997 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck with the 5.9 liter turbo diesel engine. But there's nothing; the truck has been destroyed by thieves. "That was my baby, man. You know everything that's on it, did all the work on it. I bought the parts, I did the work on it," Akin said.
Akin is a Marine veteran who risked his life in Afghanistan and just returned to civilian life a few months ago. The first thing he did when he got back was buy the truck of his dreams: white, gleaming, powerful. It was a beauty. But three months ago a car thief stole it right out of the parking lot where Akin is going to school. "My heart just sank, right then and there, I just knew it was gone," he said.
Through the sheer guts and determination of a Marine, Akin actually tracked down his stolen truck himself, but when he finally found the pickup, it was ruined. The front and rear bumpers were torn off, the upholstery ripped, the windows broken out and the pearl white finish painted over. And the truck doesn't run anymore. It won't even start.
"They just beat it up, man. It's going to take quite a bit to get it back the way it was," Akin said.
It could cost upwards of seven thousand dollars to restore his truck to the way it was. If you would like to help in some way to put Akin's truck back together, you can email Spencer here.
Houston police have made no arrests in this case.
Rico says, okay, he knows 'dumb Texans' can be redundant, but, in this case, it's appropriate. Fuck with a Marine, pay the price...

Microsoft vs Ford

Rico says his father, a long-time (and long-suffering) user of Windows machines, forwards this:

For all of us who feel only the deepest love and affection for the way computers have enhanced our lives, read on:
At a recent Comdex, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated that, if Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry had, we'd all be driving $25 cars that got a thousand miles to the gallon.In response to his comments, Ford issued a press release stating that if Ford had developed its technology like Microsoft had, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics: 
1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash, twice a day.2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.5. Apple would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive, but would run on only five percent of the roads.6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation warning light.7. The airbag system would ask Are you sure? before deploying.8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.9. Every time a new car was introduced, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again, because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.10. You'd have to press the Start button to turn the engine off.
 I'd like to add that, when all else failed, you could call "customer service" in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself...

Could be worse

Rico says that our VA may well be fucked up, but, as these lyrics from Fighting For Strangers by Steeleye Span suggest, problems for veterans are neither new nor as bad as it used to be:
What makes you go abroad fighting for strangers
When you could be safe at home free from all dangers?
In a far off war in a far off land
To face a foreign soldier,
But how will you fare when there's lead in the air,
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to ya?
But your soldiering's done and they're sending you home,
Oh poor Johnny what have they done to ya?
They said he was a hero and not to grieve
Over two wooden pegs and empty sleeves,
They carried him home and set him down
With a military pension and a medal from the crown.
You haven't an arm and you haven't a leg,
The enemy nearly slew you,
You'll have to go out on the streets to beg,
Oh poor Johnny what have they done to ya?

Chicago? Really?

P. Nash Jenkins has a Time article about George Lucas:
Both the California cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles campaigned to host the movie-memorabilia and art museum, but "aggressive" lobbying by Chicago, Illinois won Lucas over
After sort of retiring from Hollywood in 2012, director George Lucas announced that he will open a museum in Chicago showcasing both his forty-year career as a filmmaker and the extensive art collection he amassed along the way.
Some have criticized the museum as a monument to hubris, but perhaps he’s earned it. Few dispute that Lucas has established himself as one of the successful and influential figures in the history of American cinema: this is the man, after all, who gave us Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is slated to open in 2018 next to Soldier Field. Lucas will put down at least seven hundred million dollars to finance its construction. In addition to paraphernalia from the sets of Lucas’ films, the museum will house his immense collection of American art by painters Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, and others.
He said in a statement that choosing the planned museum’s location proved a “difficult decision,” and only came after fierce bidding between Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The latter was his first choice— he grew up across the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in the sleepy town of Modesto— but he turned his attention elsewhere when he couldn’t nab a desired location on the city’s waterfront.
A social media campaign led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to bring the museum to the crucible of American cinema apparently failed to compete with Chicago’s lobbying effort, which the Chicago Tribune described as “aggressive”. (Personal factors may have directed Lucas’ choice as well; Mellody Hobson, whom he married last summer, grew up in the city.)
“This is a milestone for the city, but it is just one milestone on a journey as we build this new museum,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said when announcing the decision. Chicago welcomed a record 46.37 million tourists in 2012.
Rico says good for Chicago, bad for LA and San Francisco...

Europa, maybe

Melissa Hellmann has a Time article about space exploration:
A new space rover prototype is being developed for underwater exploration in space, but in the meantime it is helping scientists gain a better understanding of Earth's seas
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have finally built a robot that will be able to chart the icy waters found in outer space— like on Jupiter’s moon Europa— going where no other space robot has gone before.
The Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) is operated through a satellite link and designed to cling onto the underside of ice with metal tires, transmitting measurements back to scientists and assessing whether the waters host other life-forms. Scientists have already built rovers that can withstand the dry terrain of the Moon and Mars, but this is the first such machine built to explore extraterrestrial aquatic bodies.
BRUIE is currently being tested in frozen Alaska lakes, but engineers hope that the robot will one day be flown to Europa. NASA maintains that although the rover is prototyping exploration on other celestial bodies, the test runs in Alaska are also allowing scientists to gain a better understanding of Earth’s own frozen waters; at present, 95% of Earth’s oceans remain unchartered.
Rico says obviously no one at NASA has watched 2010 recently...

Building solar roadways

Rico's friend Kelley forwards an article from Yahoo about another splendid idea:
It's crazy. It'll never work. They cost too much. They'll crack. They're too delicate. You'll slide off them. The oil companies will never let it happen.
Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer from Idaho, has heard it all before. Over the past eight years, skeptics have been telling him his concept for solar roadways— replacing America's roads with solar panels, creating a power grid where pavement used to be— won't work. But Brusaw suddenly has a reason why it will; actually, two million of them.
Solar Roadways' crowdfunding campaign, which closed recently, raised $2.2 million— more than double what Brusaw was seeking— in just two months. The campaign, the most popular in Indiegogo's history, attracted more than 48,000 backers from all fifty states and 165 countries.
"It's been humbling," Brusaw, 56, told Yahoo News. "Really, really humbling."
The success can be attributed, in part, to a cheeky seven-minute video (Solar Freakin' Roadways!) that has been viewed more than sixteen million times on YouTube:

The campaign was also given a lift by celebrity Twitter endorsements from George Takei and Sean Lennon.
Brusaw, who launched Solar Roadways with his wife, Julie, says the funds will be used to open an office, hire staffers, and test his prototype in Sandpoint, Idaho, which wants to be the first city to have them.
The concept has also received interest from an Amtrak station and the Sandpoint Airport, but they'll start with sidewalks and parking lots in town next spring, Brusaw says. "At the end of this year, we'll have a finished product," Brusaw said. "It's not going to happen overnight; there's a learning curve here. Once we're convinced the final product works in a parking lot, we'll try residential roads. Then, eventually, the fast lane of a highway."
According to his calculations, the "smart" solar panels— encased in double-layered, bomb-resistant, bulletproof glass capable of withstanding a quarter-million pounds— would, among other things, be able to generate "three times the electricity that we currently use in the United States", prevent accidents by melting snow and ice (and warning drivers of debris in the road with solar-powered LED lights) and even collect storm water. Oh, and cut greenhouse emissions by as much as seventy-five percent.
Brusaw, a former Marine Corps weapons technician, says he and his wife came up with the idea after watching Al Gore's film, Inconvenient Truth.
Yet despite the obvious environmental benefits, Brusaw says the idea initially received little interest from investors. "Everybody was interested, but no one was willing to give us research money," he said. It wasn't until he starting pitching the concept as intelligent infrastructure and a smart grid that it caught fire.
In 2009, Brusaw got $750,000 from the Federal Highway Administration to develop the prototype. "They're interested in infrastructure, and that's what we make," he said.
Grand ideas aside, Brusaw remains realistic. "Ten years from now, I hope we have a whole lot of parking lots and a whole lot of driveways," he said. "And the fast lane of a highway."
Rico says if it works (and why not?), it'll transform a lot of things...

Islam in Australia?

The BBC has an article about yet another obscure piece of history:
Few Australians are aware that the country's aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had regular contact with foreign Muslims long before the arrival of Christian colonizers. And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some aboriginal peoples today, writes Janak Rogers:
The white lines are faint but unmistakable. Small sailing boats, picked out in white and yellow pigment on the red rocks of the Wellington Range in Arnhem Land in northern Australia, tell a different story from the one most Australians accept as the history of their nation.
They are traditional Indonesian boats known as praus, and they brought Muslim fishermen from the flourishing trading city of Makassar in search of trepang, or sea cucumbers.
Exactly when the Makassans first arrived is uncertain. Some historians say it was in the 1750s, but radiocarbon dating of beeswax figures superimposed on the cave paintings suggests that it was much earlier; one of the figures appears to have been made before 1664, perhaps as early as the 1500s. They apparently made annual trips to gather the sea cucumbers, which fetched a high price because of their important role in Chinese medicine and cuisine.
The Makasssans represent Australia's first attempt at international relations, according to anthropologist John Bradley from Melbourne's Monash University, and it was a success. "They traded together. It was fair; there was no racial judgement, no race policy," he says.
Quite a contrast to the British. Britain designated the country terra nullius ,meaning land belonging to no one, and therefore colonized the country without a treaty or any recognition of the rights of indigenous people to their land.
Some Makassan cucumber traders stayed, married Aboriginal women and left a lasting religious and cultural legacy in Australia. Alongside the cave paintings and other Aboriginal art, Islamic beliefs influenced Aboriginal mythology.
"If you go to north-east Arnhem Land there is a trace of Islam in song, it is there in painting, it is there in dance, it is there in funeral rituals," says Bradley. "It is patently obvious that there are borrowed items. With linguistic analysis as well, you're hearing hymns to Allah, or at least certain prayers to Allah." One example of this is a figure called Walitha'walitha, which is worshipped by a clan of the Yolngu people on Elcho Island, off the northern coast of Arnhem Land. The name derives from the Arabic phrase Allah ta'ala, meaning God, the exalted. Walitha'walitha is closely associated with funeral rituals, which can include other Islamic elements like facing west during prayers, in roughly the direction of Mecca, and ritual prostration reminiscent of the Muslim sujood.
"I think it would be hugely oversimplifying to suggest that this figure is Allah as the 'one true God'," says Howard Morphy, an anthropologist at Australian National University. It's more the case of the Yolngu people adopting an Allah-like figure into their cosmology, he suggests.
One elder has said that Aboriginal "morning star" poles were made to look like the masts of Indonesian praus, and that a pole would be presented to Makassan traders as a gift at the end of a farewell dance ritual each year
The Makassan sea cucumber trade with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ended in 1906, killed off by heavy taxation and a government policy that restricted non-white commerce. More than a century later, the shared history between Aboriginal peoples and Makassans is still celebrated by Aboriginal communities in northern Australia as period of mutual trust and respect, in spite of some historical evidence that this wasn't always the case.
Using Daeng Rangka was the first Makassan captain to buy a license from the British to catch sea cucumbers, and the last to visit Australia. In 1895, after his boat was wrecked, he made a four hundred mile trip in a canoe. As well as a large family in Makassar, Using had three children with an Aboriginal woman. Using, sometimes called Husein, is still remembered in songs and dances in Arnhem Land. In 1988, a descendent of his recreated the trip from Indonesia to Australia in a traditional prau as part of the latter country's bicentennial celebrations.
"I'm a historian and I know that the Makassans, when they came to Arnhem Land, they had cannons, they were armed, there were violent incidents," says Regina Ganter at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. But many in the Yolngu community are wedded to a view of the sea cucumber trade as an alternative to colonialism, she says, and even consider the Makassans long-lost relatives. When she mentioned the Makassans' cannons to one elder in the tribe, he dismissed it. "He really wanted to tell this story as a story of successful cultural contact, which is so different to people coming and taking your land and taking your women and establishing themselves as superior."
This wasn't the only contact between Muslims and Aboriginal peoples. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pearl-shelling industry brought so-called "Malays" from south-east Asia to work as indentured laborers in Broome on the north-west coast of Australia. Much like the Makassans, Malays intermarried with local Aboriginal people and brought with them Islamic religious and cultural practices. Today, plenty of families in Northern Australia have names that bear the mark of these interactions, like Doolah, Hassan, and Khan.
Meanwhile, the forbidding deserts of central Australia gave rise to a separate Muslim influx. In a quiet suburb of Alice Springs, a town of 26,000 people in the heart of central Australia, there sits an unlikely building: a mosque. Its minaret rises against the backdrop of the craggy rock and red dirt of the MacDonnell Ranges.
It is called the Afghan Mosque for a reason. Between 1860 and 1930 up to four thousand cameleers came to Australia, bringing their camels with them. Many were indeed from Afghanistan, but they also came from India and present-day Pakistan. They played a key role in opening up the deserts, providing supplies to remote mission stations, and helping to lay crucial national infrastructure like the Overland Telegraph Line and the Ghan Railway line, which still runs today, crossing the Australian desert from north to south. Ghan derives from Afghan, as the train's logo of a cameleer makes plain.
"My grandfather's father, he was a camel driver," says 62-year-old Raymond Satour. "They had their own camels, over forty camels," he says. "On the camel train itself, that's when they met the Aboriginal people that were camping out in the bush, and they got connected then, that's how we are connected to Aboriginals."
Far from their homes on the sub-continent, Afghan cameleers built makeshift mosques throughout central Australia, and many intermarried with Aboriginal peoples. The work of the Afghan cameleers dried up in the 1930s, when motorized vehicles began to remove the need for the animals. Today, the Afghan Mosque in Alice is mostly filled with first-generation immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. But worshippers from the mosque regularly visit the homes of some of the Afghan-Aboriginal descendants, including that of Raymond Satour. "The brothers come and hold prayer ceremonies and teachings," he says. "We're learning, and it's helping us keep alive our connection to Islam and the old Afghans."
These historical contacts have an echo in the present day, as a steadily growing number of Aboriginal people convert to Islam. According to Australia's 2011 census, 1,140 people identify as Aboriginal Muslims. That's still less than one percent of the country's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and it should be said that Aboriginals are also becoming born-again Christians, but it's still almost double the number of Aboriginal Muslims recorded in the 2001 census.
Anthony Mundine, a former two-time WBA super middleweight champion and an IBO middleweight champion boxer, is perhaps the most high-profile Aboriginal Muslim convert. He takes inspiration from the American Black Power movement, especially from civil rights activist Malcolm X, a former leader of the Nation of Islam. "Malcolm's journey was unbelievable," agrees Justin Agale, who is of mixed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent and converted to Islam fifteen years ago. "Here was a man who was interested in social justice and in furthering the cause of his people, but he was also interested in his own spiritual journey to truth." Agale is one of a number of Aboriginal people who, fairly or unfairly, have come to associate Christianity with the racism of colonial Australia. "One of the things that the colonialists were very successful in Australia in doing was teaching the indigenous people that God hated us, and that we were unwanted children, that we were being punished for being savages," he says. By contrast, he sees Islam as a "continuation" of his Aboriginal cultural beliefs. Agale's ancestors in the Torres Strait, the Meriam people, observed something they called Malo's Law, which he says was "in favor of oneness and harmony", and he sees parallels in Islam. "Islam, especially the Sufi tradition, has clear ideas of fitra and of tawhid, that each individual's nature is part of a greater whole, and that we should live in a balanced way within nature."
This sense of the compatibility of Aboriginal and Islamic beliefs is not uncommon, says Peta Stephenson, a sociologist at Victoria University. Shared practices include male circumcision, arranged or promised marriages and polygamy, and similar cultural attitudes like respect for land and resources, and respecting one's elders. "Many Aboriginal people I spoke with explained these cultural synergies often by quoting the well-known phrase from the Quran that 124,000 prophets had been sent to the Earth," says Stephenson. "They argued that some of these prophets must have visited Aboriginal communities and shared their knowledge."
For some Aboriginal converts, however, the appeal of Islam is not one of continuity, but a fresh start. Mohammed (not his real name) was once homeless and an alcoholic, but he found the Islamic doctrines of regular prayer, self-respect, avoidance of alcohol, drugs, and gambling all helped him battle his addictions. He has now been sober for six years and holds down a steady, professional job. "When I found Islam it was the first time in my life that I felt like a human," he says. "Prior to that I had divided up into 'half this, quarter that'. You're never a complete, whole thing." Mohammed rejects the criticism that has been leveled at him by some Aboriginal people that he turned his back on his traditional way of life. He believes Aboriginal culture was destroyed by colonialism. "Where is my culture?" he asks. "That was cut off from me two generations ago. One of the attractive things about Islam for me was that I found something that was unbroken. Do you go for something that is going to take you out of the gutter and become a better husband and father and neighbor? Or do you search for something that you probably never had any hope of ever finding?"
Rico says one religious delusion is as good as another...

Sky trains in Israel?

The BBC has an article by Jane Wakefield about the future, maybe:
An elevated network of sky cars is to be built in Tel Aviv, Israel. A five-hundred meter loop will be built on the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) followed by a commercial network, according to skyTran, the company that will build it.
Two-person vehicles will be suspended from elevated magnetic tracks, as an alternative transport method to congested roads, the firm promised. The system should be up and running by the end of 2015. The firm hopes the test track will prove that the technology works and lead to a commercial version of the network.
The plan is to allow passengers to order a vehicle on their smartphone to meet them at a specific station and then head directly to their destination. The vehicles will achieve speeds of up to forty miles an hour, although the commercial rollout is expected to offer much faster vehicles.
A number of skyTran projects are planned globally, including in India and the US, but will depend upon the success of the Israeli pilot.
SkyTran, based at the NASA research park in Mountain View, California, hopes to revolutionize public transport.
Chief executive Jerry Sanders described the agreement to build a test track with IAI as a "breakthrough" for the project. Joe Dignan, an independent smart city expert, said the system represented "a hybrid between existing infrastructure and autonomous vehicles".
"It will get the market in the mood for autonomous vehicles; it is not too scary, is cheaper than building out a train line, and uses part of the urban landscape, twenty feet above ground, that isn't currently used."
Rico says another great idea out of Silicon Valley; let's see if it happens...

Yet another idiot criminal for the day

He's not quite as stupid as the bank robber who 'got away' on a SEPTA bus, but Joseph A. Gambardello, Alfred Lubrano, and Mark Fazlollah have an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about this one:
A ping from the stolen cellphone of a woman who had been raped in her Rittenhouse Square apartment led police to declare the sexual assault solved.
Authorities arrested Milton Mateo Garcia (photo), a 28-year-old kitchen worker from Honduras who is here illegally (and had already been deported at least once) and charged him with grabbing the woman on Spruce Street, forcing her into her own apartment, and raping her.
"For the residents of Rittenhouse Square, we have this guy off the street," said Captain John Darby, commander of the Special Victims Unit. "You can rest easy today." He said the brazenness of the attack, the assailant took her into her apartment without knowing if anyone else was at home, had made police particularly concerned.
Later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials put out a statement that the agency had "lodged a detainer against" the suspect with Philadelphia police. The suspect, whom they identified as Milton Garcia-Vazquez, "was previously removed from the United States in June of 2013." The detainer allows ICE to assume custody of a suspect once local authorities are done with him. The statement did not indicate what Garcia-Vazquez had done to merit deportation, and efforts to reach ICE officials were unsuccessful.
The victim, a 26-year-old woman, was returning to her apartment in the 1900 block of Spruce Street about 1:20 a.m. Saturday when a man who had been riding a bicycle approached her from behind. Police said the assailant might have followed her after she left Ladder 15, a bar near 15th and Sansom Streets, and started walking home.
He grabbed her, saying: "Shut up, don't say anything," according to Darby. Then, he said, the assailant forced the woman into the building, took her to her upstairs apartment, and assaulted her. After fleeing the apartment, he may have gone back in to retrieve an item, Darby said. He added that police also believe "he attacked her a second time." Afterwards, he rode away on his bicycle with the victim's cellphone and keys, officials said.
Police tracked a signal from her phone to the neighborhood around Eighth and Morris Streets. There, according to Lieutenant Anthony McFadden, who led the investigation, basic detective work eventually took them to the suspect's address in the 1800 block of South Eighth. Detectives questioned three residents of the house and released them. Then, after developing a sketch of the suspect with the help of the victim, police obtained a search warrant and found the cellphone on the second floor of Garcia's address, McFadden said. Detectives found her keys on the suspect when they arrested him at one of the restaurants where he works. Darby said that Garcia had made a statement to police. Along with rape, he is charged with kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and other offenses.
Tashan, one of the restaurants where Garcia worked, issued a statement saying he had been a part-time kitchen employee for three months and provided "all appropriate documents" for the job. "Other than showing up for assigned shifts and performing his limited duties, with no customer interaction, Garcia gave us no reason to suspect he was involved in any criminal activity," according to the statement.
On Garcia's block of two-story brick rowhouses in South Philadelphia, residents expressed surprise over the arrest.
Cristian Javier Garcia, nineteen, (not related to the suspect) said in Spanish that he and Milton Garcia lived with seven other Honduran immigrants. Cristian Garcia said Milton Garcia worked nights in a Center City restaurant and was friends with his cousin, who also lives in the house.
Because Milton and Cristian's work shifts did not overlap, the two had limited contact. But Cristian Garcia said he considered Milton Garcia to be "good people". He said Milton Garcia had lived at the house about a year, and his cousin had been there three years. Cristian Garcia's cousin largely oversees the three-story rowhouse.
John Ferlaino, 66, a retired forklift worker and a neighbor of Garcia's, said the suspect was "always going out at 1 or 2 in the morning on his bike."
An hour before the attack, a man with a bicycle and matching the general description of the assailant exposed himself to a 27-year-old woman at 16th and Pine Streets, police disclosed. Asked about that incident, Darby acknowledged that he was aware of it, but did not say if investigators believed it was linked to the rape. Darby said police are investigating to see if Garcia might be involved in other assaults. Garcia has no criminal record in Philadelphia, Darby said.
The captain said that the attacker's decision to grab the woman on the sidewalk and force her into her own apartment "showed either his boldness or desperation," Darby said. "It was a horrific crime, let's face it." He added, "It was a very unsettling, disturbing assault on a young woman."
Rico says yeah, the guy's 'good people', except for this little rape issue... (And when is ICE gonna start implanting trackers in these people so they know when they come back? Yes, yes, Rico knows that violates one or more provisions in the Constitution, but fuck 'em, they're not citizens...)

A plan to rescue a shuttle

The BBC has an article by Richard Hollingham about NASA:
A retired NASA engineer reveals details of a daring plan that could have been used to rescue a shuttle crew facing certain death stranded in orbit.
On 12 April 1981 the world watched as Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen guided the world's first reusable space craft, Columbia, into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center.
The fate of the seven members of STS-107’s crew was sealed within ninety seconds of launch. As Space Shuttle Columbia rose through the perfect clear sky above Florida on 16 January 2003, a lump of foam came loose from the strut holding the craft’s nose to its giant orange fuel tank. With the spacecraft climbing at more than twice the speed of sound, the foam lump slammed into the fragile leading edge of the wing with the force of a concrete block.
Seventeen days later the spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere and broke apart. The disaster killed everyone on board, and ultimately sounded the death knell for the Space Shuttle program.
But could the astronauts have been saved? A NASA engineer who worked on the shuttle program from the very start, David Baker, has written official reports and books on the spaceplane. During research for a forthcoming lecture at the British Interplanetary Society, he studied plans that suggest that a dramatic and audacious orbital rescue mission could have been launched, if only Mission Control had known about the danger in time.
When Columbia lifted from its launchpad, footage captured by high-speed cameras showed foam coming loose and striking the orbiter. Several days later images taken by ground telescopes indicated the wing might have been damaged. “The big mistake was not having a sufficiently detailed and intensive analysis soon enough,” says Baker. “It just didn’t appear the damage was going to be that bad until, as evidence built day by day, it became very clear.”
Several plans had been developed over the years to save a crew stranded in orbit. For most missions, the shuttle could have simply docked with the International Space Station (ISS) and used it as a lifeboat. However, this particular shuttle mission was in a completely different orbit to the ISS, and neither had sufficient engine power to change their flightpath. Even more crucially, this mission did not carry spacesuits suitable for spacewalks, so going outside to fix any damage, even if that were possible, was out of the question.
Time was ticking. STS-107’s mission was supposed to last seventeen days but the crew had enough lithium hydroxide canisters, used to scrub toxic levels of carbon dioxide from the air, for an absolute maximum of thirty days. After that the crew would die of asphyxiation. The only possible rescue option? Send up another shuttle to bring the crew back to Earth.
What sounds impossible was actually feasible, at least in theory. As it happened, Columbia’s sibling, Atlantis, was being prepared at Cape Canaveral for a launch. “Its engines were installed,” says Baker, “and it was in a pretty neat condition to get it over to the vehicle assembly building fast and launch it.”
But, as time was of the essence, the craft would have had to be readied for launch at an unprecedented pace. To do that within four weeks, rather than six, would have been tough but doable. With round-the-clock shifts, this would have involved streamlining every launch process, from rewriting software and refining procedures to training the rescue crew. This was the very “failure is not an option” attitude that saved the astronauts of Apollo 13 when their spacecraft was damaged on the way to the Moon in 1970.
In the subsequent disaster inquiry, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board formalized a rescue plan for future missions. But Baker told me that a feasible plan could have been launched during the mission, if the go-ahead was given at day two, and the procedures were in place to make it possible. According to Baker, this is how the original unpublished concept would have played out.
On day two of the STS-107 mission, the Columbia astronauts are alerted to the danger. Systems are powered down, exercise is restricted to reduce the production of carbon dioxide, and food is rationed. Meanwhile, with the world’s media looking on, Atlantis is rushed towards launch. With just hours to spare, and with carbon dioxide levels on Columbia rising to dangerous levels, the second shuttle blasts into orbit with four crew on board.
Once the spacecraft reaches the stricken craft, the Atlantis pilot positions his shuttle above and at right angles to Columbia to avoid the tails hitting each other. “You need to keep about twenty feet away for two days,” says Baker. “Two crew members on board each shuttle would do that.” This would have involved exceptional piloting skills. With each spacecraft spinning around the Earth at seven kilometers per second, a small lapse in concentration could have resulted in catastrophe.
Meanwhile the other two Atlantis astronauts begin the first of many spacewalks, delivering lithium hydroxide canisters to the Columbia crew to bring down life-threatening carbon dioxide levels. They also deliver two spacesuits. Next, the Atlantis astronauts position an extendable pole between the two shuttles. This will be used to guide the Columbia crew across the handful of meters between the two spaceplanes.
With everything in place, two at a time, Columbia astronauts are helped out of the airlock, across the gap, and into the Atlantis airlock. “They would have then had to take their suits off and repeat the process again to husband out the next two,” Baker explains.
Despite what the movie Gravity might have you believe, it takes more than a couple of minutes to put on a space suit. And even a relatively simple spacewalk is fraught with difficulties. One slip could send an astronaut spinning off into the void. Transferring the whole seven-person crew would have taken at least forty-eight hours.
“The final act of the last man out of Columbia”, says Baker, “is to configure the switches so that mission control can access the guidance system to fire the retro rockets to bring Columbia down to its doom.” The plan even called for two astronauts to investigate the damaged wing.
Assuming everything has gone more or less as intended, eleven astronauts are now on board Atlantis. “This would be more than have ever flown before,” says Baker, “some would be strapped on couches on the floor, as this really would have been an emergency return.” Nevertheless, they had a good chance of making it all back alive.
“What if?” scenarios are always beguiling, but this one was not only possible but also planned for. “It could have been done,” says Baker. “It would have been possible but frankly the mindset at NASA was so rigid compared to the lightening decisions and quick responses we had during Apollo.”
After launch, the Columbia crew were seemingly oblivious to any danger. As the hours ticked away, so had their only real chance of rescue.
Rico says a great idea...

Sheldon for the day

Rico says that, while searching for a different quote from Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, he came across these:
I won’t say that all senior citizens who can’t master technology should be publicly flogged. But if we made an example of one or two, it might give the others incentive to try harder.
Apparently you can’t hack into a government supercomputer and try and buy uranium without the Department of Homeland Security tattling to your mother. 

History for the day

On 25 June 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana.

The past is the present

DelanceyPlace.com has a election from The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr:
The centuries-old struggle between Sunni and Shia is still so fresh and relevant in today's Middle East that in 2003, Saddam Hussein was able to whip up sectarian emotions by referencing events that occurred seven centuries earlier:
The voice on tape was grainy, but all Iraqis could tell who it was: Saddam Hussein was sending them a message. Recorded at his hiding place shortly before he was arrested and addressed to 'the Iraqi people and the Arab nation' on the occasion of his birthday, 28 April 2003, the tape was vintage Saddam. The fallen dictator blamed traitors for the way his troops had failed so quickly, letting US forces storm Baghdad in just a few weeks of high-speed maneuver warfare. He exhorted Iraqis to resist the occupation and to remain true to their Arab honor and sense of nationalism. They would be triumphant if they remained defiant, he said. Saddam had always had a flair for drama and a keen sense of history. To make sure that his countrymen felt the meaning of what had happened as well as to poison the well for the United States, he compared Baghdad's fall to the Americans in 2003 to its fall to the Mongols in 1258. That earlier conquest had spelled the end of the caliphate and is remembered by Sunni Arabs as a calamity, when the rivers of the cultured Abbasid capital are said to have run black with ink from books and red with the blood of the Mongols' massacred victims. Iraqis, Saddam hoped, would come to see resisting the coalition's occupation as an Islamic duty. He then made an ominous comparison in which he likened the Shia's lack of resistance to the Americans to the alleged offense of Ibn al-Alqami, the caliph's Shia vizier, who supposedly helped the Mongols to sack Baghdad. 'Just as the Mongol chieftain Holagu entered Baghdad,' he ranted, 'so did the criminal Bush enter Baghdad, with the help of the Alqami.' His implication was clear: just as the Shia had betrayed Islam in 1258, he was saying, so they were betraying it again in 2003.Since Saddam raised the ghost of Ibn al-Alqami, references to him have become ubiquitous in communiqués of insurgents and Sunni extremists. As the bloody travails of war and occupation have unfolded in Iraq, the Shia have once more been held responsible for the failures of the Arab world. Long persecuted and suppressed by the Sunni-dominated Iraqi state, now they are being blamed for the debacle that Sunnis face in the new Iraq and, by extension, in the whole Middle East.The ready way in which a 'secular' Ba'athist figure such as Sadddam could ring a change on a seven-century-old Sunni grudge to appeal to sectarian prejudices is a sign that the concepts and categories that are often cited in order to explain the Middle East to Western audiences— modernity, democracy, fundamentalism, and secular nationalism, to name a few— can no longer satisfactorily account for what is going on.  It is, rather, the old feud between Shias and Sunnis that forges attitudes, defines prejudices, draws political boundary lines, and even decides whether and to what extent those other trends have relevance."
Rico says the illustration is of Mongols at the gates of Baghdad in 1258, from the Jami al-Tawarikh by Rashid al-Din, circa 1310. (They're baaacckk...)

Another great one gone

The New York Times has an obituary by Robert Berkvist for one of Rico's favorite actors:
Eli Wallach, multifaceted actor, is dead at 98
Wallach was one of his generation's most prominent and prolific character actors in film, onstage, and on television for more than sixty years.
The BBC has one, as well (with a really ugly photo of Wallach shortly before his death):
Eli Wallach, whose films included The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, has died, aged 98.
Character actor Wallach, who began his film career in 1956 after ten years on stage, was admired for his wide range in a career spanning six decades. His portrayal of bandit chief Calvera (photo) in The Magnificent Seven was regarded by many as his definitive role.
When he received an honorary Oscar in 2011, he was described as a "quintessential chameleon". Though he was never nominated for an Oscar during his sixty-year career, the Academy awarded him one in 2011 for "effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role".
His films included the classic westerns How the West Was Won and The Misfits.
Arguably best known for his villains, he made a lasting impression as Tuco, opposite Clint Eastwood, in Sergio Leone's 1966 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Years later, Wallach said strangers would recognize him and start whistling the distinctive theme tune. "As an actor I've played more bandits, thieves, warlords, molesters, and mafioso than you could shake a stick at," the Hollywood Reporter quoted him as saying.
He was also successful in light comedy and appeared in many television shows, including playing Mr. Freeze for a spell in the 1960s Batman television series.
The veteran star continued making films into his nineties, making his last big screen appearance in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Katherine in The New York Times.
Wallach was born on 7 December 1915 in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish Jewish immigrants.
He graduated from the University of Texas, initially intending to become a teacher. But his focus shifted to acting and, after serving in World War Two, he studied at the Actors' Studio, where he became a practitioner of method acting. He first appeared on the New York City stage in 1945, where he met his wife Anne Jackson, to whom he was married for sixty-five years.
Wallach made his London, England debut in 1954 in The Teahouse of the August Moon. His screen debut came two years later, playing an unscrupulous seducer in Baby Doll. The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor and a BAFTA award for most promising newcomer. But the theatre remained Wallach's first love. "For actors, movies are a means to an end,'' he told The New York Times in 1973.
''I go and get on a horse in Spain for ten weeks, and I have enough cushion to come back and do a play.''
He became a household name as Calvera in 1960's The Magnificent Seven, alongside Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
He went on to earn an Emmy in 1967 for his supporting turn in the drama Poppies Are Also Flowers, and picked up four further nominations, most recently for his guest turns in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2007) and Nurse Jackie (2010).
Other notable roles came in How the West Was Won, Mystic River, The Holiday, Lord Jim, and The Godfather: Part III, playing an ill-fated Mafioso.
Asked about possible retirement, he told the Times in 1997: ''What else am I going to do? I love to act."

24 June 2014

Idiot for the day

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about yet another stupid politician:
In what is being called "the Watergate of California municipality dog-feces incidents," Mayor Dennis Kneier of the town of San Marino resigned last week after being caught on tape throwing a bag of dog feces on his neighbor's lawn. From the Pasadena Star-News:
On 7 June 2014, resident Philip Lao found a black bag of dog poop on his side walkway on the 1400 block of Charlton Road. He reported the incident to the San Marino police and showed them a video recording of the incident. Officers later cited the mayor for littering.
Lao, earlier reports indicated, is "a frequent critic of the City Council" who hangs a No Poop Zone sign outside his house. In the video, "Kneier and his wife are seen walking several feet before she points at Lao’s walkway and Kneier tosses the bag onto it".
Rico says the phrase 'shit for brains' couldn't apply more...

Fighting for strangers

Rico says it's an oldie but a goodie by Steeleye Span:


Rico says he's been reading a lot about the Golden Age of Piracy of late, and thinks we could stand to reintroduce the concept of privateers (pirates licensed by the government) to solve our illegal immigrant problem. There'd be a lot of armed yahoos ready and willing to shoot the poor bastards trying to enter the US and, even if we offered a bounty (like we do on wolves), we'd save money... (Okay, Rico knows this will be unpopular but, unless you've got a better idea, shut the fuck up.)

That time again

Rico says he swears, he just looks for the time, and it's 11:11 again...

Dubious medicine for the day

Katy Steinmetz has a Time article about yet-another non-issue:
In the campaign to end 'gay conversion' therapy, a new push to end the practice launched recently.
Sam Brinton says that his father first tried physical abuse to rid his young son of homosexual feelings. When that didn’t work, Brinton’s parents turned to something called reparative therapy. Some of the memories are hazy, more than ten years later, but Brinton does remember the tactics the counselor used. There was talk therapy, about how God disapproved, and there was aversion therapy, during which pictures of men touching men would be accompanied by the application of heat or ice. “It was pretty much mental torture,” Brinton says. “To this day, I still have light pain when I shake hands with another male.”
More than a decade after leading medical organizations abandoned the idea that homosexuality was something that could be cured or corrected, the concept of conversion therapy remains a particularly charged issue for LGBT advocates. Two states outlaw the practice, and legislation is pending in another. But not all the momentum is against reparative therapy. Earlier in June of 2014, the Texas Republican Party voted to include support for the practice in their party platform. Now a group of advocates and lawmakers are launching a new effort to ban licensed counselors from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation through therapy of any kind.
On 24 June 2014, the National Center for Lesbian Rights will announce the beginning of a campaign called #BornPerfect, an educational and legislative push to “make clear that every LGBT person is born perfect,” says executive director Kate Kendell. “It is now generally understood that sexual orientation cannot, and should not, be changed and that efforts to change it are damaging.” She believes that the time is right for the campaign, as LGBT people have become more accepted in society and medical establishments have come out against what is also called conversion therapy.
On 16 June 2014, the New York State assembly voted 86 to 28 to pass a reparative-therapy ban, and though Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed support for the bill, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled state senate blocked the measure from coming to the floor for a full vote. Had the senate passed the bill, New York would have become the third state, after California and New Jersey, to put such a law on the books.
Opponents like Liberty Counsel, a legal organization affiliated with Liberty University, were also ready to file a lawsuit, much like those the organization filed against the California and New Jersey laws. Daniel Schmid, Liberty Counsel’s lead litigator, says that bans on reparative therapy potentially violate the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and parental rights of those who would perform or seek it. “If you allow counselors to talk about sexual orientation to minors, you can’t allow only one viewpoint to be presented,” he says. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against that argument in California in August of 2013, instead siding with the logic that such a law amounts to professional regulation, a condition for providing state counseling licenses. Schmid and his clients, including therapists and families, have appealed to the Supreme Court.
Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a diagnostic bible published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), in 1973. In 1998, the APA released a statement saying the organization “opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” Schmid argues that the statement is based more on politics that documentation of harm caused by such therapy.
The #BornPerfect campaign will aim to dissuade parents who might be considering reparative therapy by providing them access to psychological experts and those who have been through such treatment, like Brinton. “We have no doubt they love their children,” ˆ says, noting that many parents might believe LGBT people lead more difficult lives and wish to spare their children from hardship. “We want parents to understand there are resources for them to come to terms with embracing their child as they are,” she says, whether those are online or public forums. The campaign will also include ongoing legislative efforts in other states to pass reparative-therapy bans, though Kendell declined to say which will be next at this time for fear it would mobilize the movement’s opponents.
Though conversion therapy is largely associated with sexual orientation, the #BornPerfect campaign will also aim to prevent therapy that is aimed at changing a child’s gender identity, in the cases that a child does not identify with the gender that corresponds with the sex that was assigned at birth. “To the extent that this is a budding practice,” Kendell says. “We want to nip it.”
One well-known reparative therapist is Joseph Nicolosi, based in Encino, California. A banner at the top of his website says You Don’t Have to Be Gay, with bullet points that advertise the ability to “Diminish your unwanted homosexuality” and “Develop your heterosexual potential”. Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which has also worked to oppose the reparative-therapy bans, argues that sexual orientation is “fluid well into adulthood” and can be influenced by factors such as a domineering mother or history of sexual abuse. “A truly tolerant nation is one that respects the rights of all Americans,” he says, “not just those who happen to be the political majority of a legislature.”
After a year and a half in therapy, and multiple suicide attempts, Brinton finally lied and promised to have been cured of homosexual thoughts. “It kept me in the closet for so many years,” Brinton says. “There’s a huge amount of internalized shame. And it’s all related to just this nagging trauma of something’s wrong.”
Rico asks what if the situation were reversed, and these idiots were trying to make everyone gay?

CIA for the day

The BBC has an article by Martin Vennard about an unlikely bit of literary history:
Boris Pasternak's famous novel, Doctor Zhivago, remained unpublished in the USSR until 1988, because of its implicit criticism of the Soviet system. But, for the same reason, the CIA wanted the Soviets to read the book, and arranged the first-ever publication in Russian. In early September of 1958, Dutch secret service agent Joop van der Wilden brought home the latest CIA weapon in the struggle between the West and the Soviet Union in a small brown paper package. "I had an intelligence background myself so I knew there was something very important that he had to collect and pass on," says his widow, Rachel van der Wilden. It was not a new piece of crafty military technology, however, but a book: a copy of the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago. "It was exciting. You wondered what was going to happen, whether it would work or not," says Van der Wilden, who had left Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6, when she married and moved to The Hague the previous year. She still has the book and the wrapping paper, with the date— Saturday 6 Sept. 1958— written in her husband's hand:
The book was part of a clandestine print run he had collected from the publishers and passed on to the CIA. The plan was for several hundred books to be handed out to Soviet visitors to the Brussels Universal and International Exposition, which was then taking place in neighboring Belgium. Pasternak had long been one of Russia's foremost poets and literary translators, and it was reasonable to assume that some of the visitors would be eager to read his only novel. It was hoped that some would take the book home and circulate it among their friends, some of whom might copy it and spread these samizdat copies to an even wider group.
Recently declassified CIA files published in a new book, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, talk of the novel's "great propaganda value" and "its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature".
"We have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country," says one of the declassified memos.
The novel tells the partly autobiographical story of a Russian doctor and poet, Yuri Zhivago (played by Omar Sharif, photo above), during the turbulent decades before, during and after the 1917 revolution. He is already married when he falls in love with another woman, Lara (played by Julie Christie, photo above), who is married herself, to a committed Bolshevik, and the plot follows the progress of their doomed relationship, as their lives are caught up in the monumental events of the time.
"Pasternak's humanistic message, that every person is entitled to a private life and deserves respect as a human being, irrespective of the extent of his political loyalty or contribution to the state, poses a fundamental challenge to the Soviet ethic of sacrifice of the individual to the Communist system," says another of the memos.
"I think what the Soviets most objected to was the spirit of the novel," says Peter Finn of the Washington Post and co-author of The Zhivago Affair. "They felt that it was against the Revolution, that it portrayed the Soviet state in a very negative light and they simply found it unacceptable."
Knowing his novel would never be published in the USSR, Pasternak gave typed manuscripts to a number of foreigners in 1956. They included an Italian Communist, Sergio D'Angelo, who was working in Moscow as a journalist and a part-time literary agent for a publisher, and fellow Italian Communist, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.
D'Angelo wrote in his book, The Pasternak Case, about going to meet the 66-year-old author at his country house in Peredelkino, a writers' colony outside Moscow, in May of 1956: "Pasternak is in the fenced-in garden, wearing a jacket and pants of homespun cloth, perhaps intent on pruning a plant. When he notices us, he approaches with a broad smile, throws open the little garden gate, and extends his hand. His grip is nice and firm," he wrote. As he hands D'Angelo the manuscript, Pasternak says: "May it make its way around the world." He then adds, perhaps ironically: "You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad."
A week later D'Angelo flew from Moscow to East Berlin with the manuscript (his luggage was not searched), and handed it over personally to Feltrinelli, who signed a contract with PasternakFeltrinelli resisted demands from the Soviet authorities and the Italian Communist Party not to publish Doctor Zhivago, and it appeared in Italian in November of 1957.
CIA files reveal that MI6 had also managed to obtain a copy of the manuscript, although it is not clear how, and handed it over to the CIA. The agency then arranged for a Russian-language version to be printed in The Hague in Holland by a publisher experienced in printing Russian-language books.
"They didn't want to have any obvious involvement with America so they chose some other country to have it printed," says Van der Wilden, who underlines that she played no part in the operation. She believes her husband was chosen to take part because he had links to people at the publishers through their mutual involvement in the Dutch resistance to German occupation in World War Two.
The novel was handed to Soviet visitors, of which there were several thousand, by Russian emigres in a curtained-off part of the Vatican's pavilion at the Brussels fair. "Soon the book's blue linen covers were found littering the fairgrounds. Some who got the novel were ripping off the cover, dividing the pages and stuffing them into their pockets to make the book easier to hide," The Zhivago Affair says.
Word of the operation reached Pasternak, who wrote to a friend in Paris: "Is it true that Doctor Zhivago appeared in the original? It seems that visitors to the exhibition in Brussels have seen it."
Finn's co-author, Petra Couvee, says an unknown number of the books are known to have reached Moscow. "We have found one of the copies in the Russian state library. It was intercepted by Customs and it landed in the section of the special collections, which were the banned books," she says.
Not everyone was happy about the operation. The Dutch company that published the book had not obtained permission to do so from the rights owner, Feltrinelli, who threatened to sue. The ensuing scandal could have exposed the CIA's involvement and a settlement had to be reached with him.
To avoid such problems in future, the CIA decided to produce its own Russian-language, miniature paperback version in the US, under the name of a fake French publishing house.
Copies of it were given to Soviet and East European students at the 1959 World Festival of Youth and Students in Vienna, Austria, which was sponsored by Communist organisations.
The Soviet "researchers" who accompanied the young people from the USSR reportedly said: "Take it, read it, but by no means bring it home."
The CIA's Doctor Zhivago project was part of a wider effort by the agency to get forbidden novels into Eastern bloc countries, including books by George Orwell, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov and Ernest Hemingway.
"We know that they thought literature would have an effect and they were willing to invest millions of dollars a year doing this and over the course of the Cold War it's estimated that they brought in perhaps 10 million books and journals that circulated in the entire Eastern bloc," says Finn.
Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in October 1958, but forced by the Soviet authorities into renouncing it. Though he was vilified in the Soviet press, from then on, thousands turned out for his funeral when he died of lung cancer, at the age of 70, two years later.
Doctor Zhivago has sold millions of copies worldwide, and in 1965 an Oscar-winning film version was released. But it was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988, during the perestroika reforms ushered in by Mikhail Gorbachev. The USSR collapsed three years later.
Rico says WHAT

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