31 January 2015

Famine? In North Korea?

Rico's friend Kelley sent this:
Vile capitalist slander!
Rico says the guy's fat because he ate all the undernourished children...

30 January 2015

Confederate submarine revealed again


Bruce Smith has a Yahoo News article about the Hunley:
A century and a half after it sank, and a decade and a half after it was raised, scientists are finally getting a look at the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship. What they find may finally solve the mystery of why the hand-cranked submarine sank during the Civil War.
"It's like unwrapping a Christmas gift after fifteen years. We have been wanting to do this for a long time now," said Paul Mardikian, senior conservator on the Hunley project.
The Hunley sank the Union blockade ship USS Housatonic off Charleston, South Carolina in February of 1864, as the South tried to break the Union blockade strangling the Confederacy. But the sub and its eight-man crew never made it back to shore.
The Hunley was discovered off the South Carolina coast in 1995, raised in 2000, and brought to a conservation lab in North Charleston. It was covered with a hardened gunk of encrusted sand, sediment, and rust that scientists call concretion.
In May of 2014, it was finally ready to be bathed in a solution of sodium hydroxide to loosen the encrustation. Then, in August of 2014, scientists using small air-powered chisels and dental tools began the laborious job of removing the coating. Now about seventy percent of the outside hull has been revealed (photo).
Mardikian said the exposed hull indeed has revealed some things that may help solve the mystery of the sinking. "I would have to lie to you if I said we had not, but it's too early to talk about it yet," he said. "We have a submarine that is encrypted. It's like an Enigma machine." He said the clues will be studied closely as scientists try to piece together what happened to the forty-foot submarine that night in 1864.
The Hunley had a sixteen-foot spar tipped with a charge of black powder that was exploded, sinking the Housatonic. After close examination of the spar two years ago, scientists speculated the crew was knocked unconscious by the shock wave of the explosion. When the Hunley was first raised, scientists speculated the crew may have run out of air before they could crank back to the coast.
After the Hunley was raised, the sand and silt and the remains of the crew were removed. In April of 2004, thousands of men in Confederate gray and Union blue walked in a procession with the crew's coffins four miles from Charleston's waterfront to Magnolia Cemetery in what has been called the last Confederate funeral.
Rico says some things will always be a mystery...

Five gubs the government doesn't want you to have


Rico says he doesn't want 'em, either, but only because the ladyfriend wouldn't like it, and he couldn't afford them anyway...

Teacher fired for teaching black history


Rico's friend Kema (she of the on-line Slavery Museum) sends a video about some odd education:
ARTICLE
Rico says there's always more to the story...

Give Guantanamo back to Cuba soon


Joshua Keating , a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs, has an article about Cuba:
Cuban President Raul Castro demanded in a speech this week that the US remove its naval base at Guantanamo Bay before diplomatic relations between the two countries are normalized. The White House has dismissed the idea, saying in a statement that President Obama "does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down, but not the naval base"
This is the only politically prudent course of action for the White House to take. Given that Congress is already threatening to derail both the long-delayed efforts to close down the detention center and the diplomatic opening to Cuba, upping the ante by agreeing to a Cuban demand to shutter the entire base seems like a non-starter. Obama has already gone farther and faster than most expected to bring an end to the half-century old conflict between the two countries. He shouldn’t have to  accede to new Cuban demands at this point.
Still, separate from the demand, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the US to take stock of why it continues to control 45-square-miles of Cuban territory, and whether it should. The US has controlled Guantanamo, its oldest overseas military base, since 1903, thanks to a lease signed in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. In an example of what historian Paul Kramer calls “gunboat tenancy”, Congress effectively made the American military’s access to the site a condition of troops being pulled out of Cuba, and the lease had no cut-off date. The original rent of two thousand dollars per year in gold was raised to four thousand dollars in 1934. The US continues to pay the rent every year, though the Castro regime has made a point of never cashing the checks. The base has been completely isolated from Cuba since 1964, when Castro cut off electricity and water to the base.
Guantanamo was a major shipping hub during World War Two, and was considered strategically vital during the Cold War. Today, it’s a logistical hub for the Navy’s Fourth Fleet, and is used for training and as a staging ground for counter-narcotics efforts and humanitarian relief missions. It hosted refugees fleeing neighboring Haiti after the 1991 coup and the 2010 earthquake. But, since 2002, it’s been best known for the controversial detention center.
Given that the Caribbean is not exactly at the top of the security agenda these days, it doesn’t seem worth it for the US to hold on to a controversial vestige of a not-particularly appealing era of American history. After all, we gave back the Panama Canal and scaled back its military presence elsewhere in the region. Why not Guantanamo?
“Whatever Guantanamo's minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently, with the stain of the prisons, the base's imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government, outweigh the benefits,” wrote Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2009. Harvard historian Jonathan Hansen, author of Guantanamo: An American History, argued in 2012 that the base “has served to remind the world of America’s long history of interventionist militarism. Few gestures would have as salutary an effect on the stultifying impasse in American-Cuban relations as handing over this coveted piece of land.” And retired Admiral James Stavridis, former head of the Southern Command, which includes Guantanamo, says the US should hold on to the base, but that it should be “internationalized”: converted into a hub where countries throughout the region could cooperate on humanitarian relief efforts and counter-narcotics programs.
The time might not be right for the US to hand over Guantanamo. If anything, the administration should first concentrate on its long overdue effort to close the detention center. But that doesn’t mean nothing else should change. The US and Cuban militaries already hold regular— and, from all accounts, cordial— meetings at the base fence. Those military contacts could be increased. Cubans also haven’t been employed at the base and US service-members haven’t been able to venture outside the perimeter since the 1960s. That’s another area for improvement. The yearly four-thousand-dollar payments are a frankly insulting reminder of an agreement Cuba signed under duress more than a century ago. At some point, more equitable terms could be negotiated.
“You need me on that wall,” goes the famous speech delivered by Jack Nicholson’s fictional Gitmo commander in A Few Good Men. For a century, few have questioned the necessity of maintaining a base on enemy territory, despite the ugly circumstances of its founding. But if the long conflict between the US and Cuba does come to an end, the wall should eventually come down. 
Rico says it looks like he won't be able to afford to get to Havana in 2015 anyway, so they can take as long as they want...

The heat is on

Rico says it's because the heat is on, all the time, these days:

Movie for the day


Nicolas Rapold has an article in The New York Times about an unusual movie from an unusual source:
The future is mired in the muddy, muddy past in Hard to Be a God, Aleksei German’s full-contact, madly outré adaptation of the 1964 science-fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The film’s helter-skelter action takes place on another planet, but not some gleamingly advanced version of our own. On the parallel world of Arkanar, it’s still the Middle Ages, and the rabble spend their lives tramping through muck, surviving warring factions (or not), and apparently delighting in the total lack of sanitation.
Our guide is a prankish earthling, Don Rumata (played by Leonid Yarmolnik, photo above, a Russian television personality), although “guide” might be a strong word in the context of German’s nearly documentary-like brand of in-the-fray filmmaking. Rumata is one of several visiting scientists blending in as aristocrats, as the vital (and sparse) voice-over explains. His god’s-eye mission of benevolent oversight doesn’t shield him from the crackdowns being instigated by a mighty order of monks.
Yet this isn’t a lucid story of moves and countermoves among political forces, and the stranger in a strange land isn’t so much Rumata as it is the viewer. Hard to Be a God is a cinematic plunge into the warp, weft, and squelch of another time, thrusting us along with Rumata’s wanderings between his squalid chambers and various manor grounds, among soldiers and peasants and prisoners, amid puddles and flames, half-heard asides and yelps of pain.
The roiling setting alone enforces a medieval mind-set that feels genuine: brutal yet often jovially rambunctious and crude, pre-psychological in its sense of the cheapness of life and yet rich with local custom and detail. Our chaotic journey makes Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God look like Downton Abbey. But historical power structures are being laid bare too. German’s work evokes the horrors of post-Communist disarray, and purges in any era, while underplaying the Strugatskys’ more liberating ruminations (and changing the ending).
This isn’t the first time the maverick German (who died in 2013, leaving his wife and son, a director, to finish this film’s postproduction) has delved into the daily ravages of war and oppression. Nor is the richly layered black-and-white film a stylistic departure, for it is the apotheosis of techniques in his films Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998), perhaps its closest rival in seething intensity), My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1984), and even his hard-nosed 1971 war drama, Trial on the Road.
Always an insightfully dynamic framer of images, German choreographs both important and trivial events in the foreground and background in one big danse macabre. Here he pushes into something like Fellini vérité, with faces and swords and buttocks wheeled into and out of view, and people gawking into the camera. He enjoys coming up with effectively discomforting surprises; at one point, chicken legs dangle bafflingly before us.
But German also creates deep panoramas of finely etched beauty, which is part of what has earned the film justifiable comparisons to works by the painters Bruegel and Bosch, not to mention Dante (according to Umberto Eco). German drops a name or two himself, as when Don Rumata mischievously passes off Boris Pasternak’s poem, Hamlet, as his own. In the film, the poem refers to past Soviet censorship, which the filmmaker himself faced, as well as underscoring Rumata’s complex status as a performer with a duty.
All the planet’s his stage, but at the same time, you might wish for an intermission. German’s serpentine takes and dense sound design are relentless, and the tunnel vision of his close-up, cut-less prowls can be exhilarating and exasperating over nearly three hours. There’s a fine line between immersing and drowning the viewer.
If German isn’t keen on explaining his source material, he does look at it with the glint of cynical experience. One crucial bit of dialogue— on the problems of paternalism— is restaged from a dinner scene in the novel, turned into a conversation with a scholar straining to urinate against a wall. German was just as stubborn in sticking to his personal vision (and revisions) as he was innovative in his storytelling, and he’s left behind a final opus that is hard to shake. 
Hard to Be a God
Directed by Aleksei German; written by Svetlana Karmalita and German, based on a novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky; directors of photography, Vladimir Ilyin and Yuri Klimenko; edited by Irina Gorokhovskaya and Maria Amosova; music by V. Lebedev; production design by Sergei Kokovkin, Georgi Kropachev, and E. Zhukova; costumes by Yekaterina Shapkaitz; produced by Viktor Izvekov and Rushan Nasibulin; released by Kino Lorber. In Russian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes. This film is not rated.
Rico says this won't be showing at the GooglePlex near you, sorry... (Try Netflix in a year.)

Texas for the day


Ben Mathis-Lilley has a Slate article about unlikely bed-fellows, even for Texas politics:
A representative of the Russia-backed Donetsk People's Republic rebel group in the Ukraine has invited Texas to participate in an upcoming summit of separatist states, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Aleksandr Kofman made the assertion in a television appearance on a station in rebel-held Donetsk.
Kofman listed representatives from Spain's Basque region, Belgium's Flemish region, Venice, Italy, and the American state of Texas as potential participants. (There was no mention of Kosovo, which has been recognized by 108 states, but notably not by Russia.)
Kofman's interviewer expressed particular interest in Texas, asking if there are "sprouts of support" in the state.
"There's more than sprouts," Kofman said, adding that those in favor of Texas independence "fully support the Donetsk People's Republic".
In what appears to be the most recent poll on the subject, eighteen percent of Texan respondents told Rasmussen they believed their state should secede from the United States.
Rico says not that it'll happen, but we should let the Russians run Texas for awhile, see how they like 'independence'...

Sign for the day

Rico's friend Kelley forwarded this splendid sign:


Rico says he has cats, but this would be a dog to have...

Philadelphians, snow skeptical


Sarah Smith has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about winter, maybe:
Philadelphians have been more skeptical of snow forecasts for Friday after Tuesday's blizzard-that-wasn't. AccuWeather was calling for one to three inches of snow and a wintry mix for Philadelphia, and even more to the northeast of the city and in New England, starting late Thursday and continuing through Friday.
But after the storm left Philadelphia mostly untouched this week, despite meteorologists' expectations of a foot or more, many people don't quite believe it.
"With all this technology, you think they'd predict it right," said Michael Smith, 25, whose history class at the Community College of Philadelphia was canceled, along with just about everything else in the region.
Valentino Rudi, a South Philadelphia filmmaker and producer, had a more skeptical outlook. "I keep hearing them talk about Mother Nature," he said, "but I never see her come out."
Although the National Weather Service meteorologist-in-charge at the Mount Holly, New Jersey office, Gary Szatkowski, famously tweeted "I'm sorry" after his forecast went bust, people remained unsure of whom to believe.
"I'll believe it when I see it at this point," said Justin Graham, 29, who lives in South Philadelphia and works for the Register of Wills Office.
Many are hoping the predictions are wrong again, as this weekend has two huge events: The opening of the Philadelphia Auto Show at the Convention Center, and Wing Bowl 23 at the Wells Fargo Center, which officially starts at 6 am on Friday but gets going way earlier than that.
Which brings up the question: does one drive or take SEPTA to the Wing Bowl?
Rico says he won't be going to the Wing Bowl, but sitting warm at home, thank you...

Quote for the day


"Whores are people who do well for money,
what other people do badly for love."

Sergeant Dushok, USMC, from The Chinese Bandit, one of many splendid novels by Stephen Becker.

Rico says you should read them all...

History for the day


On 30 January 1948, the Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu extremist.

Another good one gone


The New York Times has an obituary by Margalit Fox of Rod McKuen, dead at 81:
The author of dozens of books whose work met with immense commercial success if little critical esteem, McKuen was once described as "the unofficial poet laureate of America".
Rico says it's not that he was a bad poet, just not a great one...

29 January 2015

Abs? Sure...

Rico says the CBS article purports to be about 'abtastic' moments, but it's not Penny's abs that Rico is looking at (and you're not, either, admit it):


Non-Rico rant for the day

Rico's friend Don, an ex-printer from the old days in California, writes about politics:
Sanitarium Denounces Republican OpponentsRick Sanitarium belittled his challengers today, as he claimed the mantle of the only true conservative in the 2016 GOP presidential race. Addressing a dozen fundamentalist Christian Republicans in Iowa, Sanitarium poked fun at what he called “the idiot midgets and wannabe presidents”.
He called Jeb Bush a crybaby; referred to Mitt Romney as Mitt the Twit; said Ted Cruz was cruisin’ for a brusin’; lambasted Chris Christie for being a fat rich-boy bully; called Ben Carson “a fool with a stethoscope”; and claimed Bobby Jindal would have to get rid of his tan to run for president. He advised Mike Huckabee “to keep shuckin’ his diet books,” rather than run for president, urged Sarah Palin to get a life, and suggested Marco Rubio would be more successful chasing Palin than the presidency.
 “There are four dozen of these idiots running for president,” Sanitarium said at the annual Lollypoop Pre-Kindergarten picnic held in Wayward, Iowa. “They claim to be conservative, but they’re a bunch of liberal half-wits. I was born conservative and haven’t wavered a mile since.”
 At one point, Sanatorium focused attention on Senator Rand Paul, who was elected “because he was born with a silver spoon stuck you know where.” Paul’s only claim to fame was “having a father who got drunk and slept with a washed-up psycho-atheist-anarchist called Ayn Rand.” Idly, he wondered if “Ayn Rand might be Rand’s mother.”
Questioned about his positive agenda, Sanitarium replied that he resolutely opposed Common Chores, and would cut taxes, replace Obama’s Dream Act with a Nightmare Act for Mexicans, cut taxes more, and ensure that every American has a right to a low wage job and going without healthcare.
“I’m a true conservative who voted against every tax increase since before I was born,” said Sanitarium. “Let poor people pay the taxes. I hate taxes and fees masquerading as taxes. In college, I voted against student fees, parking fees, and library fees. I voted against PTA dues, Little League fees, and once stole a newspaper. In Congress, I voted against ten thousand tax increases and voted to cut taxes a hundred thousand times.”
Asked why he ridiculed his opponents so harshly, Sanitarium called them “a bunch of bomb-throwing terrorists, or else closet Muslims.” He conceded that some of his opponents are elegant speakers, but asked, “Do Republicans really want a coherent candidate when we haven’t had one in our party forever? Take Huckabee, “ Sanitarium said. “He talks a good line, but he once claimed the earth was round. Can you believe giving science that much credit? Huckabee isn’t even a scientist! Like a real conservative, I don’t know anything about science.”
Although he hasn’t actually declared his candidacy, Sanitarium said he would make up his mind sometime, maybe soon, maybe later. The only reason he might decide not to run would be if evidence of his role in fostering illegitimate children, torturing opponents, or taking bribes were revealed to the public.
Rico says that 'fundamentalist Christian Republicans' is a triple redundancy... (And, yes, that's Rick Santorum he's talking about.)

History for the day


On 29 January 1963, the poet Robert Frost died in Boston, Massachusetts.

How Russia outfoxes its enemies


The BBC has an article by Lucy Ash about Russia:
Russia's annexation of the Crimea last year caught almost everyone off guard. The Russian military disguised its actions, and denied them, but those "little green men" who popped up in the Black Sea peninsula were a textbook case of the Russian practice of military deception, or maskirovka.
At a cadet school in the southern suburbs of Moscow, Major General Alexander Vladimirov heaves two enormous red volumes off his bookcase and slams them down on the table. "My Theory and Science of Warfare," he says, beaming. "It's three times longer than Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace!" Vladimirov, vice-president of Russia's Collegium of Military Experts, is an authority on maskirovka, the hallmark of Russian warfare and a word which translates as "something masked" or "a little masquerade".
"As soon as man was born, he began to fight," he says. "When he began hunting, he had to paint himself different colors to avoid being eaten by a tiger. From that point on, maskirovka was a part of his life. All human history can be portrayed as the history of deception." Vladimirov quotes liberally from the Roman general Frontinus and the ancient Chinese philosopher, Sun Tzu, who described war as an eternal path of cunning.
But it's Russia, he tells me, with unmistakable pride, that has over the centuries really honed these techniques to perfection.
One of the most famous examples is the Battle of Kulikovo Field in 1380, when the young Muscovite, Prince Dmitry Donskoy, and fifty thousand Russian warriors fought against a hundred and fifty thousand Tatar-Mongolian soldiers, led by Khan Mamai. It was the first time the Slavs were fighting as a united army: Russia against the Golden Horde. "The fighting was very tough, but we eventually triumphed, thanks to one regiment hiding in the forest," says Vladimirov. "They attacked ferociously and unexpectedly, and the ambushed Tatars ran away."
But that was just a start. Vladimirov reels off some more recent legendary battles in which Russia outfoxed its enemies, with flair and cunning:
There was the Jassy-Kishinev operation of August of 1944, which featured dozens of dummy tanks, as well as whole Red Army divisions sent in false directions to throw the Germans off the scent. And that came just after Operation Bagration in Belorussia, which dealt Hitler's troops a devastating blow. "It was clear the military skill of Soviet leaders outclassed the Germans," Vladimirov says. "Our generals decided not to go the easy way along the road, but through the swamps! That way they attacked the rear of the German forces. That's mastery for you! All throughout Bagration, there were colossal examples of maskirovka involving thousands of tanks and troops. After that the war was practically over."
Out of 117 divisions and six brigades, half were destroyed and the rest suffered fifty percent losses; half a million Germans died there.
Surprise is a key ingredient in maskirovka, and the clandestine forces which occupied the Crimea last February certainly delivered that.
Pyotr Shelomovskiy, a Russian photojournalist, was there as they arrived. He had rushed down to the Crimea, expecting tensions to arise after the Ukraine's Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country and, on 24 February 2014, he watched local pro-Russian activists building a small barricade on the square outside parliament.
"They started brewing tea and distributing drinks. Some journalists, myself included, were allowed to take pictures," says Shelomovskiy, "and that was it for the night." Or so he thought. But in the wee hours, unmarked military trucks drove up filled with heavily armed men. "They ordered those demonstrators to lie face down on the ground until they realized they were on the same side," says Shelomovskiy. Then they made them carry ammunition into the Parliament."
He was told this story by the activists the next morning. "They didn't really understand themselves what was going on," he says. The troops, which had arrived in the dark, as if by magic, with no insignia on their olive-colored uniforms, were soon nicknamed "little green men". "We know now these guys were Russian special forces," says Shelomovskiy. "But no one said so at the time."
Denial is another vital component in maskirovka. At a press conference a few days later, Vladimir Putin coolly batted away awkward questions about where the troops came from. "There are many military uniforms. Go into any shop and you can find one," he said. But were they Russian soldiers? Poker-faced, the president said the men were local self-defense units. Five weeks later, once the annexation had been rubber-stamped by the Parliament in Moscow, Putin admitted that Russian troops had been deployed in the Crimea after all. But the lie had served its purpose. Maskirovka is used to wrong-foot your enemies, to keep them guessing.
Major General Gordon 'Skip' Davis, in charge of operations and intelligence at NATO's military headquarters in Belgium, admits it took him and his colleagues some time to figure out the "size and the scale" of the troop reinforcement which was "continuously denied by the Russians".
But, if NATO was taken by surprise, the historian and journalist Anne Applebaum was not. "I knew immediately what it was because it reminded me of 1945. It looked so familiar," she says. "With the Crimea I got a bizarre sense of deja vu, because bringing in soldiers who weren't really soldiers, that was what the NKVD did in Poland after the war. They also created fake political entities which nobody had seen before, with fake ideologies already attached to them… It's a game of smoke and mirrors."
After the Crimea came the war in the eastern Ukraine. Officially there are no Russian troops or little green men fighting there either, only patriotic volunteers who have gone to the region on holiday. But there is growing evidence of Moscow's intervention in the separatist conflict including a mounting toll of Russian soldiers killed in action.
In August of 2014, Russian television showed footage of water and baby food being loaded on to lorries heading for the Ukraine's war zone. The Russian government called this humanitarian aid, but many were more than a little suspicious. NATO already had plenty of intelligence about Russian air defencs and artillery forces moving into the Ukraine.
Major General Davis calls the first convoy "a wonderful example of maskirovka", because it created something of a media storm. Television crews breathlessly followed the convoy, trying to find out what was really inside the green army trucks which had been hastily repainted white. Was this a classic Trojan horse operation to smuggle weapons to rebel militias? And would the Ukrainian authorities allow the convoy in?
"All the while at other border crossing points controlled by the Russians, but not by the Ukrainians, equipment, personnel, and troops were passing into the Eastern Ukraine," says Davis. He sees the convoy as a clever "diversion or distraction".
The fog of war isn't something which just happens, it's something which can be manufactured. In this case the Western media were bamboozled, but the compliant Russian media has also worked hard to generate fog.
The Russian strategy, both at home and abroad, is to say there is no such thing as truth”
Peter Pomerantsev, Russian film-maker
Ukrainian novelist Andrei Kurkov says he is constantly amazed by what he calls "the fantasy and imagination of Russian journalists". One of the most lurid stories broadcast on a Moscow television channel claimed that a three-year-old boy in Sloviansk, a town in the eastern Ukraine with a mostly Russian-speaking population, was crucified for speaking Russian.
The television report is still online. A blonde woman, her voice choked with emotion, tells a serious-looking Russian news reporter that the three-year-old child was nailed to a wooden notice board in front of his mother, and died in agony. The mother, she alleges, was then tied to a tank and dragged through the streets until she died. She adds that she is risking her life by talking but wants to protect children against Ukrainian soldiers who behave like beasts and fascists.
"The lady claimed she'd witnessed this horrible story in Sloviansk," says Kurkov. "But then she mentioned the name of the square where it happened and this square doesn't exist in Sloviansk. There's no such place." As Kurkov says, the story doesn't stand up. It emerged that the woman eyewitness had a history of filing false police reports, and her own parents said they thought she'd given the interview for money.
Television and the digital world are awash with similar reports. A group of Kiev journalism students who set up a website to expose fake stories say some approaches are more sophisticated than this, mixing truth and falsehood to produce a report that appears credible. But even an incredible story may serve to confuse, and create uncertainty.
Peter Pomerantsev, who recently spent several years working on documentaries and reality shows for Russian television, argues that Russian state media are not just distorting truth in the Ukraine, they go much further, promoting a seductive nihilism.
"The Russian strategy, both at home and abroad, is to say there is no such thing as truth," he says. "I mean, you know, 'the Americans are bad, we're bad, and everyone's bad, so what's the big deal about us being a bit corrupt? You know our democracy's a sham, their democracy's a sham.' "It's a sort of cynicism that actually resonates very powerfully in the West nowadays, with this lack of self-confidence after the Iraq War, after the financial crash, and that's what the Russians are hoping for, just to take that cynicism and then use that in a military environment."
Of course, every country uses strategies of deception. Churchill famously said: "In wartime, truth is so precious she should always be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." The Americans call such tactics CC&D: concealment, camouflage, and deception.
So what sets Russia apart? Major General Skip Davis argues Western forces are sometimes economical with the truth, but says they don't tell outright lies: "We are talking about denial of information, in other words, not confirming facts, versus blatantly denying. Saying: 'No, that's not us invading, that's not our forces there, that's someone else.'"
But what about the false information that propelled Britain and the US into war with Iraq? Few would now deny that the facts on WMD were massaged in a maskirovka-type way. The word Davis keeps coming back to is "mindset". He insists maskirovka has become a modus operandi for Russia itself. "I think that there is an alignment between what probably started out as military doctrine, but now is much more a part of state policy, and there's an alignment between the strategic down to the tactical level in terms of the mindset of maskirovka."
This perception is nothing new for Russia's neighbors. A decade ago Andrei Kurkov predicted recent events in the Ukraine in his book, The President's Last Love. He writes in Russian, and most of his books are on sale there, but this one was stopped at the border. "Putin is one of the main characters," he says. "In this book he promises the Ukrainian president that he will annex the Crimea and cut the gas supply and lots of other things that later became reality; this is the reason why the book is banned."
Isn't it uncanny that he managed such accurate predictions? "I don't think it was difficult; somehow when you live in a not very logical world, when the logic of absurdity prevails and the players don't evolve, it's actually quite simple."
Rico says please ignore the man behind the curtain...

Ebola is mutating



Kevin McSpadden has a Time article about Ebola:
Scientists at a French research institute say the Ebola virus has mutated, and they are studying whether it may have become more contagious.
Researchers at the Institut Pasteur are analyzing hundreds of blood samples from Guinean Ebola patients in an effort to determine if the new variation poses a higher risk of transmission, according to the BBC.
“We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases,” said human geneticist Dr. Anavaj Sakuntabhai. “These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly, but more contagious form, and that’s something we are afraid of.”
Although virus mutations are common, researchers are concerned that Ebola could eventually morph into an airborne disease if given enough time.
However, there is no evidence to suggest this has happened yet, and the virus is still spread only via direct contact with an infected person.
The Institut Pasteur, which first pinpointed the current Ebola outbreak in March of 2014, is hoping that two vaccines they are developing will reach human trials by the end of the year. Current figures indicate nearly nine thousand of some twenty-two thousand cases across Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone— around forty percent— have been fatal.
Rico says maybe, if we're lucky, it'll mutate to the point where it's no longer dangerous to humans...

Ex-Marine defuses robbery


Lara Witte has an article in The Philadelphia Daily News about a robbery gone good, for once:
Kevin Smith served two tours with the Marines in Iraq. After he came back home, he didn't expect to see another gun pointed at him, especially not in a trendy coffee shop in South PhillySmith, a barista at Ultimo Coffee, on 15th Street near Mifflin, came face to face with an armed robber late on 18 January 2015.
"I heard a noise behind me and turned to look at the robber (photo) pointing a gun at me, and it took me a second to register what was going on," Smith, thirty, told the Daily News yesterday. "My first thought was whether it was a real gun, because it looked totally fake."
Smith said he walked over to the already-empty register to press the security-alert button concealed beneath it. When the robber realized that the register was empty, he ordered Smith to empty his pockets and hand over his cash, Smith said. The gunman then noticed a second register, which belongs to Brew, a beer store located within Ultimo, and stole the remaining cash.
Although the man was aggressive in his demands, Smith kept his cool throughout the ordeal. "Being in a war zone, you sort of expect that someone is going to kill you," he said. "What helped me the most was that being in the Marines has put me in many, many stressful situations. It helped to be able to diagnose the situation and understand that the guy wasn't trying to hurt anyone."
Smith said he believes that his calm response helped prevent injury to himself and others inside the cafe. "Personally, I don't think that you have to carry a gun in a store to deter crime," Smith said. "Let the police handle it, and don't try to be a hero."
Police are still looking for the gunman, who they said was in his twenties, about six feet tall with a thin build. He wore a dark-gray hoodie, a gray North Face jacket and a light blue coat during the robbery, police said. Tipsters may call 215-686-8477.
Rico says you do not want to fuck with Marines...

Childhood memories




Rico says that, in his younger days, when he lived near Stanford, California (in a house, originally built by Carl Mydans, that's since been torn down and replaced by a McMansion owned by a Silicon Valley millionairess), he, like ejoanna from the Daily Kos, started his day by reading Herb Caen:
Herb Caen's first column was published on 5 July 1938, in The San Francisco Chronicle.
I didn't read that one in real time, as I wasn't born yet.  But I did eventually become one of his many devoted readers in the Bay Area and beyond. When that fresh Chronicle was un-rubberbanded, the coffee poured, and the chocolate doughnuts near to hand, Herb Caen's column was the first thing I turned to.  And still today, seventeen years after his death, when "news breaks" local or not, I often ponder: "What would Herb make of this?"
Hard to explain to those of you would didn't grow up with him as the voice of San Francisco (or Baghdad-by-the-Bay as he called it many, many years ago, for its timeless mystique) how influential, funny, and colorful he was--and how much the City by the Bay misses his point of view.  And he was one classy gent, with his fedora and his loyal Royal (that's a typewriter, for you young'uns.)
On his first day as a columnist, seventy-five years ago, Herb Caen established the format that would make him San Francisco's most popular journalist and a civic treasure. Okay, so he might not have been using his three dots on this particular day, but he still had tons of items; everything from references to President Franklin Roosevelt to a little rant about palm trees on Treasure Island. From The Chronicle archives, the very first Herb Caen column:
                                It's News To Me Says Herb Caen
Personal Note
Yesterday was the Fourth of July. Today, here we are. This probably adds up to something or other, but we don't quite know what; isn't very important, however you look at it. 
FDRooms and Rumors
This department is more than a little entranced to find that two of our more important hotels are in a veritable fever of anticipation over the arrival here this month of our great and good President, Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt.
These befuddled hostelries are the Palace and the Mark Hopkins. The Palace has a presidential suite ($35 per day). It's the only presidential suite west of Chicago. The Mark has no presidential suite, but has Manager George Smith, a member of the State Democratic Committee. This fact is supposed to be important, politics being what they are these days.
Neither hotel has received any reservations yet, but both are watchfully waiting for them, both filled with near-optimism, both a little worried that they'll miss out on a great publicity and prestige bet.
Incidentally, the presidential entourage will be more than a little impressive. Surrounded, as he is, by watchful G-men and assorted flunkies, the President will require some forty or fifty rooms on two floors of the lucky hotel.
The G-men, they tell us, will be ensconced above, below, to the right, and to the left of the presidential suite, their gimlet eyes trained to keyholes, transoms, corridors, windows. We don't know whether a staff of super-house detectives is going to reassure the average patron, but that's the way matters stand; let the weak and wayward fall where they  may.
Incidental note: When Mrs. Roosevelt was last here, she lodged at the Mark and paid her bill in cash with her very own hands, Manager Smith reports.

Civilization's Mad Rush
Our month slightly ajar, we stood at Eighth and Market yesterday and watched a woman leap lightly and gracefully aboard a moving street car, all the while smoking a cigarette.
Thus did all the institutions of our age tremble and totter, thus did man lose one of the last of his "inalienable rights," the right to hop on street cars in motion. We almost dare not ask: "What next?"

Big Event
We had fondly believed that San Franciscans were pretty well inured to the glamour of Hollywood's stars, but the other night Mayne Morris, a clear-eyed product of San Francisco schools, arrived for a weekend and we must report, a little disappointedly, that native aplomb was lost hopelessly, perhaps never to be regained.
Females, old and young, fluttered excitedly in his wake, some murmuring "Ooo, isn't he pretty!" and others grumbling, "Gosh, I hoped he would be taller."
When the cognizant Morris paused in the Palace lobby to talk to two female acquaintances of local origin, the word was swiftly passed around that they were Rosemary and Priscilla Lane; in no time at all a gawking crowd gathered.
Later, at the St. Francis, we were excitedly informed that Morris was in the French Room, wining a scintillating Hollywood darling, "probably Danielle Darrieux, but I'm not sure." Pencil eagerly poised, we peeked in. The darling was identifiable as Lucile Johnson, who sings with Jan Garber's orchestra.
An unfortunate victim of all this flurry was an innocent chap named Jerry Bundsen, a press agent by trade. His is the great good fortune to resemble Morris and, as he sat dining quietly in the Palace's Rose Room, he was approached by a flustered dowager.
"Pardon me," she cooed breathlessly, "but you are Wayne Morris' brother, aren't you?" Bundsen demurred gracefully. "Oh," she said, obviously taken aback. Then - "But I told my daughter you were and she's all excited. Would you do me a great bit favor, please? Just smile and wave at her like this?" And, she waved her truckin' finger in the wind. Bundsen cleared his throat, smiled, faced the gurgling daughter several tables away, and waved his finger with a good deal of natural rhythm and grace. "Oh, thank you, thank you, Mr. Morris!" shouted the dowager, and back to her table she scuttled.

Painful Thought
On clear days, when Treasure Island is plainly discernible from the mainland, we look somewhat dolefully at the palm trees which have magically arisen on its surface. We don't like to believe that this is a concession to the Easterner's idea of California, an idea planted and nurtured by the Chamber of Commerce of Southern California. Come, all ye fogs! 
Hard to say what Herb would have made of the Internet Age. I'd sure love to know. But what a guy, and with the chutzpah to make his debut right after the Fourth of July! Many of us will never forget you, Mr. San Francisco.
Rico says you'll also note the change from the old column (bottom) to the later one (middle), where they added the TransAmerica tower to the skyline... (And when was the last time you heard anyone say 'G-men'?)

The song in Rico's head

Not Mason Profitt, as Rico remembered, but the band The United States of America:

28 January 2015

Sticking the landing

Rico says he can't figure out how to upload the video, of course, but his friend Dave sent an amazing video of a motorcycle rider not only surviving a crash with a car, but actually doing it stylishly:

Apple for the day


Brian Chen has an article in The New York Times about Apple's earnings:
Apple is famous for setting trends. In China, though, Apple has found success by following one.
For years, Apple rivals like Samsung offered large-screen smartphones. Although the bigger phones sold well in China, Apple held off on releasing a similar model, and the country remained a weak spot. But Apple introduced its own versions in September of 2014, and now the sales spigot is wide open.
The company recently reported just over sixteen billion dollars in revenue from “greater China” (which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) in its first fiscal quarter, up seventy percent from the same period a year ago. Canalys, a research firm, estimates that Apple is now the number one smartphone maker in China.
The success in China helped push Apple to a blockbuster first quarter, increasing overall profit to eighteen billion dollars and revenue to nearly eighty billion. In the same quarter a year ago, the company had profit of thirteen billion dollars and revenue of just under sixty billion.
Overall sales of iPhones shattered analysts’ predictions. Apple said it sold seventy-five million iPhones in the quarter, as many as twelve million more than expected.
Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said on the company’s earnings call that excitement in China over the new phones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, was “phenomenal”. He also noted that the new iPhones had attracted the highest number of customers who switched from an Android device.
“It’s an incredible market,” Cook said. “People love Apple products. And we are going to do our best to serve the market.”
Not too long ago, sales of Apple products in China were slipping. In October of 2014, Apple was the number six smartphone maker in China, trailing its Asian rivals Huawei, Lenovo, Samsung, Xiaomi, and Yulong, according to Canalys.
For Apple, gaining a foothold in overseas markets like China has become increasingly vital. Its growth has slowed over the last few years as the smartphone market has become saturated in the United States and parts of Europe.
Over the last couple of years, Apple has made a series of moves to compete more aggressively in China. In late 2013, it reached an important deal to sell iPhones with China Mobile, the largest wireless network in the world, with more than eight hundred million subscribers. The company also continues to build its operations in greater China, and has plans to open two dozen new stores over the next two years, adding to the fifteen stores it currently operates in the region.
In 2013, Apple released the iPhone 5C, a lower-cost version of the smartphone that analysts thought would help increase its growth in China. But the latest numbers suggest that consumers in China wanted bigger iPhones, not cheaper ones.
In an interview, Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, declined to say how many iPhones were sold specifically in China. But he said that iPhone sales in greater China were up over eighty percent compared with the same quarter a year ago. Maestri also noted that iPhone sales were still higher in the United States than in China. Some earlier news reports had predicted that Apple’s sales in China would surpass sales in the United States.
The company’s overall revenue, almost $75 billion, easily beat analysts’ average estimates of $67.7 billion, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters. The company’s shares, which have gained more than fifty percent in the last year, rose more than five percent in after-hours trading.
Ben Bajarin, a technology analyst for Creative Strategies, said Apple’s earnings showed that it did not hurt for the company to be late releasing larger smartphones. “Everybody was saying they’re losing share and maybe they’ll never get it back,” he said. “Sure enough, there was tremendous demand. The fact that they weren’t first didn’t really hurt their customer base.”
Strong sales of Macs also contributed to the company’s growth. The company said it sold over five million of the computers in the quarter, up from just under five million in the same quarter of last year. But iPad sales continued to shrink. The company sold twenty-one million iPads in the quarter, down eighteen percent from the quarter a year ago.
Maestri said it had become clear that customers were upgrading to newer models of iPads more slowly than they upgraded iPhones. But he said the company was pleased with overall customer satisfaction with iPads. “We feel confident about the future of the iPad,” he said.
On the earnings call, Cook said he continued to be optimistic about the iPad, partly because there were still many customers buying iPads for the first time. Over seventy percent of people buying iPads in China are first-time buyers, he said.
Increasingly, though, the company’s fortunes rely on the iPhone. Sales of iPhones accounted for seventy percent of the company’s revenue in the quarter, up from fifty-six percent in the same quarter a year ago.
“A bet on Apple is increasingly a bet on the iPhone,” said Toni Sacconaghi, a financial analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “The good news is, iPhones are great. The bad news is, right now that’s driving over a hundred percent of the revenue growth of the company.”
Many investors would like to see Apple’s revenue be more diversified, which is raising some of the expectations for Apple’s coming entry into the smartwatch market.
The company said its smartwatch, the Apple Watch, was set to be released in April.
Cook said he had been wearing his Apple Watch every day. “I can’t live without it,” he said.
Rico says he'll probably live without an Apple Watch, but you'll get his iPhone, as Chuck Heston said, from his cold, dead hands...

Apple: biggest quarterly profit


The BBC has an article about Apple's profit:
Apple reported a net profit of eighteen billion dollars in its fiscal first quarter, which tops the 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 three months prior to 27 December, 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 twenty percent 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 the US markets had 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. 
Analysis by Richard Taylor, BBC North America Technology Correspondent:
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 (photo) 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.
"The next product that's supposed to be coming along is the Apple Watch in April of 2015," he said. "I've got some doubts as to whether that will be the mass market success, beyond the geek population, that the iPhone has been."
Apple's revenue grew to seventy-five billion dollars in 2014, a thirty percent increase from a year earlier. However, 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 in sales the company recorded in Europe last year.
A report by research firm Canalys said that Apple had overtaken its competitors to become China's number one seller of smartphones by units shipped in the fourth quarter of 2014.
Apple also said that its newest product, the Apple Watch, was still on schedule and would begin shipping in April of 2015.
Rico says he still won't be buying the Watch, but a lot of other people will...

National Weather Service admits forecast error


The BBC has an article about a little forecasting 'oops':
The National Weather Service has admitted its forecasts were wrong, after predicting a "potentially historic blizzard" would strike New York City. The city was largely spared as the storm piled deep snow on Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Mayor Bill de Blasio denied he had overreacted to warnings, saying he could only go on information available: "We had to take precautions to keep people safe."
On Monday, an emergency was declared in a swathe of north-eastern states, and meteorologists predicted up to three feet of snow. Officials later downgraded the numbers.
New York City authorities imposed a driving ban (since lifted) and took the unprecedented step of shutting the subway.
But, on Tuesday, New Yorkers awoke to a blanket of snow less deep than feared, and since then city life has been getting back to normal.
"Would you rather be prepared or unprepared? Would you rather be safe or unsafe?" asked de Blasio, defending the moves. "My job as the leader is to make decisions and I will always err on the side of safety and caution." 
Analysis by Nick Bryant for the BBC in New York City:
Shutting down the New York City subway system, for the first time in its history because of snow, can easily be viewed in retrospect as overkill. So does bringing in a car curfew, which banned non-emergency vehicles from the streets from 11pm on Monday night.
Walking the empty streets of Manhattan pre-dawn, and seeing the snow, we all found ourselves asking the same question: "Is that it?"
It reminded me of that scene from Crocodile Dundee, when Mick Dundee is confronted by New York City muggers wielding a switchblade. "That's not a knife," he says, pulling out a much scarier weapon. "That's a knife."
That's not a storm, some New Yorkers told us, as they made their way to work, muttering that Bill de Blasio had got it badly wrong. 
Other areas of New York state saw much heavier snowfall, with "blizzard conditions" across Long Island, according to the NSW. A teenage boy was later killed in a sledding accident in the area. Worst affected elsewhere were Connecticut and Massachusetts, with the heaviest snowfall recorded outside Boston , with three feet of snow in Lunenburg by Tuesday night. In Connecticut, an elderly man collapsed while shoveling snow. He died later in the hospital. 
At the scene: Gary O'Donoghue for the BBC in Scituate, Massachusetts:
Flooding is a big threat here. The town of Scituate is bracing itself for a high tide in the coming hours and the neighboring town of Marshfield has already had its sea wall breached. Some along this coast have already been evacuated from their homes, and the streets are largely empty of people. The storm is expected to continue to whip the eastern part of the state until early Wednesday and only after that can a true assessment be made of its impact. The storm also caused coastal flooding in Massachusetts. High tides breached a sea wall and damaged eleven homes in Marshfield, thirty miles south of Boston. The state's only nuclear power station shut down after the blizzard interrupted its power flow. Thousands of people are still without power, more than fifty thousand of them in Massachusetts. But Governor Charlie Baker said the snow had been "fluffier and lighter" than anticipated, meaning there were less power outages. Flights are set to resume at Boston's Logan International Airport, along with trains to New York City and Washington. But air travel remains disrupted, with more than eight hundred flights cancelled.
The blizzard brought up over thirty inches of snow in Connecticut. "The wind here is tremendous, it's difficult to see very far out the window," said Christie Craigheard in New Hampshire, another of the affected areas.
The NWS is still warning of potentially life-threatening conditions along the New England coast, as the storm heads north into Canada. Meteorologists expect the snow to continue into early Wednesday in eastern New England.
Rico says better that than the other way around...

Gates on future pandemics


Time has an article about Bill Gates' thoughts on emerging diseases:
Bill Gates (photo), the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, has cautioned that a technology-based action plan is needed to guard against future pandemics similar to how we “prepare ourselves for war”. His charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which disburses nearly four billion dollars worldwide, urged the international community to apply lessons learned from the Ebola crisis to develop a plan for future outbreaks. One strategy would be to create volunteer teams able to respond quickly to a public health emergency, Agence-France Presse reported.
“A more difficult pathogen than Ebola could come along, a form of flu, a form of SARS or some type of virus that we haven’t seen before,” Gates said. “We don’t know it will happen, but it’s a high enough chance that one of the lessons of Ebola should be to ask ourselves: are we as ready for that as we should be? A good comparison is that we prepare ourselves for war; we have planes and training and we practice.”
Gates outlined his fears in a speech in Berlin, Germany for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which delivers vaccines to the Global South. His warning comes on the heels of a World Bank statement that the Earth is “dangerously unprepared” for another public health emergency similar to the Ebola outbreak.
Rico says the next one could kill us all...

A solar system similar to our own


Helen Regan has a Time article about a discovery way out there:
Astronomers have discovered an ancient solar system very similar to our own that dates back to the “dawn of the galaxy.”
Using NASA’s Kepler telescope, a team of international scientists found a star named Kepler-444 and five orbiting planets that are similar in size to Earth, the BBC reports.
Kepler-444 was formed over eleven billion years ago, making it the oldest known system of its kind. “By the time the Earth formed, the planets in this system were already older than our planet is today,” said Dr. Tiago Campate, the lead author of the study.
The discovery comes after four years’ of observations taken from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Researchers say the discovery of older Earth-sized planets could provide scope for the existence of life on other ancient planets.
Rico says they're out there; just wave...

Hezbollah attacks Israeli convoy


Time has an article by Conal Urquhart about trouble in the Middle East:
At least two Israeli soldiers were killed when anti-tank missiles were fired at an Israeli convoy on the Golan Heights from Lebanon. Israel retaliated by firing dozens of artillery shells into southern Lebanon, and convened a emergency security meeting in Tel Aviv.
The Associated Press reports that an anti-tank missile was fired at Israeli military vehicle near the Lebanese border, leaving two soldiers dead. Lebanese security officials then said Israel fired 25 artillery shells into Lebanon.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister tweeted: “At this moment, the Israeli Defense Force responds to events in the North. We will not allow terrorists to disrupt the lives of our citizens and threaten their security. We will respond forcefully those who try to challenge us.”
Hezbollah claimed on al-Manar television in Lebanon that they had attacked an Israeli military convoy. In a statement, Hezbollah said its fighters destroyed a number of Israeli vehicles that were carrying Israeli officers and soldiers and caused casualties among “enemy ranks”. It said the attack was carried out by a group calling itself the 'heroic martyrs of Quneitra', referring to an area in Syria where Israel killed six members of Hezbollah and an Iranian general on 18 January 2015.
The attack took place near Mount Dov and Sheba'a Farms, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria meet.
Rico says a good place to stay out of...

History for the day


On 28 January 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing all seven crew members.

Gack in ACK


The New York Times has an article about the recent storm:
High winds and whiteout conditions swept across New England as the storm moved up the East Coast, leaving the island of Nantucket without power.
Rico says it's been a long time since he lived there, but it's cold on Nantucket without power...

27 January 2015

Second bananas


Rico says he and the ladyfriend watch all the late-night shows, and they all have the obligatory second-banana supporting the star.
None of them, however, holds a candle to Carson's sidekick, Ed McMahon (photo, left).

Life imitates art, yet again



Natalie Abrams has a Time article about spies, real and fake:
Authorities recently arrested Evgeny Buryakov, a New York City-based employee of a Russian bank who is accused of working for the SVR, Russia’s version of the CIA. Two other accomplices that were part of a Russian spy ring reportedly got away. The news comes just days before FX’s Russian spy drama The Americans returns for its third season.
“Truthfully, our first question after Buryakov’s arrest was, we wonder if they were watching the show,” Americans executive producer Joel Fields (photo, right) tells Entertainment Weekly. Adds the show’s creator Joe Weisberg (photo, left): “They must’ve been watching the show. They had to be.”
The series stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as undercover Russian operatives living in the United States, though the show takes place in the 1980s during the height of the Cold War. The timing, the producers say, couldn’t be better for the arrest.
“Are those guys, in their cell, saying: ‘Look, Wednesday night, we have one request’?” Fields joked, implying that Buryakov hopes to watch the season three premiere. “That’s what’s going to get them to talk, I think. Maybe that was why they arrested them before the premiere, because they knew they’d have that leverage over them.”
In truth, the timing of the arrest could help the FX drama in the ratings. The acclaimed series debuted to over three million viewers back in 2013, but subsequently dropped below two million viewers throughout its first and second seasons. Its season two finale drew a modest one million viewers.
The Americans returns Wednesday at 10 on FX.
Rico says some guys are lucky, and some are in jail...

Scientology for the day


Slate has an article by Forrest Wickman and Rob Naylor about a difficult interview:
Alex Gibney’s documentary version of Lawrence Wright’s Scientology exposé, Going Clear, has been one of the talks of the Sundance Film Festival. After the premiere, we asked the director and author what it was like to investigate the group and produce a film version of the book. They said the many legal threats against them don’t compare to what some former Scientology members have faced. Watch the conversation above.
Rico says you don't casually fuck with Scientology...

Obama: a no-show at Auschwitz


Joshua Keating has a Slate article about the difficulties of being President:
Read into this what you will, but President Obama is building an impressive list of gaffes and protocol lapses related to Poland, World War Two, and the Holocaust. During his campaign, Obama mixed up which concentration camp his uncle had liberated: it was Ohrdruf, not Auschwitz, which was liberated by the Soviets. In 2009, he scrapped Bush-era plans to station a missile defense system in Poland, a plan viewed as a security guarantee by the Poles but strongly opposed by Russia, on the seventieth anniversary of the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union. In 2012, he touched a nerve with a reference to “Polish death camps” during a ceremony honoring resistance hero Jan Karski; the Polish government is extremely sensitive about how Nazi death camps built on Polish soil are described.
Today the White House is taking heat over the fact that neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden was in attendance at the ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Instead, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was sent to the event, which was attended by a number of heads of state. The event had already been heavily politicized by the non-invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Obama’s no-show follows the controversial decision not to send any high-ranking officials to the rally in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Compounding the bad optics are the fact that Obama is instead in Saudi Arabia, to pay tribute to the late King Abdullah, leader of one of the world’s most repressive (and anti-Semitic) regimes.
Some might ask why Biden couldn’t have handled one of these tasks; Dick Cheney attended the sixtieth anniversary ceremony at Auschwitz (and was mocked for his casual outfit). But, for security reasons, it’s generally policy not to have the vice president and president out of the country at the same time. In 2013, there was a to-do over the fact that their overseas trips overlapped for twenty minutes.
It’s not as if Lew, the second-highest-ranking Cabinet secretary, is some minor flunky. He also has a long record of working to combat global anti-Semitism dating back to the 1980s, and is the first Orthodox Jew to serve in the Cabinet.
And important as the event at Auschwitz is, Obama, who has paid tribute to victims of the Holocaust on numerous occasions, can justifiably argue that his time is better spent attending to current US national interests than attending the many significant historical anniversaries that are commemorated around the world each year. Those interests include maintaining good relations with India, where Obama was over the weekend for a symbolically important visit, and, like it or not, with Saudi Arabia. Whether or not US strategy in the Middle East should rely as heavily as it does on Saudi Arabia’s good favor is another issue, and a much more important one than this.
So I would be inclined to defend the administration here, except for the fact that the original item on the president’s agenda for today before the last-minute decision to cut his India trip short was not more meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but a photo-op visit to the Taj Majal. Plus, there’s the fact that the president seems to have rolled into Riyadh with the entire national security establishment in tow, including the current Secretary of State, two former ones, the director of the CIA, the commander of Centcom, and half a dozen members of Congress. I understand the US can’t give the Saudis the cold shoulder, but this seems like a bit much. Plus, someone should probably pick up a copy of Bloodlands for the White House protocol office. 
Rico says it's been nearly seventy years since the end of the Second World War, and we still can't let go of it...

Blizzard 2015

Slate has an article by Eric Holthaus about the blizzard that wasn't, sort of:
This blizzard has peaked, but will continue throughout the day on Tuesday, with the worst conditions in coastal New England. Slatest will have continuous updates until the storm tapers off Tuesday night. 
Here's the latest:
An intense band of snow is currently situated directly over the city of Boston, where snow totals are already approaching two feet in Copley Square. The National Weather Service estimates the band is producing additional snow at a rate exceeding one inch per hour, meaning this storm could still easily threaten the city’s all-time single snowstorm record of 27.5 inches set in February of 2003.
In sharp contrast, the storm was a flop in New York City. It’s essentially stopped snowing there, with totals averaging between eight and twelve inches across the city. In a midday press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that “we obviously missed the worst of the storm.” Defending actions by his office and Governor Andrew Cuomo to shut schools and freeze regional transportation, de Blasio added: “Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.”
With the primary snowfall band well east of the city, over Long Island, the National Weather Service now expects just two to four additional inches of snow during the day on Tuesday in New York City, producing storm totals of around ten to fourteen inches, well below yesterday’s forecast of twenty to thirty inches. In contrast, the Weather Channel was forecasting twelve to eighteen inches for New York City most of the day on Monday, a prediction that looks prescient in hindsight.
The reason for New York City’s low totals? The National Weather Service strongly weighted its forecast toward the historically more accurate ECMWF model and the high-resolution NAM model, which showed the Long Island snow band stalling out directly over the city instead. That didn’t happen. In constructing its forecast, the New York City office of the NWS all but ignored its own recently upgraded GFS model, which showed significantly less snow in the city. As late as Monday evening, the NWS emphasized that the storm could over-perform in NYC, saying “it should be a raging blizzard.” Late Monday night, a Philadelphia-area National Weather Service meteorologist publicly apologized via Twitter for the poor forecast, saying “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't. Once again, I'm sorry.”
New York Governor Cuomo, perhaps conditioned by the state’s slow response to the recent Buffalo snowstorm, ordered a shutdown of virtually all modes of transportation in the New York City area on the basis of the National Weather Service forecast, including the city’s subway system, which had never previously closed for a snowstorm. As Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilly notes, many subway trains ran devoid of passengers throughout the night, despite the shutdown.
Winds briefly exceeded hurricane force this morning on Nantucket, Massachusetts, with thundersnow reported on Cape Cod. The National Weather Service in Boston continued to refer to the storm as “crippling” and “historic” in a morning forecast update. Winds throughout the entire region— gusting at times to fifty mph— will produce whiteout conditions for much of the day on Tuesday. Travel will continue to be impossible in the hardest-hit areas.
The National Weather Service in Boston has warned that this storm may be strong enough to permanently alter the Massachusetts coastline. “One or more new inlets” may be formed on barrier beaches, boosted by around three feet of storm surge and twenty-foot waves. Nantucket police reported “significant flooding” during the morning high tide cycle, and similar flooding is expected on mainland Massachusetts during this afternoon’s high tide as well.
There’s a link to climate change here, too. Ocean water temperatures off the East Coast are much above normal right now, as they have been nearly all year. That’s helping to boost the amount of moisture the storm is able to convert into snow via enhanced evaporation. But there’s an even easier link to climate change: sea levels in the Northeast have risen by about a foot over the last hundred years or so, about half of which is directly attributable to warming seas and melting glaciers worldwide. There’s a hundred percent certainty, in my view, that sea level rise is making the impact of extreme coastal storms like this one worse.
Rico says that New England got clobbered, but Philly didn't...
 

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