29 February 2016

Duct tape, saving lives yet again

In The Martian, Matt Damon uses duct tape to save his life, and repair his housing, countless times. Rico says he's never had to use it to save his life, but it has repaired many things over the years...

Big fooking thing

Rico's friend Kelley, also a military hardware junkie, send this video:

Shirtless horseback-riding enthusiast Vladimir Putin loves making public appearances, and his latest one is, admittedly, pretty darn cool. Putin paid a visit to Russia's Federal Security Service (the successor to the KGB), to check out its newest collection of armored vehicles.
That includes the monstrous and imposing ZiL Karatel (photo), a red-faced, snub-nosed monster of a thing. While there's plenty of resemblance to the Batmobile, Russia Today reports the Karatel's nickname comes from another comic: it's called The Punisher, capable of hauling ten and fitted with a v-shaped hull to better deal with explosions. Its American analog would likely be the much-less-cool looking Cougar MRAP that's been in service since 2002. As Foxtrot Alpha explains, the FSB has gone out of its way to keep the Punisher out of the public eye but, with such an official showing, that's likely to change.
According to Russia Today, Putin also inspected the Viking, an armored vehicle that's actually based on the Kamaz 4911 Extreme, basically a militarized Dakar Rally truck. The Kamaz Extreme buggy, which is roughly similar to a Polaris MRZR, also made an appearance. Putin was accompanied by FSB boss Alexander Bortnikov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on his tour.
Seeing them alongside actual people gives a genuine sense of scale of just how big these trucks are.
Rico says that, if Putin likes it, it's probably good, and Rico hopes never to see one in action...

Military strategy for the day

DefenseOne.com has an article by Scott Beauchamp, a veteran and writer whose work has appeared in The Baffler, The Daily Beast, and Bookforum, about how we fight wars:
Once a hallmark of state-on-state conflict, simply finding oneself inside of an American kill box in today's counterterrorism wars is enough to be retroactively defined as guilty. In laymen’s terms, “kill boxes” sound like torture devices. In military jargon, they are almost incomprehensible; as defined in the Department of Defense Dictionary, they are “a three-dimensional area reference that enables timely, effective coordination and control and facilitates rapid attacks”. But despite their ominous name and complicated technical definition, kill boxes are actually relatively simple in concept: they are three-dimensional cubes of space on a battlefield in which members and allies of the United States military are completely free to open fire.
According to the DoD, “there is no formal kill-box doctrine or tactics, techniques, or procedures.” They require a web of logistical, bureaucratic, and technological expertise to implement. Like most military tactics, kill boxes aren’t new; they’ve been around for nearly thirty years now. But they are constantly being reinvented for new conflicts. In recent years, kill-box strategy has shifted: they are now used in conflicts that are not between two states, but rather within states, against terrorists and fighters who aren’t members of any particular country’s military. With this change, two things have started happening. First, kill boxes have materialized in places the local population might not expect. And second, kill boxes have been used in conjunction with disposition matrices, or “kill lists”. The DoD uses these to target people whose “pattern of life” fit the parameters of an algorithm, rather than specific individuals. For example, say someone who owns a cellphone has been calling numbers that trigger a response from a computer at the Pentagon. Analysts will triangulate the cellphone’s whereabouts, and military leaders might initiate a “kill box” at that location, authorizing soldiers to kill everyone within the “box”. Mission accomplished.
The use of kill boxes has mutated into something almost unrecognizable from the tactic’s origins at the end of the Cold War, let alone older forms of warfare. To effectively use the tactic, a military must have profound technological and logistical advantages over its enemy. Success depends on access to a web of satellites, high-tech communications equipment, pilots, and ground crews trained well enough to execute nearly constant defensive attacks. It requires more planning and specialization than, say, the kind of air war that America fought in World War Two, which involved pitched battles in which specific objectives were targeted as the opportunity arose.
On 30 January 1991, during Operation Desert Storm, kill boxes were put into practice for the first time. And they worked. Destroying Saddam Hussein’s air and ground forces was simple. Stationary kill boxes, quadrants roughly three hundred cubic miles in size, were designated within specific coordinates, which military forces would patrol at regular intervals. During the Gulf War, “a single quadrant comprised an area almost equaling the size of New York City,” writes Richard Davis in Decisive Force: Strategic Bombing in the Gulf War. “These devastating and ubiquitous operations accomplished both the aerial interdiction of Iraqi supply and the destruction of Iraqi military equipment and personnel.” The Iraqi First and Third Mechanized Divisions were decimated before they even had the chance to put together a defense. Kill boxes might have been one strategic reason why the Gulf War only lasted a hundred hours.
This strategy worked well during the initial invasion of Iraq, but only because the opposing team was wearing a jersey, so to speak. In particular, kill boxes proved an efficient way for the Air Force to dismantle opposing militaries. This worked in 1991, and again during the first years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In these early stages, using a kill box required positive identification of an enemy target, a process called PID, before engaging. “We have to visually identify the target and we have to determine whether it’s a hostile target. We determine that it’s not friendly by using visual recognition features and through ground elements of the nearest friendly positions,” Air Force Major Greg Defore told National Defense Magazine in 2003. In other words, servicemen look at who or what they’re going to shoot with their own eyes before shooting, to make sure the person or object is actually the part of the enemy’s military forces. “You may be a hundred percent sure that a vehicle is not a friendly and still not engage. It could, for instance, be a humanitarian food truck or a farm vehicle,” Defore said.
This strategy worked well during the initial invasion of Iraq, but only because the opposing team was wearing a jersey, so to speak. It was possible to look at a truck and know whether or not it was hostile. But as a conventional war degenerated into a complex quagmire of militants engaged in guerrilla warfare, that sort of certainty wasn’t possible any longer. As Major James MacGregor explained in his paper, Bringing the Box into Doctrine: Joint Doctrine and the Kill Box, an officer from 1918 would have, with a little help, been able to understand the maps of the Gulf War: enemy forces are here, friendly forces over here, that sort of thing. But today, the enemy could be anyone, anywhere. This type of warfare doesn’t naturally lend itself well to kill boxes. As the American military started using kill boxes in conjunction with drones in targeted killings, it effectively grafted a strategy from the past onto the present, a la Frankenstein. The military began using kill boxes in the so-called war on terror as a technique to exert force in “ungoverned spaces”, territories that are not controlled by a state and are populated by people who might not share American cultural values. Kill boxes are only used in places that are very different from the United States; military forces would never initiate a kill box in Manchester, New Hampshire or Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, even if a suspected terrorist lived there. Too many innocent people would be killed. The innocent people living in Afghanistan or Yemen, however, are apparently judged by a different standard. This is the moral cost of the kill box: when used widely and indiscriminately, the tactic devalues human life.
In a 2010 letter to President Obama, Human Rights Watch wrote that “the notion that the entire world is automatically by extension a battleground in which the laws of war are applicable is contrary to international law. How does the administration define the ‘global battlefield’? Does it view the battlefield as global in a literal sense, allowing lethal force to be used, in accordance with the laws of war, against a suspected terrorist in an apartment in Paris, a shopping mall in London, or a bus station in Iowa City?” The French therorist Grégoire Chamayou has compared the new use of kill boxes to target individuals or small groups, rather than enemy militaries, to the difference between hunting and combat. “While warfare is defined by combat, hunting is essentially defined by pursuit. Two distinct types of geography correspond to the two activities,” he writes. “Combat reaks out wherever opposing forces clash. Hunting, on the other hand, takes place wherever the prey goes. As a hunter-state sees it, armed violence is no longer defined within the boundaries of a demarcated zone, but simply by the presence of an enemy-prey who, so to speak, carries with it its own little mobile zone of hostility.”
Kill boxes have freed American military pursuits from the limitations of time and space and, importantly, strict scrutiny. As the blog Understanding Empire argues: “during the Clinton cabinet, officials worried and debated fiercely whether or not eliminating bin Laden was legal and ethical, as Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars captures excellently. Now, targeted killing has become so routine that the Obama administration is seeking ways to codify and streamline it.” A strategy that works effectively during conventional warfare has been slowly repurposed and re-contextualized.
During his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama said that “War is justified only when certain conditions were met; if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used in proportional; and if possible, civilians are spared from violence.” The military’s current use of kill boxes in tandem with kill lists defies each of those criteria. These tools are now used in the pursuit of something that only superficially resembles war. In practice, these tactics have more in common with expensive and reckless high-tech hunting. They are unethical, and as terrorism and militancy proliferate in the regions where they are being implemented, they also appear to be ineffective.
Rico says we should draw a kill-box around Assad...

History for the day: Ninevah

The BBC has an article by Kanishk Tharoor and Maryam Maruf about some amazing sculptures:

A year ago, a man took a pneumatic drill to the statue of a winged bull (photo) at the gates of the ancient city of Nineveh, near Mosul in modern Iraq. It's one of countless treasures destroyed by vandals, militants, or military action in the region in the past fifteen years.
The winged bull had the head of a man, the wings of an eagle, and the hulking body of a bull. Known as a Lamassu, other examples have the body of a lion. It was a composite of the most powerful and ferocious creatures known in the region, and this particular sculpture was huge, about five meters high and up to thirty tons in weight. It stood at one of the many gates along Nineveh's city walls, as a protective spirit and a symbol of the power of the Assyrian king.
"They're very intimidating. Those faces look quite daunting, the wings, the hooves, and the combined creature of many different animals that's very large and menacing-looking. It does strike you a little bit with fear which I suppose is part of the reason for these things," says Mark Altaweel, an Iraqi-American archaeologist.
At the same time, amid its mass of curly hair and its tumbling beard, the Lamassu does have a kind of tight-lipped smile. It is stern, but in its own way welcoming. It was hewn from a single slab of limestone about three thousand years ago, in the reign of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, ruler of an empire covering parts of modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
Nineveh, Sennacherib's capital "would have been the 'city of cities'", says Altaweel. "The largest city anywhere on Earth, probably, by the time it reaches its peak in the seventh century BC. All roads would literally have led to Nineveh."
But, a few generations after Sennacherib's death, Assyria was overrun. Nineveh was sacked and its palaces, walls, and Lamassus slowly sank beneath the ground, eventually becoming a series of mounds of dust, sand and earth.
The name of Nineveh lived on, partly thanks to its role in the Old Testament and the Quran, and, in the nineteenth century, French and British explorers were inspired by Biblical texts to seek out the famed city.
When the winged bulls emerged again from the dirt, the man who led the excavation, Sir Austen Henry Layard, was struck by their majesty and the exquisite craftsmanship. "Wide-spreading wings rose above their backs, and their breasts and bodies were profusely adorned with curled hair," he wrote in 1853. "Behind them were colossal winged figures of the same height, bearing the pine cone and basket. Their faces were in full, and the relief was high and bold. More knowledge of art was shown in the outline of the limbs and in the delineation of the muscles than in any sculpture I have seen of this period. The naked leg and foot were designed with a spirit and truthfulness worthy of a Greek artist."
Layard shipped Lamassus from Nineveh and other excavated Assyrian cities back to London, where some stand today in the British Museum. There are others in Paris, New York City, Chicago, and Baghdad.
As modern Mosul developed and grew, the city began to encroach on Nineveh's archaeological sites and gobble them up, there's a story of an Iraqi archaeologist lying down in front of a bulldozer in a vain attempt to stop its advance.
"Most of the site was essentially still an archaeological, site but some of it was occupied by modern housing developments," says Mark Altaweel. "I should say that the Iraqi government was relatively good, even during the Ba'ath regime, in terms of trying to protect archaeological sites. They recognized that these things were important for national identity, and for tourism and other kinds of benefits as well. But, particularly after 2003, law and order broke down, frankly, in Iraq. Since then we're seeing people building on the site willy-nilly, without actually paying attention to the rules that were in place."
But the greatest damage has been done in the last two years. When ISIS turned up, the skyline of Mosul changed forever with the detonation of shrines, minarets, and mosques. And, in time, they turned their attention to Nineveh, and the winged bull, blasting away its face with a drill.
"Really I find it the most iconic of what ISIS destroyed, is going and boring the eyes of the Bull," says Lamia al-Gailani, a leading Iraqi archaeologist. "We have even a saying: gulla abut ainak." An aggressive insult in the Arab world, it means something like: "I'm going to poke your eyes out".
According to al-Gailani, this violent action can be traced back to the ancient world. When cities were sacked, marauding armies engaged in ritualized vandalism. This would involve smashing images of the king on the reliefs along palace walls. You hadn't fully toppled a king till you had also annihilated his images.
In Nineveh, not only did ISIS gouge out the eyes of the Lamassu, they also blew up the shrine of the Prophet Jonah, Nabi Younis, who lived in Nineveh after his entanglement with the whale. There's a photo of Nabi Younis taken in the 1980s, and it shows a road, heavy with traffic, snaking between the tall piles of earth on the excavation site. It has always been difficult to separate everyday human life from the ancient monuments.
This was also true three thousand years ago. What Lamia al-Gailani remembers most fondly about the Lamassu wasn't its eyes or the ringlets of its beard, but something easy to miss. At the base of the statue, she found faint lines scratched by generations of ancient soldiers. These Assyrian guards, when they weren't off campaigning, had to keep themselves occupied on sentry duty, and entertained themselves with a game using a board they carved into the plinth of the august Lamassu. According to al-Gailani, it looks like a game the people of Mosul still play today, called dana.
It can be so easy to imagine these monuments as power frozen in stone. But in the case of the Lamassu, we remember its stony magnificence, but we also remember those Assyrian guards, who refused to be awed and carried on playing.
Rico says if they're gonna destroy their own (and the world's) history, what's a little carpet-bombing?

Apple for the day

The New York Times has an article by Farhad Manjoo and Mike Issac about Apple:
Mike: Hey, hey, Farhad! We’re just coming off our annual Times tech reporter summit in San Francisco this week, and I’m pumped! There’s nothing like Dean Baquet catching me in a trust fall to make me believe in teamwork.
Farhad: Let’s not lie to our readers, Mike. He didn’t catch you. We weren’t even doing a trust fall. I hope you got some medical attention for those bruises.
Mike: The aspirin is kicking in. So, on with the news:
It looks like Zynga, the social gaming company, is selling its headquarters, which at this point I imagine consists mostly of the chaff of empty Farmville fields. The Eero, a wi-fi router, is supposed to be incredibly fast, simple, and easy to use, except for taking the difficult first step of actually paying five hundred bucks for a three-pack of wi-fi routers.
Speaking of wi-fi, earlier in the month American Airlines decided to sue Gogo, its in-flight wi-fi provider, for generally being the opposite of incredibly fast, simple, and easy to use. On Monday, however, American Airlines dropped the suit. I assume it was all some elaborate legal chess game, but it was nice to have my wi-fi experiences vindicated publicly, however briefly.
Farhad: Oh, also, Facebook finally rolled out the emoji reactions that it has been chatting up for some time as an evolution of the Like button. There are now icons for “love”, “ha-ha”, “wow”, “sad”, and “angry.” How does that make you feel, Mike?
Mike: Is there a reaction for “generally apathetic at a feature that has received far too much press for what it is”? Because I would use that emoji.
But what I want to get to is what we’ve all been thinking about and talking about in tech for the last two weeks: Apple versus the FBI. I think it’s safe to say that, at this point, it will probably be the biggest tech story of the next few years, if not the decade, and it is all playing out in public in gory detail.
To recap: The FBI essentially wants Apple to help crack open an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the rampage in San Bernardino, California that ended with the deaths of fourteen people last year. The way the FBI wants Apple to do that is by writing some new software that bypasses a bunch of safeguards Apple created to help consumers’ phones stay safe in the first place. That is a thing that, for many reasons, Apple does not want to do. The whole thing is fascinating, as it cuts to the heart of so many issues in a rapidly changing age of new technologies, one in which we must decide the balance between our personal right to privacy and digital liberties, and the authority of the government to seek out information in the name of national security. But, while I imagine it will take quite some time for the courts to pass judgment, I’m already seeing some fairly clear lines in the sand being drawn. As a token tech reporter living and working in New York City, the questions that most normal, non-techies have been asking me is: “Why doesn’t Apple care about finding the terrorists? Why is the company acting so anti-American?” That’s starkly different than what I hear from most people in our industry, but I’d love to hear your take on it and what you’re hearing from people on the West Coast.
Farhad: Maybe it’s just my sun-soaked California attitude, but to me Apple’s stand here makes sense. If it loses, it would be a very big deal.
One thing that’s clear is that we are not talking about just one phone. This is a test case. If the FBI wins, it has a collection of other phones it would like Apple to unlock for it. The Manhattan district attorney has a lot more. I suspect many other DAs will be lining up for this service as well. There’s a good chance that most of these cases will not be about terrorism; they’ll be about more routine investigations that do not make headlines.
So, as I argued in a column this week, what we really should be discussing is the precedent this case sets. We are now surrounded by tech devices that contain all our secrets and that can be set to record and monitor us from afar. As we’ve seen often in the last couple of years, police powers can be abused. So, before we force a tech company to break open its security to grant the cops access to a trove of data, it seems wise to have a debate about whether we want any limits on those powers.
For instance, should a court be able to compel access to a smartphone for any law-enforcement aim? What about drug crimes? What about immigration enforcement? After all, several presidential candidates have endorsed rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation. Or look at Ferguson, Missouri, where riots erupted in 2014 after a police officer killed a teenager named Michael Brown. The Justice Department found that Ferguson’s police and courts were routinely stopping, searching, and issuing arrest warrants for the city’s black citizens. Should those authorities be allowed to search through people’s smartphones, too? These questions make me really queasy. What about you?
Mike: I mean, I’m always queasy, but that’s because I’ve had a lot of burritos on this last trip back from San Francisco. Seriously, though, of course, all those things make me nervous. Do I want the government to access my text messages with you? Man, that would look bad. Here’s the thing, though: a year or so ago, Apple took the deliberate step of making it so it could not gain access its own phones at the behest of the government, and it is only accelerating that effort. I’ve already reported they’re going to take similar steps with iCloud and generally embrace this approach overall. That’s different than Apple’s history of complying with government requests for data when it is legally required to do so. So, when the company bound its own hands, I have to ask: what did it expect the government to do, just sit back and say, “oh, well, I guess we won’t request any more data.” Of course not. This is an escalation in a continuing war for reach into consumer data, and now it’s going to court.
I think, in general, people don’t want the government snooping their data. However, I think this is perhaps the absolute worst case Apple and others chose to push back on, considering that it includes questions of terrorism and the mass slaughter of innocents. Tracking down terrorist ties to murderers is far easier for normal, non-techie people to comprehend than the intricacies of software and data extraction.
Anyway, I expect this will continue on into our next set of trust falls in 2017. Till then, I’ll continue to nurse my bruises and watch the case.
Farhad: You’re right, the FBI picked the perfect case for pushing for this authority. We are in for interesting times.
Rico says that Farhad Manjoo is definitely a name to conjure with, but the Feebs can't be looking for the San Bernadino terrorists; they're in the morgue...

Starbucks, branching out

The BBC has an article about taking your product into a tough market:

Starbucks is taking its boldest step yet by opening its first store in Italy. The American coffee chain promised to enter the birthplace of the espresso "with humility and respect".
The first Starbucks will open in Milan early next year, in partnership with Italian developer Percassi, who said: "We know that we are going to face a unique challenge with the opening of the first Starbucks store in Italy."
It was a trip to Milan in the 1980s where he saw locals gathered at coffee bars that inspired Howard Schultz, chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, to set up a coffee shop in America. The chain now has over twenty thousand outlets in nearly seventy countries.
"The dream of the company always has been to complete the circle and open in Italy, but we haven't been ready," Schultz said.
Percassi said: "We know that we are going to face a unique challenge with the opening of the first Starbucks store in Italy, the country of coffee, and we are confident that Italian people are ready to live the Starbucks experience, as already occurs in many other markets."
Despite the country's long cultural and historical links with coffee (the espresso machine was invented in Italy) it is only the seventh-largest consumer of the beverage in Europe.
According to the European Coffee Federation, Finland consumed the most coffee in Europe in the year to May 2014, the most recent figures available, followed by Austria and Sweden.
Schultz said the Milan store will be designed with "painstaking attention to detail" to "honor the Italian people and their coffee culture. Visually, it has to be a very seductive place, where Starbucks comes alive," he added.
Rico says he wonders how you say 'good luck, assholes' in Italian? But, since he doesn't drink the vile brew, his fiancée will have to try it when we get there...

History for the day

On 29 February 1968, President Lyndon Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) warned that racism was causing America to move "toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal."

History for the day: 1953: Watson and Crick discover structure of DNA

History.com has this for 28 February:

On 28 February 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson (photo, left) and Frances H.C. Crick (photo, right) announce that they had determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.
Though DNA (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) was discovered in 1869, its crucial role in determining genetic inheritance wasn’t demonstrated until 1943. In the early 1950s, Watson and Crick were only two of many scientists working on figuring out the structure of DNA. California chemist Linus Pauling suggested an incorrect model at the beginning of 1953, prompting Watson and Crick to try and beat Pauling at his own game. On the morning of 28 February, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other. According to their findings, DNA replicated itself by separating into individual strands, each of which became the template for a new double helix. In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.” The truth wasn’t that far off, as Watson and Crick had solved a fundamental mystery of science: how it was possible for genetic instructions to be held inside organisms and passed from generation to generation.
Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on 25 April 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of Nature magazine. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine. Among the developments that followed directly from it were pre-natal screening for disease genes; genetically engineered foods; the ability to identify human remains; the rational design of treatments for diseases such as AIDS; and the accurate testing of physical evidence in order to convict or exonerate criminals.
Crick and Watson later had a falling-out over Watson’s book, which Crick felt misrepresented their collaboration and betrayed their friendship. A larger controversy arose over the use Watson and Crick made of research done by another DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin, whose colleague Maurice Wilkins showed her X-ray photographic work to Watson just before he and Crick made their famous discovery. When Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962, they shared it with Wilkins. Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer and was thus ineligible for the award, never learned of the role her photos played in the historic scientific breakthrough.
Rico says timing is everything in life, so we should honor Franklin as well...

Movie for the day: Race

Rico and his friend Kema (who's black) went to see Race, a movie about Jesse Owens:

Jesse Owens' quest to become the greatest track and field athlete in history thrusts him onto the world stage of the 1936 Olympics, where he faces off against Adolf Hitler's vision of Aryan supremacy.
Rico says that, as expected, it's an incredible movie, and you (well, actually, everyone) should see it. As the famed Joe Bob Briggs would've said: do it today... (Also, Rico realized that the movie's title has a double meaning, both the running and the identity.)

History for the day: 1993: Waco standoff ends

On 28 February 1993, a gun battle erupted near Waco, Texas, when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (BATFE) agents tried to serve warrants on the Branch Davidians; four agents and six Davidians were killed as a fifty-day standoff began. (Photo, top, of the compound, burning, after David Koresh (photo, bottom) had his followers commit suicide.)

Not quite

Rico says he's still hoping for remission of his fourth-nerve palsy, but this song popped up

28 February 2016

Quote for the day

From "Countdown to Zero Day", about the Stuxnet attack on Iran's attempt to build an atomic bomb, by Saeed Jalili, who said of the attacks (on two of Iran's scientists working on the project):
"When the enemy sees no other option, he resorts to the methods of terror. This is not a sign of strength, but weakness."

Rico says that cuts both ways...

The other guy

Rico says he's always been partial to the teachings of Buddha, and ran across a nice photo of a statue of him in Thailand:

Fake? Yep

Someone posted this whiner report:

Rico says he likes the concept, but isn't sure how to enforce it...

Fake? Nope

Wowticles.com has an article entitled Twenty Photos That Look Fake But They’re Totally Real:
Have you ever seen a picture that you just know is fake, even though everyone swears its real? The following pictures are the opposite; they’re absolutely real, but everyone will swear they’re fake.
This picture, taken from an oil rig in the Atlantic, shows a huge dust storm coming from the desert of Africa. To us, it looks like a giant glass of Foster’s traveling across the ocean.
This picture looks like a painting, but it’s actually two fishermen in Chaohu Lake in China. Pollution and runoff from local farms has caused an explosion in the algae population on this lake, making it look as if the men are rowing through an oil painting.
No, someone did not Photoshop a black hole into the middle of this photograph. It’s actually a two-hundred-foot deep sinkhole that opened in Guatemala City in 2010. The hole was measured at sixty feet across.
At first glance, it looks like someone used the crop tool on Photoshop on the trees in this picture. In actuality, it’s part of an art installation. All of the trees were carefully trimmed to make it appear as if they grew into the shape of a cube.
Is this boat hovering over the water? Nope, just an optical illusion created by the very clear water in this lake. If you look carefully, you’ll see a girl on the back of the boat with her legs in the water, destroying the illusion of a floating boat.
This forest contains over four hundred bent pine trees. Located in West Pomerania in Poland, the trees are believed to have been bent by a natural disaster that took place about thirty years ago. The force pushed over many young saplings in the forest, causing them to grow sideways until they eventually straightened out.
Many people assume that phone polls are propping up telephone lines, but they are actually run at a very high tension. This means that the weight of the wires isn’t supported by every single pole; about half the poles are just back up. That’s why these lines managed to stay taut, even though the pole underneath them burned during a fire.
At first glance, it appears as if a giant monster is reaching its tentacles towards these swimmers. In fact, it’s just seaweed. The clear water and right lighting conditions let you see the seaweed growing from the ocean floor.
The construction crews for this railroad in Canterbury, New Zealand were not having a bad day; this is damage caused by an earthquake. The force from the shaking earth was strong enough to bend and stretch the metal. Because the ties were anchored to the ground, the twisted track stayed in place after the earthquake.
This is not a cruise ship that has run aground. The ship is actually a facade for a resort hotel in South Korea, designed as a cruise ship that never actually travels anywhere. The cruise ship hotel contains shops, restaurants, and many of the same recreational activities as a real boat.
At certain times of the day, sunlight hits this waterfall just right, creating the beautiful rainbow you see here; capturing the colors just takes patience and a skilled photographer.
Is this man walking on water? No, he’s walking on a giant salt flat in Bolivia. The smooth, reflective surface mirrors the sky above, making it seem as if he’s on water. If you look carefully, you’ll be able to spot cracks in the salt.

This is the work of a French graffiti artist. Named Tilt, the artist decided to only decorate one half of this hotel room in Marseille, France. The other half is completely blank. The decoration includes specialized bedding that hotel staff must align perfectly before guests arrive. Which side would you want to sleep on?

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are showing off a water court. Think of it as a floating raft designed for playing tennis on. It was sold as a way to expand recreational area in cities where there’s no room left for parks. We have no idea what happens if the balls go out of bounds.

This work, by Spanish artist Alicia Martin, is meant to look as if thousands of books are pouring out of the window. While it is made of real books, the sculpture is fastened together from thousands of different books, and it’s built from the ground up.
That is actual city traffic about to cross the runway at the airport at Gibraltar. When the airport was built, the existing city design didn’t leave enough room for a long enough runway for modern aircraft, so the designers decided to let the runway cross paths with an existing road. A stoplight makes sure that no collisions between cars and planes occurs.
At the Leipzig Airport, incoming planes frequently have to get close to city traffic in order to get to the runway. By taking a picture from the right angle, the planes look as if they’re about to land on the highway.
Rico says that he was fooled...

Missing no longer

Rico's friend Kelley forwarded an article in Universe Today by Matt Williams, the curator of the Guide to Space for Universe Today, a regular contributor to HeroX, a science fiction author, and a taekwon-do instructor; he lives with his family on Vancouver Island in British Columbia in Canada, about new discoveries in space:
In March of 2013, researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, (known as CERN) laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland made history when they announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Though its existence had been hypothesized for over half a century, confirming its existence was a major boon for scientists. In discovering this one particle, the researchers were also able to confirm the Standard Model of particle physics. Much the same is true of our current cosmological model.
For decades, scientists been going by the theory that the Universe is made of seventy percent dark energy, twenty-five percent dark matter, and five percent “luminous matter”, i.e., the matter we can see. But even when all the visible matter is added up, there is a discrepancy where much of it is still considered “missing”. But, thanks to the efforts of a team from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), scientists now know that we have it right.
This began on 18 April 2015, when CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory (photo) in Australia detected a fast radio burst (FRB) coming from space, an international alert was immediately issued. Within a few hours, telescopes all around the world were looking for the signal. The CSIRO team began tracking it, along with the Australian Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) located at the Paul Wild Observatory, north of Parkes.
With the help of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s (NAOJ) Subaru telescope in Hawai'i, they were able to pinpoint where the signal was coming from. As the CSIRO team described in a paper submitted to Nature, they identified the source, which was an elliptical galaxy located six billion light years from Earth.
This was an historic accomplishment, since pinpointing the source of FRBs has never before been possible. Not only do the signals last mere milliseconds, but they are also subject to dispersion; i.e., a delay caused by how much material they pass through. And while FRBs have been detected in the past, the teams tracking them have only been able to obtain measurements of the dispersion, never the signal’s redshift.
Redshift occurs as a result of an object moving away at relativistic speeds (a portion of the speed of light). For decades, scientists have been using it to determine how fast other galaxies are moving away from ours, and hence the rate of expansion of the Universe. Relying on optical data obtained by the Subaru telescope, the CSIRO team was able to obtain both the dispersion and the redshift data from this signal.
As stated in their paper, this information yielded a “direct measurement of the cosmic density of ionized baryons in the intergalactic medium”. Or, as Dr. Simon Johnston of CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science division, and a co-author of the study, explained, the team was not only able to locate the source of the signal, but also measurements which confirmed the distribution of matter in the Universe. “Until now, the dispersion measure is all we had,” he said. “By also having a distance, we can now measure how dense the material is between the point of origin and Earth, and compare that with the current model of the distribution of matter in the Universe. Essentially this lets us weigh the Universe, or at least the normal matter it contains.”
Dr. Evan Keane of the SKA Organization, lead author on the paper, was similarly enthused about the team’s discovery. “We have found the missing matter,” he said. “It’s the first time a fast radio burst has been used to conduct a cosmological measurement.”
FRBs are quite rare; only sixteen have been detected in the past. Most of these were found by sifting through data months or years after the signal was detected, by which time it would be impossible for any follow-up observations. To address this, Dr. Keane and his team developed a system to detect FRBs and immediately alert other telescopes, so that the source could be pinpointed.
The Square Kilometer Array (SKA), is an international effort led by the SKA Organization to build the world’s largest radio telescope. Combining extreme sensitivity, resolution and a wide field of view, the SKA is expected to trace many FRBs to their host galaxies. In so doing, it is hoped the array will provide more measurements confirming the distribution of matter in the Universe, as well as more information on dark energy.
In the end, these and other discoveries by the SKA could have far-reaching consequences. Knowing the distribution of matter in the universe, and improving our understanding of dark matter (and perhaps even dark energy) could go a long way towards developing a Theory Of Everything (TOE). Knowing how all the fundamental forces of our universe interact will go a long way to finally knowing with certainty how it came to be.
Rico says that the Theory Of Everything sounds like a television show to follow The Big Bang Theory, but it's a movie about Stephen Hawking:

27 February 2016


Rico says that, before Mayim Bialik was Amy Farah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, she was Blossom...

Falling prices, falling monarchy

Hugh Naylor, a Beirut, Lebanon-based correspondent for The Post, has an article in The Washington Post about Saudi Arabia and falling oil prices:

Stung by falling oil prices, Saudi Arabia has cut spending and subsidies as part of harsh austerity measures that threaten the lavish welfare programs underpinning its stability.
The oil-exporting giant’s economy has gone from producing windfalls to deficits, and Saudi rulers increasingly struggle to provide the cushy government jobs, expensive state handouts and tax-free living that have long bought them domestic obedience.
The pivot to austerity, which also has been imposed by neighboring Gulf Arab oil monarchies, risks triggering unrest in a society that is conservative and particularly resistant to change, analysts and diplomats warn.
The cutbacks are seen as necessary by King Salman’s son, defense minister and head of economic planning, Mohammed bin Salman. The thirty-year-old prince has raised eyebrows by overseeing leadership shake-ups at home and two wars abroad. Advisers say he also intends to wean the country off its overwhelming dependence on oil sales and reform a bloated and opaque public sector.
“He understands that now is the moment to capitalize on low oil prices by cutting wasteful subsidies and reforming our economy to make us stronger,” said Fahad Bin Jumah, a Saudi economist and member of the country’s Consultative Assembly who has advised Prince Mohammed.
Oil prices have plunged by about seventy percent over the last year and a half, even falling below thirty dollars a barrel this month, battering the world’s second-largest producer and jarring a society that has grown accustomed to easy money and extravagant consumerism. Oil revenue accounts for an estimated ninety percent of the Saudi government’s income, leading to last year’s large budget deficit of nearly a hundred billion dollars, or about fifteen percent of gross domestic product.
Saudi Arabia, a US ally and absolute monarchy has, for decades, managed to ride out manic oil-price fluctuations, amassing astonishing revenue that has financed a healthy cushion of backup foreign-currency reserves worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
But, in October of 2015, the International Monetary Fund warned that the government, which projects a deficit of nearly a hundred billion dollars for 2016, could run out of money within five years if it did not tighten spending.
In response, Prince Mohammed pushed a raft of cost-cutting measures late last year that included a partial lifting of costly subsidies on gasoline, electricity, and water. Authorities have reined in public spending, imposed hiring freezes, and halted work on infrastructure and real estate projects. Officials talk about privatizing industry, including the prized national oil company.
The Prince has even discussed imposing taxes, a sensitive subject for Saudis, during an interview published last month by the Economist. “We’re talking about taxes or fees that are supported by the citizen”, he told the magazine, although he explicitly ruled out imposing income taxes.
For many here, austerity has not been easy. Shopping centers no longer fill with patrons as they used to. Business owners complain of anemic sales. Many Saudis, even those who flaunt luxury cars and live in palatial homes, seem increasingly concerned about personal finances.
“Look, I’m not going shopping as much, and I’m not spending like I used to,” said Mohammed Abdullah, 25, an employee at a government-run charity in the capital, Riyadh (photo). “I’m spending more money on gas these days.”
Businesses say they have had to increase prices to cope with the rising costs from subsidy cuts. “We’ve basically stopped hiring, too,” said Mohammed, a manager of a company in Jiddah that imports European foods. (He asked that his full name not be used because of concerns over repercussions for his business.)
The oil crash has rippled beyond Saudi Arabia, spurring similar subsidy cuts and hiring freezes among fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional political and economic union of six petroleum-rich Gulf Arab monarchies. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain have joined Saudi Arabia in austerity and appear close to finalizing a GCC-wide value-added tax that could come into effect in 2018.
Analysts say the moves signal recognition in these countries that rising international competition in energy production means the days of a hundred dollars or more for a barrel of crude oil may be a thing of the past. “I think there is growing recognition here that we need reform,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi analyst based in Riyadh.
But reforms could undo a bargain that for decades has preserved stability in Saudi Arabia and its smaller neighbors, where inflated government salaries and benefits, including free health care and education, as well as handsome cash transfers, have also largely pacified citizens and fostered a high-spending culture. Range Rovers, Gucci bags, and other luxuries are consumed like mundane objects in these countries.
“The Gulf Arabs are looking vulnerable, and I don’t know if they can weather the storm,” said Labib Kamhawi, an Amman, Jordan-based analyst.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia’s bulging young population (more than two-thirds of its twenty million citizens are under thirty) has stretched the welfare state thin and caused unemployment to balloon. Thousands of low-level princes rely on a vastly expensive royal payroll. And the austere form of Sunni Islam observed in the country denies adequate job and other opportunities to women, whose participation in the workforce is generally a key component of economic prosperity.
“The bottom line is that this is a state that is resistant to change, opaque in how it functions at almost every level and looking especially vulnerable at the moment,” said Christopher Davidson, an expert on Persian Gulf countries, who teaches politics at Durham University.
Whether the Gulf Arab oil producers, all American allies, can avoid Arab Spring-like instability may depend on what happens with Saudi Arabia, analysts and diplomats say. The kingdom acts as a big brother in terms of defense and political leadership for the GCC, but the kingdom’s attention has shifted to costly foreign entanglements overseen by Prince Mohammed.
The Prince became second in line to the throne after his father became king last year. He then launched a war in Yemen against Iranian-aligned insurgents and has boosted support for rebels in Syria’s civil war.
The moves are meant to parry the influence of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s chief competitor in the region, but they have alarmed rival royals, who prefer the kingdom’s traditionally cautious approach to foreign policy. Saudis, moreover, quietly express concern over the sustainability of Prince Mohammed’s expensive foreign projects during lean domestic times.
“I think there is a sense here of recklessness at the top levels,” said one prominent Saudi with links to senior leaders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concern over retribution.
Still, in public, Prince Mohammed earns praise here. “He knows how to keep our economy strong,” said Faisal bin Ahmed, 36, co-owner of an events management company in Riyadh. He owns four luxury vehicles, including a Bentley, and flashes around a snakeskin wallet.
Yet even the wealthy aren’t immune to the prince’s cost-cutting policies. Fatn al-Shehir, 23, said her father has started suggesting that she curtail her daily excursions in her Chevrolet Tahoe with the family driver. (Because women are still forbidden from driving in the Kingdom, they rely on taxis and chauffeurs.) She just graduated with a degree in business, but has been unable to find a job. She spends her days dropping off résumés at businesses and state-run institutions. “Now, when I go out, my dad tells me, ‘You’re leaving again? It’s getting expensive to pay for all your bills!’ ” Shehir said. “In a way, he’s joking. But in a way, he’s not.”
Rico says he relies on his fiancée as a chauffeur, too...

Rico doesn't either

Rico says there's a phrase for time disorientation, but this song will have to do:

State gub? Not California, obviously

The Washington Post has an article by Christopher Ingraham about an unusual state designation:

The Barrett .50 caliber rifle is a powerful gun. Widely used in the military, its rounds can "penetrate light armor, down helicopters, destroy commercial aircraft, and blast through rail cars", according to a report from the Violence Policy Center, a gun safety group. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence describes .50 caliber rifles like the Barrett as "among the most destructive weapons legally available to civilians in the United States."
Tennessee state senators voted on 24 February 2016 to approve a resolution designating the Barrett .50 caliber rifle as the official state rifle.
And as of Wednesday, the Barrett .50 caliber is now the official state rifle of Tennessee, joining an illustrious roster of other state symbols including the raccoon (state wild animal), the tomato (state fruit), and Tennessee cave salamander (state amphibian).
The gun's inventor, Ronnie Barrett, is a Tennessee native and NRA board member who was referred to as "the rock superstar in the world of weapons" at a 2014 birthday bash attended by politicians Mike Huckabee, Lamar Alexander, Marsha Blackburn, and others. The rifle bearing his name is manufactured in Christiana, Tennessee.
Tennessee is the seventh state to declare an official state firearm of some sort. If the idea of an "official state gun" seems a little strange, that's because it's a recent development. There weren't any state firearms until 2011, when Utah adopted the Browning M1911 pistol as its state gun. 

Since then, Pennsylvania added the colonial-era Pennsylvania Long Rifle as its official firearm. West Virginia adopted an 1819 flintlock rifle. Indiana legislators were very particular in naming their state rifle: they settled on one specific gun crafted by the state's first sheriff.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arizona named the Colt revolver, "the gun that won the West" depending on whom you ask, as its state gun in 2011. And Alaska named the Winchester 70 as its state gun in 2014.
In supporting Tennessee's designation of the Barrett .50 caliber as the state's official rifle, Republican state Senator Mae Beavers noted that the gun "honors Tennessee's ingenuity and manufacturing". But the gun's considerable firepower makes it a formidable threat in the hands of the wrong person.
In the 1993 gun battle at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, for instance, the cultists "fired a .50 caliber semiautomatic rifle at agents attempting to execute a search warrant," according to a GAO report. In 2013, a suspect in a police standoff in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, fired several .50 caliber rounds during the incident, prompting police to call in a BearCat armored vehicle.
Overall, the gun safety group Violence Policy Center has identified at least forty instances of .50 caliber guns being used in criminal activity. The public is generally uncomfortable with the widespread availability of these guns. In 2006, the General Social Survey found that 85 percent of Americans supported a ban on civilian sales of .50 caliber rifles.
Currently, however, .50 caliber rifles are unregulated at the Federal level. California and Washington, DC ban the guns outright, while Connecticut and Maryland place some restrictions on them, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Rico says this is definitely a Southern phenomenon, with Texas the likely next state to pick one (probably a machine gub, if Rico knows Texans)...

Apple for the day

Hayley Tsukayama, who covers consumer technology for The Washington Post, has an article in The Washington Post about Apple vs. the FBI:
Apple recently filed a motion to vacate the Federal Bureau of Investigation's order that it help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters. In the document, Apple outlined many reasons why it felt it should not comply with the government's request. One of these is that doing so would violate its rights under the First Amendment. "This amounts to compelled speech and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," the filing said. In other words, the government's request that Apple write and authorize a program that circumvents iPhone security would essentially force Apple to say, in code, something with which it fundamentally does not agree.
Wayne Giampietro, a Chicago, Illinois-based lawyer and a longtime member of the First Amendment Lawyer's Association, said that Apple is absolutely on solid ground with its argument. "There are a lot of cases saying that the government cannot compel private people to say things," he said. A farmer, for example, can't be forced by the government to contribute to groups that promote farming or agriculture. "The government can not make people do things that they don't want to do," he said. "I think that's broader than the First Amendment, but that's certainly a big part of it." As for the assertion that code is, essentially, speech, Giampietro said Apple's on strong footing there as well. "I don’t see any difference between code and any kind of expression," he said.  "It’s a way that people communicate."
That's certainly Apple's view. The Apple filing contains a statement from its manager of user privacy, Erik Neuenschwander, who compares coding to any other creative process.
"There are a number of ways to write code to accomplish a given task, some more efficient and more elegant than others," he wrote. "Moreover, writing software is an iterative, revision-intensive, and mentally challenging task, just like writing essays, white papers, memos, and even poems."
Apple's filing also cited several court cases where code has been treated as speech, including a 2001 case, Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, which was eventually heard by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. That ruling states that:
Communication does not lose constitutional protection as "speech" simply because it is expressed in the language of computer code. Mathematical formulae and musical scores are written in "code", i.e., symbolic notations not comprehensible to the uninitiated, and yet both are covered by the First Amendment.
That ruling did, however, say that the "scope of protection" for code still needed to be determined.
Giampietro also said that the Supreme Court has ruled that some software can be speech, finding in 2010 that video games are protected by the First Amendment in the same way that literature and film are. But the question of whether code itself is speech has been a contested issue in the past, particularly sparked in debates over encryption and intellectual property. Games are a storytelling medium in a way operating systems are not, some have argued. The Supreme Court has never given a definitive opinion on this issue, and the debate is still ongoing.
Speaking more broadly, Giampietro also noted that he believes there are serious privacy and safety implications at play if this case sets a precedent allowing the government to compel companies to create products  for them. "Can the government then say 'make me a better atomic bomb?' It can not compel anybody to do whatever it wants on its whim," he said.
Rico says there are a lot of people out there who'd be happy to make a better atomic bomb, but we wouldn't want most of them to do it...

History for the day

On 27 February 1991, then-President George H.W. Bush declared that "Kuwait is liberated, Iraq's army is defeated", and announced that the Allies would suspend combat operations at midnight.

Rico says that that worked out so well...

Syria for the day

The New York Times has an article by David Sanger: Syrian Truce Comes With Price, but Not for Assad:

European and Israeli intelligence officials believe the pause in fighting may consolidate President Bashar al-Assad's hold on power.

Rico says, as ever, that a cruise missile into his bedroom would solve this problem...

Oops for the day

The New York Times has an article by Isabel Kershner entitled: Asked to Switch Seats, She's Charging El Al With Sexism:

A lawsuit claims that the airline discriminated against Renee Rabinowitz by moving her after an ultra-Orthodox man said he did not want to sit next to a woman.
Rico says that's a classic religion-is-stupid situation...

26 February 2016

Movie for the day: TLDay

Rico watched the end (as usual, the best part) of The Longest Day:
The events of D-Day, 6 June 1944, told on a grand scale from both the Allied and German points of view.
Rico says it had, in addition to all the ships, boats, vehicles, and special effects, the most amazing cast, including Henry Fonda as Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.Sean Connery as Private FlanaganRichard Burton as Flying Officer David Campbell, Peter Lawford as Lord Lovat, Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota, Robert Ryan as Brigadier General James M. Gavin, and the inimitable John Wayne as Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort. Coming in at the end, however, Rico missed the best line, when Rommel is told where the Allies are landing: "Normandie? Normandie? Was für ein unsinn ist das?"

History for the day

On 26 February 1993, a bomb exploded in the garage of New York City's World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand others.

Rico says that was bad but, in 2011, they finished the job:

Quote for the day

"When you go around and meet state-owned industry people, everybody laughs at the national statistics, so I don't know why foreigners believe them."

Anne Yang, co-founder of J Capital Research, which analyzes the Chinese economy, on the release of data and the government's attempts to stop rising pessimism over weak growth.

More Apple for the day

The BBC has an article about the latest in Apple's war with the FBI:
Apple has asked a US court to overturn an earlier ruling ordering the company to help the FBI break into a phone used by one of the San Bernardino, California killers.
In court papers, Apple says law enforcement authorities are seeking "dangerous powers" and the move violates its constitutional rights. The FBI and White House have said the request is limited to one iPhone, but Apple says the software needed to comply with the FBI's request "simply does not exist". Instead, Apple says it would have to create a new version of the iPhone operating software, containing a back door to the device's encrypted data. It argues that the lower court did not have the authority to force Apple to do that. Apple also says no court had ever forced a company to weaken the security of its products to gain access to personal individual information. "This case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld," the filing said. 
Analysis by Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter:
In appealing to the American public, there are numerous boxes you can tick to quickly gain support; strings that tug at the mind of almost every person living in this country.
In this case, the FBI went with fighting against terror, and the need to beat the so-called Islamic State. Few would disagree with that motive, and even Tim Cook acknowledged the compelling moral argument for unlocking the phone.
But if there's one things Americans worry about more than terrorists, it's the erosion of their constitutional rights. In Apple's recent court motion, the company ticked the biggest box of all: freedom of speech. The code it writes, the company argues, is the company's speech, it's expression.
Forcing it to write code and create a GovtOS, a play on iOS, the software that powers the iPhone, would be forcing Apple to write code it disagreed with, the company says. It may be the argument that tips the balance in the court of public opinion.
FBI director James Comey, has said the government's dispute with Apple was "the hardest" he had faced in government. Testifying before Congress, he said: "This is the hardest question I have seen in government and it's going to require negotiation and conversation."
The row between Apple and the FBI blew up last week when the Bureau asked the electronics firm for help to unlock the smartphone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who, along with his wife, killed fourteen people in December of 2015.
So far, Apple has refused to unlock the phone.
In an interview with ABC, Apple boss Tim Cook said the FBI was asking it to make "the software equivalent of cancer". He added: "Some things are hard and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things."
Apple has argued that the FBI's request violates its constitutional right to freedom of speech, because a 1999 court case ruled that computer code is speech. By forcing Apple to create a new code, the FBI was violating a constitutional right, the company said.
Apple's attorney, Bruce Sewell, will testify before Congress on 1 March 2016 about the encryption case.
Tech leaders, including Google's boss, and Apple customers have praised the company for standing up to the FBIApple supporters have even rallied in front of the company's stores to show their support (photo).
Rico says it's still far from over...

Apple for the day


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour

25 February 2016

Saving Gemini 8

Don Moore's War Tales has an article about Phil Harris, whose destroyer’s crew plucked Gemini-8 astronauts out of the Pacific in 1966:

The high point of Phil Harris’ (photo, top) four-year naval career was the rescue of two Gemini 8 astronauts on 16 March 1966 by the crew of the destroyer USS Leonard F. Mason (DD-852) (photo, middle). He served as a machinist's mate aboard the ship.
Neal Armstrong and David Scott, piloting the Gemini 8 space capsule, were to perform the first docking of two spacecrafts in orbit. Gemini 8 hooked up with an Agena Target Vehicle (photo, bottom) a hundred and eighty nautical miles above earth.
They completed the docking maneuver without a hitch. Then the Gemini’s control system developed unexpected problems. They undocked from the Agena but, when they did so, the capsule went into a fast spin. As a result of these unexpected difficulties, the Gemini capsule splashed down a thousand kilometers south of Yokosuka, Japan instead of in the Atlantic off the Florida coast.
“Our ship, the USS Mason, was sent to rescue the astronauts because we were the closest American ship. I was at the throttle of the destroyer in the forward engine-room as she raced at full speed, 35 knots, for Armstrong and Scott,” Harris said. “It was a full boiler operation, with both engines going as hard as they could, with a lot of engine vibration.
Armstrong and Scott were practicing for the upcoming moon shot. Armstrong would become the first man to walk on the Moon and Scott would be the first person to drive the lunar rover on the Moon. When the Mason reached the two astronauts, they were still in their capsule. The sea was rough and they were bobbing around getting seasick.
The Navy also sent a helicopter and divers to rendezvous with the capsule. The divers jumped in and put a flotation ring around the capsule to steady it. One of the ship’s divers went in and cut the chute away from the capsule.
"When we took Armstrong and Scott aboard our ship, they were still a little seasick. They went immediately to sickbay. When they emerged, we got to visit with the them. They were just a couple of young guys. At the time we had no idea how famous they would become.”
Harris and the Mason steamed back to Formosa with the two spacemen and their capsule.
“When we got back, Wally Schirra, another astronaut, was waiting to take them back to NASA and Cape Canaveral. We went back to the Gun Line off the coast of Vietnam.”
The Mason had been part of the US fleet supplying artillery fire for Allied troops fighting in Vietnam. When not doing this, the crew of the Mason was guarding aircraft carriers providing air support to our troops. The destroyer would be at sea sixty days at a time before it got two weeks leave in Hong Kong or its home station in Yokosuka, Japan.
The next crisis the Mason’s crew took part in was the Pueblo Incident; the USS Pueblo was an American spy ship captured by the North Koreans, together with its crew, off their coast of North Korea on 23 Januarty 1968.
“After the Pueblo was captured, they sent the Mason to Japan. We became part of a task force that included the aircraft carrier Enterprise, a cruiser, and two destroyers that was going to take part in the rescue of the American sailors from the North Koreans,” Harris explained. “Then the Navy decided it didn’t want to start a war with the North Koreans, so it didn’t invade and try and rescue the people aboard the Pueblo.”
After months of starvation and torture at the hands of the North Koreans, the surviving Pueblo crewmen were released from captivity on 23 December 1968. This was accomplished only after the American government provided North Korea with a written apology and the promise not to do it again. The Pueblo was never returned. The spy ship is still on display in a North Korean war museum near Pyongyang.
Harris was discharged from the Navy in 1971. He was a petty officer 2nd class when he got out of the service with the Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 3 Bronze Stars, and the National Defense Service Medal.
Several years after getting out, Harris was recruited by the Army National Guard while living in North Platte, Nebraska. He served as a member of a 155mm artillery battery. He stayed in the Guard until 1976. “I was a gunner on a 155 howitzer. I was the guy who fired the gun,” he said.
Eventually Harris went to work as a machinist for the Burlington, Northern & Sate Fe Railroad. He spent the next thirty years repairing engines for the company.
Harris and his wife, Joanne, had two children. Joel, who was killed in a car accident at thirteen, and James, who has worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for a number of years. Harris’ wife died several years ago. He move to Florida in 2007 and retired. 
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida, on 22 February 2016 and is republished with permission.
Rico says it's the unsung heroes like Harris that make it all happen, in both the military and civilian life...

Carson on Obama

That's Ben Carson, though Johnny would've been much funnier, in a Politico article by Glenn Thrush:

Ben Carson is the only person in the 2016 presidential field who is vying to become the country’s second African-American president. Truth be told, however, he’s not entirely sure he wouldn’t actually be the first.
Carson, speaking during a half-hour sit-down with Politico’s podcast, Off Message, as he waited for the results of Saturday’s South Carolina primary (where he finished sixth out of six), laid out his views on racism and his belief that his experience as poor black kid in 1960s Detroit, Michigan represents the real experience of his people in way that Barack Obama could never understand.
“He’s an ‘African’ American. He was, you know, raised white,” said the world-renowned neurosurgeon, whose single mother worked three jobs and occasionally relied on government aid to elevate Carson and his older brother from the grinding poverty of ghetto life. “I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but he didn’t grow up like I grew up. Many of his formative years were spent in Indonesia. So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans is, I think, a bit of a stretch.”
Carson also suggested that what passes for racism now, in the age of Ferguson and Freddie Gray, is not comparable to the overt discrimination he encountered a half-century ago as a young man. “Remember, I’ve been around for 64 years, you know,” he added. “I’ve had a chance to see what real racism is.”
Carson has largely, if not entirely, downplayed the role of race in his brief rise. But as he fades (and many Republicans are calling for him to drop out for the sake of stopping Donald Trump if he flops, as he did, in Nevada), he’s begun to expound more on his views on the role of race in the country. Touring through South Carolina, the sword-tip of the segregation movement and one of the most racially polarized states in the country, put him in a reflective mood and he made a point of campaigning in black neighborhoods and African-American college campuses last week.
Carson was steadfast in defending his party (this is a candidate who has said a Muslim shouldn’t run for president unless he or she renounces shari'a law) and when I asked him if Trump was a racist, he replied: “I have not witnessed anything that would make me say that about him.” But when I followed up with a question about Trump’s general tone on racial issues, he shook his head: “No, it’s not the tone that I would use. Absolutely not.”
One of the great ironies of 2016 is that Carson, a free-market conservative who rose by railing against big-government Obamacare, views race through the larger prism of class, putting him (very) roughly more on the Bernie Sanders side of the race-versus-class argument.
When I ask him if racism played a role in the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, he said: “Let me put it this way: if that were going on in an affluent black community, it would not have gone on,” adding: “A lot of things that people classify as racism is classism, and, believe me, there's a lot of classism in our society, and if people of a certain race happen to fall into a lower class, then they get the brunt of it.”
There was a time, at the end of 2015, when Carson seemed poised to challenge Trump, but a series of setbacks, languid debate performances, and the near-collapse of his campaign from mismanagement scuttled the effort. At the Embassy Suites here on election night, several of his staff and volunteers could be heard musing about what they planned to do when, not if, he dropped out. Still, Carson has a substantial war-chest and a still-functional online fundraising operation, and professed to be in for the long haul, without a lot of force behind the statement. “Well, I don't have any immediate plans of cessation,” he says.
Outside observers have suggested Carson is soldiering on through Nevada to thumb his nose at Ted Cruz, whose campaign floated the rumor that he was about to drop out of the race during the Iowa caucuses. Cruz has repeatedly apologized and blamed his staff’s actions, dubiously, on a CNN report, and he tried his luck again in a private meeting here; Carson “wasn’t impressed,” a staffer later told me. The candidate himself cast doubt on the Texas senator’s contrition tour. “As a Christian, I accept his apology, but, you know, God forgives us when we sin, but he doesn’t remove the consequences,” he says and sure enough, a couple of days later, Cruz sacked a top aide for playing a dirty trick on Marco Rubio.
The central theme of Carson’s inspiring personal story is his triumph over a self-destructive, volcanic temper though the salvation of his Christian faith. This makes him an unusual candidate and an unusual person, with a clerical, un-Trump-like tendency towards self-reflection and admitting his own shortcomings, and he says he’s stopped providing so much “lip service” of controversial comments to reporters like me who obscure his compassionate conservative message. In person, he projects an unnerving calm and, when you sit with him a while you can see the mechanism of this reflexive self-soothing: ask a tough or annoying question and he closes his eyelids and opens them slowly, with a Gautama-esque smile, rolling out an answer with deliberation and care.
“As a pediatric neurosurgeon, when you’re deep in somebody's brain and a blood vessel pops, if you panic, the patient is dead,” he explains. “You have to be very calm. You have to keep everybody else very calm, and you will generally find that neurosurgeons are calm people.”
C’mon, Dr. Carson, I want to know, don’t you ever get angry?
“I generally don’t, you know,” he replies. “If I’m, you know, working with a very obnoxious person, I just say: ‘That used to be a cute little baby. I wonder what happened to them.’”
Rico says that, if it comes to a choice in November between Hillary and The Donald, he may have to write in Carson...

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