31 August 2015

FiOS, not

Rico says he's still pissed at Verizon for lying about bringing him FIOS, but maybe to the new place...

Clinton’s classified emails: State Department says August release includes 150 emails classified after the fact.


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Mark Seymour

The Honda 'hearse'

Rico says he knows it's not (it's an Odyssey), but don't it look like one?

History for the day

On 31 August 1997, Britain's Princess Diana died in a car crash (photo) in Paris, France at the age of 36.

Gulag for the day

Neil Farquhar has an article in The New York Times about a squabble over whose history prevails in the new Russia:
Yuri Brodsky, who has dedicated his life to exposing the dark secrets of the ancient Solovetsky Monastery (photos), pointed at a small, dirty courtyard window blocked by a crooked red brick wall. The bricks were a rare leftover from the nearly two decades when the fortresslike monastery served as the Soviet Union’s first gulag, remnants of a horrific period initially detailed by the Nobel laureate and historian Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn.
“All traces of the labor camp are gradually being destroyed and removed,” said Brodsky, a disheveled figure with short white hair.
Russia has been wrangling over how to commemorate the gulag victims, an emotionally charged process that culminated this month when Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev recognized the millions who suffered under Soviet political repression.
Activists were encouraged by a directive he signed, but expressed several misgivings. First, it was essentially nonbinding, with no legal or budgetary weight. Second, it was Medvedev who signed it, not the man who matters most in Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin.
Finally, it contradicted what has actually been happening in places like Solovetsky: downplaying the legacy of oppression. For the first time since the fall of Communism, neither the church nor the government sent a representative to an annual ceremony on 7 August 2015 commemorating the camp’s victims.
Likewise, Perm-36, a former gulag that had been preserved as a museum of political repression, was transformed this year into one that focuses on the camp’s labor history. A recent exhibition there extolled Perm-36’s achievements in timber production.
Such dilution has become more prevalent, especially at sites now controlled by the Russian Orthodox Church. Critics say the church sidesteps questions of accountability as it emphasizes the ecclesiastical role of these sites.
That trend produced an intense tug-of-war over the remote islands on which the monastery is found. The Solovetsky Islands, informally known as Solovki, are in the White Sea, a hundred miles below the Arctic Circle.
The debate pits monks and religious pilgrims against those who believe the site should be consecrated to the countless political prisoners who died here. Villagers who fear expulsion by the church have been drawn into the argument too, as have tour operators who promote the area’s spare beauty and the chance to view beluga whales and other wildlife. UNESCO is also involved, warning that excessive reconstruction might jeopardize the status of the fortified monastery, founded in 1436, as a World Heritage site.
The church sees the monastery as an important testament to the power of faith because it has survived so long in such a remote location. “Many national holy shrines were created in desertlike silence, but as time went by, cities rose around them,” the monastery’s abbot, Archimandrite Porfiry, said in an emailed response to written questions. “At Solovki it is easy to find solitude, so important for the soul.” He characterized the gulag period at the site, from 1923 to 1939, as a mere interlude in the monastery’s long history. However, it looms large for those who want to commemorate its victims.
For one thing, the monastery is the only place where the Bolshevik government ever, albeit briefly, acknowledged holding political prisoners. (The czars used it for that purpose, too, until 1903.) Among the monastery’s first political prisoners were Russian leftists who allied with the Bolsheviks during the revolution.
“This is a very complicated problem,” said Arseny B. Roginsky, chairman of Memorial, an organization founded in 1992 to commemorate Stalin’s victims, but which is now frequently attacked by Putin loyalists as a nest of “foreign agents”.
Roginsky said the clergy at Solovetsky and other sites pray for the dead without examining culpability. “There are two memories competing there,” he said. “Our memory is looking for who is guilty, and the church is not. The state feels safe passing this memory to the church.”
Several historians said that was especially true under Putin, who once worked for the KGB, the secret police agency whose precursors created the camp. In Solzhenitsyn’s telling, the labor camp system was a secret police experiment that spawned a prolonged nightmare, “born and come to maturity on Solovki”.
In the long days of the Arctic summer, it is hard to picture the dystopian scenes described by camp survivors. The main island, covered by thick pine forests and dotted with lakes, has a bucolic if dilapidated air. Cows and goats graze freely outside the monastery walls, in a village with a year-round population of about a thousand.
The islands were considered sacred long before the monastery was built; pre-Christian cultures left behind complex stone labyrinths, built as portals to the afterlife. The monastery’s turreted granite walls were finished around 1601, and withstood a British naval bombardment during the Crimean War.
When Brodsky, 69, first visited the islands in 1970, many traces of the long-closed labor camp remained. An engineer and photographer, Brodsky began documenting it all. He tracked down camp survivors across Russia, at a time when even mentioning the Solovki gulag was taboo. The KGB learned of his project and tried to get him fired.
After the Soviet Union collapsed and some archives were opened, Brodsky created an exhibit and wrote a book, Solovki, a 527-page compendium of documents, photographs, and testimony from former prisoners.
Former prisoners told him that inmates worked twelve hours a day at arduous tasks like felling trees, often with little more than their bare hands. They wore whatever clothes they were arrested in, which eventually fell to rags. In the winter they slept in piles to ward off the icy cold; in the summer, the mosquitoes were so aggressive that one excruciating punishment was simply to be tied up naked outdoors. A remote church on Sekirnaya Hill became a “special punishment chamber”; few sent there returned.
“The idea of this camp was to change someone from an individual into part of an anonymous crowd,” Brodsky said. It cost many of them their lives, though the overall toll has never been publicly revealed.
The monks, these days, about a hundred, began restoring the monastery a decade ago. Archimandrite Porfiry, the abbot, said major reconstruction was necessary because many of the buildings were in terrible shape. The government plans to spend about two million dollars a year for five years there.
Brodsky said the monks whittled away at his exhibition in the monastery, and eventually pushed it out. In 2011, the Ministry of Culture replaced the exhibit with a small museum in a former barracks in the village, with the abbot as director. Brodsky says the museum soft-pedals gulag life by emphasizing gentler aspects, like the prison theater. The only exhibit within the monastery grounds now focuses on the repression of the clergy.
The abbot said it was appropriate to house the gulag museum in a building built for the camp, and some visitors, like Vitaly Korzhikhin, 24, agreed. “People come to the monastery for different purposes; some seek salvation or support,” said Korzhikhin, a churchgoing mobile phone engineer. “For them, it would be unpleasant to see this exhibition inside the walls.”
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior church official, said that in the last years of the Soviet Union, the monastery was plagued by “barbarous tourism”, including camping, loud music, and public drunkenness.
“It is a place of prayer, it is place of mourning, it is where many innocent people, who were outstanding representatives of the intelligentsia, died,” Father Chaplin said. “It is a memorial place for many people, believers and not. It should remain such a memorial place.”
Even so, efforts to commemorate gulag victims without church approval have tended to disappear. The Memorial organization erected a monument in 2003 to the first six political prisoners who were shot, for example, but the stone slabs vanished within days.
The commemoration tug of war has played out in other odd ways. A depiction of the monastery on Russia’s five-hundred-ruble note initially showed it as it was during the gulag period, without crosses. The image was later altered under church pressure.
The whole story of Solovki deserves to be studied and remembered, Brodsky said, but with Russia in such a nationalist mood, he saw little hope of that. “History cannot be changed, but it can be analyzed,” he said. “We should admit the errors we made. Repentance does not mean we should hide our heads under the floor; rather, we should look back and think about the path we followed.”
Rico says it's the old church-versus-state problem, and who wants to admit to mistakes?

Uber Hires Hackers to Secure Its Vehicles | TIME


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Mark Seymour

Another great one gone: Oliver Sacks

Time has an obituary by Malcolm Ritter about a great mind, Oliver Sacks:
Dr. Oliver Sacks, whose books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat probed distant ranges of human experience by compassionately portraying people with severe and sometimes bizarre neurological conditions, has died at 82.
He died Sunday at his home in New York City, his assistant, Kate Edgar, said.
Sacks had announced in February of 2015 that he was terminally ill with a rare eye cancer that had spread to his liver.
As a practicing neurologist, Sacks looked at some of his patients with a writer’s eye and found publishing gold.
In his best-selling 1985 book, he described a man who really did mistake his wife’s face for his hat while visiting Sacks’ office, because his brain had difficulty interpreting what he saw. Another story in the book featured autistic twins who had trouble with ordinary math but who could perform other amazing calculations.
Discover magazine ranked it among the 25 greatest science books of all time in 2006, declaring that “legions of neuroscientists now probing the mysteries of the human brain cite this book as their greatest inspiration.”
Sacks’ 1973 book, Awakenings, about hospital patients who’d spent decades in a kind of frozen state until Sacks tried a new treatment, led to a 1990 movie in which Sacks was portrayed by Robin Williams. It was nominated for three Academy Awards.
Still another book, An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, published in 1995, described cases like a painter who lost color vision in a car accident but found new creative power in black-and-white. It also told of a fifty-year-old man who suddenly regained sight after nearly a lifetime of blindness. The experience was a disaster; the man’s brain could not make sense of the visual world. It perceived the human face as a shifting mass of meaningless colors and textures. After a full and rich life as a blind person, he became “a very disabled and miserable partially sighted man,” Sacks recalled later. “When he went blind again, he was rather glad of it.”
Despite the drama and unusual stories, his books were not literary freak shows.
Oliver Sacks humanizes illness … he writes of body and mind, and from every one of his case studies there radiates a feeling of respect for the patient and for the illness,” Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, said in 2001. “What others consider unmitigated tragedy or dysfunction, Sacks sees, and makes us see, as a human being coping with dignity with a biological problem.”
When Sacks received the prestigious Lewis Thomas Prize for science writing in 2002, the citation declared, “Sacks presses us to follow him into uncharted regions of human experience and compels us to realize, once there, that we are confronting only ourselves.”
In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Sacks said he tries to make “visits to other people, to other interiors, seeing the world through their eyes.”
His 2007 book, Musicophilia, looked at the relationship between music and the brain, including its healing effect on people suffering from such diseases as Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s, autism, and Alzheimer’s.
“Even with advanced dementia, when powers of memory and language are lost, people will respond to music,” he told the AP in 2008.
Oliver Wolf Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England, son of husband-and-wife physicians. Both were skilled at recounting medical stories, and Sacks’ own writing impulse “seems to have come directly from them,” he said in his 2015 memoir, On the Move.
In childhood he was drawn to chemistry (his 2001 memoir is called, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood) and biology. Around age eleven, fascinated by how ferns slowly unfurl, he set up a camera to take pictures every hour or so of a fern and then assembled a flip book to compress the process into a few seconds.
“I became a doctor a little belatedly and a little reluctantly,” he told one interviewer. “In a sense, I was a naturalist first and I only came to individuals relatively late.”
After earning a medical degree at Oxford, Sacks moved to the United States in 1960 and completed a medical internship in San Francisco and a neurology residency at the University of California at Los Angeles. He moved to New York City in 1965 and began decades of neurology practice. At a Bronx hospital, he met the profoundly disabled patients he described in Awakenings.
Among his other books were The Island of the Colorblind (1997), about a society where congenital colorblindness was common, Seeing Voices (1989) about the world of deaf culture, and Hallucinations (2012), in which Sacks discussed his own hallucinations as well as those of some patients.
In the AP interview, Sacks was asked what he’d learned from peering into lives much different from the norm. “People will make a life in their own terms, whether they are deaf or colorblind or autistic or whatever,” he replied. “And their world will be quite as rich and interesting and full as our world.”
Sacks reflected on his own life in 2015 when he wrote in The New York Times that he was terminally ill. “I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions,” he wrote.
In the time he had remaining, he said, he would no longer pay attention to matters like politics and global warming, because they “are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people, because I feel the future is in good hands. I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
Rico says he'll be long remembered...

Ceres: the planet that wasn't

The BBC has an article by Marcus Woo about Ceres:
When it comes to underdog planets, Ceres (photo) might be at the top of the list. Sure, you've probably heard about Pluto's demotion to dwarf planet. But, before Pluto, there was Ceres.
Ceres also once enjoyed full membership in the solar system's planetary fraternity. When astronomers discovered it in 1801, it was the only object known between Mars and Jupiter. Its story echoes Pluto's. After astronomers found more bodies in similar orbits, objects that became part of what's now known as the asteroid belt, they reclassified Ceres as an asteroid.
It's not just any asteroid, though. It's still the biggest one there is, accounting for about a third of all the mass in the asteroid belt. Ceres is big enough for gravity to have made it round, which qualifies it as a dwarf planet as well. Despite this humble status, Ceres is proving to be way more interesting than just another space rock.
For instance, Ceres is one of the most watery worlds in the solar system, with water comprising about fifteen percent of its mass and a third of its volume, according to the latest estimates. Most of the water is locked up in ice, but scientists think that, deep in its interior, some of it may be liquid. As water is necessary for life, this has implications for habitability.
That's not to say Ceres is home to aliens, but such a world contains vital clues about the origins of life - on Earth and beyond.
As the only icy body of its kind in the inner solar system, Ceres represents one of the key building blocks that formed the planets. "It's an example of the last step before planet-hood," says Andy Rivkin, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins UniversityCeres is a remnant of the past, and to explore it is to excavate the solar system's history.
The Dawn spacecraft, now in orbit around Ceres, is doing just that. Its mission is far from over, but it's already revealed a wondrous, cratered surface, discovering a world that's not a dull chunk of ice and rock, but one that's alive and kicking.
By the end of the eighteenth century, astronomers knew of seven planets, having just added Uranus to the mix in 1781. But between Mars and Jupiter was a curiously wide gap. According to an empirical law known as the Titius-Bode law, the distance between the sun and the planets followed a distinct pattern. If the pattern held, there should be a planet right in that gap.
So when an Italian monk named Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres on New Year's Day in 1801, astronomers rejoiced. Not only had they finally found the missing planet, but it was also only the second time anyone had identified a new planet in modern times.
Even though astronomers found three more bodies in similar orbits over the next few years, Ceres kept its planetary status. It remained a planet for almost fifty years, after astronomers discovered Neptune (which, incidentally, didn't follow the Titius-Bode pattern).
When it was discovered, it was thought of as a planet, it's been downhill since then.
By then, thanks to improved telescopes, astronomers were finding more and more objects near Ceres. They realised that it was just one of an entirely new class of bodies. Instead of a planet, Ceres was dubbed a "minor planet", or an asteroid.
"Poor Ceres got demoted," says Chris Russell, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. "In 1801, when it was discovered, it was thought of as a planet, and it's been downhill since then."
Ceres has languished as just another member of the asteroid belt, albeit the largest. Still, most people thought it was simply a big rock. "Even among scientists, I think we only really realised how weird or how different it was in last ten to fifteen years," Rivkin says.
Scientists could only make more accurate measurements of its mass about fifteen years ago, he says, revealing Ceres to be less dense than previously thought. This was a key revelation, showing that Ceres must contain huge quantities of ice mixed with rock.
That ice in itself isn't unique. As multiple spacecraft have discovered, the solar system is a wet place. Comets, the moons of Saturn, Jupiter, and even Pluto and its moon Charon, have lots of ice. Some places, like Europa and Ganymede, may contain vast subsurface oceans. Saturn and Jupiter have other small, icy moons comparable to Ceres as well. But when you consider Ceres' size, silicate rocky composition, and its location in the asteroid belt, it's one of a kind.
It wasn't always special. About five billion years ago, as the planets were just beginning to form, the solar system was home to perhaps tens of thousands of icy bodies like Ceres. They collided and merged to form the worlds we know today, including Earth.
Icy bodies like Ceres were key ingredients not just for planets, but also for life on Earth.
If they didn't coalesce into planets, they got smashed into smaller pieces, becoming the floating detritus that fills the asteroid belt. Luckily for us, Ceres survived.
Icy bodies like Ceres were key ingredients, not just for planets, but also for life on Earth. To fill its oceans, where life first evolved, icy objects such as comets and Ceres-like bodies must have crashed into the planet, delivering water in the process.
Then there's the prospect of life existing on Ceres itself. About a thousand kilometers across and eighty times less massive than the moon, Ceres is too small to have an atmosphere, and neither liquid water nor ice can survive for long on its surface. But, below the surface is a different story.
When Ceres first formed, it was hot enough to melt ice, which made it easier for water and rock to separate. That allowed heavier, rocky material to sink toward the centre while the water remained, forming the mantle.
Ceres cooled from the outside in so, while its outer layers are now a frozen mixture of ice and clay, some of the water in its interior might still be liquid. Just maybe, somewhere inside Ceres is an environment warm and wet enough for life.
While no one expects to find aliens on Ceres, it does have some advantages over other possible life-harboring worlds like Europa and Ganymede. Ceres is closer to the Sun, so it enjoys some extra warmth that might be needed to nurture life. It's also free of the radiation-filled environment that Jupiter's magnetic field creates around Europa and Ganymede. "I would say Ceres is more user-friendly to life than we would get in the interior of Europa or Ganymede," Russell says.
In 2014, Ceres got even more interesting. The Herschel space telescope detected water vapor spraying from the dwarf planet; the first definitive detection of water from an object in the asteroid belt. The vapor seemed to come and go at different times, prompting speculation for cryogenic volcanoes or other geologic activity.
To figure out what exactly was triggering those apparent plumes, scientists would need to take a closer look. Fortunately, a spacecraft was already on its way.
Dawn launched in 2007,and, after more than a year exploring Vesta, the second most massive asteroid, it headed towards Ceres. As the round, cratered world came into focus, scientists noticed a big white spot, shining bright in stark contrast to the drab, grey surface. Upon getting closer, Dawn revealed it was not one spot but two, so bright that UFO enthusiasts speculated they were signs of Ceresian beings.
But scientists had a few more likely hypotheses. The spots could be sunlight reflecting off patches of recently formed ice. Or Dawn was actually peering straight into cryogenic volcanoes or geysers. Not only would that mean Ceres was geologically active, but also that water was reaching the surface. Such watery eruptions could be a direct link to wet, potentially habitable environments below.
By the time Dawn entered orbit around Ceres in March of 2015, scientists found many other smaller spots across its surface. As for the big ones, they turned out to be a cluster of smaller dots, all inside a ninety-kilometer-wide crater named Occator.
Now that Dawn has spiraled into an orbit just fifteen hundred kilometers above Ceres, scientists have pretty much ruled out geysers or volcanoes, says Russell, who is the principal investigator of the Dawn mission.
After more careful measurements, researchers found that those spots were not reflecting as much light as they thought. At best, they were only bouncing back fifty percent of any incoming light, which is not shiny enough to be an icy geyser.
The spots are not likely to be patches of ice either. Surface ice does not last very long before sublimating away, and Dawn's camera and infrared spectrometer has not detected any chemical signs of ice. So far, Russell says, the most likely possibility is that the spots are salt; not table salt, but chemical salts like magnesium sulfate.
That might not sound as exciting as erupting geysers, but salt still points to flowing water. "That's just as good an indicator of water because the salt isn't just going to float out of the body itself," Russell says. "It's going to be carried out by liquid to get it to the surface."
What scientists do not yet know is whether water is depositing salt now, or if the salt formed last year, or even millions of years ago. But by comparing old Hubble images of Ceres with Dawn's, researchers can determine if the spots have changed and if water is still delivering salt to the surface today.
Meanwhile, Dawn continues to reveal more surprises. It has detected a thin layer of haze filling most of Occator crater, but remaining just below the rim.
Dawn is not yet close enough to measure any details about the haze, other than the fact that it's scattering light. But if it turns out to be water vapor, perhaps related to the watery process that's depositing salt on the surface; it could be the same vapor that Herschel detected last year.
Maybe the strangest thing, other than the spots, is a lone, pyramid-shaped mountain that towers six kilometers above the surface. At first glance, Russell says, it's similar to the ice mountains the New Horizons spacecraft recently discovered on Pluto. The same processes that formed the mountains might be at work on both dwarf planets. The mountain could also be a permafrost mound called a pingo, which can be seen in places like Alaska and perhaps Mars, Russell says.
On Earth, pingos form when a mound of ice grows underneath frozen soil, getting as high as fifty meters. Dawn scientists are now scouring the images of Ceres for similar mounds. Due to the weaker gravity on Ceres, Russell explains, pingos might be able to grow as high as the pyramid mountain.
Dawn will continue to collect data from its current orbit until autumn, before dropping to a mere four hundred kilometers from the surface in December of 2015. Dawn will then continue circling Ceres indefinitely, at least until its primary mission is over next summer. But the end of Dawn isn't necessarily the end for exploring Ceres.
"Ceres is going to be a great place for a follow-up mission," Rivkin says. "Something like a Ceres rover." Ceres would also be a great testing ground for a potential lander on Europa. Both the European Space Agency and NASA have started planning missions, but only to orbit the icy moon. With the possibility of a subsurface ocean, drilling into its surface would be more exciting.
Drilling on a moon like Europa is still a long way off, however. Getting to Ceres would be a simper mission, as it's much closer and in a relatively radiation-free environment. Eventually, maybe humans will even pay a visit, Rivkin says. "Ceres is a good spot for a post-Mars target."
On the tiny chance that there is life on Ceres, it will take a lander to find it. "I have no evidence at all and I don't expect we would get any evidence for life on Ceres," Russell says. "But if there were a mission that wanted to go out and explore whether there was evidence of life on Ceres, I would certainly vote for it."
Even if Ceres was not home to alien critters, the world itself seems to be alive, with whiffs of water vapor, frozen mountains, maybe flowing water and whatever else Dawn will uncover in the coming months. In Russell's eyes, that kind of activity should make Ceres a bona fide planet.
In fact, when the International Astronomical Union voted to make Pluto and Ceres dwarf planets in 2006, they could have gone the other way and declared both as planets. The first proposed definition of a planet said it was anything orbiting a star that's big enough to be round, which would have included Ceres and other objects in the outer solar system, expanding the planetary club to twelve.
But, alas, astronomers adopted a more stringent definition, requiring a planet to not only be round, but to have cleared its orbit. This rules out Ceres and Pluto because of their places in the asteroid and Kuiper belts, respectively.
For now, Ceres remains officially a dwarf planet. Whatever you call it, though, you can't say it's boring.
Rico says space continues to amaze...

The Army's Hummer replacement

The BBC has an article by Matthew Phenix about what replaces the Hummer:
It was a long and bumpy road for the Oshkosh Corporation and its L-ATV vehicle (photo), but this week, the Wisconsin-based defense contractor won a grueling three-year competition. The prize? A seven-billion-dollar contract to build the military's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the successor to the long-serving High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, better known as the Humvee.
This initial contract calls for delivery of some seventeen thousand vehicles between 2018 and 2022, but it could ultimately be worth some thirty billion dollars to the company, as the JLTV gradually replaces the military's aging fleet of nearly three hundred thousand Humvees.
It's no small sum, but the Oshkosh JLTV is a thoroughly modern war machine, one that outperforms the Humvee in every way. Design requirements called for a new vehicle that was tougher, more capable, more versatile, easier to transport, easier to fix and above all, more protective of the soldiers and Marines who will operate it.
All it needs now is a catchy name. On that front, Hummer will be hard to beat.
Rico says that it's, in the parlance of the young, a 'badass-looking motherfucker'... (And that's a good nickname, but it won't catch on.)

Huge gas field found off Egyptian coast

The BBC has an article about a new find:
Italian energy group Eni says it has found one of the world's largest natural gas fields off Egypt's coast. The company said the area was about five thousand beneath the surface and covered a hundred square kilometers.
It could hold as much as thirty trillion cubic feet of gas, or the equivalent of nearly six billion barrels of oil, Eni said.
The company says that the Zohr field "could become one of the world's largest natural-gas finds" and help meet Egypt's gas needs for decades.
"This historic discovery will be able to transform the energy scenario of Egypt," said Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Eni, which has full concession rights to the area, is the biggest foreign energy firm in Africa.
In June of 2015, it signed an energy exploration deal with Egypt's oil ministry worth two billion dollars, allowing the company to explore in Sinai, the Gulf of Suez, the Mediterranean, and areas in the Nile Delta.
Eni's find follows other significant gas discoveries in the Mediterranean in recent years, including by Egypt's neighbor, Israel.
Rico says he predicts naval actions over this...

William Ash, the cooler king

The BBC has an article about the Cooler King:
World War Two threw up many extraordinary characters. But even among this exalted company, William Ash (photo, top), the model for the character played by Steve McQueen (photo, bottom) in The Great Escape, stands out, writes the author of a new biography, Patrick Bishop.
Ash was an American who, while his country was still reluctant to enter the war, crossed into Canada to train as a pilot with the RCAF. He was posted to Britain and flew Spitfires with 411 Squadron.
In March of 1942 he was shot down over northern France, but escaped from the wreckage of his plane, and was given shelter by a number of courageous French women and men. He was captured in Paris by the Gestapo and condemned to death. His life was saved by the Luftwaffe who argued that, as an airman, Ash was their prisoner.
He spent the rest of the war in a number of POW camps. But instead of being grateful for his salvation he became an obsessive "escapologist", seeking to break free by whatever means came his way.
When Ash died in 2014, at the age of 96. his obituaries noted that he was said to have been the model for Virgil Hilts, the lean, leather-jacketed airman played by Steve McQueen in the 1963 film The Great Escape. Hilts makes a doomed attempt to reach freedom by jumping the barbed wire fences on the German-Swiss border on a stolen motorcycle.
Ash modestly denied the claim. For one thing, he didn't ride a motorbike, he said. For another, he did not take part in the breakout from the Stalag Luft III camp, on which the movie is based.But the reason he did not participate is that he was locked up in the  "cooler" ,as the camp jail was called, as punishment for another escape attempt.
Ash was every bit as charismatic as the fictional Hilts, with whom he shared many characteristics. Apart from being American, he was good looking, dashing, and more than a bit of a rebel. He was also delightfully self-deprecating. He described some of his exploits in his writings, though he often underplayed his sufferings and achievements.
He had a tough upbringing in Depression-hit Texas, where his father struggled to bring up a family on what he made from his job as a traveling salesman. Young Ash worked his way through university, but could find no job at the end of it, and spent months riding the rails as a hobo, seeking whatever work he could get.
His experiences shaped his political views. He was too young to join the idealistic Americans fighting Franco's nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. But when World War Two broke out, he was determined to do his bit to combat fascism. It rankled with him that he did not do more fighting. He only managed to shoot down one German aircraft for certain before he was downed himself. He decided to use his incarceration to wage war on the enemy by other means.
Most of his fellow inmates had little interest in escaping. Having survived the trauma of being shot down, the majority decided they had used up their store of luck and tried to pass the time behind the wire as best they could, often studying and acquiring new skills, while they waited for the war to end.
Bill Ash belonged to a hard core devoted to overcoming every obstacle the Germans put in their way to returning home and carrying on the fight. They often found it hard to analyse precisely their motivations. Some felt it was their duty. For others, focusing on a project was a way of combating the stultifying boredom. In Ash's case it boiled down, he said, to "an unwillingness to crawl in the face of oppression".
He lost count of his escape attempts, or the number of times he was condemned to a spell in the cooler, which meant solitary confinement and a bread and water diet. Some of the escape bids were opportunistic efforts like the time he wangled his way on to a work detail tasked with unloading a train, then made a run for it when the guards' backs were turned.
Others were complex, long-term schemes that required a huge amount of organization, ingenuity, and endurance. A little-known but extraordinarily ambitious project was the Latrine Tunnel Escape, which took place in Oflag XXIB, a camp near the Polish town of Szubin.
Ash had a hand in devising the plan, which was not for the faint-hearted. It involved digging a tunnel more than a hundred yards long from a starting point beneath a large lavatory block. Every day for three months teams of diggers would lower themselves through a trap door set into a toilet seat trying to avoid falling into the lake of raw sewage beneath. An entrance set into wall of the latrine pit led into a chamber where the tunnel began. Day after day they would scrape away at the sandy soil working by the light of margarine lamps. They lived in fear of cave-ins and asphyxiation and panic attacks brought on by claustrophobia.
Tunnelling was in some ways the easy part. To stand any chance of making it out of Nazi-controlled territory, they needed civilian-style clothing, money, and documents. Here they were helped by other prisoners, who brought a wide variety of skills either acquired in peacetime or learned in the camp.
Eventually, one night early in March of 1943, thirty-five men dressed in outfits fashioned from Air Force uniform and blankets and armed with convincingly forged identity cards crawled through the narrow tunnel and under the perimeter fence to freedom.
One managed to get as far as the Swiss border before being recaptured. Two made it to the Baltic and were on their way in a rowing boat to neutral Sweden when they disappeared, presumed drowned. All the rest were recaptured within a few days.
It was a bitter disappointment, but almost all carried on trying to escape. Ash finally succeeded a few days before the war ended, breaking out of a camp near Bremen just as the British Army arrived.
His experiences as a prisoner had a profound effect on his political outlook. After the war he stayed on in Britain and seemed set to follow some of his camp comrades, like Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Tony Barber and television presenter and historian Robert Kee, into a successful conventional career.
He went to Oxford University and joined the BBC, which gave him a top administrative job in India. His increasingly radical views made it hard for him to conform, however. He rejected the Communist Party of Great Britain as being too compromised and helped found a breakaway group. He also lost his full-time job with the BBC, though he continued to do some work for the drama department.
Ash was a happy and gregarious man who never lost a touch of his boyhood innocence. His career as an escapologist showed him that, in wartime, people were capable of extraordinary selflessness. Why was it, he wondered, that this spirit could not be carried on into peacetime?
Rico says having McQueen play you is a well-deserved honor for such a brave man...

Temple of Bel 'severely damaged' by ISIS

The BBC has an article about more destruction by IS:
The Islamic State (IS) militant group has destroyed part of what's considered the most important temple at the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra, activists and witnesses say.
The extent of the damage to the two-thousand-year-old Temple of Bel (photo) is not clear ,but local residents have described being shaken by a large explosion. The reports come a week after IS blew up another temple at the ancient city.
The militants seized control of Palmyra in May of 2015, sparking fears for the site.
The world-famous Greco-Roman ruins are in the desert north-east of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
"It is total destruction,'' one Palmyra resident told The Associated Press news agency. "The bricks and columns are on the ground. It was an explosion the deaf would hear," he went on, adding that only the wall of the temple remains.
The temple was dedicated to the Palmyrene gods and was one of the best preserved parts of the site.
It was several days after the initial reports of the destruction of another part of the site, the Temple of Baalshamin, that IS itself put out pictures showing its militants blowing up the temple. Satellite images have confirmed the destruction.
The BBC's Jim Muir, in Beirut, Lebanon, says that, for the extremists, any representation implying the existence of a god other than theirs is sacrilege and idolatry.
Earlier this month, IS murdered the archaeologist who had looked after the Palmyra ruins for forty years.
The family of eighty-year-old Khaled al-Asaad told Syria's director of antiquities that he had been beheaded.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova praised the archaeologist, saying IS "murdered a great man, but they will never silence history".
The ancient city of Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was a major tourist attraction before Syria descended into civil war. UNESCO has condemned the deliberate destruction of Syria's cultural heritage as a war crime.
Diane Darke, a writer on Syria and author of the Bradt guide to the country, told the BBC that the Temple of Bel was a massive structure which had been used as a fortress, a church, and a mosque.
Syrians themselves despair that it takes the destruction of a temple to make everybody focus on their country, she said, but they do also feel the loss of their cultural heritage.
"There will be Syrians weeping all over the country at the loss of Palmyra, of the main jewel of the site," she added.
The modern city of Palmyra, known locally as Tadmur, is situated in a strategically important area on the road between the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.
IS has used Palmyra's theater to stage the public execution by children of more than twenty captured Syrian army soldiers. The group has ransacked and demolished several similar sites in the parts of neighbouring Iraq which they overran last year, destroying priceless ancient artifacts. The United Nations estimates that over a quarter-million people have been killed in Syria since the war began there four years ago.
Over four million people have fled the country and eight million are displaced inside Syria.
 Rico says carpet bombing; it's the only solution for these assholes...

Trump looms over New Hampshire

Phillip Elliott has a Time article about The Donald:
The Summer of Trump is on the cusp of becoming The Autumn of The Donald. Just don’t expect everyone in the party to like it.
Talk to New Hampshire Republicans and the conversations eventually turn to Trump, the billionaire braggart who is atop national and local polls. This public fascination with Trump, GOP voters say with a mix of disbelief and disgust, was not supposed to have lasted this long. But as summer comes to a close, they cannot avoid it. Candidates now are adjusting their plans for a fall campaign, trying to keep their heads down and avoiding Trump’s signature barbs.
“Don’t get me started,” Manchester resident Vasoulla Demos said as she waited to meet New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at a weekend Greek festival. “I cannot even talk about it. Here’s Chris Christie, talking with voters. And Donald Trump,” she trails off, shaking her head. “Don’t we have enough troubles in this country already?”
As Demos chatted with Time, Christie was making his way through a church parking lot, hugging some admirers and kissing others at the end of a long day of campaigning. He had conducted two marathon sessions where he answered questions about anything voters brought up: gun rights, veterans’ benefits, drug abuse and addiction, foreign aid, even his kids’ summer jobs. Now, he was talking about loukoumades and gyros at that Greek festival. To an aide, he kept passing a seemingly endless supply of sweets.
“You just run your race. Because as it stands, right now, nothing and no one is having an influence on Donald anyway. Right? So why try to? It doesn’t make any sense,” Christie told Time in an interview. “I can’t worry about anyone else. I have enough to do on my own.”
His keep-your-head down approach is one shared by his rivals. A day earlier, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina met with small-business owners to talk about his White House hopes. And a day later, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas visited a bee farm, a church, and a roadside lobster stand.
Despite embracing the traditional New Hampshire way of campaigning— person-to-person pitches, organizing grassroots leaders and recruiting volunteers— each of these candidates is badly trailing Trump. Christie, a onetime establishment favorite, has not yet caught fire, but is quietly building a list of potential supporters. Graham is tailor-made for conservatives who place national security atop their list but isn’t connecting with voters. (Graham is at risk of being excluded from an upcoming CNN debate.)
And Cruz, a Tea Party firebrand, is counting on Trump’s support to flame out and his backers to turn to him. “We’re running a grassroots campaign, one that goes person to person, one house at a time. That’s the New Hampshire way,” Cruz said.
This trio, which spent the weekend in New Hampshire, embodies the constituencies that form the modern GOP. But they have been sidelined. The campaign’s traditions and rules have been upended by celebrity and bombast.
Take Trump’s trip to New England this weekend. He skipped New Hampshire and opted for a two-thousand-person confab behind high fences and velvet ropes on Friday evening near Boston. Three helicopters circled overhead as though they were covering the Super Bowl and not a showy annual event organized by a car dealer.
Again, he promised to build a massive wall along the US-Mexican border. It won him cheers. “The Great Wall of China is thirteen thousand miles. This wall is two thousand,” he said. “Give me a break. It’s so easy, it will be great.” He then pivoted to an unfounded attack on a longtime senior adviser to Clinton; Huma Abedin, Trump suggested without any evidence, was passing classified information to her husband.
There is no predicting what is to come next from Trump. The never-before-elected candidate is tapping into voters’ frustrations with Washington and career politicians. His take-no-prisoners approach is attracting the attention of previously uninvolved potential voters; that is a potential boon for the GOP that has struggled to attract newcomers. One senior adviser to a rival candidate acknowledged that the twenty million viewers who tuned in to the campaign’s first debate was a win not just for Fox and Trump, but also for others candidates, whom most Americans had never met.
Trump’s never-ending criticism of the nation’s immigration system— and at times incendiary language about immigrants themselves— also complicates the Republican Party’s efforts to win over Hispanics, a voting bloc that is crucial in picking the President. Trump’s criticism of women, too, is turning off female voters who are unaccustomed to White House hopefuls being so personally disparaging to a gender.
“He’s a builder. He’s building a wall between us and Hispanics. The wall is not the Trump Wall with the border. It’s a political wall,” Graham tells Time. “He’s driving a wedge between us and women, calling young women ‘bimbos’ and calling immigrants ‘rapists‘ and ‘drug dealers.’ That’s the last thing we should be doing.”
Yet Graham and the others are being challenged by the same voters Trump is energizing. During one event this weekend, Graham told voter Euclid Dupuis that he understood his frustration. “No, not frustration,” the 76-year-old former CPA interrupted. “Disgust. Disgust. We’re disgusted with politicians telling us they’re going to do one thing and then we never see it happen,” the Bedford resident said after the event, pointing to Republican promises to defund Democrats’ health care law and to block Obama’s executive actions that spared some immigrants deportation. “Don’t tell us you’re going to do something if you’re never going to do it.”
Yet Dupuis is leaning toward Cruz or Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, both first-term senators. What about Trump? “He’s too in your face,” the retiree said. “There is no way people stick with him once they start imagining him actually doing the job. This is all a distraction.”
Similarly, Adam Lord is measuring Trump’s time in the spotlight in hours, not weeks. “He’ll self-destruct, implode at some point,” the thirty-year-old accountant from Manchester said after the same Graham event. “Trump is not going to be the nominee.”
After a Christie event a day later, 66-year-old Bess Arnold had a similar view as she gave her contact information to a Christie aide at the Greek event so she could volunteer. “People are going to see him for what he is,” the Merrimack retiree said of Trump. “This can’t last.”
And Sandra Sanborn waited after Cruz at a shabby seafood shack on Sunday afternoon. The 67-year-old Seabrook woman said Cruz is her favorite candidate, but she gets the appeal of Trump. “He’s saying what we’re all thinking. He’s giving us a voice,” she said. “I just think people are still watching and waiting, and they’ll see that Ted Cruz is saying the same things, but with a better chance of winning.”
Winning is the often implicit, and at times the explicit, pitch these underdog candidates are trying to use. Imagine, Graham says, a Trump campaign against Clinton. “The balloon pops itself,” Graham said. “This is an entertaining man, but he’s all over the board. He doesn’t understand America’s political or legal system.”
So these candidates continue to visit New Hampshire in the traditional manner. Take Christie. He spent his Saturday morning at a VFW hall in Laconia and then went to a farm where Mitt Romney previously campaigned in the final days of his 2012 primary. When one voter asked about his slouching poll numbers, Christie urged them to keep the faith. “You know what things looked like at this point four years ago? Herman Cain was at thirty percent. You know who was in second? Michele Bachmann,” Christie told supporters, asking them to keep talking to their neighbors. “No one is voting for five-and-a-half months. That’s a lifetime.”
But in the back of the barn, one Trump ally was only half-listening. He went to the Christie event in case Trump could be persuaded to have an event in Center Tuftonboro. “We can put the press in that barn,” he said. “The crowd can be out there. And we can land his helicopter over there.”
That larger-than-life approach to campaigning is part of Trump’s appeal. It also might be his undoing in New Hampshire, a state where the cranky Yankee voters are fiercely protective of their traditions.
Traditions, it is worth noting, might be off-limits to Trump even if he wanted to try his hand at a sustained small-event campaign. “We’re not doing house parties any more,” said state Representative Stephen Stepanek, Trump’s co-chairman for New Hampshire. “The crowds are too phenomenal. Finding a venue big enough to handle Trump’s phenomenal crowds is tough.”
It’s also unclear if Trump’s public support will remain steady. Even those who forked over a hundred dollars on Friday see Trump— he insisted it was not a fundraiser despite instructions at the front gate about on how to write a check to his campaign— not everyone was necessarily a Trump backer. Cindy Liquori, a 49-year-old small-business owner, drove to the Norwood, Massachusetts event from Suffield, Connecticut. “We love him,” she said, giddy to see the former reality star. But, she adds, she had planned to back Clinton before Trump got into the race. If he isn’t the nominee, Liquori said she might go back to supporting Clinton.
And therein lies the unknown for Republicans, who are watching the race with plenty of amusement and even more apprehension. After all, it’s one thing to tell a pollster in August that Trump is the favorite; it’s quite another to have that view when the ballots start being cast.
“I want to see what the hoopla is about,” said Laura Hausle, a 50-year-old Newton, Massachusetts resident. She also attended Trump’s New England event even though she is backing Rubio and has donated to his campaign. She didn’t want to miss the spectacle of Trump’s campaign while it lasts, though. “You only live once, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate,” she said, before laughing at her party’s unexpected summer fling with Trump. “I hope.”
Rico says he's laying odds that Trump is the candidate come November...

30 August 2015

Boys as killers

It's traditional to start your jihadis out early, but The Clarion Project has an article about a real kid-killer:
The indoctrination of children has emerged as a primary goal of the Islamic State. Brainwashing children at a very young age to the ideology of the extremist group is the most effective way to assure its continuation and fill its rank and file in the next decade.
The horrifying video shows a very young child dressed in signature Islamic State gear, brandishing a large knife and beheading a teddy bear. The child receives kudos and encouragement from an adult in the background.
Rico says he wonders what this kid will grow up like...

Toys for bad boys

The Clarion Project has an article about the latest ISIS weapon:
The Islamic State has deployed remote-controlled toy cars (photo) equipped with bombs to attack Kurdish forces.
The children’s remote controlled cars are reportedly shipped from Turkey, and were reported by Kurdish forces after one failed to detonate.
The tactic may have been inspired by the computer game Call of Duty, in which attacking with remote controlled cars is one of the options.
“It is just another example of ISIS thugs thinking that they are in a video game," a British fighter for the Kurds told The Daily Star. “They sit around dreaming of new ways to kill people.”
In July of 2015, pictures of chickens reportedly used as suicide bombers by the Islamic State surfaced on social media.  
Rico says the mini-car-bombs are nasty, but at least it spares the chickens...

Movie review for the day: NE

Rico says he and the fiancée saw No Escape, starring Owen Wilson (photo, left) as Jack DwyerLake Bell (photo, right) as his wife, Annie, and their daughters, played by Claire Geare and Sterling Jerins, along with Pierce Brosnan as Hammond, the MI-6 agent who fortuitously (and repeatedly) saves them:
In their new overseas home (Bangkok), an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape in an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed.
Rico says he liked it (the fiancée didn't; too many scary moments), but there were the usual oh-fuck-the-gun's-not-loaded moments, but they each get to whack a bad guy, so it worked out...

Politics for the day

Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy have an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about Kane:
Attorney General Kathleen Kane (photo) blames two former state prosecutors for the criminal case against her, saying they "corruptly manufactured" the investigation to cover up the fact that they had viewed pornography on state computers.
Kane's assertion was contained in hundreds of pages of court documents unsealed by the state Supreme Court.
In one legal filing from November of 2014, Kane contends that Frank Fina and E. Marc Costanzo, when they worked for her predecessors, "regularly received, possessed, and distributed misogynistic, pornographic, racist, obscene, and offensive emails on their state-owned computers."
When she discovered the emails, Kane said, the two embarked on a campaign to discredit her by seeking a grand jury investigation into whether she had leaked confidential materials from an old case.
Fina and Costanzo, who now work in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, did not respond to requests for comment.
Kane, the state's highest-ranking law enforcement official, was charged earlier this month with perjury, conspiracy, obstruction, and other crimes by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman in connection with the leak.
Prosecutors say Kane secretly released grand jury documents to the Philadelphia Daily News about a long-shuttered investigation handled by Fina and Costanzo. The article suggested that Fina and Costanzo had mishandled that 2009 investigation.
Kane released the information, prosecutors said, because she blamed Fina for an Inquirer article in March of 2015 that revealed she had secretly shut down a sting investigation that captured Philadelphia Democrats accepting cash or jewelry.
Kane, the first Democrat and woman elected to the office, has pleaded not guilty and said she will remain in office despite calls from Governor Wolf and others that she resign.
In court papers, the judge who set the leak investigation in motion said he did so after Fina, Costanzo, and another former state prosecutor said they had been contacted by a Daily News reporter who had confidential grand jury material.
In her filings regarding the porn emails, Kane provided the high court with pages of X-rated images, and also described some in graphic detail. She said they included nude photographs purporting to be of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin; photos of women's genitalia; a photo of an African-American baby holding a rifle; and photographs purporting to be of President Obama sitting next to a partially-nude Hillary Clinton. In many of the examples, Fina and Costanzo were recipients rather than senders of the emails.
The court papers unsealed were a fusillade of legal motions in which Kane repeatedly tried and failed to block subpoenas demanding her testimony, undo the protective order for witnesses, and, most broadly, shut down the leak investigation as having no legal foundation.
Kane's arguments were made in a series of filings, some brought by the Attorney General's Office and signed by top aides in their official roles, including the chief of her appeals unit at the time. In other cases, the legal theories were advanced by her and her personal lawyers.
Also among the documents unsealed were legal rebuttals to Kane by the special prosecutor in the leak case, Thomas Carluccio. In one from November of 2014, Carluccio called Kane's assertions about the emails an attempt to "divert attention" away from whether she leaked confidential documents. Carluccio said the diversion represented "an ongoing, strategic effort" by Kane to avoid testifying before the grand jury. He noted that she had been subpoenaed three times to appear before finally doing so. The first time, she rescheduled once to attend a funeral of a slain state police trooper. A second time, she reported suffering a concussion in a car accident on her way to testify. All the while, the newly unsealed documents reveal, she was peppering the court with motions to halt the investigation.
In making her argument about the pornographic emails, Kane displayed clear anger at Fina and Costanzo, calling them "porn peddlers".
The language in her November of 2014 brief is vitriolic, even asserting that Fina and Costanzo had engaged in potentially criminal behavior and should be "investigated and possibly prosecuted".
During the course of the leak investigation, Kane said, Fina and Costanzo misrepresented the pornographic emails as they successfully petitioned a judge for a protective order, one that she said barred her from publicly exposing them.
The men called the emails "personal and private" when, in fact, they at times contained porn, Kane said.
"Faced with personal and professional ruin, Fina and Costanzo acted in desperation to avoid the public disgrace that they richly deserve," Kane's lawyers wrote.
Of the protective order, they said: "It also allowed Fina and Costanzo to keep their jobs as state prosecutors, despite having themselves engaged in an ongoing course of potentially criminal conduct."
In a statement, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he would review the emails to determine whether to take any action against Fina or Costanzo.
Though the documents single out Fina and Costanzo for having traded the X-rated materials, dozens of former and current prosecutors and agents in the office also participated.
In October of 2014, Kane identified only a small group of people who sent or received the material, leading to criticism that she was selectively releasing the information.
The eight men she named as having traded pornographic images and videos all had ties to Fina and then-Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican who was up for reelection. All eight had since left the Attorney General's office, and many lost their jobs.
At that time, the attorney general stopped short of naming Fina and Costanzo in her public comments. She suggested that she has been barred from doing so because of the protective order in the leak case.
That order, issued by Montgomery County Court Judge William R. Carpenter last summer, prohibited retaliation or intimidation against witnesses, including several of Kane's top staffers.
The Supreme Court unsealed separate documents last week showing that they told Kane late last year that Carpenter's protective order was not intended to restrict the "appropriate disclosure" of information involving the pornographic emails.
They did not define appropriate. But several lawyers familiar with the case have said that while the court was saying Kane was free to release information about the emails, it was also sending a message that the materials should not be used as a weapon to embarrass witnesses or target any person for exposure.
The lawyer said the high court's message was that while Kane was free to name porn recipients, she had to name all of them.
Paradoxically, the Supreme Court's unsealing of Kane's court arguments, in which she named only Fina and Costanzo, effectively undid the court's own edict.
Rico says it's the Kane mutiny...

29 August 2015

History for the day

On 29 August 1991, the Supreme Soviet, the parliament of the then-USSR, suspended all activities of the Communist Party, bringing an end to the institution:
After three hours of anguished debate, the Soviet Parliament (the Supreme Soviet) voted to suspend all activities of the Communist Party pending an investigation of its role in a coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev.
The fate of the party was already sealed before the vote. Individual republics had closed Party offices and seized its vast properties and funds, and Gorbachev had already quit as its General Secretary and called on the leadership to step down. But Parliament was the only national institution with the formal powers to act against the entire organization, and its decision served to confirm the indictment already passed by the people.
Hard-line members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) tried to take power from President Gorbachev in what became known as the August Putsch or August Coup. They were opposed to the reform programs which Gorbachev instituted, including the right of other political associations (de facto political parties) to coexist with the Communist Party and, in 1990, the repeal of Article Six of the Constitution which gave the CPSU supremacy over all institutions in society. The Communist Party’s power over the state formally ended that same year with the newly created Soviet Presidency, whose first (and only President) was Party General Secretary Gorbachev.
The resulting likelihood of the dissolution of the USSR itself led the hardliners launch the August Coup on 19 August 19 and establishing a State Emergency Committee which declared that Gorbachev was ill and therefore relieved of his position as president. Soviet vice-president Gennadiy Yanayev was named acting president. The coup dissolved because of large public demonstrations and the efforts of Boris Yeltsin, who became the real power in Russia as a result.
Yeltsin declared the CPSU formally banned on 26 August, but this had to be ratified by the Parliament, which it duly did on 29 August. This event signaled the end of Communist rule and the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Rico says that no one mourns its passing...


Rico says we have all but forgotten the contribution of Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the Diesel engine, to transportation; all buses and trucks, let alone submarines, run on his invention.

Nazi gold train in Poland found

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about a long-lost train:
Stories about the possible discovery of a long-lost "Nazi gold train" in Poland have been floating around recently, but I was ignoring them because Slate generally tries to only publish real facts and, c'mon, a Nazi gold train? The potential existence of said train is now being discussed even in the august pages of The New York Times, though, and a Polish government official has gone on the record to say that he believes it's been located. 
From The Times:
Local lore says a German train filled with gold, gems, and armaments went missing around the city of Walbrzych while it was fleeing the Red Army in the spring of 1945. During the war, the Germans built a system of underground tunnels in the mountainous region of Walbrzych and the city of Wroclaw, from where the train is believed to have departed.
Two men whose identities have not been made public told authorities they've found the train and have asked for a financial reward to reveal its specific location. Polish deputy culture minister Piotr Zuchowski is involved in the case:
Zuchowski said he was shown an image— albeit blurred— from a ground-penetrating radar that showed the shape of a train platform and cannons, and added he was "more than ninety percent certain that this train exists."
Rico says why is it that he never finds this stuff?

Katrina slams into the Gulf

History.com has this about 29 August 2005:

Hurricane Katrina makes landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana, as a Category 4 hurricane in 2005. Despite being only the third most powerful storm of the 2005 hurricane season, Katrina was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. After briefly coming ashore in southern Florida on August 25 as a Category 1 hurricane, Katrina gained strength before slamming into the Gulf Coast on 29 August. In addition to bringing devastation to the New Orleans area, the hurricane caused damage along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, as well as other parts of Louisiana.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city on 28 August, when Katrina briefly achieved Category 5 status and the National Weather Service predicted “devastating” damage to the area. But an estimated hundred and fifty thousand people, who either did not want to or did not have the resources to leave, ignored the order and stayed behind. The storm brought sustained winds of a hundred and fifty miles per hour, which cut power lines and destroyed homes, even turning cars into projectile missiles. Katrina caused record storm surges all along the Gulf Coast. The surges overwhelmed the levees that protected New Orleans, located at six feet below sea level, from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Soon, eighty percent of the city was flooded, up to the rooftops of many homes and small buildings.
Tens of thousands of people sought shelter in the New Orleans Convention Center and the Louisiana Superdome. The situation in both places quickly deteriorated, as food and water ran low and conditions became unsanitary. Frustration mounted as it took up to two days for a full-scale relief effort to begin. In the meantime, the stranded residents suffered from heat, hunger, and a lack of medical care. Reports of looting, rape, and even murder began to surface. As news networks broadcast scenes from the devastated city to the world, it became obvious that a vast majority of the victims were African-American and poor, leading to difficult questions among the public about the state of racial equality in the United States. The Federal government and President George W. Bush were roundly criticized for what was perceived as their slow response to the disaster. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, resigned amid the ensuing controversy.
Finally, on 1 September, the tens of thousands of people staying in the damaged Superdome and Convention Center begin to be moved to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and another mandatory evacuation order was issued for the city. The next day, military convoys arrived with supplies and the National Guard was brought in to bring a halt to lawlessness. Efforts began to collect and identify corpses. On 6 September, eight days after the hurricane, the Army Corps of Engineers finally completed temporary repairs to the three major holes in New Orleans’ levee system, and were able to begin pumping water out of the city.
In all, it is believed that the hurricane caused more than thirteen hundred deaths and over a hundred billion dollars in damages to both private property and public infrastructure. It is estimated that only about forty billion of that number will be covered by insurance. One million people were displaced by the disaster, a phenomenon unseen in the United States since the Great Depression. Four hundred thousand people lost their jobs as a result of the disaster. Offers of international aid poured in from around the world, even from poor countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Private donations from US citizens alone approached six hundred million dollars.
The storm also set off three dozen tornadoes in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, resulting in one death.
President Bush declared 16 September a national day of remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Rico says we forget that the Gulf has hurricanes every year, just some worse than others...

Buzz Aldrin wants to colonize Mars

Time has an article by Victor Luckerson about space:
By 2039, humans will be calling Mars home, if things go according to Buzz Aldrin’s plan. The second man on the moon is teaming up with the Florida Institute of Technology to develop a master plan to colonize the red planet in less than 25 years. Aldrin chose 2039 to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which first allowed man to walk on the moon.
Aldrin’s plan involves using Mars’ moons as pit-stops for astronauts on the way to the planet. People who arrive on Mars would plan on staying there for at least a decade. He is seeking input from NASA on the plan, though the space agency already has its own initiative to put astronauts on Mars in the mid-2030s.
At the Florida Institute of Technology, Aldrin will be a faculty adviser and research professor for aeronautics. He will also lead the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute, set to open in the fall of 2015.
Rico says all it takes is money...

TSA idiot for the day

Time has an article by Charlotte Alter about another government moron:
A Transportation Security Administration agent at LaGuardia airport in New York City was charged Friday with sexually abusing a female passenger on the bogus pretext of checking her for weapons.
The incident occurred earlier this week, when the forty-year-old TSA agent allegedly told the twenty-one--year-old woman, a college student from Korea, that he needed to screen her for weapons after she had walked out of the sterile checkpoint area and into the area where passengers no longer need to be checked.
The woman asked to be screened by a female agent, according to a press release from the Queens District Attorney’s Office, but the TSA agent allegedly insisted she come into the bathroom with him. When she asked if all passengers were screened this way, he said they were. In the bathroom, the agent groped the victim, before saying into his cell phone something like “she’s clear, she doesn’t have any weapons or knives,” according to the DA’s office.
The TSA has terminated the agent and is cooperating with the Port Authority on the investigation, a TSA spokesman said. The DA’s office has charged the agent with unlawful imprisonment and sexual abuse. If convicted, he could face a year in prison. It was not immediately clear whether he has a lawyer.
Rico says whadda ya want for twenty bucks an hour, a genius? (And the fact that the 'molestation' photo was already on-line shows how fast the Internet works...)

Bangkok police arrest foreigner

Nattasuda Anusondisai and Jocelyn Gecker have an Associated Press article about the Thai bomber:
Thai authorities arrested a foreign man they said had been holed up in a suburban apartment with bomb-making equipment and stacks of passports, the first possible breakthrough in the deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine nearly two weeks ago.
All television channels broadcast a televised announcement Saturday evening on the suspect’s arrest, which came twelve days after the bombing that authorities have called the deadliest attack in Thailand’s modern history.
Police and soldiers raided the apartment in an eastern Bangkok suburb and found bomb-making materials that matched those used in the 17 August blast at the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok, national police spokesman Prawuth Thavornsiri said in the televised statement.
The blast, which killed twenty people and injured more than a hundred, was followed a day later by another explosion at a public ferry pier, which caused no injuries but exacerbated concerns about safety in the Thai capital, which draws millions of tourists.
“Our preliminary investigation shows that he is related to both bombings,” Prawuth said, as he showed photographs of what police seized, including detonators, ball bearings, and a metal pipe that police believe was intended to hold a bomb.
Police chief Somyot Poompanmoung later told reporters that “the bomb materials are the same, similar, or the same type” as those used in both bombings.
Police also found “a number of passports from one country,” Prawuth said. He did not name the country, but photographs shown during the broadcast showed stacks of passports that appeared to be Turkish.
Earlier, Prawuth said that authorities had not yet determined his nationality and dismissed Thai news reports saying he is Turkish. Images of a Turkish passport with the apparent suspect’s picture were posted on social media. “The passport you see is fake,” said Prawuth, referring to the online photos. “We don’t know if he is Turkish or not.”
A photograph of the suspect showed a young man with short brown hair and a light beard and mustache.
Asked what could be the motive for the bombing, the police chief told reporters, “it’s a personal grudge, not international terrorism”. He did not elaborate or give a clear explanation.
Somyot said the suspect had traveled in and out of the country since January of 2014.
The blast at the Erawan Shrine was unprecedented in the Thai capital, where smaller bombs have been employed in domestic political violence over the past decade, but not in an effort to cause large-scale casualties.
The shrine is a popular tourist destination, particularly with Chinese visitors, who are an important segment of the lucrative tourist market. At least six of the dead were from China and Hong Kong. It sits on the corner of a busy traffic intersection with a nearby overhead walkway in a neighborhood full of upscale shopping malls and five-star hotels.
Soon after the bombing, police released an artist’s sketch of a man seen in a security camera video leaving a backpack at a bench then walking away from the open-air shrine. A separate camera showed the man, wearing a yellow tee-shirt, on the back of a motorcycle taxi leaving the site.
The man seen in the video was believed to have carried out the bombing, which police said was likely planned by a group of people. They indicated in the news conference that the man arrested was not the bomber seen in the video. “We believe he is a culprit in the same network. More details will be given later,” Prawuth said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, sparking a variety of theories into who might be behind it.
Possible suspects include parties seeking to avenge Thailand’s forced repatriation of ethnic Uighurs to China. Uighurs are related to Turks, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community.
Other theories included Muslim separatists from southern Thailand, opponents of Thailand’s military government, and feuding factions within the security services.
Police have been criticized for releasing conflicting statements and rapidly hosing down the crime scene at the shrine before all forensic evidence was recovered. Many accused authorities of rushing to clean up the bomb scene to reassure the public, especially foreign tourists, that security in the city was back to normal.
Police say they have been handicapped by low-quality and broken surveillance cameras, and a lack of sophisticated image-processing equipment to clarify the fuzzy images in security videos, which were the only firm evidence they had.
Rico says he didn't look Thai...

One way to avoid trial

The New York Times has an article by Elisabetta Povoledo about a 'troublesome priest':
Jozef Wesolowski, ex-Archbishop accused of sexual abuse, dies at 67.
He would have been the first high-level prelate to stand before a Vatican tribunal on such charges, but illness prevented the trial from proceeding.
Rico says he hopes there's a warm reception awaiting the guy in Hell...

Apple for the day

Ben Sisario has an article in The New York Times about a guy bailing before his stock vested:
A crucial executive in Apple’s new music streaming service is leaving the company, just two months after Apple introduced the service and began an intense competition with Spotify for dominance of the online music market.
Ian Rogers (photo, second from right), who was in charge of Apple’s online radio services, including its Beats 1 station, has resigned from the company, Apple confirmed on Friday. His departure was said to be abrupt and a surprise to fellow employees. Rogers was said to be moving to Britain to work for a company unrelated to Apple and streaming music, according to two people briefed on his plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. According to one of these people, the new company was a luxury brand.
Rogers was one of the main forces behind Beats 1, an Internet radio station that features the former BBC radio DJ Zane Lowe, among other guest announcers like Elton John, Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams. A longtime figure in the digital music world who has cultivated close contacts with musicians, Rogers began his career running the Beastie Boys’ website while still in college in the 1990s, and he later worked for Yahoo and the digital marketing company Topspin. He joined Beats in early 2013 as the chief executive of its planned music service, once code-named Daisy. Beats, best known for its headphone line, was purchased by Apple last year for three billion dollars.
It was unclear what effect Rogers’ departure would have on Apple’s new music offerings, which include a monthly streaming subscription plan similar to Spotify. The company’s new music line was introduced in late June, with a three-month trial period for new customers. This month Apple said that eleven million people around the world had tried the new service. But the music business is nervously awaiting the end of the trial period— when customers will have to pay for access— to judge its success.
Spotify offers a paid version as well as a free one supported by advertising. Of its seventy-five million users around the world, twenty million are signed up for paying subscriptions, while the rest listen free.
Response to Apple’s subscription service has been mixed, although Beats 1 has largely received high praise for its programming.
Rogers declined to comment on the news of his departure, which was first reported by The Financial Times.
Rico says he must've gotten a hell of a deal from whatever 'luxury brand' he went to...

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