31 December 2015

Iran unnerves US

Time has an article by Mark Thompson about the latest stupidity by Iran:
Nothing grabs the attention of the American military like a member of the Axis of Evil firing rockets close to a US Navy aircraft carrier, the biggest stick in the Pentagon’s massive arsenal.
That’s just what Iran did Saturday, shooting several unguided rockets about fifteen hundred yards from the USS Harry S. Truman and a pair of smaller US and French warships in the Strait of Hormuz; the bottleneck between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, through which seventeen million barrels of oil, twenty percent of world demand, flows daily.
“Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional, and inconsistent with international maritime law,” Navy Commander Kevin Stephens said Wednesday from US 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. It marked the third time since October of 2014 that an Iranian vessel had launched rockets “within visual range” of a US aircraft carrier, he said, adding that the most recent launches were “much closer” than the earlier ones. The Pentagon would only say that “several” rockets were fired; it didn’t specify a number.
It’s part of a decades-old pattern of Iranian provocations. US officials said the rockets were not aimed at the ships, which were headed into the Persian Gulf. They were fired basically parallel to the vessels’ path of travel, twenty minutes after Iran warned they would be launched.
Usually, as in this case, such provocative acts are carried out by Iranian Revolutionary Guard units, sort of the wild card of the Iranian government. The Revolutionary Guard “is generally loyal to Iran’s political hardliners and is clearly more politically influential than is Iran’s regular military,” according to a May 2015 report prepared for Congress. Its “political influence has grown sharply as the regime has relied on it to suppress dissent”.
The trouble with any such act is that mistakes by either side could quickly turn violent. Such rockets might corkscrew out of control, threatening nearby ships, or US intelligence could mistakenly conclude US vessels were under attack. Both sides are familiar with that latter scenario: the USS Vincennes, erroneously thinking it was under attack, destroyed an Iranian airliner over the strait in 1988, killing all three hundred aboard. That came on the heels of skirmishes that led the US Navy to sink six Iranian vessels and the disabling of the USS Samuel B. Roberts by an Iranian mine.
The Strait of Hormuz is only thirty-four miles wide at its narrowest point, but the navigable part of the strait is just twenty miles across, although shipping is supposed to use a pair of two-mile wide channels, one inbound and the other outbound. Iran borders the strait to the north and east, and it has a major naval base, and its key submarine base, close by.
Fathoming Tehran’s motives is always challenging. Iran has bridled under economic sanctions imposed by the US and other nations due to its nuclear ambitions, although both sides struck a deal in October of 2015 to delay them. Iran has always viewed the Strait of Hormuz as part of its neighborhood. It likes to flex its muscles there every once in awhile, Navy officials say.
The Truman, its deck crammed with warplanes, recently arrived in the region to help in the fight against ISIS. Its presence so close to Iran infuriates Tehran, US officials say. “War-fighting is the priority,” Rear Admiral Bret Batchelder, commander of Carrier Strike Group 8, said shortly after the hundred-thousand-ton warship arrived. “That’s why we are here.”
Rico says he'd call that playing with fire, but the Revolutionary Guard would probably think it was having fun...

Uber to make traveling easier

Time has a Business Insider article by Biz Carson about Uber:
Uber isn’t only about booking cars. It looks like it’s thinking of becoming a travel agent.
On 24 December 2015, Uber secured a new patent that could be used to plan trips.
Called Uber Travel in the images, it looks like a normal flight search like you would see on Expedia, but it adds Uber cars into the mix.
A traveler could input their start location, date, and time alongside a destination, and Uber would recommend an itinerary for them. The “magic”, as Uber calls it in the diagram, is being able to also incorporate plans for transportation.
It’s a deviation from how conventional travel is typically booked segment by segment now. You start with booking your flight, then choose a hotel, then eventually a rental car or some other transit.
Uber’s idea, according to the patent, is to take the trip information and show a recommended flight, hotel, and the cost of an Uber to get you from point A to point B all-in-one.
In the whole process, Uber is acting as the facilitator, much like Kayak.com, rather than the provider. These deals will probably be orchestrated by a team overseen by the patent’s author, Howard Jaffe, who is the head of Uber’s global procurement and supply chain.
In the patent, Uber states that it will tap into the network of airlines, looking at things like the planes’ on-time performance and an individual’s preference for aisle and window seats. It will also work with traditional hotels and “shared-economy systems” that allow people to rent out their apartments, likely Airbnb.
The patent also covers a way to make travel so much easier. Once Uber knows your scheduled flight, the patented system is designed to know when a flight actually lands at the airport, so it can start calculating when you should call an Uber, taking into account customs and baggage times.
“The information may include a location at the airport where the user can be picked up in connection with receiving the on-demand transportation service, and a timing indicator to indicate when the user should make a request to receive the on-demand transportation service based on a real-time determination of a number of available service providers in a vicinity of the airport,” the patent states.
Essentially, Uber is taking the guesswork out of when to call for a ride when a traveler lands, by pre-emptively notifying them when they should.
It’s an interesting move for a company that hasn’t been welcomed by airports with open arms. Many airports still forbid Uber for operating on their property, often levying heavy fines on the drivers themselves who respond to pick-up requests. Uber has been working hard to change this, and in early December of 2015, Uber was finally granted permission to operate at Las Vegas, Nevada’s McCarran International Airport.
Uber declined to comment.
Rico says he has yet to take Uber. (And, given all the Hitler stuff, like the Gold Train, recently, shouldn't that be Über?)

‘Affluenza’ Teen in Mexico; mother deported

Time has an Associated Press article by E. Eduardo Castillo and Michael Graczyk about the punk who ran away with his mom:
The Texas teenager known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving accident likely won’t return to the US anytime soon because of a Mexican judge’s decision to delay his deportation, but a Mexico immigration official said his mother was being flown to Los Angeles, California.
Richard Hunter, chief deputy for the Marshals Service in South Texas, said during a news conference in Houston that a three-day court injunction granted to Ethan Couch will likely take at least two weeks to resolve.
Later in the day, however, the teen’s mother, Tonya Couch, was put on a plane to be flown from Guadalajara, Mexico to Los Angeles, California, an official with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute told The Associated Press. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the woman was sent to the United States because immigration authorities did not receive a judge’s injunction like the one that temporarily blocked her son’s deportation. Ethan Couch remained in the custody of immigration officials in Guadalajara.
Authorities believe the eighteen-year-old Couch, who was sentenced only to probation for the 2013 wreck in Texas, fled to Mexico with his mother in November of 2015 as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation. Both were taken into custody after authorities said a phone call for pizza led to their capture in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
The ruling earlier by the Mexican court gives a judge three days to decide whether the younger Couch has grounds to challenge his deportation, based on arguments that kicking him out of the country would violate his rights.
Hunter said the legal maneuver basically takes the decision out of an immigration agent’s hands and asks a higher authority to make the deportation decision. He said such cases can often take anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on the priorities of the local courts. “It also depends on the fact the Couches have legal counsel. And it seems to me, if they wanted to, they could pay them as much money as they want to drag this thing out,” Hunter said. “We’re hopeful that’s not the case. We’re hopeful the Mexican immigration court will make a quick and decisive decision and return the Couches to America.”
During the sentencing phase of Couch’s trial in 2013, a defense expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility, a condition the expert termed “affluenza”. The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation during the legal proceedings drew ridicule.
Couch continues to make a mockery of the system,” said Fort Worth, Texas attorney Bill Berenson, who represented Sergio Molina, who was paralyzed and suffered severe brain damage in the crash.
Couch’s attorneys in the US issued a statement saying they couldn’t comment on the case because they weren’t licensed to practice law in Mexico. It wasn’t immediately clear which attorneys were handling the case in Guadalajara.
Mexican police say Couch and his mother spent three days in a rented condo at a resort development in Puerto Vallarta before finding an apartment. One of the Couches’ telephones had been used to order delivery from Domino’s Pizza to the condominium complex in Puerto Vallarta’s old town, far from the glitzy resorts of the city’s newer section, according to a police report issued by the Jalisco state prosecutors’ office.
Agents from the prosecutors’ office went to the complex, where a tourism operator told them that the people who had occupied the condo were asked to vacate because the owners were coming to stay over Christmas, the report said. The Couches then moved to an apartment, and the agents set up a surveillance operation in the surrounding streets.
On Monday evening, two people matching the Couches’ description were spotted and intercepted. The police report said they behaved evasively, claimed to be carrying no IDs, gave inconsistent stories about their names, and failed to provide proof of their legal migratory status in Mexico. They were taken into custody and handed over to immigration officials.
In Texas, Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said that the Couches had prepared to be gone a while, even dyeing the teenager’s blond hair black. “They had planned to disappear. They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town,” Anderson said. He declined to detail the party, including how many people attended. Anderson said Couch and his mother apparently crossed the border in her pickup and drove to Puerto Vallarta. No immediate charges were planned for others who may have known about or assisted with the plan, Anderson said. He noted that authorities have no evidence that Couch’s father, who owns a sheet metal factory in North Texas, was involved.
The sheriff has said he believes the two fled in late November of 2015, after a video surfaced that appears to show Ethan Couch at a party where people were drinking. If found to be drinking, Couch could see his probation revoked and face up to four months in jail.
Authorities began searching for him and his mother after he missed a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on 10 December 2015.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said that she planned to ask that Couch’s case be transferred to adult court, where he could face up to 120 days in an adult jail, followed by ten years’ probation. If he violates that probation, he could face up to ten years in prison per death, Wilson said.
Anderson said an arrest warrant was being issued for Tonya Couch on charges of hindering an apprehension, a third-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to ten years in prison.
Couch was driving drunk and speeding near Fort Worth, Texas in June of 2013, when he crashed into a disabled SUV, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pickup truck. He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. A judge sentenced him in juvenile court to ten years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation center.
Rico says they oughta throw the book at both of them... (And Rico's mom would not have taken him anywhere, except to jail.)

Gold train, still missing

War History Online has more on the train, maybe:
A lot has happened since our last update, so let us have a look at what is going on:
The tunnel is supposed to be fifteen meters wide, twenty-five meters below the surface and two kilometers long, the report in a local news paper said the tunnel is near the village of Walim, twelve miles from Walbrzych where the hunt has been centered.
Poland’s Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski previously told reporters that he had been informed the buried train was more than a hundred meters long, and that he had seen an image from ground-penetrating radar that appeared to show the outline of an armored train. A Polish military museum says it has received an excellent quality ground radar image that shows the gold train in fine detail.
To our knowledge, the tunnel was discovered by the same two men who claimed to have found the ‘gold train’, said the report. It said using a 1926 railway map, they found that the tunnel lies near to the former railway station in Walim, reports the Daily Mail.
The lawyer that represents the two men claiming to have found the train has back-pedaled on claims it contains gold. Instead, he told local television last night, it may contain ‘valuable minerals’. “We will be a hundred per cent sure only when we find the train,” Zuchowski later qualified to CBS News.
The hunt for the train has claimed the first life. A 39-year-old Polish male was looking for the Nazi gold in a tomb on a local cemetery when he suddenly fell down four meters and did not survive. His two colleagues, who rushed to the police station to get help, have since been arrested on desecration charges. The men were searching the tomb of a very rich German family for gold.
The Polish military have now secured the wooded area where the mystery train is supposed to be. Military engineers say the area needs to be cleared before any search can be conducted. The area might contain in booby traps or volatile weapon which can endanger the participants in the search.
A spokesman for the army operations command, Lieutenant Colonel Artur Golawski, told The Associated Press that, following the inspection, local authorities have been told that fallen trees and shrubs must be removed if any serious examination is to be done of the area in the city of Walbrzych.
New theories that the train may contain dangerous cargo have surfaced in recent days as the wooded foothills of the Owl Mountains have become the center of fevered attention for history buffs, treasure hunters and tourism promoters.
The Daily Mail reports that a senior Moscow intelligence veteran has also thrown doubt on claims the train would contain treasures. And rather then containing gold, a source close to the investigation has told MailOnline it was becoming widely accepted that the World War Two train could contain the remains of inmates from the nearby concentration camp Gross Rosen.
The tunnels in the area were dug as part of the Riese project, the code name for a construction project of Nazi Germany in 1943–45, consisting of seven underground structures located in the Owl Mountains and Książ Castle in Lower Silesia, previously Germany and now a territory of Poland. Inmates from Gross Rosen were used during the construction of the tunnels. It is not unthinkable that the SS, trying to eradicate all traces of their crimes, moved a train with damning evidence in one of the tunnels to hide its existence from the oncoming Soviet troops.
The purpose of the project remains uncertain because of lack of documentation. Some sources suggest that all the structures were part of the Führer headquarters; according to others, it was a combination of HQ and the arms industry, but comparison to similar facilities can indicate that only the castle was adapted as an HQ or other official residence and the tunnels in the Owl Mountains were planned as a network of underground factories.
The Independent reports that the two finders have gone public in order refute the accusations that their story is a hoax.
“As the finders of a World War Two armored train, we, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, declare that we have legally informed state authorities about the find and have precisely indicated the location in the presence of Walbrzych authorities and the police. We have irrefutable proof of its existence.“
However not everybody is happy, Richter and Koper have since been expelled from a local history society because the group was “outraged” the men had claimed the train for themselves.
The Lower Silesian Study Group took action against Piotr Koper, who was the society’s vice president, and Andreas Richter amid a welter of debate and rumor surrounding the two men’s claims. The pair have demanded a ten percent finders fee from the government which has apparently been signed off by national officials.
Piotr Koper, from Walbrzych, Poland, and Andreas Liechter, from Germany, appeared on television this morning to swear to the fact the train does exist. Proof? The men have posted a picture to a website, taken with a GPR KS-700. According to them, it shows a section of land in 3D with visible shaft leading down about fifty meters
The press have been allowed into a network of tunnels, the same network of tunnels where the gold train is reported to be, that look in pretty good condition.
Tadeusz Slowikowski, 85, revealed to MailOnline how he first heard about the train, thought to be laden with gold, looted paintings and even the Amber Chamber back in the 1950s. Slowikowski said: ‘I became aware of the tunnel after saving a German man named Schulz from being attacked by two men. As gratitude for saving him, he told me about the tunnel.’ The story Schulz told him was one of murder, fear, and secrets, beginning in the dying days of the Second World War when another German man, then working on the railways, found the tunnel’s entrance. ‘A few Germans carried on living in the area after the war and this one had been working on the railways when he came across the entrance to the tunnel,’ Slowikowski explained to MailOnline. ‘He saw two tracks leading into the tunnel. The tunnel was blocked up very shortly afterwards.’
Poland says it’s “ninety-nine per cent” certain that a subterranean radar signal is that of a long-lost Nazi loot train. Is it Jewish gold? Is it Russia’s long-lost Amber Room? What about the Ark of the Covenant?
Excitement is running high. But the train, even if it exists, hasn’t actually been uncovered yet. Poland has deployed police and railway protection services to a stretch of track in Poland’s south west.
Polish authorities have backtracked on claims a buried Second World War train containing Nazi gold has been found in the country, just days after a minister claimed he was 99% sure of its existence.
Following two weeks of speculation about a ‘Nazi gold train’ with valuables on board, officials now say the evidence is “no stronger than similar claims made in past decades”.
Gold fever has descended on southwestern Poland since a top culture official gave credence to the claim of two treasure hunters to have located a legendary Nazi train loaded with valuables in an abandoned mountain railroad tunnel. Locals and foreigners have arrived by the scores in recent days with metal detectors and set to combing the forested area of the Owl Mountains in Lower Silesia where authorities said last week they had been shown ground-penetrating radar images of an armored train hidden in a tunnel.
Experts in Poland have said the apparent discovery of a Nazi train thought to be packed with looted treasures could be the first of many, suggesting just a fraction of Hitler’s vast tunnel complex in the country has so far been discovered.
An 85-year-old man who spent half his life searching for the missing Nazi gold train has revealed the murder, secret police intimidation, and deathbed confession that led to its sensational discovery under a hillside in Poland. The sprightly pensioner, who has an unrivalled insight into the hunt for the train, added that not only does he know where the train is hidden, but he also knows the identity of the two men who two weeks ago claimed to have found it, as well as the man who is said to have given a deathbed confession about its location.
As the world’s press descend upon the small town of Walbrzych in southwest Poland, the country’s equivalent of MI5, the Internal Security Service (ABW), have now moved into the area where the train is said to have disappeared seventy years ago, leading to speculation that secret Third Reich documents may be among its precious cargo. To summarize the day’s events:
Poland’s deputy culture minister says he is “convinced” the train exists.
He has warned people not to search for it, because it could be booby trapped or mined. Experts are warning that the gold could be tooth fillings, rather than pristine gold blocks. The identity of the two men claiming the ten per cent fee remains unclear, and the location or even existence of the train also remains unclear. Poland has appealed to war buffs and rail enthusiasts to stop searching for a Nazi train believed to have lain undiscovered for seventy years and rumored to carry treasure.
Authorities say they believe they have located the train in the county of Wałbrzych, after they were tipped off by a German and a Pole who said last week that they had found it, and expected a finder’s fee of ten percent. The culture ministry said “foragers” had since become active in the area and urged them to stop, saying they risked harming themselves. “I’m certain the train exists, but it might contain dangerous material,” said Piotr Żuchowski, the head of national heritage at the ministry. “This is an appeal for any further investigations to be put on hold until we have finished the necessary official procedures relating to securing the site.”
Local news reports say the train, believed to be military, went missing in 1945, packed with loot from the then eastern German city of Breslau, now Wrocław and part of Poland, as Soviet Red Army forces closed in.
Reports said the train contained up to three hundred tons of gold, as well as a batch of diamonds, other gems, and industrial equipment. According to local folklore, it entered a tunnel in the mountainous Lower Silesian region and never emerged. The tunnel was later closed and its location long forgotten.
France Info radio is reporting that, if the train exists, it will belong to the Polish state, under accords passed with Germany.
Damien Simonart, France Info’s Warsaw correspondent, said:
If there is Nazi gold in this train, we are not talking about Indiana Jones here, but gold pulled from the teeth of Jews in death camps. He added that, if the two unidentified treasure hunters really have struck gold, they will have to question their consciences over its origin if they do seal a deal to take home ten per cent of its value.
According to testimony from the tooth puller of Treblinka (a Nazi death camp in Poland), two suitcases containing eight to ten kilos left the camp each week, and Treblinka provided very little of the overall amount. So one can only imagine how much this amounted to by the end of the war.
Indeed, Himmler sent letters all over ordering Nazi workers to ‘accelerate, accelerate’.
We know the deported were gassed before they were incinerated. Joseph Mengele (the notoriously barbaric Auschwitz physician known as ‘the Angel of Death”) issued orders for their teeth to be searched for gold. So, when you ask for ten per cent of that, you have to know where it’s coming from. We’re not talking about Indiana Jones. I wouldn’t want people to associate the spiritual quest of the film with one that is so venal and indeed abject.
Matthew Day reports that a senior official in Poland’s culture ministry has called on treasure hunters searching for a Nazi gold train in southern Poland to stop because the train could be carrying dangerous materials, and its surroundings could be mined. The official also said he was “convinced” of the existence of the train.
More from Matthew Day, who is monitoring events from Poland:
According to “unofficial information” quoted in the local press a possible location for the train is in a tunnel just to the north of Walbrzych, adjacent to an in-use railway line. Apparently there is eyewitness evidence claiming there was a tunnel there but that its entrance was blown up by the Nazis. The area has been the site of previous hunts for the train.
The find has aroused strong interest from specialists in recovering looted Nazi belongings. Jerome Hasler, head of communications and strategy for the Art Recovery Group, told The Telegraph that he hopes Poland will, if gold is found, look to return it to its rightful owners.
He said that "e are still waiting for the facts to be established, but we very much hope that it this is a legitimate find. Not only would this train present great historical significance, but all opportunities to identify and return property looted during the Nazi era must be welcomed. If the find is confirmed, we encourage the Polish authorities to share information about any works of art recovered, so that any restitution efforts can begin in earnest."
So where are we with the “Nazi gold train” story?
Excitement grew when the deputy mayor of Walbrzych said he had been told by lawyers for the two men that the train had been found. But don’t get too feverish just yet. Zygmunt Nowaczyk, the deputy mayor, did say yesterday that the lawyers haven’t offered any proof of the alleged discovery. Nonetheless, Nowaczyk said he will pass on the information he has to the national government because, if found, the train would be state property.
How could you hide a train for seventy years? Trains are big things.
One of the questions many of us will have is the one above and just how it could remain hidden for long. Matthew Day in Warsaw, Poland explains how:
During the war, the Germans dug miles of tunnels into the hills and mountains around Walbrzych. Historians differ on why this was done. Some say they were creating a secret command center, others say they were underground factories for weapons, while others claim the tunnels were research sites for the atom bomb project.
But there are tunnels: some of them very big. At the end of the war, the Germans flooded or blew up a number of them. As a result, not all the tunnels have been explored.
Rico says there are many photos; go there to see them... (And why can Rico only hear Schulz saying "I know nothing, nothing..."

30 December 2015

Movie review for the day: RH

Rico says that The Russia House is one of those movies that sneaks up on you:
Starring the always-fabulous Sean Connery as Barley and Michelle Pfeiffer as Katya,  an expatriate British publisher (Barley) unexpectedly finds himself working for British intelligence to investigate people in Russia:

Thinning the herd



Sent from my new iPad

Duggar for the day

Sophie Schillaci has an ETonline article about the Duggars:
The Duggars have had a rough year. After a whirlwind of scandal surrounding the reality television family, as 2015 comes to a close, the parents of Amy Duggar King have filed for divorce, leaving their newlywed daughter “devastated”.
“It has been quite the year to be a Duggar,” Amy told Entertainment Tonight. “The family has gone through a lot of heartache this year, but we will get through it. Right now I just have to take lessons from all I’ve gone through this year and focus on my marriage.”
The 28-year-old, who tied the knot with Dillon King in a country-chic wedding on 6 September 2015, admits that “it really hurts” to see her parents split, though she wasn’t entirely shocked. “They have had an on-and-off relationship for a long time. It’s sad they can’t be a team,” she says. “The divorce papers came, and my dad told me through a text on Christmas. I don’t think he meant to, he just didn’t know what to do. I was devastated. It hit me so hard.”
Regardless, the family tried to make the best of their Christmas. Dillon surprised his wife with a car and a rescue kitten for the holiday, while Amy consoled her mother.
Christmas night we had my mom over and just held her,” Amy said. “We watched movies together and just had such a special time to make her smile.”
According to court documents obtained by ET, Amy’s father, Terry Jordan, filed for divorce on 21 December, in Washington County, Arkansas. The former couple’s date of separation is listed as 20 December, with Terry claiming that Deanna Duggar has treated him “with such indignities as to render his condition in life intolerable.”
“I’m glad I have Dillon to lean on and be my rock,” said Amy. “Relationships are fragile. You have to communicate. If you keep everything bottled up, it’s all going to crack one day.”
Amy had appeared numerous times on her famous family’s since-canceled TLC reality series, 19 Kids and Counting. Her mother is Jim Bob Duggar’s sister.
Rico says any family that has nineteen kids and a relative named Jim Bob is bound to be in trouble...

El Niño

The BBC has an article by Matt McGrath about El Niño:
The strongest El Niño weather cycle on record is likely to increase the threat of hunger and disease for millions of people in 2016, aid agencies say. The weather phenomenon is set to exacerbate droughts in some areas, while increasing flooding in others. Some of the worst impacts are likely in Africa, with food shortages expected to peak in February.
Regions including the Caribbean and Central and South America will also be hit in the next six months. This periodic weather event, which tends to drive up global temperatures and disturb weather patterns, has helped push 2015 into the record books as the world's warmest year.
"By some measures, this has already been the strongest El Niño on record. It depends on exactly how you measure it," said Dr. Nick Klingaman from the University of Reading in the UK. "In a lot of tropical countries we are seeing big reductions in rainfall of the order of twenty to thirty percent. Indonesia has experienced a bad drought; the Indian monsoon was about fifteen percent below normal; and the forecasts for Brazil and Australia are for reduced monsoons."
As both droughts and floods continue, the scale of the potential impacts is worrying aid agencies. Around thirty million people are said to be facing food insecurity across Africa, a significant increase over the last year. Around a third of these people live in Ethiopia where ten million are projected to require humanitarian assistance in 2016.
El Niño is a naturally occurring weather episode that sees the warm waters of the central Pacific expand eastwards towards North and South America.
It was originally recognised by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño translates as Little Boy, or the Christ Child. The phenomenon, which happens every two to seven years, usually peaks late in the calendar year, although the effects can persist well into the following spring and last up to twelve months.
El Niño is part of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle; the opposite phase of the cycle is called La Niña. La Niña is sometimes referred to as the cold phase and El Niño the warm phase
The current El Niño episode is the strongest event since 1998 and is expected to be among the three most powerful ever recorded. According to the WMO, the peak three month average water surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific are expected to exceed two degrees Centigrade above normal.
The UK's Department for International Development says it is providing emergency support for nearly three million people and over a hundred thousand malnourished children. It says it will provide eight million people with food or cash support from January of 2016.
"If we fail to act now against this especially powerful El Niño, we will fail vulnerable people across our world," UK International Development Minister Nick Hurd said in a statement. "Ensuring security for those affected by El Niño is important to their countries but also in Britain's national interest. Only by protecting and stabilizing vulnerable countries can we ensure people are not forced to leave their homes in search of food or a new livelihood." According to the UN, around sixty million people have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict.
Aid agencies like Oxfam are worried that the impacts of the continuing El Niño in 2016 will add to existing stresses such as the wars in Syria, the South Sudan, and Yemen.They say that food shortages are likely to peak in Southern Africa in February of 2016, with Malawi estimating that almost three million people will require humanitarian assistance before March.
Drought and erratic rains have affected two million people across Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. More floods are expected in Central America in January.
"Millions of people in places like Ethiopia, Haiti, and Papua New Guinea are already feeling the effects of drought and crop failure," said Jane Cocking of Oxfam. "We urgently need to get help to these areas to make sure people have enough food and water.We cannot afford to allow other large-scale emergencies to develop elsewhere. If the world waits to respond to emerging crises in southern Africa and Latin America, we will not be able to cope," she said.
While many parts of the developing world will more directly feel the ongoing impacts of El Niño, the developed world will see impacts on food prices.
"It takes some time for the impacts of El Niño to feed through to social and economic systems," said Dr. Klingaman. "Historically food prices have gone up by five to ten percent for staples. Crops like coffee and rice and cocoa and sugar tend to be particularly affected."
The El Niño event is likely to tail off into the spring, but that may not be good news either. El Niños are often followed by La Niña events, which can have opposite but similarly harmful effects. Scientists say during an El Niño there is a huge transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere. Normally, as in 1997 and 1998, that heat transfer tends to be followed by a cooling of the ocean, a La Niña event,
"It's possible but far from certain that this time next year we could be talking about the reverse of many of these impacts," said Dr. Klingaman. "In places where we are seeing droughts from El Niño, we could be seeing flooding from La Niña next year. "It's just as disruptive, it's just the other way round."
Rico says as long as it brings some rain to his father in California, but those other folks are screwed...

More Apple for the day

The BBC has another article about Apple's money, of which they have lots:
Technology giant Apple has reported the biggest quarterly profit ever made by a public company. It reported a net profit of eighteen billion dollars in its fiscal first quarter, which tops the nearly sixteen billion dollars made by ExxonMobil in the second quarter of 2012, according to Standard and Poor's.
Record sales of iPhones were behind the surge in profits. Apple sold seventy-five million iPhones in the last three months of 2015, well ahead of most analysts' expectations.
In a conference call with financial analysts, Apple's chief executive Tim Cook said that demand for phones was "staggering". However, sales of the iPad continued to disappoint, falling by 22% in 2014 from a year earlier.
The demand for Apple's larger iPhone 6 Plus model appeared to help boost profits and increase the iPhone's gross profit margin (how much Apple makes per product) by two percent to forty percent. However, Apple did not give a breakdown of sales for the iPhone 6 and other models.
Apple shares rose more than five percent in trading after US markets closed.
Buster Hein, who edits the Cult of Mac website, told the BBC that iPhone sales had surpassed expectations. "Oh, my gosh, it's unbelievable," he said. "I mean, a lot of us were expecting good iPhone sales during the holidays, but I don't think anybody really thought Apple was going to blow past seventy million units sold," he said. "Apple became the number one smartphone company in China in the last quarter, which was just huge for them," he added.
Apple's impressive results represent a significant shift towards the massive untapped potential of China. With a strong line-up of devices entering the final quarter, it was able to reap the fruits of its deal with the world's biggest mobile network, China Mobile.
However, the success of its latest big-screen iPhones may have contributed to further cannibalizing sales of the iPad.
The once unstoppable tablet is being further squeezed both by a resurgence in laptop sales, as well as by competition, both in an increasingly saturated US market and in emerging markets by lower-priced, rival machines.
All eyes now are on the Apple Watch but, with a relatively high base price, it is not clear whether it will be able to woo more than the Apple faithful.
BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the iPhone had "transformed the mobile phone industry". "Others have a bigger share of the market. Samsung, for instance, actually sells more phones than Apple, but Apple makes just an extraordinary amount of money from this one phone. A lot of this, at the moment, is about China, where this brand has got extraordinary cachet. Apple sold more phones in China in the last quarter than they have in the United States." He added that one possible shadow on Apple's future was the question of whether the firm could repeat the success of the iPhone.
On a conference call to discuss earnings, Cook complained of "fierce foreign exchange volatility", which added Apple to a growing list of US firms who have been hurt by the strong dollar abroad.
Apple said that currency fluctuations shaved four percent from its first-quarter revenue.
Sales in greater China hit sixteen billion dollars in 2014, a seventy percent increase from a year earlier, and almost equalling the seventeen billion dollars in sales the company recorded in Europe last year.
A report by research firm Canalys said that Apple had overtaken competitors to become China's number one seller of smartphones by units shipped in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Rico says that's a lotta iPhones...

Apple for the day

The BBC has an article about Apple's tax problem in Italy:
Apple's Italian subsidiary has agreed to pay €318 million following an investigation into tax fraud allegations. Italy's tax authorities said the company failed to pay €880 million in tax between 2008 and 2013, according to La Repubblica. The settlement follows an investigation by prosecutors in Milan.
A spokesman for the tax agency confirmed the newspaper's report was accurate but would not divulge further details.
Apple has not commented on the deal. It has previously denied attempting to escape paying tax owed on profits made around the world.
Apple Italia is part of the company's European operation, which is headquartered in Ireland, a country with one of the lowest levels of corporation tax in the EU. Ireland taxes corporate earnings from normal business activities at a rate of 12.5%, compared with 27.5% in Italy.
Investigators in Italy say they found a huge gap between the company's revenues in Italy of over €1bn between 2008 and 2013 and the €30m that was paid in tax in the country.
The settlement comes amid a European Commission investigation into the tax arrangements of numerous multinational companies accused of using cross-border structures to reduce their tax bills, sometimes with the help of secret and potentially illegal "sweetheart" deals.
The issue of Apple's Irish arrangements is separate from, but related to, the broader one of multinational companies "parking" revenues and profits in low-tax countries.
Apple's activities in the Republic of Ireland are currently subject to that investigation, which is due to announce soon whether tax breaks designed to secure the company's extensive investment in Ireland amounted to illegal state aid.
Apple's European operations have been headquartered in Cork, Ireland since 1980.
The company is expanding its workforce there to six thosuand, and it has been joined in Ireland by other US tech firms including Twitter, Microsoft, and Google.
The company's chief executive, Tim Cook, has rejected accusations that the firm has been sidestepping US taxes by stashing cash overseas, insisting: "We pay every tax dollar we owe."
Cook said, on a visit in November of 2015, he was confident the Dublin government and Apple would be found to have done nothing wrong.
Rico says no, they did nothing wrong, unless you want their tax dollars...

Soviet history for the day

The BBC has an article by Dina Newman about Alexei Stakhanov:
In December of 1935, Time magazine's cover photo featured the celebrated Soviet worker Alexei Stakhanov (photo). America was still in the grip of the Great Depression and Stakhanov was a poster boy for Communism and the figurehead of a new workers' movement dedicated to increasing production. But the good times for Stakhanov did not last forever.
"He loved his job, and everything he achieved was through his own hard work, his own talent and perseverance," says Violetta Stakhanova, the daughter of Alexei Stakhanov.
Stakhanov was a miner in the Donbass, a coal-producing region in the then-Soviet Ukraine. Under the Communist system, all mines were run by the state and had monthly production targets. If they missed the targets, local managers and Communist Party officials were in trouble. The mine where Stakhanov worked was one of the worst-performing in the region. "He was incredibly competitive. He kept thinking how to increase the productivity of his mine and, eventually, he came up with a brilliant solution," says Violetta.
In the 1930s, miners used picks to work the coal, which was then loaded on carts and pulled out of the shaft by pit ponies. Lying on his side or his back, a miner would hack into the coal. He also had a set of pit props, logs cut to different lengths, and, from time to time, he would prop up the roof of the tunnel where he worked.
Stakhanov came up with the idea of having one miner constantly picking coal, while another loaded the coal on the cart, a third miner propped the roof with pit props, and a fourth led the pony in and out. And instead of the traditional pick, Stakhanov was keen to use a mining drill, which was a novelty and required specialist training. Drills were extremely heavy, weighing more than fifteen kilos.
"He went on a course, and he learned to use that drill," says Violetta. "He had no education beyond primary school but, when it came to his job, he was determined."
On 30 August 1935, at 2200, Alexei Stakhanov and three colleagues entered the mine, accompanied by the party boss and a local journalist. Six hours later they emerged, triumphant, having produced a hundred tons of coal; more than fourteen times the target.
Stakhanov was instantly lavished with attention and praise: a delegation of local women presented him with flowers, the local paper published his story and the Soviet minister of industry, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, showed the story to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Before long, an article praising "the Stakhanov method" appeared in the central party newspaper, Pravda. Once it was approved by Stalin, the method started spreading throughout the then-Soviet Union.
"My dad was rewarded with a small furnished flat, and even a horse with a cart to travel around in, because, in those days, they didn't have cars. Dad was particularly proud of the horse," says Violetta.
But she remembers one story her father told her showing that not all of Stakhanov's colleagues welcomed his achievements. "Once a gang of local workers threatened my dad with a knife. 'Why are you trying to impose new targets on us?' they said. 'We had a good life without your initiatives!'" But Stakhanov fought them off.
With the support of the Communist Party, he started traveling around the Soviet Union, promoting his initiative.
Unable to cope with his celebrity status, his girlfriend, a Roma (Gypsy) woman called Yevdokia, left him for another man. She left their two children with Stakhanov, thinking that they might have a brighter future with their celebrity father.
If our life was hard, sad, and joyless, we wouldn't have had the Stakhanovite movement
Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader
Touring the country, Stakhanov was not short of female attention. When he visited a school in Kharkov, the pupils gave a concert to welcome him. When a girl called Galina Bondarenko came onstage to sing a song, Stakhanov lost his head. In no time at all, they were married. Galina was half Stakhanov's age, from a well-educated but poor family. After the wedding, she went back to school and continued her studies. "My dad adored her," Violetta says of her mother. "She didn't exactly love him, but she respected him, like an elder. I don't think she was passionately in love with him, the way some women are with their men."
 Galina and Alexei Stakhanov
Over the next few months, traveling around the country, Stakhanov recruited thousands of supporters from all branches of Soviet industry and agriculture, who were happy to apply his ideas to increase productivity. In November of that year, the First Conference of the Stakhanov Movement gathered in Moscow. A reporter from Time magazine attended the event. A new word was born: Stakhanovets; in English, Stakhanovite, meaning a person who works extremely hard.
Stalin's speech was greeted with passionate applause. Decades later, Russians remembered Stalin's words about "life becoming happier" with sarcasm; for most Soviet citizens, the 1930s turned out to be a time of starvation as well as brutal repression.
But, for Alexei Stakhanov, things were indeed looking up. The Communist Party gave him an elite flat in Moscow and a job in the coal ministry. His beautiful young wife, Galina, helped him to navigate the Machiavellian politics of the Soviet capital.
"Once, at a reception, Stalin introduced my mum to everyone. She was always elegantly turned out, and he said: 'Pleased to introduce you to the wife of our future government minister." My dad nearly fainted. He was terrified. Mum told me later that she had to hold his hand to calm him down. Eventually, Dad said: 'Thank you for the honor, but I don't have enough education,' you know, that sort of thing."
Life in Moscow had other dangers. One day Galina was out shopping when she noticed a car following slowly behind her. The vehicle drew alongside and an officer politely asked her to step inside. She did so, though the officer refused to reveal their destination.
She was taken to the mansion of Lavrenty Beria, one of Stalin's most feared associates. In the 1930s and 1940s, Beria used to send out his assistants to kidnap beautiful women from the streets of Moscow. Galina had obviously caught his eye.
"She walked in, and another officer came out to meet her," says Violetta. "She said, 'I am Stakhanov's wife, and I am pregnant. I don't know why I am here.' The officer was very smart, he called someone straight away and they let her out and drove her home within minutes. Afterwards, Dad was furious and said to her: 'How could you get into the car with them? You know what they do to women!'"
In his twenty years in Moscow, Stakhanov never quite got used to his complicated new life and missed his former colleagues.
In 1957, four years after Stalin's death, the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, saw no need to keep Stakhanov in Moscow and ordered him back to the Donbass. Stakhanov felt he was in a virtual exile, especially since his family remained in Moscow, and spent the last twenty years of his life drinking heavily.
Violetta remembers her father was particularly upset that it took the Communist Party more than thirty years to give him the highest Soviet award, the Hero of Socialist Labor. He received the medal in 1970.
Alexei Stakhanov died after a stroke in the Donbass, in the eastern Ukraine, in 1977. A city in the region is named after him.

Rico says he always loved the word Stakhanovite, meaning someone as tough and committed as Alexei... (And, even though a branch of his family owned a coal mine in Central Pennsylvania, one visit was enough; Rico never wanted to work in one.)

Odd movie for the day

Rico says it's all puppets, and he looks forward to seeing it:

Couch potato

The New York Times has yet another article, by Manny Fernandez, Richard Pérez-Pena, and Azam Ahmed, about that too-rich-and-too-stupid kid Ethan Couch'Affluenza' Teenager, Had Last Party Before Fleeing, Officials Say:
Couch (photo),  who was spared prison in a deadly drunken-driving case after his lawyers said he had psychological problems because of his family's wealth, was arrested in Mexico.

In the closet in China

Rico says that The New York Times has an article by Michael Forsythe about a guy who really hid his orientation: Book Says Zhou Enlai, Chinese Premier, May Have Been Gay:

The new book draws on Zhou's diary entries and letters with his wife, and says his sexual orientation could explain his careful relationship with Mao Zedong.

1922: USSR established

History.com has this for 30 December:

In post-revolutionary Russia, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established, comprising a confederation of Russia, Belorussia, the Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian Federation (divided in 1936 into the Georgian, Azerbaijan, and Armenian republics). Also known as the Soviet Union, the new Communist state was the successor to the Russian Empire and the first country in the world to be based on Marxist socialism.
During the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent three-year Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik Party under Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin, dominated the Soviet forces, a coalition of workers’ and soldiers’ committees that called for the establishment of a socialist state in the former Russian Empire. In the USSR, all levels of government were controlled by the Communist Party, and the party’s Politburo, with its increasingly powerful general secretary, effectively ruled the country. Soviet industry was owned and managed by the state, and agricultural land was divided into state-run collective farms.
In the decades after it was established, the Russian-dominated Soviet Union grew into one of the world’s most powerful and influential states and eventually encompassed fifteen republics: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved following the collapse of its Communist government.
Rico says it took awhile to go away, and didn't turn out like they'd hoped...

Saving Jews

War History Online has an article about an unlikely savior in an unlikely place and time:

During World War Two, there was one Japanese tourist who did the unthinkable. When Europeans were seeking shelter from the Nazis, Tatsuo Osako was there to help. Nearly 75 years later, he said that he helped seven refugees find shelter.
As a show of appreciation and gratitude, the refugees gave Osako photographs of themselves. After the photos had appeared on the internet, four of them were identified. The photos given to Osako were from the one man and six women he had helped between the years of 1940 to 1941.
Historians and researchers investigated World War Two archives and looked at passenger manifests to verify the story. These months spent looking through the archives turned up affirmations that stated that those refugees had just barely escaped.  The files also showed that the refugees traveled by trains and ships.  What is most important of all is that these archives revealed that many Japanese people had offered help to the Jews and other civilians to flee from Europe.
Osako, who died in 2003, was a tourism bureau clerk in Tsuruga, Japan.  He had assisted the refugees who were making their way from Russia’s Pacific port of Vladivostok across the sea to Japan just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Osako distributed money that was provided by Jewish agencies.
The refugees began their journeys as the Germans started invading Poland on 1 September 1939. The man and four women eventually made it to the United States.  The fate of the other two women is unknown, as is their religion, however, researchers believe they were also Jewish.
Three of the refugees’ descendants were tracked down with help from Kiyotaka Fukushima from Chiba, Japan, and Mark Halpern, who was a retired business executive from West Chester, Pennsylvania.  Some of the descendants met the researchers in New York City, along with Osako’s colleague, Akira Kitade.
The researchers and historians used the International Tracing Service in Germany and online databases and archives.  With those resources, the researchers were able to identify four of the seven people.
A woman in one of the photos is known as Sonia Reed. She was identified in 2014 when a Canadian relative noticed her photo online. The website that showed Reed’s photo concerned Israel’s Holocaust memorial. The director of the website agreed to post the photos after Kitade had asked the Israeli embassy in Tokyo, Japan to help.
This year, in 2015, other refugees identified are:
Antonina Babb, a Polish Jew.  She died in Santa Monica, California in 1994.
Nissim Segaloff, a Bulgarian Jew. He ended up changing his name to Nicholas Sargent later and lived in New York City. The date of his death is still unknown.
Vera Kronberg was a Norwegian gentile who died in Rochelle Park, New Jersey in 2001.
There was a Jewish woman who died in the United States in 2005.  Her name is being withheld at the family’s request.
There was some information on the backs of the photographs, including some full or partial names of the people, making it easier to identify them.  One of the photos was of the two unidentified women, and there was a message in French with the name Marie written on it (photo). That is the only lead researchers have currently, and they are still working on identifying the women.
Kitade said that the Japanese people knew that they and the Jewish people had important roles to play, and those ordinary Japanese citizens went through great measures to help those in need.  Kitade also said that Osako stood by to help any refugee, taking a special interest in each and every refugee who came his way.  He cared about their well-being after their long voyages to either Japan or the United States.
Rico says just when you'd given up on human nature...

29 December 2015

Even more Old West for the day

True West has an article about a photograph of Billy the Kid (maybe):

See below for the rebuttal from Jeff Aiello, co-executive producer of the upcoming documentary Billy The Kid: New Evidence:
The juggernaut of publicity for the National Geographic Channel show airing on Sunday, 18 October 2015, is nothing short of phenomenal. We started getting email requests last week about the alleged new photograph of outlaw Billy the Kid, which we first discussed in our special Billy the Kid issue in June of 2015.  Readers begged for our input and verdict on the so-called “croquet photo” (above) ,They all wanted to know one thing: “Do you think it’s really Billy?” The short answer is that we think the publicity is incredible, but no one in our office thinks this photo is of the Kid.
We polled some of our writers and researchers who have spent a good part of their lives studying the Kid. These are the guys we trust and respect. Here are their responses:
“…that photo described as ‘Billy the Kid playing croquet’ was supposedly found in a Fresno, California, ‘junk shop’ by a certain Randy Guijarro, who paid ‘a couple of bucks’ for it ( some accounts state he paid 67 cents ). These accounts go on to say that this junk shop photo is ‘now worth five million dollars.’ I guess I’ll have to see how many millions I can make by selling the photo I found in a dumpster in East Overshoe, which shows Belle Starr and Calamity Jane playing hopscotch on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Jack DeMattos, author of The Search for Billy the Kid’s Roots is OverReal West, January of 1980
“Without a solid provenance linking a historic photograph to the Kid, it can never be anything more than simply a photo of a goofy-looking juvenile who bears a  resemblance to one William H. Bonney. Such images are hardly rare, unfortunately.”
Mark Lee Gardner, author of To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett
“Aside from lacking any provenance, this photo is from such a long distance that it’s impossible to discern physical attributes, much less facial features. This is simply another of the long chain of want-it-to-be-the-Kid pictures. This one poses even less credibility than its predecessors. We so-called experts have been showered with a flood of Billy pictures that their owners were sure were Billy because they looked like  Billy.”
Bob Utley, author of Billy the Kid: A Short and Violent Life
“When I first saw it two years ago, the owner only thought the one was Billy the Kid because he had a sweater on, and he thought the hat looks like the one in the authentic photo. But the promoters he was somehow able to get involved are leaving money on the table at five million because they failed to identify Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok, all of whom are also obviously in the photo.”
Robert G. McCubbin, world-famous collector of Old West photographs
Bob McCubbin and I told the owner two years ago it is not a photo of Billy the Kid. He refused to believe us, and kept dragging it around to various auctioneers, trying to convince them it was real.  Finally, he got Don Kagin to accept it.  Bob and I have explained in detail to everyone involved why the image has no value. This photo has no more provenance than any of the scores of alleged Billy the Kid images which have appeared on eBay the past fifteen years. And don’t talk to me about facial recognition software. When it comes to two-dimensional historic images, it just doesn’t work.”
John Boessenecker, California outlaw historian
“Regardless of what is said by paid ‘experts,’ their conclusions are conjecture, not fact.  No matter how sophisticated the hype that accompanies them, it’s still hype and nothing else. The ‘proof’ they offer is nothing more than wishful thinking, and the historical value of the image is zero.”
Frederick Nolan, author of The West of Billy the Kid
“I’ve looked at that photo, and I don’t see how anyone can definitely identify anybody in it. It’s hard enough to took at a head shot and be sure without other provenance. Heck, I could look at old photos of Brad Pitt and Robert Redford and swear it’s really me in that photo.
Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official historian and True West’s answer man
“Yes, the documentary has yet to be shown.  But from what I’ve seen and read and heard, I think the photo is a tempest in a teapot or, worse, it’s sheep dip. No id’s.  No date.  No location.  No provenance.  No way.”
Mark Boardman, True West’s features editor
“There is a big difference between documentation, which is a document trail that leads back to day one, and authentication, which merely identifies the picture as being from a particular period and sometimes, a place. Personally, I still have to go with documentation.”
Drew Gomber, Lincoln County historian
“The Times of London called me yesterday for a quote on the photo. As always, Billy is an international phenomenon. The fascination is, well, fascinating.  Part of this is lost treasure interest, but most of it reflects the enduring appeal of Billyiana. A photo with no provenance whatsoever picked up in a flea market causes all this commotion and a television special to boot. Billy the Kid just keeps riding…”
Paul Andrew Hutton, distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico and author of Dreamscape Desperado in True West, May of 2007
Kevin Costner narrates the two-hour documentary that airs at 9 p.m. ET this Sunday on the National Geographic Channel
Jeff Aiello, co-executive producer of the upcoming documentary Billy The Kid: New Evidence, sent us a rebuttal to our post on the photograph on 15 October 2015:
The newly discovered photograph of Billy The Kid and The Regulators has certainly ignited a firestorm of interest and controversy. The remarkable tintype featuring William Bonney and several of the men that called themselves The Regulators, posed in an outdoor scene playing croquet has, unfortunately, divided a community of those who deeply care about history of The Kid and the Lincoln County War.
Randy Guijarro came to possess this photograph purely by luck, or what some would call fate. He walked into a junk shop in Fresno, California in 2010 after hearing that two young men were selling old photos and documents out of a shoebox, not realizing what valuable inventory they carried. Randy bought three ferro-types for two dollars. One was the photo the world knows about today, but he didn’t realize what he had until he got home.
After studying it under his loupe, he quickly noticed a resemblance to the iconic photo of Billy The Kid the world has known for generations. After doing a little research, he also noticed that other figures in the photograph closely matched known photos of two men that are well-known to have ridden with Bonney; Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. Figuring that the chances three individuals that were all known to ride together in Lincoln County in New Mexico between 1878 and 1880, all in one photograph, were extraordinary, he began to do what anyone would do: seek out the experts for their opinions to see if what he had was real.
In 2011, after the Upham photo of Billy The Kid sold for over two million dollars, Randy reached out to the experts for the first time. He met with Brian Lebel at a show in Grass Valley, California and showed him the actual tintype, along with a high-quality enlargement of the image. Before Brian could really comment, another historian-author, John Bossenecker, quickly crowded into the meeting, glanced at the image, and dismissed it immediately, citing that the landscape and trees didn’t match New Mexico and, with a fair amount of conviction, stated that the scene was most likely in California. After Bossenecker left, Lebel pulled Randy aside and told him he had some work to do to prove the photo was authentic, but if it was, it could be worth, in Lebel’s words, ten times that of the iconic photo of The Kid.
Randy, being sure of what he had, was not deterred. In fact, without even realizing it, John Bossenecker was the inspiration for a long journey Randy would take to find the truth.
The next person Randy showed the photo to was John McWilliams, a noted expert in nineteenth century photography, best known for his Texas Rangers collection. McWilliams has looked at, and shot down, four purported Billy images before, all in a matter of seconds. McWilliams looked closely at Randy’s image and two hours later, was still looking at it. He identified the actual tintype as a late-1870s plate, and verified clothing worn by the subjects in the photo to be accurate to the late-1870s. He also felt the person believed to be Bonney in the photo had several matching markers to the iconic photo, including the hat, sweater-type, stance, sloped shoulders, and eyebrows. He also felt the person believed to be Charlie Bowdre in the photo strongly matched known photos of the famous gunman. Like Brian Lebel, McWilliams told Randy to keep on searching for more information and documentation to support the image. He ended the meeting by telling Randy that, if he could find the location the photo was taken and it all matched up, that would be the clincher for proving the photo’s authenticity.
In 2013, after having looked at the photo several more times, McWilliams finally arranged a meeting between Randy and photo collector Robert McCubbin. The meeting was set up so McCubbin could see the tintype and enlargement and, hopefully for Randy, give the photo a hard look to determine if it was the real deal. When Randy walked into a Las Vegas, Nevada hotel room to share his photo with McCubbin, John Bossnecker was there too, and Randy knew he was sunk. Still, he rolled out the large image for McCubbin who looked at it for only seconds before dismissing it for the same exact reasons Bossnecker had given in 2011.
The meeting quickly ended, and Randy started the next phase of his journey with an important question; how could two experts in old-west photography (McWilliams and McCubbins) have such a different take-away on the same image? Randy was dejected and put the effort to authenticate the photo aside for a while.
I met Randy in October of 2014 by chance, and learned of the story. After spending two months working with Randy’s tintype and diving into the history of the Lincoln County War, studying photographs and doing some low-tech photo-matching, I became convinced that the photo was probably authentic but was certain the system for photo authentication in Western Americana needed an overhaul. Important pieces of American history, and whether they are real or not, should not be left up to one or two men armed with nothing more than their own large collections and opinions. This is why I set out to make the documentary that will air on the National Geographic Channel.
I wanted to share this back-story because knowing the context of what really happened and the players involved should help better frame the story for those that will now judge the evidence discovered for the ‘croquet kid’ tintype. As for my direct rebuttal to the comments made in the True West article, here we go:
First off, True West and the gentleman quoted in the post made a rather large error in judgment (in my humble opinion) without knowing or seeing the full body of evidence that has been discovered on this image. With the exception of Dr. Hutton, who appears in our film and is very helpful in discovering documentation that supports the photo, the other’s comments were snarky, whining, and lacking any facts to support their positions. We know, as the people bringing the photo to the public, that the burden of proof is on us with this image. The documentary is our presentation of that proof. True West and these highly respected gentlemen should have waited until Monday to make their positions known, simply because none of them have seen the full amount of evidence and proof that the led to the tintype’s authentication. I repeatedly asked McCubbin to look at all the proof, but he was defiant and rejected the invitations. Ahead of the airing of the film, here are some bullet points to set the record straight and to refute the error-laden claims of True West’s “dream team” of historians and photo-collectors:
“The photo has no provenance or documentation” Actually, we’ve discovered both. The first and most important piece of provenance in photography is the location the picture was taken. This is where the chain of custody begins. We have found the exact location the photo was taken and it has been verified by three separate teams of investigators independent of the production of the film. It has also been verified by the current land-owner of what was the old Tunstall Ranch on the Felix River, Sterling Hendricks. The lumber structure seen in the croquet photo, which we now know was the Felix School, built in 1874 (most likely by Casey), was actually built over in 1935 and became the Flying H School. We know this because we found some of the original boards and foundation elements underneath the structure that stands there today. Additionally, and most compelling, the width of the building there today is 21’6’ wide. The measurements of the old building in the croquet photo are 21’6” wide. These measurements were made using the same computer application that positively identifies Bonney, Bowdre, Chisum, and O’Folliard. The configuration of roof-pitch, windows, and doors has certainly changed over time, but the building’s measurements are strong facts, along with many others from the site, that prove this is the spot. Provenance established.
Next, facial-recognition. This is one is tough because, quite simply, older people find accepting this technology difficult to accept out of a lack (or willingness) to understand it. Bossnecker’s comments about facial recognition not working on 2D images is completely out of line and untrue. The facial-recognition expert we used on this project, Kent Gibson, is one of the most highly-respected forensic analysts in this field. The software used in positively identifying Billy The Kid, Tom O’Folliard, Sallie Chisum, and Charlie Bowdre in Randy’s photo is the same system used to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. It works. Its finds and helps bring to justice people that would do us harm every day, and does this using 2D images. In fact, most of the time, the source material used is more grainy and in poorer shape than the croquet tintype. Its tough for me to understand how someone can sit in their office in San Francisco, protected by technology like that used in our film, but then claim that same technology is incapable of matching William Bonney from two usable sources.
“We don’t have any documentation”. Again, yes we do. Sallie Chisum’s hand-written journal from 1878 quite clearly explains when and where all of the people in the photograph came together and, when cross-referenced to known, historical movements of the players, establishes a narrow timeline the photo was taken within. This documentation also leads to and points directly at the Tunstall Ranch for where the photo was taken. History records the fact that Charlie Bowdre and Doc Scurlock moved their families from Ruidoso, New Mexico to Fort Sumner, New Mexico in the first week of September of 1878. Evidence that will be shown in the film points to the croquet tintype being taken during this event.
“It doesn’t look like New Mexico…the trees don’t match”. This was the first citation of Bossnecker and McCubbin. According to Professor Owen Burney at the University of New Mexico’s forestry department, the trees have been identified as white oaks. While on the fringe of their natural habit in the late 1870s, its well-documented that the nearby town of White Oaks, New Mexico in Lincoln County was named for a large stand of white oak trees that grew near the stream east of town. Additionally, naysayers point out that if this photo was taken in early September, why are there no leaves on the trees? Again, Professor Burney cites that, in times of severe drought, large trees will drop their leaves early to protect against mortality. We have documentation to prove that a severe drought was in play in south-eastern New Mexico between 1876 and 1883. In my opinion, Bossenecker and McCubbin should be disqualified as contributing “experts” in photo authentication after missing this one so badly.
“Why would they being playing croquet?” “Where are their guns?”. The croquet element to the photo is the most interesting to me. When I emailed Fred Nolan to ask him to look at the photo and contribute to the film (he denied both), he thought the element of croquet in the photo with Billy was outrageous. Really? Does he forget that John Tunstall was English? Does he forget that, on page 69 of his own book The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall he writes about how much Tunstall loved the game and documents that he played it here in North America after immigrating from England? While we can’t prove with facts or evidence that the croquet set seen in the photo is Tunstall’s, its at the very least a compelling link between the game and the people in the photo. As for the lack of guns, this is obviously a staged photo to celebrate some kind of special event. Our photo experts believe it was to celebrate the marriage of the two people seen on horseback in the photo based on how the photo is composed. We uncovered new documentation in our search that proves Charlie Bowdre and Manueal Herrera were actually married in 1878 and not in 1876 or 1880, as historians have guessed at for years. These documents have been provided by decedents of both and in probate court records of San Miguel County, the county where Fort Sumner was located in 1878. We believe the record of their marriage was entered after they arrived in Fort Sumner.
The tintype itself was analyzed by noted wet-plate collodian photographer Will Dunniway. He is considered one of the best itinerate artists in the world today. He date-stamped the croquet photo to a plate made between 1877 and 1881. The chemical process used to make the plate tells the tale. Residue and a close look at the media material itself is consistent with photographs made in that time-frame. Dunniway also confirms McWilliams findings that the clothing worn is period-correct.
These are just some of the facts and findings we uncovered over years of research and work on this photo. Claims of a new Billy The Kid image should be met with skepticism, simply due to the amount of false claims made. But, at some point, with an image like the croquet photo, the circumstantial evidence combined with solid provenance, proves the image to be authentic. Never before has an image been put through such scrutiny or testing from a wide-range of photo-experts, historians, and researchers and every one of them agrees with the finding of authenticity and the verification of that authenticity by Don Kagin and David McCarthy.
We are at the point now, with this amount of evidence, that it is more outrageous to suggest this is not Billy and The Regulators.
For Nolan, the above is based on fact, not conjecture.
Again, we welcome naysayers to bring forward specific, empirical proof or evidence that refutes our findings. Snarky statements from historians and “world-famous” photo-collectors aren’t good enough anymore. We and those who love the history of the Wild West expect and demand more.
We’ve done our work to prove this photo is real. If you disagree, stand up and show us the proof why it isn’t.
Jeff Aiello, co-executive producer of Billy The Kid: New Evidence for the National Geographic Channel.
Rico says once you attach a lot of money (let alone millions) and egos to something, the fight is on...

More Old West for the day

Marshall Trimble has a True West article about mining for gold, sort of:

There were many ways to pan for gold in California’s Mother Lode during the 1850s, but this one, by a larcenous bartender, takes the cake for originality. Back in the days before the San Francisco mint began turning out gold coins, the cost of a drink was a pinch of gold dust from a prospector’s poke, and the bartender got to do the pinching with his thumb and forefinger. Needless to say, bartenders with big hands could always find employment in the saloons.
One enterprising bartender skilled himself in letting a little dust spill on the bar on its way to the till. Every few minutes he’d wipe the bar, carefully brushing the dust onto the floor. Every hour or so, he would step out the back door to a mud hole, where he’d coat the bottoms of his boots with mud. Then he’d tread across the floor behind the bar, picking up the gold dust. The mud was then scrapped off into a bucket, which he took home after work to pan out the gold. Sounds tedious, but it was said he could pan out thirty dollars a day on slow days and over a hundred dollars on weekends and holidays.
Rico says he's lucky he didn't get shot for it...

Old West for the day

True West has an article by Bob Boze Bell about one tough sumbitch:

Abraham Henson Meadows was born under an oak tree in a snowstorm. After his family moved to Arizona in 1877, he grew into a big strapping cowboy, standing six foot six, and competed in Payson’s first cowboy contest in 1884. Five years later, Buffalo Bill Cody saw Tom Horn and Meadows rope in Tucson, Arizona and offered them both a job with his Wild West show. Horn declined, but Arizona Charlie ended up touring the world, eventually launching his own show. When he trekked to the Yukon for the gold rush, he built the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson, which is still in operation. After he cashed out, he retired in Yuma, Arizona, thinking the city’s hot clime would allow him to beat his premonition that he would die as he was born, in a snowstorm. On 9 December 1932, a freak snowstorm hit Yuma, and Arizona Charlie died after operating on his own varicose veins with a pocket knife. He was 73.
Rico says reality is stranger than fiction... (And the lesson is: don't do your own surgery.)

Iran close to fulfilling pact

George Jahn has a Time article from The Associated Press about Iran:
A landmark nuclear deal with Tehran moved closer to implementation, with Secretary of State John Kerry announcing that tons of enriched uranium that could potentially be turned to use in atomic arms were on a ship heading from Iran to Russia. Kerry hailed the development as “one of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitments” under the 14 July 2015 nuclear agreement, in comments that expanded on information The Associated Press received from a senior Russian diplomat earlier.
That envoy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be cited by name, said Iran had permitted Russia to take possession of and ship out most of its low-enriched uranium. Low-enriched uranium is suitable primarily to generate nuclear power and needs substantial further enrichment for use in the core of a nuclear warhead.
But Kerry said that the shipment also included the remaining stock of Iranian uranium that already had been enriched to higher levels, just a technical step away from what is needed to form the fissile core of a nuclear bomb.
The 14 July deal aims to reduce Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons, something Tehran says it has no interest in.
Under the agreement, Iran committed to shipping out all except three hundred kilograms of its low-enriched uranium and to either export the uranium it has that is enriched to near twenty percent, process it into low-enriched uranium, or turn it into fuel plates to power a research reactor.
Kerry indicated both steps were completed on Monday, announcing that more than twelve tons of enriched “uranium materials” were in the hold of a Russian ship steaming toward Russia. He said the shipment included the near-twenty-percent enriched uranium that had not yet been turned into fuel plates.
The nuclear deal aims at increasing the time Tehran would need to make a nuclear weapon from present estimates of a few months to at least a year. Kerry said the export of enriched uranium means a significant move toward that goal by more than tripling “our previous two-three month breakout timeline”.
The July agreement also commits Iran to sharply reduce the number of its centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, as well as to re-engineer a reactor to cut its output of plutonium, another pathway to nuclear weapons. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which is monitoring the progress of the Iranian implementation, says both of those measures are well underway.
The Russia-Iran accord under the July deal foresees that Moscow ships Iran over a hundred tons of raw uranium in exchange for Tehran’s low-enriched uranium, and Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads Iran’s atomic energy organization, recently said that his country already received the uranium ore.
In return for Tehran’s acceptance of more than a decade of constraints on programs that could be used to make nuclear arms, most international sanctions imposed over its nuclear programs will be lifted. Iran will have access to about a hundred billion dollars of previously frozen assets and fully return to the oil market.
That will happen after the IAEA confirms that Iran has met all commitments. That stage of the Iran-six power deal, known as 'implementation day', is expected sometime next month.
Rico says he better hurry up and finish his novelArmageddon, before peace breaks out...

Casino Deposit Bonus