30 April 2015

Germanwings pilot denied medical certificate

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about the Germanswings pilot:
The Federal Aviation Administration initially declined to issue Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz a "medical certificate" in 2010 because of concerns about his history of depression, agency documents say. A great deal of evidence indicates Lubitz intentionally crashed Flight 4U 9525 in France on 24 March 2015, killing himself and all 149 others aboard.
In 2010, Lubitz applied for a medical certificate he needed in order to participate in a Lufthansa training program in Arizona. (Lufthansa owns Germanwings.) 
From The New York Times:
The FAA medical certification division wrote to Lubitz, saying that they were “unable to establish your eligibility to hold an airman medical certification at this time,” according to a letter dated 8 July 2010. Because of his history of depression, the agency requested a “current detailed status report from your prescribing physician.”
Lubitz was not denied the certificate outright, and was told to get back in touch with the agency within thirty days.
On 28 July 2010, his request was granted, with the warning: “Because of your history of reactive depression, operation of aircraft is prohibited at any time new symptoms or adverse changes occur, or any time medication and/or treatment is required.”
It's not precisely clear how the FAA became aware of Lubitz' history of depression; a copy of his online application in the FAA's documents answers "no" to a question about whether he had suffered from past mental health disorders, but another copy of the same questionnaire is marked "yes". Current and former FAA officials suggested to The Times and CNN that Lubitz may have checked "no" before visiting an airline-affiliated medical examiner who also had access to the online form, and who changed the answer to "yes."
Some reports have said Lubitz was being treated for depression at the time of this year's crash, but a hospital where he's reported to have sought treatment denied that he had been seen there for depression-related issues. Lubitz does not appear to have informed Lufthansa of any mental or physical health issues he may have experienced in the months before the crash.
Rico says we daily put our lives in the hands of people who can kill us...

Obama said drones would target specific terrorists

The Slatest has an article by Joshua Keating about drone strikes:
For those who took seriously President Obama’s stated goals of restoring accountability and legal legitimacy to U.S. counterterrorism operations, the 2013 speech at the National Defense University was one of the most significant watersheds of his presidency. In retrospect, though, it was one of the biggest disappointments.
In the speech, Obama pledged to rescind and replace the open-ended post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. Since then, he has continued to use its authority and even launched a war under it; the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He promised to recommit the administration to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. But detainee transfers slowed to a crawl for the first ten months of 2014, and the Pentagon is now racing to transfer as many as possible before Congress can put a stop to the process entirely. He vowed that whenever possible, the US would seek to capture terrorists rather than kill them in the field. But all indications suggest that targeted killing remains the preferred option for dealing with al-Qaeda leaders. Now, we can add “signature strikes”— airstrikes, usually involving drones, targeting what appear to be terrorist facilities rather than specific terrorists— to the list.
The administration has been extremely reluctant to discuss signature strikes, rebuffing a number of attempts from Congress and the media seeking the legal rationale behind them. But, at NDU, Obama appeared to be discussing signature strikes when he said that in defense of the US combat mission in Afghanistan, the US would continue to carry out strikes not only against high-ranking al-Qaeda figures, “but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces.” But, he continued, by the end of 2014 when that combat mission was scheduled to end, “we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we’ve made against core al-Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.” Officials at the time said that under new guidelines, drones would be used only against targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans.” In July of 2013, The Associated Press reported that the CIA was operating under much stricter guidelines and had been instructed to drop the practice of signature strikes.
However, yesterday, the administration revealed that a Jan. 15 drone strike in Pakistan killed two hostages, an American and an Italian, as well as an American member of al-Qaida. Officials hadn’t known that any of them were in the compound, and the New York Times reports today that “American officials acknowledged that the Jan. 15 attack was a signature strike, but said that the C.I.A. had assessed with ‘high confidence’ that the compound in the Shawal Valley was being used by Qaeda operatives.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest also said yesterday that a later strike, which killed American al-Qaida propagandist Adam Gadahn, had not targeted him or any other specific individual. Rather, the CIA had good reason to believe based on intelligence or surveillance merely that it was an al-Qaida compound that al-Qaida leaders were likely to frequent.
The practice of using “pattern of life” analysis to justify drone strikes was first approved by President Bush in 2008 and became a core part of U.S. counterterrorism practice in Pakistan under Obama. In 2012 a former military official acknowledged to the Washington Post  that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.” The identities of those killed only became clear later. Or as a stark Times headline put it today, the CIA is “often unsure about who will die” when they launch a strike. The practice was approved for use in Yemen in 2012.
Human rights groups, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, have been particularly critical of signature strikes because of the increased potential for civilian casualties. That, sadly, didn’t attract all that much public attention until this week, when one of those casualties turned out to be an American.
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I approve of the existing tactics - until terrorism ends.   Get used to more drones.  More...
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The continued use of signature strikes also calls into question other statements about the drone program. For instance, U.S. officials said in February that the U.S. was no longer adding new names to its “kill list” of al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, but that’s much less significant if strikes aren’t specifically targeting people on the list anyway.
It’s not hard to figure out why the strikes are continuing. “Combat operations” may have formally ended in Afghanistan, but there are still U.S. troops in the country and they’re playing a much more active role than was envisaged in 2013. That role may only increase in coming months with concerns growing about ISIS’s expansion and the Taliban formally announcing the start of the 2015 summer fighting season.
Whatever the reasons, like other aspects of the drone program, the decision to continue launching strikes without specific information was and continues to be taken without public disclosure. At this point you’d have to be pretty naïve to take this administration’s counterterrorism pledges seriously. 
Rico says, gee, like we did in Germany for four years?

Rabbi's war against anti-Islam bus ads

Paul Nussbaum has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about ads on SEPTA buses:
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who has made a career of liberal activism, ventured into new territory when she scampered across Broad Street in North Philadelphia to slap a black-and-yellow sticker on the back of Adolf Hitler's head, featured in an anti-Islam ad displayed on SEPTA buses this month, and Holtzman and other Jewish activists have launched a campaign of guerrilla protest. They are pasting stickers that are a parody of SEPTA's own Dude, It's Rude pro-civility ad campaign onto the anti-Islam ads: Dude It's Rude... Hate Speech - Really?
"It's our Jewish obligation to stand up and acknowledge there is oppression in our society and act on the behalf of our friends and neighbors," Holtzman said recently. "Muslims are faced with deep prejudice. For us not to speak feels like a deep disgrace." She and a loose coalition of activists say they have been stickering the bus ads after the provocative images began appearing a month ago, after a Federal court ruling that SEPTA had to accept the ads.
SEPTA was aware of only two such stickers, spokeswoman Jerri Williams said. The anti-Islam ads will soon come down, as the monthlong, thirty-thousand-dollar advertising contract expires at the end of this week, Williams said.
The ads, which read, Islamic Jew-Hatred: It's in the Quran, were paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization underwritten by a Jewish activist, Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam.
The ads feature a photograph of a 1941 meeting between Adolf Hitler and Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab nationalist who made radio broadcasts supporting the Nazis.
SEPTA had refused to accept the ads, but US District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg ruled on 11 March 2015 that, because SEPTA had accepted other political and controversial ads on public issues, it could not refuse to accept the Hitler ad.
SEPTA officials said on 26 March 2015 they would not appeal the ruling, and said they had tightened the agency's advertising standards to legally prohibit such ads in the future.
Holtzman, 62, is on the faculty of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote and has been active in campaigns against gun violence, for Palestinian rights, for immigrants, and for a higher minimum wage. She said she was disappointed by the lack of reaction to the Hitler ads. "I would support other actions, like marching at the bus depots," she said. "If these ads just become part of the accepted background of what it means to live in America, that feels awful to me."
The ads will start coming down on Friday, Williams said, and virtually all will be removed by Monday. The ads have been on 84 buses. New advertising has been sold to take the place of the Hitler ads, Williams said.
Rico says those who ignore history (and especially those anti-gun nuts) only invite its return...

Archdiocese settles first civil suits

Morgan Zalot has an article in The Philadelphia Daily News about sexual abuse trials:
In what their attorney called a "significant step" in the healing process of two survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has settled the first civil suits, filed in 2011 following a damning grand-jury report on sex abuse by area priests.
The settlements with survivors, identified in court documents only as John Doe 10 and John Doe 187, were made earlier this year, the second coming the day before jury selection was to begin for the trials in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, said attorney Dan Monahan, who represented both men. Monahan and attorney Jeff Anderson announced the settlements yesterday, saying the settlements mark a significant development for both men, now in their thirtes, as both came forward after the statute of limitations in their cases had passed, meaning their abusers could not be criminally charged. "For these individuals to come forward, it gave them a certain amount of power that had been taken away from them as children," said Monahan. "Both are at better places in their lives because of this process."
Doe 187, in a statement provided by his lawyers yesterday, said he is hopeful that his story will prompt other survivors of sexual abuse to come forward. "I was deep in depression and struggled with daily thoughts of suicide for years. Disclosing the abuse to my lawyers helped me deal with the dark anger that was suffocating my soul," the man said. "My hope is that other survivors like myself, people who've been abused by authority figures, other priests, or by Father William Ayres, can know that there is hope, there is healing, that we do get better by sharing the secret and taking action."
Ayres is accused of sexually abusing Doe 187 for three years in the 1990s while the victim was an altar boy at Incarnation of Our Lord (photo) on 5th Street near Lindley Avenue in Olney. Monahan said that, although suspicion of Ayres' behavior was reported to a pastor in 2001, Ayres was not removed from the ministry until Doe 187 came forward in 2010.
In Doe 10's case, he was a third-grader in the early 1990s when Martin Satchell, who was ousted from the priesthood in 2004 amid allegations of child sex abuse, allegedly molested him. Satchell continued celebrating Mass, and also taught at Episcopal Academy and the Haverford School before he was defrocked, Monahan said.
Ayres, attorneys said, is believed to be living in Mixco, Guatemala, and may have access to children there. Satchell's most recent address is listed in i, but calls to phone numbers listed for him went unreturned yesterday.
In a statement yesterday, the Archdiocese said that no parish or charitable funds were used to pay the settlements, the amounts of which were undisclosed. "For some time now, the Archdiocese has provided assistance to both men on their paths toward healing, including financial support in the form of payment for ongoing psychological treatment," the statement read. "In order to help all parties move forward, the Archdiocese has agreed to these settlements."
The settlement announcement comes on the heels of a state Supreme Court decision earlier this week reinstating the child-endangerment conviction of Monsignor William Lynn for failing to protect children from known pedophile priests in his role as secretary of the clergy.
Doe 187 encouraged other survivors to reach out to his attorneys, saying he "would be happy to discuss this journey" with them. "It is still a painful struggle," the man said in his statement. "But I am now looking ahead instead of back. I now have hope for a better future."
Rico says he always falls back on Shakespeare: Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?
But surely the fact that there is a John Doe 187 reveals the enormity of this crime? (And what's the number of the last guy?)

The truth about pad Thai

The BBC has an article by David Farley about the quest for the perfect pad Thai:
“Oh god!” said the American expat, rolling her eyes disdainfully, when I told her I was in Bangkok to write about pad Thai, the noodle dish (photo) found in almost every Thai restaurant around the world.
I understood her aggrieved response, as pad Thai is the first dish most newcomers to Thai cuisine try. And going to Bangkok to find the perfect pad Thai is, to a Thai food aficionado, the culinary equivalent of wearing a Nickelback concert T-shirt. It’s just not cool.
But pad Thai was my introduction to Thai food some twenty years ago, and I was immediately hooked. I loved how the flavor of the crushed peanuts interacted with the prawns and rice noodles. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve since moved on to more regional Thai fare, but I wanted to revisit my roots, however uncool that may be.
Besides, underneath those wok-fried rice noodles is an intriguing history, one that suggests that pad Thai, the country’s national dish, might not be very Thai at all. This, I confess, was also fuelling my interest. Not only did I want to find the best pad Thai in Bangkok, but I wanted to learn the truth about this ubiquitous dish’s past.
I began my search at Sa La Rim Naan, an upscale restaurant run by the Mandarin Oriental and located across from the hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the wide, murky waterway that buzzes with fishing boats and water taxis. A friend of a friend told me that Prathan Phanim, the chef de partie, made a mean pad Thai.
“I make a very traditional version of it,” Phanim said, ushering me into a back room in the kitchen. I watched as he sautéed prawns, fried a couple of eggs with tofu, and then added the rice noodles, which had been soaking in water for hours. He then doused the wok with pad Thai dressing (liquefied chilli, soy beans, and shallots), dried shrimp, and a concoction of tamarind and fish sauce, before plating it and topping it all with fresh coriander, lime, peanuts, bean sprouts, and for good measure, a banana leaf.
As I stared at the colorful dish, admiring the green coriander, the red chillies and the yellow-green banana leaf , I realized Phanim’s pad Thai looked different from others I’d seen. It looked neater. Better dressed, you could say. At least until I took my fork and mixed everything up, as one is supposed to do before eating it. As for the taste, it was well-balanced. All the requisite flavors were represented, none eclipsing the other. There was sweetness from the sauces, sour from the lime, saltiness from the fish sauce and spiciness from the chillies.
I asked Phanim how his approach to pad Thai differed from other chefs.“The one way  this dish is going to differ is in the sauces,” he said. “Everyone has their own recipe and uses different amounts of sauces. It’s often a secret.” “Speaking of secrets,” I said, “do you think pad Thai is actually Thai?” “It’s totally Thai,” he said.
But not everyone agrees, including chef Sirichalerm Svasti, who goes by the name Chef McDang. A Thai native who has lived in England and the United States, he is a Bangkok-based celebrity chef and a member of the Thai royal family. When I asked him to take me to his favourite pad Thai spot, he suggested we meet at Hot Shoppe, conveniently located about twenty meters from his home in the Thonglor neighborhood.
“We are a rice culture,” McDang said. “Noodles and stir frying, the two main elements of pad Thai, arrived in Thailand 250 years ago with Chinese immigrants.”
“So you’re saying pad Thai, the national dish of this country, is Chinese?” I asked.
He nodded. “It’s not just the technique,” he said. “Look at the ingredients: tofu, noodles, dried shrimp, to name a few. Are any of these Thai? No!” He paused and then added: “But what makes it Thai are the sauces and pastes. The profile is Thai. Everything else is Chinese.”
When the order of pad Thai landed at our table, McDang stuck his fork in, twirled some rice noodles around and then took a bite. “Yes,” he said, “this is pretty good.” He was right. It was good, though it was a little sweeter than I’d prefer.
“The thing with Thai food,” McDang said, “is that many of the dishes have come from the top down. Traders from Europe would turn up centuries ago and introduce an ingredient or dish but, before it got disseminated, the King had to agree. If the King liked it, he was the one who distributed it.”
Pad Thai, it turns out, was no different. In the late 1930s, Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram wanted to modernize and unify the country to create a sense of “Thai-ness”. After changing the nation’s name from Siam to Thailand, he sought to create a national dish. There isn’t much documentation on how Phibunsongkhram came upon pad Thai (some historians trace it back to a cooking competition he organized) but suddenly the dish began popping up all over the country.
Penny Van Esterik, author of Materializing Thailand, thinks that pad Thai was the first standardized recipe in the country, thanks to the systemic way in which it was handed down and the nationalistic fervor surrounding it. But that said, the dish’s preparation varies today: it may come with a banana leaf on the side; it may be sweeter or sourer; the sauce that's mixed in may be heavier on chilli.
My next stop was to see Jarrett Wrisley, an American-born chef whose Bangkok-based Thai restaurant, Soul Food Mahanakorn, has received many accolades. He suggested we head to Thip Samai, popularly known as Pad Thai Phratu Phi (Ghost Gate pad Thai) because of the restaurant’s proximity to a crematorium. Unfortunately, Thip Samai was closed that day, so we headed to his restaurant instead and began with a plate of his pad Thai.
Unlike the version at Sa La Rim Naan, this pad Thai wasn’t as well balanced in flavor, and that was intentional. “I hate sweet pad Thai,” Wrisley said, “so I purposely add extra lime.” But the overall taste was excellent, thanks to the top-notch ingredients he uses, and the fact that the noodles are cooked until they’re al dente, rather than until they become mushy, which is all too common with pad Thai elsewhere.
We then wandered across the street to try the dish at Hoy Tod Chaolay, a salt-of-the-earth spot frequented by locals. We were met there by Chawadee Nualkhair, who penned a guidebook on Bangkok street food. “This place made it into my book because it’s very popular for pad Thai,” she told me. But I found the dish here to be too dry. There was no tamarind, it was too sweet, and it just didn’t stand up to the other versions I’d sampled.
“The problem,” Nualkhair said, “is that the flavor profile of the dish has changed over the years. We have globalization to thank for that. As the world becomes smaller, flavors here are conforming to those of international restaurants and fast food chains.”
Yes, the dish that introduced the world to Thai food is now being transformed in its native country, thanks to an increasingly homogenizing planet.
Although nearly all the pad Thai I had in Bangkok was better than versions I’d eaten outside of Thailand, I wasn’t wowed by any of it. I’d fantasised about stumbling upon some tiny out-of-the-way street cart selling the best pad Thai I’d ever eaten. That didn’t happen. I didn’t see as much pad Thai on offer in Bangkok as I thought I would, and most of the people I’d asked to take me to the tastiest version in town hardly budged, choosing restaurants located in their own neighborhoods. It seems that enthusiasm for pad Thai might be waning, both in Thailand and outside of the country. It’s the regional cuisine of Isaan, located in northeastern Thailand, that’s all the rage among Thai food lovers these days.
So has pad Thai run its course? Is this the beginning of the end for a dish pushed at the population so many years ago? Maybe.
On my penultimate day in Bangkok, still intent on finding great pad Thai, I jumped in a cab and directed the driver to Thip Samai, the place Wrisley and I had tried to visit earlier in the week. I arrived right at 5pm, hoping to avoid the spot’s legendary lines. The air was humid, and sweat was dripping from my pores. Still, I couldn’t wait to eat this legendary pad Thai.
Soon enough, a plate of the noodles was before me, wrapped in a womb of fried egg. I pushed my fork through and took a bite. The flavors were perfectly balanced. Sourness, sweetness, and saltiness all played off one another, with additional hints of charcoal. I added chilli flakes to give it some kick.
But after eating about seven versions of pad Thai over three days, I’d grown tired of the dish. Maybe it was the atmosphere: the slightly charred scent from the huge wok; the cacophony of screeches and beeps from the bustling traffic; the various herbs wafting around the sidewalk – but I finished the dish with mixed feelings. This was the last time I would have to eat pad Thai in a while, and yet I didn’t want this moment to end.
Rico says he's been a fan of pad Thai for forty years or more, but isn't sure he's ever had the perfect dish, or if you can even get it outside of Thailand, but he'll try the local version soon...

Planes grounded by iPad app error

The BBC has an article by WHO about a clusterfuck in the airline industry:
A faulty app caused American Airlines to ground dozens of its jets. The glitch caused iPad software, used by the planes' pilots and co-pilots for viewing flight plans, to stop working. The firm's cockpits went "paperless" in 2013 to save its staff having to lug heavy paperwork on board. American estimated the move would save it more than a million dollars in fuel every year.
The company said that it had now found a fix for the problem. "We experienced technical issues with an application installed on some pilot iPads," said a spokesman. "This issue was with the third-party application, not the iPad, and caused some departure delays last night and this morning. Our pilots have been able to address the issue by downloading the application again at the gate prior to take-off and, as a back-up, are able to rely on paper charts they can obtain at the airport. We apologise for the inconvenience to our customers."
American Airlines pilots use an app called FliteDeck, which is made by the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen.
American Airlines said its pilots often carried more than thirty-five pounds of paperwork.
"The issue was caused by a duplicate chart for Reagan National Airport in American's chart database," said Mike Pound. "The app could not reconcile the duplicate, causing it to shut down.We were able to remedy the situation quickly, and instruct pilots to uninstall and reinstall the app. Until the chart database is updated, American pilots flying to or from National will use PDF images of the chart, outside of the app."
Serge Gojkovich, chief executive of car parking app-maker Curbstand, was among the passengers affected. He tweeted that his San Francisco-to-Los Angeles flight only got airborne after its pilots told passengers they had printed off the maps they needed.
American Airlines is not the only carrier whose pilots and cabin crew have switched from using physical charts and paper manuals to tablets. United Airlines was also an early adopter of iPads, while Delta has opted for Microsoft's Surface tablets instead.
British Airways and Ryanair are, among others, still in the process of shifting to so-called Electronic Flight Bag-based systems.
In addition to saving on fuel costs, it is also suggested that it reduces flight preparation time, reduces the likelihood of injuries, and helps staff by offering real-time updates.
Rico says at least it was a software problem...

Abandoned bases

The detritus of history is all around us, as War History Online explains:

10. RAF Hethel, England
Royal Air Force Station Hethel or, more simply, RAF Hethel, is a former RAF station which was used by both the US Army Air Force and the RAF during the Second World War. The airfield is located seven miles southwest of Norwich in Norfolk, England and is now owned by Lotus Cars., which moved into a purpose-built factory on the site of the airfield in 1966 and developed portions of the runways and taxiways as a test track for their cars. The factory and engineering centers cover 55 acres of the former airfield, and use two and a half miles of the former runways. Much of the remaining runways have been removed and returned to agricultural use. Today the company also acts as an engineering consultancy, providing engineering development within the automotive industry. The company’s racing arm, Lotus Racing, and the Lotus Driving Academy are also located at Hethel.

9. Balaklava Submarine Base, Crimea
Naval museum complex Balaklava  is an underground submarine base in Balaklava, in the Crimea, a disputed area between Russia and the Ukraine. It was a top-secret military facility during the Cold War, located in Balaklava Bay.
Joseph Stalin made a secret directive: to find a place where they could base submarines for a retaliatory nuclear strike. After several years of research, the choice fell on quiet Balaklava, a city immediately classified. Balaklava sits on a narrow winding inlet with a width of only two to four hundred meters. The small inlet harbors the city not only from storms, but also from prying eyes; from the open sea, it is not visible under any angle. Additionally, the site is close to Sevastopol, a major naval base still used by the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet.
In 1957 it established a special building department, number 528, which engaged in the construction of underground facilities. The construction of the underground complex lasted for four years, from 1957 to 1961.
After closing in 1993, most of the complex was left unguarded. In 2000, the abandoned facility was handed over to the naval branch of the armed forces of the Ukraine.
The museum was founded according to the order of the State Secretary of the Ministry of Defence of the Ukraine on 30 December 2002 as the establishment of a branch of the Central Museum of Armed Forces of the Ukraine: naval museum complex Balaklava.

8. Fort Ord, Monterey, California
Fort Ord was opened in 1940 and closed in 1994. The fort was the largest US military base to be closed at the time. While much of the old military buildings and infrastructure remain abandoned, many structures have been torn down for anticipated development.
On 20 April 2012, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating a fifteen-thousand-acre portion of the former post as the Fort Ord National Monument. In his proclamation, the President stated that, “The protection of the Fort Ord area will maintain its historical and cultural significance, attract tourists from near and far, and enhance its unique natural resources, for the enjoyment of all Americans.”

7. Johnston Atoll, Hawai'i
Johnston Atoll is an unincorporated territory of the United States, currently administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Public entry is only by special-use permit, and is generally restricted to scientists and educators. For nearly seventy years, the atoll was under the control of the American military. During that time it was used as a bird sanctuary, a naval refueling depot, an airbase, the site for nuclear and biological weapons testing, a site for space recovery, as a secret missile base, and as a chemical weapon and Agent Orange storage and disposal site. These activities left the area environmentally contaminated, and remediation and monitoring continue. In 2004, the military base was closed and control was handed over to civilian authorities.

6. Željava Air Base, Croatia
Željava airbase, on the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the largest underground airport and military airbase in the former Yugoslavia, and one of the largest in Europe.
Construction of the airbase, code-named Objekat 505, began in 1948 and was completed in 1968. During those two decades, SFRJ spent approximately six billion dollars on its construction, three times the combined current annual military budgets of Serbia and Croatia. It was one of the largest and most expensive military construction projects in Europe.
The airbase was used intensively in 1991, during the Yugoslav Wars. During its withdrawal, the Yugoslav People’s Army destroyed the runway by filling pre-built spaces (explicitly designed for the purpose) with explosives and detonating them. To prevent any possible further use of the complex by opposing forces, the Military of Serbian Krajina completed the destruction in 1992 by setting off an additional fifty tons of explosives. The ensuing explosion was so powerful that it shook the nearby city of Bihać. Villagers claimed that smoke continued to rise from the tunnels for six months after the explosion.
The toll of the destruction on base buildings and equipment is incalculable and caused great environmental damage. Potential reconstruction endeavors are limited by a lack of financial resources. An international border cuts the base area in two, and the entire area is heavily mined. The barracks in the nearby village of Ličko Petrovo Selo are operated by the Croatian Army.

5. Duga 3 in the Ukraine
Duga-3 was a former Soviet over-the-horizon radar system used as part of the Soviet ABM early-warning network. The system operated from July of 1976 to December of 1989. Two Duga-3 radars were deployed, one near Chernobyl and Chernihiv, the other in eastern Siberia.
It was deactivated in the late 1980s, and lies within the thirty-kilometer Zone of Alienation around the Chernobyl power plant

4. Saint Nazaire Submarine Base, France
Before the Second World War, Saint-Nazaire (photo) was one of the largest harbours of the Atlantic coast of France. During the Battle of France, the German army arrived in Saint Nazaire in June of 1940. The harbor was immediately used for submarine operations, with U-46 arriving as soon as 29 September 1940.
In December of 1940, a mission of the Organisation Todt inspected the harbor to study the possibilities of building a submarine base invulnerable to air bombing by England.
Building began in February of 1941 with pens 6, 7, and 8, completed in June of 1941. From July of 1941 to January of 1942, pens 9 through 14 were built; and between February and June of 1942, pens 1 through 5. Work was eventually completed by the building of a tower.
Between late 1943 and early 1944, a fortified lock was built to protect submarines during their transfer from the Loire river and the pens. The lock is over a hundred meters long, twenty-five meters wide, and fourteen meters high; the roof features anti-aircraft armament.

3. Flak Towers in Austria and Germany
Flak towers were complexes of large, above-ground, anti-aircraft gun blockhouse towers constructed in the cities of Berlin, Hamburg, and Vienna from 1940 onwards.
Other cities that used flak towers included Stuttgart and Frankfurt. Smaller single-purpose flak towers were built at key outlying German strongpoints such as Angers, France and Helgoland, Germany.
They were used by the Luftwaffe to defend against Allied air raids on these cities during World War Two. They also served as air-raid shelters for tens of thousands of people, and to coordinate air defense.

2. The Maginot Line in France
The Maginot Line was a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapons installations that France constructed just before the border with Switzerland and the borders with Germany and Luxembourg during the 1930s. The Line did not extend through to the English Channel because the French military did not want to compromise Belgium’s neutrality. The line was a response to France’s experience in World War One and was constructed during the run-up to World War Two.
The French established the fortification to provide time for their army to mobilize in the event of attack, allowing French forces to move into Belgium for a decisive confrontation with Germany. The success of static, defensive combat in World War One was a key influence on French thinking. French military experts extolled the Maginot Line as a work of genius, believing it would prevent any further invasions from the East.
While the fortification system did prevent a direct attack, it was strategically ineffective, as the Germans invaded through Belgium, going around the Maginot Line and attacked it from the rear.
In late 1944 and early 1945 the Germans defended the line from the onrushing Allies, which again attacked it from the rear.

1. Maunsell Sea Forts, North Sea
The Maunsell Forts were small fortified towers built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries during World War Two to help defend the United Kingdom. They were operated as army and navy forts, and named after their designer, Guy Maunsell.
The forts were decommissioned in the late 1950s and later used for other activities, including pirate radio broadcasting. One of the forts is managed by the unrecognized Principality of Sealand; boats visit the remaining forts occasionally, and a consortium called Project Redsands is planning to conserve the fort situated at Red Sands.
In the summers of 2007 and 2008, Red Sands Radio, a station commemorating the pirate radio stations of the 1960s, operated from the Red Sands fort on 28-day Restricted Service Licences. The fort was subsequently declared unsafe, and Red Sands Radio has moved its operations ashore to Whitstable.

Mexican cartel ingenouity

Ioan Grillo has a Time article about ingenuity in a bad cause:
As Mexican gangsters shot it out with troops in the border city of Reynosa this month, residents posted warnings on social media of where not to drive. Not only was the gunfire itself a problem, but cartel gunmen had covered some roads with perilous spikes that they call ponchallantas or “tire punchers”. The hazard can appear suddenly, as the cartels have customized vans with tubes that eject the spikes. If a car drives into them too fast, it can spin into a lethal crash. Gangsters also set grounded vehicles on fire, creating more debris in the way of security forces.
The tire punchers used in the 17 April 2015 firefight, in which soldiers arrested an alleged kingpin called José Tiburcio Hernández, are the latest example of the homemade battle technology developed by Mexico’s cartels. Gangsters have also built fighting vehicles with four inch-thick armor, sometimes referred to as “monsters” or “narco tanks.” And in October of 2014, police in the western state of Jalisco even busted a clandestine factory where traffickers assembled their own assault rifles.
The development of this narco technology south of the Rio Grande has grabbed the attention of security thinkers like Robert Bunker, an external researcher for the Army War College. He compares it to the homemade war tools used by insurgent forces round the world. “Each battle technology has been adapted to both the conflict environment and the ideological and illicit economic motivations of the irregular forces,” Bunker says. “Caltrops and spike traps have been a component of warfare going back to the ancient Greeks. In many ways, we can think of them as pre-modern landmines.”
While there is no declared war in Mexico, fighting between rival cartels and the security forces has claimed more than eighty thousand lives since 2007, according to a count by Mexico’s federal intelligence agency. Gangsters use traditional weapons, including Kalashnikovs, which are often smuggled from the United Sates. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive has traced over seventy thousand guns seized in Mexico to American gun sellers since 2009. Cartels also have rocket-propelled grenades, which may have been stolen from Central American military caches.
However, it is harder for them to buy actual military vehicles leading to them inventing their own. The Zetas cartel, which was led by former soldiers, first developed its own armored vehicles, converting regular trucks and building others from scratch. Their “monsters” resemble machines from the fantasy road wars of Mad Max, with gun turrets, battering rams and walls of armor.
The Mexican army has taken many of these makeshift tanks off the road, holding more than forty of them in its base in Reynosa. But some are still at large and causing havoc. Last year, a Zeta monster attacked a hotel in the border town of Ciudad Mier, where executives from the oil services multinational Weatherford were staying. (The executives were shaken but unscathed).
Rico says what if guys this smart were doing something actually useful...

Tattoos a problem for the Apple Watch

WHO has a Time article about people with tattoos and Apple Watches:
Tattooed tech lovers, take note: the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor may not work for people with tattoos covering their wrists.
According to iMore, watch owners with inked-up wrists have noted on Twitter and Reddit that they have had trouble getting the device to read their heartbeats. The problem is likely occurring because the watch’s sensors utilize LEDs to determine when blood flow is increasing on the wrist during each heartbeat.
Apple explains the process in a support article for the watch:
Apple Watch uses green LEDs paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist— and the green light absorption— is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LEDs hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute : your heart rate.
The presence of artificial ink on the skin can apparently interfere with this process, according to iMore, by reducing the Apple Watch sensor’s ability to detect changes in light. The tech news site tried to replicate some of the complaints using tattooed and non-tattooed wrists. In particular, tattoos that make use of dark colors could make the heart rate monitoring feature yield faulty results. Natural skin pigments don’t seem to cause the same issue, but other things like scars might.
Apple acknowledges in its support article that “various factors” could make it impossible for a small subset of users to get a heart rate reading, but the company doesn’t specify what those factors are. Potential buyers who sport ink should probably test the watch at an Apple Store before purchasing.
Recently, Apple updated its support documents for Apple Watch to include information about tattoos potentially interfering with the device. “Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance,” the help page now reads. “The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings.”
Rico says he has neither an iWatch nor a tattoo, so he cares not...

Uber about to change

Alex Fitzpetrick has a Time article about Uber:
Uber’s evolution from a car-hailing service to a delivery operation appears to be underway. The San Francisco, California-based company is in talks with hundreds of big-name retailers for a same-day delivery program, TechCrunch reports. Some of the high-end brands talking to Uber about same-day delivery include Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, and Hugo Boss. The service would allow for quick in-city deliveries from retail locations to customers; it would not involve warehouse shipments.
Uber has experimented with rapid order delivery in the past, but now it appears, for the first time, to be working on a dedicated app for the service. Eventually, Uber plans to allow drivers to pick up human passengers and merchant cargo all from within the same app.
While expanding from moving people around cities to moving cargo might seem like a big change for Uber on the surface, it isn’t all that different in practice. Uber is best understood not as a ride-hailing service, but as a logistics platform for short-haul trips, powered by big data and intelligent algorithms. It’s also investing heavily in driverless car technology (video), which could help it cut human drivers out of the equation entirely. Uber, then, is well-positioned to compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx when it comes to quick in-city deliveries.
Rico says it'll be interesting...

29 April 2015

Boko Haram for the day

Aryn Baker has a Time article about good news (for once) out of Nigeria:
When a Nigerian military spokesman claimed recently to have rescued some two hundred women and girls held captive by members of the Boko Haram, hopes soared that they might be the schoolgirls kidnapped a year ago from a dormitory that put the name of their small town, Chibok, in the global spotlight.
The kidnapping, which took place on 14 April 2014, spurred an international twitter campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, and saw a dedicated band of Nigerian mothers, students, activists, and civil society members holding daily vigils in the capital, Abuja, and weekly protests elsewhere in the country.
More than two thousand women and children from Northeastern Nigeria have been kidnapped by Boko Haram in the past seventeen months, but the plight of the schoolgirls, who were kidnapped in one raid and seemed to have been targeted because they were seeking education, garnered the world’s sympathy. The founder of the Bring Back our Girls movement, former World Bank Vice President for Africa and former Nigerian Education Minister Obiageli Ezekwesili (video, top) was relentless in her campaign to make sure the Chibok girls were not forgotten, and brought in international celebrities from Madonna to First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousufzai to promote the cause.
So fervent is the desire to see the girls back and alive, the disappointment that the two hundred rescued women were not from Chibok was profound. “Alas, it certainly seems they are not the Chibok girls and that is profoundly heart breaking,” Ezekwesili wrote in an email. “Yet, that these girls and women who were also captives of those savages (for God knows how long) can now breathe the air of freedom is certainly a victory.”
When the girls were first kidnapped, it took nearly two weeks for the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to respond, and even longer to launch a military effort to take on Boko Haram and track down the students. When the Nigerian military attacked the group, they were often defeated. In many cases soldiers simply abandoned their posts, largely due to inadequate weapons and fears that they would not receive additional air support if they did decide to engage. The failure of a hollowed-out military that had once been the pride of Nigeria and one of the most respected forces in Africa prompted national soul-searching, and may have lead, in part, to the electoral defeat of Jonathan in elections last month. While military spokesmen have claimed credit for the rescue and a spate of military defeats that forced Boko Haram into taking refuge in the dense Sambisa forest, the gains could not have been achieved without the support of an international coalition made up of militaries from neighbors Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
The incoming president, Muhammadu Buhari, has pledged to rebuild the army, but it will take years to recover from a decade of neglect and endemic corruption.
Despite the hopes and efforts of activists like Ezekwesili, the likelihood of finding all the Chibok girls is slim. In several videos posted to YouTube, Boko Haram founder Abubakar Shekau boasted that the girls, many of whom were Christian, had either converted to Islam and been married off, or refused to convert and sold as slaves. According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram fighters, fleeing the advancing Nigerian army, have in some instances slaughtered their own wives rather than let them be captured by “infidels”, a fate that could have befallen some of the Chibok girls. Amnesty also suggests that others might have perished due to the rigors of captivity, and, if the fate of several other Boko Haram escapees (video, bottom) is a guide, they might have been used as sex slaves or forced to fight.
Boko Haram has also used young women in suicide attacks, though it is not clear that any of the bombers came from Chibok. Nonetheless, the efforts to rescue the Chibok girls, and all other Boko Haram abductees, must continue, says Ezekwesili. The rescue of the two hundred girls on Tuesday makes it clear. “We can seize on their rescue to add more pressure on our government to spare no effor in finding our Chibok girls and all other abductees.”
As for the Chibok girls, it is yet another reminder that the world is unlikely to forget them, and the fact that neither the Nigerian military, nor an international Twitter campaign, has been able to find them.
Rico says some people are still in a barbarous state, and should be wiped off the planet...

Mysterious San Jose mansion

Roman Mars has a Slate article about a spooky place:
Roman Mars’ podcast, 99% Invisible, covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at The Eye, we cross-post new episodes and host excerpts from the 99% Invisible blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode.
This week's edition is about the legend of Sarah Winchester:

The 1873 Winchester repeater rifle, capable of firing fifteen shots in slightly more than ten seconds, was the gun of Western expansion. It came to be known as “the gun that won the West.” Because of this, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was the most successful gun company in the late nineteenth century, and the Winchester family became fabulously wealthy.
In 1862, William Winchester, the heir to the family business and fortune, married the beautiful and intelligent Sarah Pardee. Four years later, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Annie. The whole family lived together in a palatial mansion in New Haven, Connecticut. And then came a string of terrible tragedies.
Annie couldn’t absorb protein. And even with all they money in the world, Sarah Winchester couldn’t stop her daughter from starving to death before her eyes. Then, five years later, her husband died from tuberculosis at only forty-three years old.
According to legend, Winchester’s friends advised her to seek the services of a Boston spiritual medium named Adam Koombs, who put Winchester in touch with her deceased husband, who had bad news: he told her that she would always be haunted by the spirits of those who had been killed by Winchester rifles.
Speaking through Koombs, her late husband instructed her to placate the spirits by building a structure that would perpetually grow to shelter the ever-increasing number of Winchester rifle victims. And if she did, Sarah Winchester would gain immortality.
Winchester rifles had killed a lot of people. If Winchester were to appease their ghosts, she would need to build a very, very big house. And she had the money to do it. Having inherited her late husband’s stock in the rifle company, she was now one of the wealthiest people in the country.
Winchester moved from New Haven to an eight-room farmhouse in San Jose, California. Right away she began remodeling. At any given time there might have been a dozen people there working on the house, including carpenters, tile setters, painters, and electricians. Some reports estimate that her house swelled from eight to twenty-six rooms in the first six months. Others claim there was no end to the construction, that Winchester’s crew worked on the house in rotating shifts, all day, every day, for thirty-eight years.
Over time the house became a tangled maze of halls and a mashup of turrets and stained glass windows. And, because she built over so many years, the house was also a wild combination of architectural styles. It also has doors that lead nowhere, staircases that stop halfway. For a long time, no one was able to see the hodgepodge of styles and ornaments in this house except Winchester and her staff of eighteen house servants, thirteen carpenters, eight to ten gardeners, and two private chauffeurs. Sarah Winchester kept to herself. Supposedly, she was also always shrouded in a veil.
It’s unclear how much of the legend is true. We don’t know whether she attempted to commune with ghosts, whether she built her huge house to placate them, or whether she felt guilty about her fortune coming from guns.
After she died in 1922, the legends and rumors about her gained traction. Especially given that, in 1923, an entrepreneur named John H. Brown saw the possibility in the old, decrepit estate and reopened it as the Winchester Mystery House (photo), Since then, it’s been the subject of all kinds of pseudo-documentaries on haunted houses.
You can buy a ticket to tour Winchester’s house and, soon, you may also be able to stay overnight at the Winchester Mystery House.
The widely accepted narrative about Winchester, and the one that the current owners of the house are selling, is that she was haunted by spirits. But not everyone is buying it. Historian Mary Jo Ignoffo explores alternative theories about Winchester in her book, Captive of the LabyrinthIgnoffo found no evidence supporting the idea that Winchester communed with spirits. She believes that what drove Winchester to build was her desire to be an architect.
Sarah Winchester lived at time when it was highly unusual for women to be architects. She wasn’t licensed, so her own home was the perfect place— and the only place— where she could practice architecture. Whatever her motivations were, she built a house with more than a hundred and fifty rooms, two thousand doors, forty-seven fireplaces, forty bedrooms, forty staircases, seventeen chimneys, thirteen bathrooms, six kitchens, three elevators, two basements, and one shower. She spent nearly all of her life being an architect.
Rico says he's been there, as he used to live just up the road, and it is weird...

28 April 2015

Smiley's people

Rico says no, not the spy thriller starring Alec Guinness, but the villain in the splendid book The Map Thief by Michael Blanding:
Part crime thriller, part cartographic history lesson, part psychological dissection of a guy who had to win, no matter the cost, it's a splendid read.

Nepal for the day

Rishi Iyengar has a Time article about the notion of earthquake preparedness:
The shock of the past few days in Nepal has given way to despair, frustration and a few larger questions as the death toll from the devastating earthquake that wracked the small Himalayan nation over the weekend rose above four thousand, a number that will almost certainly rise once international rescue teams reach rubble-filled outlying areas surrounding the capital, Kathmandu.
The massive quake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale and followed by three days of panic-inducing aftershocks, has left the country — already one of the world’s poorest and least developed — reeling and utterly helpless.
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But while the earthquake is tragic, seismologists said it didn’t come as a surprise. Nepal’s location on a fault line and a lack of emergency resources made a devastating earthquake inevitable, heightening a sense that more should have been done to make typically ramshackle local buildings more resilient, and so saving countless lives.
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“It was no surprise whatsoever. This is the earthquake we’ve been waiting for,” Susan Hough, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, tells TIME. “People have been talking about a magnitude 8-ish earthquake hitting Nepal pretty much exactly like this one did. What surprises me is how many buildings are still standing.”
A monk inspects the damage at Nepalese heritage site Syambhunaath Stupa, also known as monkey temple, after a powerful earthquake struck Nepal, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Rescue workers remove debris as they search for victims of earthquake in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Nepalese policemen clear the debris at Basantapur Durbar Square, damaged in Saturday's earthquake, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Narendra Shrestha—EPA
A monk inspects the damage at Nepalese heritage site Syambhunaath Stupa, also known as monkey temple, after a powerful earthquake struck Nepal, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
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Nepal, nestled in the midst of the Himalayas and on a fault line between the Eurasian and South Asian tectonic plates, has long been on experts’ radar as a high-risk region that lacks the wherewithal to protect its 30 million people.
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The country has a per capita GDP under $1,000, and homeowners often construct their own buildings without any oversight from trained engineers. Government officials imposed a new building code in 1994, six years after an earthquake there killed 700 people, but lack the resources, or will, to enforce it strictly. The government also attempted to implement a 1998 action plan formulated by disaster-management organizations GeoHazards International and the National Society for Earthquake Technology–Nepal, but was unable to adequately shore up its defenses.
“People have been trying for a long time to improve preparedness and resilience, but they’re resource-strapped,” Hough said.
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The rest of the world has jumped to Nepal’s aid in the quake’s aftermath, with a host of countries ranging from neighbors like India and China to distant nations like the U.S. and even Israel joining the landlocked Himalayan nation’s own people in providing relief-and-rescue assistance. However, the continuing efforts have enforced a bitter sense of how powerless the Nepali government is to care for its own people when faced with calamity.
“Our government is not strong enough to handle this,” said Kshitiz Nyaupane, a Kathmandu local in his mid-20s. “We must take care of it ourselves.”
Nyaupane’s statement echoes the frustration Nepal’s people feel at a political system wracked by decades of indecision, internal conflict and instability.
A decade-long civil war sparked off by a Maoist rebellion ended in 2006 after claiming nearly 20,000 lives, and the monarchy that had ruled Nepal since the 1700s was abolished in favor of parliamentary democracy. Competing and highly divisive factions of Nepali politics have been unable to come to an agreement on a constitution since then, however, and issues like disaster preparedness have taken a backseat amid an impasse that has lasted nearly a decade.
Indian soldiers, left, on a rescue mission to Nepal rush to board an Indian Air Force aircraft near New Delhi on April 26, 2015.
Plastic containers with drinking water are loaded into an Indian Air Force aircraft headed to Nepal, at a base near New Delhi on April 26, 2015.
The shadow of an Indian Air Force aircraft carrying relief material is cast on clouds as it approaches landing in Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 27, 2015.
Nepalese volunteers unload relief material, brought by an Indian Air Force helicopter for victims of Saturday's earthquake at Trishuli Bazar in Nepal on April 27, 2015.
Altaf Qadri—AP
Indian soldiers, left, on a rescue mission to Nepal rush to board an Indian Air Force aircraft near New Delhi on April 26, 2015.
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“We have had no political stability, nine prime ministers in eight years, and we don’t have a constitution,” Nishchal N. Pandey, director of the Kathmandu-based Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS), tells TIME. “The people are very, very frustrated” at Nepal’s political and economic paralysis that could well be exacerbated by this disaster, Pandey said.
“The government cannot look after everyone,” said Tika Regmi, executive director of local trekking company Adventure Mountain Explore Treks & Expedition. “It’s the public like us who has to be careful.”
Although all of Regmi’s tour groups bound for the base camp of Mount Everest have fortunately been accounted for, he said not a single member of the government, police or army had come to his village of Budhanilkantha (about 11 km from Kathmandu) as of Monday afternoon. “Some people don’t even have a tent, mattress, blankets or food,” he said. “I don’t know if the government is looking, they may come to us tomorrow or maybe not.” Regmi was unreachable on Tuesday.
Some believe the government’s efforts of the 1990s may have mitigated the extent of the devastation to some degree — experts had previously predicted that an 8.0-magnitude quake in Kathmandu could kill between 40,000 and 250,000 people, according to University of Colorado professor and South Asian earthquake expert Roger Bilham.
But Pandey says there are certain facts and figures that are inexcusable. “Can you imagine that the Nepal army has just one Mi-7 helicopter?” he says. “Just one, for a force of 90,000. This is a grave tragedy.”
The CSAS head hopes that the earthquake, as tragic as it is, will be the jolt Nepal’s political class needs to get its act together. A fully functioning government would go some way to ensure the next quake, which is surely coming, does not wreak such a hefty toll. “So many people have died, our history is completely gone, and if not now, then when will these politicians come together?”
Rico says no one can truly be 'prepared' for an earthquake; the question is what can you after one? (For poor, Third World countries like Nepal, the answer is, alas, not much.)

History for the day

On 28 April 28 1947, a six-man expedition sailed from Peru aboard a balsa wood raft (photo) named the Kon-Tiki, on a hundred-day journey across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia.

Jarheads for the day

Elwood Shelton has a Gun Digest article about the Marines and their new sidearm:
This news is a bit long in the tooth, but nonetheless intriguing; the Marine Corps is adopting the Glock 19.
The service announced the authorization of the polymer-framed pistol’s use in a 2 February 2015 Marine Administrative Message. But not every Devil Dog will get a shot at holstering the striker-fire 9x19mm sidearm. Presently, the Glock 19 has only been sanctioned for use by Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
MARSOC, officially activated in 2006, is based out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and is split into three subordinate commands: Raider Regiment, Support Group, and Intelligence Battalion. The Glock 19 represents the third pistol that MARSOC has used in its short history.
At times, the special operations group has utilized the Beretta M9A1, a variation on the standard-issue military sidearm. More recently, MARSOC has employed a variation of the venerable Colt M1911. Around two years ago, the Corps placed a twenty-millon-dollar order with Colt for its M45A1 Close Quarter Battle Pistol.
According to Military.com, the most recent addition to the special operators’ roster of sidearms came at the direct request of the troops themselves: as nice as the new .45s are, many MARSOC troops prefer to carry Glock 19s instead, sources said.
The 1911 was a ground-breaking design that served the military before World War One until the mid-1980s. The design is still popular, but it’s also heavy, prone to malfunction, and limited to seven or eight-round magazines, pistols experts have said.
The Glock 19’s ease of use and maintenance, standard magazine capacity of fifteenrounds and reliability were given later in the article as some of the reasons why the pistol has curried favor with MARSOC.
The G19 is utilized by a number of militaries around the world, and has seen action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The pistol, however, is perhaps better known in the United States for its work in law enforcement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York City Police Department and the US Marshals Service have all, at one time or another, carried the Glock 19.
That the Glock 19 is working its way into the Marine Corps isn’t the only sidearm shakeup in the military. Presently, all branches are looking for a replacement for the Beretta M9, which took over duty from the M1911 in 1985.
Rico says he's surprised they didn't pick the one in green:

Hitting the Texas treasury

Mike Cox, the author of two dozen nonfiction books, including a two-volume history of the Texas Rangers, an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters since 1993, and writes a syndicated news column called Texas Tales, has an article in True West about The Great Texas Treasury Raid:
When the bell atop Austin, Texas ’ First Baptist Church began clanging on the moonlit Sunday evening of 11 June 1865, the town’s civilian home guardsmen knew it signified trouble, not a call to worship. With hundreds of battle-hardened ex-Confederate soldiers swarming the town of four thousand, none of the volunteers were surprised that a need for their services had arisen. But the nature of the emergency would rock the war-weary state. Once the Civil War effectively ended with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender on 12 April 1865, Texas rapidly descended into near anarchy. One Confederate general refused to lay down his arms: Joseph “Jo” Orville Shelby. Hoping the South might rise again, Shelby and the four hundred-plus soldiers of his Iron Brigade of Missourians marched toward Austin,  en route to Mexico. Most Texas officials, unsure if they would be hanged as traitors or merely told to go and sin no more, preferred not to find out, and vacated their offices. Only the lieutenant governor (now acting governor) and two financial officials, Comptroller Willis L. Robards and Treasurer Cyrus H. Randolph, opted to stay. “...Confederate soldiers, without officers or order, are coming in every hour, and there is nothing but plunder and sack going on and the citizens are as bad as the soldiers,” Amelia Barr wrote in her diary on 25 May. Eight days later, she noted, “Everything in confusion...and there is no law.”
But newly discharged Confederate cavalry Captain George Freeman had taken it upon himself to organize a thirty-man home guard to help preserve the rule of law in the capital city.
Shortly before nine, on the night of 11 June, Nathan Shelley, a former state attorney general before joining the Confederacy, received word that some forty armed men had broken into the unguarded state treasury. Shelley told Freeman something was afoot. Easing through the shadows toward the Capitol, the two heard metal striking metal from the treasury. Freeman ran to spread the alarm.
Confederate veteran Fred Sterzing heard hurried footsteps, followed by someone knocking on the door and yelling that the treasury was being looted. He raced to the Dieterich Building, where the armory occupied the second floor.
Nineteen volunteers removed rifles from their stacks, fixed bayonets, and gathered in formation in front of the building. Freeman led the company to the Baptist church across from the Capitol. At his command, the guardsmen charged toward the three-story limestone state house. Lookouts posted by the bandits fired at them, but no one got hit.
Freeman’s men entered the Capitol without encountering further resistance. They sprinted to the adjacent treasury. The bandits inside the treasury bailed out the north door, clutching their hats, shirts, and tied-off trousers filled with coins.
Johanna Domschke, who lived across the street from the treasury, heard the sharp reports of rifles and pistols. As she watched, wind raised her apron and a stray bullet punched a hole in the garment, barely missing her. Despite the danger, she stayed outside and observed the bandits as they fled on horseback.
His men dismounted and outnumbered, Freeman decided not to give chase. He focused on the one intruder who remained inside. Freeman and three men headed for the second floor. He and his brother took one set of stairs; Sterzing and Al Musgrove, the other. The rest of the volunteers surrounded the building. When the guardsmen reached the top of the stairs, the man fired at them. Musgrove recalled that the bandit “came into the hallway. In one hand was his hat filled with silver, and his six-shooter in the other.…”
Musgrove and Sterzing fired back, and one of the bullets hit the robber in the stomach. The man retreated into the vault room. Musgrove stuck his pistol through the door to fire again, but before he could pull the trigger, the man cried: “Don’t shoot…I am mortally wounded.” Still covering the man, Musgrove watched as he “came out bent almost double and fell to the floor,” whiskey oozing from his wound.
Inside the vault room, scattered coins, negotiable bonds and worthless Confederate States of America cash covered the floor. The robbers had used pickaxes to punch holes in the backs of two large safes to get to the money.
Freeman’s men carried the wounded bandit to the former Swisher Hotel, the San Marcos. Musgrove recognized the man as a drunk he had seen in town a few hours earlier. “As he passed me he said, ‘It’s about time for the boys to meet, isn’t it?’” Musgrove recalled, but he had paid no attention to the remark at the time.
Freeman’s company guarded the treasury that night. Shortly after daylight, Freeman led a posse in pursuit of the bandits. The raiders had split into two parties to make following them harder. One trail led northwest, and another ran north. Riding each, all the volunteers found were a few dropped coins.
Alex Campbell, the gut-shot robber, died hard. While refusing to name his colleagues, to his last breath, he profanely upbraided his fellow bandits as cowards.
One night, shortly after the raid, someone broke into Sterzing’s room. Awakening to see a man standing over him with a knife, he struggled with the intruder, who escaped. Sterzing snapped off a shot, but missed. The same night, someone found Comptroller Robards bound and gagged. The city feared another attack on the treasury, but nothing more happened.
Austin not only lacked sufficient law enforcement to keep the peace, it also had no newspaper to report the crime. The Galveston News later ran an item that noted “it is the universal belief of the citizens that the robbers had been waiting to lay blame on Shelby’s men when they arrived there.”
Freeman wrote to Major F.W. Emory in Galveston, Texas, telling him that the troops had saved about thirty thousand dollars in specie and US coupons, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in liabilities to the state. “This service was voluntary and without expectations of reward,” he declared.
A final audit showed the treasury held $1.753 million in railroad bonds, $475,000 in US Treasury bonds, $384,000 in valueless Confederate notes, $90,000 in Comptroller’s certificates, $25,000 in state warrants, and $27,525 in specie. A reported $17,000 in coin had been taken, which, based on growth in financial asset to today, would equal over three million dollars.
Until Federal troops reached Austin in mid-summer, Freeman’s men continued to guard what remained of the state’s public funds. They also tried to identify the bandits, but no arrests were made.
Some thought it suspicious that Governor Pendleton Murrah left town with General Shelby soon after the raid, but he probably fled because he feared Federal prosecution.
Shelby vigorously denied that he or his men had participated in the break-in. He threatened to torch the town if residents persisted in spreading that rumor.
Some suggested Shelby’s men pulled off the robbery on their own. Treasury defender Joe Owens insisted years later that “such was not the case”. He said Shelby’s command had not even reached Austin until the day after the robbery.
Texas’s oldest cold case remains unsolved on the books, but circumstantial evidence points to John Rapp, a rebel soldier originally from Missouri who had been living in Austin, as the mastermind of the raid.
In 1861, Rapp had joined the Confederate Army with the 5th Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers, and taken part in two bloody battles in New Mexico before returning to Texas in the summer of 1862. Rapp’s final discharge came in May of 1865, just days prior to the treasury raid. Having been wounded and captured in the war, he may have felt such a strong sense of entitlement that he and his comrades helped themselves to some hard currency.
But, in two years, Rapp’s name surfaced in print as a likely suspect. The revelation didn’t become well known until 1897, when Shelby’s death prompted some newspapers to publish excerpts from a sensational and largely inaccurate account of the general’s career, written in 1867 by his adjutant, John N. Edwards. Edwards claimed Shelby’s men, not Freeman’s volunteers, had mitigated the treasury raid. That falsehood riled Freeman and others who had risked their lives that night. Freeman wrote the Galveston newspaper to blast Edwards, and so did Owens, who indirectly suggested the raid had been led by Rapp, who Edwards had mentioned in his book: “...some thirty or forty Texans from the neighborhood of the town, led by a notorious Captain Rabb [sic], made a furious sledge-hammer and cold-chisel onslaught upon five large iron safes in the treasury house there....”
No one said outright Rapp was the ringleader. But one of Freeman’s men reported that a raider had called out to Rapp by name during the melee following the discovery that the treasury was being robbed. The woman who nearly got shot during the raid said she recognized Rapp among the bandits.
Another person who may have been involved in the robbery became one of the Old West’s most noted characters: gambler, gunman, and gadabout Ben Thompson. Near the end of the Civil War, Thompson had recruited a company of men to protect the Texas settlements from hostile Indians. Rapp became captain, and Thompson became his lieutenant. Thompson disappeared from Austin immediately after the raid. Returning in July, he soon got arrested for another offense, but escaped and fled to Mexico.
Further bolstering the belief that the two had participated and even led the treasury robbery, Alex Campbell, the raider killed in the robbery, had been a member of the Rapp-Thompson company.
As for the nineteen heroes, in 1909, the Texas House adopted a resolution extending thanks to the defenders of the state treasury that summer night 43 years earlier. One hundred fifty years after the robbery, the State of Texas is still short seventeen thousand dollars, over three million today.
Rico says that Cox is an on-line acquaintance of his, via Rico's interest in the Texas Rangers...

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