30 March 2015

Hiding in plain sight

InstantCheckMate has an article about finding stuff about you, and everyone else:
Ever try Googling someone, only to come up with basic information, and maybe a link or two to an outdated social media profile? There's a new website going around that promises to reveal much more then just a simple google search can show you.
Been issued a speeding ticket? Failed to stop at a stop sign? What about your family members? And friends? If you are like most of us, the answer to at least one of those questions is yes; the vast majority of us have slipped up at least once or twice.
An innovative new website, Instant Checkmate, is now revealing the full “scoop” on millions of Americans.
Instant Checkmate aggregates hundreds of millions of publicly available criminal, traffic, and arrest records, and posts them online so they can easily be searched by anyone. Members of the site can literally begin searching within seconds, and are able to check as many records as they like (think: friends, family, neighbors, etc., etc.).
Previously, if you wanted to research someone’s arrest records, you might have had to actually go in to a county court office— in the appropriate county— and formally request information on an individual. This process may have taken days or weeks, or the information might not have been available at all. With websites like Instant Checkmate, however, a background check takes just a few clicks of the mouse, and no more than a minute or two.
While preparing this article I decided to run a quick search on myself to give the service a real-world test. To my dismay, the search revealed several items I’d long forgotten— one of them being for the possession of a fake ID I was (embarrassingly) issued back in college when I was just eighteen years old.
After searching myself and finding those records, my curiosity was piqued, and I began researching family members; apparently my aunt Susanne isn’t a very good driver, judging by the numerous traffic citations that showed on her record.
One of the most interesting aspects of Instant Checkmate is that it shows not only criminal records, but also more general background information like marriage records, divorce records, various types of licenses (medical, firearm, aviation, etc.), previous addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, estimated income levels, and even satellite imagery of known addresses; it’s really pretty scary just how much information is in these reports.
In addition to giving information on the specific person you search for, the report also includes a scrolling list of “local sex offenders” for whatever region you’ve searched, along with a map plotting out the locations of those offenders. I started perusing the ones that showed up in my report, and I was absolutely blown away when I stumbled upon my junior high school wrestling coach’s mug shot. His crime was listed as "Out of state offense,"" so I wasn’t able to get the specifics (you usually can; this was an unusual case), but he was definitely a registered sex offender. Scary stuff.
I would definitely recommend this tool to friends and family. Anyone can start running background checks on Instant Checkmate within a few seconds.
If you would like to search someone you know, click here.
Rico says he was interested to see how well it works. It seems very thorough, but they jerk your chain by seeming to download stuff until, surprise, surprise, it reveals that it's ten bucks a month until you cancel...

A better woman for the job

Daniel Politi has a Slate article about a different female candidate for President:

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina placed the chances she’ll run for the presidency at “higher than ninety percent”, and said she expects to make an announcement in late April or early May of 2015. Speaking to Fox News, Fiorina said she could not officially announce her campaign yet, because she was still putting together her team. “We need to make sure we have the right time in place, that we have the right support, that we have the right financial resources lined up, just as all the other candidates have done,” Fiorina said.
The former executive has taken pains to place herself as the Republican who would be best-positioned to challenge Hillary Clinton, whom she has repeatedly criticized. Sunday was no exception, with Fiorina saying that Clinton is “not candid” and “made a deliberate effort to shield her communications.” She also said the whole email controversy should make voters question Clinton’s qualifications for office. “There’s a competence issue now. Anyone in 2015 who says you can’t have two email accounts on a single device obviously doesn’t understand technology”, Fiorina said.
The Republican, who ran for the Senate in 2010 and was at HP from 1999 to 2005, said she is confident voters should support her, “because she has a deep understanding of how the economy actually works, having started as a secretary and become the chief executive of the largest technology company in the world.” Fiorina also made it clear she is ready to push back against criticism over her tenure at HP. “We took Hewlett-Packard from about $44 billion to $88 billion in six years,” she said.
Rico says yes, she's a Republican, but at least she's not a Clinton...

Hillary for the day

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about problems with email:

The scandal around Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email account to conduct State Department business doesn't appear to have yet had a significant effect on her chances of becoming the Democratic party's 2016 presidential nominee, perhaps because, up to this point, it's been more about the violation of abstract principles than about specific unsavory acts. It's been about what Clinton could be hiding rather than what she's actually done.
That might no longer be the case. In 2013, a number of emails written to Hillary Clinton by DC operative Sidney Blumenthal (photo) were leaked online, and in recent days Gawker and ProPublica have been reexamining those emails in light of the clintonemail.com controversy. A piece published recently by Gawker's Sam Biddle quotes legal experts who say that Blumenthal may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act because he emailed Clinton on behalf of a foreign entity; specifically, on behalf of a Putin-friendly politican named Bidzina Ivanishvili who later became the prime minister of Georgia, even though Blumenthal hadn't notified the government that he was working on Ivanishvili's behalf. (The Foreign Agents Registration Act "requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal.")
Hillary Clinton isn't accused of doing anything illegal in the Gawker stories. And Blumenthal's advocacy appears to have been pretty tame, consisting of passing on the statements of a third individual who, it was acknowledged openly, worked for Ivanishvili. But the White House, as Gawker notes, had rejected Clinton's efforts to hire Blumenthal in an official capacity. So you have the Secretary of State using an off-books email account to discuss national policy with someone who wasn't a government employee, was known to be disliked by the president's staff, and who might have been violating an actual law by participating in the conversation. That's probably not something Clinton is going to brag about in campaign commercials. It's also exactly the kind of foreign entanglement that critics have warned she is susceptible to, of being unduly influenced by financial connections, via the Clinton Foundation, to foreign interests. Blumenthal is a longtime Clinton-family ally, and appears to have described himself as an adviser to the Clinton Foundation on more than one occasion.
This could become an even stickier situation when the private emails Clinton handed over to the State Department are finally released. Clinton has, so far, asked the public to take her at her word that she gave State every private email that was work-related. So she'd better hope that her emails with Blumenthal about Georgia were included in that dump, or else she'll have walked into an actual smoking-gun example of having apparently used the private account to hide her involvement in dubious activities.
Now, given that the existence of Clinton-Blumenthal correspondence has actually been public knowledge since 2013, her camp definitely should have made sure to turn those emails over. But Clinton's handling of the private-email issue has not exactly been guided by thorough reasoning. At this point, who would be surprised if Hillary Clinton stepped into trouble by not being forthcoming enough?

Rico says that electing her will be a disaster...

The Great Wall

Ye Ming has a Time article about a long march:
The Great Wall of China is one of the world’s most popular destinations in Asia. Called, in Chinese, The Thousand-Mile-Long Wall, the site was once thought to be visible to the naked eye from outer space, although that claim has since been proven to be false.
Yet, certain sections of the wall, perhaps the most majestic and photogenic, which are open for tourism, were rebuilt by the Chinese government in the 1970s and 1980s. The widespread imagery of a refurbished Great Wall meandering through long sweeps of green mountains in rural Beijing, has not only shaped outsiders’ imaginations of an ancient country replete with rich history, but has also helped China build for itself a national identity and pride.
In 2013, Chinese photographer Fan Shi San (a freelance photographer based in Shanghai, whose work has been exhibited in China and the UK) cycled four thousand miles along the Great Wall, from west to east, in three months, with the goal of building a visual archive of the country’s most symbolic construction. What he discovered was far from what he’d imagined. “When I was photographing along the actual walls, the scenes I encountered constantly overthrew and reconstructed my own idea of the Great Wall and China,” Fan told Time. The idea of the bike trip first came to him after reading American journalist Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China Farm to Factory, a book that closely examines the wild great walls north of Beijing and life in their nearby villages. “I did get a driver’s license, just for this project,” Fan says, “but traveling with a car is too costly, so I started looking into cycling.” Initially, Fan feared the harsh climate and wild animals in the less urbanized areas of western China. “I didn’t have a lot of experience in camping and long-distance cycling,” he says. But, after cycling for hundreds of miles, he began to treat the journey, not as an unconquerable task, but as daily life with a different routine. “I would leave when the sun rises and stop when it’s down,” he says. On an average day, Fan cycled for about forty to sixty miles, and either camped on the roadside at night or found accommodations in towns and villages, where he could stock up and take a shower. “I would ride my bike slowly, photograph things that caught my eyes, and talk to people who interested me,” he told Time.
The fortifications, stretching across several provinces in northern China, were rebuilt and expanded throughout dynasties, and changed in the hands of numerous emperors. It carries not only the depth of China’s history, but also the geography and culture diversity of communities near them.
In the far-reaching regions, such as Gansu and Shanxi provinces, where the walls were built by rammed earth with bare hands, and where the government has little oversight or interest in historic preservation, the heritage is left open to erosion by an extreme desert climate and careless human degradation.
Some villages and towns in the remote areas are slowly dying “in the progress of the reborn country’s industrialization and urbanization,” Fan says. In some communities, Fan saw children playing in large groups on the streets without a guardian. Their young parents had handed them to grandparents before migrating to find work in overcrowded factories on China’s populous coastline. There, they hope to find a promising future, one that isn’t vanishing like the country’s old great walls.
Rico says it's still an amazing thing. (And, yes, that's a pun on the original Long March.)

Religion for the day

Ruth Graham has a Slate article about Heaven (or so they say):

Last week, one of the largest chains of Christian bookstores announced that it will no longer carry “heaven visitation resources”, the deliciously batty genre that includes the best-sellers Heaven Is for Real and To Heaven and Back. LifeWay Christian Resources said in a statement that they stopped ordering “experiential testimonies about heaven” last summer, and have now removed remaining products from its stores and website. Theologically speaking, it’s a sensible and belated move, one that has likely taken so long because of the immense amount of money these books bring in.
The obvious quandary for Christian publishers and booksellers is that these books are as profitable as they are problematic. LifeWay’s decision was made public last week in response to an inquiry from Baptist Press about the 2004 book 90 Minutes in Heaven, the account of a Baptist pastor who says he visited heaven after being in a car accident. That book is said to have sold 6.5 million copies, and a movie version starring Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth is due out this fall. (Wild guess: it’ll be ninety minutes in hell.) The movie version of Heaven Is for Real made a hundred million dollars last year at the box office. Overall, US publishers' net revenues from Christian books was an estimated billion dollars in 2013, according to the the Book Industry Study Group.
LifeWay operates 185 stores nationwide, and is an influential player in the profitable world of Christian publishing. The chain is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, whose 2014 resolution on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” led to the decision. That document specifically condemns movies and books that try to “describe heaven from a subjective, experiential source, mainly via personal testimonies that cannot be corroborated,” and notes that many “contain details that are antithetical to Scripture.”
All true, but finding flaws in these books is a bit like shooting Jesus fish in a barrel. It should not take a committee to figure out that a four-year-old’s story of seeing Jesus riding on a “rainbow horse”, as recounted in Heaven Is for Real, is nonsense, let alone not non-fiction.
LifeWay didn’t mention specific titles, but the genre also includes books like The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, recanted by the boy in question in January of 2015. “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention,” Alex Malarkey confessed of his account of visiting heaven as a six-year-old in a coma. “The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.” The Christian publisher Tyndale consequently took the best-selling book out of print.
But it’s not only Malarkey’s malarkey that has become untenable for LifeWay. The genre as a whole has come under fire from mainstream evangelical leaders. For the Christian publishing industry, the books’ persistence is an illustration of the often messy line between theological purity and market viability.
On a recent afternoon, I stopped into a bustling LifeWay store across the street from the Southern Baptist Convention’s headquarters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. A bookseller confirmed that the books were no longer available, though she reassured me she could order them online for me. The store still sells books like Angels: Who They Are and How They Help, as well as Jesus Calling, a controversial devotional written by a woman who claims to have transcribed new messages from God. The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, but Christian bookstores still need to sell more than one book to survive. 

Rico says he doubts anyone goes there, and doubts even more that anyone gets to come back and report on it, but that doesn't stop people from trying to profit from it...

Space for the day

Slate has an article by Phil Plait, writer of the Bad Astronomy blog and an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!, about Mars:
When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, it wasn’t alone. On its way in it also dropped its heat shield, its backshell and parachute, and the rocket-powered sky crane. That last piece of hardware was pretty much what it sounds like: a platform that used rockets to hover over the surface of Mars, lowered the rover down, then blasted away to a safe distance once Curiosity was firmly down. The sky crane rose in a parabolic arc, then impacted the ground, hard, about seven hundred meters away. It was still moving horizontally, so it left a blast pattern on the surface, blowing the dust away off the ground. The dust is brighter than the rock beneath, so it left behind a dark splash pattern.
That was almost three years ago, and Mars hasn’t sat still. Weather and winds have beaten at the marks left by Curiosity’s accoutrements, and they’ve faded with time. JPL just released an amazing animation composed of images taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing the erosion of the marks over time.
As you can see, the marks have faded, most likely gradually being covered over by dust. The other pieces of hardware show similar changes (though less dramatic, given their smaller impacts); you can watch the animations for the heat shield, the backshell and parachute, and the rover landing site itself (of course, Curiosity has long since left; it’s a rover, after all).
It’s not as simple as fading, though; the marks from the sky crane have also recently darkened. It’s not clear why, though it’s possible dust blew in, then blew out again. We’ve seen the dust on Mars has done more elaborate and weirder things.
This is more than just interesting:, because we’re gearing up to send more probes to Mars, and eventually people. Understand the Martian weather will be critical. The dust is extremely fine, like talcum powder, and made of iron oxide, aka rust. It will get into everything (it coated Opportunity’s solar panels, reducing power until strong winds cleaned it off later). Understanding the dust transport mechanisms will be crucial for living on Mars as well.
Made back when the landing took place, YouTube has a video using images taken from the descent camera on the sky crane.
Rico says he's not volunteering to take the one-way trip to live there, and may not live to see it, but it will doubtless be fascinating...

Rare Civil War-era pictures

Olivier Laurent has a Time article about some amazing Civil War photos:

Hundreds of rare Civil War images, most made by Southern photographers, have been released online.
Collector Robin Stanford sold more than five hundred images to the Library of Congress for an undisclosed amount, The Washington Post reports. “They’re just tremendously significant,” said Bob Zeller, president of the Center for Civil War Photography. “These are not post-war. These are actual scenes of slavery in America.”
Stanford, 87, of Houston, Texas, had been collecting the images (many of them are stereo pictures, two of the same frame printed on one card and meant to be seen in 3-D via a stereo viewer, as in the photo above) since the 1970s. She had planned to donate her extensive archive to her son, John, but, after his unexpected death last year, she sold parts of her collection to support her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. “I’m so glad they’re here, because they will be available for everybody,” she told the Post. “On the other hand, I’m going to miss them.”
The Library has already digitized 77 of Stanford’s photographs. Among them are scenes from plantations in South Carolina, as well as pictures of a country in mourning after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Rico says that was a nice gesture; now we'll all be able to see them.

How do you dismantle a nuclear submarine?

The BBC has an article by Paul Marks about a very difficult thing:

Nuclear submarines have long been a favourite in popular fiction. From movies such as The Hunt for Red October to long-running television series like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, they have always been portrayed as awesome instruments of geopolitical power gliding quietly through the gloomy deep on secret, serious missions.
But, at the end of their useful lives, the subs essentially become floating nuclear hazards, fizzing with lethal, spent nuclear fuel that's extremely hard to get out. Nuclear navies have had to go to extraordinary lengths to cope with their bloated and ageing Cold War fleets of hunter-killer and ballistic missile nuclear subs.
As a result, some of the strangest industrial graveyards on the planet have been created – stretching from the Pacific Northwest, via the Arctic Circle, to Russia’s Pacific Fleet home port of Vladivostok.
These submarine cemeteries take many forms. At the filthy end of the spectrum, in the Kara Sea north of Siberia, they are essentially nuclear dumping grounds, with submarine reactors and fuel strewn across the three-hundred-meter-deep seabed. Here the Russians appear to have continued, until the early 1990s, disposing of their nuclear subs in the same manner as their diesel-powered compatriots: dropping them into the ocean.
The diesel sub scrapyard in the inlets around Olenya Bay in north-west Russia's arctic Kola Peninsula is an arresting sight: rusted-through prows expose torpedo tubes inside, corroded conning towers keel over at bizarre angles, and hulls are burst asunder, like mussels smashed on rocks by gulls.
The Soviets turned the Kara Sea into "an aquarium of radioactive junk" says Norway’s Bellona Foundation, an environmental watchdog based in Oslo. The seabed is littered with some seventeen thousand naval radioactive waste containers, sixteen nuclear reactors, and five complete nuclear submarines; one has both its reactors still fully fueled.
The Kara Sea area is now a target for oil and gas companies, and accidental drilling into such waste could, in principle, breach reactor containments or fuel rod cladding, and release radionuclides into the fishing grounds, warns Bellona's managing director Nils Bohmer.
Official submarine graveyards are much more visible: you can even see them on Google Maps or Google Earth. Zoom in on America's biggest nuclear waste repository in Hanford, Washington, or Sayda Bay in the arctic Kola Peninsula, or the shipyards near Vladivostok, and you'll see them. There are row after row of massive steel canisters, each around twelve meters long. They are lined up in ranks in Hanford's long, earthen pits awaiting a future mass burial, sitting in regimented rows on a Sayda Bay dockside, or floating on the waters of the Sea of Japan, shackled to a pier at the Pavlovks sub base near Vladivostok.
These canisters are all that remain of hundreds of nuclear subs. Known as "three-compartment units", they are the sealed, de-fuelled reactor blocks produced in a decommissioning process perfected at the Department of Defense's Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington.
It’s a meticulous process. First, the defunct sub is towed to a secure de-fuelling dock where its reactor compartment is drained of all liquids to expose its spent nuclear fuel assemblies. Each assembly is then removed and placed in spent nuclear fuel casks and put on secure trains for disposal at a long-term waste storage and reprocessing plant. In the US, this is the Naval Reactor Facility at the sprawling Idaho National Laboratory, and in Russia the Mayak plutonium production and reprocessing plant in Siberia is the final destination.

(Credit: Getty Images)
Although the reactor machinery – steam generators, pumps, valves and piping – now contains no enriched uranium, the metals in it are rendered radioactive by decades of neutron bombardment shredding their atoms. So after fuel removal, the sub is towed into dry dock where cutting tools and blowtorches are used to sever the reactor compartment, plus an emptied compartment either side of it, from the submarine's hull. Then thick steel seals are welded to either end. So the canisters are not merely receptacles: they are giant high-pressure steel segments of the nuclear submarine itself – all that remains of it, in fact, as all nonradioactive submarine sections are then recycled.
Russia also uses this technique because the West feared that its less rigorous decommissioning processes risked fissile materials getting into unfriendly hands. At Andreeva Bay, near Sayda, Russia still stores spent fuel from ninety subs from the 1960s and 1970s, for instance. So, in 2002, the G8 nations started a ten-year, twenty-billion-dollar program to transfer Puget Sound's decommissioning knowhow to the Russian Federation. That involved vastly improving technology and storage at their de-fueling facility in Severodvinsk and their dismantling facility, and by building a land-based storage dock for the decommissioned reactors.
Safer land-based storage matters because the reactor blocks had been left afloat at Sayda Bay, as the air-filled compartments either side of the reactor compartment provide buoyancy, says Bohmer. But at Pavlovks, near Vladivostok, 54 of the canisters are still afloat and at the mercy of the weather.
Decommissioning this way is not always possible, however, says Bohmer. Some Soviet subs had liquid metal cooled reactors, using a lead-bismuth mixture to remove heat from the core, rather than the common pressurised water reactor. In a cold, defunct reactor the lead-bismuth coolant freezes, turning it into an unwieldy solid block. Bohmer says two such submarines are not yet decommissioned and have had to be moved to an extremely remote dockyard at Gremikha Bay, also on the Kola Peninsula, for safety's sake.
Using the three-compartment-unit method, Russia has so far decommissioned a hundred and twenty nuclear submarines of the Northern Fleet and seventy-five subs from its Pacific Fleet. In the US, meanwhile, a hundred and twenty-five Cold War-era subs have been dismantled this way. France, too, has used the same procedure. In Britain, however, Royal Navy nuclear subs are designed so that the reactor module can be removed without having to sever compartments from the midsection. "The reactor pressure vessel can be removed in one piece, encased, transported, and stored," says a spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defense.
However Britain's plans to decommission twelve defunct submarines stored at Devonport in the south of England and seven at Rosyth in Scotland won't happen any time soon, as the government still has to decide which of five possible UK sites will eventually store those pressure vessels and spent fuel. This has raised community concerns as the numbers of defunct nuclear-fuelled subs is building up at Devonport and Rosyth, as BBC News reported last year.
Environmental groups have also raised concerns about fuel storage in the US. The Idaho National Lab has been the ultimate destination for all US Navy high-level spent fuel since the first nuclear sub, USS Nautilus, was developed in 1953. "The prototype reactor for the USS Nautilus was tested at INL and, since then, every scrap of spent fuel from the nuclear navy has ended up in Idaho. It is stored above the upstream end of the Snake River Aquifer, the second largest unified underground body of water on the North American continent," says Beatrice Brailsford of the Snake River Alliance, an environmental lobby group. "The spent fuel is stored above ground, but the rest of the waste is buried above the aquifer, and that practice may continue for another half century. It is a source of concern for many people in Idaho." It's not only the aquifer's fresh water that's at risk: the state’s signature crop, potatoes, would also be affected.
Even with high security, radioactive material can occasionally escape, sometimes in bizarre ways. For instance, both INL and Hanford have suffered unusual radiation leaks from tumbleweeds blowing into waste cooling ponds, picking up contaminated water, and then being blown over the facility's perimeter by the wind.
The expensive, long-term measures that have to be taken to render a defunct nuclear sub safe don’t seem to deter military planners from building more vessels. "As far as the US is concerned, there is no indication that the Navy believes nuclear submarines have been anything less than a stellar success and replacements for the major submarine classes are in the works", says Edwin Lyman, nuclear policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a pressure group, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The US is not alone: Russia has four new nuclear subs under construction at Severodvinsk and may build a further eight before 2020. "Despite limited budgets, Russia is committed to building up its nuclear fleet again," says Bohmer. China is doing likewise.
The submarine graveyards and spent fuel stores, it appears, will continue to be busy.

Rico says there's some engineering work to be done here; maybe back to all-electric subs?

Solar Impulse for the day

The BBC has an article by Jonathan Amos about the amazing airplane's journey:

Solar Impulse, the fuel-free aeroplane, has completed the fifth leg of its round-the-world flight. The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, touched down in Chongqing in China just after 1730 GMT. It had left Mandalay in Myanmar some twenty hours previously.
The intention had been to make the briefest of stops in Chongqing before pushing on to Nanjing in the east of the country, but that strategy has been abandoned because of weather concerns. The team will now lay over in southwest China until a good window opens up on the east coast at some point during the coming days.
Getting to the city of Nanjing would set up Solar Impulse to make its first big ocean crossing: a five-day, five-night flight to Hawai'i.
Leg five proved to be a tough one for Bertrand Piccard. He had to cover a distance of 1,375km, and faced some difficult winds as he approached Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport. Local controllers also asked the Swiss pilot to delay his arrival for a short while because of the pressure of commercial traffic.
It is almost three weeks since the venture got under way from Abu Dhabi. The project expects the circumnavigation of the globe to be completed in a total of twelve legs, with a return to the Emirate in a few months' time.
Bertrand Piccard is sharing the flying duties in the single-seater plane with his business partner, Andre Borschberg.
Solar Impulse has set two world records for manned solar-powered flight on the journey so far. The first was for the longest distance covered on a single trip, that of 1,468km between Muscat in Oman and Ahmedabad in India. The second was for a groundspeed of just over a hundred miles an hour, which was achieved during the leg into Mandalay in Myanmar, from Varanasi in India.
No solar-powered plane has ever flown around the world.

Rico says if they pull it off, it'll be a true feat...

The best guys in charge

Rant Political has an list by Derek Butler of great military leaders:

14. Erwin Rommel
The Desert Fox, as he was known, was Field Marshal of the Afrika Korps Seventh Panzer Division. His maneuvering skills and strategic vision were unmatched at the time, as few units were able to stop him. His reliance on surprise and insistence on varying his tactics were legendary. His Afrika Korps also treated prisoners unusually well, refused any order to kill Jewish prisoners, and Rommel himself was part of a plot to kill Hitler.

13. General William Tecumseh Sherman

While the Union was struggling to gain the upper hand in the Civil War, General Sherman took matters into his own hands, leading his troops through a slaughter-fest of a 'scorched earth' campaign through the South, winning the war.
Sherman's March ended up being the straw that broke the back of the Confederacy, as Union troops under his command proceeded to simply destroy or kill anything grey and rebellious that stood in their way.

Rico says WHAT

More Germanwings

Daniel Politi has a Slate article about the Germanwings crash:

The captain of the Germanwings plane that crashed into the Alps screamed at co-pilot Andreas Lubitz to “open the damn door”, according to black box transcripts published by the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. The recordings show how Captain Patrick Sondheimer pleaded with Lubitz to let him inside the cockpit— “For God’s sake, open the door”— before taking an axe to the door, reports The Telegraph. The transcript captures the moment when Sondheimer tells Lubitz to “take over” as he heads to the bathroom. But when the captain knocks on the door to get back inside the cockpit, the plane begins its sharp descent, and that’s when passengers can be heard screaming.
The same German newspaper also reported that Lubitz may have been suffering from a detached retina, although it remains unclear whether his vision problems had physical or psychological causes. The paper claims, according to Reuters, that investigators have found evidence Lubitz was afraid of losing his eyesight.
Another German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, quotes a senior investigator saying Lubitz “was treated by several neurologists and psychiatrists” and numerous medications had been found in his apartment.
Meanwhile, investigators say they have isolated DNA strands from body parts in the remote area of the French Alps where the Germanwings flight crashed. But the investigators have denied media reports that Lubitz’ remains had been identified, reports the BBC. An access road is being built to the remote site in order to allow easier access to the area.

Rico says he's betting they change the name of the airline soon...

Political idiots

Slate has an article by Amanda Marcotte about idiots in Arizona:

Doctors in Arizona might soon be required to tell women that abortions can be "reversed". As The Washington Post reports, the Arizona legislature just passed a bill that is the latest in state-based attempts to ban women from using their own health insurance to pay for abortion. What makes this bill especially Orwellian is this attempt to force doctors to put the stamp of medical authority on the fantastical belief that women en masse are regretting their abortions hours after getting them, and are miraculously getting them reversed through heroic interventions by Christian doctors.
I reported on this fantasy back in December of 2014, but, to recap: anti-choicers, backed by one particularly vocal doctor named George Delgado, are claiming that you can "reverse" medication abortions. A woman having a medication abortion takes two pill doses, one of mifepristone and then another of misoprostol. Proponents of "abortion reversal" would like you to believe it's common for women to take the first dose and become racked with guilt, desperate to save her pregnancy. To help these women, Delgado gives the woman progesterone shots, supposedly in an effort to reverse the effects of the mifepristone.
The problem is it's almost certainly quackery. Mifepristone is not enough on its own to terminate a pregnancy some of the time, so you're not "reversing" the abortion so much as interrupting the process before it's complete. The progesterone shots reverse nothing— they are medically unnecessary theater, designed to portray anti-choicers as conquering heroes rescuing pregnant maidens from the clutches of abortionists. There's no evidence of much demand from women to interrupt their abortions, and, in the rare circumstances that someone is seized by regret, all she needs to do is contact her regular doctor about stopping the pills.
Forcing doctors to "inform" patients about an intervention that isn't medically useful and isn't really in demand serves no other purpose but to inject anti-choice histrionics into what is already a stressful situation for many patients. You should be able to get through an abortion without having to indulge a right-wing delusion.
This bill and its fresh interpretation of the word reverse is part of a larger trend of right-wingers attempting to restrict free speech and remold the English language in their image. In Florida, Department of Environmental Protection employees have complained about orders to excise the phrases 'climate change' and 'global warming' from their speeches. There's also been a movement, complete with bills in Texas and Florida, to ban doctors from discussing gun safety with patients. Some postmodern academic could have a field day with these attempts to rewrite reality to fit conservative fantasies.
The Arizona bill is now headed to the desk of Republican Governor Doug Ducey (photo).

Rico says this is criminal stupidity, or should be...

Commercial success

J.K. Simmons does a great job as Assistant Chief Will Pope on The Closer, but he also makes some serious money as the spokesperson for an insurance company:

29 March 2015

British television

June Thomas has a Slate article about Call the Midwife:
Filmmakers have been putting damsels in distress since pictures were first made to move. And Call the Midwife, which returns to PBS for its fourth season on Sunday night, is the ultimate twenty-first-century feminist spin on the genre. Instead of kindly gents rescuing helpless women who’ve been tied to railway tracks by mustache-twirling villains, Call the Midwife shows a dedicated band of nurses and nuns saving pregnant women whose health and welfare are imperiled by poverty and misinformation.
Well, the young women in uniform usually save the day, but the terrible odds stacked against them— the lack of resources, the primitive state of obstetrics in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the frailty of the flesh, to name a few— mean that they don’t always prevail. The stakes on Call the Midwife are a matter of life and death, and that makes the show absolutely terrifying. When fetal heartbeats are monitored by placing an ear trumpet on a pregnant woman’s belly, humans seem alarmingly vulnerable.
Whether births happen in hospitals, the mother’s home, or— as in one memorable scene early in the new season— on the back seat of a car, the lack of high-tech medical equipment is striking. In this way it’s similar to CinemaxThe Knick, in which Clive Owen plays a star doctor at a New York City hospital in the early twentieth century. But while The Knick is mostly a horrorscape of retro technology and sky-high mortality rates, Call the Midwife’s appeal stems in part from nostalgia for the simpler, scarier days of yore, especially for older British viewers who recognize references to things like Sanatogen tonic wine that youngsters and Americans miss. That doesn’t mean it’s a Pollyanna-ish whitewashing of the olden days. Immigrants from the West Indies are subject to racist comments, lesbians know that they must hide their relationships, and underprivileged children come shockingly close to starvation. But even the worst monster it can conjure— a selfish, neglectful mother— is given a sympathy-inducing backstory: She didn’t want children, but the medical establishment refused to tie her tubes.
Unlike the devoted and sometimes dotty nuns they live with in London’s East End, the young nurses haven’t renounced the world. When they’re not dealing with birth, death, and bodily fluids, they relieve the unremitting tension with romances, Cinzano Bianco, and the musical stylings of Billy Fury. They make a life of service seem rewarding, sexy, and downright thrilling.
Like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife provides stealth history lessons, but whereas Downton tends to linger on big-ticket items like world wars and sinking ships, Call the Midwife focuses on the gradual social changes in one East End neighborhood. In the coming season, hot-button social issues like immigration, homosexuality, and abortion have their days, but the show’s greatest strength is its ability to demonstrate the complexity of its characters’ personal dilemmas. Will Trixie settle down with her curate? Can Shelagh find an appropriate work-life balance? Can the newly arrived nurse introduce innovations she’s learned about in earlier postings without upsetting the nuns at Nonnatus House? The questions might seem trivial, but like birth itself, they are often agonizingly difficult. And they make Call the Midwife worth watching.
Rico says he and the ladyfriend watch every episode, along with the (alas) soon-to-disappear Downton Abbey, as should you.

Religion is never free

The Huffington Post has an article by Igor Bobic about Indiana:

A new "religious freedom" law in Indiana touched off a firestorm of criticism across the country recently, after opponents warned that it could lead to legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in the state's business establishments.
The measure, which Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence signed into law on Thursday, allows any individual or corporation to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. The legislation has already prompted threats of boycott from public officials and celebrities. Star Trek actor and LGBT activist George Takei expressed his outrage on Twitter using the hashtag #BoycottIndiana. Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, also took to Twitter to ask Pence whether it would "be legal for someone to discriminate against me". San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, a Democrat, prohibited the use of taxpayer money to fund any city employees' trips to Indiana. And Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has canceled the company’s events in the state.
In some Indiana cities, stickers reading This Business Serves Everyone have been spotted in shop windows (photo).
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which will host the Final Four games of its men's basketball tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana, said that it was "especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees."
Other prominent names also weighed in. Apple CEO Tim Cook, who came out as gay last year, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the law. And likely 2016 presidential candidate and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also took to Twitter to denounce the measure: "Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT," the former Secretary of State wrote.
Pence, a potential 2016 presidential contender, has defended the law as a fair protection for those who "feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action”. But the Indy Star's Tim Swarens reported that Pence said he would support the introduction of legislation to "clarify" that the law does not promote discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Pence didn't give any specifics about what would be in the new legislation, but said he expects it to be introduced in the coming week.
"I support religious liberty, and I support this law," Pence told the Indy Star. "But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there’s a way to clarify the intent of the law."
Supporters of the law, which takes effect in July of 2015, maintain that it is being mischaracterized as something that specifically targets LGBT people, rather than something that defends religious freedom in general. They further note that similar measures were passed by nineteen other states, and that discrimination against LGBT people hasn't automatically followed everywhere. The Associated Press reports that, in Mississippi, for example, there haven't been "any high-profile instances of the law being used by businesses to deny goods or services to gays".
"It gives our courts guidance about evaluating government action and puts the highest standard -- it essentially says, if a government is going to compel you to act in a way that violates your religious beliefs, there has to be a compelling state interest," Pence said of the bill in a radio interview.
The Arkansas state Senate passed a similar bill that drew criticism from one of the nation's largest retailers, Walmart. "We feel this legislation is counter to this core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state," said a spokesman for the company.

Rico says companies and organizations should boycott Indiana until they repeal this shit. (Like not playing basketball, for instance; that would hurt them Hoosiers.)

Misheard song in Rico's head

Billy Joel, of course:

And, no, he doesn't say 'pantywaist" or "bright orange pair of pants"...

Land of the brave, home of the free

Zulema Valde, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced and the author of The New Entrepreneurs: How Race, Class, and Gender Shape American Enterprise, has a Time article about what makes Americans the way they are:
On 14 January 2015, the world waited with bated breath as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson came over the rim of a notoriously steep section of the rock known as El Capitan, the largest single block of granite in the world. Over the course of nineteen days, the pair had climbed the Dawn Wall, the most difficult part of the famous rock formation at Yosemite National Park in California, with just their hands and feet; rope and harnesses were used only to break deadly falls. Caldwell and Jorgeson became the first people to “free climb” the Dawn Wall, a feat many thought could never be accomplished.
The pair had trained for more than five years and encountered serious injuries on previous attempts. In recognition of their arduous and potentially fatal quest, one of them even called this climb his Moby-Dick, after that white whale that taunted and destroyed Captain Ahab. When Caldwell and Jorgeson made it to the top with their bloodied, bandaged, and superglued fingers, it was such a quintessential moment of American optimism that even President Obama sent his congratulations, tweeting, “You remind us that anything is possible.”
Could anyone other than Americans have scaled this incredibly difficult granite face with so scant a safety net? Of course, but it was Americans who made the seemingly impossible climb. And many of the world’s elite rock climbers, including the one considered the world’s best, Alex Honnold, are Americans. In advance of the What It Means to Be American event, Are Americans Risk-Takers?, we asked scholars and people who dabble in risk for a living what is it about American culture that encourages risk-taking?
Risk-taking appeals to the young; it’s only as we grow older that we’re cautioned by the downsides. One of the remarkable aspects of the American Revolution is the freedom won by young people. Both girls and boys escaped the drudgery of farming by becoming schoolteachers, an occupation greatly expanded after the Revolution. Similarly, the union of the states made it possible for boys to become peddlers, carrying goods from the Northern states to Southern plantations. These experiences made youth a time for experimenting in new careers.
Crucial for risk-takers in the early national period was the fact that old colonial wealth withdrew from speculative economic ventures, leaving many opportunities open to ordinary men and women. Old wealth stayed in the city, and benefited from the rise in the prices of urban real estate. Early manufacturing centered in rural areas because of the available water power, and a new enterprise could begin with sweat equity and borrowed seed money from family and friends.
The opening up of the lands in the national domain west of the Appalachian Mountains also enticed many, mostly young, people to pull up stakes and move West where they might acquire land and the respect land ownership bestowed. First comers had an unusual chance to capitalize on their labor, clearing land and selling it to those in the second wave of westward adventurers.
Unlike European societies, American society freed its youth to create their own careers. Giving the natural risk-takers such a free scope led soon to embedding an admiration for risk-taking in American culture. It has continued to prevail as a distinctive feature of the culture of the United States.
Joyce Appleby is professor emeritus of history at UCLA, who has studied England, France, and America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, focusing on how economic developments changed people’s perceptions of politics, society, and human nature. Her recent publications are The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010) and Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination (2013).
Living in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave gives us a kind of “I can do that” attitude. No wonder we’re the birthplace of Nike’s Just do it campaign. Immigrants have brought their hopes and dreams here for a long time.
Growing up a graffiti artist in America isn’t all that free, and you have to be at least a little brave. To hone your skills, you mostly have to make art illegally— most people don’t have large blank walls sitting that they’re allowed to practice on. I remember being a kid and writing all my plans on pieces of paper— what colors to use, how to execute the sketch of the work I planned to do that night. And then I’d have to sneak out and hike to abandoned places like train yards or bridges. I could’ve been caught, electrocuted, or hit by a train or car. I could’ve been fined, had my artwork removed, or gone to jail. But I did it because I couldn’t find any other outlet to express myself. I wanted to create, and be seen creating.
If I imagine embarking on the same journey in a different country, I’m not sure it would’ve been worth the risk. Friends, for example, have told me about punishment for graffiti in Singapore, from huge fines to caning. If I were hit with a punishment of this caliber, I wouldn’t have continued or received any support for my artistic endeavors. Instead, I have a career doing what I love, and a comfortable home for my family.
Sket-One, also known as Andrew Yasgar, is a painter, illustrator, and designer who began as a graffiti artist in the 1980s. His studio is in Long Beach, California.
With thirteen percent of the working-age population, the United States boasts the highest rate of entrepreneurship across two dozen industrialized economies. Robert Fairlie, an economist at the Kauffman Foundation, noted that, in 2013, the US economy added nearly a half-million new business owners each month.
These numbers are consistent with the strongly held belief by most Americans that the United States is the land of opportunity, where anyone with a good idea, a positive attitude, and a willingness to work hard can own a business and succeed. This ideology is expressed by a higher percentage of Americans when compared to people in other nations. In a 2013 report published by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, fully 47 percent of Americans agreed that good opportunities for new businesses exist, and 56 percent “believed they had the capabilities to launch a business.”
Yet the economic reality for most American entrepreneurs is that most businesses fail. Regardless of personal drive, hard work, and risking it all, successful businesses are generally owned by older, white, middle-class men, who, yes, possess a propensity toward risk.
The idea of America as the land of opportunity, which we can even call the American Creed, sparks risk-taking among a large and diverse population willing to take a leap of faith and start a business. What the ideology fails to reveal, however, is that the US remains a highly stratified society where successful entrepreneurs are rarely “self-made.” The Horatio Alger “rags-to-riches” fable is just that, a fable that exists to reinforce the possibility of the American dream. The reality, however, is that risk-taking, while perhaps a necessary ingredient for entrepreneurship, is not sufficient in the absence of human capital (education and work experience), social capital (business networks), and financial capital (personal savings, wealth, access to credit or loans). Ultimately, these factors trump risk-taking, or perhaps diminish the “risk” entirely.
Rico says fuck it, make the leap, make something happen...

Got another one

The Associated Press has an article in Time about Tunisian terrorism:
Tunisia’s prime minister said recently that a leading suspect in a deadly museum attack on foreign tourists has been killed in anti-terrorist operations, as tens of thousands of Tunisians marched through the capital to denounce extremist violence (photo).
The Tunisian state news agency TAP cites Prime Minister Habib Essid as saying that Khaled Chaieb, also known as Abu Sakhr Lokman, was one of nine terror suspects killed overnight in an operation near the Algerian border. Chaieb is believed to be a prominent Algerian militant in al Qaeda’s North African arm, and suspected of leading or helping lead the 18 March 2015 attack on the National Bardo Museum. Twenty-two people, mainly foreigners, and two gunmen were killed in the attack.
French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and several foreign ministers and legislators from other countries are joining an anti-terrorism ceremony in Tunis after the march.
The Tunisian government called on all major political parties to join the march from the seat of government at Bab Es-Saadoun to the museum. The international visitors are showing solidarity with Tunisia, whose fragile new democracy was deeply shaken by the museum attack, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Tunisian protesters unleashed revolts across the region known as the Arab Spring, and Tunisia is the only country to have built a democratic system as a result. Authorities are struggling with scattered extremist violence linked to various radical Islamic groups, largely linked to neighboring countries Algeria or Libya.
Interior Ministry spokesman Ali Aroui said recently that nine suspected “terrorists” were killed when security forces clashed with the suspects in the southwest region of Sidi Aich, near the Algerian border. He said several extremists were wounded in another clash in the northwest region of Kef, as part of security operations around the country ahead of the march.
Rico says good shooting; let's hope they get more...

Rare photos

Wizzed.com has an article about some rare historical photos:

The nineteenth century saw the demise of the samurai in Japan. The cost of maintaining highly-trained armies to defend themselves in civil conflicts became cost prohibitive. Prior to becoming politically activated the samurai were some of the most proficient fighting machines in the known world. They had a culture based on honor, which they revered.
This is a White Star Line third-class steerage ticket for RMS Titanic, departing on 10 April 1912. The mighty luxury liner sank in the Atlantic Ocean four days later, after colliding with an iceberg. Titanic lies on the ocean floor two miles deep and three hundred and eighty miles southeast of Newfoundland.
This shows Albert Einstein’s matriculation certificate from the Aargau Kantonsschule. The grades are on a scale from one to six.
This three thousand, two hundred, and forty-five-year-old rope seal has been perfectly preserved by Egypt’s dry and arid climate. Tombs of a similar age from the Mayan dynasty in the Central American jungles have little or no organic matter remaining.

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was the first computer ever made. The 1946 machine was hailed as a “giant brain” with a speed of one thousand times that of electro-mechanical machines. ENIAC used common octal-base radio tubes and in her early years would burn a few of these out every day, causing the machine to be inoperable much of the time. After a memory upgrade in 1947, ENIAC was moved to Maryland where it was in continuous operation until 1955. Philadelphia proclaimed 15 February 2011 as ENIAC Day to celebrate this famous machine’s sixty-fifth anniversary.
This photograph was taken at the moment President George Bush was informed of the terrorist attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers. Simply remembered now as 9/11, the World Trade Centre’s twin towers were attacked and destroyed with hijacked civilian passenger aircraft by terrorists on 11 September 2001. This cowardly and heinous act killed almost three thousand innocent people and ran up a damage bill of around ten billion dollars. The American government started an immediate war against terrorism, and eventually discovering the whereabouts of the 9/11 perpetrator, Osama bin Laden. They executed him and threw his body into the ocean to ensure he could never become a martyr to fundamentalist Muslims.
After the German defeat in Berlin in 1945, this was one of the first photographs taken of the dictator’s Führerbunker. It is reported that in the months that Hitler lived underground he was almost pathologically afraid to go outside. The man became thin and emaciated, and some of the final military decisions made by him were catastrophic disasters for Germany. His proclamations and orders were contradictory and confusing for his commanders in the field. Hitler had the bunker constructed to withstand the wholesale bombing of Berlin by the Allies; it had thirteen feet of concrete in the roof alone.
Enola Gay was the name given to the B-29 bomber which dropped the first nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, ending (after a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki) the long and bloody conflict in the Pacific. It was the first nuclear device to be used as a weapon of war, although much testing and trials had been done beforehand in nuclear physics.
This 1899 photograph shows the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas, horsing around with a friend. In 1917, he and his entire family were butchered by the Bolsheviks. His full inherited title was Emperor of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and titular King of Poland. Officially it was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. During his reign, Russia experienced many defeats, most notably against Japan, and much civil turmoil, causing economic and military collapse. The alleged incompetent handling of Russia’s involvement in the First World War by the Tsar, which cost the lives of more than three million Imperial soldiers, is believed to be one of the main causes of the fall of the Romanov dynasty.
Quoted as being “the only surviving authenticated portrait of Billy the Kid", this tintype portrait of William Bonney sold at auction in June of 2011 for over two million dollars.
Be careful who's taking your picture while you're taking a 'selfie'.

Rico says some photos are important, some are trivial (if erotic)...

NYC collapse

A video of the building that blew up:

Spock movie



Sent from my new iPad

Hillary permanently deleted emails

Matthew Daly has an article in Time about Clinton's emails:

"No emails reside on the server or on any backups associated with the server."
Hillary Rodham Clinton wiped her email server “clean”, permanently deleting all emails from it, the Republican chairman of a House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks said Friday.
Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, said the former secretary of state has failed to produce a single new document in recent weeks and has refused to relinquish her server to a third party for an independent review, as Gowdy has requested.
Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, said Gowdy was looking in the wrong place.
In a six-page letter released late Friday, Kendall said Clinton had turned over to the State Department all work-related emails sent or received during her tenure as Secretary of State, from 2009 to 2013.
“The Department of State is therefore in possession of all Secretary Clinton’s work-related emails from the personal email account,” Kendall wrote. Kendall also said it would be pointless for Clinton to turn over her server, even if legally authorized, since “no emails reside on the server or on any backup systems associated with the server.”
Clinton, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, faced a Friday deadline to respond to a subpoena for emails and documents related to Libya, including the 2012 attacks in a diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.
The Benghazi committee demanded further documents and access to the server, after it was revealed that Clinton used a private email account and server during her tenure at State.
Gowdy said he will work with House leaders to consider options. Speaker John Boehner has not ruled out a vote in the full House to force Clinton to turn over the server if she declines to make it available by 3 April 2015 deadline set by Gowdy.
Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Benghazi panel, said Kendall’s letter confirmed “what we all knew: that Secretary Clinton already gave her official records to the State Department, that she did not keep her personal emails, and that the Select Committee has already obtained her emails relating to the attacks in Benghazi.” Cummings said it is time for Gowdy and other Republicans to stop what he called a “political charade” and instead make Clinton’s emails public. Gowdy also should schedule Clinton’s public testimony before the Benghazi panel as soon as possible, Cummings said.
Kendall said in his letter that Clinton’s personal attorneys reviewed every email sent and received from her private email address — 62,320 emails in total — and identified all work-related emails. Those totaled 30,490 emails or approximately 55,000 pages. The material was provided to the State Department on Dec. 5, 2014, and it is the agency’s discretion to release those emails after a review.
Kendall said Clinton has asked for the release of all of those emails. He said the State Department is reviewing the material to decide whether any sensitive information needs to be protected. “Secretary Clinton is not in a position to produce any of those emails to the committee in response to the subpoena without approval from the State Department, which could come only following a review process,” Kendall wrote.
Gowdy said he was disappointed at Clinton’s lack of cooperation. “Not only was the Secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all emails from her server, ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest,” he said.
In a statement released later Friday, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said she “would like her emails made public as soon as possible and she’s ready and willing to come and appear herself for a hearing open to the American public.”

Rico says maybe it's time to finally delete Hillary from the political landscape... (And throw in a little contempt-of-Congress while we're at it.)

Antarctica sets a record

Eliana Dockterman has a Time article about global warming:
The Antarctic continent appears to have hit more than sixty degrees for the first time, thanks to global warming. You may want to consider it for your next Spring Break, as weather bloggers at Weather Underground report that the continent likely hit a record-breaking high of 63.5 F recently.
Antarctica has been heating up in recent years, thanks to global warming. The region’s temperature has risen an average of about five degrees in the last half century, according to the British Antarctic Survey. Studies have also documented melting ice along Antarctica’s coasts.
The record is all the more impressive, considering that it was set just one day after Antarctica had reached a new high of 63.3 Fon Monday. Prior to those two record-setting days, the hottest the continent had ever gotten was 62.8 F on 24 April 1961. But the record is not yet official. The reading was logged on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, which may not be considered part of the continent in weather record keeping. The World Meteorological Organization is expected to examine whether the area was indeed in Antarctica or whether it is technically located in Argentina.
Rico says what's the difference, if the ice is melting...

Time to retire the penny


Michael Smerconish,, every bit as much of a curmudgeon as Rico, has an column in The Philadelphia Inquirer about a coin that irritates him:

Approaching noon, I had a hankering for shrimp tempura sushi and some dumplings. At a local takeout, my bill came to $15.01. After I handed the man a twenty, he began counting out 99 cents to hand me along with four dollar bills. While there was a tip jar, there was not the penny container to which we've grown accustomed at checkout. I protested the prospect of putting all that change in my pocket. The cashier told me he was only following policy. Luckily, a female stranger behind me handed me a penny.
I walked away with sushi and dumplings in one hand, and a five dollar bill in the other, now ready to climb aboard the campaign to "retire" the penny. Soon thereafter, I shared my experience with the "campaign manager," Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor Jeff Gore, who would like to see Congress phase out this coin.
"The penny is not useful," Gore told me. "It no longer allows you to purchase anything, yet it slows down these cash transactions, and it's just painful for me when I buy something, 95 cents plus tax, that's $1.01 or $1.02. I think I'm going to get all this change back, it's slowing down the line, and this is what originally motivated me to start thinking about why we should be retiring the penny."
Last I checked, there had been nearly two hundred thousand visits to Gore's website, www.retirethepenny.org, where he has assembled information about his quest to make the penny go the way of the halfpenny. According to Gore, for the last eight years the Mint has been losing money by making pennies. He said it actually costs nearly two cents to make the one cent that few wish to use in transactions. Lack of convenience is another consideration.
"There was a study done by Walgreen's and the National Association of Convenience Stores, where they found that roughly two seconds are wasted in every cash transaction just as a result of handling pennies," Gore said. "In principle, you think: 'Oh pennies should be fast', but, at some rate, we're all searching for the pennies in our pocket because we don't want to end up getting 99 cents back in change. It adds up. Each of us is wasting an hour or two every year handling pennies, and if you put any reasonable value to your time, then this comes out to being something like two billion dollars per year that the economy wastes just handling these pennies."
If Gore gets his way, my lunch bill would have been rounded to the nearest five-cent increment. The sushi and dumplings that totaled $15.01 would have cost $15. A bill for $15.03 would round up to $15.05. If sales tax applies, the rounding would take place after it has been added.
Those pennies that many of us have at home in piggy banks or buckets would still be legal tender, but they would largely fall out of circulation, and the Mint would stop making them. Canada has already retired its penny. Cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents, while electronic transactions are still to the nearest cent.
Of course, not everyone agrees. The idea of retiring the penny makes no sense to the self-described Americans for Common Cents (www.pennies.org), which notes that polls show more than two-thirds of Americans want to keep the coin. This group argues that "eliminating the penny would increase spending for many Federal government programs, causing inflationary pressures, and it wouldn't save money. The Mint has said that, without the penny, fixed costs associated with penny production would have to be absorbed by the remaining denominations of circulating coins."
Gore told me that the zinc industry now constitutes a pro-penny lobby because, while the coin looks as if it's copper (and it used to be copper), it's really mostly zinc with a copper coating.
I raised another concern: when I buy my Inquirer and coffee at Wawa, whatever change might come my way I usually donate in the container that's next to the register, even though for all the times I have done so, I still can't name the charity. Might they suffer?
"There are charities that raise money by collecting pennies, such as the one that you're referring to," Gore said, "although I think that, in general, such charities can move toward collecting nickels instead of pennies, and it's not obvious to me they're going to get fewer than one-fifth as many nickels than they currently get pennies because, frankly, the pennies just don't add up to a whole lot."
Another professor, Robert Whaples from Wake Forest, disputes any criticism that Americans would be burdened by a rounding tax. A decade ago, Whaples looked at a week's worth of transactions (nearly two hundred thousand) from twenty locations of gas stations and convenience stores in seven states. He analyzed cash transactions and rounded prices to the nearest nickel, with taxes included. According to Whaples, customers did not lose out. The impact of rounding was a break even. He also compared transactions in wealthy and poor areas and found the rounding-off would have no effect based on socioeconomic status. "Eliminating the penny will have a negligible impact on inflation and on convenience-store costs and profits, but it will save time for customers and clerks, which may be worth about $730 million per year," he wrote.
A few days after my initial encounter, I was again hungry for sushi. I returned to the same vendor and ordered more shrimp tempura sushi, with a side of edamame. Once again, my bill came to $15.01. Uh, oh. I handed the man, a different one than before, $20. He returned a $5 bill. I asked that it be exchanged for five singles, and he complied. I left one of them in a tip jar and walked away.

Rico says it's long been an irrelevant coin, and should go away. (And surely there's a better use for zinc than the penny...)

Parisian hotel steeped in sex

Travel & Leisure magazine has an article by Nate Storey about a hotel for lovers:

A spate of new cocktail bars and fashion boutiques has revived ParisSoPi (South of Pigalle) neighborhood in recent years, helping to shed the area of its seedy reputation as a red-light bazaar for sex shops, bordellos, and cabarets like the Moulin Rouge. But as urban renewal softens the area’s edges one cool-kid newcomer at a time— the Experimental Cocktail Club’s first hotel concept, Grand Pigalle, is set to debut in April of 2015, for example— the just-opened Maison Souquet is hoping to keep some of the raffish spirit alive. Here heritage-chic master Jacques Garcia (responsible for New York City’s NoMad Hotel and the Hôtel Costes in Paris) plays up SoPi’s past with a sultry design that turns the former pleasure house into an elegant Belle Époque bolthole.
Behind an unmarked façade in the ninth arrondissement, a vampy style permeates the twenty individually decorated rooms (blood-red fleur-de-lis wallpaper and custom Chinese silk headboards) that are named for infamous courtesans, and the salon, where velvet banquettes and a cast-iron fireplace are the setting for black truffle cocoa and late-night aperitifs. Even the spa feels like a lurid fantasy: the illuminated plunge pool glows against a pomegranate ceiling emblazoned with a gold-flecked solar system, just steps from a hammam.

Rico says this would have been a good place to go before menopause...

Garfield on March

Rico's friend Kelley sends this appropriate Garfield:

San Diego from Point Loma

Ten grand? For a watch?

Fortune has an article by Philip Elmer-DeWitt about a ridiculously-priced Apple Watch:
The price differential between Beijing and New York City is more than double the cost of a round-trip ticket. Remember the customers carrying bundles of cash who queued up last September of 2014to buy as many iPhones as Apple would sell them? It could happen again.
“We saw this with the iPhone,” said Asymco’s Horace Dediu in a podcast recorded Thursday. “We’ll see it in spades with the gold Apple Watch.” Most analysts expect demand will be strongest for Apple’s aluminum and steel watches, which start at $349 and $549, respectively. Dediu believes Wall Street may be underestimating the intangible appeal of a ten thousand dollar gold watch. Especially one given as a gift, especially in China, with its rich tradition of over-the-top gift giving.
The gold watch has something else going for it. Unlike the value of a Rolex, say, which can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands, the price of the Apple Watch in each of its global markets is fixed; it’s listed on the website.
“It’s like currency,” says Dediu. Factor in local taxes, and you can calculate with some precision what he calls the “global arbitrage opportunities.”
For example, the entry level gold watch, the 38mm 18-Karat Rose Gold with a white sport band (photo) retails in the US for $10.000. The same watch is listed on Apple’s Chinese website for $12,045. Beijing imposes a seventeen percent value added tax. Hong Kong does not. “If someone smuggles one of these into China,” says Dediu, “they’ll pay for their flight ticket, and then some.” He reports that, in Boston, Massachusetts, there were still queues for the iPhone 6 Plus in January of 2015, almost five months after it launched. “They’re mostly Chinese,” he says. “They’re doing it as a business.”
It can be a rough business, as a documentary film shot outside Apple Stores in New York City last September demonstrated. It might be even rougher in April, when buyers could be carrying bundles of cash in units of $10,000. That’s cash that will go almost directly to Apple’s bottom line. Dediu estimates that the margin on a $10,000 gold watch could be as high as 90%. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the first few months the demand for gold is far, far higher than we imagined,” he says. “They’ll just be out of stock, permanently.”
Rico says there certainly are people with enough money (and stupid enough to part with ten grand) to buy a $10,000 watch, but he ain't one of them (even if he had ten grand, and wore a watch)...

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