31 October 2014

Caught, finally


Kathy Matheson has an article from The Associated Press about a bad guy on the run:
For nearly fifty days, Eric Frein was everywhere and nowhere, supposedly sighted again and again, only to melt back into the woods in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.
So, as state police paraded the gaunt and battered-looking former fugitive in front of a courthouse, residents were relieved to see him in the flesh.
It was proof that the harrowing seven-week manhunt in the Pocono Mountains for the suspected cop-killer was finally over, and things could start getting back to normal.
"It's just been nerve-wracking, not knowing where he was, what his next step was, what he was going to do," said Jody Welsh.
Onlookers shouted "Are you sorry?" and "Why did you do it?" as the survivalist and marksman was led from court the morning after his capture near an abandoned hangar. Hundreds of local, state and federal law officers had taken part in the manhunt. Frein, 31, had a gash on the bridge of his nose and a scrape over his left eye as he listened to charges that he killed Corporal Bryon Dickson and critically wounded Trooper Alex Douglass in a sniper attack outside their state police barracks on 12 September 2014. The US Marshals who took him into custody said he suffered the injuries while they had him down on the pavement. He did not have a lawyer and was not asked to enter a plea to first-degree murder and other charges, including possession of two pipe bombs discovered during the search. He remained jailed without bail. A preliminary hearing was set for 12 November 2014.
Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin, who said he would seek the death penalty, told reporters that Frein's capture brought a measure of comfort to the region after an "unimaginable loss of unspeakable proportions". "We have now started to find the answers that the community desired in this case," Tonkin said.
Troopers questioned Frein, but authorities would not disclose what he told them or discuss a possible motive. Authorities have said Frein had expressed anti-law enforcement views online and to people who knew him.
Joe Fagan was the first in line to enter the courtroom. "To be honest, I just wanted to see what evil looked like," he said. "He had zero emotion."
Until his capture, Frein had some people beginning to wonder if law enforcement was up to the task, given the rugged terrain and the evident skill with which he eluded dogs, thermal-imaging cameras, and teams of heavily-armed officers.
Sporadic sightings of the fugitive kept entire communities on edge: A woman claimed to have seen him outside a high school. A local cop spotted a mysterious man in green, prompting an intensive search that came up empty. There were other sightings in which Frein supposedly made himself visible to law enforcement, then vanished.
"To see him just walk past me was just a sigh of relief that he's not in the woods," said Welsh, who made sure she was on hand as state police led Frein from his arraignment. "That everybody can continue on with their lives."
In fact, with Frein behind bars, plans for trick-or-treating in Barrett Township were back on, and hunting and trapping were given the go-ahead to resume.
A team of Federal marshals stumbled across Frein at a local airfield during a sweep about thirty miles from the barracks where he allegedly opened fire, authorities said. He had no gun on him, but had weapons stashed in the hangar, state police said. The marshals who captured Frein said he had a "defeated" look on his face when they took him into custody. A three-man team had spotted Frein and snuck up on him, taking him by surprise. Scott Malkowski, who helped make the arrest, said Frein made no attempt to flee and didn't put up a fight. "He had nowhere to go. There is nothing he could've done," Malkowski said, adding: "From what I saw, he felt defeated because we'd won. We'd defeated him."
After the marshals turned him over to state police, Frein was placed in handcuffs and driven in a squad car to the Blooming Grove barracks.
Authorities said they were trying to reconstruct his time on the run. They believe Frein broke into cabins and other places for food and shelter, and he evidently found time to shave; he had a neatly trimmed goatee when he was caught.
State police Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens put the cost of the manhunt at about ten million dollars.
With the search over, officials began calculating the economic toll to motels, restaurants, shops and other businesses that lost money as tourists avoided the search area and locals stayed home. Monroe County asked business owners to fill out a "snapshot of their losses", a possible prelude to a disaster declaration and state and federal aid. Peggy Fylstra, whose crafts and florist shop in the village of Mountainhome suffered during the manhunt, said it "felt like I hit the lottery" when Frein was caught. "That's what an impact it's made on business owners."
Rico says that, unfortunately, they can't get the money from Frein...

Bolaris on winter


John Bolaris has yet another nasty prediction for this winter at Philly.com:
On 8 December 2013, two weeks before the official start of winter, who can forget the nationally televised South Philly snow blitz of an NFL game between the Eagles and the Detroit Lions?
Shady McCoy entered the annals of Philly sports lore juking his way through what seemed at times like mountains of snow.
More snow fell in an eight hour period (over eight inches) that day than the entire prior winter of 2012-2013, and more than double the amount from two winters ago.
It was indeed a harbinger of the winter ahead, as Philly endured the second snowiest winter of all time; a whopping 68 inches, falling shy only of the all-time record of 78.7 inches in the winter of 2009-10.
The winter of 2013-14 was relentless, with a historic four snowstorms of more than eight inches of snow each. That has never happened in the history of keeping records in the last 130 years here in Philadelphia. Keep in mind that snowstorms of more than five inches in a day happen on average only once a year in Philly from December through March.
With all that said about last winter's breathtaking relentlessness, here's my analysis of the upcoming winter of 2014-15:
It would be unprecedented, and quite frankly astonishing, if we were to pile up another 68 inches of snow this winter. This should not happen. But you can never use the word "definitely", not in the meteorological world. In all my thirty years of forecasting, there is always a surprise waiting to happen. (Despite the many hours each year looking at the models, my motto with long-range winter forecasts has always been that they are like ticking time bombs; they can blow up at anytime as the atmosphere shifts into an unexpected mode.)
As hard as I tried looking for signals of a gentle winter, especially coming off last year's wicked one, almost all of the signals point to another harsh winter ahead. Here's an in-depth breakdown for how I came to this conclusion: 
Winter forecast: 2014-15
A look at the atmospheric players in developing a long-range winter outlook:
ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation)
AO (Arctic Oscillation)
Siberian snow cover
Positioning of polar vortex
PNA (Pacific/North American teleconnection)
NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation
ENSO: This winter, we should stay in a weak-to-moderate El Niño. This phase would normally keep temperatures slightly above normal. A weak-to-moderate El Niño also should add some fuel to the fire as far as providing some additional moist energy into coastal storm formation.
AO: This weather player is very significant when it comes to how much snow and cold weather we get. When the AO is in a positive phase, winds in the upper atmosphere tend to blow strongly west to east across North America, keeping arctic invasions to a minimum in the east. When it's in the negative mode, the Siberian arctic high strengthens, leading to more frequent arctic dips into the east. Also, the polar vortex tends to extend southward, leading to some very harsh winter setups and well-above-average snow amounts. Right now, I'm favoring an overall negative positioning due to the extent of Siberian snow cover.
Siberian snow cover: The more I read about Siberian snow cover, the more I'm convinced this could be the most significant weather player in predicting winters here in the east. MIT's Judah Cohen is a strong proponent of using Siberian snow cover as a winter forecasting tool, and he said Siberian snow cover got off to its fastest start since he started tracking the index in 2000. When I compare last year's snow coverage across Siberia with this year, my alarm bells go off. Snow coverage is greatly ahead of last year, which should lead to a colder-than-normal winter and an extension of the polar vortex southward. That would lead to a possible strong negative phase of AO, starting sometime in mid- to late December and continuing into mid-February. This translates into a cold and snowy time frame.
PNA: The waters across the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf of Alaska are running above normal. This means the Pacific/North American teleconnection, at least for now, is in a positive mode. This is not positive for us. When the PNA is positive, high pressure ridging takes place across the Pacific Northwest and the mountain regions of the upper Midwest. The high pressure ridging will allow for periodic trough formation in the East, meaning the probability of storm formation along the East Coast increases along with the possibility of more frequent arctic outbreaks. The future tracks of these storms and what impact it has on us will be up to the ultimate wild card: the North Atlantic Oscillation.
NAO: This is really tough to forecast. But know this: When the NAO is in the positive mode, that equals less snow. When it's negative, that equals more snow. Unfortunately, this wild card has only about a three-week forecast window. But what I have learned in the past is when the waters are warming around Greenland— they currently are running above normal temperatures— high pressure ridging is more likely to form, causing a blocking pattern and not allowing storms to escape out to sea south and east of us. This is a tough call, as a negative NAO favors above average snow chances.
So, in summary, by agonizing over this winter forecast for weeks, it appears that we are in for another rough winter, with periods of arctic outbreaks and well-above-normal snow amounts.
The onslaught of winter should start to hit in mid- to late December and continue with harsh frequency through mid-February. We will have occasional breaks in the pattern, as the atmosphere at times will go through a reloading phase.
Could I be wrong? I certainly could. But as it stands now on this Halloween 2014, the upcoming winter looks scary.
Rico says he hates winter...

Reopening the Mount


The BBC has another article about the Middle East:
Israeli police have reopened a key Jerusalem holy site after its closure amid tensions following the shooting of a prominent right-wing Jewish activist.
The Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif (photo, top) was reopened ahead of Muslim Friday prayers, but with restrictions on worshippers as a security measure.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian suspected of wounding Rabbi Yehuda Glick has been buried in East Jerusalem (photo, bottom).
There has been an escalation of tension in the city in recent weeks. A spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described Israel's temporary closure of the holy site as a "declaration of war". The compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif,  is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
The site was reopened to Muslim worshippers on Friday morning, with entry to men restricted to those over 50 amid fears of unrest after Friday prayers
There has been a recent upsurge in clashes between Palestinians and police in East Jerusalem. On Thursday night, hundreds of people gathered for the funeral of Moataz Hejazi amid a heavy police presence. The burial passed off without incident, police said.
Hejazi, 32, was shot after opening fire when police surrounded his home, officials said. He was suspected of having attacked Rabbi Glick as he left a conference on Jewish claims to the Jerusalem holy site.
Rabbi Glick is a well-known campaigner for the right of Jews to pray at the site, which is currently prohibited. He was seriously wounded and on a life-support machine in a Jerusalem hospital.
On Wednesday night, there were clashes in the neighborhood of Abu Tor between police and Palestinians protesting against the killing of Hejazi. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against stone-throwing youths. Hejazi's cousin alleges that he was shot by police after being detained within his house. Israeli police say he was killed after he began shooting at police, who then opened fire in response. "They took him upstairs, and then they shot him", Moataz Hejazi's cousin said
Secretary of State John Kerry said he was "extremely concerned" by the escalation in tensions and had urged Israel to reopen the holy site. "It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in word and in practice", he said.

Analysis by the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem:
On Fridays, the holy day of Islam, prayers are often a time of heightened sensitivity, especially since this latest escalation of tension surrounds the familiar dispute about the rights to worship at a site around the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City sacred in both Islam and Judaism.
A delicate status quo governs rights of access to al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israel captured the Old City in 1967, but swiftly handed control of the compound back to Islamic religious authorities, fearful of triggering a Holy War.
Israel's security forces do impose restrictions, such as banning men under the age of fifty from worshipping on occasion, but argue that is about maintaining order.
Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not to pray there. Now some right-wing religious groups say Jews should be allowed to pray, a demand which causes anger and unease in the Muslim world.
If it all sounds familiar, well, that is because it is. When Britain governed the Holy Land in 1929, a very similar dispute provoked rioting that led to widespread loss of life.
Known as the Temple Mount to Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, it comprises the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is next to the Western Wall. The Western Wall, dating from the time of the second Jewish Biblical temple, is the holiest site where Jews can pray; the Dome of the Rock, where, according to Jewish tradition, the Ark of the Covenant rested in the first temple, is the holiest site in Judaism.
The al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam; the Dome of the Rock is revered by Muslims because of its connections to the Prophet MuhammadChristians also venerate the site because of its Biblical links to Jesus.
A Muslim committee has managed the compound since the time of the Crusades, while Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, controls access.
Israel maintains a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at the compound as a security measure
Rabbi Yehuda Glick has campaigned for the right of Jews to pray at the site.
Some districts of East Jerusalem have seen nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces since the Gaza conflict last summer.
A Jewish baby and Ecuadorian woman were killed when a Palestinian attacker drove his car into a group of pedestrians in Jerusalem last week.
Rico says he can only shake his head over two or three thousand years of delusional structure here...

Filming the enemy


The BBC has an article by Emma Jones about filming the Islamic State:
Arab filmmakers feel compelled to deal with the militant group and its effects, despite threats and intimidation, and Emma Jones reports from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival:
Cinema can’t keep pace with current affairs in the Middle East. The Sundance award-winning Syrian documentary, Return to Homs, which is showing at this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, now looks like last year’s history lesson.
Even its Damascus-born director Talal Derki admits it ruefully. His raw piece of docu-journalism, made between 2011 and 2013, traces the devastating arc of the Syrian conflict from optimistic uprising to chaos, through the eyes of champion goalkeeper Abdul Baset al-Sarout. The politics seem simpler: Assad vs the Free Syria army. The emergence of Islamic State (IS), says Derki, has “made the situation even worse. There are ten to fifteen million Syrians, caught between Assad and IS, unable to live their lives.”
IS, the extremist group that now controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria, is also making story-telling in the region even more logistically difficult, as well as giving filmmakers tales they say they never wanted to tell. In the politically stable, cultural hub of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, IS is the name on everyone’s, but no one’s, lips. Unlike the Arab Spring– the last big news event in the region that excited filmmakers with its promise of free speech, and resulted in international film successes like Jehane Noujaim’s The Square– directors attending the festival may admit to working on projects linked to the influence of the group, but ask for anonymity. Some, they add, have received death threats.
Indirectly skirting around this new global threat feels safer for others. The noted Egyptian director Marwan Hamed has plans to make a film called Assassins, about eleventh-century leader Hassan-i-Sabbah, whose sect were suicide killers. Anyone, he announced at the festival, who wanted to know more about IS should read up on Hassan, who was a forerunner of today’s extremists. Talal Derki, exiled now in Berlin, Germany, but still smuggling himself in and out of Syria, says he plans to investigate “the psychology of a new generation growing up with only a legacy of war in their experience. It’s like a sickness, an Ebola.”
Arab cinema needs to deal with IS in a uniquely local way, says Saudi-born producer Mohammed al-Turki, who made the critically-lauded 99 Homes with Spiderman’s Andrew Garfield last year. “Hollywood will respond in its own way to this group,” predicts al-Turki, “and with its own stereotypes of the situation. Arab cinema needs to make its own comments.”
But how do you respond effectively to IS’ efficient YouTube propaganda machine? Having stolen snippets of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and the video game Grand Theft Auto and used them in their promotional trailers, they could be accused of beating Hollywood at its own game, so much so that the Guardian declared that “the regime may have outlawed music, singing, smoking and drinking, but it clearly embraces Final Cut Pro.”
“Arab cinema needs to fight back using the same kind of weapons,” suggests Nadine Kirresh of al-Arabiya’s The Big Screen Show. “Visuals are key in today’s media, and local artists should look at short, sharp film-making, rather than too many features, which take months to finance. The Arab Spring showed us that it could be done quickly and cheaply, and that we’re all eyewitness filmmakers now.”
The State Department’s own ‘short, sharp’ response to IS– a video called Warning: Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ land– failed to deliver the same shock impact however: its government sponsorship made its intended audience suspicious. Things have moved on since the 1940s, when the director Frank Capra produced a series of films at President Roosevelt’s request that replied to Leni Riefenstahl’s masterpiece of Nazi propaganda, Triumph of the Will. Film, argues Michael Garin, head of leading Abu Dhabi production house Image Nation, can no longer be twisted into propaganda, however well-meaning the motive. “We have to make films people want to see, not films we want people to see,” he says. “You can’t make a movie just because of the message. Hollywood tried that after the Iraq war. It was boring and no one wanted to see them.”
Sanad, the highly respected funding arm of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, confirms that it will only make decisions based upon artistic merit, not political motivation. Its director, Intishal al-Timimi, believes that “this latest political episode needs to percolate a little before it’s seen on film. It takes three years on average for a film to be made from development stage. We are still seeing movies about the Arab Spring that we funded in 2011. I don’t expect to see a serious reflection of this crisis until 2017, by which time the situation will have changed again.”
“Filmmakers need the freedom to create their own visions, even of terrorism,” comments Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, the maker of Timbuktu, a film lauded at Cannes earlier this year. It chronicles events in a North African village after Islamic extremists take over. “We must not shy away from showing humanity, even in terrorists,” he insists. “I don’t believe that a young man who does terrible things doesn’t think about them in the dark afterwards. ”
And the emphasis on a shared humanity is the missing link in so many films, adds Palestinian debut director Amer Shomali, who has made a part-animation, part-docudrama called The Most Wanted 18, about a herd of cows who became the symbol of the first Palestinian Intifada in 1989.
“Film does affect human decision-making,” he says.” It’s very important that we break stereotypes within the Arab world, not just internationally. By portraying Arabs as either victims or terrorists, we are missing out the entire spectrum in between; in other words, entirely what it means to be human. Many of us are alienated from our own history and the young generation believes it has two choices– to become a victim and martyr, or join ISIS and become a murderer. Films can show a third option– that you can be an active member of a community and responsible for your present and future. We need to reclaim this, and stop them from running off to join the radicals.”
Rico says that, if we can make Schindler's List, we can make a movie about these assholes...

Martian living

Richard Hollingham has a BBC article about colonizing Mars:
If setting up home on another planet sounds a daunting prospect, then our space correspondent Richard Hollingham is here to help. And, in the video above, former astronaut Jeff Hoffman describes his project to bring oxygen to Mars.
It seems plenty of people want to abandon the Earth. Interest in leaving the home world for a new start on Mars has never been greater and was one of the hot topics at the recent BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit in New York City.
There is even evidence to suggest it may one day happen. NASA is tooling-up for production of its new heavy launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS), capable of conveying humans beyond Earth orbit; Mars One has recruited hundreds of volunteers for its reality-television-funded one-way-trip to the Red Planet and the Mars Society is stepping-up its studies into what it takes to be a Martian.
It is easy to imagine that human civilization on Mars is inevitable. However, before you put all your worldly possessions on eBay and sign-up for a new start in Gale Crater, it is worth considering the obstacles that have to be overcome to build a sustainable extraterrestrial colony. It is not going to be easy. 
Here are our five steps to building a new life on Mars:
1. Getting thereWithin the next decade, NASA will finally have a spacecraft capable of making the journey to Mars. The massive new SLS, combined with the Orion capsule, will enable astronauts to explore beyond the safety of low Earth orbit for the first time since the end of the Apollo Moon program in 1972.
Although any long duration mission is also likely to employ a habitation module, giving the crew a bit more room to move around in, the nine month trip to Mars is going to be uncomfortable and boring. It could also be extremely dangerous. Quite apart from the risks of launch (the recent Antares rocket explosion proves we should never take this for granted), during the transit to Mars the crew will be exposed to damaging levels of radiation that will significantly increase their risks of developing cancer. For anyone looking to have healthy Martian children (see below), cosmic radiation could also harm sperm and eggs.
Landing safely on Mars is also a challenge. NASA used an innovative skycrane to lower its one-ton Curiosity rover onto the surface in 2012. The Orion capsule weighs almost ten tons before you factor in any service module or landing rockets. The agency is currently developing giant inflatable heatshields, designed to slow spacecraft as they approach Mars, making landing larger craft feasible.
The good news is that getting to Mars in one piece is essentially an engineering challenge but, speaking at the BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit, former NASA astronaut Jeff Hoffman put his finger on a far bigger issue: “It is going to be expensive,” he admitted. “What it will take to finance the human exploration of Mars is hard to say.”
The final figure is likely to be tens of billions of dollars, but Hoffman suggests that the new generation of entrepreneur billionaires who are “space nuts” might be part of a public-private solution. “Elon Musk says he wants to go to Mars, and I hope he’s successful,” said Hoffman.
2. Become self-sufficientHaving successfully landed on Mars, you need air, water, food, and power to survive. In the short term you could rely on supplies brought from Earth, or sent on supply missions, but eventually you are going to have to produce your own.
NASA’s 2020 rover, essentially an upgrade of Curiosity, will carry an electrolysis experiment to extract oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. “For the very first time we’ll produce oxygen on the surface of Mars,” said Hoffman, who’s working on the instrument. “It’s a hundredth of the scale we’ll need for a human expedition, but it’s a start.”
Evidence suggests that Mars was once awash with water: lakes, rivers, and oceans. Today, it is highly likely there is still water at the ice caps, and possibly under the surface. Extracting water from urine and sweat through an efficient recycling system– pioneered on the International Space Station (ISS)– will certainly help, but will not be enough to sustain a community, so tapping into a local water source will be essential.
Producing food on Mars could be much more difficult. The non-profit Mars Society has been experimenting with growing food in its isolated desert research station in Utah. “There was some interesting biology we were generating, but not appetizing biology,” says software engineer and Mars enthusiast Digby Tarvin of his last stint working at the base, ten years ago. Tarvin is about to return to the Utah research station to take command, and says a lot of progress has been made since then. “People have grown some edible greens, but it’s not at the stage we can live on what we produce,” he says. “One of the research projects we’ll be undertaking is to use the local rock as a growing medium by adding sufficient minerals and additives.” The idea is that, ultimately, colonists could grow crops in Martian soil.
As for power, that should be relatively straightforward, with fuel cells and nuclear batteries augmented by solar arrays. Nevertheless, all these resources will need to be carefully managed, which is why the next step is so essential:
3. Form a governmentI have written before of the challenges of governing an extraterrestrial colony. The early missions, particularly those involving space agencies, will almost certainly be run with a hierarchical command system. The past fifty years of human spaceflight have taught us that, in the extreme environment of space, this is the safest way. However, there is a fine line between a Star Trek-type command structure and a brutal military dictatorship, and as the settlement matures, some sort of democracy is going to be favored.
“A space colony is a tyranny-prone environment,” says Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist from the University of Edinburgh who is also leading research on developing a constitution for space habitats. “If somebody gets control of oxygen, they could very well have control over the whole population, and threaten dire consequences in return for extraordinary levels of power.”
As a commander of a space colony on Earth, Tarvin is one of the few people to have any experience of overseeing a Mars base. “It’s certainly not a Star Trek-style military environment,” he says. “It’s a small group of highly motivated people, and it really doesn’t take much effort to manage them.”
A government also needs all the structures that go with it. Any new society needs an economy as well as systems to maintain the habitat, provide employment, health, childcare, social care and education. In short: Mars needs bureaucrats.
4. ExpandThe first Mars settlers will be living in the capsules they arrive in, perhaps augmented by a few extra capsules sent ahead, and maybe some inflatable domes. But, just as settlers will be utilizing local resources for water, food, and energy, they will also hope to use local materials to build a larger colony or even spin-off colonies.
At the very least, it would make sense to use Martian rock to bury the habitats to help shield occupants from radiation. Later, the surface could be drilled to form caves or rock could be excavated for building materials, just as we build houses from stone on Earth. It might also be possible to extract useful minerals for metals or glass.
Robert Zubin, the president of the Mars Society, is one of the leading exponents of terraforming Mars: transforming the planet from an airless, barren world to an oxygen-rich green and pleasant realm with a fully functioning ecosystem.
There is, however, a fundamental problem with trying to imbue Mars with a breathable atmosphere. The Earth’s atmosphere is contained within a magnetic bubble, known as the magnetosphere, generated by our magnetic field. Mars has no such field, and any atmosphere it once had is likely to have been torn away by the stream of charged particles, or solar wind, blasted out from the Sun.
The past history of the Martian atmosphere is currently being investigated by the Maven mission but, over the decades, any terraformed atmosphere is likely to suffer the same fate.
5. Have children and establish a culture Assuming their sperm or eggs have not been zapped by cosmic radiation on the way to Mars (something space agencies are already giving serious thought to), then, sooner or later, a certain percentage of settlers are going to want to have kids. It is, after all, the only way of perpetuating the colony over generations. For it to be successful, the population needs to be large enough to avoid in-breeding over subsequent generations.
Cameron Smith, an anthropologist at Portland State University in Oregon, has suggested that a population of two thousand would be sufficient to ensure long-term survival. “If we’re going to have a long-term future in space, it won’t be done by a handful of astronauts, it’ll be whole communities,” he told BBC Future earlier this year. Smith reckons that over generations a new culture would emerge, as humans become Martians rather than migrants. It’s a view shared by Zubrin. “At some point the Mars base breaks out of becoming a base and becomes an actual village,” he says. “A real society with real people living real lives, with children in schools and community orchestras.”
A child born under the red sky of Mars will have a very different outlook to one born on Earth, and may never return to the home world, just as many descendants of European settlers in the US do not have passports.
Every step to establishing human civilization on Mars is perfectly possible. With a focused effort it is very much doable. One question then remains: do you really want to go? I mean really? Mars is a bleak, cold, airless, rust-stained world. Simply staying alive will be a daily challenge.
Rico says some people will volunteer. Rico, fortunately, is too old; space travel is a young person's game...

Hawai'i for the day



Eliana Dockterman has a Time article about the volcano:
A delegation of more than eighty National Guard troops headed to Hawai'i on Thursday to provide security for the Big Island community of Pahoa, as a stream of lava from the Kilauea volcano continues to creep (photo) toward the small town.
Though the lava is traveling at less than five yards per hour, and has been approaching for the past several weeks, residents fear that looters will raid evacuated houses. Residents of about fifty houses in what officials are calling “a corridor of risk” have been told to be ready to leave, according to a Reuters article by Karin Stanton.
The Kilauea volcano has erupted persistently since 1983 from its Pu’u O’o vent. The latest flow of lava started on 27 June 2014.
Rico says that they always seem surprised...

Classic

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this:

I don't know much about art, but I know what I like:

The lost love of John Quincy Adams



Delanceyplace.com has a selection from John Quincy Adams by Robert V. Remini:
Abigail Adams, wife of America's second president, John Adams, has been lauded by historians for her assertive influence in her husband's life and in the young life of her country. However, her son John Quincy Adams (painting), America's sixth president, saw her as an intrusive and hectoring presence, confronting him with an unending stream of directives, criticisms and admonitions. He often simply avoided her, but was unable to when it came to the one passionate love of his life:
In 1790, at the age of twenty-three, John Quincy Adams fell deeply in love with a beautiful young sixteen-year-old by the name of Mary Frazier, the daughter of Moses Frazier, a prominent citizen of Newburyport, Massachusetts. After a few months, the romance quickly developed into a serious relationship. John and Mary took long walks together and felt boundless joy in one another's company. When possible they attended parties and the theater together, and he wrote poetry about her and to her. Quite obviously the young man's emotions had carried him to the point of asking for Mary's hand in marriage, but reason kept reminding him that he could not support a wife. He was only twenty-three years of age and still dependent on his parents' support; and, although his apprenticeship in the law was coming to an end, it would take time to establish a practice and earn enough money to afford a wife. Besides, his parents insisted he open his law office in Boston, not Newburyport, which he preferred because of Mary's presence. Dutifully, he removed to Boston when his law studies ended, and on 15 July 1790, was duly sworn into practice. Three weeks later he opened his law office in a house owned by his father on Court Street. But few clients came. His courtship of Mary continued as best he could manage it, and there seemed to be every indication that he planned to marry her. Unfortunately, Abigail learned of the romance and immediately intervened. She notified her son that she was stunned and incredulous when she learned 'that you are attached to a young lady. Never form connections until you see a prospect of supporting a wife,' she lectured in a series of letters. An early marriage 'will involve you in troubles that may render you and yours unhappiness for the remainder of your life'. The son chose to disregard his mother's warning and advice. He asked his beloved to agree to acknowledge their love and pledge to marry as soon as he could establish himself and support a family. But Mary's family would not accept such an 'indefinite' arrangement, and insisted on a formal engagement, something John Quincy could not and would not do. Mary came to Boston to discuss it with him and held her ground. There must be an agreement such as her family demanded, she informed him, or they must end their relationship. Totally dependent upon his family, John felt powerless to disobey them and, with 'broken heart', he terminated their romance. Shortly thereafter he informed Abigail that she need worry no longer. 'I am perfectly free, and you may rest assured I shall remain so... I may add, I was never in less danger from any entanglement which can give you pain than at present.'As far as can be judged, this was the only romantic and passionate love of John Quincy Adams's entire life. It took a long time before he ceased to grieve over his lost love.
Rico says that trying to please your parents is stupid, even in the 1700s...


History for the day


On 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, was assassinated near her residence by two Sikh security guards.

Quote for the day

"Something has consequences because of who does it, and this is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully."

Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs,
after the chief executive of Apple declared publicly that he is gay.

See 'em before they're gone

Conde Nast Traveler has an article by Lianna Trubowitz about islands that will soon disappear:
These tropical paradises and famous urban islands are threatened by rising sea levels, and may be underwater in the next fifty or a hundred years:

The Maldives

Venice
 
The Seychelles

Torres Strait


Tuvalu


The Marshalls


Micronesia

Manhattan

Rico says that global warming will change things, no doubt... (But a lot more people will be affected in Manhattan than all the others put together.)

Earhart for the day


Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about a dispute over a long-lost plane and its pilot:
Ric Gillespie is a pilot and former aviation insurance investigator who, for the last several decades, has advocated the theory that Amelia Earhart, on the day she disappeared during her around-the-world journey, crash-landed on a tiny Pacific island called Nikumaroro, 350 miles away from her intended target. Gillespie isn't a quack, but his explanation of Earhart's disappearance and death (he presumes she died of thirst or hunger after being stranded on the island) is far from universally accepted. He's collected a number of intriguing artifacts on Nikumaroro, but his finds have never been definitive. When The New Republic profiled Gillespie two years ago, reporter Jesse Zwick wrote that the Earhart-ologist is as much a storytelling dreamer as a researcher:
“If Earhart's a pioneer in something,” Gillespie told me near the end of my visit, “she and her husband were pioneers in media manipulation.”
When I spoke with Gillespie’s critics, I was struck by how much their descriptions of him echoed his own description of Earhart. “I think he’s a genius,” Susan Butler told me. “I understand why he does it. I think he’s having a wonderful time. He’s getting other people to bankroll a wonderful way of life. Nikumaroro is a gorgeous island. And I think he must also believe it.” Indeed, Gillespie’s search, the way in which his gifted showmanship has overshadowed the dubiousness of his discoveries and long odds of success, may be the most fitting tribute that the world could offer Earhart on the seventy-fifth anniversary of her death.
Gillespie and his organization, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), are planning another of their Nikumaroro trips for next year. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they've just announced that they "strongly" believe a scrap of metal found on the island— which had previously been shown not to match the material used to make Earhart's plane— is, in fact, a makeshift patch that was installed over what had been a window. You can see TIGHAR's analysis at its website; it's probably too technical for the layman to make a judgment on, but with the attention that the announcement has gotten via
Wired, Discovery News, and other science-y outlets, outside specialists will no doubt weigh in. And, either way, Gillespie and his group say their trip next year could uncover the fuselage of Earhart's plane, which they believe they might have found (via sonar image) under six hundred feet of water near the island.
One of TIGHAR's sponsors, incidentally? FedEx, whose affiliation with Gillespie actually predates Cast Away by four years.
Rico says it would be nice to have a resolution of poor Amelia's fate...

30 October 2014

Movie review for the day (LS)


Rico says that it's rare for him to watch any movie, much less a war movie, almost entirely on fast-forward, but today he watched Lone Survivor that way.
Not because it starred Markie Mark (aka the actor Mark Wahlberg), along with a lot of other familiar actors, nor that it had a lot of graphic violence (though Rico tires of seeing even the bad guys get drilled), but because it was just tedious...

Acid attacks linked to 'lax' dressing


The Clarion Project has an article about a protest of bad behavior in Iran:
In a rare display of public protest, thousands of Iranians in Tehran, Isfahan, and Saqez, including women with their faces covered to hide their identities, took to the streets to protest the recent spate of acid attacks on women in Isfahan.
At least nine women have been maimed (with one succumbing to her injuries) in the last three weeks by suspected hardliners unhappy with the level of obedience to the Iranian regime’s strict dress code. Shouting: "The one who splashes acid is a regime element, and we lack security" and "Support us, support us, splashing acid is a crime," protesters skirmished with Iran’s brutal Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, who reportedly fired tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd. The protesters also demonstrated against a leading imam who has condoned the use of violence against women who do not dress according to the Islamic regime's strict dress code.
Authorities briefly detained famed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who
spent three years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for defending political prisoners. She has since been prevented from practicing law. Two days after the protest, authorities arrested Iranian photojournalist Arya Jafara, whose photos of the protesters were distributed globally.
The acid attacks and subsequent protests took place as the backdrop of a debate being waged in the Iranian parliament about a controversial bill that has been proposed by hardliners to allow common citizens, as well as militias, to enforce the dress code, as well as any other interpretation of Islamic morality that they deem is being violated.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani opposes the legislation. “Rue the day some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord, and cause rifts, all under the banner of Islam,” Rouhani reportedly told a cheering crowd. “We should not see vice as manifested only in ‘bad hijab’ and overlook lies, corruption, slander, and bribery,” he added.
al-Jazeera reported that the dress code issue has brought Rouhani in “direct confrontation” with the hardline, conservative clergy of the country. In an unusual move, Rouhani responded to remarks made by the Ayatollah Sayed Yousef Tabatabaei-Nejad during Friday prayers in Isfahan. "Hijab is the symbol of women's piety," said Nejad. "Anyone who deviates from it is deviating from Islam."
Answering Nejad, Rouhani said, in a speech, that "the dress code should not be the only subject about which we propagate virtue. A few people should not assume they are the only moral compass in the country."
Images of victims of acid attacks circulated widely on Iranian social media, with some reports claiming that there have been as many as fifteen attacks in the last weeks.
One victim wrote: "My entire body was burning, but, when I took some of my clothes off to cool down, passersby didn't think of helping me, instead they kept telling me off for forgetting the dress code."
Rico says he doesn't get how you square this with any 'just, peaceful, and kind' religion... (But, then, Rico doesn't buy into anyone's religion.) And if they want to see 'lax dressing', they should visit Los Angeles (with its airport code, of course, of LAX) on a hot day...

More Apple for the day



Buzzfeed has an article and video (above) about Tim Cook outing himself:
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Computer, has spoken publicly about his sexuality in a Bloomberg Businessweek op-ed, writing: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me”. It’s the most forceful declaration of self we’ve seen by a gay person in recent memory, one that presents being gay as something legitimately different from being straight, and none the worse for that. It’s an inspiring new way to come out.
To be fair, Cook’s sexuality has been such an open secret that it’s legitimate to question if this is even a coming-out. The hard lines around “coming out”,  traditionally the process by which someone tells the world for the first time that one is gay, have been eroded by the openness of the press and the relaxing of stigmas around homosexuality have made it far less taboo to write about a person’s sexuality before their explicit say-so. This is the first time Cook has spoken so openly about being gay; that has hardly stopped the press from, without evident malice or homophobia, including him on an Out power list of gay celebrities, or, at the time of his appointment as Steve Jobs’ replacement, calling him “the most powerful gay man in America”. Though the mainstream press has been more reticent, with a New York Times article in May of 2014asking where the openly gay CEOs were, some segments of the press covered Cook’s sexuality as they would his race or gender, as an unremarkable fact about him.
Other coming-outs, like that of Anderson Cooper in 2012, have followed a similar script: the public figure’s sexuality is unremarkable, neither here nor there, worthy of acknowledgment solely as a biographical detail. Cooper, a CNN anchor, wrote, in a public letter to the blogger Andrew Sullivan: “In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted.” In his declaration of his sexuality, there was a strong undertone of reluctance: This shouldn’t be necessary, as it had little to do with Cooper’s identity. Even in coming out, Cooper spent far more time describing his life as a journalist, which he insisted was not colored by his life experiences, than he did acknowledging his sexuality. So, too, did Neil Patrick Harris, in 2006, express his annoyance at the “speculation and interest in my private life and relationships” even while finally discussing them with the press. In her 2013 speech at the Golden Globes, Jodie Foster acknowledged her former partner while framing any and all inquiries into her private life as forcing her into the position of Honey Boo Boo Child, a reality show entertainer.
Tim Cook has set a new paradigm, describing his sexuality as not merely a small aspect of himself that he needs to get through talking about, but as central to his identity. “Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day,” writes Cook. “It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life.”
Some will likely grouse that Cook’s silence for so long dulls the impact of his coming out now, at the age of 53. And his own essay presents the same privacy arguments we’ve heard before, explaining that this was, indeed, a difficult choice. Past celebrity coming-out declarations have had a certain breeziness to them, as though the stars decided they might as well finally entertain the press’s endless inquiries. Cook’s desire not to acknowledge his sexuality, he writes, stemmed from his fear that it would overtake all other aspects of his persona in the public eye. “I’m an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic, and many other things.”
But it’s a sign of how much society has changed even since 2012 that Cook is finally able to present the somewhat revolutionary idea that being gay is not just the same as being straight, that it is not a simple aspect of one’s makeup. It changes the way one views the world, as Cook writes. It also compels one forward to take part in a cause larger than oneself. As Cook writes, citing the civil-rights legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy: “We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.”
Rico says he'll be happy when being gay doesn't get noticed any more...

Britain carves up the Middle East


Delanceyplace.com has a selection from The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin:
In the immediate aftermath of World War One, Britain carved the new country of Iraq out of the defeated Ottoman Empire to protect its access to newly discovered oil fields and its imperial possessions in Asia. The new country was an illogical aggregation of factions, Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds among them, that were so hostile to each other it almost immediately led Britain to bomb some of its villages. The British recruited an out-of-work king to preside over the ill-fated land:
During the war, London had encouraged Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, to take the lead in raising an Arab revolt against Turkey. This he did, beginning in 1916, aided by a few Englishmen, of whom the most famous was T.E. Lawrence, known to history as Lawrence of Arabia. In exchange, Hussein and his sons were to be installed as the rulers of the various, predominantly Arab, constituents of the Turkish empire. Faisal, third son of Hussein, (photo) was generally considered the most able.
The British put Faisal on the throne of the newly created nation of Syria, one of the independent states carved out of the extinct Turkish empire. But a few months later, when control of Syria passed to France under the postwar understandings, Faisal was abruptly deposed and turned out of Damascus. He showed up at a railway station in Palestine, where, after a ceremonial welcome by the British, he sat on his luggage waiting for his connection.
But his career as a king was not yet over. The British needed a monarch for Iraq, another new state, this one to be formed out of three former provinces of the Turkish empire. Political stability in the area was required not only by the prospect for oil, but also for defense of the Persian Gulf and for the new imperial air route from Britain to India, Singapore, and Australia. The British did not want to rule the region directly; that would cost too much. Rather, what Winston Churchill, then head of the Colonial Office, wanted was an Arab government, with a constitutional monarch, that would be 'supported' by Britain under the League of Nations mandate, as it would be cheaper. So Churchill chose the out-of-work Faisal as his candidate. Summoned from exile, Faisal was crowned King of Iraq in Baghdad in August of 1921.
Faisal's task was enormous; he had not inherited a well-defined nation, but rather a collection of diverse groups— Shia and Sunni Arabs, Jews, Kurds, and Yazidis— a territory with a few important cities, most of the countryside under the control of local sheikhs, and with little common political or cultural history, but with a rising Arab nationalism. The minority Sunni Arabs held political power, while the Shia Arabs were by far the most numerous. To complicate things further, the Jews were the largest single group among inhabitants of Baghdad, followed by Arabs and Turks.
Rico says we all know how well all that turned out...

History for the day

On 30 October 1974, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round of a fifteen-round bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, to regain his world heavyweight title.

Apple for the day

MCX, an Apple Pay Rival, Says It Is Open to Other Technology

By MIKE ISAAC 

A group of retailers known as the Merchant Customer Exchange said that it could yet decide to use the technology that Apple Pay relies on to process transactions

Take the money and run, for real

The New York Times has a non-surprising article by Matthew Goldstein:

$1.5 Million Sent in Error to Money Manager (Both Are Missing)
Credit Suisse said it paid Joseph Galbraith, a hedge fund manager, a million and a half dollars by mistake. Now it can't find the money or the manager.

Rico says that the Woody Allen movie in the post title was funny, but this won't be, even if he gets away...

Lava nearing main road


Time has an article and video (above) about the eruption in Hawai'i:
Rain fell recently on a red-hot river of lava as it threatened to consume its first home on its slow advance into a rural Hawai'ian town. A breakout of the lava flow was about a hundred feet from a Paho'a residence, about the length of a basketball court, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira. The couple that lives in the home has left.
Scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory walking alongside the lava reported its leading edge was just two hundred yards from Pahoa Village Road, which goes through a commercial hub of the Big Island’s sprawling and isolated Puna district.
“This is just a little quiet village is a very rural community. We farm, we fish, we hunt,” said Jamila Dandini. “We’re going to be an island on an island.”
The leading edge remained in a large agricultural parcel that included another house, which was about a hundred yards from the lava, Oliveira said.
Dozens of homes, business and other structures are in the area of the lava flow. That number could increase as the flow front widens. “The people who are meant to stay will stay. The people that have to leave, sadly, will leave,” Dandini said.
So far, lava has burned a garden shed, tires, and some metal materials. On Wednesday, it burned mostly vegetation, while the rain helped tamp down smoke from the crackling stream.
Officials are monitoring hazards from the smoke. Chemists from the observatory detected only low levels of sulfur dioxide, Oliveira said.
The lava flow emerged from a vent in June of 2014 and, until recently, had been slowly weaving through uninhabited forest and pastureland.
The flow is expected to slither past properties across the street from Jeff and Denise Lagrimas’ home as it works its way toward the ocean, about 6 miles away. The Lagrimases decided not to stay and see the lava burn their home. They packed up to leave for a town fourteen miles away. “I don’t want to stick around and just wait for it to come and take it,” Denise Lagrimas said, while taking a break from loading kitchen cups and bowls in cardboard boxes. “You just never know.” She said they decided to move to Kurtistown, because it’s a safe distance away. “Never in my wildest dreams as a kid growing up did I think I would be running from lava,” she said.
Erbin Gamurot, 48, a handyman, said Pele, the volcano goddess, just wants to visit her sister, Namakaokahai, the sea goddess. “She gotta go see her sister. She gotta go say hi. You know how family are. It’s all good,” Gamuret said.
Rico says that, if you live on top of an active volcano, you shouldn't be surprised by stuff like this...

Jerusalem holy site closure a 'declaration of war'


The BBC has yet another article about Israel:
A spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has described the closure of a disputed holy site in Jerusalem as a "declaration of war".
The move came amid tension and violence after the shooting of a Jewish activist. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu urged calm, saying Abbas was stoking unrest. The holy site will reopen on Friday, Israel's economy minister says.
Yehuda Glick, a campaigner for greater Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif, was wounded. Israeli police later killed a Palestinian suspected of shooting him. Moataz Hejazi, 32, was shot after opening fire when police surrounded his home.
Rabbi Glick is a well-known US-born campaigner for the right of Jews to pray at the site, which is currently prohibited.
The compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
In other developments, Sweden became the first major Western European country to officially recognize Palestine as a state, and Israel has recalled its ambassador to Sweden in response, according to an official quoted by AFP.
The UN Human Rights Committee urged Israel to halt settlement-building in the West Bank and investigate alleged violations committed by its military in Gaza since 2008.
Secretary of State John Kerry described alleged insults which a senior US official aimed at Netanyahu as "disgraceful, unacceptable and damaging". 
Analysis by the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem:
A delicate status quo governs rights of access to al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israel captured the Old City in 1967, but swiftly handed control of the compound back to Islamic religious authorities, fearful of triggering a Holy War. Israel's security forces do impose restrictions, banning men under the age of fifty from worshipping on occasion, but argue that is about maintaining order.
Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. Now some right-wing religious groups say Jews should be allowed to pray, a demand which causes anger and unease in the Muslim world.
If it all sounds familiar, well, that's because it is. When Britain governed the Holy Land in 1929 a very similar dispute provoked rioting that led to widespread loss of life; a proper resolution of it all still feels hopelessly distant.
There was also a small demonstration by far-right Israelis outside the holy site, with several arrested for attempting to enter it.
Palestinians hold the Israeli government responsible for a "dangerous act", Abbas was quoted as saying by spokesman Nabil abu Rudeina, the AFP reports.
Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told the BBC that the holy site would reopen in time for Friday prayers "unless there are unusual events that take place over the next few hours".
Known as the Temple Mount to Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, it comprises the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is next to the Western Wall, which, from the time of the original Jewish temples, is the holiest site where Jews can pray; the Dome of the Rock, where, according to Jewish tradition, the Ark of the Covenant rested in the First Temple, is the holiest site in Judaism.
The al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam; the Dome of the Rock is revered by Muslims because of its connections to the Prophet Muhammad, and Christians also venerate the site because of its Biblical links to Jesus.
A Muslim committee has managed the compound since the time of the Crusades, while Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, controls access.
Israel maintains a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at the compound as a security measure, but Rabbi Yehuda Glick campaigns for allowing Jews to pray at the site.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for calm, suggesting Abbas is responsible for the increasing tension. "We're facing a wave of incitement by radical Islamic elements as well as by the Palestinian Authority chairman, who said that Jews must absolutely be prevented from going on to the Temple Mount," he said, quoted by the Haaretz newspaper.
Some districts of East Jerusalem have seen nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces since the Gaza conflict last summer. A Jewish baby and an Ecuadorian woman were killed when a Palestinian attacker drove his car into a group of pedestrians in Jerusalem last week.
Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said: ''There was an attempted assassination on a known right-wing activist'' Police say Hejazi belonged to the Islamic Jihad militant group and served time in jail in Israel before being released in 2012.
Police say they were fired at after surrounding a house where he was staying, and they shot back, hitting the suspect.
Rabbi Glick has undergone surgery for gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen.
Israel argues that it protects freedom of worship at the site, but Palestinians claim it is unilaterally taking steps to allow larger numbers of Jewish visitors.
Rico says the Jews could have had a state made out of Baja California in 1945, but noooo...

29 October 2014

Cows with trumpet

Rico says the ladyfriend found it, and it was such a splendid video, he had to track it down:

Finally changing

Rico says that would be the leaves at the aptly-name Redleaf:

Grammatical obsession

Rico says he's constantly correcting spelling and grammar in the stuff he posts on his Rant, but it's the non-use of serial commas that makes him cranky...
(For those unfamiliar with the problem, Rico will reuse the example (a book dedication) given by his buddy Rani, when we both worked for Apple:

"The author wishes to thank her parents, Ayn Rand and God."

One little missing comma, a very different meaning...

More space for the day


The Washington Post has an article by Terrence McCoy, a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post who served in the Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University, about the recent rocket explosion:
The tale of the engines that propelled the Antares rocket, which exploded in a spectacular ball of flame in Virginia, begins four decades ago, thousands of miles away, in the land of Communism and Sputnik. There, in the Soviet Union, rocket scientists conceived and built dozens of rocket engines meant to power Russian astronauts into the cosmos. But it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, all four launches of the mighty N1 Soviet rocket, which used an earlier iteration of the first-stage engines used in the Antares launch, failed between 1969 and 1972. And as the Soviet Union abandoned the idea of putting cosmonauts on the moon, those engines languished in Russia “without a purpose,” reported Space Lift Now.
That was until they were snapped up by Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences, which built the rocket that exploded. It uses two modified versions of those Russian engines to propel missions to the International Space Station, according to the company’s user’s guide. To be clear, investigators say they do not know what caused the explosion, which destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment. But some observers are questioning those Soviet-era engines.
An Orbital executive complained there aren’t more modern alternatives to the decades-old engines, The Guardian reported. “When you look at it, there are not many other options around the world in terms of using power plants of this size,” said Frank Culbertson, the company’s executive vice president. “Certainly not in this country, unfortunately.” The first issues with the rocket appeared to arise, he said, during the rocket’s first stage, when it was powered by Soviet engines. “The ascent stopped and there was some, let’s say, disassembly of the first stage, after which it fell to Earth,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the explosion is likely to stall the ambitions of Orbital Sciences, which has a two billion dollar contract to make eight supply missions to the International Space Station. It shed $266 million in market value after the failed launch. What’s more, this is not Orbital’s only recent engine-related explosion.
In May of 2014, one of its refurbished Soviet engines failed at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. “Sources claim the engine ‘exploded,’” reported NASA Space Flight. “The failure is currently under evaluation.”
Elon Musk, the chief executive of Orbital’s competitor, SpaceX, has long warned against using such decades-old technology. Calling it one of the “pretty silly things going on in the market,” he told Wired last year some aerospace firms rely on parts “developed in the 1960s” rather than “better technology”. He called out Orbital Sciences in particular. It “has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke,” he said. “It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the 1960s. I don’t mean their design is from the 1960s— I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the 1960s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”
That synopsis isn’t far from the truth. After the N1 rocket failed in the early 1970s, the Soviet Union pulled back on its space ambitions, and its engines went into hibernation, Space Flight Now reported. “After the engines were built, Soviet space dreams were adjusted to focus on Earth-orbiting space stations, leaving the engineering marvels in storage without a purpose.”
They were eventually brought to the United States in the 1990s for a California-based company looking to supply engines for the Atlas 5 rocket, but another engine was ultimately chosen, the news agency said. And the “NK-33 appeared to be left in the dust for a second time until Orbital Sciences came along.”
The engines were far from perfect, but Orbital scientists nonetheless hailed them as unlike anything in the United States. “As we went through testing, we did discover there were some effects of aging since they had been in storage for awhile, including some stress corrosion cracking,” Culbertson conceded at the time. “That’s what we corrected with weld repairs and other inspections.” The company’s “user guide” boasts that the engines, “refurbished with modern components,” have “an extensive test history.”
Culbertson was less sure of the engines on Tuesday night. “We need to go through this investigation and be very thorough before we determine whether that’s a factor in this or not,” he said.
Rico says that when you try and do things on the cheap, you get cheap shit...

Bummer for them


The Washington Post has an article by Eric Tang, an assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project, and also a fellow with the Institute of Urban Policy and Research Analysis:
How do we make sense of the fact that America’s most progressive cities, the ones that cherish diversity, are losing African Americans? And that the most conservative places are doing the opposite?
Between 2000 and 2010, cities like Austin, Chicago, Washington D.C., and San Francisco— places that vote majority Democrat, consider themselves socially and culturally progressive, and boast racial diversity— all lost unprecedented numbers of African Americans. San Francisco, for instance, saw a staggering twenty percent loss in its African American population between 2000 and 2010. Chicago and Washington D.C. also experienced double-digit losses.
During that same decade, the only three major cities (those with populations over half a million) that voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election— Phoenix, Arizona, Fort Worth, Texas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—all saw significant increases in African American numbers; their African-American populations grew by thirty-six percent, twenty-eight percent, and twelve percent, respectively.
Rebecca Diamond, an economist at Stanford University, offers one salient explanation.
Her research points to how cities such as Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. have, over the past three decades attracted ever-larger numbers of college graduates. Using census data, Diamond shows that, as college graduates occupied larger shares of these cities’ work forces (while avoiding other cities they deem less attractive) income inequality in these cities grew.
Urban industries and amenities catered to the higher-waged worker, making these cities more expensive to live in. Lower-wage workers (those with only a high school diploma) also desired the enhanced quality of life offered by these cities— better food and air quality and lower crime rates— but they couldn’t afford to live in them. Simply put, as college grads arrived, lower-waged workers were driven out.
Although Diamond’s study does not analyze how specific racial groups are impacted by what she terms a “national gentrification effect,” it appears that African Americans have bore the disproportionate brunt of it.
This is certainly the case in in Austin, Texas. A recent study we conducted at the University of Texas at Austin reveals that Austin in the only major growth city (a city with over half a million people that saw at least ten percent growth between 2000 and 2010) that experienced an absolute loss in its African-American population.
According to the census data, Austin grew by twenty percent between 2000 and 2010, granting it third place among fastest growing major cities in the United States. But during that same decade, its African-American population declined by six percent, or 3,769 people.
What happened in Austin seems to be consistent with the Stanford research. Austin has the highest percentage of college graduates as well as the highest median incomes in Texas. Census data also suggests that the African Americans who left Austin between 2000 and 2010 were by and large lower-waged workers (African American losses occurred in tracts that were on average poorer than those that did not see losses).
The loss of Austin’s African American population amid tremendous growth in its general population certainly doesn’t square with the city’s reputation as a “tolerant” place, one celebrated for its progressivism, cultural dynamism, and emphasis on sustainability.
Of course, some might argue that the notion of a liberal city— especially those as moneyed as Austin, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco— is now irrelevant. But this line of argument too easily dispenses with the reality that high-earning college graduates identify strongly as liberals, and moreover, that the municipal governments they elect are taking the lead on the some of the most progressive environmental and cultural policies in the nation.
It’s not that these cities are no longer liberal, per se, but that the brand of neo-liberalism they now celebrate is unaccountable to the concerns championed by lower-waged workers: universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing, and the de-privatization of public space (crystallized by last month’s San Francisco’s playground fiasco that garnered national headlines). It’s a liberalism that has, quite literally, left no room for the low-waged worker, particularly African Americans.
This phenomenon is happening in Philadelphia, too. It's what happens when some people get rich and others don't... (Rico says he's been to the Broken Spoke (photo), back when he used to go to Austin when he worked for Apple.)
 

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